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    Middle East
     Jan 16, 2008
Page 1 of 2
Gulf allies turn their backs on Bush
By M K Bhadrakumar

So, it was Filipino Monkey, after all. The Pentagon has admitted that the footage of the famous incident of January 6 when five speedboats of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)"buzzed" three US Navy warships in the Strait of Hormuz could have been compromised.

"I am coming at you. You will explode in a few minutes" - that was what the American navy men heard. An indignant Washington announced the US Navy was on the verge of firing on the IRGC boats, but for the latter abruptly turning away. President

George W Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates added their strident warning that Tehran would face dire consequences if "provocative actions" were repeated.

But the Iranian footage of the "incident" makes a laughing stock of the US administration. The funny thing is, it was an incident that didn't happen. Commander Lydia Robertson, spokeswoman for the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, put a brave face, while admitting, "We don't know for sure where they [threats] came from. It could have been a shore station." Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon, Admiral Gary Roughhead, backed up explaining, "Based on my experience in operating in that part of the world, where there is a lot of maritime activity, trying to discern is very hard to do."

"Filipino Monkey" is the code name given by the US Navy to a mysterious but profane voice which often challenges it in the Strait of Hormuz. The voice could be, if The Seattle Times newspaper is to be believed, "likely more than one person, who listens in on ship-to-ship radio traffic and then jumps in, shouting insults and jabbering vile epithets". US Navy women are said to suffer particularly degrading treatment.

ElBaradei counters Bush
Tehran has asked Washington to apologize for "attempts to mislead public opinion". Instead, Bush has lashed out at Iran during the various halts of his ongoing seven-nation Middle East tour. But here, again, there has been a problem. He has to make the Iranians look like the baddies on the basis of counter-terrorism. The Iranians have ensured that the counter-proliferation card in Bush's pack lacks punch.

Even as Bush was swinging his way through the Persian Gulf, the region had another distinguished visitor - the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei. The timing couldn't have been better fine-tuned. ElBaradei arrived in Tehran just as Bush was touching down in Kuwait. They could almost hear each other. Tehran rolled out a red-carpet welcome for ElBaradei, with senior officials repeatedly underlining that Iran's relations with the IAEA have entered a "new phase". ElBaradei's itinerary included a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

IAEA spokeswoman in Vienna Melissa Fleming has since confirmed that ElBaradei's visit has been of a substantive nature, with Iran committing to answering all questions about its past nuclear activities within the coming four weeks, including activities that were alleged by the US as linked to a weapons program. Fleming revealed that ElBaradei was given information on Iran's "new generation of centrifuges", which was a topic of considerable interest to the IAEA for assessing the extent of Iran's technological advancement in the nuclear field. [1]

Fleming claimed ElBaradei was able to "press his case" with his hosts for a suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment. Conceivably, ElBaradei proposed to the Iranian side an exit strategy for the impasse that the United Nations Security Council currently faces. He told the media he discussed in Tehran "ways of solving the issue as well as ways to negotiate with the United Nations Security Council". He stressed his intention is "to find solutions for Iran's nuclear issue so as to turn the problem into a normal issue". The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh, also confirmed that "grounds are now being prepared" for resolving all issues and that Tehran has the "necessary political determination" in this direction.

Aqazadeh advised the West to seize the "existing positive atmosphere" and shift towards engaging Iran. The influential head of the Majlis (Parliament)National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Alae'ddin Broujerdi, aptly summed up the dead seriousness with which the Iranian leadership approached the visit. He said the IAEA chief's visit was "important", "positive in principle" and "helpful for the country".

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, also welcomed the "constructive role" of ElBaradei, while the latter expressed the hope that a "breakthrough" in the Iran nuclear issue would be possible by March. Significantly, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad assured ElBaradei Iran was keen to resolve remaining issues with the IAEA. Tehran has no doubt given the utmost seriousness to packing ElBaradei's trip with content and substance with the objective of enabling a favorable IAEA report in March.

The meeting with Khamenei was most certainly intended to convey that the Iranian leadership is speaking with one voice. Khamenei stressed, "Iran has time and again declared that Islam prohibits the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons."

ElBaradei being in Tehran has major implications. In Iranian politics itself, it becomes a boost for Ahmadinejad's standing and is bound to cast its shadow on the parliamentary elections of March 14. The continuing cooperation between Iran and the IAEA makes it virtually impossible for the Bush administration to rake up the matter in the Security Council. The indications are that Paris senses that President Nicholas Sarkozy needlessly antagonized Tehran. European rhetoric on the whole has diminished. Russia and China are able to dig in with greater conviction on the issue in the Security Council, while at the same time they feel more comfortable in pressing ahead with their strategic cooperation with Iran.

All eyes are now on the report of ElBaradei at the IAEA meeting in March. Tehran, naturally, is pinning high hopes that the Iran nuclear file may become a routine affair involving a nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty member country. But the most important outcome of the ElBaradei visit is perhaps its impact in molding regional opinion in the Middle East and in the Persian Gulf region.

It gives the decisive push to the "pro-West" Arab regimes to turn their backs on Bush's desperate pleas to join an anti-Iran coalition. Even for the most ardent "pro-West" Arab regimes, there is a serious problem now in identifying with the US-Israeli chorus. Equally, this "new thinking" will have implications for the Palestine-Israel peace process, as well as the situation in Lebanon and Iraq. Simply put, Tehran may be on the verge of breaking through to mainstream Arab regional politics - a historic breakthrough.

ElBaradei appeals to Arab opinion
ElBaradei further chipped in by giving an exclusive interview just before his departure for Tehran to the Saudi-owned newspaper published from London, al-Hayat, which is widely read in the region. It is significant he chose al-Hayat, and, more important, al-Hayat took such an initiative.

In the interview, he put the problem in a historical perspective as an "issue of distrust" ensuing from the West's abrupt boycott of Iran following the revolution in that country in 1979, which only prompted Tehran to keep up its so-called fissile cycle through covert means after all Iranian attempts to "build bridges of trust with the West" failed. Therefore, "There is a process of distrust and the only solution to build trust in the future is through negotiation because the Security Council can impose sanctions, but these alone cannot reach a complete solution for this problem," he explained.

ElBaradei said Iran is still years away from being able to make a nuclear weapon; that he drew a "deep sigh of relief" when the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)was released in Washington in end-November, which "eliminated the element of urgency from the Iranian file and created an opportunity to start a serious dialogue to resolve the problem through negotiation"; that the Iranian nuclear program "cannot be separated from the security process in the Middle East". 

Continued 1 2 

Legal mist stokes US-Iran tensions in strait (Jan 15, '08)

A man-made storm in a strait (Jan 12, '08)

Captain Ahab and the Islamic whale (Jan 11, '08)

1. Indiana Jones meets
the Da Vinci Code

2. Legal mist stokes US-Iran tensions in strait

3. Ants and pyramids: China scams abound

4.Mortgage crisis to
corporate debt crisis

5. China card comes up trumps

6. Gold in the time of
economic cholera

7. Taiwan, and president, take a drubbing

8. Bin Laden turns heat on Saudi Arabia

9. Iraq's Sunnis reclaim lost ground

 China's yuan climbs
with trade surplus

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Jan 14, 2008)


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