Iran: Engagement, Finally

IMG_3766Like Hannes, I am simply blown away by this news. I really don’t know what to say, the turnabout is so huge, so significant. It’s almost a Nixon-goes-to-China moment. (For reasons of realpolitik I doubt it, however, as Bush just isn’t as shrewd a statesman as Nixon, for all his other faults, was.) The fact that this administration, which only a few months ago seemed to be ready to bomb the Iranians back to the stone-age is now not only not denying the news coming out of Tehran about an interests section but discussing it publicly, especially in the context of ‘people-to-people’ exchanges a la ping-pong diplomacy is stunning. Really, I know there are a lot of emphatic words here, almost superlatives, but it’s a shocking turnabout. And one I, in particular, am thrilled to see happening.

I know Iranians and have friends who live there. I’ve visited the place, as you all know. As I have said, time and time again, engagement with the odious regime in Tehran is the key to its downfall, not ‘regime change’ by force. I made the argument time and time and time again on the radio with Jack Riccardi and Chris Duel and Col. Ken Allard. The key, I would always say is “to engage the regime like we did the Soviets get them to put there money where their mouths are, in a sense. Engagement will bring about the downfall or moderation of the regime once they feel less threatened.” This occurred with the Soviets and my bet is, if this can be pulled off and there is still a lot of doubt, that the same can happen with the Mullah regime in Tehran. I feel tremendously vindicated, just as I did when the Bush Administration finally talked with the North Koreans. While serious and substantive issues remain, it appears as if full and verifiable inspections will be a reality in Pyongyang. Of course, they (and right-wingers in general) argued I was wrong. But that’s by the by now.

It’s simply the most unadulterated good news to come out of this administration ever. Dare I say they’ve done something right?

Lastly, Obama (and Edwards even more so for calling the War on Terror the fraud it truly is) is to be applauded by having the courage to call for negotiations with the ‘baddies’ and thus open up this key, critical domestic space. Were it not for Edwards and Obama I doubt we’d be where we are.

If things continue in this fashion the war in Iraq might even be over much sooner than we think and in a fashion many of us could scarcely have dreamed possible.

Much remains to be done, but for some reason imagination and courage seem to have temporarily triumphed over narrow ideology.

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Sean Paul Kelley

Traveler of the (real) Silk Road, scholar and historian, photographer and writer - founder of The Agonist.

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  • It’s such a stunning turn-around, for this administration, that I have to wonder if it isn’t some sort of bizarre trick; start talking peace, get the Iranians to lower their guard, and then go in guns (or even nukes) blazing..

    And what’s really sad is that I can totally see -either- of BushCo’s possible replacements also undoing all of this in a blink of an eye.

  • wants to be able to have one plus on the side of administration to balance against the NK fiasco. However he could have had the good will years ago by honestly engaging with NK and Iran and could have avoided NK’s nuclear advancement and embarassment. I really don’t think Bush’s moves have anything to do with Obama or Edwards, they are about having at least one decent diplomatic success. I guess he expects everyone to forget about that ‘axis of evil’ bullshit.

  • if this event isn’t the catalyst for the drop in oil prices.

    Fears of an attack on Iran certainly played a part in the meteoric rise in prices over the last couple of months.

    See george, there is more than one tool in your box (and a hammer is not always the best choice).

    I did inhale.

  • ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Iran’s Foreign Minister said Friday that forthcoming nuclear talks in Geneva and the participation of a U.S. diplomat for the first time look positive and he expects progress.

    U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns was expected to attend the talks in Geneva on Saturday — the first time the U.S. has had such a presence — and join colleagues from other world powers to meet with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator.

    “The new negotiation process (and) the participation of a U.S. diplomat look positive from the outset, but we hope that is reflected in the talks,” Mottaki told a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan.

    He said the presence of U.S. representative “is a new positive approach.”

    Meanwhile, Burns met Friday for about 20 minutes with International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed Elbaradei to discuss Iran’s contentious atompic program. He did not speak to reporters before leaving.

