Recent developments in Iran have led some political observers to suggest that country may present the main foreign policy challenge for whoever wins the U.S. presidential election in November 2004. The incumbent, President George W. Bush, and his challenger, Senator John Kerry, both have expressed concern over Iran’s plans to develop nuclear weapons, but as VOA’s Serena Parker reports, each man has different views on how the Iran problem should be tackled.
The U.S. State Department has long included Iran on its list of nations that sponsor terrorism. More recently, the commission investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 reported that eight of the 19 hijackers traveled through Iran from Afghanistan without having their passports stamped, something Tehran does not deny.
President Bush says although the Central Intelligence Agency has not discovered any links between Iran and the attacks of September 11, U.S. intelligence agencies will continue to investigate. “As to direct connections to September 11 we’re digging into the facts to determine if there was one,” he says.
The President added that he has long expressed concern about Iran, a country he has accused, along with Iraq and North Korea, of belonging to an “axis of evil.” Mr. Bush said Iran’s government denies basic human rights to its own people while sponsoring terrorism attacks in other parts of the world.
“I have made it clear that if the Iranians would like to have better relations with the United States, there are some things they must do,” he says. “For example, they are harboring Al Qaeda leadership there, and I have indicated that they must be turned over to their respective countries. Secondly, they’ve got a nuclear weapons program that they need to dismantle, and we’re working with other countries to encourage them to do so. And thirdly, they’ve got to stop funding terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah that create great dangers in parts of the world.”
Although President Bush has clearly and repeatedly expressed his concerns about Iran, some analysts say his administration has yet to formulate a coherent policy towards the ruling mullahs. However, Michael Ledeen, resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute, believes that will change if President Bush is re-elected in November.
“They’ve left clues and hints suggesting that they might be much more vigorous toward Iran,” he says. “They’re clearly very angry at the games that Iran has played with their nuclear program. And they’ve given every reason to think that they might even consider doing something dramatic.”
Michael Ledeen says there are two kinds of “dramatic” initiatives President Bush – or any American government – might consider. One would be military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Ledeen says the other would be to dramatically increase support for the democratic opposition in Iran and do what was done for Solidarity in Poland and the anti-Milosevic movement in Yugoslavia.
The Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry, has also indicated concern about the Iranian atomic program and the country’s links to terrorism.
“Iran presents an obvious and especially difficult challenge,” he says. “Our relations there are burdened by a generation of distrust, by the threat of nuclear proliferation and by reports of al Qaeda forces in that country, including the leadership responsible for the May 13, 2003 bombings in Saudi Arabia.”
Senator Kerry says if he is elected President, his administration’s approach to Iran will be different from that of President Bush. “The Bush administration stubbornly refuses to conduct a realistic, non-confrontational policy with Iran, even where it may be possible, as we witnessed most recently in the British-French-German initiative,” he says. “As president, I will be prepared early on to explore areas of mutual interest with Iran, just as I was prepared to normalize relations with Vietnam a decade ago. Iran has long expressed an interest in cooperating against the Afghan drug trade. That is one starting point.”
Last year, Britain, France and Germany announced they had brokered an agreement with Tehran under which Iran agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment operations and allow inspectors from the U-N’s nuclear watchdog into the country. In spite of that, Iran has failed to fully cooperate and recently announced that it had resumed construction of centrifuges that are capable of producing material for a nuclear bomb.
President Bush and Senator Kerry are adamant that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, but neither man has yet to explain to the American public what his Administration would do if international pressure fails and Iran continues to develop its nuclear weapons program.