WASHINGTON, June 2 (UPI) -- By mid-week the news concerning Iran's nuclear debacle was positive. Sounding somewhat optimistic, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy welcomed the United States' willingness in joining the negotiations over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
For a brief moment the international community held its breath as Washington agreed to sit at the same table with representatives from the Islamic Republic of Iran -- something they have not done in more than 25 years -- since the Islamic revolution ousted the shah and revolutionary students took over the American Embassy in Tehran and held U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days.
However, those unfamiliar with the antics of the ruling theocracy in Iran may have cried victory too soon. By Thursday the mood had already somewhat changed, with Iran saying it would be willing to discuss any topic, except its nuclear enrichment program.
By the time the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- and Germany -- convened in the Austrian capital, Vienna, to give Iran one final chance to renege on its nuclear ambitions before resorting to a U.N. resolution that would impose strict economic and trade sanctions on Tehran, the leaders of the Islamic republic let it be known that they would not concede on their nuclear program.
And by Thursday, President George W. Bush asked of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to look into "a third option" for Iran.
A supporter of the banned Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group told United Press International that the only viable "third option" would be to legalize the MeK, allowing them to confront the regime from within. Members of the MeK resistance have long ascertained that they are in a good position to fight the regime in Tehran. But they ask to be taken off the State Department's list of groups engaged in terrorism.
Still, diplomats from the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, remained hopeful that a package of incentives offered to Tehran would sway President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ruling mullahs, that the alternative -- stiff penalties -- could be avoided.
European diplomats would not describe the eventual contents of possible penalties Iran could face if it continued with its uranium-enriching program. Rather than outline specifics, the diplomats involved in the negotiations preferred to remain vague, simply stating that a wider range of sanctions are available to them, to use at their discretion.
Tehran, meanwhile, insisted that no preconditions be set for talks with Washington. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, appearing on state-run Iranian television said, "Iran welcomes dialogue under just conditions but won't give up our rights."
In reviewing the week's events it seem rather that Washington and Tehran are engaged in a dialogue of the deaf. But then again maybe not. Perhaps this was exactly the reply that Washington expected from Tehran, and again, perhaps this was just what Tehran wanted to hear. One should not exclude the possibility that Iran's President Ahmadinejad might not be interested in dialogue.
Several analysts who monitor developments in Iran believe that Ahmadinejad was placed in the presidency by the ruling theocracy with the specific task of insuring the country gets its nuclear program running as soon as possible.
Then there are those who support the thesis that Ahmadinejad awaits the return of the 12th imam, which according to legend will come to announce the end of the world. Ironically, there are some among Iraq's Shiite community groups of religious supporters who are beginning to call President Bush "the 13th Imam," in reference to the 12 historical Imams sacred to the branch of Shiism, which is dominant in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. India and Pakistan also have large Shiite populations.
President Bush's support for Shiism was by no means intentional. There is no doubt regarding the effects of his administration's preference in making sure that the Shiites maintain their power in Iran. U.S. support for the Shiites would in part explain the violent terrorist campaign in which mostly Sunnis are engaged in fighting the American presence in Iraq.
In the run-up to the last American presidential elections a high ranking Iranian security chief publicly wished success to George W. Bush, much to the amazement of many American analysts. The reason for that is now clear. President Bush and his administration have done more than any other American president to promote and protect the interests of Iraq's Shiite community. In three short years, Bush succeeded in strengthening not only the Shiite community in Iraq, but gave renewed vigor to the Iranian Islamic revolution across the border in Iran.
So as far as sitting across the table from an American delegation to discuss any matter, except its nuclear program, Ahmadinejad might well play along. And if the talks fail, which they most probably will, Ahmadinejad will walk away, placing all the blame on the Americans. And if sanctions are imposed, as they are likely to be, and the Iranian people are to suffer, once again Bush will appear to be the villain and the Iranian president the hero.
(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)