After flirting with the idea of opening a political dialogue with Iran, the Clinton administration has retreated to its old policy of "dual containment" against both the Islamic republic and neighboring Iraq.
New Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright reiterated her support for continuing current policies to contain Iran and Iraq on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.
"Our policy on Iran and Iraq is one that we will pursue because we are very concerned about their support of terrorism and what they do in terms of destabilizing the region," she said.
But some U.S. experts who have urged the reopening of diplomatic relations with Tehran are concerned the policy will prove unenforceable as Iran continues to receive vast military and nuclear supplies from Russia and China. Meanwhile, Western European powers seek lucrative high-tech trade with both countries.
Also, many of the small Arab oil-producing states in the Persian Gulf are privately urging such a dialogue to ease tensions in the region and - they hope - avert the threat of driving Iran into the arms of Russia and even of its traditional enemy Iraq.
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, the architect of Soviet anti-Western Middle East policies in the 1960s and 1970s, has quietly made an Iran-Iraq rapprochement a top Russian priority in the region.
"He sees that dependence on Persian Gulf oil is America's soft underbelly, and he's determined to strike at it," one Middle East intelligence source said. "The continuation of `dual containment' plays into his hands."
Many U.S. experts are increasingly skeptical that Washington can maintain a credible hostile posture against both Iran and Iraq for much longer.
"It is unlikely we can manage `dual containment' for another four years," said Dov Zakheim, a deputy undersecretary of defense in the Reagan administration now chairman of SPC International, a consulting firm.
"We have been very lucky for the last four years, but to sustain the level of international support needed against Iran and Iraq for another four is wishful thinking," Mr. Zakheim said.
But the U.S. government is still "going to make every effort to deny Iran and Iraq weapons of mass destruction, long-range missile delivery systems and any conventional military arms buildup," said Anthony Cordesman, co-director of Middle East studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"It is almost inconceivable that any of this will change. The U.S. government is not going to break away from `dual containment,' " said Mr. Cordesman, author of "The Iran-Iraq War" and other studies of military power in the region.
An Israeli official told Reuters news agency yesterday that Iran had sent 30 jetloads of weapons to fully rearm the Shi'ite Hezbollah (Party of God) militia in Lebanon after Israel's 17-day offensive against it in April. …