Bush Must Determine How to Deal with Iran

Iran and the U.S. have had a joint interest in promoting security in Iraq as the two governments once had a joint interest in stability in Afghanistan. Whether the Bush administration can overcome its reluctance to dealing with Iran as an equal, thereby enhancing its prestige, remains to be seen.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Today, The New York Times reports that Iran has released three, jailed university students. They were jailed for their pro-democracy activities. News analyst Daniel Schorr says the students' release is one of a number of developments in Iran that are worth noting.

DANIEL SCHORR: One cannot know whether Iran's announced release of three politically active students has any connection with the forthcoming visit of President Bush to all the countries of the region, save Iran and Iraq. But it's becoming clear that the administration's policy on Iran is nearing a crossroads.

The effort to isolate Iran because of its uranium-enrichment program is not working. Russia is selling Iran nuclear fuel, and now it's revealed, surface-to-air missiles. China has signaled that it's not ready to support tougher sanctions. And German diplomats are saying that tougher sanctions would lead to greater tensions.

The Bush administration has made tentative overtures to Iran ostensibly to discuss stability in Iraq, where Iran's Shiite coreligionists are splitting into hostile camps. It is known that Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, met last May with his Iranian counterpart. There's unconfirmed word that they've met twice since then. A scheduled meeting on December 18th was postponed, whether because Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was making a surprise visit to Iraq on that day is not known.

Iran has reportedly been in touch with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki about trying to arrange a new meeting. The level of that meeting and the agenda remain to be agreed upon. The Bush administration would like a meeting of experts to discuss the phasing out of Iranian arms deliveries to insurgents in Iraq. Iran has not admitted shipping arms to Iraq and it wants a meeting at the ambassadorial level, perhaps higher, to the ministerial level. Iran and the United States have had a joint interest in promoting security in Iraq, as the two governments once had a joined interest in stability in Afghanistan.

Whether the Bush administration can overcome its reluctance to dealing with Iran as an equal, thereby enhancing Iran's prestige, that remains to be seen. President Bush will undoubtedly be getting a lot of advice on that on his visit to Israel, the West Bank, the Gulf States, Egypt, starting on January 8th. But clearly, dealing with Iran on Iran's terms is a tough decision to make in his final year in office about a country that President Bush has long regarded as a part of the axis of evil.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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