    The U.S. has shifted from its confrontational policy of isolating Iran in favor of a diplomatic approach

    “I despise ideologues masquerading as objective journalists.” – Bill O’Reilly, March 30, 2007

  • There may be a number of other reasons why this is happening. The Iranian Government isn’t going to go to great lengths to negotiate anything with a lame-duck Administration, and both parties know that. If we take the Administration’s hostility toward the Iranian regime as a given, some of the following possibilities may also be plausible:

    1. The administration’s first, last, and most important constituency is big oil. Negotiating something that would benefit Iran and Big Oil, while hobbling a Democratic Administration, would be beneficial to Bush, the GOP, and Big Oil. Too cynical? Not likely? Consider George H. W. Bush’s negotiations with Iran shortly before the 1980 elections, and the Iran-Contra deals.

    2. The reporting indicates that the State Department would set up a diplomatic outpost in Tehran. We also learn from Sy Hersh that the Pentagon and CIA have been a.) Running Cross-Border Special Operations into Iran, b.) Coordinating with the Mujahideen-i-Khalk, an Iraq-based anti-Tehran Iranian personality cult and terrorist organization responsible for bombings, murders, and kidnappings within Iran. Although it is highly unlikely that a simple diplomatic outpost could afford the same kinds of opportunities to run HUMINT operations as in less hostile environments (it would be so small, and under quite a bit of scrutiny), it could yet conduct a number of activities, mostly of a technical nature–cell phone/wifi monitoring and other surveillance; release of Iranian bank notes to devalue the currency (old CIA playbook trick); coordination with Israeli military of targets around Tehran during a preemptive attack; meddling with Iran’s Euro-denominated oil bourse; money drops to Iranian opposition groups.

  • A series of rapidly announced Fig Leaves to foster the impression that the US would really prefer a diplomatic solution, just like it did with Saddam in the runup to Iraq.

    Too much, too sudden, too abrupt, too uncharacteristic, too lacking in validation for their stone True Believer ideology. I smell the equivalent of the Chinese offering to dialogue with the Dalai Lama during the Olympic Torch protests and then immediately rescinding it after the West’s mayfly-scale attention wandered off. The hardliners offer an easily-renounced bone to buy themselves some breathing space.

    So now we get a sudden spate of feel-good diplomatic news – like the fact that Israel has been told it “doesn’t have a green light to attack Iran”.

    That would certainly be interesting news, except it appears to be the same news we already received on July 13th using that same metaphor. But it wasn’t talking about what Bush didn’t give Israel, it was talking about what he did give: he’s given Israel an “amber light” to attack Iran.

    What’s an “amber light”? It’s a warning that the lights are about to turn red. Some folks slow down when they see an amber light, others hurry to get through before it turns red. January 2009 looks like an upcoming red light to me.

    Nice spin. “No green light” is undeniably accurate; an “amber” light is not, in fact, a “green” light. The real news remains the same.

    “The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential.”

    – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • deflate the value of Obama’s current fact-finding trip to Europe and the Middle East?

    “While not a Playboy reader, she invites a male acquaintance in for a quiet discussion of Chagall, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” – not a Hugh Hefner quote

  • Timing’s everything, innit?

    “The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential.”

    – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • Might Russia’s recently gained foothold in Libya and their increasing presence in Iran be a huge factor?

    “During the visit, an agreement was signed on the development of Iran’s oil and gas fields by Russian companies; on Russian participation in the transfer of Iran’s Caspian Sea crude oil to the Oman Sea; cooperation in the development of Iran’s fabulous North Azadegan oil field; and, possible participation of Gazprom in the planned Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. Evidently, Moscow took a deliberate decision to press ahead with Iran in energy cooperation in the full glare of world publicity in complete disregard of US displeasure. Tehran loved it.”


    Russia’s successive actions acquiring Middle East energy resources now make Cheney look like a fool!

    Jeez, I might have known the news about switching to diplomacy was too good to be true! If it’s true that the United States attacked Iraq because of its oil riches, they cannot possible let Russia have a presence in the Middle East. No wonder the United States is giving Israel a yellow light to proceed with an attack–they cannot afford to share oil resources with Russia.

  • As I said, in the other threat, the US economy will hurt badly if the oil price goes up. So any kind of gesture will help.

    In fact if the oil does collapse, the Seyyeds will really get hit. So will the neocons, and the peak oil advocates, but they have made enough money for now.

