Detente with Tehran?

[Washington Times] Ilan Berman - These days, you do not have to look very far to find signs of Iranian troublemaking. Tehran's assistance to Shi'ite segments of the insurgency in Iraq does not appear to be slackening, and in Lebanon, the Iranian leadership is helping its principal terrorist proxy, Hizbullah, carry out a slow-motion coup against the fragile pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. Iran's ayatollahs, in other words, are behaving badly. In some quarters, however, policymakers and analysts have begun to urge some sort of accommodation with Tehran. At face value, such a "detente" indeed seems tempting. Engagement with the Islamic Republic, the argument goes, could compel the Iranian regime to behave better in Iraq, forswear its nuclear ambitions, and roll back its support for regional radicals. It may even lead to a thaw in the 27-year-old cold war between Washington and Tehran. Yet there are at least three reasons why "doing a deal" with the Islamic Republic is both potentially disastrous and ultimately self-defeating. Regime ideology: The Islamic Republic established by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 remains a radical revolutionary movement. The goal of the Iranian regime, in other words, is not to become a part of the world community, but to overturn it. Such a government has no interest in a diplomatic bargain that would diminish its international standing. Strategic: The Iranian leadership has made clear that it has prioritized the acquisition of a nuclear capability over dialogue with the West. For Iran's ayatollahs, the nuclear program is not a bargaining chip; it is a core element of regime stability and a vehicle for regional dominance. Demographic: Iran today is in the throes of societal transformation; two-thirds of the country's 70 million population are aged 35 or younger, are deeply disillusioned with the Islamic Revolution, and are largely Western-looking in orientation. The country's current ruling elite, by contrast, is aging and ill, and by all accounts lacks serious popular support from the Iranian "street." All of which means that in the next five to ten years Iran's current leadership will give way to a new ruling order that may be more predisposed to partnership with the U.S. and the West. The writer is vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council.

2007-04-11 01:00:00

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