Still in the Balance

The Bush administration is engaged in one of the most sensitive and ambitious geo-strategic projects any of its predecessors in Washington has ever undertaken, comparable to landmark events like the termination of the Cold War, collapse of the Soviet empire in the 1990s and the opening of Communist China to the world back in the 1970s.

In the short term, the US president is bent on seizing the dividends of the Iraq War in time to lay them before the American voter in November 2004. He will want to demonstrate his success in bringing to fruition an ambitious agenda for sweeping regime change and improvement in the volatile Persian Gulf and Middle East that has transformed the United States into the kingpin of these regions, in control of its oil resources, as well undertaking a similar feat in Central Asia and the Caucasus to establish a strong overarching link from the Middle East to the Indian subcontinent and China.

With Saddam Hussein gone, the United States is assembling the modular bricks of its policies, building them on the bedrock of victory in Iraq.

The main obstacle in the Bush administration’s postwar path is Iran.

In keeping with its star role in Bush’s axis of evil, Iran is pressing ahead with a not so hush-hush nuclear program, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly first reported on October 25, 2002. It is also conducting undercover negotiations with fellow axis-member, North Korea, for the purchase of one or two off-the-shelf nuclear bombs.

Teheran’s support for such terrorist gangs as Al Qaeda, Hezballah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is just shy of blatant and it is sparing no effort to set up terrorist and subversive networks among Iraq’s Shiites. Nonetheless, this year, the Bush administration managed to negotiate a series of secret agreements, mostly on military and terrorism issues. Under those deals, Iran agreed to keep its forces out of northern Iraq before, during and after the U.S.-led war. After fighting began, Iranian Revolutionary Guards helped US and British forces take the Faw peninsula and the southern city of Basra. During the war, Iranian naval and air forces prevented Iraqi terrorist attacks in Gulf waters. Iran also helped the Americans calm a jittery Shiite populace and persuade their Iraqi coreligionists to accept limited cooperation with US forces in Najaf, Karbala and Baghdad.

In Lebanon, Iran forced Hezballah to cease its attacks on Israel and barred it from carrying out cross-border terrorist raids. It all boiled down to a clear message to the United States: Look what we are prepared to do for you – it would be worth your while to talk with us.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources report that Iran’s ethnic Arab defense minister, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, spent the past 10 days explaining this strategy in meetings with senior army and Revolutionary Guards commanders.

Teheran, he argued, must very clear when it tells the United States that Iran is not Iraq and the Iranian military is nothing like the Iraqi armed forces. Taking his message of deterrence a step further, Shamkhani said Iran must accelerate its purchases of advanced weapons systems, such as long-range missiles, warplanes and submarines, so as to make the United States think twice about attacking it. At the same time, he said, Iran must continue to challenge the United States on all fronts — Afghanistan, the Gulf, the Middle East and Central Asia – while engaging the Americans in dialogue. These negotiations must be dragged out until Iran achieves its nuclear option.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian experts sum up Shamkhani’s argument as follows: Tehran is open to an accord with Washington based on Iran occupying a lead-position as a regional power after radical reform of its regime – provided that Washington agrees to Iranian holding a nuclear option. That option need not be consummated immediately as long as Iran has the capabilities for quickly assembling a bomb. Washington’s refusal on that point would upset the entire deal and lead to

confrontation on all fronts, including the sphere of terror.

The United States, of course, take a completely different view. Should it indeed decide to tap Teheran as strongest power in the Gulf and a regional partner, Iran’s government must undergo radical change and on no account be in possession of nuclear weapons in any shape or form.

Yet both sides are satisfied that their most recent round of talks and the ad hoc understandings they were able to forge in Iraq’s war zones are the preface to further accords. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources therefore find the United States and Iran busily pursuing their exchanges through five different channels:

The Afghan channel – These contacts go through US and Iranian intelligence officials.

The Iraqi channel – Iran has Shiite agents planted in local population centers. They and Iranian military officers meet frequently, sometimes daily, with American officers at different locations in Iraq.

The UN New York Center channel – These exchanges take place at UN headquarters and are led on the Iranian side by UN ambassador Mohammad Javad-Zarif, who is favored by the Bush administration as an advocate of a US-Iranian strategic alliance. Until recently, he headed the American desk at the Iranian foreign ministry.

The International Atomic Energy Agency channel – As the following item shows, Iran rates this channel highly, second only to the talking point at UN headquarters in New York. Ultimately, the question of whether Iran gets the nuclear bomb, option or both will be settled here.

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