Washington Drops Military Option, Yet Khamenei Still Won’t Play Ball
Last minute breaking news: The top level of the Obama administration is reported by DEBKA Weekly’s Washington sources Thursday night to be deeply divided over policies on Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
The National Security Adviser Susan Rice and members of the NSC in the White House are strongly opposed to the line taken by Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department on these pivotal foreign policy issues.
A throwaway remark by White House spokesman Jay Carney Tuesday, Nov. 12, gave the game away: “The American people do not want a march to war,” he told reporters.
It was not immediately realized that this was one way of saying that his boss, President Barack Obama, had given up on the military option against Iran by handing the prerogative to the American people.
Carney went on to warn that “spoiling the diplomatic talks with Iran would be a march to war.”
Finally, he said, “The only way to see if Iran is actually serious about giving up its ambition for nuclear weapons is to loosen sanctions and see if the Iranians reciprocate.”
Those remarks betrayed how the Obama administration had stepped back from one bargaining position after another in its anxiety for a negotiated deal with Iran: America no longer held a military operation over Iran’s head if diplomacy failed to curb its nuclear program; and was willing to ease sanctions without waiting for Tehran to reciprocate by articulating concessions.
According to DEBKA Weekly, Washington decided to throw away its highest cards in desperation, after failing to bulldoze all six powers attending the Geneva negotiations with Iran into endorsing the three-page nuclear accord and, still more devastatingly, get it approved in Tehran.
Obama now finds his diplomatic track for resolving the nuclear issue in limbo.
The insurmountable barrier of Khamenei’s silence
Every attempt by Washington to elicit an Iranian response through its secret channels to Tehran fell on deaf ears. The US message urging action to avert a long impasse reached President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. But Washington was preaching to the converted.
They did not need to be told that without unbroken progress toward a settlement, nuclear diplomacy was doomed and they would share the blame for its failure with the US administration.
But the two Iranian officials faced the same insurmountable obstacle as Obama: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s silence.
This impasse exposed once again the fatal flaw in the Iranian policy pursued by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, which relied on a seemingly moderate new Iranian president and foreign minister to crack Iran’s intransigent front, when Ayatollah Khamenei continued to stand in their path.
The back-channel for communication between the White House in Washington and the supreme leader’s office opened briefly four months ago to receive messages from Obama delivered by Oman’s Sultan Qaboos.
It has since shut down at Khamenei’s end: the president’s messages continued to be delivered, but they are not answered.
Two more attempts were made to breach the wall of silence raised by Iran’s supreme leader.
The UN undersecretary general for political affairs, former US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, made two trips to Iran in 15 months, the highest ranking US official to visit Iran since 1979. In his last visit on August 26, Feltman was in Tehran for a meeting between Khamenei and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. But aside from a few polite words, no conversation passed between him and the Iranian leader.
No change in Iran’s nuclear program under Rouhani
The nuclear watchdog Yukiya Amano’s visit to Tehran Monday, Nov. 11, was not as officially presented a journey to sign a cooperation accord with Iran; it was the Obama administration’s second attempt to penetrate the wall surrounding Khamenei and get his go-ahead for keeping the negotiating ball rolling on the nuclear issue.
Behind the scenes, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had promised Washington he would arrange an interview.
But Amano left Tehran not only empty-handed but humiliated by the cold shoulder shown him by the ayatollah.
The mild-spoken Amano later vented his resentment at the affront with a comment which struck at the heart of Obama’s policy for Iran:
"I can say… no radical change is reported to me," – since Hassan Rouhani took over as president three months ago, the IAEA chief said in an interview in Vienna the day after he returned from Tehran.
He went on to comment that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium to 20 percent, contradicting reports emanating from Washington that Tehran had suspended enrichment at this level.
Amano was furious at being roped into signing a worthless piece of paper to enable Tehran to demonstrate non-existent “progress” towards an accord with the six powers on its nuclear program, when the negotiations were in fact being kept on idle by its own supreme leader.