Will a different President take us further down the road to war with Iran?
The next President of the US will have a stark choice to make over Iran.
Relations have never been so tense between the two countries, and whilst the likelihood of war is not on the immediate horizon, the possibility should not be discounted.
“From what I’ve heard the US is tightening the noose around Iran’s neck. The Obama administration has proven to be a no-nonsense adversary,” says Iranian journalist Naeim Karimi. “While the Bush regime was heavy on rhetoric, it was very light on action. Obama, as described by the Iranian leader, wears a velvet glove over his iron fist,”
The US and its allies accuse Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has expressed “serious concerns” about Tehran’s refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, but Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.
Former Iranian President, the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei accuses the Obama administration of insulting the Islamic republic. But in the final presidential debate, the US President said the crisis with Iran could be resolved through bilateral negotiations.
For the past few years, talks with Iran have been handled by the six major powers: those that make up the United Nations Security Council and Germany.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney has criticised his opponent for not being tough enough on Iran and has described the crisis as Obama’s “greatest failing.” But the diplomatic road to a solution remains open.
Allen L. Keiswetter from The Middle East Institute says: “A second Obama administration could be in a position to consider a broader deal like an acknowledgement of Iran’s right to enrich [uranium] to a limited degree, say 3.5–5 percent. That would be in return for Iranian acceptance of stringent monitoring and inspections.”
Faced with growing international isolation, Iran is strengthening its ties to the countries in South America. Since 2005, Iran has opened six embassies in Latin America in a bid to increase trade and defence co-operation with states that are known for being anti-American.
It is a strategy that the US State Department has described as “desperate,” but in a recent visit to Venezuela, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad mocked the US criticism and along with his Venezuelan counterpart joked about having a nuclear weapon at their disposal.
Pandering to Israel?
The Israeli Government says that Iran is more than 70% of the way to producing a nuclear weapon. Addressing the UN General Assembly in September, Israeli Prime Minister called on the international community to set a “clear, red line” to prevent Tehran building a nuclear capability.
Israel has also warned of its right to defend itself against a nuclear Iran and has not ruled out pre-emptive military action.
President Obama has urged Israel not to attack Iran, but Mitt Romney has made it clear he would not stand in Israel’s way. The question is would he support Israel? Would he commit US forces to a war with Iran?
Karimi believes the prospect of war does not go beyond rhetoric: “The US and the developed world in general are too heavily in debt to be able to finance another war. Besides, the unpredictability of the outcome and the consequences of a war with Iran is a huge stopping factor.”
Iranian Governmental officials accuse both candidates of pandering to the Israeli position and to the Jewish lobby in the US.
“Iranians generally favour Democrats as Obama’s methods are more soft and he has more doves than hawks in his team. But they are sceptical of anything American,” says Karimi.
Iran has accepted further meetings to discuss the levels of uranium they are allowed to enrich during April next year. But past negotiations have always failed. Israel is nervous and wants action. The UN’s nuclear watchdog also has concerns.
The choice for the next President of the United States could not be clearer: seek a diplomatic solution through negotiation or engage Iran through pre-emptive military action.