  • But I firmly remember the stunts pulled by the Reagan Administration in 1984. In an effort to pull political moderates away from Mondale, Reagan sent that lost Smother’s Brother, George Schultz, to Nicaragua for “talks” with Daniel Ortega, leader of the Sandanista movement and legitimate President of Nicaragua. Meanwhile, the right wingnuts were hellbent on support for those genocidal maniacs, a.k.a., Contras, by any illegitimate means!

    Let’s be very careful here. There could be a number of “black bag” operations taking place as we vent our optimism – Kurdish, Azeri
    & Baluchi rebels, plus unknown operations against the so-called “Quds” force, just to name a few. I’d submit that the one thing curbing George’s enthusiasm is the quite real threat of economic catastrophe. Three decades of kleptocratic rule have left America staring at impotence.

  • His basic premise appears to be “attacking Iran would be an insanely suicidal thing to do”. OK, no argument there, and it’s probably persuasive to the Isreali high command, but do you honestly think that this fact would even slow BushCo down? Whatever has prompted this sudden PR turnaround, it’s not because they looked at a map of the Straights of Hormuz..

  • I wish I shared the optimism of (most of) the columnists – check out this column from the NYTimes (today) and its author – if he represents current Israeli government thinking I’m scared;

    Three other points:

    1. The Israeli’s have always believed that war-war was better than jaw-jaw and their current PM is in trouble:

    2. Since when did the Israelis do what the US president told them – I thought it was the other way round – witness USS Liberty:
    “Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that . . . I want to tell you something very clear: Don’t worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it.” — Ariel Sharon to Shimon Peres, October 3rd, 2001, as reported on Kol Israel

    3. Do you seriously believe that if Israel unilaterally attacks Iran (even by flying over Iraqi territory), Bush will not fall into line?
    Now that would be a real turnaround in US foreign policy!

  • In order to rid themselves of their extreme fear of destruction and stave off a nuclear attack by Iran, the Israelis must take the peace process with the Palestinians very seriously and be prepared to make major concessions. Afterall, is Israel not responsible for the destruction of Palestine? If the Israelis and Palestinians can learn to live with each other in peace, the demand for Israel’s destruction by Iran and other Arab nations will be greatly reduced or even removed. The sooner the Israelis realize they are writing the script for their own demise the better. It’s time they changed the script … Now!

    “While not a Playboy reader, she invites a male acquaintance in for a quiet discussion of Chagall, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” – not a Hugh Hefner quote

  • And I read recently that a majority of Israelis want to negotiate their way out of the Palestinian problem; after going through sixty years of this, most Israelis are reasonable people and want to be done with this. But it would appear that Israel’s center-left is too weak (like our own) to change the Likud-inspired foreign policy and approach to the Palestinians. And Likud depends on terrorist attacks–and the collective reactionary call to arms–in order to stay in power or remain relevant, much like our own GOP.

    Olmert is in trouble on several fronts, political and legal. Would he contemplate an attack on Iran to achieve foreign and domestic political goals? It depends on what kind of man he is, and we will find out before too long. But his poorly planned mini-war on Lebanon bodes not well. Perhaps he’s learned his lesson, perhaps not.

  • it is all looking like posturing

    Rice acknowledges US policy shift on Iran
    Posted: 19 July 2008 1225 hrs

    WASHINGTON: The United States has shifted position on diplomacy with Iran by sending a senior envoy to Geneva to participate in nuclear talks with Iran’s top negotiator, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed on Friday.

    But she insisted that Tehran must suspend its enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear materials for substantive talks with Washington.

    “The United States doesn’t have any permanent enemies,” Rice said in response to a reporter’s question on the unexpected move to send a diplomat to meet directly with Iran’s negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva on Saturday.

    “And we hope this signal we’re sending, that we fully support the track that Iran could take for a better relationship with the international community, is one the United States stands fully behind.”

    “We have been very clear that any country can change course,” Rice added.

    “This decision to send Undersecretary (William) Burns is an affirmation of the policy that we have been pursuing with our European allies… for some time now.”

    Rice called the move “a strong signal to the entire world that we have been very serious about this diplomacy and we will remain very serious about this diplomacy.”

    Rice pointed out that she had endorsed the proposal from the so-called P5 plus one – the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany – on incentives to advance talks with Iran on halting its nuclear program.

    She called sending Burns to Geneva to meet with Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana the “book end” to that process.

