The Financial Times' Phillip Stevens weighs in on the current Bush administration's bellicose pronouncements and unilateral sanctioning, saying Bush is heading for "a dreadful miscalculation over Iran":
The thing I find most striking in conversations with western officials is simply how little is known about Iran: about the power balance within the regime, the dynamics of the nuclear programme and, critically, how far that programme has progressed.Well, yeah - but the extreme Right wants its pound of raw flesh for '79 and will not be denied.
A little while ago I heard one such official discuss the state of knowledge gleaned by various intelligence agencies. The Israelis thought Tehran was two years from acquiring the bomb; but they had been saying two years for as long as this official could remember. The Russians suggested that Iran was as much as a decade away from mastery of all the necessary technology. As for the US and the big European agencies, three to six years seemed to be a rough consensus. In other words, the spooks, once again, are being forced to make judgments while wearing blindfolds.
...Diplomacy has not yet been exhausted. Russia’s position is more subtle than it sounds. For all the pleasure he takes in discomfiting the US, Mr Putin has more to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran. In any event, the US decision to leave it to the EU3 to do all the talking with Tehran has ensured that real negotiations have never properly started.
The US has yet to play its highest card: an offer, comparable to that made to, and accepted by, North Korea, of a comprehensive refashioning of the strategic relationship between the US and Iran. Unless and until that bargain is explored, it will never be clear whether Tehran could be persuaded to eschew the nuclear course.
Mr Bush is not alone in framing a simple choice between Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and war. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has said much the same. It is a false choice. Even putting aside the chaos that would ensue from Tehran’s certain retaliation against any attack, the likely consequence of such thinking is war and a nuclear-armed Iran.