The Bush administration is reviewing its policy toward Iran in light of allegations that the Tehran government is developing nuclear weapons and allowing al-Qaida terrorists to operate on its soil.
Right after the September 11, terrorist attacks on the United States two years ago, President Bush announced the nation would adopt a far more aggressive policy toward terrorism, no longer drawing a distinction between terrorist groups and the countries supporting them.
"Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them," declared Mr. Bush. "Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists."
With Washington now accusing Iran of harboring al-Qaida terrorists and developing nuclear weapons, Bush administration officials appear to be making a case for what could be a more aggressive approach toward Tehran's Islamic rulers. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has all but accused Iran of becoming a new haven for al-Qaida following the May 12 suicide bombings in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, that left eight Americans among the dead.
"There's no question but that there have been and there are today senior al-Qaida leaders in Iran and they are busy," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
He threatened action against Iran if its alleged attempts to influence politics in neighboring Iraq do not stop.
"Indeed, Iran should be on notice that efforts to try to remake Iraq in Iran's image would be aggressively put down," added Mr. Rumsfeld.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. It also denies providing a safe haven to terrorists and has arrested or handed over al-Qaida members in the past. Still, ongoing U.S.-Iranian contacts and years of trying to encourage reform-minded, pro-democratic elements within the country have produced few signs Iran is ready to moderate its behavior and move away from being a rogue nation.
Nearly a quarter century after the Islamic revolution, the Iranian government still considers the United States an enemy, even though many ordinary Iranians now favor better relations with America. To Ray Takeyh, an expert on the Middle East at the National Defense University, this has helped keep U.S. policy in a state of limbo.
"There are no easy solutions to Iran," he commented. "On the one hand, there's a policy of appealing to the Iranian people over the government. Yet on the other hand, there are sort of negotiations with government representatives on a variety of issues so in that particular sense, there is sort of a confusion."
But Flynt Leverett, who until March worked at the White House National Security Council, suspects the Bush administration's approach toward Iran may be taking shape and moving closer to its pre-war view of Iraq.
"Now I think there are powerful forces in the administration who are making the argument that we should move from this middling posture, cut off all contact with Iran, all tactical engagement, forget about strategic engagement entirely, and move toward a formal posture of regime change," he explained.
What ever course the United States decides to pursue, Bush administration officials say an upcoming report about Iran's alleged nuclear activity from the International Atomic Energy Agency is likely to be a key factor in deciding the next steps.