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  • 26 June 2012
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 0 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Israel, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Clinton and Baker on Iran, Israeli strikes, and diplomacy

In an interview with Charlie Rose at the State Department  last Wednesday, June 20, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Former Secretary of State James Baker discussed the role of diplomacy in resolving US- Iranian tensions [watch the interview here, read the transcript here].

Baker said the U.S. must pursue all non-military means to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, but if those efforts fail, the U.S. would have to “take them out.”   Clinton insisted that diplomatic options for dealing with Iran had not yet been exhausted, and warned that a foreign attack could unify and legitimize the regime. She said,  there are some hardliners in Iran who ” are saying the best thing that could happen to us is be attacked by somebody, just bring it on, because that would unify us, it would legitimize the regime.” Instead of giving the hardliners this credibility, Clinton said of the diplomatic process that the US should “take this meeting by meeting and pursue it as hard as we can” in order to find a peaceful agreement.

  • 1 November 2011
  • Posted By Loren White
  • 0 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy, NIAC round-up

Iran News Roundup 11/1

Michele Bachmann claims that Iran threatened US and Israel with nuclear attack
Guardian: Iran expected to play role of the spoiler in Istanbul conference on Afghanistan
Iran economy minister survives impeachment vote over bank scandal
Iran suspends 2 soccer players for ‘immoral’ goal scoring celebration
Ilan Berman: Why engaging with Iran is still a bad idea
Iran expresses hope that Assad stays in power despite unrest

Michele Bachmann claims that Iran threatened US and Israel with nuclear attack
In an interview with Christina Amanpour, Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann falsely claimed that Iran has in the past threatened to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. and Israel.  Correcting her Amanpour pointed out that Iran denies having a nuclear weapon, and as such, has not made any threats to attack either country with a nuclear weapon. (Lobelog 10/31)

Guardian: Iran expected to play role of the spoiler in Istanbul conference on Afghanistan
With Iran-Turkish relationship experiencing difficulties over disagreements on Syria and Turkey’s decision to host a NATO missile defense system, the Guardian newspaper is reporting Iran is unlikely to play a productive role in the upcoming meeting on Afghanistan.   Rather than focusing on steps to stabilize the country the article reports that Iran is probably going to focus primarily on the removal of foreign troops from the country. (The Guardian 11/1)

Iran economy minister survives impeachment vote over bank scandal
In a 141-93 vote the Iranian parliament chose to keep the embattled economy minister in place after the recent $2.6 billion bank scandal.  The vote came after pleas from Iranian president Ahmadinejad to allow the minister to keep his position as removing him would be a setback for the government in their fight against international sanctions. (Washington Post 11/1)

Iran suspends 2 soccer players for ‘immoral’ goal scoring celebration
Two players from Iran’s professional soccer team where indefinitely suspended for a goal scoring celebration where one player “squeezed the backside” of another player.  In addition to being banned from playing soccer, both players are barred from entering sports stadiums. (Washington Post 10/31)

Ilan Berman: Why engaging with Iran is still a bad idea
Responding to a piece by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that criticized President Obama’s current Iran policy as “the same as Bush’s” and called for renewed engagement, Ilan Berman writes in Forbes that the U.S. should not attempt diplomatic engagement because it would most likely  fail and because the Arab Spring could spread to Iran and achieve our goals (didn’t the U.S. have diplomatic relations with every single state impacted by the Arab spring…?).  (Ilan Berman Forbes 11/1)

Iran expresses hope Assad stays in power despite Syrian unrest
In the first public display of support for Syrian president Assad, Iranian foreign minister Salehi says that he wants to see Assad remain in power.  With over 3,000 deaths reported in Syria since the beginning of the protests, Iran has been hesitant to voice its support for Assad and this statement marks a noted change from their previous unwillingness to comment on the Syrian leader. (Haaretz 11/1)

  • 19 September 2011
  • Posted By Helia Ighani
  • 2 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Congress, Legislative Agenda, Persian Gulf, US-Iran War

U.S. military leaders push for direct communications with Iran

In January 2008, the U.S. Navy was on the verge of opening fire on three Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats, which were taking provocative action in close proximity to the American ships.  Fortunately, no shots were fired that day, but the danger of armed conflict breaking out between two nations already on the brink was clear.

