Thursday, February 15, 2007

Speaking of Iran, as the president really WASN'T yesterday, isn't it time Americans knew that we turned our backs on a chance to resolve all issues?


Speaking of Iran, are you wondering about all those allusions you've been hearing to a 2003 Iranian initiative to resolve all major issues between Iran and the U.S.?

Now, we know that when Chimpy the Prez talked yesterday about Iran, he was really talking about Iraq, trying to distract attention--and Republican votes--from the House's impending vote on its nonbinding resolution opposing escalation of the war there. In sort of the same way, sometimes when he talks his tough Texas talk about Iraq we realize he's really talking about goin' in and bustin' up Iran.

We know from DWT readers' comments that there is growing concern about the possibility of an even more insane U.S. military action against Iran. And it's hard to ignore signals that the faction inside the administration that wants to do this is gaining force. What scares me most is the possibility that the idea now appeals to Karl Rove sheerly for its change-the-subject value. The danger is that the mess in Iraq has become so politically intractable that no price will be judged too high if a tactic offers hope of actually changing the subject.

At the same time I think we have all been hearing strange references to some kind of "deal" that Iran was floating in 2003, a deal that is supposed to have included astounding-sounding things like recognizing Israel. We are also hearing something we haven't heard much if anything about before: that in the wake of 9-11 Iran not only offered but provided substantial cooperation in the U.S. efforts against both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

If we were dealing with any group a whit less bull-headedly and inappropriately sure of itself, closed-minded, secretive and bloodthirsty than the current U.S. regime, this would all sound pretty incredible. Apparently, it's all true, and not all that difficult to document. It turns out that it was all reported in careful detail by Gareth Porter last June in The American Prospect.

It's worth at least skimming through this whole remarkable document. But to boil it down to some highlights, here first is the context for the change in U.S.-Iranian relations that occurred in 2001:
The September 11 attacks created an entirely new strategic context for engagement with Iran. The evening of 9-11, Flynt Leverett [right], a career CIA analyst who was then at the State Department as a counter-terrorism expert, and a small group of officials met with Powell. It was the beginning of work on a diplomatic strategy in support of the U.S. effort to destroy the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the al-Qaeda network it had harbored. The main aim was to gain the cooperation of states that were considered sponsors of terrorism.

“The United States was about to mount a global war on terrorism with complete legitimacy from the United Nations,” recalls Leverett, “and these states didn’t want to get on the downside of it.” Within weeks, Iran, Syria, Libya, and Sudan all approached the United States through various channels to offer their help in the fight against al-Qaeda. “The Iranians said we don’t like al-Qaeda any better than you, and we have assets in Afghanistan that could be useful,” Leverett recalls.

It was the beginning of a period of extraordinary strategic cooperation between Iran and the United States. As America began preparing for the military operation in Afghanistan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker held a series of secret meetings with Iranian officials in Geneva. In those meetings, Iran offered search-and-rescue help, humanitarian assistance, and even advice on which targets to bomb in Afghanistan, according to one former administration official. The Iranians, who had been working for years with the main anti-Taliban coalition, the Northern Alliance, also advised the Americans about how to negotiate the major ethnic and political fault lines in the country.

The Iranian-U.S. strategic rapprochement continued to gain momentum in November and December 2001. . . .
And then, not surprisingly, the Bush regime's very own axis of evil--Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the chorus of embedded neocons--pushed back. They had immediate plans for Iraq, and thoughts about Iran as well.
The inclusion of Iran in the “axis of evil” was at first opposed by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, because, as Hadley told journalist Bob Woodward, Iran, unlike Iraq or North Korea, had a “complicated political structure with a democratically elected president.” But Bush had already made up his mind; regime change was the goal.

A stronger, more self-confident national security adviser would have insisted that an ill-informed President consider the pros and cons of making such a far-reaching foreign-policy decision on the basis of a half-baked concept, and perhaps insist on intelligence advice on the matter. But Rice had already earned a reputation among national security officials for always staying in Bush’s good graces by taking whatever position she believed he would favor. “She would guess which way the President would go and make sure that’s where she came out,” says Wilkerson, who watched her operate for four years. “She would be an advocate up to a point, but her advocacy would cease as soon as she sniffed the President’s position.”

Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld led the neoconservative push for regime change. But it was Douglas Feith, the abrasive and aggressively pro-Israel undersecretary of defense for policy, who was responsible for developing the details of the policy. Feith had two staff members, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, who spoke Farsi, and a third, William Luti, whom one former U.S. official recalls being “downright irrational” on anything having to do with Iran. A former intelligence official who worked on the Middle East said, “I’ve had a couple of Israeli generals tell me off the record that they think Luti is insane.”
Apparently Iran got the idea that the Iraq war created a new opportunity for Iran-U.S. cooperation:
In early 2003, the Iranians believed they had three new sources of bargaining leverage with Washington: the huge potential influence in a post-Saddam Iraq of the Iranian-trained and anti-American Iraqi Shiite political parties and military organizations in exile in Iran; the Bush administration’s growing concern about Iran’s nuclear program; and the U.S. desire to interrogate the al-Qaeda leaders Iran had captured in 2002.