    “But it should be very clear to everyone the United States has a condition for the beginning of negotiations with Iran, and that condition remains the verifiable suspension of Iran’s enrichment and reprocessing activities,” Rice said.

    Asked in an interview with CNN, excerpts of which were aired on Friday, whether sending Burns to Geneva was a major policy change, Rice answered: “I acknowledge that what we’ve done is to make a step that we think demonstrates to everyone our seriousness about this process.

    “But what has not changed is that the United States is determined to have negotiations only when Iran has suspended its enrichment and reprocessing. That’s when the United States can join.”

    Asked if Saturday’s meeting is a one-shot deal, Rice replied, “This is.”

    “We have one chance to receive the Iranian response. I transmitted the proposal. (Burns) will receive the response,” she told CNN.

    “He will listen, and if Iran is ready to suspend, then the United States will be there.”


  • By Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi, Special to The LA Times
    6:18 AM PDT, July 19, 2008

    TEHRAN — Critical talks in Switzerland over Iran’s nuclear program began today with both Iranian and United States officials making their highest level diplomatic contacts since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

    Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana smiled as they posed for pictures before heading into the closed-door meetings which will include U.S. undersecretary William J. Burns, the State Department’s number three official.

    But comments by Iran’s ambassador to Switzerland cast a cloud over the talks even as they were underway.

    Keyvan Imani told reporters at the meeting inside Geneva’s city hall that Iran would refuse to suspend its uranium enrichment program, as demanded by the U.S. as a precondition for talks.

    He also said that the so-called “freeze-for-freeze” proposal in which Iran would halt expansion of its enrichment and world powers would stop pushing for a fourth round of economic sanctions against Iran during a six-week period of confidence-building was not on the meeting agenda.

    Still, Iranian officials are notorious for speaking out of turn, and Western diplomats in Tehran say that Iran has warmed to the freeze-for-freeze proposal but wants to extend the period of pre-negotiations for longer than six weeks. Iran ignored a similar proposal in 2006.


  • It is all a bit of a waste of time.

    The UN must ask the Iranians in exile to create a group of Iranians that would be regarded as those who would put Iran first. There are so many well educated, top notch Iranians working in the West, such as the head of Ebay, to Google’s number two, to the leader of the Mars project at JPL. These people will be the de facto representatives of Iran until the present Seyyeds can be removed non-violently via General Strike.

    We do not need air strikes. But what is really funny is that such a simple solution is never presented. We are then what DDE said,

    “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

    … in both Iran and the West.

  • World powers Saturday gave Iran two weeks to agree to freeze its uranium enrichment program at its current size as a first step toward full-scale negotiations on its nuclear program, or face further U.N. sanctions and isolation.

    more at McClatchy

  • Toronto Star

    “Washington maintained the fiction that William Burns was there not to negotiate but only to listen. Iranians pretended that they were not talking to the Great Satan either.

    But few were fooled. Engagement with Iran, which Europe and Barack Obama have advocated, has begun. Unless the neo-cons in the Bush administration derail the talks to facilitate the bombing of Iran, negotiations are indeed underway. This is welcome.

    However, there’s an irony. When such talks were first proposed but rejected by Bush, Iran had 20 centrifuges spinning uranium. Now it has 3,500. And whereas North Korea has agreed to give up its nuclear program, Iran is not likely to.

    Such is the price of Bush’s ideological rigidity – and incompetence.”

  • Asia Times

    WASHINGTON – The United States decision to send the State Department’s third-ranking official – William Burns – to sit in on the meeting between European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana and Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili on Saturday has been hailed as a major diplomatic breakthrough, but it is too soon to pop the champagne cork.

    The caveats associated with decision and the circumstances surrounding it suggest that it may be yet another in a string of non-decisions on diplomatic talks and other Iran policy issues by President George W Bush over the past three years.

    Envoys from the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – the so-called “Iran Six” – attended the Geneva meeting. The prospects of ending the stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program looked poor as Jalili said after the talks that Iran would not discuss a demand to freeze its uranium enrichment.

    In return, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday Iran was using stalling tactics and warned it faced more sanctions if it flouted a two-week deadline to curb its nuclear program.

    Reacting to the news that Burns would attend Saturday’s meeting, The New York Times called it a “double shift in the policy struggle”. That was a reference to the administration’s previous position that the US would not talk with Iran until it had suspended uranium enrichment and to past general disparagement of talks with Iran by the “Iran Six”.

    Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, called it a “major change” in US policy. That is the also the line embraced by Rice and other advocates of diplomatic engagement in Washington, who are eager to convey to Iran a new flexibility on the part of the administration.

    However, Rice was quoted on Monday as saying that Jalili had engaged in small talk rather than tackling the demand that Tehran give up sensitive nuclear work in exchange for diplomatic and financial benefits. “I understand that it was at times meandering,” Rice was reported to have said.

    Earlier, The Guardian of London said that the presence of Burns at the meeting “suggests that a deal is in the offing”.

    But viewing the Burns trip to Geneva as a decisive breakthrough on Iran certainly exaggerates the victory of Rice and Gates over Vice President Dick Cheney, who wants to steer US policy away from any serious diplomatic negotiations.

    White House spokesperson Dana Perino and State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack both described the Burns participation as “a one-time” offer. McCormack said no further meetings were planned unless Iran suspended its uranium-enrichment program, and that Burns’ role in the meeting was limited to one of listening.

    This decision fell short of what had been planned by the “Iran Six” last spring. They had agreed informally on a “freeze-for-freeze” proposal that would allow preliminary talks to take place involving the US and Iran on the nuclear program over a six week period.

    Diplomatic sources have described the “freeze-for-freeze” as requiring that Iran would not add any more centrifuges and the six powers would not act to increase their sanctions during a six-week period.

    According to an European Union source with direct knowledge of Solana’s meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Jalili, on June 14, however, what Solana presented was different from the “freeze-for-freeze” proposal that had been discussed among the six powers.

    The source was not authorized to explain the difference between the two proposals, but it now appears that Solana could not present the original freeze-for-freeze proposal on behalf of all six powers because the most important actor of all – the United States – had objected.

    When State Department spokesman McCormack was first asked about an EU “freeze-for-freeze” proposal on July 3 and whether it was acceptable to the US, he twice avoided addressing it altogether. But when a reporter asked in regard to the proposed informal talks, “You do it then via the EU-3 [Britain, France and Germany], right, not the P5+1 [Iran Six}?” McCormack answered, “Via Mr Solana.”

    When a reporter asked whether he could “flatly state” that it was Bush’s policy to refuse to sit down with the Iranians unless they stopped the enrichment program completely, McCormack made no effort to nuance his answer. “That is our policy,” he replied.

    The US was thus insisting that it would not participate in the six weeks of informal talks based on the “freeze-for-freeze” proposal. That position would defeat the main point of holding preliminary informal talks, which was to get around the existing barrier to substantive negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program – the demand for a complete suspension of enrichment by Iran.

    The Iranian decision to accept the Solana formula for informal talks was conveyed to Solana by a letter from Mottaki and a phone call from Jalili on July 4. But when Solana announced a meeting with Jalili in Geneva to take place on July 19, he was carefully ambiguous about what other states would be involved, if any.

    It is now clear that this ambiguity was necessary, because he was waiting for the results of Rice’s efforts to get Bush to agree to the Solana formula.

    When Bush finally did agree to the participation of Burns in the July 19 meeting, it was on terms that were very different from what Solana had proposed to Tehran. The limitation of the US commitment to a single meeting and the tight constraints imposed on Burns suggest that the decision was heavily influenced by Cheney, who has had overall control of Iran policy since 2005.

    more at Asia Times

  • In secret note, Olmert says Bush has deserted Israel against Iran

    DEBKAfile Exclusive Report

    July 26, 2008, 3:42 PM (GMT+02:00)

    Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert this week shot off a strong secret note to US President George W. Bush, DEBKAfile’s sources reveal, protesting the administration’s strategic steps toward rapprochement with Iran.

    Israel was not forewarned, Olmert wrote bitterly, although these steps directly violated US-Israel understandings on Iran of the past year. Bush, he said, had broken the promises he gave in face-to-face meetings with the prime minister earlier this year. If nothing is done to arrest Iran’s progress towards a nuclear bomb, Olmert warned, Iran will have all the components ready for assembly by early 2009, that is, in 6-8 months.


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