US eases military pressure on Iran, tries concessions

Shortly before the Six Power talks with Iran resumed this week, US President Barack Obama ordered the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier to withdraw from Gulf waters opposite Iran and redeploy in the Aegean Sea. This action signaled Washington's switch to diplomacy and the search for middle ground on the nuclear controversy with Iran through engagement, debkafile's US and military sources report.

The mighty carrier with more than 70 warplanes on its decks was accordingly instructed to exit the US Navy's Fifth Fleet Command which covers US military operations in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea and join the Sixth Fleet which is responsible for US naval and air activity in the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

Obama thus abandoned the military posture he adopted only six weeks ago to bring its rulers to heel  by a buildup of naval strength opposite Iran's waters. It was then that he consigned the USS Abraham Lincoln to the Persian Gulf, raising the number of aircraft carriers deployed there to three, including the French Charles de Gaulle.

But the US president decided to change tactics before the new round of nuclear negotiations between the six powers ((US, Russia, UK, France, China and Germany) and Iran took off. By the time the delegations had sat down in Geneva Monday, Dec. 6, the Truman had been relocated to the big American naval base in Souda Harbor on the island of Crete. Only one carrier remains in the Persian Gulf, the Abraham Lincoln.

The visit Defense Secretary Robert Gates paid to Oman Sunday, Dec. 5 was another conciliatory gesture. Gates speaks for the administration faction opposed to US or Israeli military action against Iran's nuclear sites. His visit broadcast a message from the White House that the military option had been set aside in favor of engagement to which high hopes of progress toward solving the nuclear controversy were now attached .

When he visited the Lincoln the next day, Gates praised its crews' contribution to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, but did not mention Iran.

The first day of the Geneva talks was taken up with an 80-minute harangue by Iran's lead negotiator Saad Jalili, which omitted mention of his country's nuclear projects, but railed instead against American and Israeli "crimes" of terrorist attacks on Iranian nuclear physicists.

The American delegate William J. Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, chose not to respond to those charges, a course emulated by the European Union's external affairs executive Catherine Ashton.

That first encounter yielded a single decision, to meet again in Istanbul. That was Washington's third concession to Tehran. It meant that after long objections to co-opting Turkey to the dialogue, the US had caved in. The six powers will in future face Iran much strengthened by the presence of its ally, Turkey.

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