Movement On Iran
Gary Sick notices a lot of attention being paid to Iran by the Obama Administration in just the first six weeks.
There is a flurry of signaling by the US -- both positive and negative: keeping pressure on Iran (Stuart Levey and restrictions on banks), reassuring Israel (appointment of Ross) & Arabs (Hillary's downplaying of expectations at Sharm el-Sheikh), providing some funding for the Palestinians while pressing Israel to relax entry into Gaza, renewing an opening to Syria, talking about cutting US nuke stockpiles (US Ambassador Schulte in Vienna), talk of including Iran in Afghan security discussions (Holbrook), willingness to remove (anti-Iran) missile defense in E Eur while cajoling Russia on Iranian missile development, nice words from Obama (sometimes), harsh words from Susan Rice (always?), tough words from Adm Mullen, more soothing words from SecDef Gates, unified declaration about Iran by all five UN veto powers at the IAEA (without threatening new sanctions or return to the UNSC), etc etc.
We've seen nothing like this for as long as I can remember. Almost none of this would have been possible under Bush. It's actually possible that what we are seeing is (gasp) diplomacy, or preparation for it. It includes pressure on Iran, which I think was inevitable, but it potentially allows for much more.
In particular I think the invite of Iran to talks on Afghanistan is huge. Iran actually did aid NATO forces in the early stages of that war, and they are the direct neighbor to the west, with a stake in what happens in the region. One can already see bargains and deals that could be made, similar to the deal offered by Iran in 2003 that Cheney summarily dumped in the garbage. The Afghans seek positive relations with Tehran as well, so this would satisfy multiple interests.
The other interesting part of this is that, because it would be an Afghanistan conference, Richard Holbrooke would take the lead:
Holbrooke is the obvious diplomat to send here, given his portfolio; Dennis Ross was never going to participate, since his new brief doesn't include negotiations, but he'll surely advise Holbrooke and Clinton from Washington.
Now to see how the Iranians respond. We've apparently entered a period where Washington and Teheran are basically talking through the press. We make a statement (Obama's inaugural address), they reply (Apologize to us!), and so forth. If international momentum lines up for this conference -- and it's really hard to see how Clinton would have made a public statement if she didn't have this conference worked out, to some degree, behind the scenes -- Iran will be hard-pressed to refuse. Nor is it clear why it would.
Ross is seen as more belligerent toward Iran and more skeptical of their intentions, the bad cop on this beat. I'm much more comfortable with him advising from Washington than on the front lines of negotiation.
It's time to engage Iran. National security advisers from across the political spectrum agree. This conference is tentatively slated for March 31 in the Netherlands. Let's hope Iran shows.