President Barack Obama hoped to have foreign issues and any US military options kept firmly on a back burner for the next seven months so as not to distract the American voting public from his campaign for reelection on November 4. But Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is not playing.
The issues and administrative trivia he keeps on raising are buzzing past Obama’s electoral defenses. However much he would like to swat the nuisance away, the president must contend with almost daily feed from the Iranian ruler who is keeping their four-month old secret channel vibrating with an eagerness which stumps even those US officials with past experience of dealing with Tehran, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports.
Iranian negotiators have an inexhaustible supply of surprises up their sleeves, including constant changes of venues for meetings – and now their team out front. They have advised the Americans that new faces will confront the Six World Powers at their coming session in Baghdad on May 23, different from the lineup at their first meeting in Istanbul. All the same, Tehran wants the next secret Iran-US get-together to take place as soon as possible to preserve continuity.
American sources suspect Khamenei’s bureau, the Nuclear Energy Agency and Intelligence Ministry are locked in a major battle over the choice of delegates – both to travel to Baghdad later this month and to negotiate with their opposite US numbers in the backdoor channel running through Gulf and European venues.
Obama must keep a nuclear accord with under his hat
Unless Tehran has another surprise in store, US officials expect the Baghdad talks to end on a positive note and set a date for a third round – or even a fourth. They drew this insight from the package of “proposals” suddenly turning up through one of the secret channels in the last few days. Khamenei seems to believe that his package is a good vehicle for carrying the dialogue forward to a breakthrough on their nuclear controversy – or even a final accord.
But he wants to persuade Obama to settle for this accord quietly and keep it under his hat for now. Iran would also delay implementation until the US president is free and clear into his second term. Obama would meanwhile proceed with his campaign with greater assurance, knowing he has a major achievement in his pocket ready to pull out and kick off his second term with a grand flourish.
Until then, if Obama falls for this tactic, he will be motivated by his future triumph to keep important concessions to Iran on stream and Iran may even be forthcoming with certain concessions in advance to help him beat back his Republican rival Mitt Romney’s charges of doing nothing to halt a nuclear-armed Iran.
A close look at the Iranian package, as disclosed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly, not surprisingly, shows more demands and catches than “proposals:”
Access to nuclear sites – only if sanctions lifted
1. They stipulate that the Fordo (or Fordow) underground nuclear plant will not be closed down with or without an accord. Iran is willing to sign and uphold the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s additional protocol which permits spot checks of suspect nuclear sites without prior notice and, in general, accept substantially increased inspections. In fact, the International Atomic Energy Agency will be allowed to install cameras and monitoring devices in various parts of Fordo – but here comes the rub: All sanctions must first be lifted.
2. International watchdog visits to the Parchin military center – which Yukiya Amano, Director-General of the IAEA, called Friday, May 4 the agency’s first priority – will be allowed. But first a start must be made on removing sanctions. The areas of the site made accessible to inspection will grow in direct proportion to the number of sanctions withdrawn.
3. The US must halt its proactive military movements in the Persian Gulf because, the Iranians complain, they can hardly conduct serious negotiations when the Americans are engaged in hostile activity around their shores. They refer to US military exercises directed from command centers at the Pentagon, in Europe, in the Gulf and around the Middle East; the deployment of a F-22 Raptor squadron at a UAE base; and two aircraft carriers and their strike forces cruising around the Gulf (See DNW issues 538 and 539).
If the Americans want to continue negotiations and attain results, they need to put a halt to these military moves.
Iran will give up annexing Gulf waters if US brings emirates under control
4. Tehran asks Washington to smooth the ruffled feathers of the United Arab Emirates over their claim to Abu Musa, Greater Tanb and Lesser Tanb, the three islands controlling the entrances to the Strait of Hormuz. Otherwise, say the Iranians, if the UAE keeps pushing, matters could get out of hand and slide into a limited armed conflict which could drag in the GCC Gulf states and Saudi Arabia in support of Abu Dhabi.
5. If UAE tempers can be calmed, Tehran is willing to offer its first real concession for easing the mistrust of its Gulf neighbors: a commitment to refrain from extending Iranian territorial waters to include the disputed islands, the Strait of Hormuz and any part of the tanker route to and from the Persian Gulf. This would be offered as part of ongoing nuclear negotiations and entail withdrawal of the territorial waters annexation bill awaiting Majlis approval.
6. In our last issue, we disclosed exclusively that Iran had offered to help stabilize Afghanistan and Iraq as its quid pro quo for a nuclear deal with the Obama administration. (Iran’s Balance Sheet on Dialogue with US: The Tradeoff: US Eases Nuclear Demands for Iran’s Cooperation in Afghanistan and Iraq)
However, this week, the new proposals Tehran has relayed to Washington show umbrage over the new security pact President Obama signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on May 2. The Iranians consider the pact not worth the paper it was written on. What concerns them most is the decision to leave a large number of American troops in Afghanistan on their eastern border until 2014.
Khamenei wants to be America’s strategic partner
Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi said this week that the US-Afghan pact for keeping American troops in Afghanistan for years will increase instability in the country and is of concern to Tehran. Withdrawal of foreign forces is necessary for security.
What really miffed the Iranians is that despite their offer to be helpful to the Americans in the two war-torn countries, the US did not consult with Tehran before concluding his pact with Karzai. Being left out in the cold on key regional affairs is not part of Khamenei’s scheme of things. His eagerness to pursue back door diplomacy with Obama comes from his belief that he can squeeze from Obama not just acceptance of Iran’s nuclear program but also cooperation in regional affairs as a respected strategic partner.
It is hard to President Obama going for this sort of partnership with Tehran or risking any display of such relationship with the Islamic Republic to the American voter.