Our view: Iranian missile launch part of the propaganda war

July 11, 2008

The bellicose charges, military exercises, diplomatic challenges and missile test firings playing out between Iran, the U.S. and Israel this week reflect the continuing unease over Tehran's nuclear ambition and a possible military response to it. The launching of nine missiles, including one that could reach Tel Aviv, was Iran's latest move in a political game of one-upmanship. It comes in the wake of U.S.-British military exercises in the Persian Gulf and last month's Israeli air maneuvers that some suspect were a practice run for a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The presidential candidates have responded with predictable tough talk, but the focus here should be on reinforcing a commitment to vigorous, substantive diplomacy and Iran's need to be transparent about its nuclear intentions.

A House resolution seen as calling for a naval blockade of Iran is needlessly provocative. It undercuts Bush administration efforts, albeit belated, to strengthen the sticks (sanctions) and enhance the carrots (a European-backed economic aid package) to persuade Iran to drop its uranium enrichment program, which Iran insists is peaceful.

Iran adds to the heightened concern when its Revolutionary Guards air commander, Hossein Salami, threatens: "Our hand will always be on the trigger, and our missiles will always be ready to launch." The Iranians can talk like this all they want, but the U.S. has neither the troops nor the public support to strike Iran militarily. An unprovoked attack by Israel would inflame the region with little benefit for U.S. interests. No one should be mistaken about that.

Iran's continued build-up of low-enriched uranium should keep foreign diplomats working overtime on strategies to return Iran to the table because the process increases Tehran's chances of producing weapons-grade material. It may be time to dispatch a prominent emissary with ties to both the U.S. and Iran to break the diplomatic stalemate. A representative of Oman or Turkey could pave the way for direct talks between the U.S. and Iran. But the leadership in Washington and Tehran may have to change first.

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