Serious Negotiations or Hot Confrontation with Iran?

Berlin – For two weeks, it looked like the regime in Iran had finally gotten the message that, if it continues to pursue its nuclear program, serious military confrontation is likely to result. Indeed, there were interesting – and previously unheard of – statements and signals from Teheran that suggested an increased willingness to start negotiating about Iran’s nuclear program and regional security issues. And America’s decision to send Undersecretary of State William Burns to a meeting with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator suggests that those signals are being taken seriously.

But the recent military muscle-flexing with rocket tests and the rejection of a compromise by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and his foreign minister show that the country’s leadership is seriously divided over the strategic line that Iran should pursue.

Iran’s leadership still harbors the misconception that Israeli threats against its nuclear facilities are an expression of the domestic difficulties of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government. This is plainly wrong. Olmert’s government has serious problems, but they are not the reason that the situation between Israel and Iran is coming to a head.

On the contrary, a cross-party consensus exists in Israel concerning Iran’s possible nuclear armament and regional hegemony. All sides agree that, unless there is a diplomatic solution, Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons must be prevented in good time and by any means necessary. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and some other Arab countries share this view, albeit behind closed doors.