"What was the symbolic significance of the fact that Iran test-fired 9 medium range missiles today?" asked a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The State Department's third highest ranking diplomat, William J. Burns, responded.
At the US Senate committee meeting concerning Iran Wednesday in Washington D.C., Mr. Burns of the State Department indicated that a range of non-military efforts aimed at persuading Iran to abandon the quest for nuclear weapons were being pursued.
Seated behind Burns, protesters in attendance held signs which read: "Diplomacy Saves Lives" and "Don't Iraq Iran."
Senators of the bipartisan committee applauded the administration's success at securing a range of financial sanctions against the Iranian regime. And they noted that there had been real progress in terms of getting other countries to pursue meaningful sanctions aimed at stopping Iran's nuclear weapons program.
However, new US legislation -- aimed at punishing any foreign company that does more than $20 million in business with Iran -- threatens to alienate foreign governments, undoing this progress. Senators cautioned against adopting such a heavy-handed approach in building support for sanctions.
Burns indicated that the US government was moving towards recognition of the need to negotiate with Iran. Good, but bittersweet news. The senators lamented that the Bush administration -- or at least the State Department! -- seemed to be moving towards a position towards Iran that could -- and ought to -- have been embraced many years ago.
Senator John Kerry made the case that far too little enthusiasm and work had gone into coordinating international sanctions against Iran. Kerry cited Burma as an example of how "weak sanctions don't work." On the other hand, Kerry said he viewed South Africa as a contrary example where sanctions had the desired effect.
The meeting left me hopeful that the US will not go to war with Iran. However, the legacy of US involvement in Iraq cast a shadow over the discussions. It is not inconceivable to me that both the US Senate and the State Department are largely "out of the loop" with regards to Iran. What if that dark force within the Bush administration harbors other intentions?
Photos: Top photo by Jotman shows Senator Lugar (left) and Senator Hagel (right). Bottom photo also taken by Jotman shows the Vice President of the United States (somewhat less-cropped version here).