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Burman: Why this week has been a particularly positive one for the world (TORONTO STAR) By Tony Burman 05/26/12) Source: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1186583--burman-why-this-week-has-been-a-particularly-positive-one-for-the-world
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When the history of this tumultuous century is finally written, I suspect this past week will be scored as a good one. The first signs of a breakthrough emerged in the dangerous impasse over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Egyptians voted in the first free and fair presidential elections in the country’s modern history. And the world’s Western powers are finally closing the book on Afghanistan after 10 long and futile years of intervention.
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The professional hand-wringers are already fretting feverishly over what might go wrong. Is Iran hoodwinking the West? Will the Islamists take over Egypt? Will Al Qaeda return to Afghanistan? There are obviously no certainties in this life, but there is a difference between progress and failure. By any measure, a week in which the Arab Spring blossoms in the Arab world’s most important country, the threat of an unpredictable conflict between Israel and Iran recedes and the failed efforts at “nation-building” in Afghanistan approach an end is not a bad one for the world.
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What I think is most significant is what seems to explain this unusual progress. Our governments may have finally learned from their recent disasters. The rush to war over Iraq in 2003 by the U.S. and Britain — supported at the time in Canada by then-Opposition Leader Stephen Harper — resulted in hundreds of thousands of innocent people being killed with very little to show for it. Thankfully, the current handling of the Iranian issue has been far more restrained and respectful.
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With Afghanistan, the hubris underlying failed Western efforts to “remake” that country in their own image was fortunately not evident in the response to the Arab Spring. After decades of supporting some of the worst tyrannies in the world, the West helplessly let the Arab revolutions evolve without interference. A consequence of that could be seen in the faces of excited Egyptians who learned for the first time how a free and fair election could feel.
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With Iran, the week began dramatically when the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency reached something of a breakthrough with Iranian officials on the agency’s demand for access to the country’s secret facilities. Yukiya Amano, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who has always taken a hard line with Iran, said he “is about to sign a deal” with them. He speculated that Tehran was seeking to set a positive tone for nuclear talks later in the week in Baghdad with officials of the world’s six leading powers.
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There is no expectation of an immediate resolution, but there is hope a compromise can eventually be achieved. Such a deal, effectively ending the threat of military action against Iran, would respect Iran’s right to nuclear power but on the condition that it rejected nuclear weapons and opened the country to UN inspections.
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There is also the possibility that such a compromise could lead to a more normal relationship between Iran and the West, particularly the United States. Nicholas Burns, U.S. deputy secretary of state during the Bush administration, expressed it this way: “For the first time in 32 years, since the Iranian revolution, there is the possibility of serious, substantive and sustained talks with Iran.”
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Hossein Mousavian, former spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiating team and now a visiting scholar at Princeton University, wrote this week in the Financial Times that both Washington and Tehran needed to think big. He outlined a list of issues that was remarkably similar to the “Grand Bargain” that Iran secretly proposed to the Bush administration in 2003 but was rejected. According to Mousavian, “both sides need to negotiate a bilateral agreement normalizing relations and enhancing co-operation on issues — including Afghanistan, the drugs trade, Al Qaeda and the Taliban — where the two share common interest.”
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From both sides, the relationship between Iran and the West for the past three decades has been poisoned by deceit and a lack of mutual respect. In light of the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan, how more flexible and open to compromise are the Western powers now, particularly the United States? In light of the crushing sanctions being imposed on Iran’s economy and the prospect of a military confrontation, how more flexible and open to compromise is the current Iranian leadership now?
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Beyond the complexities of nuclear issues, that is at the heart of this crucial round of talks, and that is why what happened in the Middle East this past week matters to us all.
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Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. tony.burman@gmail.com (© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2012 05/26/12)
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