No Military Strike? Then Start Talking

The American intelligence report that makes the option of a military strike against Iran - and possibly the next dose of sanctions - less likely to materialize gives us an important time-out to try a new avenue vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic.

That route would center on diplomacy aimed at neutralizing Tehran's motivation to further pursue the development of nuclear arms. For some time now, Iran has held an internal debate - which sometimes reaches the Iranian media - on how far Tehran can go in defying international pressure to abandon its nuclear program.

On the one hand, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that there is no reason to fear American pressure as the U.S. is unable to attack Iran due to the Iraq imbroglio and resistance from Arab nations.

Reformist leaders such as former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami, on the other hand, are saying the American threat should not be taken lightly, and that the U.S. could strike after all.

The conflict between these two political factions manifested itself in October with the dismissal of Iran's former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani - who was also the Iranian nuclear program's chief negotiator.

The reformists are also in favor of pursuing a dialogue with the U.S., and they seek to broaden these discussions to other issues such as Iran's desire to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The American interest in talks with Iran stems from the fact that it was not only Tehran that was pleased by the intelligence report. Russia, too, was no less satisfied. After all, Russia under President Vladimir Putin has supported the Iranians' position and initiated proposals to dampen American and French pressure.

Russia is currently building the nuclear facility at Bushehr, which serves and will serve as the infrastructure for Iran's nuclear drive. Now the stain of Russia's refusenik status, bent on going against the U.S., will be removed. And by an American report. Iran is a key state for Washington if the U.S. is to achieve its Middle East policies because of Tehran's involvement in the political crisis in Lebanon, its close ties with Syria and Turkey and its influence on Iraq and other issues.

For the Americans, the trick now will be to find the right leverage to open up a channel of negotiations - which could deprive Russia of its virtual monopoly on ties and influence on Iran. Those who wish to avoid a nuclear Iran better heed those within the Islamic Republic who are seeking to engage in dialogue - especially in light of the assumption that Iran will continue its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons.