NEWS, ANALYSIS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: A structure for dealing with Iran

Why John Bolton is right on Iran

As usual, John Bolton is absolutely right. His policy prescriptions may be reckless to the point of foolishness (”When in doubt, bomb!”), but his understanding of what is happening in Washington policy (as outlined in his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday) is unerringly accurate.

While much of the world was hyper-ventilating over the possibility that the United States (and maybe Israel) were getting ready to launch a new war against Iran, Bolton was looking at the realities and concluding that far from bombing the US was preparing to do a deal with Iran. He had noticed that over the past two years the US had completely reversed its position that originally opposed European talks with Iran. [complete article]

A test of US flexibility toward Iran

Last week, when a member of the Senate foreign relations committee repeatedly asked US undersecretary of state for political affairs William Burns if Washington was considering sending a representative to international negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme this month, the veteran diplomat and newly anointed number-three US state department official took pains to equivocate in his response and not say anything beyond what his cabinet-level superiors had previously stated publicly.

“My question is, has there been any discussion within the administration about having an American representative at the next meeting?” Senator Chuck Hagel, a moderate Republican, asked Burns at the July 9 hearing.

“Senator, as I said, our position remains that secretary [of state Condoleezza] Rice herself is prepared to sit down in negotiations along with the [permanent members of the UN security council plus Germany] along the basis of the ‘suspension for suspension’ proposal,” Burns responded, referring to an international proposal under which if Iran would agree to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, the international community would agree to suspend international sanctions against it. [complete article]

US plans to station diplomats in Iran for first time since 1979

The US plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years as part of a remarkable turnaround in policy by President George Bush.

The Guardian has learned that an announcement will be made in the next month to establish a US interests section – a halfway house to setting up a full embassy. The move will see US diplomats stationed in the country. [complete article]

See also, US will talk to Iran (Paul Woodward, The National).

Editor’s Comment — Back in early May, during his visit to Israel, Bush told the Jerusalem Post that “before leaving office he wants a structure in place for dealing with Iran.” It was one of the clearest indications he had given that in spite of all the pro forma declarations that military action was still on the table, it was not only an option that was firmly bolted down, but Bush had a tangible alternative in mind.

Expressions of his “commitment to a diplomatic solution” have always sounded a bit flimsy — especially coming out of the mouth of a president who seems to find the diplomatic process threatening. But let’s suppose that back in May, Bush had already started toying with an idea that would be as shocking to his critics as it would be to his supporters: that the structure he had in mind to put in place for dealing with Iran was a foundation stone for diplomatic relations.

As Bush contemplated his hopes to salvage some sort of legacy, maybe he took a lesson from Nixon and concluded that his predecessor’s mistake was that he didn’t save his trip to China until close to the end of his presidency. It’s not that I anticipate seeing George Bush shaking Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s hand some time in the next few months, but I do think it’s possible that Bush is angling to pull a non-explosive surprise out of his sleeve before he leaves office.

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