Two of Washington's most prominent foreign policy
graybeards praised Saturday's direct participation in multinational talks with
Iran by a senior U.S. diplomat but called on the administration of President
George W. Bush to drop his demands that Tehran freeze its uranium enrichment
program as a precondition for broader negotiations.
Retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser under
Republican presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, and Zbigniew Brzezinski,
who held the same post under Democratic President Jimmy Carter, urged Bush
to go further by offering immediate rewards to Tehran in exchange for such
And both men warned that repeated U.S. threats to use military force against
Iran were counterproductive and strengthened hard-line forces in the regime
led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They said an actual military attack
whether by the U.S. or by Israel would likely be disastrous for U.S.
interests in the region.
"A war with Iran will produce calamities for sure," said Brzezinski,
who pointed, among other things, to its likely impact on the price of oil and
the likelihood that it would create yet another front to add to the two wars
Iraq and Afghanistan in which U.S. military forces are already
"[Brzezinski's assessment] may be a little more dire [than mine], but
not much," Scowcroft told IPS in a brief interview after the two men spoke
at a briefing sponsored by the Center for Security and International Studies
(CSIS). "It would turn the region into a cauldron of conflict, bitterness,
and hatred. It would turn Islam against us."
Both men have been strongly critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, particularly
the decision to invade Iraq although Brzezinski has been considerably more
vocal than Scowcroft, who remains a close friend of Bush's father. Both leading
lights of the so-called "realist" foreign-policy establishment, they
are currently collaborating on a book to be published in September.
Their joint appearance at CSIS, which was announced late last week after the
administration had confirmed that undersecretary of state for policy, Ambassador
William Burns, would attend Saturday's meeting between the so-called P5+1 (the
five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) and Iran, seemed
timed to demonstrate strong bipartisan support for continued and enhanced U.S.
Burns' direct participation at the talks not only marked the highest-level
officially and publicly acknowledged meeting between the U.S. and Iran since
the two nations broke off diplomatic relations in late 1979. It also appeared
to mark a potentially significant easing of previous administration demands
that Tehran suspend its uranium enrichment program as a condition for direct
Coupled with reports that Washington plans to open an interests section in
Tehran, as well as a series of strong statements by the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, warning against the consequences of a
U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran, Burns' presence was widely interpreted as a
sign that the administration has made a strategic decision to engage Iran diplomatically,
much as it did, beginning in late 2006, with yet another charter member of
Bush's "Axis of Evil," North Korea.
Indeed, hawks outside the administration who are nonetheless closely associated
with administration hard-liners led by Vice President Dick Cheney have been
complaining bitterly about the decision to send Burns since it was announced.
The neoconservative Weekly Standard called the move "stunningly
shameful," while former UN Ambassador John Bolton said it was proof of
the administration's "complete intellectual collapse."
Similarly, the neoconservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal,
which has long urged confrontation with Iran, has assailed the decision as
foreshadowing "détente." On Monday, it published a column
by Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) that charged Bush
with "appeasing" Tehran and conducting "diplomatic malpractice
on a Carteresque level."
While these protests themselves constitute evidence that a strategic decision
to engage Iran in much the same way that the administration has dealt with
North Korea over the past 18 months Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
will meet for the first time with her North Korean counterpart in Singapore
later this week has indeed been made, many analysts remain uncertain.
The White House itself stressed that Burns' presence was a "one-time"
affair. And Rice, who, along with Pentagon chief Robert Gates, is seen as the
administration's main champion for engagement, followed up the meeting by setting
a two-week deadline for Tehran to respond to the P5+1's offer the so-called
"freeze-for-freeze" to forgo a fourth round of UN sanctions
against it if it refrained from adding new centrifuges to its enrichment program.
The group, she said, had sent a "very strong message to the Iranians
that they can't go and stall
and that they have to make a decision,"
suggesting that Washington would push for sanctions if Tehran does not provide
a satisfactory response by the deadline.
To some observers, both her tone and her words suggested that Rice herself
feels vulnerable, particularly given the failure of Iran's representative to
the Geneva talks, Ambassador Saeed Jalili, to respond directly to the proposal
on the table.
Scowcroft agreed Tuesday that the Iranian response had indeed been "disappointing"
but also suggested that Rice's "rather sharp" remarks were likely
to strengthen hard-liners in Tehran. Brzezinski also criticized Rice's ultimatum,
asserting that it was "not helpful to the negotiating process."
Scowcroft said Burns' presence in Geneva was "encouraging," while
Brzezinski called it a "very good step" but insufficient in itself
to break the "logjam" created by the administration's precondition
for direct talks. They also denounced the administration's repeated reminders
that "all options remain on the table" as counterproductive.
"It tends to push Iranians into a more nationalistic, dogmatic stance,"
said Brzezinski, while Scowcroft said it offered only the "illusion of
a clean solution" to what is essentially "a very complicated diplomatic
At the same time, they endorsed the use of sanctions as a means of pressuring
Iran, provided that they were coupled with incentives whose benefits to Tehran
would be clear and immediate in order to make it easier for the regime to make
concessions. "Give them a way out without losing face," Scowcroft
On speculation that Israel may be preparing to take unilateral military action
against Iran's nuclear facilities, Brzezinski said it would not be a "smart
strategic choice" due to the likelihood that the U.S. would even become
"more bogged down" in the region. Scowcroft said he would tell the
Israelis to "calm down."
(Inter Press Service)