Monday, July 19, 2004

The key to advancing U.S. interests in the Middle East is to engage Iran’s Islamic regime, partly by allowing Tehran to develop a peaceful nuclear program, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski argued yesterday.

By agreeing with the European Union that Iran could acquire enriched uranium at market prices while applying stringent inspection rules, Washington could end decades of political stalemate with Tehran and win an essential ally in the region, he said.

Washington has lost its influence over Iran’s nuclear policy as well as policies toward terrorism, Iraq and Afghanistan, said Mr. Brzezinski and former CIA Director Robert M. Gates, and the best way to advance U.S. leverage was through selective engagement with Tehran.

“It’s not a question that we and the Iranians would be sitting down and singing ‘kumbaya’ together — but of advancing our national interests,” Mr. Gates said. He and Mr. Brzezinski are joint chairmen of a report on Iran sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations.

“This is a whole new game, a new global Balkans, with Iran in the middle with the capacity to influence Afghanistan and Iraq,” Mr. Brzezinski said.

Mr. Gates and Mr. Brzezinski said the United States should end its 25 years of antagonism toward Tehran and pursue a policy of selective engagement, including dropping U.S. objections to an Iranian civilian nuclear program under strict International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and multilateral sanctions.

Such an approach would engage Tehran — which they argued had managed to isolate Washington through international trade links and largely constructive relations with neighbors — and get the European Union, Russia and Japan on board, they said.

Moscow has been Iran’s main supplier of nuclear technology and is building a major nuclear plant near the Iranian city of Bushehr.

Hoping that the Islamic regime would collapse soon under external and internal pressure for change was not a realistic goal, the report said.

“The durability of the Islamic Republic and the urgency of the concerns surrounding its policies mandate the United States to deal with the current regime rather than wait for it to fall,” the report concluded.

The report calls on the current or future Washington administration to take advantage of the new circumstances in the region, which Mr. Brzezinski said may have created an “opening for the policy we advocate.”

“The depth of the crisis with Iran is such, not only the nuclear but in the nonproliferation arena, that we definitely need to take a shot now at engagement and to make it a high priority,” agreed Rose Gottemoeller, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former deputy undersecretary for defense nuclear nonproliferation in the Energy Department.

Although Iran “doesn’t seem anywhere near” acquiring enough fissile material to build a bomb, a technically difficult and time-consuming process, it does seem to have the indigenous technical know-how to create an enrichment facility, Mrs. Gottemoeller said.

Iran has continued to develop its nuclear ambitions, insisting that it is a peaceful program, despite mounting criticism by the IAEA.

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