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Dunsmore: When Diplomacy Fails

One hundred years ago as the new year began, there may have been some storm clouds on the horizon. But no one would have predicted that by August of 1914 one of the most devastating wars in modern history would begin. I am not suggesting actual comparisons between then and now, because these are very different times. But if there is one lesson that World War I should have taught us, it’s that it didn’t have to happen. It was preventable.

Likewise, in the current dispute with Iran over its nuclear capabilities, war is not inevitable. And we now have at hand, a diplomatic process which could prevent it. But the clock is now ticking on that process and by August of this year, if we fail to resolve the dispute through diplomacy, war with Iran could become a real possibility.

I am also not suggesting that war would be as consequential as World War I. But given the current volatility in the area at the moment, I believe it would become a major Middle East war with far reaching consequences that no one can accurately predict. This is why it is in virtually everyone’s interests that the diplomats succeed.

Negotiations on a final agreement on Iran’s nukes are supposed to start shortly and to be completed in six months – already a tall order. But in the meantime, the U.S. Senate is threatening action which the White House is trying desperately to head off. This proposed senate bill is supported by a coalition of nearly all Republicans and 19 Democratic senators, which apparently puts it within one vote of the 60 needed to withstand a presidential veto. If it passes as written, it would not only threaten more economic sanctions against Iran. It would set specific demands for the end-game of the negotiations. And if Iran fails to yield, it would effectively give Israel a green light, with a guarantee of American support, should it decide to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear capabilities.

Why would they do this? I can’t say for certain. But we know there is a resurgence of neo-conservatism on the Republican right - and that the pro-Israeli lobby has been pressing hard for such legislation.

So far, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has refused to bring up the bill - strongly supported by Vermont’s senior Senator Patrick Leahy. But we don’t know how long Reid will be able to hold out beyond President Obama’s State of the Union speech next Tuesday.

After decades of mutual hostility, it was to be expected that hardliners in both Iran and America would be opposed to a nuclear deal. But if the US Senate successfully passes its proposed legislation, in the view of virtually all of the non-partisan Iran specialists I have come to trust, it would so seriously compromise the negotiations on a final agreement – that it would doom them to failure.

And when diplomacy fails, we all know what usually happens next.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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