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     Feb 6, 2013

The sound of Munich
By Pepe Escobar

The (geopolitical) hills are alive with the sound of ... well, not music; rather that post-industrial noise, more Kraftwerk than Schubert, oozing from the recently completed 49th edition of the Munich Security Conference.

Who wouldn't give a Goldman Sachs bonus to be briefed on what was whispered, very privately, by a selected cocktail of

politicians, ministers, generals and spies congregating in the gilded corridors of the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich.

At least one knows what is on the record. And the stars of the show are definitely not musical. It's more like Bayern against Barcelona in a Champions League match; call it the Biden vs Lavrov match.

What we say, goes
Let's start with US Vice President Joe Biden: "The United States is a Pacific power. And the world's greatest military alliance [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization] helps make us an Atlantic power as well. As our new defense strategy makes clear, we will remain both a Pacific power and an Atlantic power."

Another Goldman Sachs bonus to hear what our friends in the Zhongnanhai in Beijing make of all this.

Biden also stressed that in terms of the Obama 2.0 administration's leading from behind strategy, the "comprehensive approach" implies the use of "a full range of tools at our disposal - including our militaries".

He even doubled down, praising the Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya quagmires/disasters as models and implying the global war on terror (GWOT) does, indeed, go on forever, (see Asia Times Online, January 23, 2013) as in the US "cognizant of an evolving threat posed by [al-Qaeda] affiliates like AQAP in Yemen, al-Shabaab in Somalia, AQI in Iraq and Syria and AQIM in North Africa".

And then there was Iran. The light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel geopolitical crowd may have stressed Biden's acknowledgement that the Obama 2.0 administration did not rule out a direct dialogue with Tehran, but still he was keen to stress, "Our policy is not containment." No wonder Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said yes, let's talk, but only if Washington is "serious".

"Serious", in the context, means that Washington must lift its Himalayan-scale preconditions - which include forbidding Tehran any uranium enrichment, to which it is entitled under the Non Proliferation Treaty, and keeping sanctions ad infinitum.

Finally, on Syria, Biden stuck to the same old script: Bashar al-Assad is "a tyrant, hell-bent on clinging to power", who "is no longer fit to lead the Syrian people" and "must go". But in true leading-from-behind form, that translates in practice into no US intervention, to the despair of the latest Washington-Doha-concocted Syrian "national coalition".

What you say is rubbish
Now for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He actually met Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the new Syrian opposition coalition, who - something unthinkable even a while ago - also happened to meet Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi.

On both Iran and Syria, Lavrov was laser-like. On Iran, he stressed the need for "incentives" so Iran is drawn to serious talks: "We have to convince Iran that it is not about regime change." On Syria, he stressed the "continuing tragedy" was due to "the persistence of those who say that priority number one is the removal of President Assad".

So listen to that buzzing, Kraftwerk-style sound out of Munich of the leader of the Syrian opposition meeting representatives of the twin top supporters of Assad - Iran and Russia. We will only see what this remarkable development really means in the long run. What we know for now is that it happened only a few days after al-Khatib said he was ready to talk to the Assad regime - on the condition 160,000 political prisoners were freed (Where do they keep all these people? In a huge gaol under the Crac des Chevaliers crusader castle?)

Still, in the grand scheme of geopolitical tectonic plates colliding in Eurasia, the future of Syria is a detail compared to the Big One: how to breach the Wall of Mistrust between Washington and Tehran.

Any real negotiation must imperatively involve Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei - or at least someone who enjoys his unconditional trust. A first step is what everyone will be following like the ultimate cliffhanger; the meeting between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) and Iran, on February 25 in Kazakhstan.

Quite a few geopolitical actors are already dreaming of a direct bilateral meeting between Americans and Iranians, this day in Astana, signaling the beginning of the end of an unbelievably nasty Cold War. Not by accident there have been rumors that Ali Larijani, the president of the Majlis (the Iranian parliament), a surefire presidential candidate in next June's elections, and a protege of the Supreme Leader, has been to the US twice in secret since the New Year, meeting US negotiators.

Assuming this will be the beginning of a detente - and that, realistically, may be light years away - expect major trouble coming from the usual suspects, Israel and those paragons of democracy of the Gulf Counter-revolution Club, also known as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Israel, in Munich, has already admitted, tersely, that it has recently bombed Syria, and will do it again. Not to mention the fact that the Bibi-Barak duo still reserves itself the right to bomb Iran.

The House of Saud, for its part, will go berserk if there is any breakthrough in Washington-Tehran relations. The whole strategy of the House of Saud - in terms of its ultra-reactionary counter-revolution against the Arab Spring - was to turn it into a Sunni-Shi'ite war, fully corroborated by Washington, as in "virtuous" Sunnis (and especially Wahhabis) like themselves against an "axis of evil" of apostates Tehran, Assad and Hezbollah.

To add to the sandstorm the House of Saud - to put it mildly - is in a royal mess. Check this delicious account of what's going on behind the nepotistic succession of King Abdullah. And then check what passes for US "intelligence", courtesy of Stratfor - which is now admitting what Asia Times Online has been reporting for over a year now about Salafi-jihadis in Syria, and still they defend the House of Saud.

The bottom line; even if there is an Obama 2.0 administration real effort to breach the Wall of Mistrust, the effort itself may be blown up not only by Israeli and Saudi "friends" but the enemy within.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

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Munich conference breaks Iran-US ice (Feb 5, '13)



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