And as the sterility of that approach became clear it was one factor that led the United States to join the Istanbul group, which had been formed by Iraq’s neighbors to engage in talks about the problems associated with Iraq and a very possible spill over into its neighbors.  Meanwhile, however, the United States continued to discourage efforts by both Israelis and Syrians to try to resume the negotiations that had taken place between those governments and had been very, very close to a solution at the time of Prime Minister Rabin and the previous Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. Fortunately Turkey entered in to partially fill the vacuum that was left, but the absence of the United States as a partner to both governments.  In recent months various American visitors to Damascus including congressional leaders and leaders of the American Jewish community have begun to fall the ice between Washington and Damascus.  While trying not to seem too eager the Syrian government clearly welcomes the chance to show that it can play a useful role in regional stability and I personally predict that senator Mitchell will include Damascus on his Middle East itinerary at some point in the near future.  Now commencing a similar dialogue with Iran is going to be much more difficult and will require very careful preparations that will probably take a considerable amount of time.  Tehran and Washington have been without regular relations since Iranians took American diplomats hostage in 1980.  There is also a history of Iranian subversion, intimidation and support of terrorist groups in the Middle East since the Iranian revolution.

Some might argue that Tehran has demonstrated better behavior in recent years, but others will find Iranian actions in Iraq, its support of Hezbollah and Hamas and its plans to improve missile capability and obtain a nuclear potential to be very troubly.  I admit to my own very deep skepticism about Iranian motivations and Iranian objectives.  However, there are indications that Iranian leaders are following a sophisticated policy that includes diplomatic, cultural and political engagement as well as less acceptable policies and it makes no sense for the United States to tie its hands and refused to use a tool of its own national security diplomacy in concert with our allies and partners as well as retaining the capability for economic sanctions and military force if absolutely necessary.  Quite frankly the main operational problem is that Washington and Tehran need to get used to talking to one another in a constructive way.  For too long we have communicated if you can use that word by making shrill public proclamations, one good exception to this has been President Obamas [???] statement in which he reached out to Iranians and to others in the Middle East such as the Kurdish people and others who celebrate [???] as a very important holiday and that has I think set the stage for a better atmosphere in which the hard work of diplomacy can take place.  Now in dealing with Iran, the United States should consult very, very fully with potential partners in the region.  It is unfortunate the US public statements during the Bush administration focused so heavily on the issue of Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions or alleged nuclear weapons ambitions and the political structure of the Iranian state.  We did not need to convince Arab leaders or the Turkish government that Iran was a potential threat, they know that.

The hard task is to convince them that the United States has a realistic strategy to reduce the threats from Tehran and that we are prepared to join them in long term measures that would deter the worse kind of Iranian threats and increase their security during the 21st century rather than expose them to Iranian revenge when the United States loses interest after a decade of confrontational rhetoric and military adventures.  Turkey and most of the Arab states have diplomatic relations with Iran and in some cases substantial amount of trade.  They look at the US containment of the Soviet Union as a model for the kind of relationship that we ought to have with Tehran and of course that includes a diplomatic component and more normal relations.  We know that Iran can use many means other than nuclear weapons to press its ambitions for regional influence and that some of these means are just as unacceptable to our regional partners as nuclear intimidation.  Washington should not imagine that a change in the Iranian regime or a change in Iran’s nuclear ambitions would be the answer to the strategic problems and the potential opportunity of Iran’s role in the region.  Eventually Iran’s legitimate security interest must  be satisfied, but in a manner that does not include and that excludes Iranian behavior aimed at dominating its neighbors.  The Obama administration seems mindful of the pitfalls and barriers ahead in the Middle East, but it is determined to deal proactively with problems in this critical region before they become crises.  It recognizes that it needs to do this in concert with other nations and it welcomes frank dialogue with a governments in the region so that they may express their own concerns to us instead of us simply preaching to them.  While the US has the strength to US military force if absolutely necessary it prefers not to do so.  Thankfully, I think the day of the American cowboy recklessly moving ahead regardless of consequences for others in the Middle East is over.  Thank you Ms. [???] I look forward to questions from you and others who are here.