One up for Tehran in Its Secret Bout with Washington

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Tehran was undaunted when US officials confronted its negotiators in secret talks with the steps taken by Saudi Arabia and Egypt to launch their own nuclear weapons programs as a deterrent to the Iranian threat. Iran’s leaders countered the prospect of a Middle East arms race with a string of barefaced comments and threats against the United States, described by the State Department spokesman Tuesday, April 15, as a serious escalation of the crisis.
Monday, April 24, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said: “There is no need for US-Iranian talks.”
The next day, Iran’s powerful nuclear negotiator and head of its Supreme Security Council, Alil Larijani, said Tehran would suspend ties with the UN nuclear watchdog and speed up its atomic program if the UN Security Council imposed sanctions. Larijani also threatened to hit oil installations in two Central Asian states in reprisal for any American attack.
Finally, Wednesday, Iran’s supreme ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, promised the Americans a blow of “double intensity” in response to a US attack on its nuclear installations.
According to debkafile‘s Iran experts, Tehran feels confident enough to adopted a belligerent posture because –
1. Although US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad broke off the Iraq talks with an Iranian delegation in Baghdad, Tehran is confident that its influence in Iraqi politics outweighs Washington’s by virtue of its ties with Iraqi parties and Shiite militias and its intelligence network. The Iranians are therefore letting the US-backed Jawad al-Maliki take over as prime minister because they believe they hold the key to the crucial defense and interior appointments. They expect pro-Tehran SCIRI leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim to land these jobs for Badr Organization commanders, preferably Abdel Mahdi, all of whose top echelon are under Tehran’s thumb.
2. The threat by Ahmadinejad to quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty, also hinted at by Larijani, is an indicator of Tehran’s dissatisfaction with the progress of its secret diplomatic track with Washington – first in the US capital, then at an undisclosed venue in Europe. Iran’s negotiating tactics are guided by the presumption that no accord is possible with the United States on the nuclear issue; but diplomacy of any form is to be encouraged to buy time for progress in its program in a better international climate.
3. Tehran is increasingly confident that Moscow and Beijing will continue to block Washington’s initiatives for UN Security Council sanctions – as they did in the case of Bashar Assad’s Syria.
4. As perceived from Iran, the Bush administration is losing ground in the Middle East, whereas the Islamic Republic is in the middle of a forward thrust – and not only in Iraq. Iran’s allies, Syrian president Assad and Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah, have been able to wriggle off the international hook. The Americans, French and United Nations were not able to make the Shiite terror group give up its weapons and disband; the Palestinian jihadist Hamas is not only in power, but its heads are intensifying the movement’s rapport with the Iranian regime, a major coup for Tehran.
On April 21, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s exclusive sources and analysts attempted to pierce the dense blackout cast over the Washington-Tehran talks.
Last week, the head of the White House National Security Council Stephen Hadley sent his senior deputies to meet in Washington with Mohammad Nahavandian, adviser on economic and technology issues to Ali Larijani, the lead Iranian nuclear negotiator.
US sources say Nahavandian entered the US around April 6 and stayed for an unspecified time.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources, he got together with American officials on April 17. Rumors going around the US capital the next day about the arrival of a high-ranking Iranian official brought forth a statement by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack that no visa had been issued for Nahavandian. The spokesman also denied any meetings with US government representatives.
After this breach of secrecy, the talks were promptly moved to a West European capital where they are still going on – some sources say with Hadley himself taking part.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s most reliable sources pieced together the US objectives in the talks:
1. To build a route detouring the faltering Baghdad track.
2. To break the monopoly Moscow is striving to establish as the sole middleman for diplomacy between the West and Iran.
3. To undo the former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani’s pitch in a tour of Arab emirates which attempted to buy Gulf support by depicting his country’s nuclear enterprise as an Arab Nuclear Program.
4. To lay the groundwork for an alternative Middle East nuclear bloc hinging on Saudi Arabia and Egypt, i.e. a rival Arab nuclear program. Iran was meant to be brought up short by the discovery that if it goes all the way to an N- bomb, so too will its Arab opposite numbers. This race carries the extreme potential of pitting Sunni and Shiite nuclear powers on a collision course.
The American delegation proposed that Tehran be satisfied with the sensation it caused by its uranium enrichment bombshell and abandon its centrifuges and weapons program.
If not, Washington would deliver threefold punishment: A. The heat would be maintained for UN Security Council sanctions; B. The Saudi and Egyptian nuclear programs would be allowed to move forward. And if Tehran started building a weapon, both these Arab states would either produce or buy a nuclear weapon from countries like Pakistan. C. The US would line up a nuclear-armed Middle East front, including Israel, against Iran. Moscow and Beijing might then rethink their support for the Islamic Republic and weigh its worth against lost points in the Arab world and Persian Gulf.
Tehran’s clerical rulers did not back down in the face of the American ultimatum.
They adopted four courses, revealed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources:
1. Supreme ruler Khamenei, while leaving the shrill rhetoric to president Ahmadinejad, tightened his grip on the national nuclear program and cut the president out of the ongoing diplomatic talks with the Americans.
2. Rafsanjani took over dealings on the Iraq issue and relations with Arab governments, while Larijani was put in charge of contacts with the Americans, the Russians and the Europeans.
3. To balance the American track, Iran went into secret negotiation with Moscow on a new Russian plan for international oversight of its enrichment activities.
4. Rafsanjani was dispatched on a tour of the Arab emirates to calm their fears of Iran’s nuclear motives and invite them to lend their support to its nuclear option. Our Gulf sources report that he failed in his mission. Aside from Damascus, which was his last stop, the emirates presented a solid wall of resistance to any suggestion of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

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