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      Ross on Iran: Give Diplomacy a Chance

      Former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross: The Iranians are ready to talk. Give diplomacy a chance.
      By Elad Benari
      First Publish: 2/16/2012, 12:16 AM

      Former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross believes that there is too much speculation about an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, but not enough discussion about whether diplomacy can still succeed.

      In an op-ed in The New York Times on Wednesday Ross, who recently returned to the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jewish think tank, said that diplomatic means to stop the Iranian nuclear threat should be given a chance.

      “Many experts doubt that Tehran would ever accept a deal that uses intrusive inspections and denies or limits uranium enrichment to halt any advances toward a nuclear weapons capability, while still permitting the development of civilian nuclear power,” Ross wrote. “But before we assume that diplomacy can’t work, it is worth considering that Iranians are now facing crippling pressure and that their leaders have in the past altered their behavior in response to such pressure. Notwithstanding all their bluster, there are signs that Tehran is now looking for a way out.”

      Ross noted that “Today, Iran is more isolated than ever. The regional balance of power is shifting against Tehran, in no small part because of its ongoing support for the beleaguered government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The Assad regime is failing, and in time, Iran will lose its only state ally in the Arab world and its conduit for arming the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

      He said that the sanctions that have been placed on the Islamic Republic have had an effect, noting that Iran’s oil ministry has said the energy sector needs more than $100 billion in investments to revitalize its aging infrastructure and that it now faces a severe shortfall.

      “New American penalties on Iran’s central bank and those doing business with it have helped trigger an enormous currency devaluation. In the last six weeks, the Iranian rial has declined dramatically against the dollar, adding to the economic woes Iran is now confronting,” Ross wrote.

      “Beginning in 2010, Washington worked methodically to impose political, diplomatic, economic and security pressure, making clear that the cost of noncompliance would continue to rise while still leaving the Iranians a way out,” he added. “This strategy took into account how Iranian leaders had adjusted their behavior in the past to escape major pressure — from ending the war with Iraq in 1988 to stopping the assassinations of Iranian dissidents in Europe in the 1990s to suspending uranium enrichment in 2003.”

      Ross wrote, “The Obama administration has now created a situation in which diplomacy has a chance to succeed. It remains an open question whether it will.”

      According to Ross, while “Israel worries that it could lose its military option, and it may be reluctant to wait for diplomacy to bear fruit,” Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “have consistently called for ‘crippling sanctions,’ reflecting a belief that Iran’s behavior could be changed with sufficient pressure.”

      “The fact that crippling sanctions have finally been applied means that Israel is more likely to give these sanctions and the related diplomatic offensive a chance to work. And it should,” said Ross.

      “Now, with Iran feeling the pressure, its leaders suddenly seem prepared to talk,” he noted. “Of course, Iran’s government might try to draw out talks while pursuing their nuclear program. But if that is their strategy, they will face even more onerous pressures, when a planned European boycott of their oil begins on July 1.”

      He concluded, “With Iran reeling from sanctions, the proper environment now exists for diplomacy to work. The next few months will determine whether it succeeds.”

      Ross recently said that the Obama administration is determined to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon and would certainly consider military action against the Islamic Republic.

      “The administration continues to believe that there is time and space available to achieve the objective that Iran will not be a nuclear-armed country through non-military means,” he said, adding, “They’re also saying – if you look at the words of the Defense Secretary – that all options remain on the table. Obviously, it’s better to use diplomatic means to achieve the objective, but the fact is the United States is not prepared to adopt a position of containment towards Iran.”

      Despite much speculation that Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, both President Obama and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently said they do not believe Israel has made a decision on such an attack.