"American Policy Toward Iraq and Iran in Clinton's Second Term" by Robert O. Freedman
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Jerusalem Letter

No. 402   27 Adar 5759 / 15 March 1999


AMERICAN POLICY TOWARD IRAQ AND IRAN IN CLINTON'S SECOND TERM

Robert O. Freedman

"Dual Containment" / Saddam's Challenge / Factors Restraining an American Response / Republicans Charge "Appeasement" / A Changing U.S. Political Climate / The U.S. Attacks Iraq / Bitter Memories of Iran / President Khatami's Election / Moves Toward Limited Rapprochement / Iran's Conservatives Counterattack / Summing Up


"Dual Containment"

During U.S. President Bill Clinton's second term in office, the U.S. "dual containment" policy toward Iran and Iraq, which he inherited from the Bush administration and then intensified during his first term, had come close to collapse.

For dual containment to be effective, the U.S. had to be willing to support large U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf, and to have the will to use them if either Iran or Iraq got out of line, rather than use one to check the other as the U.S. had done in the 1970s and 1980s. Furthermore, the two states also had to be kept isolated from countries in their immediate region and be prevented from receiving support from outside countries as well.

Benefiting from the European Union's alternative policy of "constructive engagement," Iran never really faced such isolation. In addition, by June 1998, U.S. policy toward Iran had clearly shifted from containment to an effort at rapprochement, in large part because of the election of a reform-minded Iranian cleric, Mohammed Khatami, as President of Iran. Meanwhile, Iraq, which had been a pariah in most of the Arab world because of its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, had by 1997 acquired increased support from Arab countries such as Egypt and Syria, while enjoying support from Russia as far back as 1993.

Saddam's Challenge

During his first term, Clinton had been challenged by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on a number of occasions. In June 1993, following an abortive Iraqi attempt to assassinate former U.S. President George Bush during a visit to Kuwait, the U.S. bombed an intelligence center in Baghdad. In October 1994, Saddam Hussein moved his army toward Kuwait and the U.S. responded by airlifting military forces to Kuwait and warning Iraq not to invade, a threat that achieved its purpose.The U.S. was less successful in August 1996, however, when Iraqi troops, in cooperation with the KDP (the Masud Barzani faction of the Kurdish opposition), attacked the rival PUK faction of Jallal Talabani which had been aided by Iran, and drove it from Irbil, thus severely damaging U.S. efforts to force a united opposition against the Iraqi regime. The U.S. responded by expanding its "no-fly" zone in southern Iraq to the 33rd parallel, and by bombarding Iraqi air defense installations. France, which had hitherto cooperated with the U.S. in maintaining the "no-fly" zone, did not cooperate in the newly extended part of the zone. Furthermore, the Arab world viewed the limited U.S. cruise missile attacks as worse than useless, stirring up Arab popular anger while not threatening the bases of Saddam Hussein's power.

Russia's relationship with Iraq would prove to be a continuing complicating factor, since Russia had its own agenda in the region. First, the Russian leadership sought to demonstrate to the world and to an often hostile Duma (parliament) that Russia remained an important actor in world affairs, one both willing and able to oppose the United States. Second, Russia seeks repayment of the $7 billion owed by Iraq to the Soviet Union, which can occur only after the lifting of sanctions on Iraq. Third, Russian arms manufacturers and oil and gas companies seek contracts in Iraq, even though they cannot actually begin operations until sanctions are lifted. With these interests in mind, it is easy to explain Russian behavior during the crises with Iraq in 1997 and 1998.

In the fall of 1997, U.S. weapons inspectors, in Iraq as part of the UN inspection team (UNSCOM) checking on Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction, were prohibited by Iraq from carrying out their mission and left the country, followed by the other UN inspectors. The U.S. threatened military action against Iraq and began to mobilize its forces. At the peak of the crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright in Geneva on November 20, 1997. With the help of France, which was also pursing lucrative arms and business deals in Iraq, Primakov put together an agreement under which the weapons inspectors would be let back into Iraq in return for a vague promise about lifting the sanctions. The agreement proved short-lived, however, and in January 1998 Saddam Hussein backtracked on the agreement by prohibiting inspections of his "presidential palaces" which were suspected as weapons depositories. This led the U.S. and Britain to mass forces in the Persian Gulf and conflict appeared imminent.