As the United States was beginning its military occupation of Iraq in April, the Iranians were at work on a bold and concrete proposal to negotiate with the United States on the full range of issues in the U.S.-Iran conflict. Iran’s then-ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharrazi [above], the nephew of then-Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, drafted the document, which was approved by the highest authorities in the Iranian system, including the Supreme National Security Council and Supreme Leader Khamenei himself, according to a letter accompanying the document from the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, Tim Guldimann, who served as an intermediary. Parsi says senior Iranian national security officials confirmed in interviews in August 2004 that Khamenei was “directly involved in the document.”

The proposal, a copy of which is in the author’s possession, offered a dramatic set of specific policy concessions Tehran was prepared to make in the framework of an overall bargain on its nuclear program, its policy toward Israel, and al-Qaeda. It also proposed the establishment of three parallel working groups to negotiate “road maps” on the three main areas of contention--weapons of mass destruction, “terrorism and regional security,” and “economic cooperation.”

So what did the Iranians have in mind?
The proposal offered “decisive action against any terrorists (above all, al-Qaeda) in Iranian territory” and “full cooperation and exchange of all relevant information.” It also indicated, however, that Iran wanted from the United States the “pursuit of anti-Iranian terrorists, above all MKO”--the Iranian acronym for the Mujihedeen e Khalq (MEK), which had fought alongside Iraqi troops in the war against Iran and was on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations--“and support for repatriation of their members in Iraq” as well as actions against the organization in the United States. . . .

To meet the U.S. concern about an Iranian nuclear weapons program, the document offered to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for “full access to peaceful nuclear technology.” It proposed “full transparency for security [assurance] that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD” and “full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments (93+2 and all further IAEA protocols).” . . .

The Iranian proposal also offered a sweeping reorientation of Iranian policy toward Israel. In the past, Iran had attacked those Arab governments that had supported the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and Tehran had supported armed groups that opposed it. But the document offered “acceptance of the Arab League Beirut declaration (Saudi initiative, two-states approach).” The March 2002 declaration had embraced the land-for-peace principle and a comprehensive peace with Israel in return for Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 lines. That position would have aligned Iran’s policy with that of the moderate Arab regimes.

The document also offered a “stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad, etc.) from Iranian territory” and “pressure on these organizations to stop violent actions against civilians within borders of 1967.” Finally it proposed “action on Hizbollah to become a mere political organization within Lebanon.” That package of proposals was a clear bid for removal of Iran from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The document appears to have assumed that the United States would be dependent on Iran’s help in stabilizing Iraq. It offered “coordination of Iranian influence for activity supporting political stabilization and the establishment of democratic institutions and a nonreligious government.” In return, the Iranians wanted “democratic and fully representative government in Iraq” (meaning a government chosen by popular election, which would allow its Shiite allies to gain power) and “support for Iranian claims for Iraqi reparations,” referring to Iranian claims against Iraq for having started the Iran-Iraq War.

Finally, its aims included “respect for Iranian national interests in Iraq and religious links to Najaf/Karbal.” Those references suggested that Tehran wanted some formal acknowledgement of its legitimate interests in Iraq as next-door neighbor, and of the historically close relations between the Shiite clergy in Iran and in those Iraqi Shiite centers.

The list of Iranian aims also included an end to U.S. “hostile behavior and rectification of status of Iran in the U.S.,” including its removal from the “axis of evil” and the “terrorism list,” and an end to all economic sanctions against Iran. But it also asked for “[r]ecognition of Iran’s legitimate security interests in the region with according [appropriate] defense capacity.” According to knowledgeable observers of Iranian policy making, the ambition to be recognized as a legitimate power in the Persian Gulf, with a seat at the table in any regional discussions, has been a major motivation for many years for the Iranian national security establishment to reach an agreement with the United States.

One reason Europeans are highly unsympathetic to the U.S. (non)position on Iran is that they're well aware of the missed opportunity to head off confrontation on the nuclear issue.
Three years after Iran’s 2003 negotiating initiative, the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program is still being played out in the shadow of the U.S. refusal to respond to Iranian national security officials. . . .

Iran is still after a settlement of the nuclear issue in the framework of a broader agreement with the United States such as Iran proposed in 2003. A new diplomatic campaign for that objective began in earnest on March 6, when Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi [right] said, “If America abandons its threats and creates a positive atmosphere in which it does not seek to influence the process of negotiations by imposing preconditions, then there will be no impediment to negotiations.” In April 24 press conference remarks, even the ultraconservative Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is hardly an enthusiast of negotiations with the United States, expressed a willingness to talk under certain unidentified conditions. . . .

The Bush administration has thus far resisted any suggestion of negotiations with Iran. But it is coming under increasing pressure from its European allies and from the leading senators on the Foreign Relations Committee to alter that dangerous attitude. Congress and the media should start to examine and discuss the real reasons for this stubborn rejection of diplomacy, which is rooted in the administration’s aggressive political-military aims toward Iran and the broader Middle East.


At 3:11 PM, Blogger Helen said...

This stuff about Iran is pretty amazing. Bush yet again did not take advantage of an opportunity and did the wrong thing. He has always had his own agenda and it has not been what is best for this country, that's for sure. Let's hope he does not bomb them, because I don't see Congress doing much to ensure that he won't.

At 6:55 AM, Blogger Al S. E. said...

President Ahmadinejad's views are summarized on this website:


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