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Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2001 /14 Tishrei, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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Good, bad or ... diplomacy -- THANKS to British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, we now see how it's really done: how a wily mastery of diplomacy can coalesce any coalition, poof, before you can say "Death to America."

Hang on a second. You mean that's not what happened following Straw's "historic" visit to Tehran this week? Not exactly. As Straw put it, according to the London Telegraph, "The phrase that I think would be more appropriate [than coalition-building] is that of an international consensus."

"Consensus" may be a couple notches down from "coalition," but it's a start. What sort of consensus did Straw build, and, equally important, how did he build it?

One day after conferring with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Straw jetted to Tehran, marking the first time a British Foreign Secretary had traveled to the radically anti-Western country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Carrying what the State Department characterized as "no particular message" from the United States (which, of course, severed diplomatic relations with Iran following the fall of the Shah and the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran), Straw was clearly out to gauge the chances of Iran joining the international coalition to be led by the United States against state-sponsored terrorism.

Problem is, Iran itself is a state sponsor of terrorism -- often against the United States. Remember the 1983 suicide bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut that killed 241 young men? That was the work of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia. Among other massacres, Iran is implicated in the 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 airmen, and is a suspect, along with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. It may even have had a bloody hand in the attack on America of Sept. 11. This sort of thing might present a stumbling block to the average Joe, but not to the professionals in the British Foreign Office.

Straw determined that the best way to defuse the pesky terror issue was, to coin a phrase, to feel the terrorists' pain. On the day before his arrival, he contributed an inflammatory op-ed piece to the Iranian press in which he came perilously close to rationalizing terrorism by linking it to the plight of "Palestine."

That old canard requires a willful misreading of the facts, from Ehud Barak's shockingly numerous concessions to Yassir Arafat (rejected), to Osama bin Laden's infamous hatred not for Israel, but for the United States and its interests in the Middle East. Perhaps worse, it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the global and cultural scope of the mission before us.

Too bad not every Iranian could concentrate on his article; the chanting outside the British embassy of "Death to Britain," "Death to America," was too loud. And who could possibly hear that Straw was actually offering Iran a significant role in shaping Afghanistan's post-Taliban government? The important thing, of course, is that Iran's leaders heard him out. This seems to have been rather thrilling to the Foreign

Secretary, who declared Britain and Iran to be in "absolute agreement." About what, however, wasn't clear. "What I've started today is a high-level dialogue with the Iranians of a kind that we've not enjoyed for years," Straw said before departing for Tel Aviv, where he would face understandably livid Israelis. "I want to see that continued."

What continued? Iran waited until Straw was out of town before Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave an answer. Amid cries of "Death to America" -- kind of brings on nostalgia for the hostage crisis -- and "Death to Israel," the Ayatollah announced that Iran would provide zero help to America and its allies, whoever they might be. "We do not trust America. We do not think America has the competence and sincerity to lead an international move against terrorism, as the world's most dangerous terrorists are sitting next to it," he said, referring to, of all countries, Israel. He went on to say that America was "over-expectant" in regard to assembling a coalition, and, in general, engaging in "disgusting" behavior. Which seemed to remind the Ayatollah that, as he put it, "Israeli leaders are all terrorists ... America ... blood ... Zionist regime ..." The coalition needs this guy like it needs Osama bin Laden.

Believe it or not, the State Department isn't so sure. "We would still be interested in what Iran is prepared to do against terrorism," spokesman Richard Boucher said after the Ayatollah's outburst. Didn't Iran make itself clear? Even its "moderate" president, Mohammad Khatami, came out to dismiss President Bush as "arrogant" for attempting to "distinguish between good and bad." Meanwhile, thank heavens for Bush's "arrogance" -- a "vice" diplomats don't seem to have.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Diana West