News and views relevant to U.S.-Iran relations for September 17.
- The Wall Street Journal: Joe Parkinson reports on Turkish Prime Minister Tayyup Erdogan’s comments on Thursday that Ankara is seeking to triple its trade with Iran over the next five years. Erdogran told business delegates in Istanbul that Turkey and Iran were on the verge of signing a “preferential trade agreement” and that trade volumes between the two countries could swell to $30 billion. Turkey has been seeking to strengthen ties with its neighbors, including Iraq, Syria and Russia, after the recent deterioration of relations with Israel. “I can’t see any reason why we can’t establish an unimpeded trade mechanism with Iran similar to the one with Europe,” Erdogran said. “There are lots of things that we can give to Iran, as Turkey has made a serious industrial leap.” Erdogan’s announcement is likely to further strain relations between Washington and Ankara, as the Obama administration is seeking to tighten sanctions enforcement and deter investors from trading with Iran.
- Washington Post: Columnist David Ignatius hints the Obama administration may be ready to take up Iran on its offer of cooperation in Afghanistan — and endorses this possibility. He notes that Iran, which has its own interests in combating Afghan drug smuggling and hardline Sunni influence on its borders, has made some positive moves with regards to stabilizing Afghanistan. Now the administration must weigh whether engaging Iran on a “separate track” — i.e., Afghanistan — “might blunt U.S. pressure on the nuclear issue” or whether engagement “could be an important confidence-building measure.” Neoconservative writer Michael Rubin has already attacked the notion of such cooperation on the National Review‘s The Corner blog.
- Foreign Policy: Marc Lynch, in a cross-post on his own FP blog and its Mid East Channel, writes that the Obama administration appears to be pursuing a path of “Keeping Tehran in a Box”, à la U.S. policy toward Iraq in the 1990s. “Eventually, as with Iraq,” he writes, “the choices may well narrow sufficiently and the perception of impending threat mount so that a President — maybe Obama, maybe Palin, maybe anyone else — finds him or herself faced with ‘no choice’ but to move towards war.” He observes it’s “not a pretty scenario”, and “variants of the status quo” are needed as clearly designated “off-ramps” to avoid getting stuck in dead end policy positions. He posits an enrichment deal or a change in Iranian internal politics as the sort of “off-ramp” that might avoid the current trajectory of the U.S.’s Iran policy, but he concedes neither are incredibly likely.