U.S. Accepts Offer From Tehran for Broad Talks

Col Lang on Kessler in Wapo
"The United States has decided to ignore Iran's refusal to discuss its nuclear program and instead accept a vague Iranian plan for talks on security issues as the opening gambit to draw Tehran into real negotiation.

The effort to "test" Iran's intentions, announced on Friday, came after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said his country is skeptical of the need for new sanctions on Iran, giving the Americans little choice but to treat seriously Iran's latest offer.

Iran this week ruled out talks on its program, instead offering a five-page plan that it said would lay the groundwork for peace and stability in the region. The document, first posted Thursday on the Web site of ProPublica news service, made no reference to international demands that Iran suspend its efforts to enrich uranium, but did mention ending proliferation in nuclear weapons as well as a broad offer of dialogue." Kessler


I see that Mottaki, the foreign minister of Iran has modifed the tone of Ahmadinajad's belligerent insistence on the sanctity of the Iranian nuclear program. Mottaki says that it may become possible in the course of these discussions to talk about all that, maybe. My guess would be that the program will be discussed. At the same time, Vahidi, the defense minister is saying that they do not want to build a nuclear weapon and never did.

The Israelis, of course, are determined to convince the US that the Iranians are not telling the truth. Perhaps they are right. This may be the way to find out.

If the Iranians are as smart as they think they are, they will find a way to make it impossible for a State Department spokesman to say that they are "unresponsive."

Strike up the band!

Considerable skepticism from Haaretz Tehran is wasting time by Amos Harel
Adding to the sense of a lack of sincerity was a declaration Saturday from Ahmad Vahidi, Iran's new defense minister, who is still wanted in Argentina for his role in two 1990s bombings that claimed dozens of lives. Vahidi said his country is not interested in a nuclear weapon because "weapons of mass destruction are contrary to our religious, human and national principles."
Iran continues to play its game of deception. The former chief of Military Intelligence, Major General (res.) Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash, told Haaretz the Iranians are behaving this way because "they're at such an advanced stage in their plans, all they need to do is to waste time while pushing hard for their immediate goal, which is to produce sufficient quantities of fissile material for two or three atomic bombs."

In Israel, there are suspicions that the pace of Iranian advance has accelerated, and that Tehran "will continue walking on the edge of the cliff" in its exchanges with the international community.

Apparently, this explains the declaration of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki that dialogue with the international community might include discussion of the nuclear program "if the conditions are right."

This statement diverges slightly from the document Iran offered as its official response to the international community, and also from the comments of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who claimed last Monday that his country will not cease to enrich uranium and will not negotiate on its "nuclear rights."

The results of the dialogue are expected to become clear by December. The commonly accepted assessment here holds that little can be achieved and therefore sanctions against Iran will be forthcoming. But the likelihood of tough sanctions is doubtful, as backing from Russia and China will be limited. Even if the U.S. manages to harness broad support for sanctions, with the backing of the United Nations Security Council, these will almost certainly be insufficiently potent.

As as alternative, the U.S. Congress is planning to announce sanctions that will be adopted by France, Germany, Britain and Canada. But there is still a long way to go before that happens, and the Obama administration is terribly busy with the economy, health care reform and the North Korean provocations. It's hard to know where Iran's nuclear program stands in terms of urgency. Not the top priority - that's fairly clear and certainly not something the U.S. is planning to deal with through offensive action.

Meanwhile, Israel is being careful with its words. The minister charged with the intelligence portfolio, Dan Meridor, told Reuters late last week that "there is not much time to waste," while emphasizing the Iranian nuclear program is a global problem, and that he was not necessarily referring to a military option.
There's also some interesting maneuvering going on in Tehran. From Beruit's Daily Star Deal with Ayatollah Khamenei to make any progress with Iran By David Ignatius
he political situation inside Iran remains murky, to put it mildly, in the aftermath of last June’s turbulent election. But some clues can be found in the recent purge of the country’s intelligence service. The turmoil suggests that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is pushing to tighten his control of the regime, even at the cost of alienating some powerful fellow conservatives. But the decisive voice remains the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His legitimacy has taken a hit – and he’s riding a tiger in trying to control Ahmadinejad – but he’s still No. 1.

The head of the IntelligenceMinistry, a ferocious cleric named Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei who is nicknamed “the viper” by some Iranians, was dismissed in late July. Four top deputies in the ministry were also sacked in what one US analyst likened to a Stalinist purge. In the process, Ahmadinejad made some potentially dangerous enemies.

The intelligence putsch showed Ahmadinejad “moving to control” the government, says Mark Fowler, a former CIA officer who now runs the “Persia House” consulting service for Booz Allen Hamilton. He says of the ousted intelligence officers: “These are not wallflowers. These are tough guys. They have buddies who are spread throughout the system. They could cause some problems [for Ahmadinejad].”

