Iran Pushes to Forefront; Arabs See Israeli-Palestinian Issue Slip on U.S. Agenda

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 11, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Iran Pushes to Forefront; Arabs See Israeli-Palestinian Issue Slip on U.S. Agenda


Byline: Jumana al-Tamimi, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's first official trip to the Middle East left many Arabs convinced that she is more interested in repairing U.S. relations with Iran than in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I don't believe the Middle East is actually [President] Obama's priority, said Nader Saeed, a professor of sociology at the West Bank-based Birzeit University. I believe East Asia and the axis of Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran will be the stronger link in the chain.

Last week, Mrs. Clinton proposed a multilateral conference on Afghanistan to which Iran would be invited, opening the prospect for direct U.S.-Iranian engagement. Tehran said it would study the invitation once it was received, but the reaction of Iranian academics suggested that the response would be favorable.

Yes, I think Iran will attend the conference, said Mohamed Sadeq Husseini, secretary-general of the Arab-Iranian Forum for Dialogue, a think tank based in Tehran.

He recalled the cooperation between the U.S. and Iran after the Sept. 11 attacks in forming a new government for Afghanistan, and he noted Iran's opposition then to the Taliban.

Masha'allah Shams Al Waezeen - an analyst at Tehran's Strategic Studies Center - said, Of course, when there is a danger coming from the northeastern borders of Iran - meaning Afghanistan and Pakistan - against Iran's national security, obviously Iran will help.

Other issues on the U.S.-Iran agenda include Tehran's nuclear program, which Iran says is for peaceful functions but Western and Arab nations fear has a military purpose, and Iraq, where Tehran has increased its influence since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Arab academics say the Obama administration is focusing on Iran because of bleak prospects for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Israel is still putting together a new right-wing government after elections last month, and the Palestinians are split between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.

"As far as the ... situation between Israelis and Palestinians are concerned, things will take a longer time, particularly because there is a new element that can't be ignored, which is [Israeli Prime Minister-designate

Benjamin] Netanyahu," said Dia Rashwan, a senior researcher at the Cairo-based Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies

The U.S. administration realizes this and will not put itself on a collision course with it.

Mr. Saeed of Birzeit University said Palestinians appreciated Mrs. Clinton's description of Israeli plans to demolish dozens of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem as unhelpful. Israel says the homes were built illegally, while Palestinians say it is impossible to obtain permits to build legally.

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