Iran’s statement that it would never suspend its uranium enrichment programme even as the United Nations Security Council agreed to work on a resolution to get Tehran to back down is likely to further vitiate the atmosphere. It will give the US a handle to ratchet up its anti-Iran rhetoric on the lines of Vice-President Dick Cheney’s veiled threat that all options were still open. The fact that the US sent in a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf will not help matters. Washington appears emboldened by the fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is on shaky ground after facing a series of political defeats internally. It feels that by upping the ante now, it might be able to take on a weakened Tehran. This assumption is wrong.
True, Mr Ahmadinejad is on a sticky wicket owing to his half-baked economic policies that have led, among other things, to rising unemployment. But the Bush administration should evaluate whether it will be able to open a new front when the situation in Iraq is steadily deteriorating. Much of Mr Ahmadinejad’s bravado comes from a fairly realistic assessment that Washington is nowhere near on top of the situation in Iraq and that public opinion is against the Bush administration’s West Asia strategy. Mr Bush has gone so far out on a limb that he cannot be seen to retract too soon now though saner elements in his government have advised him to do so. Some of the more hawkish Democrats, too, have been making threatening noises against Iran.
But at the end of the day, the US knows that it is not in a position to launch a military offensive, especially since world opinion is not with it. Both the Chinese and Russians have wisely been advising both sides to sit down across the table. As things stand, Washington and Tehran will have to do so sooner rather than later.