By Eric Margolis: Carrots Or Sticks For Iran?

NEW YORK: The United States has the Iranian tiger by the tail. Washington doesn't know whether to hold on or let the big beast go. The Mideast diplomatic thaw begun by Russia's clever Vladimir Putin, and Iran's democratic change of presidents, opened the diplomatic path to progress over Syria, Iran's democratic path to progress over Syria, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and, lest we forget, the question of Palestine. For the first time since 1979, senior US and Iranian officials are holding talks in Geneva. Joining them are nuclear negotiators from Russia, Britain, France, Germany and China. Ironically, the only two nations in this group that are not in violation of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are Iran and Germany. The other members have never fulfilled their pledge to rapidly eliminate all nuclear weapons. Five decades later, they still hold 22,000 nuclear warheads. And that total does not include arsenals of Israel, Pakistan and India. Washington now faces a very difficult problem. It has waged economic and political warfare against the Islamic Republic of Iran since its 1979 revolution. Iran has been badly damaged by sanctions. But like that other disobedient bad boy, Cuba, Iran has been badly damaged by sanctions. But like other disobedient bad boy, Cuba, Iran has been badly damaged by sanctions. But like that other disobedient bad boy, Cuba, Iran has managed to hold out. But what will happen if punishing US-engineered sanctions against Iran are erased? Oil-rich Iran will rebuild its ravaged economy and infrastructure, and quietly enhance its military power. A key priority for Tehran will be modernizing its decrepit civilian air fleet that routinely crashes from mechanical problems or pilot error. Good news for Boeing and Airbus, as well as US energy companies. If Iran regains its former role as a major Mideast power, this important development will head-on into current US strategy to keep it weak and isolated until a pro-US government comes to power in Tehran. A strengthening Iran will generate fear and anxiety in Saudi Arabia and some of the less flexible Gulf States, and increase Tehran's influence over Iraq. An Iran with the capability of producing a few nuclear weapons within a year also deeply alarms Washington, its Arab allies, and Israel. An Iran with even a few nukes, like North Korea, would sharply limit US Mideast power and its ability to use military forces against Iran. Israel knows that Iran has no intention of launchinga nuclear attack on the Jewish state, which is a major world nuclear power with an invulnerable triad of land, sea and air-launched nuclear weapons. But Israel's constant alarms about Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons. But Israel's constant alarms about Iran's so far non-existent nuclear weapons serves to distract attention from its rapid absorption of the West Bank and Golan, and generate potent political and financial support from its North American partisans. Or maybe Israel's leader, Benjamin Netanyahu has actually come to believe his own Jeremiads about Tehran's supposed suicidal "mad mullahs". Today, Israel has no serious enemies in the Arab World: Egypt has been bought off, Iran and Syria destroyed. Saudi Arabia is in secret alliance with Israel. The only nation that can hope to challenge Israel's increasingly dominant role in Mideast is Iran. That puts Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia in a three-way competition for regional hegemony.

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