Washington Opens Diplomatic Door to Tehran

Certain prominent Americans have undertaken secret colloquy with Tehran and may be preparing to go public and make it official, with the administration’s blessing.
debkafile‘s Washington sources name them as Thomas R. Pickering, former ambassador to Moscow, the UN and Israel, William Luers, former envoy to Venezuela and the Czech Republic, and Jim Walsh, a New York Republican Congressman.
They have been quietly encouraged by Rice, defense secretary Robert Gates and influential quarters in the US military and intelligence elite, who are anxious to avert a US-Iranian military clash in the eight months remaining to the Bush presidency and cut the ground from under a possible US or Israel attack on Iran.
They hope direct dialogue with Tehran will act as the groundwork for an understanding between the next US president and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is seen also as stealing some of the thunder from the Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s offer to talk to the Iranians, and arm Republican candidate John McCain with a non-binding option on Iran for his campaign.
The American undercover conversations with Iranian officials have been going on for some time in Geneva, Switzerland, to explore common ground on Iran’s nuclear program.
Last month, the three emissaries produced a working paper called “A Solution for the US-Iran Nuclear Standoff.”
It proposed bringing Iran’s uranium enrichment program under a multinational consortium including Iran and other governments, such as France and Germany, who would participate in managing and operating the program within Tehran. This would solve the US-Iranian nuclear standoff, ensure that Iran stops short of producing weapons-grade fuel and lift the threat of international sanctions.
President Ahmadinejad was quoted as endorsing the multilateral solution. Although his perception is likely to be different from an American or European version, the paper’s authors believe those differences could be resolved in negotiations.
A serious setback to relations came from Tehran’s intervention in the Iraqi government’s crackdown this month on militias in the southern Basra province and rocket attacks in Baghdad. (DEBKA-Net-Weekly 343 of April 4 published details). Iran’s position as the greatest threat to Iraq was highlighted by Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in their testimony to Congress last week – to the point that al Qaeda scarcely rated a mention.
President George W. Bush commented on April 11 that if Iran continues to help militias in Iraq “then we’ll deal with them.” But he also reaffirmed his disinclination for war and preference for diplomatic solutions. “You can’t solve these problems unilaterally. You’re going to need a multilateral forum,” he said.
This testimony and the president’s remarks did not set to rest the Washington cliffhanger over whether the president will opt for military action against Iran after all, before he leaves the White House, or stick to quiet diplomacy and relegate the Iran nuclear headache to his successor.
Bush’s immediate reaction confirmed the latter view: Without prior notice, he sent Petraeus and Crocker to Riyadh. Last week, there was talk of a limited US military action against the Iranian command centers directing, training and army Iraq’s militias. Now, the commander-in-chief was instructing the top Americans in Iraq to persuade the Saudis to blaze the way for Arab rulers to throw their support behind the Maliki government in Baghdad. The object of this exercise was to offset rather than challenge Iranian influence in Baghdad.
A diplomatic, multilateral course appeared to have been set in motion for dealing with Iranian troublemaking in Iraq – if not its nuclear defiance.
But the opposite signal came a day later in an interview the US president gave Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard. The conclusion Kristol drew was that the hearing (given by Petraeus and Crocker) was “less an argument for getting out of Iraq than going into Iran.”
Asked whether he thought there was a chance of Bush ordering a military strike against Iran before the end of his tenure, Kristol replied: “We didn’t really talk about that, in all honesty, directly. I don’t think it’s out of the question.”
Clearly, President Bush is leaving everyone guessing up to the last second about which way he will jump.
Diplomacy is meanwhile in motion – whether relevant or not to the president’s ultimate plans.
The former US president Jimmy Carter’s plan to travel to Damascus and meet Syrian president and Hamas politburo leader Khalad Meshaal drew automatic reproof from the US State Department and Secretary Condoleezza Rice. He began his trip in Israel Sunday, April 13, before heading for Syria.
However, the 84-year old Carter’s Damascus venture could fit in with the White House’s broader “multilateral” strategy with regard to Iran. His own party, the Democrats, frown on it. Barack Obama, who is ready to talk to Iran, said sternly Saturday, April 12: “I would not meet with Hamas unless it recognized Israel, renounced terror and abided by previous agreements. I don’t think conversation with them is useful.”
He thus lined up with the Bush administration and the official line of the Middle East Quartet line on the Palestinian terrorist group.
Carter, however, appears to be going with the Bush flow: Is he beating a path to Iran’s allies and proxies, Syria, Hamas, and even Hizballah, to generate an amicable environment for administration diplomats to forge an understanding between Washington and Tehran? Or striking out on his own.

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