Factors Restraining an American Response

Several factors, however, prevented the outbreak of war. First, Clinton was now beset by the Lewinsky affair, which had just become public and which eroded his political position. Second, domestic support for an attack on Iraq proved not as strong as the Clinton administration had hoped. On February 18, 1988, Secretary of State Albright encountered a hostile reception during a town hall meeting at Ohio State University on U.S. policy toward Iraq that was broadcast worldwide by CNN. A third factor was a clear lack of support from America's Arab allies who appeared to respond to Saddam's portrayal of his people's suffering. As the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram noted, despite U.S. support for the "oil for food" agreement that allowed Iraq to import substantial amounts of food and medicine, "the American position toward Iraq cannot be described as anything but coercive, aggressive, unwise and uncaring about the lives of Iraqis, who are unnecessarily subject to sanctions and humiliations." Arab criticism of the U.S. continued in February 1998 when Saudi Arabia announced it would not permit the U.S. to use bases on its soil to attack Iraq, reportedly because of the U.S. "inability to push forward the quest for a broader peace between the Arabs and Israelis."

In the face of these constraints, as well as opposition from Russia and France to a U.S. military attack, President Clinton chose a diplomatic way out of the impasse with the help of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who extracted a promise from Saddam Hussein that the Iraqi leader would not interfere with UNSCOM inspections. The agreement, however, was strongly criticized by Republican leaders in Congress, such as Trent Lott, Jesse Helms, and John McCain, who, as Clinton weakened politically, became increasingly assertive spokesmen on U.S. foreign policy.

On August 5, 1998, Saddam Hussein barred surprise UN inspections and said he would only allow remote monitoring and repeat visits to known sites. Three weeks later, the chief U.S. inspector on the UNSCOM team, Scott Ritter, resigned in protest at what he said were deliberate U.S. efforts led by Secretary of State Albright to derail inspections in order to avoid another military confrontation with Iraq.

Since the Iraqi leader had long tried to hide evidence of Iraq's efforts to construct weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the U.S., under Ritter, had been successful in ferreting out the WMD information primarily by surprise inspections (although the information released by Iraq after the defection in 1995 of Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamil, was also helpful), Saddam's barring of surprise inspections meant the effective end of UN monitoring of Iraq's weapons programs. It was the U.S. failure to react to the Iraqi move, which Ritter (and many others) saw as in direct contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 687, which precipitated his resignation.

While the U.S. was subsequently to get a unanimous Security Council condemnation of the Iraqi leader's action (following Saddam's decision to interfere with routine UNSCOM monitoring) along with a deferment of any decision on lifting sanctions, it appeared that Iraq was now relatively free to engage in a crash program to build weapons of mass destruction, although the continuation of sanctions appeared to limit Iraq's ability to do so.

Republicans Charge "Appeasement"

Following Ritter's resignation, Congressional Republicans held hearings on what they called a reversal of U.S. policy toward Iraq, with House Speaker Newt Gingrich saying that what was involved suggested a "secret shift from confrontation to appeasement" that was in direct conflict with the government's public rhetoric. Gingrich further attacked Clinton by stating that if Ritter's accusations were true, "Your administration's tough rhetoric on Iraq has been a deception masking a real policy of weakness and concession." In response, Secretary of State Albright, citing the unanimous UN Security Council vote against Iraq, asserted that the administration's policy would be more effective in curbing Saddam Hussein than that of Scott Ritter, although few Republicans appeared convinced.

The administration did score a success in its Iraq policy, albeit a small one, in September 1998 when it persuaded the Kurdish factions of Masud Barzani and Jallal Talabani, whose internecine conflict had facilitated the capture of Irbil by Saddam Hussein's forces two years earlier, to work together and share power in northern Iraq. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman introduced legislation in September 1998 that would authorize the Clinton administration to select one or more Iraqi opposition groups to receive up to $97 million in U.S. Defense Department equipment and military training "to seek to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and promote the emergence of a democratic government." While the Clinton administration initially opposed the measure (although Clinton was later to sign it) because it limited its flexibility of action over Iraq, it appeared that the Congressional Republicans, unhappy with Clinton's handling of Iraq, were offering an alternative policy.

Fortunately for Clinton, Saddam Hussein again overreached himself. On October 31, 1998, Hussein ended all Iraqi cooperation with UNSCOM, precipitating yet another unanimous Security Council vote condemning Iraq and demanding that the ban on cooperation with UNSCOM be ended. When Iraq refused to change its policy, UNSCOM inspectors left Iraq and Clinton again began to mobilize U.S. forces for a possible strike against the Iraqi leader.

