Obama Watches His Lips, Picks up and Responds
A couple of puzzling occurrences in the West this week touching on the controversy over Iran's nuclear goals can be traced to a single event in Tehran.
This event was behind the otherwise inexplicable remark by British Prime Minister David Cameron on August 4. In his first British "PM Direct" event in Brighton, he listed reasons for keeping lines open to Turkey, one of which was, "like the fact that Iran has got a nuclear weapon."
Was this a slip of the tongue by an inexperienced leader – or a giveaway?
The latter, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and Washington sources. Cameron spoke out of knowledge gained from his last intelligence update before his appearance.
That day, too, in Washington, a group of regular White House correspondents were invited to a briefing on the Iranian nuclear issue with President Barack Obama's policy team leaders. To their surprise, the president himself walked in. He proceeded to make a strong point of sanctions and international isolation succeeding better than expected in hurting the Iranian economy and making the Tehran regime's day-to-day life more difficult.
He explained his tactics of diplomatic engagement, which have been depicted as failing, were not intended to lead to dialogue with Iran, but to isolate the Islamic Republic internationally.
In Obama's view, that tactic was beginning to work.
The reporters took this as a reference to the unilateral sanctions the European Union had imposed on Iran's energy and banking industries and the widening rift between Moscow and Tehran.
White House mystifications
The President and his advisers belittled Iran's consent to resume talks with the P5-plus-1 (the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany) next month as nothing important or new. Washington saw no cause for making dramatic gestures or concessions to win Iran around, he said.
Just the reverse: The president commented wryly that the Iranians were masters of deception and he had no expectation they would come to terms on their nuclear objectives.
The correspondents present were not let into the reason for Barack Obama's personal appearance at a fairly routine briefing or what was behind his remarks.
In its editorial two days later, The New York Times highlighted two lines from the presidential briefing:
"It is very important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons" was one. And the other was: "They should know what they can say 'yes' to."
The New York Times them commented: "So we were surprised that Mr. Obama would not provide specifics on what the 'pathway' might entail. That's the kind of detail that Iranian leaders need to know now when they appear to be debating whether to engage Washington. If Mr. Obama didn't want to share the information publicly with journalists, we hope he is sharing it privately with Tehran."
DEBKA-Net-Weekly confirms that, while making it clear by half-a-dozen artful formulations that there was no new US diplomatic offensive in the offing, the strategists who stayed behind to answer the journalists' questions after the president left, left them unsatisfied about the purpose of the odd briefing.
Ahmadinejad drops a virtual N-Bomb
Our Washington sources, however, tie Obama's remarks to a revealing comment by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff Esfandyar Rahim Mashai on July 31, to which the US president felt bound to respond. What Mashai said was this:
"The West raised no objections to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's candid avowal that the Islamic Republic could build a nuclear bomb."
On February 7, said Mashai, Ahmadinejad made a speech at the National Center for Laser Science and Technology. This talk went unnoticed by US intelligence agencies, he claimed.
"One of the points Dr. Ahmadinejad made during his visit to this center was the possibility of enriching (uranium) to 100 percent, which means building an atom bomb."
"Interestingly, not a single foreign publication made a hullabaloo or raised an uproar (over this dramatic revelation)," Mashai noted. "This shows," he concluded, "that they (the US) are not worried about an atom bomb, because essentially, Dr. Ahmadinejad said this to test them (the US) in order to see what degree of worry they have about Iran producing an atom bomb."
Five days later, President Obama made his worry known to Tehran by means of his otherwise unexplained press briefing.
In the meantime, US intelligence analysts and Iran strategists had been busy trying to figure out why the admission of an Iranian nuclear bomb capability had been allowed to slip off Ahmadinejad's well-oiled tongue and why he had let his chief of staff Iran go to the trouble of bringing the hitherto strenuously-denied goal of Iran's nuclear program out in the open.
Obama picks it up and throws it back
Mashai was the most high-ranking, authoritative Iranian official to publicly put into words the goal of Iran's enrichment program as being to build an "atom bomb."
Every Iranian official has to date emphasized the purely peaceful nature of their nuclear program.
Yet Mashai deliberately called attention to the little-noticed Iranian president's remark about "enriching (uranium) to 100 percent which means building an atom bomb." (In Farsi: ke maani an sakht-e bomb-e atomi ast.)
On August 3, President Obama learned that what the Iranian president had been after was a sort of oral nuclear test designed to take the measure of the Obama administration's potential response to the real thing.
If Tehran got away with that test, US intelligence agencies reckoned, it would continue to go forward steadily up to the point where Iranian leaders judged the time right and its interests best served by shifting from a spoken test to a nuclear test proper.
In taking over the White House news briefing in person, Obama sought to show Tehran that its challenge would meet a strong response.
A week later, on Wednesday Aug. 11, no less than Iran's Chief of Staff Gen. Hassan Hassan Firouz-Abadi reproved the president's senior aide for committing "a crime against national security", thereby confirming that the presidential challenge had been a test of America's responsiveness.
The general's reproof also had an ulterior motive linked to the infighting within the Iranian revolutionary regime, which is exclusively revealed in the next article in this issue.