What Washington had to say to Tehran was expressed more emphatically outside the Iraqi prime minister’s residence in Baghdad, where their ambassadors met Monday, May 28, than during their four hours at the conference table.
On May 22, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) (Big E) set sail for the Persian Gulf from its homeport at Naval Station Norfolk.
Its eventual arrival at the head of a strike force will raise the US naval flotilla off Iran’s shores to three carriers and three strike groups, the largest concentration of naval, air and marine force the United States has ever assembled on the Islamic Republic’s doorstep.
It represents a further military escalation against Iran, in keeping with Vice President Dick Cheney’s pledge to Gulf rulers earlier this month of four carriers in Gulf and Red Sea waters.
The Big E is the nub of the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group and home to Carrier Air Wing (CVW).
The group includes the guided-missile destroyers USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) USS Stout (DDG 55), USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98), USS James E. Williams (DDG 95), the guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg (CG 64), the fast-attack submarine USS Philadelphia (SSN 690) and the fast-combat supply ship USNS Supply (TAOE 6).
The flying crews of the Carrier Air Wing are well experienced in combat missions in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea where they operated for most of 2006.
The wing is composed of F/A-18 Super Hornet; the Sidewinders of the Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-86; Marine Fighter Attack Sqhadron (VMFA) 251, which all fly the F/A-18 Hornet; Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 11, which fly the EA-6B Prowler; Sea Control Squadron (VS) 32, which fly the S-3B Viking; Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 123 which fly the E-2C Hawkeye; Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 40 which fly the C-2A Greyhound.
The Iranian delegation led by Ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi knew perfectly well that this floating war machine was en route when they sat down and faced US ambassador Ryan Crocker at the home of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
What they saw was a tough American front.
While the Bush administration agreed to engage the Islamic government in official bilateral talks for the first time, its stance was strictly limited to an agenda dictated by US demands and direct Iranian responses to those demands. Tehran’s positions were not to be addressed. The Americans adopted this negotiating strategy both to underline their status as the superior power with the whip hand, and to avoid being dragged into time-consuming wrangling which would suit Tehran’s book.
This unilateral stance is unlikely to take the American dialogue with Iran very far. It was clearly laid out in advance by an American delegation, which secretly visited Tehran to prepare the way for the Baghdad conference, as will be shown in the next article.