A Changing U.S. Political Climate

But the political situation in November 1998 was far different from what it had been during the November 1997 and February 1998 crises. In the first place, Clinton was greatly strengthened by the U.S. midterm elections which were seen as a public repudiation of Republican attempts to impeach him. Second, after Clinton concluded the Wye Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in October 1998, which involved a further Israeli territorial withdrawal, the Arab reaction was far less hostile to U.S. pressure against Iraq. Indeed, the Arab Gulf coalition that had fought against Iraq - Egypt, Syria, and the Gulf Cooperation Council - issued a strongly worded warning to Iraq on November 12, stating: "Iraq must heed UN Security Council resolutions and abide by them to avoid military confrontation....The Iraqi government will be solely responsible for all repercussions resulting from its decision to block UNSCOM from carrying out its inspections."

The problem of Russian opposition, which had hampered U.S. action against Iraq in the previous crises, had all but dissipated by November 1998. Beset by a monumental economic crisis, having defaulted on its foreign loans, and now having to virtually beg the U.S. and Europe for food to get through the winter, Russia was in no position to try to block a U.S. military strike on Iraq.

In this strengthened political position, Clinton decided to launch a major military attack against Iraq, only to call it back at the very last minute after receiving information that Iraq, under the imminent threat of attack, had agreed to allow the UNSCOM inspectors to resume their work. While Clinton claimed the Iraqis had "backed down," and threatened to initiate attacks if Iraq failed to fully cooperate with UNSCOM, many commentators thought Clinton had lost a golden opportunity, now that he had both the Arab world and a united Security Council behind him, to destroy the bases of Saddam's power including the Republican Guard, the suspected sites of weapons of mass destruction, and Iraq's remaining military capability. While in his November 15 news conference Clinton asserted that "the return of the inspectors, if they can operate in an unfettered way, is the best outcome, because they have been and remain the most effective tool to uncover, destroy, and prevent Iraq from rebuilding its weapons of mass destruction," Clinton's critics asserted that it was only a matter of time before Saddam Hussein again interfered with the UNSCOM inspectors and at that time Clinton might not have the favorable domestic and diplomatic situations to enable him to launch a major military attack against Iraq. Indeed, this was to be the case one month later when a politically weakened Clinton decided to finally launch a military attack against Iraq, in cooperation with the British.

The U.S. Attacks Iraq

By mid-December 1998, just after the Republican-dominated House Judiciary Committee voted for an impeachment indictment against Clinton, the president approved U.S. military action against Iraq, citing UNSCOM Chairman Richard Butler's report that the Iraqis had again seriously interfered with the activities of the inspectors, and voicing concern that with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan coming in a few days, the U.S. would have to postpone any attack for more than a month, giving Saddam time to hide his WMD equipment. In the words of President Clinton: "This is why...I have ordered a strong sustained series of air strikes against Iraq. They are designed to degrade Saddam's capacity to develop and deliver weapons of mass destruction and to degrade his ability to threaten his neighbors."

Even before the U.S. launched the attack, National Security Adviser Samuel Berger articulated the administration's strategy toward Iraq in a speech at Stanford University on December 8, 1998. He noted that the U.S. would be working "step-by-step, in a practical and effective way" to undermine and eventually oust Saddam Hussein, and Berger linked that goal with a pledge "to use effective force if necessary." His statement was coupled with incentives for people in the center of power in Baghdad to overthrow Saddam, as he promised "to ease economic sanctions" against a new Iraqi regime and also to "work to relieve Iraq's massive economic debts."

In this light, the military attack itself, which lasted 70 hours, was aimed not only at weakening Saddam's capacity to make weapons of mass destruction and threaten Iraq's neighbors, but also at weakening the very basis of his regime. U.S. defense officials estimated that between 600 and 1,600 members of the Iraqi Republican Guard, a main prop of the Iraqi government, had been killed in the U.S. attack, which also targeted the headquarters of Iraqi military intelligence, the special Republican Guard, and the special security organization, while leaving regular army units alone in the hope of encouraging a future coup from those units. The U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf, General Anthony Zinni, claimed that the attacks may have set back Iraq's missile development program by two years. Zinni also asserted that the 300 ship-launched cruise missiles were particularly effective, hitting more than 85 percent of their targets, while overall, 75 percent of the strikes were rated "fully successful."

