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US, Iran and the hope for diplomacy: a dispatch from my travel to Washington DC

29.2.2012

As the Chair of European Parliament's Iran delegation I spent past week in Washington trying to find out whether there is any room for a diplomatic solution on the Iranian nuclear issue. On first glance, it seems that the military option is on top of the agenda.

Every third American sees Iran as the enemy number one. There is the history of the hostage crisis in 1979-1981, President Bush's axis of evil speech and currently the threat that Iran will access nuclear weapons. I asked a few years ago an American diplomat in Helsinki why the US wanted to build a missile shield in Europe. The answer was: to prevent Iranian missiles from reaching New York. Today there is 'a war fever' in Washington, not only because Iran keeps enriching uranium but also because it is election year.

However, State Secretary Hillary Clinton has recently voiced cautious optimism for diplomacy. The Obama administration has tried to reach out to the Iranians so far without results. At the same time the Congress puts pressure on the Obama administration which limits the room for US diplomacy. The US military has its own viewpoint which means that a military strike on Iran is not a realistic option. It would only delay nuclear development a couple of years, but in the end provide Iran with a nuclear bomb. Iran would leave the NPT and decide to go nuclear and potentially initiate proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Since the facilities are spread around the country, it would result in a full fletched war with devastating consequences for the population. It would not topple the regime, but most likely lead to a nationalist response. The price of oil would go up with dramatic consequences for the world economy and particularly for the economic recovery of the US.

If the negotiations do take place the question of uranium enrichment will be the central one. The Bush administration had a zero tolerance towards the idea of Iran's enrichment program. The Obama administration has had a more undefined position. Hillary Clinton has indicated that somewhere along the road the Iranians could possibly enrich uranium under strict control of the IAEA.

And then, of course, there is the US presidential race that matters as much as Iran's nuclear program and even more. As the neoconservative's wing in the Republican party has it as its goal to prevent the re-election of Barack Obama at all costs thus limiting the space for negotiations and dragging him into a possible war. An event to watch is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in the beginning of March in Washington. Both Obama and Israeli's PM Netanyahu will speak. Let's see what their message is going to be.

The sooner negotiations are initiated the better. They are the only alternative both to war and an Iran with nuclear weapons. They will take a long time, but while they are ongoing a military attack is unthinkable. The new president of the US will have a chance to form his policy. The first priority must be to prevent a war, the second to prevent the nuclear armament of Iran, and a very likely proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction in the entire region.

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