An unofficial American delegation arrived in Tehran on the quiet the week before US and Iranian ambassadors Ryan Crocker and Hassan Kazemi-Qomi faced each other across a table in Baghdad on May 28.
The US visitors were ex-officials, who until a year or two ago were hotshots in the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, and two university lecturers, who formerly manned the State Department’s Iran Desk.
They were received by Iranian foreign ministry officials flanked by intelligence officers.
One of the Americans was a fluent Farsi speaker. He was there to ascertain that no misunderstandings would arise from a language barrier.
The Iranian side had no difficulty, therefore, in grasping the strict guidelines the Americans were laying out for the agenda of the coming Baghdad conference.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Tehran sources report the Iranian hosts understood that the US delegation would not allow issues outside US interests to be included in the discussions.
The American visitors, for their part, understood that Iranian diplomats would not give an inch or even listen to US concerns, unless their own were given a hearing.
From Washington our sources learn that the report submitted to the National Security Council by the US delegation on its return home at the end of last week disclosed that the key figure in the Iranian leadership pushing for a comprehensive deal with the United States is Ali Larijani, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and senior nuclear negotiator.
The impression they gained was that Larijani was fully backed by the pragmatic former president Hashem Rafsanjani, but only with reservations by the supreme ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Iranian delegation was, therefore, fully apprized of the American position ahead of their historic encounter in Baghdad. Nonetheless, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports, they pressed ahead and put their views and demands on the table – first at the preparatory talks in Tehran, then in Baghdad:
Iran maneuvers to get rid of American carriers from its doorstep
1. Iran must be accepted as a full partner in the defense of Persian Gulf oil routes.
2. Iran is willing to relieve the US of some of its security burdens in the Persian Gulf within its military, naval and air force limitations.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly: The two demands for a share in regional defense go beyond the stipulation for defense- and influence-sharing in Iraq originally contained in the document Iran submitted to US ambassador Crocker and assistant secretary of state for Iraq affairs David Satterfield on May 4 at the Sharm al-Sheikh conference on Iraq (as fully reported in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 300 of May 11: Iran Proposes a Deal).
Our sources interpret Points 1 and 2. as the preface to an Iranian demand to demilitarize the Persian Gulf region of all “foreign forces.” Tehran wants to see the partial eviction of US troops not only from Iraq but the Gulf region to boot – and especially the US aircraft carriers and warships.
3. Washington must call off its diplomatic and economic campaign which is holding Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan back from exporting their oil to Europe via Iran.
This step would lighten the weight of US economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
4. Iran for its part offers a guarantee not to interfere in the creation of an autonomous Kurdish state in northern Iraq, so long as it is less than full independence.
5. Iran will not sit still for Kurdistan becoming America’s key military base in Iraq.
6. Iran is willing to work with the United States to root out terrorism in Iraq, be it waged by Sunnis or Shiites, but prefers to achieve this goal through the medium of dialogue among the warring Iraqi sects rather than military action.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly: This point is essentially an elaboration of the offer made at Sharm el-Sheikh to join forces with the US in the fight against al Qaeda, with one difference: the reference to al Qaeda has been dropped.
It explains why Iran’s ambassador Kazemi-Qomi and his delegation were mum at the Baghdad conference when the US ambassador laid out charges regarding Tehran’s support “for militias fighting coalition forces, the explosives reaching insurgents causing many US casualties and Revolutionary Guards activities” in Iraq.
Tehran wants Maliki to stay and the Mujahedeen e-Khalq to go
The Iranian party thought they had been perfectly clear that Washington’s acceptance of cooperation with Iran in fighting terrorism would automatically terminate Tehran’s aid to the militias fighting Americans in Iraq.
Furthermore, if they rose to challenge the allegations, Crocker would only back them up with a pile of intelligence materials in his briefcase – some drawn from interrogations of captured Iranian and insurgent officers – as well as photos of the powerful EFP (explosively formed penetrator) roadside bombs and other weapons with Iranian markings, not to mention satellite images.
After the four-hour conference however, the Iranian delegates had their say privately in the ears of Iraqi government ministers – to be passed on to the Americans. They pointed out that Tehran had assembled its own file of proofs attesting to American and British involvement in anti-government terrorist operations inside Iran.
In both meetings, Iranian delegates castigated the US army’s presence in Iraq as an occupation and Washington’s posting of three carriers in the Persian Gulf.
For the Baghdad meeting, the Iranians added three extra points to the seven raised in Tehran, rounding off the total to ten, according to DEBKA-net-Weekly‘s sources:
7. Nouri al-Maliki stays on as prime minister of Iraq. This is a pre-condition for further engagement with Washington. His replacement would be unacceptable.
8. America must stop instigating insurrection against the regime in Tehran (more about which in the next article.)
9. The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) must be expelled from Iraq.
Known also as the People’s Muhahedeen Organization of Iran, the MEK is the largest active Iranian opposition group. It can muster 10,000 armed men trained in guerrilla tactics, who have recently undergone retraining under US military instructors. They are newly equipped with modern weapons and equipment for paramilitary-undercover operations inside Iran.