After the bombing campaign, Samuel Berger explained that there were only two possible outcomes to U.S. policy toward Iraq - total Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council demands, which Berger felt was "unlikely," or the downfall of Saddam Hussein, which he said was "inevitable." Berger also stated that the U.S. now had an open-ended commitment to use military force to block the rebuilding of Iraq's WMD capabilities and was prepared to devote resources to "practical and effective" efforts to build an opposition to Saddam.

To this end, on January 21, 1999, U.S. Secretary of State Albright appointed Frank Ricciardone as special representative to the opposition groups working to overthrow Saddam. Earlier she had announced the names of six specific opposition groups who were eligible for $97 million in U.S. aid under the Iraq Liberation Act. However, General Zinni, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, concluded that the process of overthrowing Saddam was "not going to be an easy or short term effort."

In the following months, the U.S. has continued the almost daily, low-key bombing of Iraq, concentrating on Iraqi anti-aircraft installations in the no-fly zones of northern and southern Iraq. This new policy, coupled with the maintenance of economic sanctions, is designed to weaken and isolate Saddam in order to allow his domestic enemies to overthrow him. While his military power had been considerably weakened, the U.S. still appeared to have a long way to go before the Clinton administration's new policy toward Iraq is realized.

Bitter Memories of Iran

While even during Clinton's first term there were voices in Washington calling for an improvement in relations with Iran, the memories of the hostage crisis of 1979-80, and of the ill-fated Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, coupled with Iran's death sentence on the writer Salman Rushdie, its conduct of terrorism abroad, its efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction, and its opposition to the Arab-Israeli peace process which took the form of military aid to such anti-Israeli terrorist groups as Islamic Jihad, helped prevent any policy change, as did the Republican sweep of Congress in the 1994 elections. Indeed, Iranian-American relations actually deteriorated further during Clinton's first term as the U.S. refused to permit the U.S. airplane manufacturer Boeing to sell passenger aircraft to Iran.

Similarly, the U.S. pressured Azerbaizhan to drop Iran from an international consortium developing one of Azerbaizhan's off-shore oil fields, and in 1995 President Clinton signed a presidential order banning U.S. companies from investing in Iran's oil industry, thereby forcing the U.S. oil firm Conoco to cancel a $1 billion agreement to develop two Iranian off-shore oil fields. In 1996, Clinton went further and signed the Republican-inspired Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) which imposed a number of sanctions against foreign firms investing more than $40 million in Iran's oil and gas industry. Yet another blow to U.S.-Iranian relations in 1996 was the terrorist attack against the Khobar Towers residence of U.S. airmen in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 U.S. servicemen. At the time, the terrorist attack was widely attributed to Iran which made no secret of its opposition to U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, although more recently suspicion has shifted to Osama Bin Laden.

While the U.S. was endeavoring to isolate Iran, it did not receive much help from its NATO allies. The French firm Total signed the off-shore oil deal that Conoco had been forced to cancel, and Turkey, which faced a rapidly growing demand for natural gas, signed a 20-year, $20 billion agreement to import gas from Iran. Energy-related issues also divided the U.S. from its allies on the question of the preferred export route for Caspian Sea oil and natural gas, with many Europeans, who are more dependent on energy imports than the U.S., preferring the shorter, less expensive, and more secure route from the Caspian through Iran to the Persian Gulf, over the more expensive, longer, and much more insecure route backed by the U.S. from Azerbaizhan through Georgia and Turkey to the Mediterranean (the Baku-Ceyhan route). The U.S. also clashed repeatedly with Russia over Iran because Russia was Iran's major supplier of sophisticated military equipment, such as aircraft and submarines, and was also selling nuclear reactors and missile technology to Iran.

President Khatami's Election

The hostility between the U.S. and Iran, so evident during Clinton's first term, began to diminish during the early part of his second term. The precipitating factor was the unexpected and overwhelming (70 percent of the vote) election of Mohammed Khatami as Iran's president in May 1997. The moderate Iranian leader sought to increase cultural and personal freedom in Iran, while also improving relations with Iran's Gulf neighbors, Europe, and, to a lesser degree, the United States. However, he was challenged by hardliners in the Iranian regime including Iran's religious leader Ayatollah Khameini, who controlled important levers of power such as the army and police.