As the Wall Street Journal reported today, a series of “near-miss” encounters between U.S. and Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf has convinced many U.S. military officials that there needs to a direct military hotline between the United States and Iran to defuse any potential situation that could arise.

During a talk at the University of Miami last week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen told the audience that he is troubled by the lack of contact between the United States and Iran. “Even in the darkest days of the Cold War,” he said, “U.S. officials could still talk with the Soviets.”

The catalyst behind the recent push rises out of the concern that a run-in between the two severed nations in the Persian Gulf could escalate to a large-scale conflict.  As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said, “This [the Persian Gulf] is a very volatile area. The risk of an incident, and of an incident escalating, is real.”

In fact, the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law late last year, included a provision mandating the Pentagon “to assess the merits an Incidents at Sea agreement between the US, Iran, and other states to avoid military confrontation in the Persian Gulf.”  That provision was based on the Incidents at Sea resolution, introduced in the previous Congress by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Geoff Davis (R-KY).

As the Wall Street Journal notes, opening up communications with Iran could not just help prevent a confrontation in the Persian Gulf, it could also develop into a mechanism to stabilize tensions and prevent conflict throughout the region:

“Although that current proposal would only cover naval incidents, some U.S. officials say they believe that if it proves workable and useful it could be expanded into a broader hot line that could be used to defuse not just confrontations at sea, but also a broader array of potential conflicts. The issue is also being studied at the State Department’s Policy Planning office.”

Military leaders, including Mullen, Gates, and David Petraeus, have vigorously pushed back against calls for military strikes on Iran and have emphasized the dangers that war with Iran would bring.  Clearly it is in the interest of those responsible for U.S. troops and national security to prevent a disastrous war.  Establishing direct lines to prevent incidents in the Persian Gulf would be a positive first step, but further talks must be established to address the many volatile issues–such as instability in Afghanistan and Iraq–where conflict could quickly push us past the brink.

  • 15 September 2011
  • Posted By Sina Kashefipour
  • 1 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy

Afghanistan’s Hidden Opportunity

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan has become the world’s leading producer of opium and heroin.   This has humanitarian as well as security implications for both the United States and Iran and highlights perhaps the most obvious issue where mutual antagonism between the United States and Iran has prevented the two countries from working together to achieve common goals.

The majority of Afghanistan’s opium and its derivative heroin flow directly into Iran. While opium has been the drug of choice in Iran for quite a long time, the growing inflows of opium are creating massive social, humanitarian and law enforcement problems.  Iran’s approach to addiction has been remarkably progressive – utilizing methadone clinics and even needle exchange programs, as well as creating a social environment where drug addiction is viewed as a health issue instead of a criminal one.  But as Iran struggles with the massive inflows of heroin, it’s approach to drug traffickers has grown increasingly extreme.  The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) has documented the increasing use of executions performed in secret and with little respect for due process and transparency, even though Iranian officials have reportedly acknowledged this approach has been unsuccessful.

For the U.S., the main concern is that opium is a significant source of funding for the Afghan Taliban and fuels the anti-American insurgency that 100,000 U.S. troops are currently working to defeat.  Compounding the problem, the millions of dollars from the opium trade have helped corrupt the Afghan government from the ground up.

As a result of this common problem, Afghanistan seems like an obvious place for the U.S. and Iran to cooperate and start to build the trust that is necessary to complete any deal that would limit Iran’s nuclear program and avert a potential war.  In fact, the United States and Iran cooperated closely to help stabilize Afghanistan after 9/11, though this cooperation ended after President Bush labeled Iran part of the “Axis of Evil” and ignored several later overtures for cooperation.

This lack of cooperation has not changed under the Obama administration, even as stabilizing Afghanistan has become one of President Obama’s biggest foreign policy challenges and a major political liability.  Instead, the Obama administration seems to have effectively made resolving the nuclear issue a precondition to developing more comprehensive initiatives that could take advantage of the common ground between the U.S. and Iran on issues like Afghanistan.

