US President Barack Obama promised much when he was first elected in 2008 but has disappointingly been unable to keep his word. He raised hopes that Washington would become a force for good in the world and pledged among a great number of things to bring peace to the Middle East. But like his predecessors, he fell foul to the long tentacles of the Israeli lobby.
In his second term, Obama has restarted cautious attempts to reinstate peace talks, acknowledging the US Government needs to undertake a much more positive role in the region. With the recent election of Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran, another window of opportunity has opened for Obama to address the 10-year standoff over its nuclear programme. The ball appears to be firmly in the US court to demonstrate that it is capable of playing fair.
If anything, Rouhani has effectively called Obama’s bluff by clarifying that Iran only seeks its rights like all signatory countries allowed under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to make use of nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes. The simplest way, as Iran has always proclaimed, is to base negotiations under the provisions of the NPT. Previous demands to try to force Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium have been counter-productive and have profited nothing.
“If you want the right response, it should not be through the language of sanctions, it should be through the language of respect,” Rouhani said in his inaugural address, which set the tone of Iran’s approach. In an interview with the NBC, he further asserted that the way forward in the nuclear programme issue was through diplomacy. “We consider war a weakness and any government that decides on peace we look on with respect.” With a subsequent visit to the UN General Assembly, he set in motion positive engagement with the international community to resolve issues.
A decade ago, Rouhani acted as head of Iran’s negotiating team and so is well acquainted with the pitfalls that led to the failure of reaching an original deal with Britain, France and Germany (EU3). Former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has since admitted “had it not been for major problems within the US Administration under President (George W) Bush, we could have actually settled the whole Iran nuclear dossier back in 2005.” It was US intransigence which stood in the way the resolution of the nuclear programme not Iran, despite the harpings of Western governments and their media mouth-pieces.
Invariably linked with any deal is the renewal of US-Iranian relations, which have been incogitable for over 30 years dating back to the Islamic Revolution. Although there remain deep suspicions about the trustworthiness of the West, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, is said to be looking for common ground in the reopening of talks with the US. If there is to be any success, attitudes need to change by the US and its allies. Contrary to Western propaganda, the origins of the poor relations between the West and Iran originate not in the hostage crisis but in the role of Great Britain and Iran in the overthrow of the legitimately elected Government of Mossadegh in 1953 – something which is now openly admitted and needs to be apologised for.
Washington has greeted Rouhani’s presidency by saying it was ready to engage directly over the Iranian uranium-enrichment programme and be a “willing partner” if Iran “engages seriously”. Obama, who does not want the distinction of being a failure after promising so much, clearly needs to make the first step, but his Administration is hampered by a Congress fixated with its unhealthy relationship with the Israeli regime.
As a start, the US needs not only to loosen financial sanctions imposed on Iran but also to remove its covert operation against it. The nuclear issue should be settled as soon as is possible yet that is not where the goodwill should stop, as it would be optimal to move onto the thorny issue of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.