A New Partner In The Mideast

March 14th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: A New Partner In The Mideast

Boston Globe
March 14, 2008 By Stephen Kinzer
IF THE next American president wisely applies time-honored techniques of diplomacy, the United States may within a few years have a new long-term strategic partner in the Middle East: Iran.
Not only are these two countries not fated to be enemies forever, they have profound strategic interests in common. Iran is the one country in the world that offers the United States a chance to reshape the global order with a single bold stroke, in a way that could decisively advance American interests. The United States has more to gain from partnering with Iran than from a partnership with any other country in the Muslim Middle East.
Iran's destabilizing threats to Middle East security, including its support for violent militias and its disturbing nuclear program, make direct negotiations urgent. The way Iran's leaders repress their country's democratic movement adds to this urgency. Talks with Iran, however, hold out far more than the prospect that Iran might be enticed to change aspects of its current behavior. They could also lead to a new security architecture for the Middle East that would be of immense benefit to the people of that region and to the United States.
The list of strategic interests that Iran shares with the United States is deeply tantalizing.
Most obviously, Iran has a vital interest in helping to stabilize neighboring Iraq. No other country, not even the United States, has more power to achieve that elusive goal. In cooperation with other countries in the region, Iran can ensure that a new eruption of terrorism does not follow a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
Iran can also make decisive contributions to stabilizing its neighbor to the east, Afghanistan. Its leaders have a dense web of contacts there, built up over generations. Iranian and US leaders cooperated in orchestrating the 2001 Bonn Agreement, from which the government of President Hamid Karzai emerged. If they can resume their cooperation, they can together do more to calm the alarmingly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan than any other pair of nations.
The other great threat in that neighborhood emanates from Pakistan. Iranian leaders are terrified that Pakistan could split apart, with a nuclear-armed, Taliban-style regime emerging in one breakaway region. They understand that a stable Pakistan would decisively strengthen Iran's national security. It would also ease one of Washington's most vivid nightmares.Iran is a bitter enemy of radical movements like the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It opposed them long before the United States did. Now that both countries clearly see the threat that these movements pose, they can work together to oppose, isolate, and crush them.
One of Washington's long-term goals in the Middle East is to prevent the spread of Russian influence there. Iran has fought wars with Russia, and in the 19th century lost rich territories to Russia in conflicts that still stir deep resentment in the Iranian soul. President Vladimir Putin's recent visit to Tehran, the first by a Russian leader in nearly a half-century, was a reflection of the fact that Iran is looking for a big-power ally. If the United States offers to be that ally, Iran will eagerly end its flirtation with Russia and join the United States to contain Russian influence in the region.
Iran is eager to ensure the smooth flow of Middle East oil to Western markets. Its oil industry, however, is in parlous shape and needs billions of dollars in investment. American companies have the expertise and capital to do that job.
Iran is the only Muslim country in the Middle East in which most people are pro-American. This pro-American sentiment is a huge strategic asset to the United States. It is the foundation on which the United States can build a long-term partnership based not on alliance with a corrupt and repressive elite, but with an entire nation.
Iranians have a deep-seated admiration for Jews that dates back millennia. Creative diplomacy could not only build a new relationship between Iran and the United States, but possibly a new power group that would include Israel and the other non-Arab power in the region, Turkey.
Comprehensive negotiations with Iran might not produce such transformative results. The possibility that they might, however, is too great to pass up. The path of negotiation is so low-cost that not trying it would be deeply self-defeating for the United States. No other diplomatic initiative the United States could take anywhere in the world holds as much promise as this one.
Stephen Kinzer is a former New York Times correspondent and author of "All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror."

Similar Topics
What your partner....
Syria to attend Mideast peace conference (AP)
Failure has high price at Mideast summit (AP)
Blair takes on hard job as Mideast envoy (AP)
Abbas Calls Sharon a Partner in Peace (AP)