The new intelligence minister is Heidar Moslehi, a cleric with close ties to Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard Corps. This led some analysts to argue that Ahmadinejad and the Guard were continuing an internal coup that began with the fraudulent manipulation of the June 12 election and the subsequent crackdown against Iranian protesters.

Lending support to the “internal coup” thesis is the long-running friction between Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guard, which has its own spy service. The Intelligence Ministry regards itself as a “cut above the knuckle-draggers,” says one US analyst. Ahmadinejad and the Guard wanted to take the elitists down a peg, the theory goes.

But wait a minute: As is usually the case with Iran, the situation is more complicated – with moves in one direction offset by shifts in another. No sooner had Mohseni-Ejei been fired at the intelligence ministry than he resurfaced as the country’s prosecutor general. He was appointed to that post by the new judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, who is regarded as a key ally of Khamenei and whose brother, Ali, is the speaker of the Iranian Parliament.

In recent private contacts with the West, some prominent Iranian politicians have underlined this theme: Ahmadinejad is trying to consolidate power, but the maverick president is facing growing opposition from within the ruling elite. Khamenei remains the crucial actor, according to these Iranians, and while he generally leans in Ahmadinejad’s direction, he has overruled some of the president’s decisions, such as his attempt to install his closest personal adviser, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, as first vice president.

These machinations illustrate how difficult it will be to chart a viable US policy for Iran in the post-election turmoil. Already, the administration has shifted from its pre-election approach of active outreach to a more passive stance in which it’s up to Iran to make the next moves. “We’re keeping the door open, but it’s up to them to walk through it,” says a senior administration official.

One Iranian political figure has told a Western intermediary that the Obama administration may have unwittingly encouraged the regime’s power grab by sending two letters to Khamenei before the June election. The first, delivered through Iran’s mission to the United Nations, was a general invitation to dialogue. Khamenei is said to have taken a month to answer, and then only in vague terms. A second Obama letter reiterated Washington’s interest in engagement. According to the Iranian political figure, this may have emboldened Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to think they had a free hand on June 12.

A second prominent Iranian politician, who is close to Khamenei, advised a Western contact recently that if the United States wants a change in relations, it must find a way to deal with Khamenei directly, without going through the Ahmadinejad government. How to do that remains a puzzle for the Obama team.

Tehran’s analysis, according to this second Iranian, is that America has three options for Iran: engage, contain or attack. “The perception in Tehran is that America hasn’t made up its mind what it wants,” this prominent politician confided. That’s probably the right assessment. And on this issue, as with so many others, the administration is nearing decision time.
I do suspect the knuckle-draggers are stalling but are also distracted by the turmoil in Iran's internal affairs. Qom will keep its options open awaiting a moment of greater unity and strength. Barry will most likely discard his “artificial deadlines”, be vexed but too busy elsewhere to do much about it.

As usual they have been busy little bees elsewhere.

In JP Jumblatt: Iran should arm Lebanon
Lebanese Druse leader Walid Jumblatt told an Iranian news source that his country should turn to Iran for weapons to counter an Israeli attack.

"[The Israelis] are not hiding that, they are saying we will attack or we will one day come to Lebanon again," said Jumblatt to Press TV in Beirut on Saturday.

Jumblatt also called for the opening of contacts between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, claiming that unity among them will discourage an Israeli attack against Lebanon or Iran.

"We need anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft weapons... I think we can find such weapons in Iran or in Russia or in China," said the leader of Lebanon's Progressive Socialist Party, a faction dominated by the country's Druse community and once a key part of the pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian National Liberation Movement.

"Americans are not really willing to provide us with such weapons. They will tell you these weapons will be used against Israelis. OK, but my enemy is Israel," added Jumblatt.

In his interview Jumblatt stressed the need to overcome the traditional conflict between Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the predominantly Shi'ite Iran.
From IranTracker Iranian Influence in Afghanistan: Recent Developments by Maseh Zarif, Ahmad Majidyar
Iran’s influence in Afghanistan—through economic, political, religious, military, and socio-cultural conduits—is part of a concerted, long-term effort to establish clout with its eastern neighbor and is likely to persevere. Iran’s influence and relations with Afghanistan, at times contentious due to border issues, have been solidified by a close alignment of political interests over the past year. Iranian leaders have deftly exploited fragile Kabul-Washington relations to their political advantage by providing Karzai a public alternative to U.S. cooperation. The Afghan government under Karzai, eager to balance U.S. influence, has drawn itself closer into the Iranian sphere of regional influence and provided Iran’s leadership with unflinching political support.

The outcome of the Afghan elections may affect Kabul’s independence from Tehran at the margins, depending on the makeup of the new government and its relationship with Washington over the next few months. A drastic shift away from growing Iranian influence in Afghanistan, however, remains unlikely.
I find myself not far from this position
Rethinking our Iran strategy by Robin Wright and Robert Litwak
Three U.S. administrations did not exploit opportunities when Iran needed to play and reached out. The challenge now is to create a confluence of factors that will make Tehran again feel that a real deal with Washington is in its interest. Then engagement has a real shot.

