Accessibility links

Breaking News

Washington, Tehran Move To Get Past Confrontation

U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad declared this week that Tehran does not need international mediators and can talk directly to the Americans when necessary.

Official Iranian state media -- reflecting a surprising change of attitude -- are now blaming tensions in bilateral relations not on U.S. President George W. Bush but on his "Zionist" advisers -- "certain U.S. senators" -- and Israel. Iran's State News Agency IRNA quoted unnamed Iranian diplomats as saying that in the current situation "the government of Dr. Ahmadinejad has decided to resolve problems that seemed unsolvable for the past 30 years."

Until 10 days ago, people in Iran were worried -- and international media were full of speculation -- about possible U.S. or Israeli attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities. Responding to questions by RFE/RL's Radio Farda on July 8, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declined to comment on the likelihood of such attacks. She did not even reiterate the official U.S. position that "all options are on the table." Instead, she emphasized the U.S. administration's preference for a diplomatic solution and, referring to Libya, said "Americans have no permanent enemies."

Then this week Washington announced that Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns would attend July 19 talks in Geneva between Iran and the Group of 5+1, led by EU representative Javier Solana. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the 5+1 group expected Iran to make "specific proposals" at those talks with regard to its contentious nuclear program.

At the same time, Washington reiterated that it has not retreated from its insistence that full-blown negotiations with Iran can take place only if Iran suspends uranium enrichment. Ahmadinejad has insisted that such enrichment is exclusively for peaceful purposes and is therefore nonnegotiable. But the most recent statements from Iran, and the decision to send a top U.S. diplomat to the Geneva talks, suggest the emphasis is now shifting from militant rhetoric to negotiation.

Interestingly, it is the conservative hard-line Ahmadinejad government -- not the reformist former President Mohammad Khatami -- and the Republican Bush administration that finally appear to be changing course, judging by their statements. Ruling out negotiations or setting preconditions that render talks impossible is no longer the favored tactic in either Tehran or Washington; and the likelihood of diplomatic tools succeeding -- especially in hotspots like Iran and the Middle East -- now appears to be higher than was the case just a few months ago.

Iran's response to the package of incentives offered by the 5+1 Group -- and the subsequent reaction by Western powers, primarily the United States -- remains to be seen. But in any event, the rhetoric of war and confrontation seems to be on the wane, which can only improve the prospects for peace in the region and relieve some of the pressure on world oil prices.

Abbas Djavadi is an associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL