The Perspective from Washington

US-IRAN MEETING… good/don’t expect movement soon

Washington, D.C.


SUMMARY: much punditry has already been expended arguing that while the Barack and Michelle Show was a huge ratings success with the Euro public and media, “not much was accomplished”.

Nonsense, we’d argue, if you take even a medium-term look at what happened.

Basically, Obama and the First Lady put “good will” money in the bank which, for the first time in years, gives the USG a chance to bring friends and allies along on difficult issues and decisions in ways which don’t alienate their voters at home.

And in his speech to the Turks, pointedly introduced by their president as Barack Hussein Obama, he declared in such a way as possibly to be believed, that the US is not at war with Islam.

If Obama carries out his expected, and much anticipated “home visit” to Indonesia later this year, he will get a chance to re-build several bridges, including to world Islam, to SE Asia, to ASEAN, et al.

News today of a related subject…Iran, its nuclear program, and what Obama’s policy/strategy will be, once the internal review is completed.

A “leading indicator”…Sec. St. Clinton’s announcement today the US “from now on” will join the UN’s “Perm-5+1” meetings with Iran.

It’s always difficult to parse the good cop/bad cop tactics used on Iran, given the possibility of Israel concluding it can wait for a deal no longer, and so must try to knock-out the nuclear program with bombs.

The Obama folks have been somewhat confusing on any US backing for such a risky move…Gen. Petraeus warning that Israel might have to, but VP Biden very clearly saying it would be “ill-advised” for new Prime Minister Netanyahu to do that.

Not un-related to the Iran conundrum, of course, is N. Korea, and we’ve been presenting useful OpEds all week. Tonight we hear from the Stanford Shorenstein Center’s Dan Sneider, summing up what we think is an emerging consensus…the missile test shows weakness, let the DPRK leadership come to us…stop trying to find the right bribe price to get what Kim and the boys are not going to give.


IRAN…as noted, the Obama policy review on Iran is almost completed, sources say, so don’t get too many hopes up just yet to Sec. State Hillary Clinton’s announcement that the US will, “from now on”, be full partners in the UN “Perm-5+1” negotiations with Iran.

President Bush authorized the occasional direct participation, starting last year, but today’s announcement clearly sets a new tone, and a commitment to a peaceful resolution which often was doubted, given the rumblings from VP Cheney, and his neo-con allies, about perhaps needing to bomb Iran soon.

UnderSec Bill Burns today joined a Perm-5+1 meeting to personally convey the shift in tactics, if not policy…that remains to be seen.

Even before the announcement, President Amadinejad, facing what may be increasing opposition to his re-election in June, said he welcomes an “honest…hand extended”…and said so on national TV.

Official word will apparently be conveyed via an invitation to resume talks delivered by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who added that his group welcomed what he called the “new direction” of the US, under Obama.

So things are looking great, right?


Experts point out that the Iranians detest Solana, so that’s a problem up front.

And recent “we have to bomb” statements by Israeli hard-liners, now on the ascendency with the return of arch hard-liner Bibi Netanyahu as Prime Minister, have re-opened concerns here that for reasons which are perfectly understandable, Israeli patience with Iran has a much, much shorter fuse than either the US or Europe.

For Israel, the chance that Iran is about to achieve actual, literal bomb-production capacity is strategically an intolerable risk, at least with the current Iranian regime and its posture on Israel.

CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus was trying, if unartfully, to convey that concern with his testimony to Senate Armed Services last week that Israel may indeed decide to attack.

Some experts say the debate within the Obama Administration (to the extent policy-makers are in place) has asked whether the Israeli threats give the US (and the Perm-5 process) useful “leverage” in future negotiations.

Perhaps, but with Iranian elections coming soon, any such talk (much less an attack!) is seen here as likely reinforcing Iranian hard-liners and support for the egregious Amadinejad.

Petraeus’ remarks were seen as “unartful”, rather than a pure expression of Obama policy, because he neglected (or forgot?) to add the required comment that the US either opposes Israeli airstrikes, or worries about the blow-back.

So it fell to VP Joe Biden to come out strongly against the idea, telling CNN last night “I don’t believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would…[in fact] I think he would be ill-advised to do that.”

As Loyal Readers/experienced commentators Gary Porter and Jim Lobe note in their IPS filing today:

“His remarks suggested that any proposal to exploit the threat of an Israeli attack as part of a ‘good cop/bad cop’ tactic with Iran would run into stiff opposition within the Administration, since it would rest on the credibility that the threat was real and that the US would not actively oppose its being carried out.”

A sense of the “flavor” of the on-going Obama internal debate can be had, however, by noting Gary and Jim’s reminders that last Fall, Secretary Clinton’s newly minted special advisor on Iran, Dennis Ross, warned that “if the international community appears unable to stop Iran’s nuclear progress, Israel may decide to act unilaterally.

Please note, this is not Ross endorsing such a move, just pointing out the obvious. Still, it feeds the overall good cop/bad cop parsing game.

Similarly, Porter and Lobe remind, the new White House coordinator on WMD, Gary Samore, and the new Undersec/Def Ash Carter, told a Harvard forum last Fall that while the dangers of an Israeli action are clear, there may be utility in the US using that threat for negotiating leverage.

The point, again, is that these new Obama officials are NOT arguing to justify an Israel action…they ARE pointing out that at a certain point which Israel must define, not anyone else, Israel will face a possible life or death choice.

So…that’s the context within which the Hillary Clinton announcement today should be placed:

Obama has decided to directly and consistently engage Iran on nukes, in hopes of at the very least calming Israeli fears for the time being, while the “international community” works to come up with a deal acceptable to Tehran.


N. KOREA…we’ve been beating on this drum all week, and will simply repeat tonight our basic “message” that the Obama Administration’s policy review on DPRK policy faces a real series of conundrums:

China’s view of the DPRK strategic threat remains as out of sync now with the US as it did throughout the Bush Administration;

With the exception of some NGO’s and a handful tireless, hopeful “New York Connection” folks…almost no N. Korea experts now have any faith that a formula of inducements and agreements can be actually put into place which would produce real, full “denuclearization” by the regime of Kim Jong-il;

Kim’s recent stroke, and the uptick in hostile statements and actions, especially against S. Korea, would seem to indicate anxiety over his succession, and so the survival of his supporters, once he leaves the scene;

Almost no N. Korea experts feel that the Kim regime can long survive any genuine efforts at economic reform…the classic “revolution of rising expectations” is seen now, as in Eastern Europe nearly 20 years ago, as a wind which will blow them away;

Unfortunately, add all these contradictions up and what you get is a status-quo in which the Kim regime has an active nuclear weapons capacity, and a very active proliferation menace…see the nuclear plant bombed by Israel, and the missiles sold to Iran;

But if the US ever concedes such a nuclear-capable status quo, the strategic calculation of Japan and S. Korea, at a minimum, must undergo drastic revision in terms of discussion…policy outcomes to be determined;

If ANY real “leverage” exists with Beijing, that might be it.

To sum up in a non-policy way, we detect a big case of “DPRK Fatigue” setting in. TOO much “drama queen”, too LITTLE positive action.

OK, they dismantled Yongbyon, but…they had already extracted all the PU needed for a dozen weapons, and smack in the middle of the 6 Party process they sold a nuclear plant to Syria!

2 Responses to “The Perspective from Washington”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    What is “reasons which are perfectly understandable”. Who has more “understandable reasons” to be afraid? Iran who has countless times repeated that it does not want nuclear weapons and will not attack any country? Who has not attacked anyone in hundreds of years? Who is not supported by the military might of the super powers? Or Israel, who actually has nuclear weapons? Who has repeatedly attacked its neighbours and currently occupies their land. Who is armed up to its teeth with the most advanced weaponry? Just look at the facts you son of a bitch. And drop you intellectual posture and pick a humane one.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Dear “Anonymous”, as to whether I’m an SOB, my friends will have to testify. As to my intellectual posture, at the expense of a humane one, this is an important criticism and I appreciate the chance to respond. We have no argument about the Israeli military and nuclear capacity, nor the threat it poses to Iran. Where I don’t know enough about your views is what you make of the repeated comments of Amadinejad about what he wants to do to Israel, about his government’s undenied support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and how YOU see that affecting ANY Israeli government threat perception. MY point is that GIVEN the pattern of apparently sincere threats, and definite actions, HOW could any Israeli government be comfortable losing its nuclear monopoly in the region? As an analyst, you MUST try to see what the players see, not what you’d like. Right? Is posing the question in this way not “humane” but somehow “inhumane” because it’s too “intellectual”? I am not being sarcastic…I need to know more about how YOU analyze the strategic situation. As an aside, you may or may not be comforted by my personal horror and opposition…always…to the “occupation” policies and settlements, but that’s not the specific issue you have raised. Chris Nelson, SOB

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