How much longer will the Iran ‘game’ go on?

The latest failure of talks between Iran and the six world powers represented by Catherine Ashton — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus one, respectively) — indicate that unless a new approach is tried, further talks will be futile and will only increase the animosity between both sides.

“The time has come for the world to take a tougher stance and make it clear to Iran once and for all that these negotiation games are approaching an end,” said Israel’s Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz in a communique.

Steinitz, a close ally to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Israel’s Army Radio that stronger action should be taken within a few weeks or a month to persuade Iran to halt its uranium enrichment activity.

One of the arguments trotted out in the debate over Iran’s nuclear development is that it could initiate an arms race in the Middle East, but a realistic look at the overall picture in the region is sufficient: Except for Israel, whose nuclear arsenal has been an open secret for decades, no other country in the region is in a position to launch a serious nuclear arms program.

It has been stated repeatedly that an aggressive Iranian government would represent a danger for the region and for the U.S. Historical fact, however, turns that argument upside down.

To the contrary, Iranians have been witness to a number of acts of foreign intervention against their country.

Last September Efraim Halevy, head of Israel’s national intelligence agency, the Mossad, from 1998 to 2000, declared in an interview with Haaretz: “What we need to do is to try and understand the Iranians. The basic feeling of that ancient nation is one of humiliation.

“Both religious Iranians and secular Iranians feel that for 200 years the Western powers used them as their playthings. …Thus, the deep motive behind the Iranian nuclear project — which was launched by the Shah — is not confrontation with Israel, but the desire to restore to Iran the greatness of which it was long deprived.”

Both sides, Iran on one hand and the U.S. and Israel on the other, have used aggressive rhetoric against the other side.

The U.S. and Israel have repeatedly threatened military action against Tehran in flagrant violation of the U.N. Charter whose Article 2 states: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

If past experience with authoritarian regimes is any guide, new harsher sanctions on Iran will not succeed in curbing that country’s nuclear ambitions. On the contrary, they will strengthen the hardliners in Tehran

Much more can be gained by fostering a diplomatic approach and improving relations between American and Iranian citizens.

Since threats of punitive action against Iran are not weakening its nuclear ambitions and not tempering its hard line with its own citizens, a different approach is in order.

According to professor Dursun Peksen, an expert on economic sanctions: The effect sanctions have on human rights conditions in authoritarian regimes shows that more abuses typically occur with sanctions in place and that “the number of abuses is greater when sanctions on those regimes are more extensive.”

While we fear what we know, we fear even more what we don’t know. Parallel to efforts on the diplomatic front, real dialogue between the U.S. and Iran could begin with an exchange of artists, sportsmen, scientists, writers and religious figures.

An active exchange would benefit both countries and lessen the atmosphere of confrontation and suspicion.

Let us change a paradigm geared toward war for one aimed at peaceful coexistence. This would be a logical next step in brokering peace in that troubled region.

Cesar Chelala, Ph.D., M.D. and a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award, writes extensively on human rights and foreign affairs.

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