That Ahmadinejad’s often incendiary rhetoric and Iran’s penchant for brinksmanship have undermined confidence that a deal can be reached goes without saying.  But these factors are compounded by the fact that the U.S. and Iran are stuck on the hardest issue, the nuclear issue, with a crippling lack of trust impeding any progress.

But now Ahmadinejad is repeating his offer to cooperate on Afghanistan and is saying Iran is prepared to stop enriching uranium to 20%.  Combined with the fact that Iranian diplomats are reportedly dropping their unrealistic preconditions and are saying they are willing to implement the safeguards needed to ensure Iran cannot clandestinely build a nuclear weapon, this is an important development.  Of course, the U.S. needs to proceed with caution; the case of the U.S. hikers demonstrates clearly that the infighting within the Iranian government continues to make diplomacy even more challenging.  But there is simply no reason not to engage Iran on a range of key issues – from the nuclear issue to Afghanistan to human rights.  In fact, on Tuesday Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the Washington Post:

“We [Iran and the U.S.] can have cooperation for Afghan stability and security. We can cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking and fight against terrorism.”

The only way to test the sincerity of what Ahmadinejad is saying is to reinvigorate diplomacy.  If Iran is bluffing, the U.S. can demonstrate that to the world and increase international pressure for Iran to get serious.  And if Iran isn’t bluffing, then we’re getting somewhere.

  • 21 May 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 2 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

Ethnic Overshadowing in Iran

The domestic situation in Iran has been overshadowed by recent talk of the deal brokered between Iran, Turkey and Brazil, imminent UN sanctions, and Congress’s push for unilateral sanctions.

While last week’s protests against the execution of five Iranians encompassed all Iranians, there was especially large participation by Iranian Kurds. (Recall that four of these five Iranians were Kurds.) This fact has not been  emphasized for several reasons.

First of all, to emphasize the Kurdish aspect of these execution would allow the government to paint the Green Movement as a “separatist movement” similar to PJAK or PKK, which conflicts with the nationalist narrative that Mousavi has worked so hard to construct.  More importantly, however, it has been noted that these executions were more of a warning against the upcoming anniversary of the June 2009 elections than as a crackdown on an ethnic minority. The parallel can be seen in the executions prior to the anniversary of the 1979 revolution in February, also meant to deter protests.

Nonetheless, the role of ethnic conflict in Iran’s internal politics has only increased in recent weeks.  Protests following the controversial hangings took place throughout Iran, and in several cities in other parts of the world, but the protests in Iranian Kurdistan were especially dramatic. Many Kurdish cities in Iran went on strike on May 13 in response to the executions, including Mahabad, Ashnaviyeh, Sanandaj, Boukan, Saghez, Marivan and Kamyaran. All businesses in the area were closed as well as most of the schools, as many students refused to attend school. Due to growing tensions in the area, security troops were stationed in the streets and state troops reportedly threatened shop owners in the bazaar, demanding them to end the strikes, the Green Voice of Freedom said. In response, the Islamic Republic arrested another Kurd, this time human rights activist Ejlal Ghavami.

While this may have been the end of it, ethnic tensions seem to have only increased, this time across Iran’s borders. On the same day of the protests in Iranian Kurdistan, Iran temporarily detained an Iraqi border guard after mistaking him for a member of the Kurdish rebel group PJAK.

Additionally, this past weekend Iranian artillery bombarded parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, where Kurdish rebels opposed to Tehran were said to be holed up.

“From 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) Saturday until [Sunday] morning, Iranians fired on the villages of Khanawa, Totma, Marado, Sourkan and Nalia Rach, causing extensive damage to agricultural land and losses of livestock,” said Azad Oussou.

In the bombardment, Iran’s security forces killed at least two Kurds near Iran, alleged members of a Kurdish guerrilla group near the Islamic Republic’s western borders according to a report by state television on Tuesday.

