IN OTHER WORDS: Iran factor

It’s a great time to be an Iranian theocrat. American military power has removed your most dangerous foreign enemy, Saddam Hussein. American diplomatic strategy has delivered the lion’s share of Iraqi political power and oil wealth to the Shiite religious parties you’ve financed and armed for years and which are now your grateful dependents. Russia, China and the non-aligned movement have been blocking any international action to slow down your rush to develop nuclear weapons technology.

What’s more, you’ve finally worn down and outmaneuvered those pesky reformist clerics who kept arguing for overtures to the Great Satan in Washington. It’s much less comfortable to be the US, however. Halting the spread of nuclear weapons, improving America’s energy security and advancing the cause of democracy in the Middle East are supposed to be three central planks of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. All three goals are now endangered. The challenge now facing US is to find ways to stop enhancing Iran’s power and start subjecting it to effective international constraints.

Another requirement is to reinforce the authority of the IAEA. Washington needs to start building up its own direct relationship with Iran, a country it has diplomatically shunned since the 1979 hostage crisis. — International Herald Tribune