By Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor
WASHINGTON - As soon as President George W. Bush brushes the confetti off his lapels and returns to the Oval Office from his second inaugural parade on Jan. 20, he will find a series of "presidential papers" on Iran, requiring his immediate attention, waiting for him.
Well-informed Washington insiders say the nation's top think tanks have been scurrying over the last several weeks to put the finishing touches on comprehensive policy papers, or presidential directives that would help the Bush administration formulate a policy on Iran for the next four years.
The abridged version of these exhaustive papers will be along the line of "What the heck do we do with Iran?"
Indeed, just a few days after his second inauguration, the president will be driven back up Pennsylvania Avenue t! o Capitol Hill where he will deliver his State of the Union address to the nation. Iran, most likely, will deserve a mention of note. It was in his 2002 State of the Union speech that Bush placed Iran, along with North Korea and Iraq, in his now infamous Axis of Evil.
Now, three years later, it remains unclear what course U.S. policy regarding Iran is likely to follow, but according to more than one analyst, the second Bush administration will delve into the Iran dossier with renewed vigor.
The Iran dossier comprises three aspects: first, the Islamic Republic's pursuit of nuclear weapons technology; second, the United States' accusation that Iran supports terrorism; and third, Iran's involvement in Iraq. These are all points that the president will have to address.
"U.S. policy will have to shift to the policy of su! pporting democratic opposition to bring about regime change," Alireza Jafarzadeh, president of Strategic Policy Consulting, told United Press International. Barring a change of regime in Iran, Washington should get used to the idea of a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic, as all indications are that Iran is set to follow its desire to join the nuclear club.
However, warns Jafarzadeh, the world cannot afford to allow Iran "to acquire the nuclear bomb as well as erect a sister Islamic Republic in Iraq while suppressing its own population."
It was Jafarzadeh who in August of 2002 revealed Iran's Natanz and Arak nuclear sites to the international community. At the time he was the spokesperson in Washington for Iran's National Council of Resistance of Iran, a group otherwise known as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK. The United States had designated the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.
Iran's pursuit of its nuclear weapons program is sure to continue despite periodic disclaimers to the contrary by officials in Tehran. Well-controlled and carefully orchestrated visits by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are not about to reveal anything, either, as the Iranians have learned to disperse and camouflage their work.
From Tehran's perspective, it makes sense for Iran to push ahead. Iran has always viewed itself as a regional sphere of influence, hoping to sway the region's policies. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution when the Shiite clergy toppled the imperial rule of Shah Reza Pahlavi, Iran's theocratic regime has been trying -- one should add without too much success -- to export its revolution to neighboring countries. Outside of Lebanon, where the Revolutionary Guards found sympathetic ears in the countr! y's largely under-privileged Shiite community, repeated calls from Iran's mullahs to the people of the Middle East to topple their "corrupt leaders" has gone unheeded.
However, now for the first time since 1979, Iran is seeing new opportunities open up in neighboring Iraq, a country with a majority Shiite population. Faced with this dilemma, the United States has three options.
First, the United States can avoid confrontation and continue to engage Iran in dialogue, hoping that Iran will see logic in diplomacy. This is the European Union's favorite policy. "This option produced a 2004 accord with Iran to freeze some of its nuclear programs that might allow for weapons development," Raymond Tanter, a visiting professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, told UPI.
The problem with this option ! is that it failed to produce concrete results in the past because Iran did not respect prior agreements. "This route is bound to fail," said Tanter, who served on the National Security Council staff and as representative of the secretary of Defense to arms control talks in the Reagan administration.
Iran's nuclear aspiration is also worrying other countries in the immediate neighborhood such as Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, each with an important Shiite minority. Furthermore, the speed with which the United States managed to topple Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad is yet further incentive for Tehran to arm itself with nuclear deterrence.
The second option, Tanter believes, is for Israel or the United States to conduct military strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. "But because Iran has hidden, hardened, dispersed, and placed its nuclear facilities in populate! d areas, military strikes are unlikely to be effective and may lead to escalation and expansion of combat," said Tanter.
This leaves the third option -- and the most logical one -- that of regime change. This option fits in with the hard approach preferred by the neo-cons in the Bush administration. Both Tanter and Jafarzadeh believe the Bush administration will opt for beginning a "process of changing the regime in Tehran" sometime soon after the second inauguration.
There is one minor snag however, and that is the lack of an organized opposition able to help bring about regime change. One of the main opposition groups, the MEK, remains on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. To collude with those opposition forces requires the United States to remove restrictions against Iranian opposition groups, argues Tanter.
Because the MEK and its associate political umbrella organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, have "been instrumental in exposing some of Tehran's key nuclear secrets, President Bush is likely to favor lifting the terrorist designation on the MEK in 2005," says Tanter.
"The removal of the MEK's terror designation would be a litmus test for the new administration to adopt a tougher approach toward the Iranian regime," said Jafarzadeh.
What the Bush team will learn, however, is that there are no simple answers to the Iranian predicament. Bringing about regime change through the support of democratic forces in the country, while desirable, may prove to be harder than expected.
Finally, a word of caution: paraphrasing the secretary of defense, it is true that you un! derwrite revolutions and foment regime changes with the opposition you have, not the opposition you want. Lessons should be learned, however, from the Ahmad Chalabi affair in Iraq and what happened when too much trust was placed in him and his organization. In dealing with the Mujahedin-e-Khalq one should recommend caution.