Diplomatic approach needed on Iran
Iran and North Korea are the west's bogeymen. The threatening rhetoric of their leaders, coupled with go-it-alone nuclear programmes, seemingly justifies the label. But whereas attempts are under way to convince North Korea to comply with international safeguards, Iran continues to be treated as if it were not worthy of such efforts. Stepped-up UN Security Council sanctions show that lessons are not being learned.
The crux of the six-party talks over North Korea is building trust. Through an approach of coaxing, rewarding compliance and improving understanding, progress has been made, albeit slowly. To the US, Iran is deemed to be not deserving of such treatment. The Islamic revolution in 1979 that toppled Washington's ally, the Shah of Iran, cut deep into the US political psyche. Washington's stand towards Tehran remains war-like. Its politicians are driving the international sanctions against the country and are seeking to ramp up the barriers.
There are four foreign policy tools to get a nation to comply with demands: diplomacy, military force, propaganda and sanctions. The US persists with the latter two and threatens military action, moves that elicit only greater defiance. There has been no attempt to discuss the issues of contention.
Not every foreign policy challenge can be treated the same. Yet it is obvious from the chaos that has resulted from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that war should be an option of last resort. Of the few benefits of the US-led invasion of Iraq has been the kick-starting of friendly ties between Iran and Iraq. The nations were at war from 1980 to 1988, during which 1 million lives were lost. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's landmark visit to Baghdad this week put relations firmly back on track.
It is good that the nations are again on friendly terms. Such direct engagement is the best way to start mending rifts. The US would do well to follow the example. By turning to diplomacy rather than using its influence to push sanctions, it has a better chance of succeeding where there has until now been little progress. Iranians, the US and the world would benefit.