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With the December 6 news that it plans to build twenty new uranium enrichment facilities, Iran has dealt a serious blow to hopes of peacefully resolving its nuclear standoff with the West. After months of courtship by the international community, Iran’s announcement appears to be both a rejection of the West’s advances and a signal of its intent to step up its pursuit of a nuclear program. With the US running out of cards to play, many fear that the two countries are on a collision course to military confrontation.

Much like North Korea, the consequences of an Iranian possession of nuclear bomb are dire. The Obama administration has sought to right the wrong of American Cold War policy, when the US provided its then-ally Iran with nuclear reactors in an attempt to curry favor. Preventing proliferation is a priority for the Obama administration and confirmation that Iran has a nuclear bomb would trigger an arms race in the Middle East, with heavyweights such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia seeking to counter Iranian domination in the region. An Iranian nuclear bomb would also bring Israel and Iran closer to war. Iran’s anti-Semitic leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicised his hatred of Israel so often that Israeli leaders deem a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat. Just last year an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear sites was narrowly averted after George W. Bush refused to give Ehud Olmert the green light. The Obama administration has since tried to convince the Israelis of the virtues of diplomacy with Iran, but the latest setback means that hawks in Israel and the US will be circling Iran with greater intensity.

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After five months in the Middle East and far too many hours on airplanes, I’ve settled in for a summer with Americans for Informed Democracy. I’ll be AIDemocracy’s Global Development Campaign Intern for the next two months before starting my final year at American University. If it weren’t for the frightening level of humidity, I’d be overjoyed to be back in Washington.

View of Cairo, Egypt

At this point, I’m smiling before people have even finished asking me where I studied abroad. If mentioning my first semester in Nairobi, Kenya, doesn’t cause people’s eyes to pop out of their heads, telling them I’ve just arrived from Cairo, Egypt, certainly does. When they’ve recovered from their shock, most people smile and ask me how I liked Africa and the Middle East. I can’t help feeling that they’re inwardly wondering why a sweet girl like me would choose to live in the big, scary, developing world with the Muslims, starving children, and deadly water-born diseases. Maybe that’s just my own paranoia.

I’m frustrated, I suppose, that my study abroad choices generate so much surprise. First of all, Kenya and Egypt are not scary places. There are certainly dangerous conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East, but there are many more beautiful places full of kind people who will draw you into their homes and lives with both arms. Second, these are the two regions about which Americans know the least—aren’t those the places I should be going as a student? I was in Nairobi following Kenya’s violently contested December 2007 elections, in Egypt following Obama’s inauguration, and in Syria for his historic address to the Muslim World. How could professors, government officials, or the American media possibly teach me more about global politics, ethnic and religious conflict, and the perspectives of people in other parts of the world? We should really be surprised that more students aren’t studying in Cairo, Nairobi, Damascus, Accra, Amman, or Abuja.

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Following recent developments in the US foreign policy orientation to Iran, the analyst is tempted to hypothesize that the Bush Administration faces a dilemma of intimidation and diplomacy regarding Iran. Official documents and media reports indicate the US resistance to have direct talks with Iran. BBC reports that "the US has had no formal ties with Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution". The Bush Administration publicly echoes Washington’s tough positon on Iran whenever they have the opportunity to do so. US Vice-President Dick Cheney follows this logic of toughness and intimidation when he warns Iran over its programs of developing nuclear weapons and restricting sea traffics.

However, early May 2007, at a recent international conference about Iraq, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shortly met with Iran’s foreign Minister. Even though official reports stressed that such a meeting did not mean a direct talk with Iran, political analysis observes that US move as a strategic indicator of the US progressive inclination to direct dialogue with Iran. Evidences in international negotiations demonstrate and support that a simple meeting (whether it is short or long) is a powerful symbol that annonces conflicting parties’ willingness to enter negotiation phases, after they have reached a stalemate.

The US has interests in negotiating with Iran for peace in Iraq and in the Middle-East. A certain awareness of historical ties built by the Ottoman Empire does not allow the policymaker to isolate Iraq from Iran. Iraq was the political and cultural heart of the Ottoman Empire, while Iran was like the body of it. In the same way there is crisis when the heart is separated from the rest of the body, the crisis in Iraq will continue as long as Iran is not involved on the table for national problem-solving in Iraq. Obvisously, the Iraqi crisis fuels crisis and instability in the Middle-East. The EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is aware of such reality when he recently urged Washington to engage in direct talks with Tehran. It is extremely important that the Bush Administration gives full priority to diplomacy. Vice-President Dick Cheney’s ongoing visit in the Gulf intends to ask allies such as Saudi Arabia to help the Iraqi government. Such diplomatic offensives are positive and commendable. Nevertheless, they still desperately need to be extended to Iran and Syria in order to be efficient and successful. Only humble diplomacy can foster peace in Iraq and stability in the Middle-East.

Jacques KOKO, Senior Political Analyst -Americans for Informed Democracy   

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