If the United States' National Intelligence Estimate, which said that Iran was innocent of trying to possess nuclear weapons at present, demolishes the Bush administration's strategy of imposing tougher sanctions on Tehran, this is ironic. Another leading irony is that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saw the report only in terms of a glass being half full. The other half is simply a condemnation of Iran, as the intelligence agencies believe that it froze its nuclear program with military objectives in 2003, i.e. it was trying to develop them during the term of former President Mohammad Khatami, during his era of openness to the west and dialogue with all of the country's neighbors.
It might be too simplistic to say that the eyes of America and its spies learned from the mistake they made in promoting the lie of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and that the CIA and its sister organizations have been "fair" to Tehran, even if Bush doesn't believe them.
He won't believe them in any case, and he is joined in this by Israel, which creates an existential threat whenever it can, or exaggerates such a thing as it plays the role of the victim. If there is no room to scold President Ahmadinejad, who has offered easy pretexts for the Jewish state to promote the "Iranian threat," to the degree of justifying Bush's fear of a third world war, the states of the region can only hope the US report is correct, and that Tehran's threats to answer Washington in the waters of the Gulf are for purposes of domestic media consumption. The alternative is known - a high price for the Arab states of the Gulf to pay, much higher than the cost of US intercontinental missiles and gathering fleets.
Iran can use the report, which appeared to surprise Bush and the Pentagon (which insists on entering the last backyard of the Russians under the pretext of a missile shield to frustrate Tehran's ambitions) to indicate the "lie" in the US administration's policy to gather another international coalition under the banner of preventing World War III.
If it is only natural that after this report, Bush and Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice won't find a sufficient justification to pressure Moscow and Beijing to push through a resolution to toughen sanctions on Iran, it is also natural to ask about the timing of publishing the report, while Ahmadinjead was in Doha, waving an olive branch at the Gulf Cooperation Council after its leaders greeted him warmly. The empty half of the glass isn't seen by Tehran, or it is being celebrated by Tehran as it celebrated the other half of the report.
It's not lost on Ahmadinejad that the Arab Gulf states have repeatedly said that they will not join any war on Iran or facilitate any strike against that country. In fact, some of them are still making efforts to calm things between Tehran and Washington, to avoid seeing the entire region pay the price of another earthquake, whose losses won't be limited to material and environmental aspects, or even closing the vital artery of the Straits of Hormuz to shipments of oil exports. The Doha GCC Summit's declaration did not exceed the stable policies of repeating the call for a peaceful solution to Iran's nuclear program crisis. Meanwhile, it emphasized, as usual, the need for a single criterion in treating the issue of possessing nuclear weapons and not avoiding the fact that Israel possesses a nuclear arsenal, the only one outside the monitoring of the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, Ahmadinejad forgot something in Doha, and it's the same thing that the Gulfis thought would be a big surprise at the Summit, if the Islamic Republic had rewarded the hand of GCC friendship extended to it: declaring that it accepted the Gulf offer of jointly enriching uranium, outside the region.
Only the absence of this surprise-reward can explain Qatar's call to the Americans to "deal equally with states that extend the hand of friendship and brotherhood," and the GCC's insistence that it rejected "being into the service of international strategies" for objectives "about which it is unaware."
Ahmadinejad wasted an exceptional opportunity to defuse the US pretexts and he did not dispel Gulf anxieties about bad scenarios, especially since he offered GCC leaders a security regime on both sides of the Gulf, ignoring the biggest conundrum that is threatening the security of the region; the regional repercussions of the US-Iran conflict on the nuclear issue.
Without going too deep into interpreting Iranian intentions, no one in the GCC doubts the realities of geography or history or that the Islamic Republic will remain a neighbor with a regional role. However, no one is ignorant of the fact that friendship and brotherhood are joint duties and that the olive branch has a language of peace, which can only be built by interaction and balance between the two sides.
*Published in the London-based Al-Hayat on December 6, 2007.