Under the current circumstances, it doesn't.

Diplomacy centered primarily on Iran's nuclear program is unlikely to work. The regime as well as many protesters view pressure to end uranium enrichment -- a process to provide fuel for peaceful nuclear energy that can be subverted to develop a nuclear weapon -- as a challenge to Iran's sovereignty and a denial of its economic development. Under the current circumstances, the regime is more likely to engage in a process -- largely to get the world off its back -- that would not produce enduring substance or real resolution.

And if that diplomatic tactic doesn't work, simply slapping on more international sanctions (given stonewalling by Russia and China on anything tough) also seems unlikely to alone squeeze Iran into cooperation.

Yet a military strike is also likely to backfire, instead rallying Persian nationalism around the regime, just as Saddam Hussein's 1980 invasion mobilized support for the revolution at a time it was running out of steam.

The Obama administration would be well-advised to step back and recalculate what conditions would lead Iran to feel that the benefits of beginning the transition to a normal state outweigh the costs of sticking to the revolutionary zealotry increasingly rejected by its own people.
Truth is they have us in a tricky spot. Where I'd differ is in keeping friends close and enemies closer. There is a good deal of scope for leery low level cooperation, there's division and faction to be exploited and that can only be done up close. That in the end might be the best way to subvert Qom. Of course they know this, it's their MO.
iran is a fairly stable nation in terms of politics despite the recent riots, its got a decent econemy and every iranian i have ever met has been an honest and good person. why they have been singled out as the world enders when they are next door to the saudi's and israeli's is beyond me, both are more volatile and destructive to the surrounding area and both have a more hardline aproach to religion. which leaves me to think that this isnt about what is right, but what can be gotten away with, pakistan has nukes and thats the base of the taliban with parts of the country under its control, we dont put sanctions on them? israel has commited some ridiculous atrocities over the past few years yet we dont say a word? ive never seen a country being railroaded into confrontation and hounded in the media quite so much as iran, please lets not go to war with them or impose sanctions on them like we did iraq in the 90's, why cant politicians just let it go!
The Iranians are hardly passive victims in this. It's a malign regime that retains substantial support amongst a population that is at once often pro-Western and deeply paranoid about being trodden on by DC.

And if DC had not made the mistake of biting off a great deal more than it could chew in two neighboring countries the USAF would have squished Qom some time ago. The problem is Iran unlike Iraq can and will bite back at the very tender parts of our interests in the Persian Gulf. The likely endgame, an escalation into a land war in Iran, isn't something the Pentagon even wants to contemplate until its current wars are safely put to bed.

Iran is an active and belligerent player that retains long term imperial ambitions. It's also a notably rational actor with a fine sense of brinkmanship. They have made much mischief in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan to a far lesser degree. In this century in part due to our actions their influence has been greatly strengthened amongst the Pals and the Shi'a minorities of the Gulf Kingships. The Sunni Arab rulers of our dubious Arab allies are right to fear Qom's dreary revolutionary project.

The Iranians share essentially similar goals in Iraq and Afghanistan to DC for very different reasons. It would be very much against Qom's interest for the old regimes to be returned to power, their friendships with the new guard in Baghdad and Kabul are older, deeper and more sincere than our expedient flirtation with these hastily constructed regimes. A friendly Baghdad especially significantly extends Iran's sphere of influence and freedom of action.

Militarily Iran is a puny third world country but they are artful in the use of proxies and terrorist methods. Above all they excel in the art of influence by playing factions. But there is only so far a fine Florentine hand can take you in dealing with the mighty US, a belligerent nuclear armed Israel or the vast wealth of Saudi, another nation that's no slouch in covert war by proxy. It's for this reason Iran needs to be a nuclear power.

It's unlikely that Qom would use the bomb other than in defense or as a tool of intimidation and coercion. That is not a reason to be complacent about it. It's the intimidation and coercion that easily spooked Israel really fears and Tehran is a perfect nuclear killing ground. The Saudis will feel the need for an equalizer and they really are nuts enough to use it. It would be better for everybody if Qom would stop short of actually testing a bomb.

It may seem hypocritical for DC having taken a wrecking ball to the place to complain that Iran is meddling in Iraq. It also is true that they are. They were at it long before we arrived there. There's plentiful evidence of Iranian collusion in killing our soldiers and targeted assassinations against former Baathists.

I'd agree Pakistan is a much more troubling country. Their military has a history of genocidal actions. It has a significant stock of nuke tipped ballistic missiles. They did their best to covertly propagate the Islamic bomb and are hardly friendlier to Israel than Qom. We have direct evidence of the ISI colluding in transnational terrorist actions. The original Taliban was a Pakistani policy instrument. They still seem to be deeply entwined with some of them.
If two countries can't sit down and talk about broads then what can men talk about?

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