A ‘third way’ plan for Iran

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Mor­ton Kon­dracke

Surely there are bet­ter ways to stop Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram than Repub­li­can war threats or most Democrats’ hat-in-hand diplo­macy. Rep. Mark Kirk, Illi­nois Repub­li­can, has sev­eral good ideas.

Co-chair­man of the bi­par­ti­san House Iran Work­ing Group, Mr. Kirk for three years has ad­vo­cated cut­ting off Iran’s gaso­line sup­plies to sup­ple­ment other eco­nomic sanc­tions and weaken Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad’s hold on power.

Mr. Kirk also is try­ing to per­suade the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion to block $870 mil­lion in World Bank loans to Iran, in­clud­ing one for a wa­ter-treat­ment fa­cil­ity near the Is­lamic repub­lic’s nu­clear fa­cil­ity at Natanz.

As co-chair­man of an­other bi­par­ti­san ad-hoc House panel, the China Work­ing Group, he has pushed for cre­at­ing a multi­na­tional fund to de­velop al­ter­na­tive sources of en­ergy for China to weaken Chi­nese diplo­matic sup­port for Iran. And as a Naval Re­serve intelligence of­fi­cer, he ad­vo­cates in­clud­ing Is­rael and Bahrain in the U.S. na­tional an­timis­sile de­fense sys­tem against Iran.

A leader of the mod­er­ate Repub­li­can Tues­day Group, Mr. Kirk has a rep­u­ta­tion for de­vel­op­ing creative “third way” ideas, in­clud­ing the GOP “sub­ur­ban agenda” de­signed to ap­peal to Demo­cratic-lean­ing dis­tricts like his own, north of Chicago.

He formed the Iran Work­ing Group with Rep. Robert An­drews, New Jer­sey Demo­crat, and the China Work­ing Group with Rep. Rick Larsen, Wash­ing­ton Demo­crat, to give con­gres­sional back­benchers a role in de­vel­op­ing pol­icy. The two pan­els now have 35 and 75 mem­bers, re­spec­tively. Mr. Kirk has a for­mal for­eign-pol­icy swatch as a mem­ber of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee on State, For­eign Op­er­a­tions and Re­lated Pro­grams.

In an in­ter­view, Mr. Kirk told me he dif­fers from the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and most Repub­li­can can­di­dates for pres­i­dent in fa­vor­ing di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions with Iran and in avoid­ing talk about mil­i­tary ac­tion. He also fa­vors tougher mea­sures than the “un­con­di­tional” diplo­macy ad­vo­cated by most Democrats.

“I do agree that we should be talk­ing to [Iran],” he said, “be­cause di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions with [for­mer Yu­goslav dic­ta­tor Slo­bo­dan] Milo­se­vic were part of un­der­min­ing his will. And there were a num­ber of di­rect dis­cus­sions with [Libyan ruler Moam­mar] Gad­hafi, and we un­der­mined him. So, I think we should al­ways talk be­cause the dis­cus­sion can weaken the will of the other side.”

Mr. Kirk said he fa­vors talks not only with Mr. Ah­madine­jad but with his Ira­nian po­lit­i­cal ri­vals, in­clud­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Ali Ak­bar Hashemi Raf­san­jani.

As to Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates’ talk of bomb­ing or blockad­ing Iran, Mr. Kirk said, “If you are run­ning for pres­i­dent, you could be pres­i­dent, so the best thing to do is talk about what you would do if you ac­tu­ally were pres­i­dent of the United States, not just play­ing one on TV. [. . .] If you ac­tu­ally were pres­i­dent, you would look at the most ro­bust eco­nomic sanc­tions that would ac­tu­ally work be­fore launch­ing any kind of un­pre­dictable and hugely ex­pen­sive mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion.”

On the ba­sis of un­clas­si­fied sources, Mr. Kirk said he is con­vinced Iran is at least two to three years away from de­vel­op­ing fis­sile ma­te­rial for a bomb, “so we’re not talk­ing about an ur­gent cri­sis right now.” It would take even longer to man­u­fac­ture a de­liv­er­able weapon that would threaten Is­rael and other U.S. al­lies, he said.

He said it largely has es­caped no­tice — “be­cause it’s a good-news story” — but “10 years of tough sanc­tions and diplo­macy” con­vinced Col. Gad­hafi to give up Libya’s nu­clear pro­gram. “He just called up the CIA, and they carted it away to Oak Ridge, Tenn., where it’s buried,” he said.

As to war threats by the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, Mr. Kirk said, “I don’t think it’s nec­es­sary. A pres­i­dent should al­ways be am­bigu­ous as to what he would do or not do to pro­tect the U.S. and its al­lies. And war plan­ning should go on be­hind closed doors, which is the work of the Pen­tagon any­way. But my rec- om­men­da­tion is [that] it’s far more pro­duc­tive to ad­vance the cause of ef­fec­tive sanc­tions be­cause this is a big step for our al­lies,” who may be re­luc­tant to par­tic­i­pate in a run-up to war.

Among the Demo­cratic can­di­dates, he said Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton of New York was “re­spon­si­ble” dur­ing Tues­day night’s TV de­bate in Philadel­phia by ad­vo­cat­ing a pol­icy of sanc­tions plus diplo­macy.

As to other can­di­dates, “If you say, ‘Well, we’re not go­ing to take ac­tion against ter­ror­ism and un­der­min­ing the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion pol­icy of the West,’ what are you go­ing to do? She’s pretty good. For the rest of them, I’m not sure where they are.”

For sev­eral months, Mr. Kirk has urged the kind of stiff sanc­tions against the Ira­nian Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps that the ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced two weeks ago — a move de­nounced by Mrs. Clin­ton’s Demo­cratic ri­vals as a step to­ward war.

For even longer, Mr. Kirk has ad­vo­cated a “quar­an­tine” to cut off Iran’s gaso­line sup­plies. Though a ma­jor oil pro­ducer, Iran im­ports 40 per­cent of its gaso­line, and this sum­mer Mr. Ah­madine­jad im­posed gaso­line ra­tioning, caus­ing ri­ots in Tehran.

Were Iran’s gaso­line sup­pli­ers sanc­tioned — the Dutch en­ergy bro­ker Vi­tol, ship in­surer Lloyds of Lon­don and re­finer­ies in In­dia and the United Arab Emi­rates — ship­ments likely would stop with­out naval ac­tion, he said, though such ac­tion would re­main as a backup.

“Ah­madine­jad’s nu­clear pro­gram is very pop­u­lar,” Mr. Kirk said, “but his do­mes­tic pro­gram is not. The mo­ment the av­er­age guy starts to have prob­lems run­ning his busi­ness or get­ting to work, Ah­madine­jad is go­ing to have real po­lit­i­cal prob­lems.”

So far, the ad­min­is­tra­tion op­poses a gaso­line cut­off, fear­ing $100-a-bar­rel oil. But Mr. Kirk said Saudi Ara­bia, which fears Iran, could pre­vent a price spike by in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion.

China has un­der­cut other sanc­tions be­cause it im­ports oil from Iran, so Mr. Kirk has been urg­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion to es­tab­lish a lend­ing pro­gram for Cen­tral Asian sources. The ad­min­is­tra­tion also is re­luc­tant to cut off World Bank loans, but Mr. Kirk ar­gues, “imag­ine the em­bar­rass­ment of [. . .] cut­ting a check from 19th Street in Wash­ing­ton to the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Ah­madine­jad.”

As a backup, Mr. Kirk ad­vo­cates in­clud­ing Is­rael and Bahrain as sites, along with Poland, in the U.S. mis­sile-de­fense sys­tem. All this makes em­i­nent good sense to me, far bet­ter sense than talk­ing about in­va­sions, bomb­ing raids, World War III — or “un­con­di­tional” talks.

Mor­ton Kon­dracke is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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