DETROIT (IPS) — Dr. Susan Rice, senior foreign policy advisor to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, says the U.S. would make every effort to avoid resorting to a military attack on Iran under an Obama administration.
Tough diplomacy would be used to curtail Iran’s reach for nuclear capability instead of rushing to war, she told IPS.
In a recent interview, Rice said Obama would galvanize support from the international community to stop Iran from laying its hands on nuclear weapons — an objective Tehran denies — as one of its priorities for the greater Middle East region.
“Sen. Obama’s view is that we need to toughen our sanctions collectively and step up our direct diplomacy so that we do our utmost politically and economically to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon capability without immediate resort to war,” Rice said.
Despite the increase in rhetoric against Tehran, a new National Intelligence Estimate released last year contradicted President George W. Bush’s repeated assertions that Iran was looking to develop nuclear weapons capability. The NIE report concluded, “We do not know whether [Iran] currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”
“Senator Obama has been very clear,” Rice said. “He believes we have time still for a robust diplomacy backed by tougher sanctions to try to prevent Iran from pursuing its nuclear program. But he has been clear that we cannot take any options off the table.”
Outlining other priorities in the greater Middle East region under an Obama administration, Rice, a former African Affairs director at the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton, pointed to Iraq security.
“Clearly and safely deploying U.S. combat brigades from Iraq, working diplomatically with the Iraqis and the countries and the region to help support the political settlement that bridges the division between [Shi’a and Kurds] and help to stabilize Iraq,” Rice said would have to be done.
“Vitally important and related to that is a necessity of stepping up our efforts to counter al Qaeda and the Taliban, which are resurgent in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and helping to stabilize Afghanistan, and at the same time we work effectively with Pakistan authorities to root out resurgent al Qaeda Taliban elements in the border regions of Pakistan.”
Nazar Janabi, a Next Generation fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a generally hawkish think tank, said it is possible for an Obama administration to bridge the gap among warring factions in Iraq, but real problems lie ahead.
“The challenge would be to find the common ground between these factions. It seems to me that striking that balance without sacrificing some of the U.S. key interests in the Middle East would be very difficult without some form of long-term engagement and presence,” Janabi said. “That said it is my understanding that Mr. Obama has a better image in the Middle East and is likely to be more credible to the audience there.”
Janabi said Obama’s position of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq “responsibly” is a very good idea. “However, this might mean maintaining a sizable contingent for a few years down the road,” he added. “The security achievements in Iraq are still fragile and still could go either way depending on the circumstances.”
On the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Rice said Obama would be “supporting the Israelis and Palestinians in their effort to broker a lasting peace based on two states — the Jewish state of Israel and the democratic Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security.”
Osama Siblani, editor and publisher of The Arab American News in Dearborn, Michigan — home of the largest concentration of people of Middle Eastern descent outside of the Middle East — said Obama would have to do a lot of work convincing the Israeli government in Jerusalem to work for peace.
“I don’t see Obama as a broker. He needs a partner first. You must have a partner first that is willing to give and compromise before making any peace deal,” Siblani said. “You have to have a player like Israel, that is violating international law, willing to participate.”
Siblani said it is in the interests of both Israel and Palestine to reach a deal that creates two peaceful states.
“I think the carelessness and procrastination of the Bush administration makes it impossible for a Palestinian state to be created,” Siblani said. “There is the question of refugees, Jerusalem, no resources in Gaza and total poverty there that needs to be addressed. You have to have the guarantees for peace and security from both states.”
Should Obama get elected, Siblani said he will have some leverage because “a U.S. president carries a lot of weight” in the Middle East and he will likely have a Democratic Congress to help him push things through.
After the fall of military strongman and key U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan elected Asif Ali Zardari as president, widower of that nation’s political star Benazir Bhutto. It is unclear what Pakistan’s relations with Washington would be now in the fight against terrorism.
“He [Obama] opposed and objected to a policy that put all of our eggs in the basket of a dictator — Pervez Musharraf — and a policy supported by George Bush and John McCain that really slow walked our support for the Democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people,” Rice said. “Barack Obama’s view has been and remains that it is in our interest — the best long-term interest — that Pakistan becomes a stable, sustainable democracy.”
Musharraf, who ruled with an iron hand after overthrowing then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October of 1999, was forced to resign Aug. 18 following threats of impeachment from the government of Pakistan. The low point of his rule was when he attempted to subvert Pakistan’s judiciary into a political tool by firing the Supreme Court.
Rice said she hopes that under President Zardari, the U.S. will see more effective concerted efforts to combat terrorism and terrorists inside of Pakistan, including elements of al Qaeda and the Taliban.