Bush Pulls Iran Diplomacy Carpet from under Obama

It is hard to make sense of the Bush administration’s to-ing and fro-ing on the options on and off the table with regard to Iran’s military nuclear program. However, two strong themes demarcate the strategy of its twilight months: the legacy George W. Bush would like to leave his successor and his contribution toward bringing a Republican president into the Oval Office next January.

On June 11, President Bush told a London Times interviewer exactly where he stood on both. He said his aim now was to leave his successor “a legacy of international diplomacy for tackling Iran.” And in a message to Tehran, he said: “They can either face isolation or they can have better relations with us all.” The option of a military strike was not mentioned.

The secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s proposal this week to set up a diplomatic presence in Iran and “reaching out” to the Iranian people was perfectly consistent with her boss’s intentions.

Seen from Tehran’s perspective, it may be recalled that the Islamic Republic once before took a hand in an American presidential contest.

On May 23, 2008, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 350 noted in a comment on Barack Obama’s proposal of talks with Tehran (If Barack Obama Were Elected US President…A Projected Scenario for Engagement with Ahmadinejad) the penchant Iran’s Islamist rulers have for procrastination and interminable bargaining.

The only known case in 29 years of revolutionary Iran yielding concrete results in direct engagement with an American figure occurred in 1980.

Presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan sent a member of his campaign team, William Casey (later director of the CIA) to negotiate with an Iranian representative in Europe for the release of 52 US hostages captured when radical Iranian students stormed the embassy in November 1979.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was prepared to do anything to prevent Jimmy Carter’s re-election to the White House, instructed his representatives to accede to the hostages’ release, but delay it until the day of Reagan’s inauguration, as a final snub to the defeated Carter. The new president held this up as his first foreign policy feat.


Bush jumped the gun on Iran to help McCain


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington’s sources report that Bush did not wait for the Democratic candidate Barack Obama to pursue this path and gain the advantage over John McCain, but adopted it himself.

For some weeks now, secret administration emissaries have been engaged in talks with Iranian officials in Europe and the Middle East. They aim first at preventing a military confrontation and second at getting the Republican senator elected in November. A smokescreen of false and misleading leaks and disclosures pointing to an approaching American or Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear installations has been laid down by Washington to camouflage the thaw

Whether or not McCain is aware of this effort on his behalf is moot, but it may be presumed that he is not against it.

Bush and his strategic right hand, Condoleezza Rice, are driving hard for some diplomatic breakthrough to crown the president’s eight years in office and guarantee that his dominant policies in Iraq, the war on terror and the New Middle East do not perish with his exit and survive as an abiding legacy for his successor, whoever he may be.

Since McCain and Bush are not that far apart on international policy, the candidate and his advisers have found it politic to keep their distance from the secret diplomatic track and not commit themselves either way. If the Bush strategy works, fine, McCain can pick it up as an asset when he attains the White House; if it fails, then the failure is not associated with him.

The Democratic candidate is also constrained from comment, even though he may be aware of what the president is up to. Bush and Rice have blocked his approach to Tehran but he can hardly complain; after all, they have appropriated his diplomatic engagement platform.

This is not the first time the current US administration has tried to carve out a diplomatic route to Tehran.

In its January and February, 2007 issues, DEBKA-Net-Weekly covered exclusively the secretary of state’s initiative to find a formula for US-Iranian cooperation in the Middle East. Her partners in the effort were two high-placed Saudi officials, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the king’s national security adviser, and Prince Moqrin bin Abdulaziz, Director of General Intelligence.

The initiative ran aground towards the end of 2007. The Saudis decided to stop counting on the Bush government as a reliable prop and opted for beating a path to the Islamic Republic’s door.


Oil held to $150 ceiling, good headway on Iraq and Afghanistan


This time, Rice is leading a lone American engagement effort with Tehran.

What has it achieved thus far? Quite a lot, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s US and Iranian sources:


1. Agreement to keep the price of oil pegged to a ceiling of $150 a barrel.

2. An informal accord covering military movements and intelligence-sharing in Iraq in respect of the two parties’ mutual interests.

Our sources reveal that the sporadic attacks by Shiite rogue militias on American targets – on June 25, 10 Iraqis and four Americans, two soldiers and two officials from the state and defense departments were killed at a local council meeting in Baghdad’s Shiite Sadr City – are the work of hard-line mavericks of the Revolutionary Guards Al Qods Brigade, who are seeking to sabotage US-Iranian understandings.

These understandings have steadied the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki‘s hold on power. While innately weak and vacillating, he is enabled to project the image of a resolute leader who wages campaign after campaign against insurgents and al Qaeda. He has consigned Iraqi troops to put down a rebellion in Basra, crush al Qaeda in Mosul and vanquish Moqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Baghdad. Last week, he sent them to tackle Sadrist Shiite insurgents in the southern town of Amarna.

In fact, Maliki owes his “victories” to the ad hoc arrangements between American and Iranian negotiators. They predetermine the outcome of engagements as and if they boost American and Iranian interests in the given sector. In Diyala for instance, US troops are able to wage a major battle against al Qaeda remnants thanks to Iran’s restraining hand on friendly Shiite militias from attacking the American forces.

3. US-Iranian understandings are shaping up on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Iranian footprint there is a lot smaller than in Iraq, but it is solid enough to aid and succor Washington’s effort to stabilize the regimes in both countries. Here too intelligence is traded in the shared interest.


Accord on Lebanon – a work in progress


4. Lebanon is a third arena of US-Iranian cooperation: it produced the Doha accord for a president to be installed in Beirut so ending a seven-month political crisis over his appointment, but has not gone much further, which is why Fouad Siniora’s effort to build a national unity government is stalled.

5. Concurrence on Syria and Hizballah is a corollary of the Lebanon understanding between Washington and Tehran. The Bush administration has agreed to ease its diplomatic, economic and intelligence pressure on Syrian president Bashar Asad and Hizballah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, and leave them free for roles in policy-making in Lebanon and the Middle East at large.

These negotiations are evaluated by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources as exceptionally sensitive and intricate. Almost every point is a battlefield for American-Iranian dissent.

But one result is conspicuous: Assad’s rapid rehabilitation internationally and regionally.

A senior Saudi official conversant with Lebanese and Syrian affairs put it this way: “On the face of it nothing has changed in Washington’s attitude towards Damascus, but in reality, it has undergone a transformation.”

Gone are the threats to the Assad regime, notably the international tribunal for prosecuting the assassins of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, and American support for Syrian opposition elements has been withdrawn.”

The Saudi official further commented: “A US-Iranian earthquake is rumbling under the surface of the Middle East, especially in Syria.”


Washington will hold Israel back from striking Iran


6. As to the Islamic regime’s most controversial activities, nothing final has been worked out but the groundwork is in progress. For the moment, the White House and supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s administration agree to avoid landing shocks on each other’s heads. Iran will not dramatically speed up its uranium enrichment process or suddenly announce great strides toward a nuclear weapon. Washington, for its part, will not recourse to startling military or diplomatic operations in response to Tehran’s nuclear activities.

The Bush administration also undertook to rein in a potential Israel unilateral attack on Iran.

Israel is thus constrained by UIS-Iranian understandings from taking forceful action against Iran, which is only two steps away from a nuclear bomb – or even against Hamas, although its truce with Israel lasted less than a week before Palestinian missiles were again exploding on the Israeli side of the Gaza border.

The Tehran-backed Palestinian fundamentalists have attained the sanctuary of the secret talks between Washington and Tehran.

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