Dialogue With Iran, Syria Would Be 'Disastrous,' Experts Say
By Julie Stahl
CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief
November 17, 2006
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Pressure is mounting on the White House to open a dialogue with Tehran and Damascus, but including those two nations in efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis would "disastrous," some Middle East experts are saying.
The Iraq Study Group is expected to recommend bringing Iran and Syria into the
process when it releases its report next month.
The U.S. Congress tasked the study group -- comprised of foreign policy experts and elder statesmen -- with re-evaluating U.S. strategy in Iraq. The group is led by Former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, both of whom reportedly favor the idea of talking to the enemy.
Both Iran and Syria are isolated as pariahs in the international community.
Iran is currently under threat of United Nations Security Council sanctions for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment. The U.S. and other Western countries believe Iran intends to use the uranium to develop a nuclear bomb -- a charge that Iran denies.
High-ranking Syrian officials have been implicated in the assassination last
year of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Both countries are accused of aiding or fueling the insurgency in Iraq, trying to topple the Lebanese government and supporting the Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist organizations.
President Bush has rejected the idea of opening talks with Iran and Syria. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's staunchest ally in the Iraq war, suggested earlier this week that a "new partnership" with Tehran and Damascus was possible.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said earlier this week that Tehran would
talk to the U.S. if it "corrects its behavior."
A Syrian government newspaper said the country is ready to meet with U.S. officials, but added that "the ball is in their court." But Baath Party economist Ayman Abdel Nour asked what would be the point of helping with Middle East problems since the U.S. imposed trade sanctions on the country two years ago.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said earlier this week that "multiple overtures" have been made to Iran regarding talks.
But the question is whether "there is anything about Iranian behavior that suggests that they are prepared to contribute to stability in Iraq." Rice later said there is no indication that Syria wants to be a "stabilizing force.""
Prof. Walid Phares, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for the
Defense of Democracies, rejected the idea of talking to the leaders of those two
If talking to Iran and Syria means talking to the reformers and civil society, then Phares said he favors the idea.
But if it means making concessions to dictators it would be "disastrous," Phares told Cybercast News Service in a telephone interview.
Such thinking represents an old school of thought that brought about the 9/11 terror attacks, that brought Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power and that emboldened Hizballah, said Phares.
Iranian expert Menashe Amir said if Blair's proposal to talk to Iran and Syria was meant to expose the countries as the "bad guys," then it is a "very good idea." But if he really wants to open negotiations and cooperation with them, then it "absolutely wrong."
Iran has set conditions to enter negotiations, but those conditions are too
harsh for the U.S. to accept, Amir told Cybercast News Service.
Iran is demanding an American commitment not to interfere in Iran's nuclear program; it wants the U.S. to withdraw any complaints from the United Nations Security Council; it says the U.S. must stop supporting opposition groups in Iran; and it wants the U.S. to stop criticizing Iran's human rights record, said Amir.
(Other conditions include dropping U.S. support for Israel and releasing Iranian assets frozen in the U.S., reports say.)
Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens said both Iran and Syria are
"troublemakers." Neither is "interested in helping the U.S," he said.
"It is important for the U.S. to do what is good for the U.S. [regarding Iraq]," said Arens, who was Israel's defense minister during the 1991 Gulf War against
But as far as Israel is concerned, he said, a return to a dictatorship in Iraq would not be good for Israel.
Saddam Hussein attacked Israel with at least 39 Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War. Before that, Iraq fought against Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War and in the 1973 Yom Kippur war against Israel.