Since the advent of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, the United States has exhibited unmitigated hostility towards Iran. Of course, the hostage taking of the US embassy in Tehran played an important role in turning US friendship with Iran into a hostile relationship. The Islamic revolutionaries and the nationalists, who assumed the reins of power in Iran after the Shah had fled from the country, harboured serious grievances against the US for the long history of its gross interference in Iran's internal affairs and its support to the Shah's despotic rule. The Islamic revolutionaries also nursed deep feelings of unhappiness because of the over-westernisation of the Iranian society under the Shah for which again they held the US at least partly responsible. It was because of these past grievances that Ayatollah Khomeini called the US as "the great Satan". Washington reciprocated to these negative sentiments in full measure and from the very beginning of the Islamic revolution embarked upon a calculated campaign to destabilise the Islamic revolutionary government in Iran. During the early 1970's, Washington had adopted a conscious policy of building up Iran as the regional influential or, in other words, as an instrument of the US policy in the region. Iran in any case was squarely in the Western camp during those years of the Cold War. To the dismay of the US, Iran was no longer willing to play that role after the success of the Islamic revolution. In fact, from the US point of view, Tehran's independent foreign policy of "neither east nor west" and its staunch support to the Palestinian cause became a major obstacle in the fulfilment of its strategic designs in the Middle East, particularly its control over the oil and gas resources of the Persian Gulf region. The US also viewed Iran as a threat to Israel's security, an obstacle to the so-called Middle East peace process and a sponsor of terrorism. In addition, Iran was suspected by the US of carrying on a secret nuclear-weapon programme. Iran has consistently denied these charges. In his State of the Union address in January 2002, President Bush went to the extent of categorising Iran together with Iraq and North Korea as part of the "axis of evil". The US policies of freezing of Iranian assets, encouragement and support to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran, imposing economic and commercial sanctions on Tehran, regime change in Iran, and its strong opposition to Iran's nuclear programme need to be seen against this political background. In short, the divergent policies followed by these two former allies have brought them on a collision course so much so that President Bush and his administration are not willing to rule out the military option in dealing with the issue of Iran's nuclear programme. There are also reports that Washington allocated an amount of US$400 million last year for a covert plan to destabilise the Islamic government in Iran. The US has led the international campaign to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment and nuclear reprocessing activities which have caused suspicions that the Iranian programme may be designed ultimately to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has provided a lot of information to the IAEA to clarify the ambiguities about its past nuclear activities and to establish the peaceful character of its nuclear programme. But the international pressure on Iran has not abated. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has adopted three resolutions to impose sanctions on Iran after they had been diluted through the efforts of Russia and China. Iran, in its negotiations with the five permanent members of the UNSC plus Germany (P5+1), has taken the position that under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty it has the right to carry out uranium enrichment and nuclear reprocessing activities under the IAEA safeguards. Therefore, the international community's demand for the suspension of these activities lacks legal basis. The latest package of proposals was presented to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki by the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, on June 14 on behalf of P5+1. Under the offer, which was based on the freeze for freeze formula, Iran would not expand its uranium enrichment programme while the international community refrained from imposing further sanctions. This phase would last for six weeks, possibly paving the way for suspension of enrichment in return for more comprehensive talks and technological, economic and security incentives. Iran responded to the proposals in a letter addressed to Javier Solana and the foreign ministers of P5+1 on July 4. Iran termed its response "constructive and creative". However, there was no indication that it was ready to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities. An inconclusive meeting between Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, and Javier Solana to discuss the issue was held at Geneva on July 19 with the participation for the first time of William Burns, the US under-secretary of state for political affairs. Apparently, Iran at the meeting was given another two weeks to accept the interim deal which would freeze uranium enrichment and sanctions. Failing that Iran would face further UNSC and EU sanctions As pointed out earlier, the US hostility towards Iran is basically rooted in political factors as Washington sees the Islamic government in Tehran as a serious obstacle in the achievement of its strategic objectives in the Middle East in contrast with the earlier situation when the US had used Iran under the Shah as an instrument of its policy in the region. Washington's policy of regime change in Iran and its threats against the latter need to be seen against this background. However, the time when the US could impose its will on Iran has long past. The US because of internal and external political and economic factors as well as because of its military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan is in no position to open a new front by launching a military strike against Iran to which the latter in all probability will respond with all the force at its command. Such a development will destabilise and inflame the whole region and endanger US interests on a vast scale. The Bush administration has committed serious mistakes in handling the crises in Afghanistan and Iraq earlier. But a military strike against Iran would be an even greater folly which hopefully the Bush administration, whose days are numbered now, will avoid. The only sensible course now open to the US is to engage Iran in serious negotiations without any pre-conditions to resolve all outstanding political issues and the remaining questions relating to the latter's nuclear programme on a realistic basis. Since Iran has categorically denied any intention to develop nuclear weapons, it should be possible through creative diplomacy to arrive at a solution which would allow Iran to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in accordance with the provisions of the NPT while ensuring through effective safeguards that there is no diversion of nuclear materials to non-peaceful purposes. Washington must disabuse itself of the habit of making one-sided demands on other countries in violation of international law, particularly because the US "unipolar moment" in history has already passed as pointed out by Richard Haas in his article entitled The Age of Nonpolarity in the Foreign Affairs issue of May-June, 2008. Hopefully, the presence of William Burns at the recent meeting in Geneva reflected a shift in the US policy towards greater reliance on talks with Iran to resolve outstanding issues instead of hurling threats at it. If so, it was a welcome development which needs to be encouraged and appropriately reciprocated by Iran in the interest of regional and international peace and stability. The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan to Iran E-mail: