Washington Ready to Deal with Tehran on Iraq, Nuclear Program and Joint war on al Qaeda
US Vice President Richard Cheney embarked on his journey to the Middle East this week against the pressing advice of his medical advisers, who are treating him for a blood clot in his leg.
When the vice president explained that his trip was of pivotal importance to the national interest, they cautioned him that long air trips were dangerous for a man in his condition. He therefore agreed to travel with a medical team and a physical trainer specializing in his ailment.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington and Middle East sources reveal that Cheney explained to his close advisers that his mission was so weighty that it could only be undertaken by no less an authority than the president or his deputy. George W. Bush could not leave the White House at short notice, so it was up to him, even though this was to be Cheney’s second Middle East trip in ten weeks.
His mission is to unveil yet another new policy approach on Iran to Middle East rulers who have had their fill of Washington’s policy zigzags this year. It had to be formulated after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned home from the Iraq security conference at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on May 2 and 3. It was then realized that a clear and firm policy would have to be urgently set forth, which departed from the tough, no-nonsense attitude she displayed at that event.
This time, the vice president brings news: Washington will reach a final decision on Iraq in the second half of August 2007, he will report. He will let it be understood that the US military pull-out will begin shortly thereafter and be more substantial than first planned.
After an unannounced visit to Baghdad, Cheney’s first port of call is Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates. He is also scheduled to hold talks with rulers and intelligence chiefs in Riyadh, Amman and Cairo.
In those talks, the US vice president will show his hosts the draft of a sweeping new policy statement on Iran, which Washington hopes to put before Tehran as the starting point for negotiations. It consists of four pivotal steps:
A concerted US-Iranian effort to fight al Qaeda
1. Under certain circumstances, the US would be willing to engage Iran in direct dialogue to clear up the nuclear issue, as it did with North Korea.
2. The Bush administration may also be open to moderating its flat objection to Iran conducting uranium enrichment – a major reversal of the former immobility on the issue.
3. The US would be amenable to a concerted effort with Iran to fight terror in Iraq from whatever source.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that regional rulers will take this as a formula for a US-Iranian stakeout of influence in the country – and not just in the counter-error effort.
4. The US and Iraq will join forces to combat al Qaeda in Iraq and other trouble spots.
This is the gist of the message Cheney is carrying. During his visits, he will stress that Washington expects to fill out the details in talks in the region and in direct dialogue with Tehran.
Our Iran sources disclose that this dialogue would not start from scratch. Tehran has for its part also quietly submitted a document setting out its terms for an accommodation with Washington. Its contents are outlined exclusively in a separate article further down this issue.
Any negotiations with Iran would clearly have to survive ups and downs as one bone of contention after another is attacked. Until they are resolved, the vice president will report, Washington’s military option against Tehran stays on the table.
To accentuate this point, he will stage a well-publicized visit to the USS Stennis carrier.
But most of all, he must present a stable, consistent US policy front vis a vis Tehran. This will be a tall order after the inconsistencies and wild fluctuations of the last four months – from willingness to launch cross-border attacks against Iran and seize Iranian agents helping insurgents kill American soldiers in January, to joining the Saudis in setting up an anti-Iran Arab front, then the first acceptance of possible diplomacy with Tehran in February, to willingness to give ground for an accommodation in April and finally, an offer to sit down and talk in May.
The only consistent element has been the secretary of state’s adamant adherence to a tough line which appears now to have been superseded.
The vice president will find Middle East rulers, including the clerics in Tehran, fully aware that the Bush administration is fighting the calendar and is therefore prone to flexibility. In seeking funds for the US army in Iraq without a deadline for their withdrawal, the president is fighting an uphill and highly unpopular battle against a Democratic majority in Congress and a threatened revolt in his own Republic party.
In the next article, DEBKA-Net-Weekly traces the policy positions on Iran which Washington has adopted and abandoned in four months and the arrows pointing to the coming stage: engagement with Tehran.