Pentagon calms liar, coward, bully, war-crazed president and Israel
by seeking negotiations for peaceful settlement with nuclear Iran

By Jim Lobe
Inter Press Service News Agency

WASHINGTON — While Wednesday's test-firing by Iran of nine medium- and long-range missiles was strongly denounced by Israel and the United States, there appears to be a growing consensus here that the chances for war, at least between now and the U.S. elections in November, have actually receded in recent days.

The State Department charged that the launch of the missiles, some of which are capable of reaching or striking Israel as well as other U.S. allies, was "provocative".

A White House spokesman said they violated U.N. Security Council resolutions and demanded that Tehran "stop the development of ballistic missiles, which could be used as a delivery vehicle for a potential nuclear weapon, immediately."

The Iranian tests followed warnings Tuesday by a top aide to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini that Tel Aviv and U.S. forces in the Gulf would be targeted if Iran came under attack. They appeared to be the latest in a series of moves by Iran and Israel, in particular, to show that their escalating military threats are not hollow.

Last month, Israel carried out a major exercise involving more than 100 warplanes over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece that U.S. officials depicted as a rehearsal for a possible bombing raid on Iran's nuclear facilities.

The exercise followed an interview by Israel's deputy prime minister, ret. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, in which he warned that an attack was "unavoidable" if Tehran failed to heed U.N. Security Council demands that it suspend its uranium enrichment programme.

The subsequent visit to Israel by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces, Adm. Michael Mullen, was taken by some analysts here as a sign that Washington and Tel Aviv were co-ordinating their plans.

At the same time, the disclosure by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh several days later that top Congressional leaders had secretly approved a 400-million-dollar covert action plan directed against Tehran — as well as a push by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to get Congress to approve a resolution urging Bush to mount a naval quarantine of Iran — added to speculation that war was indeed on the horizon.

But while those events, as with Wednesday's missile launches, which sent the price of oil up two dollars, grabbed the headlines, the back pages suggest a somewhat different story — that, in advance of a period of intensified diplomacy, all sides are seeking to gain as much leverage as possible.

That diplomacy, of course, is likely to centre around the latest proposal, submitted last month by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany to offer a range of incentives, including security guarantees, if Iran agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment efforts.

While Tehran's written response was reportedly disappointing, diplomats here and in Europe believe that the offer, combined with the latest financial sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU) and rumours of war, has strengthened those within the Iranian leadership who favour a deal.

They are hopeful that when Solana meets with his Iranian interlocutor, Saeed Jalili, later this month, they will at least make progress in devising a formula for a temporary freeze on both enrichment and the imposition of new sanctions that will satisfy the Bush administration's pre-condition for joining the other five powers in direct talks with Tehran over its nuclear programme and other key issues.

They have been encouraged in these hopes by a number of statements by key advisers to Khameini, who is regarded as the ultimate decision-maker, most notably former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati who was quoted as saying earlier this month, "Because we know that America and certain other enemies are acting against Iran's national interests and wish Iran not to accept the (European) package, it is expedient to accept it."

Velayati also warned against senior officials — an apparent allusion to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — making "provocative" statements at such a critical juncture.

Since then, Ahmadinejad himself has been uncharacteristically quiet, although, during a news conference in Malaysia Tuesday, he ridiculed the notion that the U.S. and Israel will attack Iran. "I assure you that there won't be any war in the future," he said, even as the Revolutionary Guard was preparing Wednesday's missile tests.

If the doves in Tehran appear to be gaining ground, their U.S. counterparts, led by the Pentagon, seem in an even stronger position, at least for now.

In a press conference a week ago, Mullen not only repeatedly stressed the destabilising effects of an attack on Iran. He also effectively called for direct talks with Iran without even mentioning the administration's demand that Tehran freeze enrichment first.

"There is a need for better clarity, even dialogue at some level," he said, adding later, "...when I talk about dialogue, I [mean] very broadly, across the entirety of our government and their government..."

In the same press conference, Mullen also indicated his opposition to an Israeli attack, suggesting that it would inevitably engage U.S. forces.

"I've been pretty clear before that, from the United States' military perspective in particular... opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us," he said. "...(D)estabilising acts, destabilising events are of great concern to me," he added.

Confirming Mullen's opposition to an Israeli attack, Anthony Cordesman, a senior Middle East defence specialist at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) with close ties to the Pentagon brass, told an audience in Israel Monday that Mullen had been sent Israel last month by the administration to deliver the message that the Jewish state does not have a "green light" to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and that Washington would not support it if it did.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, a senior State Department official charged with the day-to-day management of the Iran portfolio, while not ruling out military action, repeatedly stressed that it was a last resort and that existing sanctions were having the desired effect.

"While Iran seeks to create the perception of advancement in its nuclear programme, real progress has been more modest," said Undersecretary of State for Policy William Burns, who noted that Tehran had still not perfected the enrichment process. "Iran is not 10 feet tall," he told a Congressional committee. "Nor is it even the dominant regional actor."

He also elaborated on the areas in which the U.S. and Iran might engage directly. "Careful consideration suggests that in certain contexts, we should have overlapping interests with Iran — for example, in a stable, unified Iraq at peace with its neighbours, in a stable Afghanistan, and in stemming narcotics trafficking." U.S. policy, he said, was aimed at "triggering a strategic recalculation in Iran's thinking."

Jim Lobe's blog on U.S. foreign policy, and particularly the neo-conservative influence in the Bush administration, can be read at www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe.

— July 16, 2008
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