debkafile: Ahead of Iran sanctions debate in Berlin, Washington lines up with Moscow’s soft diplomacy

Nicholas Burns’ retirement as US undersecretary for political affairs Friday, Jan. 18, and his replacement by US ambassador to Moscow William Burns, take the Bush administration’s strategy on Iran’s nuclear activities a stage closer to Moscow’s line of soft diplomacy.
State department spokesman Sean McCormack Saturday played down expectations that the six powers meeting in Berlin next Tuesday would produce a consensual UN sanctions resolution. The group – the US, Russia, China, UK, France and Germany – were deadlocked at previous meetings by Moscow and Beijing’s opposition to harsh measures. The change in Washington is indicated by McCormack’s reference to “multilateral diplomacy.”
The outgoing Nicholas Burns, in the No. 3 State Department spot, held the Iran portfolio and led the Bush administration’s drive for tough sanctions at the UN Security Council. (He is the 19th diplomat to quit the State Department in recent weeks). Ambassador Burns (no relation) is closer to the Russian approach.
debkafile‘s Moscow sources note that President George W. Bush has in recent months taken strides towards closing the gap with the Kremlin on Iran.
President Valdimir Putin’s standard line – I have no information that Iran is developing nuclear arms – was corroborated by the US National Intelligence Estimate’s conclusion in December that Tehran had shelved its military program in 2003.
Circles close to Putin maintain that the two presidents began working together quietly in October 2007, on the shared understanding that affirmative tactics were preferable to tough penalties for weaning Tehran away from uranium enrichment, even temporarily. Therefore, after long opposition, Bush surprisingly came out in favor of Moscow’s decision to consign uranium fuel rods for Iran’s atomic reactor in Bushehr.
Our sources in the Persian Gulf and Vienna disclose, moreover, that the US president also lined up with Saudi King Abdullah on a decision to relegate the handling of Iran’s nuclear issues to the UN nuclear watchdog’s director Mohammed ElBaradei.
ElBaradei was therefore accorded the unusual honor of an audience with Iran’s supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei when he visited Tehran on Jan. 12. He was told he could expect full cooperation from the Iranian government and promised answers to his questions on the tough questions of the uranium enrichment process and plutonium production.
The US and Russian governments both believe that an important breakthrough has been achieved and a way forward for further diplomatic engagement on the hitherto intractable Iranian nuclear program.
The United States has therefore turned away from confrontation with Iran and consigned its clandestine nuclear projects to the routine diplomatic track.
This course is diametrically opposed to the policy pursued by Nicholas Burns in recent years. His resignation was therefore logical.

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