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Briefings & Documents Menu / Anti-war Briefings Menu / Briefing 107

   
TURNING POINT TEHRAN?
Iran Crisis Teeters Between Peace And War
JNV Anti-War Briefing 107
20 July 2007

This briefing is available as a pdf here.

Posted 1 December 2009

HOPEFUL SIGNS

Recent developments hold out hopeful possibilities regarding Iran, but the talk in Washington seems increasingly grim.

Turning to the optimistic interpretation, despite the wider frictions, the United States and Iran are to hold a second round of talks on the future of Iraq. (Guardian, 19 July http://tinyurl.com/26rxym)

Furthermore, Iran has made new commitments to the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) over its nuclear programme - scaling back its uranium enrichment activity at Natanz, allowing inspectors to return to the plutonium-producing reactor it is building in Arak, and promising (finally) to answer questions about long-standing IAEA discoveries and concerns.

According to the IAEA, Iran is also ready for a new meeting in early August for ‘the finalization of the safeguards approach’ at Natanz, guaranteeing the IAEA's inspection and monitoring rights at the enrichment facility. (AP, 13 July)

There are signs of rationality in ruling circles. For example this editorial in the latest Economist:

‘Iran is a self-proclaimed theocracy. Yet it has conducted foreign relations since the revolution of 1979 in a way that seems perfectly rational even if it is not pleasant. Its president, the Holocaust-questioning Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is widely reported to have threatened to “wipe Israel off the map”. But in fact he may never have uttered those precise words, and there is both ambiguity and calculation behind the bluster. Look closer and Mr Ahmadinejad is vague about whether he means that Iran should destroy Israel or just that he hopes for Israel’s disappearance. Knowing that a nuclear attack on Israel or America would result in its own prompt annihilation, Iran could probably be deterred, just as other nuclear powers have been. Didn’t [Soviet leader] Nikita Khrushchev promise to “bury” the West?’

If there could be detente between the Soviet Union and the West, why not between Iran and the West?

THE GRAND BARGAIN

The Economist puts its weight tentatively behind a ‘grand bargain’: ‘If at the same time [as further sanctions were imposed] Iran was offered a dignified ladder to climb down—above all a credible promise of an historic reconciliation with the United States—the troubled leadership of a tired revolution might just grab it. But time is short.’ (Economist, 19 July)

The ‘grand bargain’ offered by Iran in 2003 was referred to in JNV Briefing 96, and is explored in more detail in JNV’s ‘Drawing Paradise on the “Axis of Evil”’ catalogue. In brief, Iran offered to meet US concerns across the board, including explicit endorsement of a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine, Iranian support for Hamas and Hezbollah, the nuclear issue, and so on, in return for various US concessions, and, crucially, a US ‘security guarantee’ that Iran would not be attacked.

In February, the 2003 offer returned to haunt the Bush Administration (which had dismissed the Iranian proposal instantly), when former State Department official Flynt Leverett accused Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of dishonesty over whether she had seen the proposal. Rice denied that she had been passed the document in 2003, when she was US National Security Advisor.

‘Last June, Rice appeared to confirm, in an interview with National Public Radio, that the White House had received the memo. “What the Iranians wanted earlier was to be one-on-one with the United States so that this could be about the United States and Iran,” Rice said. State Department officials at that time did not dissuade reporters from interpreting her comments as referring to the 2003 fax.’ (Washington Post, 8 Feb.)

In December 2006, Leverett was not allowed to publish an article for the New York Times because the Administration said it contained classified material—though it had been cleared by the CIA. (Independent, 19 Dec.) ‘The offending segments, [Leverett] said, dealt with Iran’s assistance to the US in ousting the Taliban in 2001 and then helping set up a new Afghan government, and an offer Iran made to the US in 2003—first reported by the Financial Times—to talk about a “grand bargain” that the Bush administration quickly rejected.’ (FT, 18 Dec.)

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has renewed his call for diplomatic relations with Iran, saying: ‘There cannot be security (and) stability in the Middle East without Iran... When we invaded Afghanistan we found the Iranians very helpful for two years. First sharing, gathering and exchanging intelligence.” (UPI press agency, 19 July)

Hagel added: ‘We are good at bludgeoning people in news conferences and threatening people and warning, but that doesn’t fix the problem.’ He said sarcastically: ‘Maybe our two wars aren’t enough, we’re doing so well on both of them. Maybe we should attack North Korea and Iran too. I believe there are some in this administration who have that idea.’

THE DRUMS OF WAR

According to an article in the New York Times in June, the battle in Washington over Iran policy was then being won by Condoleezza Rice, with her less-confrontational approach:

‘A year after President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a new strategy toward Iran, a behind-the-scenes debate has broken out within the administration over whether the approach has any hope of reining in Iran’s nuclear program, according to senior administration officials.

‘The debate has pitted Ms. Rice and her deputies, who appear to be winning so far, against the few remaining hawks inside the administration, especially those in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office who, according to some people familiar with the discussions, are pressing for greater consideration of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

'The accounts were provided by officials at the State Department, White House and the Pentagon who are on both sides of the debate, as well as people who have spoken with members of Mr. Cheney’s staff and with Ms. Rice.

‘Mr. Bush has publicly vowed that he would never “tolerate” a nuclear Iran, and the question at the core of the debate within the administration is when and whether it makes sense to shift course.'

According to the NYT, the State Department indicated in a top-level meeting that negotiations with Tehran could still be going on when Bush left office in January 2009, leaving hawks ‘deeply unhappy—but not surprised’ at the ‘tacit acknowledgment that the Bush administration had no “red line” beyond which Iran would not be permitted to step’.

The paper also reported:

‘To date... the administration has been hesitant about saying that it will not permit Iran to produce more than a given amount of [nuclear] fuel, out of concern that Iran’s hard-liners would simply see that figure as a goal. (NYT, 16 June)

Then, on 16 July, the Guardian reported: ‘The balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in favour of military action before President George Bush leaves office in 18 months, the Guardian has learned.

‘The shift follows an internal review involving the White House, the Pentagon and the state department over the last month. Although the Bush administration is in deep trouble over Iraq, it remains focused on Iran. A well-placed source in Washington said: “Bush is not going to leave office with Iran still in limbo.”

‘The vice-president, Dick Cheney, has long favoured upping the threat of military action against Iran. He is being resisted by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates. Last year Mr Bush came down in favour of Ms Rice, who along with Britain, France and Germany has been putting a diplomatic squeeze on Iran.

‘But at a meeting of the White House, Pentagon and state department last month, Mr Cheney expressed frustration at the lack of progress and Mr Bush sided with him. “The balance has tilted. There is cause for concern,” the source said this week.

‘ “Cheney has limited capital left, but if he wanted to use all his capital on this one issue, he could still have an impact,” said Patrick Cronin, the director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. No decision on military action is expected until next year. In the meantime, the state department will continue to pursue the diplomatic route.’ (Guardian, 16 July)

 JNV

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