Courtesy Reuters

Taming Tehran

The deal struck between Iran and Germany, France, and the United Kingdom (EU-3) on November 15 is a welcome pause in an ominous build-up over Iran's efforts to develop the capability to make nuclear weapons. Iran's freeze on suspect nuclear activities is still tentative and the EU-3's incentives remain uncertain -- evidence that the parties are wary of one another and that further probing and brinksmanship are likely. The challenge now is to build a constructive relationship based on distrust. That goal cannot be accomplished, however, without first understanding the sources of the distrust and getting the United States involved, too.

The Europeans do not trust Iran's claims that it does not seek nuclear weapons and has stopped trying to get the capability to build them. Nor do they trust a U.S. administration guided by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Undersecretary of State John Bolton not to try to sabotage a negotiated settlement with the "evil" Iranian government. European leaders bristle at Washington's refusal to deal with the Iranians even though it has no realistic military plan to destroy Iran's nuclear infrastructure or change the government in Tehran. At the same time, the EU-3 realize that Tehran will not relinquish developing its nuclear capability if Washington does not assure it that forcible regime change is off the agenda.

Iran's leaders, for their part, do not trust one another any more than they do the Europeans or the Americans. Individuals and factions are jockeying for positions in the run-up to next year's presidential elections. Some favor Iran's integration into the mainstream global political economy; others, including the conservative trading groups linked to foundations run by religious leaders, fear economic openness and competition. Against this background, the nuclear issue has become the political soccer ball of Iranian politics. Moreover, worrying that the Europeans may not be able to deliver on their promises alone, Tehran will wait for Washington's explicit endorsement before implementing any agreement.

The Bush administration, finally, does not trust Iranian leaders

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