Friday, March 09, 2007

Iran Ready to Sit at the Adult Table?

The old saw during the Iran/Iraq War was that an Iranian moderate was someone who has run out of ammunition. Iran continues to be the oddest and least predictable major player in the entire region since Libyan Dictator Mu'ammar Qaddhafi allowed himself to join the ranks of civilized nations, a triumph of Bush's diplomacy not recognized nor appreciated.

However, there are signs that the "diminutive hothead" President Ahmedinejad may have found himself overextended, even among his countrymen and Iranian leadership, as
Arnaud de Borchgrave reports in an interesting UPI piece which will be overlooked by the MSM. The gist of the dispatch, which AdB attributes almost certainly to Bandar bS:
Word from Saudi insiders who were privy to recent talks in Riyadh between King Abdullah and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is encouraging, but it will almost surely disappoint those who favor bombing Iran's nuclear installations. Speaking off the record, one Saudi topsider confided the Iranian president had flown back across the Gulf "a much chastened and worried man."

The seven hours Ahmadinejad spent with Abdullah on his first visit to the kingdom were cut in half by time needed for translation, as they don't speak each other's languages (Farsi and Arabic). But the talks had been well-prepared by national security advisers from both countries. Iran's Ali Larijani and Prince Bandar bin Sultan shuttled back and forth between Tehran and Riyadh.

This rosy scenario will be refuted at the AIPAC Conference beginning this weekend in DC, which will have as its theme the nefarious [all too true] influence of Iran on the region.

But there are signs that lil' Ahmed has had his leash pulled back from barking at so many heels. Notably, the presidential election in Iran was just moved forward a year to 2008 to coincide with parliamentary elections. Ahmedinejad's main political enemy, Hashemi Rafsanjani, pulled the strings to make that happen and will certainly run against lil' Ahmed next year. Rafsanjani was president for two terms and is sane, even moderate on occasion. But one swallow does not make a Spring. However, there are signs that Dick Cheney's recent visit to Saudi has made King Abdullah feisty:
King Abdullah apparently convinced Ahmadinejad that a U.S. bombing campaign on Iran would not be limited to the nuclear sites that are dug deep underground. The Iranian was made to understand if Bush opts for an air campaign, Iran would become the target for hundreds of bombing sorties against key installations across the length and breadth of Iran. Not only would Iran be set back several years, but the entire region would most probably explode against all the countries that have sided with the United States.

Apocalypse Now? Not so fast. Read the whole link, but the end is interesting and instructive:
The Saudi monarch made clear the kingdom would not stand idly by if Iran continued to harass and thus impede a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Unknown amounts of secret Saudi financial assistance have already gone to Sunni insurgents. Covert U.S. and Israeli aid has also found its way to anti-regime militants in Iran.

Diplomacy moved center stage in Baghdad March 10 for a regional security conference with a plethora of players, ranging from Iraq's seven neighbors to the Arab League, the U.N., Russia, the U.S. and European Union. China, with a large stake in steady, uninterrupted oil supplies, also wants a seat in any forum concerned with Middle Eastern security. The prospect of a gigantic upheaval in the Middle East, triggered by a combination of Iran pushing its luck in Iraq and Lebanon, and the U.S. retaliating militarily, put Saudi diplomacy to the test. So far, it's a Saudi success story.

Iran's leaders won't soon forget Saudi financial clout. During the Iran-Iraq war, Saudi Arabia mobilized tens of billions of dollars from all the Arab Gulf countries -- to assist Saddam Hussein. This time, King Abdullah has decided his kingdom will not tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapons capability, a few miles away across the Gulf. Neither will the Bush administration. Nor will Israel.

De Borchgrave has more and better contacts with Middle East senior sources than pretenders like Jim Hoagland at the Washington Post, who today inveighed against Cheney's sanity in a pathetic attempt to unseat the Post's best reporter, David Ignatius, from chief Middle East reporter. But I digress....

There are reports that even young stick-insect Assad is angry with the "diminutive hothead" and Kuwait's Al-Siyassa has them screaming at each other over the phone [hard to imagine, since Assad speaks no Farsi and lil' Ahmed is in coherent even in his native tongue]. Just noting what kind of MSM the Middle East is provided with.

Let's have a thought-experiment and imagine that the Eurotrack, described by AdB, meets with success. Even then, the path ahead looks like an alley in the Bronx:
The compromise now being bruited among European diplomats who work the Iranian file would allow Iran to move to the tipping point of a nuclear weapons manufacturing capability -- but then refrain, under U.N. verification, from actually producing them.

In return, sanctions would be lifted, and the U.S. would agree to restore diplomatic relations with Iran, lift all sanctions and pledge non-aggression. This would be a page from the Libyan playbook when Col. Moammar Gadhafi agreed to turn over all the nuclear bomb-making equipment purchased from Pakistan's Dr. A. Q. Khan in return for normalization with the United States and Britain. But from here to there is still a long, arduous diplomatic journey strewn with booby traps and war drums calling for "bombs away" over Iran.

Condi may now be in the ascendant, but I don't envy the task before her if she gets a bit of encouragement from the Baghdad meeting.

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