AFTER weeks of threats and bluster, more conciliatory statements towards Iran are emerging from the American establishment. Speaking in Switzerland on Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his country was ready to hold talks with Iran “with no preconditions”.
Considering that Mr Pompeo has been one of the biggest Iran hawks in Washington, this is a significant change in tone. However, he also added that Iran must reverse its “malign activity” in the Middle East.
Tehran, on its part, has dismissed the US official’s offer as “word play”; while speaking on Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani said talks with the Americans could only be held if the US shows “respect” and does not pressure the Iranians.
Considering the recent ugly build-up that appeared to be pointing to a new war in the Middle East, the softening of the American tone is welcome.
From the outside, there seems to be great confusion prevailing within the US establishment regarding the Iran issue.
More pragmatic and level-headed members of the administration, as well as many in the US military, feel provoking Iran into a confrontation is a bad idea and will lead to great instability in the region. There are reports that the US military has sent messages to the Pasdaran through the back channel that they are not looking for war.
However, there are others in Washington, particularly those connected to the Israeli lobby, who are beating the drums of war.
The US president’s national security adviser John Bolton leads this pack and, until recently, Mr Pompeo was also a vocal proponent of war with Iran.
It is hoped that the saner elements within the US establishment prevail and are able to convince President Donald Trump to talk to Iran instead of rattling sabres.
Of course, there will be many external parties egging on the US to attack Iran (Israel, the Gulf potentates); one leading Gulf paper has even called for American ‘surgical strikes’ on Iran. However, these elements should know that in case war does break out, it will be catastrophic for the region, and the global economy.
Setting aside preconditions is a good start; perhaps the Americans can open channels with the Iranians by instituting confidence-building measures. After all, Tehran has been quite wary of Washington ever since the latter pulled out of the nuclear deal. If Mr Trump really wants to leave a lasting legacy, let him jettison the acrimony that has dogged Iranian-American relations for the past four decades and deal with Tehran with respect, instead of seeking regime change. This is, of course, easier said than done, but a more coherent and conciliatory line from Washington will help. In any case, the warmongers in the US capital must be reined in, lest their loose talk of war and threatening postures spark an actual conflict.
Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2019