|Southwest Asia News Digest
Republican Lugar: U.S. Should Enter Direct Talks With Iran
Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung that he opposes regime change in Tehran, for the time being, and the U.S. must deal with the government that Iran has.
In an exclusive interview published March 4 in the German paper, Lugar that the U.S. should enter into direct talks with Iran concerning its nuclear program, together with Russia, China, and other nations, "to find a multilateral answer, not just an American one." This approach may resemble the six-party approach, as in the North Korean case.
Lugar said he cannot read the minds of the Iranians, but, "maybe they want this: normal relations with the rest of the world, trade and economic growth, respect for international law, and no more support for terrorists. If these are their objectives, it would be a wonderful result. In any case, it is something that we, the U.S., should think about."
"We should expand the talks. The U.S., the Iranians, the Europeans, Russians, and Chinese should take part. That is a constructive idea. And during the talks, Iran would have to freeze its nuclear activities," he said.
Lavrov: Nuclear Agreement With Iran Still Possible
Negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, between the European Union (EU) and Iran's Chief negotiator Ali Larijani, ended March 3 with no result. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced at a Moscow press conference that there are still possibilities for getting an agreement, to avoid bringing the issue to the UN Security Council. He said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak is in Vienna for further discussions between the EU Three and Iran for this purpose.
At the same time, the Russian wire service Interfax quoted an experts' report that says Iran will succeed in developing a nuclear weapon within five years, and recommends that the world prepare itself to coexist with Iran as a nuclear state. The report was to be presented March 4 to the Russian Foreign and Defense Policy Council.
Senate Testimony Seeks To Avert Confrontation With Iran
In a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Iranian nuclear issue March 2, Ray Takeyh, an Iran watcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, proposed a basis for averting a U.S. confrontation with Iran.
Takeyh, who has an understanding of the internal debates going on in Iran, tried to get senators to understand the situation as seen through Iranian eyes: U.S. deployments in both Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. acceptance of India as a non-declared nuclear power, and the persistent calls for "regime change" in Iranall of these threats are being made in an aversive climate in which Iran is also being asked to forego nuclear capabilities to which it is entitled by treaty.
Takeyh proposed that the waiting period for UN action on the IAEA report be extended another six months, and a contact groupof the EU-3, China, Russia, and the U.S.be set up to begin negotiations with the Iranians on the whole spectrum of issues of concern to Iran, including economic and trade issues and security guarantees. Takeyh pointed out that no country had ever willingly given up its nuclear-weapons capability, unless it did not feel threatenedobviously not the case today with Iran. If that could be changedby means of such negotiations with U.S. participationthen Iran might be willing to reach an agreement on the enrichment issue. Otherwise, there was little chance of it, he said.
The other two speakers, Ron Lehman of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Pat Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), both called for "smart" sanctionsa possible "show of force" by U.S. and allied naval forces in the Persian Gulf to prevent Iran from trying to block the Gulf of Hormuz, and similar measures.
Murtha Letter to Bush Calls for 'Change in Direction'
Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa) released to his colleagues in the House of Representatives on Feb. 28 a letter he sent to President Bush on Feb. 1, detailing his proposal to "reinvigorate our global anti-terrorism effort." In his cover letter to his colleagues, Murtha wrote, "I continue to feel very strongly that we need to change direction in Iraq." His proposal includes four elements:
* Redeploying out of Iraq, not only because U.S. troops are targets of the insurgency, but also because their presence "undercuts the chances for the newly elected government to be successful."
* Replacing those officials in the Bush Administration responsible for the failed policy in Iraq with "a fresh team that demonstrates true diplomatic skill, knowledge of cultural differences, and a willingness to earnestly engage other leaders in a respectful and constructive way."
* Reallocating the funds currently being spent in Iraq to uses that will protect the U.S. against attack.
* Reconstituting the Army and Marine Corps which, along with associated Reserve components, have borne the brunt of operations, causing recruiting problems and subjecting equipment to tremendous wear and tear. Murtha notes that estimates of the cost of refurbishing worn out equipment go as high as $50 billion.
U.S. Intel in 2003: Iraq Insurgency Fuelled by Local Conditions
A top-secret U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, completed in October 2003, concluded that the insurgency in Iraq was fueled by local conditions, not foreign terrorists; drew strength from deep grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops; and could lead to civil war, according to Knight Ridder news service March 1.
Robert Hutchings, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005, told Knight Ridder in a telephone interview: "Frankly, senior officials simply weren't ready to pay attention to analyses that didn't conform to their own optimistic scenarios." Hutchings presided over the drafting of the report, which was requested not by the White House, but by the U.S. military's Central Command.
Army Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified Feb. 28 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the insurgency "remains strong, and resilient. So long as Sunni Arabs are denied access to resources and lack a meaningful presence in the government, they will continue to resort to violence. With over a million Sunni Arab military-age males in Iraq, insurgents have little difficulty mobilizing enough fighters. The elections appear to have heightened tension and polarized sectarian divides."
State Department: Hamas-Moscow Talks 'Serve a Purpose'
A U.S. State Department spokesman March 3 welcomed Russia's talks with the Palestinian ruling party Hamas. The Hamas delegation, led by exiled leader Khaled Meshaal, arrived in Moscow March 3 for three days of talks. After Meshaal's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Lavrov told reporters that Russia was speaking for the UN-U.S.-EU-Russia Quartet and is urging Hamas to recognize Israel. Lavrov stressed that the group needed to transform itself into a political structure, and to "be sure that the military wing of Hamas becomes a legitimate part of the Palestinian security structures." Meshaal told reporters that Hamas would contemplate such recognition when Israel respects the pre-1967 borders.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli welcomed Russia's discussions with Hamas as a "clearly delivered message consistent with Quartet aims." When questioned repeatedly about the previous U.S. position of isolating Hamas, Ereli finally answered, "Let's deal with the facts. The facts are that Hamas has won the election ... and they will soon be in a position to govern. As a governing authority you have a certain exposure, and you are held to a certain standard by your people ... as well as the actors in the international community with whom you have to deal. You can call it exposure. You can call it legitimacy. You can call it whatever you want. Butthose are the facts of the matter."
Israeli Labor Party's Peretz Meets Abu Mazen
Israeli Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz talked with Palestinian President Abu Mazen March 2 for about an hour at the Allenby Bridge that joins the West Bank and Jordan, according to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz March 3.
In a joint press conference afterwards, Peretz said "We have no war with the Muslim world. We have no war with the Arab world. We have no war with the Palestinian people. We do have a battle against terrorist organizations."
Abu Mazen said, "We are against all forms of violence. Violence harms the two peoples. We want calm and truce, and final status negotiations, because we and the Israelis are tired of wars. We want stability. We want to rest, and to live as real neighbors."
Peretz said aid to the Palestinians has to continue, because "any humanitarian harm will cause a radicalization of moderate elements."
Peretz's meeting with Abu Mazen follows his meetings with King Mohammed VI of Morocco and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. (See this week's InDepth for "Netanyahu Pushes Sharon's 'Jordan Is Palestine' War Plan," by Dean Andromidas.)