US experts: Dialogue with Iran needed

Report also says Hamas should be incorporated into PA because Palestinian unity essential for peace.

iran missile 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
iran missile 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
A new report compiled by American experts and addressed to president-elect Barack Obama contains recommendations on the region, including Iran and Hamas, which might raise eyebrows in Jerusalem's security establishment. The next US president will need to pursue a new strategic framework for advancing American interests in the Middle East, says a new report entitled "Restoring the Balance - A Middle East Strategy for the Next President" published Tuesday and compiled over a period of 18 months. The report cites sectarian conflict in Iraq, Iran's race to build a nuclear weapon, failing Palestinian and Lebanese governments, a dormant peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and the ongoing war against terror as the issues Obama will have to face. Following an overview chapter by Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center, individual chapters address the Arab-Israeli conflict, counterterrorism, Iran, Iraq, political and economic development, and nuclear proliferation. The chapter devoted to Iran calls on the new administration to open multilateral dialogue between the US and Iran on all outstanding issues. Diplomacy, the report says, should begin immediately at a low level, even before the Iranian elections in June 2009, so that the US can better understand the Iranian hierarchy and political dynamic. The chapter also calls on the US to view Iran as one united nation, ruled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - a recommendation that goes against the strategy of trying to leverage inter-Iranian discord in order to effect regime change from within, without direct external intervention. The report says Iran is two to three years away from being capable of militarizing its nuclear program, and this time is seen as sufficient for the US to adopt an updated diplomatic approach to prevent such a move from Teheran. Intelligence assessments in Israel conflict with the American estimate, saying Iran might get the bomb as early as sometime in 2009. The most problematic recommendation in the chapter devoted to Iran from an Israeli point of view, however, is an assessment that resorting to a military option is likely not to produce results worthy of the effort invested and that one of the many scenarios the US should prepare itself for is the reality of a nuclearized Islamic Republic. Iran might use nuclear weapons as a strategic point of leverage for threatening its neighbors without actually firing them. On the Palestinians, the writers, Shibley Telhami and Steven Cook, suggest that the US encourage Palestinian unity, because any diplomatic initiative will produce no results unless there is one political address on the Palestinian side. The report suggests that the US work with its allies in the Middle East so that Hamas will be incorporated into the Palestinian Authority in the framework of a unity government. Furthermore, the report suggests the US should force Israel to freeze building of new settlements, including stopping further construction in existing settlement blocs. The report is expected to be a centerpiece of the Saban Forum discussions, held in Washington this weekend. Outgoing US President George W. Bush will speak at the forum's opening evening and the forum will include former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former British PM and current Quartet envoy in the region Tony Blair, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon.