Mar 5, 2007
Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that the U.S. would take part in a regional security conference with Iraq, Iran and Syria. Talks are set to begin March 10 in Baghdad.
This marks the first formal talks between the U.S. and Iran and Syria, and it could open the door to broader talks. In other words, this offer marks a possible turn in U.S. policy, a possible formal opening to Iran and Syria.
This stands in stark contrast to the recent bellicose threats from the U.S.; the U.S. naval build-up in the Persian Gulf just outside Iran; the blame of both countries, but especially Iran, for U.S. soldiers getting killed in Iraq; and the charges that both countries encourage terrorism and that Iran has been building a nuclear bomb.
Yet, even as the U.S. had been threatening Iran and Syria, there were always indications that they had been working together.
Certainly, when the U.S. went into Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, it had tried to limit and curtail both regimes’ influence, and it might have even had the hope of overturning them. But the fact that the U.S. military got bogged down in a quagmire in both Afghanistan and Iraq meant that the U.S. had to look to Iran for help.
The Iranian regime consistently showed a willingness to cooperate with the U.S. It supported the U.S. war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Iranian government worked with the U.S. government to broker the support by the Northern Alliance for a coalition government under the leadership of Hamid Karzai, a U.S. puppet. And, Iran played a key role in the U.S.-organized donor conference in Bonn, Germany in November 2001, and pledged 560 million dollars for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
In the summer of 2003, as it became clear that the situation in Iraq was deteriorating, following the U.S. invasion and occupation, the Iranian regime secretly offered to work with the U.S. – throughout the Middle East, to rein in Hezbollah and Hamas, for example.
In return for its help, Iran sought negotiations with the U.S. over terms for diplomatic recognition, the halt of U.S. hostility and the abolition of sanctions – what it called a “grand bargain.”
But the Bush administration turned Iran down cold, that is, until the continued deterioration of the situation in Iraq left the U.S. with almost no other choice.
On May 31, 2006, Rice announced that the U.S. was willing to engage in direct negotiations with the Iranian government. The U.S. even offered to recognize the Iranian government’s right to nuclear technology. Secret documents that were later leaked to the press indicated that the U.S. was offering to lift – and not just suspend – long standing sanctions against Iran. The U.S. was ready to sell commercial jets, agricultural equipment, telecommunications technology. The U.S. was also prepared to end its opposition to Iran’s membership in the WTO, as well as to loans from the World Bank and other big institutions.
But as the situation continued to worsen in Iraq, the U.S. froze the negotiations. The U.S. was not willing to negotiate from a position of weakness. So it sought to shore up its position in Iraq as well as to threaten Iran enough to soften them up to U.S. demands for cooperation, by making a big show of force, both with its troop “surge’ in Iraq and the naval build-up off the coast of Iran. Having begun to make this demonstration, the U.S. has now opened the diplomatic door to Iran and Syria to more openly operate in Iraq and the rest of the region.
To extricate itself from the war, the U.S. government needs stability in the region. Therefore it must reinforce the existing regimes – starting with Iran, which shares a long border with Iraq. Both the U.S. and Iranian governments have a similar interest: they do not want the raging internal war and power struggle provoked by the U.S. invasion of Iraq to spill over the border, to become a regional war, or to upset the status quo throughout the region.
No one should think that the newly announced regional conference will bring about an end to the war in Iraq, or better conditions for the Iraqi people. On the contrary, even if the U.S. eventually begins to withdraw its troops, it may very well pummel the Iraqi population more heavily than ever – in order to send a message to the people of Iraq and the entire region of what it is willing to do to those who dare defy it.
Moreover, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has made it clear that the U.S. has no intention to pull out of Iraq completely; they plan to keep bases in the country permanently. After all, they have a strategic interest in controlling Iraq’s oil reserves.
For the population of Iraq – and the region – the war and destruction will continue for years to come – the price that they pay for the continued domination of imperialism.