The New York Times reported today that President Bush called on allies in the Middle East to unify in an effort to pressure Iran. At the same time, the IAEA announced that Iran would answer questions about its nuclear activities within four weeks. While the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, released late last year, convinced many people that Iran does not pose an imminent threat and there is time to pursue diplomacy, President Bush is stubbornly clinging to the idea that Iran poses an immediate danger to the US:
With Mr. Bush in the middle of a trip to the region intended to build a united Arab front against Iran, the White House acknowledged that the announcement represented progress, but expressed skepticism about Iran’s willingness to provide complete information. It also said Iran was still obliged to suspend its enrichment of uranium, as required by the Security Council.
“Answering questions about their past nuclear activities is a step,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman. “But they still need to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing activity. Another declaration is no substitute for complying with the U.N. sanctions.”
Administration officials say many Arab states are wary of Iran’s growing power and influence in the region, especially among Shiite minorities in predominately Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
In recent months, however, the gulf states have shown signs of reaching out diplomatically to Iran. Saudi Arabia gave permission to Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, and the Gulf Cooperation Council also extended him an invitation to a summit meeting last month.
The Bush administration seems unable to break free of a framework that views diplomacy as a reward for good behavior rather than a process to elicit changes in behavior. Their insistence that Iran stop enriching uranium prior to engaging in diplomatic talks is an unnecessary road block to building a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Iran.