Monday, May 22, 2006

US negotiations with Iran back on?

Ambassador Khalilzad is now saying that negotiations with Iran over Iraq-related issues were postponed until the new Iraqi government could be formed.  In Iran and U.S. Talking Again? ABC News 05/22/06, the Associated Press reports:

In an interview Sunday in the U.S. Embassy Annex in Baghdad, Khalilzad said talks with Iran about Iraq could not have taken place earlier because the United States did not want to leave anyone under the impression that Iran and the United States "got together to decide the government in Iraq."

"But we have said publicly, and that remains our position, we'd be prepared to consider talking with them once the government of national unity is formed," he said. He declined to specify how talks might begin, saying only, "There are channels for communicating."

"We have a lot of issues to discuss with them with regard to our concerns and what we envision for Iraq, and be prepared to listen to their concerns," Khalilzad said.

This is good news if it indicates that negotiations are back on track.  But in light of the opposition of Dick Cheney and Rummy that I discussed in the previous post, and given some of the other reports of a continued belligerent stance toward Iran by the Bush administration, who knows whether real negotiations can proceed?

Khalilzad's public statement could even be a device to create pressure in Washington to proceed with talks.  It could be that he's focused on trying to stabilize the situation in Iraq and doesn't share the desire of others in the administration to expand the war to Iran.  For whatever it's worth, this part of Khalilzad's interview does seem to distance him from the neocon hardliners on Iran:

Asked if the official U.S. policy to Iran was "regime change" or "containment," Khalilzad said what the United States seeks is "behavior change."

"Ultimately the wishes of the Iranian people who seek to live in a proud country, have normal relations with the world, relations of mutual respect with the world - will impose itself on the country as a whole (and) on the government of that country," he predicted.

Meanwhile, Condi-Condi was saber-rattling again Sunday on Republican State Television (aka, FOX News):  Rice: US offers Iran no security guarantees Yahoo! News/AFP 5/22/06

"Iran is a troublemaker in the international system, a central banker of terrorism. Security assurances are not on the table," she told "Fox News Sunday." ...

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claimed Iran could obtain a nuclear bomb in "months" and vowed that Israel would take the "necessary measures" to stop this from occurring.

Ahead of new international talks on Iran this week, Rice told Fox, "It's obvious that in addition to the nuclear issue, we have other issues with Iran. We have a state in Iran that is devoted to the destruction of Israel. We have a state in Iran that meddles in the peace process" in the Middle East.

It's hard to see in this statement a willingness to negotiate meaningfully with Iran over nuclear issues.  Especially when the Israeli prime minister is making an alarmist statement like this as he prepares to visit the US this week with no rebuttal from Washington.

Is it true that Iran "is devoted to the destruction of Israel"?  At this point, it shouldn't much matter for US policy - or for Israel's, for that matter - because Iran does not have the capability to threaten the existence of Israel.  Even if it acquired nuclear weapons, Israel's 100-300 nukes of its own would be a powerful deterrant.  Iran sponsors anti-Israeli terrorism, and that is certainly a serious and important issue.  But the notion that Iran threatens Israel's existence is just not credible.

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