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    Middle East
     Mar 30, 2006
Different beat to Iran war drums
By Ehsan Ahrari

A newly leaked confidential British memorandum is important not only for what was discussed between London and Washington over Iraq, but the insight it provides about the ongoing conflict between the US and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.

The memorandum, according to the The New York Times this week, details conversations during a private two-hour meeting between President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Oval Office on January 31, 2003.

Damning memo
The memo, penned by David Manning, Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, provides a rare insight into the state of mind of the two leaders, who were ready to go war and expected a quick victory. They were right in that judgment. However, they were sadly wrong in dismissing the possibility of "internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups".

Bush reportedly discussed "three possible ways" to provoke confrontation with the Saddam Hussein regime. His first suggestion was to fly U-2 spy aircraft over Iraq painted in United Nations colors. The memo reports Bush as saying, "If Saddam fired on them he would be in breach." His second suggestion was to bring out Iraqi defectors, who would give public testimony about Saddam's supposed weapons of mass destruction. His third proposal was to assassinate the Iraqi dictator.

Where the British premier differed from Bush, according to the memo, was on the necessity of getting a second UN resolution. Bush made it clear to Blair that he was determined to invade Iraq without a UN resolution.

And the memo shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq, and this just days before then US secretary of state Colin Powell was scheduled to appear before the UN to present evidence that Iraq posed a threat to world security by having unconventional weapons.

Further, the US did not have a post-conflict plan for Iraq, a reality that appears to have contributed to the present imbroglio in the country.

Implications for Iran
In the ongoing rift between the US and Iran over the latter's nuclear program, the Bush administration has frequently used the diplomatic version of threats by stating that "all options are on the table". What is working for Iran is that Washington has been much discredited and ridiculed over its unilateral decision to invade Iraq. What is especially favoring Iran is that the Bush administration is finding out each day of its occupation of Iraq is that it is easy to invade a Muslim state, but not ruling it.

Perhaps given the Iraqi experience, Bush is showing restraint in threatening Iran. However, no one should be surprised if contingency plans are already in preparation for possible military action. In short, the Bush administration could pursue the following options.

First, it would work hard to persuade China and Russia to go along with some punitive economic sanctions. Iran is hoping that neither of those two countries will go along with the US. But it is also conducting its own behind-the-scenes canvassing with these countries. Even if Beijing and Moscow were to go along with Washington's desire for imposing economic sanctions, they would still want ironclad guarantees that the Bush administration would not use that as UN "endorsement" of military action against Iran, as it did in the case of Iraq.

Second, the US is likely to seek some sort of a unified stand from the Gulf States against Iran's nuclear program, even though it has repeatedly said that its ambitions are for civil, not military power. These states have adopted a measured reaction on the issue thus far. But no one should underestimate what the US can achieve when it applies ample pressure on Gulf monarchies. Iran is fully aware of this reality and might be doing its own bidding, using back channels.

Third, the US has not entirely given up on using the EU-3 (France, Germany and Britain) card. There is some chance that the EU-3 might be able to persuade Iran to give up its uranium enrichment program. Talks between Tehran and the EU-3 have stalled after many months of negotiations.

The EU-3 may have to rethink the size of the economic payoffs for Iran if it agrees to go along. In addition, Iran would want security guarantees from the US, which the EU-3 might be able to persuade Washington to offer. The trans-Atlantic relationship between the US and Western European countries has come a long way from the dark days following the US invasion of Iraq.

Finally, if all else fails, the Bush administration might rely on Israeli willingness to carry out a preemptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Here also, what favors Iran is the fact that its nuclear facilities are purposely built in heavily populated areas. Israel would thus have to think long and hard about "collateral damage" before carrying out attacks.

The fact that the US has not already rushed into a war with Iran shows that the cavalier approach used in Iraq has been tempered. The Iraqi adventure has taught one cruel lesson: the US's military capabilities to create a quick victory have very little stabilizing effect in a conquered land. This reality might be serving as the most constraining factor on Bush as he contemplates Iran.

Nevertheless, one has no real idea on how serious the Bush administration really is about closing the nuclear option for Iran, and that the measured steps now being taken diplomatically might simply be a response to the headlong rush to war in Iraq, but with the same end result as the objective.

Ehsan Ahrari is the CEO of Strategic Paradigms, an Alexandria, Virginia-based defense consultancy. He can be reached at eahrari@cox.net or stratparadigms@yahoo.com. His columns appear regularly in Asia Times Online. His website: www.ehsanahrari.com.

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Talking to the enemy (Mar 29, '06)

Fighting with friends

(Mar 29, '06)

Iraq left to rebuild itself (Mar 29, '06)

Iran: Nuke treaty mess reaches critical mass
(Mar 25, '06)


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