And Iran’s crackdown on ethnic minorities still continues. According to Human Rights Watch, 17 Kurdish dissidents remain on death row in Iran.

Evidence of ethnic concerns for Tehran goes beyond the preoccupation with Kurds, however. After the execution of a number of Afghan refugees in Iran last week, thousands in Afghanistan protested in Jalalabad, Herat, and Kabul. While Tehran officials put the number at six, protesters and rights groups say Iran has executed 45 Afghans in recent weeks on drug smuggling charges.

While the increased paranoia could be attributed to the anniversary of the June 2009 election, as were last week’s protests, this does not fully explain Iran’s recent clashes with Iraq and its “scenario” with Afghanistan. The more likely explanation is that the very overshadowing of the recent flood of news about Iran has emboldened it in its recent actions. Who will pay attention to such news when the nuclear issue and sanctions are front and center? The issue of human rights in Iran has continuously been subjugated to other issues assumed to be more important, and thus minority rights within Iran are almost completely ignored as well.

The domestic situation in Iran has been overshadowed by recent talk of the deal brokered between Iran, Turkey and Brazil, imminent UN sanctions, and Congress’s push for unilateral sanctions.

While last week’s protests against the execution of five Iranians encompassed all Iranians, there was especially great participation by Iranian Kurds. (Recall that four of these five Iranians were Kurds.) This fact has been not emphasized for several different reasons. First of all, to emphasize the ethnic aspect of the execution would be a cue for the Iranian government to point out the separatist nature of the Green Movement, which has always been looked down upon in Iranian history. More importantly, however, it was noted that these executions were more of a warning against the upcoming anniversary of the June 2009 elections than as a crackdown on an ethnic minority. The parallel was made to the executions prior to the anniversary of the 1979 revolution in February, also meant to deter protests.

Nonetheless, and despite the accuracy of both the aforementioned arguments, a recent ethnic focus on internal politics can in fact be seen. While protests did occur throughout Iran, and in several cities in other parts of the world, the protests in Iranian Kurdistan were especially dramatic. (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/05/iran-strikes-in-kurdistan-violent-protests-at-scandinavian-iranian-embassies-over-executions.html ) Many Kurdish cities in Iran went on strike on May 13 in response to the executions, including Mahabad, Ashnaviyeh, Sanandaj, Boukan, Saghez, Marivan and Kamyaran. All businesses in the area were closed as well as most of the schools, as many students refused to attend school. Due to growing tensions in the area, security troops were stationed in the streets and state troops reportedly threatened shop owners in the bazaar, demanding them to end the strikes, the Green Voice of Freedom said. (http://en.irangreenvoice.com/article/2010/may/13/1869 ) In response, the Islamic Republic arrested another Kurd, this time human rights activist Ejlal Ghavami. (http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/middle-east/Report-Kurdish-Rights-Spokesman-Arrested-in-Iran-93781959.html)

While this may have been the end of it, ethnic tensions seem to have only increased, this time across Iran’s borders. On the same day of the protests in Iranian Kurdistan, Iran temporarily detained an Iraqi border guard after mistaking him for a member of the Kurdish rebel group PJAK. (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE64D5H220100514)

Even more important, this past weekend Iranian artillery bombarded parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, where Kurdish rebels opposed to Tehran were said to be holed up.

“From 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) Saturday until [Sunday] morning, Iranians fired on the villages of Khanawa, Totma, Marado, Sourkan and Nalia Rach, causing extensive damage to agricultural land and losses of livestock,” said Azad Oussou. (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hH925s3QsKRthLnNPG8qheENUvJw)

In the bombardment, Iran’s security forces killed at least two Kurds near Iran, alleged members of a Kurdish guerrilla group near the Islamic Republic’s western borders according to a report by state television on Tuesday. (http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE64H1TZ.htm)

In addition, Iran’s crackdown on ethnic minorities within the country still continues. According to Human Rights Watch, 17 Kurdish dissidents remain on death row in Iran. (http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/05/11/iran-executed-dissidents-tortured-confess)

Evidence of ethnic concerns for Tehran goes beyond the preoccupation with Kurds, however. After the execution of a number of Afghan refugees in Iran, thousands in Afghanistan protested last week as well in Jalalabad, Herat, and Kabul. Protesters and rights groups say Iran has executed 45 Afghans in recent weeks on drug smuggling charges while Tehran officials put the number at six. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8679336.stm)

Granted, because of the diverse nature of the population, minorities have always been of concern to Iran, and not only in the Islamic Republic. Nonetheless, with these recent incidents, one can only wonder what has spurred the recent increase in concern.

