The Bush administration’s decision to participate in talks with Iran is a direct result of its failure to win even a modicum of international support for its military and economic threats, as well as a rising chorus of influential military, retired diplomats, and other elite voices within U.S. policy circles. Bush’s plummeting approval ratings (down below 30%) and the increasing media and public focus on the abject failures and U.S. war crimes in Iraq have also played a key role in challenging the attack-Iran cabal. The uniformed military services tend to oppose a military strike against Iran since they are more aware of the potential consequences; the pro-war contingent appears to believe that "regime change," based on the Iraq model, would somehow succeed. Whether they actually still believe that the Iranian population would welcome a U.S. attack or the overthrow of the regime with sweets and flowers remains uncertain, but Cheney’s longstanding leadership of the attack-Iran club makes the White House climb-down particularly significant.
On the other hand, Washington’s "offer" to negotiate with Iran only after Iran agrees to verifiably abandon all enrichment activity means that it is not yet a serious proposal. What happens to Iran’s enrichment program - which is legal for civilian nuclear power use under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - is supposed to be the result of negotiations; imposing a its abandonment as a precondition means the U.S. is not yet serious about diplomacy. Initially, Iran welcomed the U.S. offer but rejected the preconditions. But European pressure has remained intense, since it has been clear that the "E-3" negotiators (France, UK and Germany) could not offer Iran the one thing Tehran was clear that it needed for negotiations to succeed: a security guarantee that it would not be the target of U.S. attack or destabilization "regime change" efforts. Only the U.S. itself could provide such a guarantee. But the Bush administration has not indicated any willingness so far to consider a security arrangement; earlier public State Department statements that "security guarantees are not on the table" remain on the table.
The U.S. also gave in to Europe’s proposal to offer a package of incentives, including a light-water reactor and guaranteed supplies of fuel, designed to entice Iran into giving up its enrichment program. Without a U.S. security guarantee Iran will likely reject that offer. Washington also agreed to take the issue off the Security Council agenda. And no sanctions were included in the package. But a day later the U.S. renewed its threats to return to the Council in the future if Iran does not agree to suspend its enrichment program. Although Bush claimed that Russia and China now accepted the U.S. threat to return to the Council, neither Moscow nor Beijing made any new statement that actually softened their longstanding opposition to sanctions. Earlier administration announcement of plans to build an "anti-missile shield" to protect Europe from Iranian missiles have gained no traction in Europe or among the U.S. public.
While international governmental pressure on Iran continues, there remains a significant split between the non-proliferation focus of Europe (willing to consider sanctions) and to a lesser degree Russia and China (preferring enticements), and the ideologically-driven "regime-change" approach of the U.S. (favoring regime change, including military attack). So far the Bush administration has failed to win broader support even for an anti-Iranian "coalition," let alone a unified Security Council resolution, but this White House has shown its willingness before to move recklessly and unilaterally despite global opposition. So there is no room for complacency or assumptions that an attack on Iran won’t happen because the military is against it or because it is so obviously dangerous.
Right now Israel appears willing to follow the Bush administration’s lead on Iran, rather than moving precipitously on its own. But despite his coalition government, Olmert remains significantly weakened at home, lacking the military credentials that made his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, so popular. Facing potential opposition to his U.S.-backed plan to permanently annex major blocs of settlements while withdrawing only 20% of the settlers from some parts of the West Bank, Olmert’s bellicose anti-Iran rhetoric may serve him well. During Olmert’s visit Bush restated his pledge to defend Israel if it is attacked by Iran; some analysts saw that as a subtle warning to Israel not to take the military initiative against Iran. But Olmert also claimed that he and Bush saw "eye to eye" on Iran. Whether Olmert might decide that he requires more than threats against Iran to stay in power, and how far he might be willing to act on his rhetoric, remain unclear.
Members of Congress and other policymakers, even some strongly opposed to a military strike on Iran, have been reluctant to challenge directly the Bush administration insistence that for diplomacy to work, "everything must remain on the table." Some opposition appears to be strengthening in recent days. But it is still necessary to make clear to policymakers that some things indeed MUST be taken publicly off the table, made off limits from the beginning. Threats of war crimes (launching a preventive war or using nuclear "bunker-busters" or any other nuclear weapon or even threatening a nuclear strike on a non-nuclear state - all of which are war crimes) must not be considered acceptable components of the U.S. diplomatic arsenal.
Our immediate demand must be for direct U.S. talks with Iran based on international law and treaties and with no preconditions. The goal of such talks: an end to U.S. threats of "regime change" and real U.S. security guarantees for Iran, normalization of relations between the U.S. and Iran, and a weapons of mass destruction-free zone throughout the Middle East, in which all countries in the region verifiably agree not to seek nuclear weapons, and Israel’s unacknowledged but provocative nuclear arsenal (the only existing nuclear weapons in the Middle East) is brought under international supervision and destroyed. The Blix report, significantly, also called for declaring regions free of weapons of mass destruction - "particularly and most urgently in the Middle East."