A new day for U.S. and Iran

Diplomatic relations between Iran and the U.S. could be the key to peace in Iraq.

This week, the stage has been set for a meeting between the leaders of two former archrivals, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as Iraq aims at winning Tehran’s support for the collapsing Iraqi government. As civil war threatens to break out in Iraq, this is a perfect time for Washington to reconsider its cold shoulder towards Iran. By pursuing a new relationship with Iran, we will underscore our commitment to diplomacy and enhance the prospect for success in Iraq.

The argument that Iran wants U.S. troops tied down in Iraq because it stops us from attacking Iran is completely outdated. There is a growing understanding among the Iranian leadership that the failure of the Iraqi government will end with drastic consequences for Iran. If Iraq fails as a state and breaks down into three separate entities, it would be a security nightmare for Iran. The creation of an independent Iraqi Kurdish state would intensify Kurdish nationalism inside Iran, while the re-creation of a Sunni state would be relentlessly opposed to the Shi’a-dominated Iran. Also, there is the risk that Iran could get drawn into sectarian fighting inside Iraq on the side of the Shi’a while Arab states would back the Sunnis. This situation would create great instability in the region as Iran would find itself in opposition to the rest of the Middle East.

However, direct talks between the United States and Iran might still be a long road away as President Bush has linked the issue of Iraq to Iran’s nuclear program. He has repeatedly stated that Iran must stop uranium enrichment before talks can start on Iraq. However, maybe it is time for Bush to give up, given Iran’s adamant refusal to stop its nuclear ambitions even when presented with trade incentives and threatened with sanctions. Why would the Iranians agree to make a huge concession solely to assist the Americans work out the mess they have created in Iraq?

Maybe if we work with Iran constructively to prevent civil war in Iraq, the proper diplomatic tunnels will finally open between ourselves and the Iranians.