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Bush Eyes Diplomatic Relations With Iran

The re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran -- even short of a full-fledged embassy -- offers potentially positive as well as negative ramifications. The positive aspect of a rapprochement between the ayatollahs and the United States is that so long as Washington and Tehran continue to talk, chances of a military confrontation diminish. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Claude Salhani
Washington (UPI) Oct 27, 2008
President George W. Bush is having one final stab at leaving the White House on a somewhat more positive note, hoping it will override his legacy of two unfinished wars and a financial crisis that risks taking Western economies into a generalized meltdown of the world's banking system.

After sending out discreet feelers to the Syrians and the Israelis that he was interested in chaperoning a last-minute peace effort by having Israel return the Golan Heights to the Syrians in exchange for recognition of the State of Israel and a peace treaty from Damascus -- and not getting anywhere with his proposal -- the president is now turning his attention to Iran.

According to White House sources quoted in McClatchy Newspapers late last week, the Bush administration plans to establish diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran before the president's term expires next January. Several reports last week indicated that Bush intends to open a U.S. interest section in the Iranian capital after the Nov. 4 U.S. presidential elections.

"We have been hearing similar lines for the past two decades," Alireza Jafarzadeh, a representative of the Iranian opposition in Washington, told this correspondent at the weekend. "Both Democrats and Republicans have said the same thing in the past," he said.

Relations, however, remain severed, and there have been no diplomatic relations between the two countries since shortly after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, when 52 American diplomats serving in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran were taken hostage and held for 444 days.

"Packets of incentives have been sent to Tehran in the past," said Jafarzadeh. The problem, said the Iranian opposition figure, "is not with the U.S. administration. The problem is with the ayatollahs who have no interest or intention of establishing normal relations."

Indeed, the mistrust of U.S. intentions runs so deep that the regime in Tehran remains wary of having a U.S. diplomatic presence in Iran out of fear that American diplomats in the country would try to undermine the regime. In fact, U.S. diplomats in Iran would promote America's image in the Islamic Republic and encourage cultural exchanges and travel between the two countries -- issues the mullahs tend to frown upon.

The re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran -- even short of a full-fledged embassy -- offers potentially positive as well as negative ramifications. The positive aspect of a rapprochement between the ayatollahs and the United States is that so long as Washington and Tehran continue to talk, chances of a military confrontation diminish. Another advantage of establishing a U.S. diplomatic presence in Tehran -- especially in a newly opened interest section -- is the influence it would have on deterring an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear installations.

One of the negative aspects of Tehran and Washington talking could be accentuated by demands the mullahs in Iran are likely to make and possibly impose as part of a deal with the Bush administration regarding the fate of some 5,000 residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq, where approximately 3,500 unarmed members of the Iranian opposition group People's Mujahedin of Iran and their dependents currently live under the protection of the U.S. military. The fate of these unusual refugees leaves much room to worry.

The PMOI, led by the charismatic Maryam Rajavi, began by supporting the Islamic Revolution, believing that once the shah was toppled, they would overcome the mullahs. But things did not work out the way they hoped. Tens of thousands of their supporters were arrested, tortured and killed by the ayatollah and his supporters; one figure places the number as high as 120,000. To avoid capture, about 3,500 members and their dependents fled to neighboring Iraq, where Saddam Hussein gave them refuge.

When the U.S. military led the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the PMOI voluntarily surrendered its weapons to the Americans. Since then, its members have been under the protection of the U.S. military in Iraq. Under the 4th Geneva Convention they remain the responsibility of the United States. But the international community has a history of closing its eyes to such dilemmas. There will always be time later on to pass U.N. resolutions and to decry and condemn the injustices after the fact. Of course, by then it will be too late.

The Bush administration, it would appear, is buying itself an "honorable" escape clause from this debacle by planning to hand responsibility for Camp Ashraf to the Iraqis.

"It has already begun," Jafarzadeh said. According to the Iranian dissident, an Iraqi battalion is already on site.

"There is a human catastrophe waiting to happen," said Jafarzadeh.

(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)

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Iran arming 'freedom armies': top commander
Tehran (AFP) Oct 26, 2008
Iran is arming "freedom armies" in the Middle East, according to a top commander of the country's elite Revolutionary Guards quoted Sunday by a military website.

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