Wednesday, March 15, 2006

U.S.- Diplomacy must win to avoid Iran confrontation

Steve Holland, Reuters:
An international diplomatic effort to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions must succeed "if confrontation is to be avoided," the White House said on Thursday in a new national security strategy.

"We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran," said the document, which also described national security challenges in Iraq and across the Middle East as well as in Russia and China.

The United States and its European allies are locked in a test of wills with Iran over suspicions that Tehran is trying to develop a nuclear weapons program despite its insistence that it merely wants atomic power for civilian use.

"This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided," said the document without elaborating.

President George W. Bush has insisted on a diplomatic outcome to the negotiations but has never taken the military option off the table, although experts believe U.S. involvement in the Iraq war is a limiting factor.

The document cited other concerns about Iran: that it sponsors terrorism, threatens Israel, seeks to thwart Middle East peace, disrupts democracy in Iraq and denies freedom to Iranians. It said these can only be resolved if Iran makes the strategic decision to change its policies, open up its political system and allow freedom.

"This is the ultimate goal of U.S. policy," the document said. "In the interim, we will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse effects of their bad conduct." READ MORE

The document sought to draw a line between Iran's leaders and the Iranian people, saying "our strategy is to block the threats posed by the regime while expanding our engagement and outreach to the people the regime is oppressing."

North Korea also poses a serious nuclear proliferation challenge, the document said.

It said Washington will continue to press for a return to talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program between the two Koreas, the United States, Russia, China and Japan despite North Korea's "long and bleak record of duplicity and bad-faith negotiations."


The new strategy is an update of a 2002 document that itself reversed a Cold War policy aimed at containing the Soviet Union. The 2002 document advocated pre-emptive strikes against hostile states or terrorist groups -- a policy critics said was used to launch the Iraq war.

In the new document, the United States insists that "we must be prepared to act alone if necessary."

But in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq three years ago, which strained international ties, the document emphasised the need for diplomacy, saying "there is little of lasting consequence that we can accomplish in the world without the sustained cooperation of our allies and partners."

The document reflected U.S. concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been backsliding on democracy. It said strengthening ties with Moscow depends on the foreign and domestic policies that Russia adopts, particularly towards the Middle East, South and Central Asia and East Asia.

"Recent trends regrettably point towards a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions," the document said. "We will work to try to persuade the Russian government to move forward, not backward, along freedom's path."

The document also described worries about China, saying it was "holding on to old ways of thinking and acting that exacerbate concerns throughout the region and the world."

These include quietly expanding China's military while extending trade but acting as if Beijing can somehow "lock up" energy supplies around the world "or seek to direct markets rather than opening them up."

China is "supporting resource-rich countries without regard to the misrule at home or misbehaviour abroad of those regimes," the document said.

"Ultimately, China's leaders must see that they cannot let their population increasingly experience the freedoms to buy, sell and produce, while denying them the rights to assemble, speak and worship."

The document also said Hamas, the militant group that won Palestinian elections, has the opportunity for peace with Israel and statehood "if Hamas will abandon its terrorist roots and change its relationship with Israel."