Israel should vigorously support the latest international proposal sent to Iran attempting to defuse the growing nuclear standoff with Teheran, while at the same time remaining vigilant and ready to protect itself in whatever ways necessary, former US ambassador to the UN Richard C. Holbrooke told The Jerusalem Post
Wednesday in an exclusive interview at the second Petra Nobel Laureates Conference.
"The United States has made a new proposal which is supported by all the other countries, including Russia and China. The Iranians have said there are elements of the proposal which are interesting," he said.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his May visit to the US said Iran's nuclear ambitions are "an existential threat" for Israel and they must be stopped. The message from Israel is that Iran is a threat to the entire world, and as such, Israel should not be leading the campaign to thwart its nuclear ambitions.
Despite Iran's insistence that it is interested only in developing nuclear technology for peaceful energy purposes, Washington and Jerusalem argue that it is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. The latest offer made to Iran by a fragile alliance of the US, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China involves economic incentives from replacement civilian aircraft parts to assistance in building power-generating nuclear reactors.
The offer also includes an openness to letting Iran enrich its own nuclear fuel under certain restrictions. The offer comes with the condition that Iran suspend all nuclear enrichment activities now. If this condition is met, the US has signaled it will be ready to enter talks.
"The Israelis have a major role to play because of all the countries, Israel's future is most affected by Iranian nuclear capability," Holbrooke said.
"I'm not going to tell the Israelis how to conduct their foreign policy, but for the time being I don't think they can do more than support the latest international initiative while making the necessary arrangements for their self-defense at the same time."
Holbrooke said he did not agree with the policy of the Bush administration regarding Iran. "I do not agree with the policy of the last five years where you have no direct American contact with Iran.
That doesn't strike me as the appropriate policy," he said.
"There is a different government in Iran now, and the Clinton administration had a different policy. It's a different world now. I don't think the Clinton administration was wrong to try to deal with Iran. They did it very carefully opposite a reformist president [Muhammad Khatami]. And I think that in retrospect, many people think that was something that should have been pursued even more aggressively. Would have it resulted in any progress? I have no idea," he said.
If Iran accepts the latest international proposal and decides to enter into negotiations over its nuclear program, the US will have to make a decision on whether to stick to its current position or to adjust, Holbrooke said. "That's a decision you can't anticipate because you don't know the Iranian response. A negotiation has begun. Make no mistake about it, a negotiation has begun between the US and Iran indirectly, partly in public."
Dr. George Perkovitch, vice president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaking at a plenary session on "Challenges to Global Security and Human Development" at the Petra Conference hosted by King Abdullah II and Elie Wiesel, said that Iran is exploiting the ambiguities of the UN Security Council.
Perkovitch said Russia and China were opposed to US pressure to democratize certain regimes and use their veto to resist US policy. This is creating a crisis in the system. When the Security Council doesn't act, it weakens itself, he added.
Another ambiguity Iran is exploiting, Perkovitch pointed out, was the political use Iran was making of India and Pakistan's nuclear weapons capabilities, as well as Israel's reported nuclear capacity. "It is a case of prestige for Iran to point out that Pakistan has nuclear capabilities, and they want to get it too. As for Israel, it is a political godsend for the Iranians. If Israel has nuclear weapons, then who is the world to tell us that we can't have even peaceful nuclear energy," he said Iranian officials have told him.