[This is not a rhetorical question. I have no idea, but would appreciate some guidance.]
I’m trying to figure out if there is any precedence for the current dance between Iran and the US in which two parties appear to rattle sabers all the way up to the moment they embrace as the oldest of friends.
Robin Wright captures the nutty spirit of the moment in her Washington Post article, “Tehran Detains 4th Iranian American Before Talks.”
Is the idea here that the intensity of the “make-up sex” improves with the bitterness of the prior strife?
Or, are the key players playing to domestic factional politics, trying to distract their own hardliners and rejectionists even as they lurch toward mutual embrace?
Consider, for example, the Associated Press report that accompanied Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s blessing of the US-Iranian dialogue:
Iran’s supreme leader gave his backing Wednesday to U.S.-Iran talks about Iraq’s security. But he took a tough line, insisting the meeting will deal only with fixing American policies in Iraq, not changing Iran’s.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s harsh tone appeared aimed at quieting criticism by hard-liners over the planned meeting in Baghdad with the United States…
Khamenei said Iran agreed to the “face-to-face negotiation” to “remind the U.S. of its responsibilities and duties regarding security” and “give them an ultimatum.” He did not specify what the ultimatum was.
“The talks will only be about the responsibilities of the occupiers in Iraq,” he said during a speech to a group of clerics in Mashhad city, about 620 miles northeast of Tehran, according to state-run television.
As I noted in a previous post, some “anonymous” American officials in Baghdad and Washington have adopted an equally hawkish posture ahead of talks with Iran. [Update: Also, there continue to be rumors that the White House has authorized covert action to destabilize the Iranian regime.]
Vice President Cheney and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appear to be drawing from the same play book. [It makes sense; they both appear to be “supreme leader” even though neither is actually president.] Cheney has given his blessing to the US-Iranian talks, even as he recently did some very serious saber rattling from the deck of the USS John C. Stennis.
Nevertheless, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker seems to be tasked with preparing the ground for what he has called “a whole new era” in the Gulf.
[The Iranians] have an extensive relationship with Iraq, but pretty clearly, from our perspective, not all aspects of it are helpful and some of them are positively dangerous. I mean, their support for militias, their involvement in the development and transfer of EFPs that are killing our forces, these are not good things, not from a U.S. point of view and not from an Iraqi point of view. But that’s why I made the point I did about the, kind of the difference we see between the articulation of Iran’s policy interests and goals, which again track pretty closely with ours, and then what they’re actually doing on the ground. It would be a very good thing if they brought their actions more into alignment with their words.
We have no problem with a close relationship between Iran and Iraq. What we do have a problem with is Iranian behavior in Iraq that is again counter to what we want to see, what the Iraqi government and people want to see and indeed counter to some of their own stated interests. That’s what we want to see change. But you know, Iran and Iraq —Iraq’s longest border is with Iran. They’re neighbors forever, for better or for worse; for a very long time it’s been for worse. No country has suffered more, with the exception of Iraq itself, from Saddam’s regime than the Iranians. There is an opportunity here for them, I think, to move into a whole new era in a relationship with a stable, secure, democratic Iraq that threatens none of its neighbors, including Iran. But, you know, to get there they need to start doing some more constructive things than they have.
Jim Hoagland’s recent column in the Washington Post noted the persistence of rumors that the US would seek to restore Sunni Baathist by supporting a coup against the Shiite government in Iraq.
Washington [would take serious risks] by strong-arming the admittedly faltering government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki out of office and replacing Maliki with a U.S.-anointed Iraqi savior.
Arab allies are urging such a course on Bush and would not object to U.S. military action against Iran. There is growing concern in Baghdad that Washington is developing a “Plan B” that involves both hitting Iran and ousting Maliki…
Some in Iran–including Mohammad Javad Larijani, brother of Iranian national security chief Ali Larijani–reportedly share similar concerns about US intentions.
Perhaps this helps explain the “leak” of a classified US plan by Crocker and David Petraeus that affirms US support for Prime Minister Maliki.
Ann Scott Tyson reports in the Washington Post:
The classified plan, scheduled to be finished by May 31, is a joint effort between Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American general in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. More than half a dozen people with knowledge of the plan discussed its contents…
The plan is… designed to shore up Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, even though some U.S. commanders regard him as beholden to narrow sectarian interests….
“Maliki is the chosen vehicle; he’s the one-trick pony,” Dodge said in an interview from London. “Everyone recognizes that the success or failure [of U.S. policy] would be delivered through the office of the prime minister” and there is no discussion in Baghdad of removing him, he said.
Message to Iran: the US is sticking with the “Shiite Option” in Iraq.