  • 10 May 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 2 Comments
  • Afghanistan

Iran Interested in Stable Afghanistan…For Now

The Sunday Times has recently claimed that Iran has been involved in training insurgents in Afghanistan to kill NATO troops. This claim has in turn been repeated by various other news sources like FOX News, The Australian, Global Times, Taipei Times, etc.

But the source of this allegation is two Taliban commanders. How kind of the Taliban to go and willingly volunteer this information to the media:

“Taliban commanders have revealed that hundreds of insurgents have been trained in Iran to kill Nato forces in Afghanistan.

The commanders said they had learnt to mount complex ambushes and lay improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have been responsible for most of the deaths of British troops in Helmand province.

The accounts of two commanders, in interviews with The Sunday Times, are the first descriptions of training of the Taliban in Iran.

According to the commanders, Iranian officials paid them to attend three-month courses during the winter.”

I’m not saying that there is no possibility that Iran has provided some support for the Taliban in Afghanistan — it’s possible, and I’m not a CIA agent, so I don’t know for sure.  But I am saying that the Taliban isn’t exactly the most trustworthy source when it comes to Iran.

The Taliban and Iran have historically been enemies. In fact, after the Taliban came to power in 1996, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei denounced the group as an affront to Islam.

When in power, the Taliban backed Sunni Islamist militants who were launching attacks against the Iranian regime, which is based on Shi’a Islam. In addition to such attacks, the Taliban has also received strong backing from Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist Wahhabi rulers, who are allies of the United States, and with whom Iran constantly competes for influence in the region.

It should also be noted that in 1998, the Taliban captured Mazare Sharif and massacred thousands of Hazara civilians, mainly Shi’a, as well as nine Iranian diplomats.  Following this attack, Afghanistan and Iran nearly went to war as both countries mobilized troops along their shared border.

Thus, not only is the Taliban an ideological threat to the Islamic Republic, but the Iranians also view them as a threat to Iranian security.

Which is why Iran has been heavily involved in rebuilding Afghanistan following the war to overthrow the Taliban in 2001 (which Iran assisted). Currently, Iran and Afghanistan’s engage in more than $1.3 billion in bilateral trade. Additionally, according to the Trade Promotion Organization of Iran, four percent of Iran’s total exports in 2006 went to Afghanistan, accounting for more than $503 million. Tehran’s aid also has certified joint investment companies, sponsored food fairs, opened cement factories, extended purchase credits to traders, and trained commercial pilots.

An additional concern of Iran is the large number of Afghan refugees that have been in Iran since the Soviet Invasion in 1979. While the Afghan refugee population in Iran has decreased since the fall of the Taliban, the UNHCR still reported approximately 933,500 registered Afghan refugees in Iran in June 2009.

General public opinion in Iran is that the Afghan refugees pose a significant burden and it is time they return to Afghanistan. This is reflective of both high levels of unemployment in Iran and the general concern over increasing drug smuggling and violence on the border.

Obviously, then, Iran recognizes that it is in its interest to promote a stable Afghanistan. This is a huge opportunity for mutual cooperation between the US and Iran, and one that deserves to be pursued further.

According to most experts, there is in fact one thing that could cause Iran to fully and enthusiastically throw its support behind its enemy, the Taliban: a US attack.

  • 3 December 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 6 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy, Human Rights in Iran

What Obama didn’t say on Tuesday night

photo credit: The White House, Pete Souza

Tuesday night, President Obama delivered a much-anticipated speech on the situation in Afghanistan.  He announced that he will be sending 30,000 additional troops in the first part of 2010, and will begin withdrawing troops in the Summer of 2011.