Khatami's efforts to improve Iran's regional position began with the dispatch of the new Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharazzi, on a tour of Arab capitals with a message that Iran wanted peaceful and cooperative relations with the Arab world. Next came the OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) summit held in Teheran in December 1997, where Khatami was unanimously elected as chairman of the OIC for the next three years. At the summit, Khatami moderated Iran's position on the Arab-Israeli peace process, stating that Iran would accept any solution which the Palestinians accepted, and Iran got the support of the other Islamic countries in opposing U.S. sanctions.

The rapprochement between Iran and its neighbors continued in March 1998 with the visit of former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, himself a moderate, to Saudi Arabia, where the two sides discussed, inter alia, the drop in oil prices to below $13 a barrel, a development that hurt both countries. Saudi Arabia and Iran were subsequently to agree to an oil production cutback. Iran also sent out feelers to Iraq, and the hard-pressed regime of Saddam Hussein, looking to escape its own isolated position, responded positively although the two countries remained at odds over unsettled issues from their 1980-1988 war.

Moves Toward Limited Rapprochement

By mid-1998, the only issue of consequence remaining in Iranian-Gulf Arab relations was the dispute over three islands in the Persian Gulf (Big Tunb, Little Tunb, and Abu Musa) which are claimed both by Iran and the United Arab Emirates but are currently occupied by Iran, an occupation that dates back to the time of the Shah. In the new mood of GCC-Iran cooperation, however, the islands issue now appears to be far less an area of contention than in the past.

Iran also stepped up its relations with Russia and France, two of its leading trade partners. Russia, which was Iran's leading supplier of military equipment as well as nuclear reactors, saw Iran as a useful ally in a number of Caucasian and Central Asian trouble spots from Chechnya to the Tajik civil war to Afghanistan, as well as a major market for Russian military and civilian exports. For its part, France also rejected U.S. efforts to isolate Iran economically and in 1997 the French company Total joined with Russian and Malaysian energy companies in an agreement to develop Iran's South Pars natural gas field, a direct challenge to U.S. efforts to limit Iranian energy development.

By 1998, Iran had also begun to focus on its ties with the United States. What could be called a limited rapprochement had begun in December 1997 when in a news conference President Khatami stated "I first of all pay my respects to the great people and nation of America." Three weeks later, in a CNN interview, he proposed to the U.S. the idea of an exchange of "professionals, writers, scholars, artists, journalists, and tourists." President Clinton responded in kind in January 1998 when he called Iran "an important country with a rich and ancient cultural heritage of which Iranians are justifiably proud," and asserted that the current differences between Iran and the U.S. were not insurmountable.

The first tangible results of the new atmosphere came in February 1998 when a group of American wrestlers were triumphantly received by Iranian wrestling fans during the Takhiti Cup tournament in Teheran. In May, Clinton waived sanctions against the French, Russian, and Malaysian companies planning to develop Iran's South Pars gas field, and in June, Secretary of State Albright, in a speech to the Asia Society in New York, after noting that the U.S. had implemented a more streamlined procedure for issuing visas to Iranians, offered to "develop, with the Islamic Republic, when it is ready, a road map leading to normal relations."

During the summer and fall of 1998, however, the road to normal relations developed a few potholes. Under pressure from Republicans in Congress, the U.S. extended the mandate of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to broadcast into Iran to "promote democracy." In addition, Iran's testing of a medium-range Shahab 3 missile in July raised concerns in the U.S. that Iran was making unexpectedly rapid progress on its way to developing weapons of mass destruction, a concern shared by Israel and its lobby in the U.S.

Despite these events, there was a great deal of expectation of a further thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations when Khatami and Foreign Minister Kharazzi journeyed to New York for the opening of the fall session of the United Nations. In his UN speech, Khatami continued his theme of dialogue, calling on the UN to declare the year 2001 the "year of dialogue among civilizations." However, he took a sharply anti-Israel tone, stating that peace and security would come to the Middle East only when all Palestinians had the right to "exercise sovereignty over their ancestral homeland," and that "Palestine is the homeland of Moslems, Christians and Jews, not the laboratory for the violent whims of Zionists." The Iranian leader, nine of whose diplomats had recently been killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan and whose army now maneuvered menacingly on the border of that country, also called for a broad-based government in Afghanistan representing all ethnic groups and communities.

