Claude Salhani

Washington, DC, May 1, 2006

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls it "playing games". A better description might be playing chicken, with the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States akin to two runaway freight trains heading towards each other at great speed. They are incessantly gathering momentum, going faster and faster on the same track. The brakes are failing and the engineers, who have just realized there is not much let for them to do, are about to jump from their locomotives, abandoning the trains to an inevitable head-on collision. The question is who will jump first?

Speaking on ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Rice said: "Every time we get close to a Security Council decision, there's some effort to say, 'Oh no, we really were interested in that proposal that we rejected."'

Rice calls it "playing games". It could also be described as "Tango diplomacy:" One step forward, two steps back.

The United States and some of its allies are demanding that Iran stops its nuclear experiment immediately, or else ... Or else Iran will be dragged in front of the United Nations Security Council and told it must stop enriching uranium and abide by the rulings of the International Atomic Energy Agency. To which Iran will reply the equivalent of "nuts" in Persian (or Farsi.)

Appearing on ABC News on Sunday, Rice referred to Iran's hinting that the Islamic republic may re-consider a Russian proposal that would provide it with nuclear fuel produced in Russia. Rice, though, said she believed the government of Iran was simply stalling for time.

Faced with non-cooperation from the ayatollahs in Tehran, the United States and the EU-3 (Germany, France and Great Britain) will raise the issue in front of the United Nations Security Council. The Security Council will threaten sanctions if Iran continues to refuse to cooperate, and as "all options are on the table", as President George W. Bush likes to say, Iran may well be threatened by military action, too.

Rice said the United States would pursue its drive for a Security Council resolution against Iran under chapter seven of the UN charter, which would clear the way for possible sanctions or even military force.

Somebody pinch me quickly, I must be dreaming - and it's not a very good (or original) dream at that. Haven't we been down that road three years ago with Iraq? And what did that solve, other than imposing the Pottery Barn rule on the Bush administration? As a reminder, that's the rule that stipulates that if you break it, you buy it.

Now it almost seems as though we are living the remake of the lead-up to the war in Iraq just over three years ago. The rhetoric, the accusations of yearning for weapons of mass destruction by the Islamic republic, the involvement of the United Nations in order to legitimize sanctions, and ultimately, should everything else fail, in Iran's case, a military strike against the sites believed to harbor nuclear facilities.

There are several problems however, in considering the military option, which as Bush reiterates time and again, 'all options are on the table", meaning that, yes, a military strike on Iran is a distinct possibility.

Iran has learned much from Israel's raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear facility in 1981. In order to thwart potential attacks, Iran has built its nuclear facilities deep in the rock under mountains and close to urban areas. Second, the Iranians have scattered their facilities around multiple locations and built redundant sites. Any American and/or Israeli attack on one of Iran's nuclear sites risks contaminating heavily inhabited areas, which would place the lives of tens of thousands of people in jeopardy.

The problem is that having reached this far in the game, as Rice pointed out, "the international community's credibility is at stake here and we have a choice too. We can either mean what we say when we say that Iran must comply or we can continue to allow Iran to defy."

Meanwhile, Iran does not seem to be moved. "We will not accept any forced resolution," said Ali Larijani, a top national security official.

He stressed that Iran's bid to master sensitive nuclear technology was for peaceful purposes and not weapons. He called it "a strategic objective".

Seeking to find an answer to Iran's "game", political directors of the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany will meet in Paris on Tuesday to thrash out a position on Iran, while foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in New York on May 9. The diplomatic tango continues.

Claude Salhani is International Editor at United Press International. Courtesy of UPI.