The speech made no direct references to Iran, and only vaguely touched on Obama’s nuclear nonproliferation strategy in general.  But according to Jim Fine at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, President Obama “missed a golden opportunity” in the speech to kick-start the stalled diplomacy with Iran.

In October, 2001, American military and diplomatic officials began meeting privately with officials from Iran to discuss the impending war in Afghanistan.  Following the September 11th attacks, America’s mission in Afghanistan was to root out al Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban–a mission that Iran shared with us and actually supported.

Over the next few months, American and Iranian officials worked together on countless issues involving the war against the Taliban, as has been well documented by Amb. James Dobbins and Hillary Mann Leverett, both of whom participated in these discussions with Iranians.  According to Dobbins, the Iranian delegation provided extremely valuable contributions to the formation of the Afghan provisional government, even working to ensure that Afghan elections will be fair and democratic.  Leverett has recounted stories of her Iranian counterpart going so far in their cooperation as to pull out a map of Afghan territory and pointing out locations that American planes should bomb.

The cooperation between the US and Iran on Afghanistan was fruitful and unprecedented.  Unfortunately, it came to an end when President Bush declared Iran to be part of the “Axis of Evil.”

But here is what Obama missed on Tuesday night: we need all the help we can get in Afghanistan right now.  We’ve asked for troop commitments from NATO partners, but most likely won’t get more than a couple thousand.  President Obama should have lamented the end of US-Iranian cooperation on Afghanstan in his speech on Tuesday as an effective tool that we no longer have at our disposal.  “Isn’t it a shame,” he should have said ”that we responded so callously to Iran’s cooperation?”  And yet, isn’t it such a shame also that Iran’s behavior in recent weeks on the nuclear negotiations make it impossible for us to cooperate on Afghanistan the way we did before?

The United States should be willing to cooperate with Iran on Afghanistan, and should not hold hostage every other issue of potential mutual cooperation just because there has been no progress in the nuclear talks.  In fact, all sides claim to want to build confidence through the negotiations; what better way to build confidence than to work together on critical issues?

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran John Limbert has said “If we focus solely on the nuclear issue when dealing with Iran, we will fail.” It’s in America’s best interest to raise human rights concerns in dealing with Iran, and it’s in America’s best interest to work together with Iran on areas of mutual concern.

We have a job to do in Afghanistan, and it won’t be easy.  If Iran becomes a useful partner again, and helps us defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, then I suspect a little bit of the mistrust that has made negotiations so difficult up to now will begin to evaporate.

  • 13 August 2009
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • 3 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy

U.S. sees Iranian aid to Taliban as insubstantial

Reuters (and only Reuters) has the story:

The United States believes that Iran has supplied arms to insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan but top advisers to President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that the information was conflicting and any threat appeared unsubstantial.

Shi’ite Iran is not a comfortable ally of the hardline Sunni Taliban, but analysts say Tehran may be providing some support to tie down and irritate U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, the U.S. commander of international forces in Afghanistan accused Iran of supporting the Taliban but said he had not seen the introduction of sophisticated Iranian military equipment of the kind that was sent to Iraq.

“We get conflicting reports on that,” Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a panel organized by the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, when asked if Iran was supporting the insurgency.

Holbrooke’s senior defense advisor, Vikram Singh, said: “Certainly, the Iranians have in the past provided some arms to some groups inside Afghanistan. I do not think it has been viewed from a defense perspective as a substantial effort or a substantial threat.”

A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Iranian assistance came mainly in the form of arms, rather than direct training of militants

“There’s reason to believe that Iran is supplying arms and other materials to insurgents in Afghanistan, including the Taliban,” the official said.

He provided no details about the types of arms.

Holbrooke said Tehran had a “legitimate role to play in the resolution of the Afghan issue.”

“They are a factor. And to pretend that they’re not, as was often done in the past, doesn’t make much sense,” Holbrooke said, but added: “We don’t have any direct contacts with them on this.”

