Friday, September 29, 2006

Iran and the US

Gordon Corera's programme,  that I mentioned in a previous post,  is,  I think, worth highlighting further.  There is this available on the BBC website Iran's gulf of misunderstanding with US .  There was also a short piece on the World Service's Newshour on Tuesday.

A key point came in May 2003:
Tehran made a dramatic - but surprisingly little known - approach to the Americans.  Iran's offer came in the form of a letter, although Iranian diplomats have suggested that their letter was in turn a response to a set of talking points that had come from US intermediaries.

In it, Iran appeared willing to put everything on the table - including being completely open about its nuclear programme, helping to stabilise Iraq, ending its support for Palestinian militant groups and help in disarming Hezbollah. What did Iran want? Top of the list was a halt in US hostile behaviour and a statement that "Iran did not belong to 'the axis of evil' ". The letter was the product of an internal debate inside Tehran and had the support of leaders at the highest level.

"That letter went to the Americans to say that we are ready to talk, we are ready to address our issues," explains Seyed Adeli, who was then a deputy foreign minister in Iran. But in Washington, the letter was ignored. Larry Wilkerson, who was then chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, thinks that was a big mistake.

"In my mind it was one of those things you throw up in the air and say I can't believe we did this."

He says the hardliners who stood against dialogue had a memorable refrain.  "We don't speak to evil".
From memory,  if I heard it correctly,  on Newshour Corera was more specific:  the Vice-President had a constant refrain. "We don't speak to evil".
The problem was that at the very moment that Iranian vulnerability was at its greatest, thanks to America's swift march to Baghdad, Washington was at its most triumphalist.
This surely was a failure of American policy at a critical moment.  And,  as I recall,  the attitude of the British government,  especially from Straw, was more emollient towards Iran, at that time.

Update(2 Oct): On the Iranian offer in May 2003:  Larry Wilkerson recalls, 'I can only guess, but my guess is going to be pretty accurate: that the Vice-President said [..], "We don't speak to evil".

Discussion with Michael Gove and Ali An-Sari, reader in History at St Andrews University, on The Today Programme (Saturday 30th September 2006, 0750).

Update(4 Oct): Jeff Weintraub posts: Bob Woodward abandons the sinking ship?  Ah, but which is the sinking ship? Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld  - or Iraq?

Woodward has always been critical of Cheney, for example. The only one of his books that I've read is Plan of Attack. Here are a couple of quotes (Sources... ):
Powell... sensed that Cheney was "terrified" because once the diplomatic road was opened, it might work.    (P155-7)
Powell detected a kind of fever in Cheney. He was not the steady, unemotional rock that he had witnessed a dozen years earlier during the run-up to the Gulf War.  (P175, WP3)
Anyway, if the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld ship sinks, who do we get - McCain ? Do you see any candidate coming up for 2008, to continue the Cheney/Rumsfeld disaster?

Update (13 Oct): 'Mixed messages, missed opportunities' is on the BBC World Service, Assignment, this week (on the website until next Thursday). Uncovering Iran is there too.


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