“Freeze-for-Freeze” Is Iran’s Current Buzz Phrase

The welter of threats flying between Washington, Israel and Iran in the last ten days was certainly fueled by the Israel visits of high-ranking American military chiefs.

Straight after Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff, flew out, Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, head of the US Missile Defense, arrived on June 30.

Like Adm. Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, who came earlier, Obering’s arrival and his movements were kept under wraps.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources disclose that Gen. Obering came to coordinate the operations of US and Israeli anti-missile defense systems against potential Iranian missile attack. He predictably toured Israel’s air defense installations. Because he wore civilian garb, no one but a handful of high Israeli officers knew who he was. Publicity would have prompted more speculation that an attack on Iran was drawing near.

There was enough ado in Tehran over Mullen’s tour of Israel’s Syrian, Lebanese and Gazan borders under the guidance of Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and local commanders, who explained how Israel proposed to conduct a prospective four-front war in the wake of an attack on Iran..

On his return to Washington, when asked by correspondents whether he was concerned Israel would strike before the end of the year, Mullen said: “This is a very unstable part of the world and I don’t need it to be more unstable.” He added: “Opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful for us.”

Answering another question, the top US soldier said: “I believe they’re (Iran) still on a path to get nuclear weapons and I think that’s something that needs to be deterred.” But, he added that should be done through diplomatic, financial and economic actions by the US and other nations.

“I think that just about every move in that part of the world is a high risk move.”

These remarks fell short of out-and-out rejection of an Israeli military operation against Iran’s nascent nuclear weapons industry.


How real is Tehran’s turn to “negotiations” and “compromise?”


Is that why the Iranians have suddenly muted their official rhetoric? Have they taken fright from the war fever and decided to cool it?

In an interview with Jomhouri-Eslami, on July 1, ex-foreign minister Ali-Akbar Velayati said that rejecting the six-national proposal (the incentives package EU foreign executive Javier Solana presented to Tehran last month) would play into the US and Israeli strategy of isolation by sending the message “that Iran is not in favor of international work and negotiations.”

“If our adversaries want us not to accept (the proposal) then it is expedient for us to accept it, Velayati, a senior adviser to supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is quoted as saying.

He suggested that Iran could temporarily stop expanding its enrichment capability if the Security Council halted moves to impose new sanctions in a “freeze-for-freeze” period, during which the sides would negotiate an agenda for future talks.

But he ruled out a six-week limit on the freeze period, because it was uncertain how long preliminary negotiations would take.

The next day, July 2, foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, threw out similar hints that a compromise based on the six-national proposal was possible in the nuclear deadlock.

“We see a new process underway on the nuclear crisis and the potential for a new round of talks.” he commented. Talking at Iran’s UN mission in New York, Mottaki said: “The two sides are trying to see if they can arrive at a new modality.”

According to the Iranian foreign minister, the potential for a six-nation package and a parallel Iranian proposal for talks could be put together as “a good agenda” for possible negotiations.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources say it is too soon to say whether the Iranians have changed their position or just their tone in a typical play for more time to develop their arms program.

Our sources disclose that three camps in the Islamic regime are jockeying to get their positions accepted on national nuclear – and therefore military – strategy.


The Pro-Negotiations with US Faction


This faction, led by the Majlis Speaker, former national security adviser Ali Larijani, maintains that the threats of an approaching US or Israel attack on Iran’s nuclear installations are hollow and aim only at bringing Tehran under pressure. Since no attack is imminent, Tehran has plenty of time for forward planning toward a negotiated deal with Washington.


The Pro-War Faction


The Revolutionary Guards commander, Ali Jafari, who heads this camp, maintains that the military threats facing Iran are real. The country should therefore steel itself for punishment and prepare to retaliate.


The Academic-Scientific Faction


This group of top scientists and technicians employed in Iran’s nuclear program advises against allowing the situation to escalate towards a military confrontation, because their work is beset by holdups and technical difficulties. They need more time to overcome them.

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