Drug addiction is a major problem in Iran and Holbrooke said “those drugs are coming across the Afghan border and it is a major concern to them.”

Obviously, this is a divergence from the Bush administration, which often played up the role of Iran in Afghanistan.

  • 31 March 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 0 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy

As Israel installs new hardline PM, US and Iran meet on Afghanistan

clinton-bibi

Today, Benjamin Netanyahu will become Israel’s newest Prime Minister, leading a hardline Likud government alongside Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist (and largely racist) Yisrael Betenyu party and incorporating Ehud Barak’s Labor party.  The newly-formed government will place Kadima leader Tzipi Livni in the awkward position of leading the pro-peace movement (Livni is not widely regarded as a dove by any standards, but is nowhere near as hawkish as PM Netanyahu).

I recently attended a very interesting blogger discussion at the New America Foundation that Steve Clemmons put on to discuss all of this, which you can read about over at the Washington Times’ Potus Notes.  Basically, I left the meeting with the extremely depressing notion that despite President Obama’s emphasis on the peace process, Israelis and Palestinians are farther away from a deal today than they were even a few months ago.

In slightly more positive news, the so-called “Big Tent” meeting on Afghanistan is going on today at the Hague, with both Iranian and American diplomats in attendance.  Secretary of State Clinton invited the Iranian delegation to cooperate on stabilization efforts in Afghanistan, which was the first of a series of very positive moves by the Obama administration to kick off its plan to engage with Iran.

As we heard from Hillary Mann Leverett at our briefing last week, it’s important for Iran to send a signal at this conference that it is capable of reciprocating positive moves from Washington.  Iran needs to make it clear that on issues of mutual interest, there is nothing standing in the way of their full cooperation.

Unfortunately, as Laura Rozen pointed out last night, it’s not off to a great start.  The US is sending Secretary of State Clinton to the meeting, but Iran will be represented by the deputy foreign minister, Mehdi Akhundzadeh.  According to Trita:

“They are talking, and they will be there at the table, but they are sending lesser representation that is not on the par” with the other delegations, notes Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a Washington group that advocates for engagement between Washington and Tehran. “It does send a signal,” that Iran is holding back somewhat on regional cooperation talks until “they have practical indications of America’s [larger] strategic objective with Iran,” he says. Tehran’s response is “predictable,” if unfortunate, he says, adding that Tehran’s “emulating Bush’s insistence on preconditions would be a mistake.”

update: The Cable is reporting that Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke held a “brief and cordial exchange” with the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister.  Also, Sec. Clinton said that she ordered a letter to be delivered to the Iranian delegation asking for informaion on the whereabouts of Robert Levinson and calling for the release of Roxanna Saberi.

update 2: The Atlantic is reporting on an eye-popping interview with Netanyahu in which he told Obama in very stark language that if the US doesn’t stop Iran soon, Israel will.

“You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”

  • 9 March 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 1 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Culture, Diplomacy, Persian Gulf

CSM: Obama should hold Nowruz town-hall to send message to Khamenei

A great idea from Joshua Gross at the Christian Science Monitor:

The Iranian calendar offers Obama an ideal opportunity to reach out to them and challenge common misperceptions. Nowruz, the Persian New Year, will be celebrated later this month. Obama should take advantage of this unique moment to travel to California and hold a town-hall meeting with the Iranian diaspora. In the context of a major speech to this community, Obama will be able to address the Iranian people and the Iranian government indirectly, without the political fallout of stalled direct negotiations.

{snip}Such a speech should avoid specific policy prescriptions, but emphasize the desire for a “new approach.” Iran’s constructive role in the early stages of Afghanistan’s reconstruction should also be acknowledged.

Germans found a partner in President Kennedy when they believed they were alone and abandoned. Russians who were desperate to experience the outside world were heartened by President Reagan’s passionate insistence that President Gorbachev “tear down this wall.”

The day may soon come when Iranians – disillusioned by the failures of their revolution, alienated by our previous president’s arrogance and pugilism – find hope in the simple, respectful words spoken by a compassionate US president.