The next day, Khatami also took a critical stance toward the U.S. in a news conference in which he rejected the idea of government-to-government talks between the U.S. and Iran, although he did welcome what he termed a "change in speech" by the U.S. He complained, however, about a number of American actions including the U.S. economic embargo against Iran and U.S. opposition to pipelines carrying Caspian Sea oil through Iran. He also protested the failure of the U.S. to return the Iranian assets it had frozen and for allocating money to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty for Persian-language broadcasts that would "hurt the government of Iran." In an effort to diffuse criticism of Iran's human rights position, however, Khatami seemed to lift the Iranian death threat against author Salman Rushdie by stating, "We should consider the Salman Rushdie issue as completely finished....The Iranian government has officially announced that in practice it has made no decision to act on this matter," an assertion which, while welcome in the West (Britain immediately upgraded diplomatic relations with Iran), provoked a firestorm of criticism among Khatami's hard-line opponents in Iran.

In March 1999, Khatami undertook the first state visit to the West by an Iranian president since 1979, including a visit to Pope John Paul II in Rome, as part of an effort to normalize relations with the West. In addition, local elections in Iran the same month were said to have been a victory for supporters of Khatami. Nevertheless, opposition to Khatami remains strong among the conservative religious clerics who still retain overall control in Iran.

Iran's Conservatives Counterattack

In analyzing Khatami's position, a central factor affecting his behavior is the power of the conservative opposition in Iran. Teheran Mayor Gholanhossen Karabaschi, an ally of Khatami, was sentenced in July 1998 to five years in prison on alleged corruption charges. Former Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri lost his post in June and in early September, along with Ayatollah Mahajerani, another Khatami ally who was the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, was physically attacked by thugs apparently sent by hard-line conservative forces. Furthermore, Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Khameini, launched an attack against the Iranian media, which had been acting with considerably more freedom following Khatami's election. Khameini charged that sections of the media had abused their freedom and that action would be taken against their "creeping excesses." Soon afterwards, the popular Iranian newspaper Tous was closed and its managing director and two of its staff members jailed. Then the weekly magazine New Way was also closed, two senior editors at the state-owned Islamic Republic news agency were jailed, and two-thirds of the Iranian parliament (180 of 270) called for journalists who wrote against "Islamic principles" to be tried for threatening national security. The situation got so bad that an Iranian judge was quoted as saying that the jailed journalists could face the death penalty for "fighting God."

In the U.S., Republicans in Congress remain suspicious of Iran, arguing that Khatami could not really control the radicals in Iran, even if he wanted to, and openly wondering whether Khatami's "charm offensive" was nothing more than a tactic to put Iran's enemies off guard, while Iran was acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Khameini's strong criticism of the Wye Agreement served to reinforce their opposition.

On the Iranian side, Khatami's conservative opponents, still smarting over his election victory, have opposed not only his domestic reforms but also his moderate foreign policy approach to the U.S. With Khatami now under onslaught from Iranian conservatives, it is not at all clear whether the rapprochement can continue unless the U.S. is forthcoming with a major concession such as the release of frozen Iranian assets, permission for U.S. companies to invest in Iran's oil and gas infrastructure, or removal of U.S. opposition to foreign investment in Iranian oil pipelines.

Summing Up

During the first two years of Clinton's second term, U.S. policy toward Iraq has been marked more by failure. Although the sanctions on Iraq are still in effect, U.S. efforts to prevent the Iraqi regime from acquiring weapons of mass destruction appeared to be in shambles following Saddam's repeated defiance of the UN inspection team and the failure of the U.S. to respond with enough force to make a difference. The one policy innovation on Iraq following Clinton's reelection, the "food for oil" agreement, did not serve to win over Arab support for U.S. punitive strikes against Iraq.

In the case of Iran, U.S. policy has had more of a mixed result. The old policy of dual containment seems to have been jettisoned, with the U.S. now seeking to improve relations with Iran while keeping Iraq isolated, in the hope that Iran will cooperate with U.S. efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Yet despite a policy of limited rapprochement, replete with positive oratory and symbolic actions by both sides, it remains to be seen if the U.S. and Iranian leaders, each of whom is beset by domestic opposition to the limited rapprochement, can push the process much further.

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Robert O. Freedman is an Associate of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and President of Baltimore Hebrew University.


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