Gulf Times - 15/4/2006
IT is high time the US embarked on direct bilateral negotiations with Iran on the nuclear issue, former US undersecretary of state and career ambassador Thomas R Pickering said.
“The maligned theory, that by speaking to the Iranians we give them legitimacy, is gone,” he said in his keynote address at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar’(SFS-Q) inaugural symposium yesterday.
‘The US and the Middle East: Past, Present, and Future,’ was the topic of the day-long event, held at the InterContinental, in connection with the formal inauguration of SFS-Q, which was on Wednesday.
Pickering, presently a member of Boeing’s executive council and senior vice president for international relations, began his address by describing Qatar as a bridge country between the US and the West with the Middle East.
“My observations are on an independent basis as I am not speaking for the US administration or for Boeing, to whom I announced yesterday my retirement,” he stated.
Pickering, who held the personal rank of career ambassador, the highest in the US Foreign Service, and had a diplomatic career spanning five decades, cited Iran, Iraq, and Israel-Arab peace process as the three major problems in the Middle East.
“Iran is an increasingly pressing problem, looking at the recent developments,” he said referring to the Iranian nuclear imbroglio and recalling that the US has been for sometime preoccupied with ‘Iran’s promotion of terrorism and treatment of minorities within the country.’
The feeling is that Iran is moving in a direction which some say would result in achieving nuclear explosion capability. Ruling out any military option against Iran, as ‘it is not a very good one these days under the present situation,’ Pickering called for a comprehensive diplomatic effort, which is lacking so far.
“We must work on a diplomatic option and it must be a combination of all carrots that diplomacy can muster,” urged the speaker, who is also a former ambassador and representative of the US to the United Nations in New York.
There could be an effective commitment on the part of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council who could co-operate with Iran to help it achieve civilian nuclear power generation, and stopping short of enriching uranium for nuclear weapon. “This could be done if the Iranians would agree to verification, in addition to that by the International Atomic Energy Agency, to avoid any surprises,” he said.
Referring to the Russian proposal to Iran to enrich uranium, Pickering suggested the Russians should undertake to take back all the spent nuclear fuel so as to ensure that it is not misused.
“We need to be thinking soon to provide across-the-board nuclear fuel to all those who need it for power generation,” he said.
This nuclear consortium must include the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the recipients should be in full accordance with non-proliferation.
If the ‘carrots’ don’t work with Iran, Pickering was of the view that the international community must adopt ‘smart sanctions’ against the Iranian leadership.
“These could include a partial or full cut off of petroleum trade with Iran in the worse scenario,” he maintained while pointing out that sanctions are easy to talk about and difficult to implement.
Shifting the focus to Iraq, the speaker said there are a combination of things the US and Iraqi authorities could do to avert a civil war in Iraq.
“In my view, Iraq is a constant and continuous intelligence failure, and it requires more care,” he remarked while observing that the US ‘began Iraq as a unilateral effort and is continuing the same way.’
Pickering recommended that a contact group, comprising experts from Europe and from Asian countries such as India, ought to be set up to take appropriate decisions regarding Iraq.
“Any future Iraqi government needs international support for legitimacy, and the psychological and political value of international involvement in Iraq is very important,” he said.
The speaker, who also served as executive secretary of the US Department of State and special assistant to secretaries William P Rogers and Henry A Kissinger from 1973 to 1974, warned that a civil war in Iraq would be rapidly internationalised.
“If Iraq turns to wreckage that would litter everybody’s landscape. It would affect oil prices and stability in the region,” he said while hinting at the possible consequence of an abrupt US withdrawal from Iraq, for which public opinion is mounting in America.
The proposed contact group for Iraq could also look after Syria and Iran, two countries that cannot be isolated, and constitute a terribly tough problem, which has to involve strenuous efforts, he said.
Regarding the ‘50-year struggle to solve the Israel-Arab problem’, Pickering said the final formula must be the two state solution with 100% return of Palestinian land, maintaining the pre-1967 status, with negotiated trade-offs.
“The Palestinians must be totally responsible for their internal security and the international community should look after external security,” the speaker said.
The refugees have to be given the right to go their Palestinian homeland or to go to many countries for settlement, Pickering added.