Is Iran next?
Condoleezza Rice, the new American Secretary of State, has begun her stint in her new job with a whistle stop tour of the Middle East and Europe last week during which she was at pains to build bridges and mend fences with 'new Europe'. Her tone and public posturing was a sharp departure from the established patterns of conducting America's foreign policy in the last four years. She was conciliatory and cautiously optimistic of supporting multilateralism in international relations.
Many would have thought that the lady - and perhaps America - had finally wisened up after the fiasco in Iraq. Not really. Despite her olive branch offerings in public speeches, what caught the attention of serious analysts was her defiant attitude on Iran, which many think would be America's next target for a military intervention.
Barely a day after holding out hopes of turning a new leaf in transatlantic relations, Rice came out with a stern warning for her European allies over their slipshod handling of negotiations with Iran over its alleged nuclear programme. These latest warnings come in a series of hyperboles being lashed out in recent weeks that pushes the specter of a military strike against Iran into the realms of a distinct possibility that may materialise sooner than later.
President Bush has already declared Iran to be the "world's primary state sponsor of terror". Tony Blair, his staunchest ally across the Atlantic lost no time in echoing these sentiments when he unequivocally announced that he was in full agreement with the President's views on the subject.
"It certainly does sponsor terrorism, there is no doubt about that," Blair told the British Parliament on Tuesday. Blair's comments came the same day that officials from the EU and Iran were due to meet in Geneva to hold a third round of talks on Iran's nuclear programme. The EU, led by Britain, France and Germany, is seeking to persuade Iran to permanently halt sensitive nuclear work in exchange for economic and other benefits.
Everything seems to be moving to a plan. Until now, Washington was cognizant of having weak diplomatic and military options in reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions and was therefore content with issuing periodic warnings- which have became increasingly stern and strident in recent months- in hopes that threats of sanctions and international isolation would persuade the Mullahs to abandon their nuclear weapons programme. President Bush and the team around him have raised the ante over Iran in recent days.
But the turning point, in my view, was an interview that Vice President Dick Cheney gave to Don Imus that was also broadcast on MSNBC during which he gave away the plan. He said, "Iran was right at the top of the administration's list of world trouble spots (and) Israel might well decide to act first" to destroy Iran's nuclear programme. He warned that the Israelis would let the rest of the world "worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterward." This is an important revelation though it comes camouflaged as speculation. Also, this was the first time that a senior Bush administration official had sharply articulated the agenda by suggesting that the United States may after all be 'unable' to prevent a military attack by Jerusalem on Iran if it happens.
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