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U.S. Envoy Dennis Ross Lays Out Iran Options In New Book

Dennis Ross

Dennis Ross

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. envoy Dennis Ross, in a new book he co-authored, raises the possibility of the use of military force against Iran should negotiations fail to head off Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Ross, who is leading the U.S. diplomatic effort to engage Iran on a series of issues, wrote "Myths, Illusions & Peace -- Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East" with David Makovsky, a former journalist who is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The book, released on June 11, is significant in that Ross, who led President Bill Clinton's Middle East diplomacy in the 1990s, has said little in public on Iran since he was named in February as a special adviser to handle the issue.

The authors included a nuanced, 30-page chapter that lays out options for dealing with Iran, which has so far not responded to President Barack Obama's overtures for better relations, with elections there on June 12.

"Tougher policies -- either militarily or meaningful containment -- will be easier to sell internationally and domestically if we have diplomatically tried to resolve our differences with Iran in a serious and credible fashion," they wrote.

In fact, they argued, if negotiations fail to prevent Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons -- which Tehran denies seeking -- any package of inducements that had been offered to Iran should be made public.

"Such an approach may build pressures within Iran not to forgo the opportunity that has been presented, while also ensuring that the onus is put on Iran for creating a crisis and also for making conflict more likely," they wrote.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has refused to take the military option off the table in dealing with Iran, while stressing a desire to find a diplomatic solution.

Ross and Makovsky wrote that the United States should pursue engagement without preconditions but with diplomatic pressures, such as European economic sanctions, to persuade Iran that "the costs of pursuing the nuclear option are real and will not go away, but that Iran has a door to walk through."

Back-Channel Talks

They recommended the United States seek back-channel talks with Iran as a discreet way to hear Iranian concerns and respond to them. Any such channel should connect to Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, they said.

A State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said Ross would decline comment. "Dennis defers to his co-author since he is now a government employee," he said.

The two authors speculate that one basic vulnerability of Iran is its reliance on selling oil as the source of 80 percent of its export income and 75 percent of government revenues.

Should Iran's leaders come to believe that "Iran's economic lifeline is going to be cut and the oil revenues are going to dry up, they may well decide that the nuclear program is not worth the cost," they wrote.

The authors suggested ways of overcoming reluctance by China and Russia to take more punitive measures against Iran beyond the three rounds of UN sanctions that have so far failed to pursued Tehran to halt its nuclear enrichment program.

China might respond to pressure from Saudi Arabia, because Beijing has major new investments in Saudi petrochemicals and are jointly financing new oil refiners.

"The Saudis need not broadcast what they are doing -- but they do need to be enlisted to quietly pressure the Chinese to change their approach to Iran lest they lose out on a profitable future with Saudi Arabia," they wrote.

They wrote that with Russia, the United States might consider trade-offs to entice Moscow to help, ideas that included reconsidering U.S. plans for missile defense in Eastern Europe or for extending NATO membership to uneasy Russian neighbors Ukraine and Georgia.