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    Middle East
     Feb 8, 2012

Obama switches play on war with Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

PALO ALTO, California - United States President Barack Obama has contradicted both his defense secretary and head of intelligence by laying a small though significant speed bump ahead of the express train of war on Iran fueled by pro-Israel pundits and politicians in the US.

Whereas Defense Secretary Leon Panetta tacitly conceded that Israel had finalized a plan to attack Iran within the next few months over its disputed nuclear program, Obama stated in a prime time television interview on Sunday that Israel had made no such decision, and simultaneously expressed his preference for a diplomatic solution to fractions with Iran.

Equally important in Obama's five-minute interview, meaningfully inserted in the pre-Super Bowl television coverage watched by


hundreds of millions around the world, was his admission that he did not "see any evidence" that Iran had the "intentions or capabilities" to mount a terror attack on US soil, thus contradicting last week's congressional testimony by James Clapper, head of US intelligence community, who accused Iran of engaging in such terror plots.

Throwing cold water on the war on Iran furnace, Obama has thus sent an important signal to Iran and the rest of the world that shows a more serious commitment on his part to engage in diplomacy with respect to Iran and its nuclear program.

With rising oil prices as a result of mounting US-Iran tensions in Persian Gulf, de-escalating tensions with Tehran makes good economic sense for the US, whose economic recovery can be derailed if the oil prices spike to another $20 to $30 per barrel, as anticipated in a new report by the World Bank, which focuses on the ramifications of the Western embargo on Iranian oil.

Following this report, US consumers would have to face $5 a gallon gas at pump stations, more than a dollar than the average prices today, and in an election year that would not sit well with the discontented voters.

But, the question remains: what was Obama's real purpose in orchestrating this significant foreign policy move geared at US public opinion? While may speculate on the real, short- and long-term, internal and external, considerations behind Obama's move, it clearly shows disagreement within the Obama administration over Iran, principally between the policy doves versus hawks.

It is also a sure bet that if the president did not have a significant backing by the moderates within the various branches of US government, he would not have made such a daring move, that is bound to be demoralizing to the pro-Israel interest groups that are working over-time, partly through their sympathetic pundits in US media, to push the US toward a military confrontation with Iran.

Incredibly, Obama, who a precious few months ago fully endorsed the US allegations of an Iranian conspiracy to murder a Saudi diplomat in Washington and forcefully commented that "there will not be a dispute" about these allegations, has now gone on record stating categorically that there is no evidence of Iranian intentions to stage attacks on US soil.

Between then now and now, Obama may have come up with new evidence that indicates that the Iran terror allegation does not hold water and lacks credibility, just as this author has argued in his latest book that deconstructs the US allegation against Iran. [1] Obama's admission on Sunday lends credibility to Iran's formal request for an apology from the US for leveling false charges against it.

Another important question is: can Obama sustain the avalanche of negative reactions by the powerful Jewish lobby in the US that is desperately trying to frame the war scenario with Iran into a national issue, in light of a coming debate at the influential Council on Foreign Relations, scheduled for March 1, under the suggestive title "Time to attack Iran?" The council has clearly succumbed to extremist warmongering elements by holding such a "live" debate, instead of providing prudent venues to discuss diplomatic options with Iran, ie, a definite black apostrophe on its record.

Not to be outdone by the voices of peace and moderation, no sooner had Obama made his public statements on Iran, when the US media began reporting that Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had made a statement that condoned "killing all the Jews" and annihilating the state of Israel.

This news, referring to an article in a non-governmental website in Iran, alef.com, is based on a major distortion of the Farsi article, written by an individual named Forghani, who admits that it reflects his own personal views and not those of the government. Not only that, contrary to reports, nowhere in Forghani's article is there any quotation from the Supreme Leader that directly or indirectly condones killing the Jews in Israel.

Fact is that Iran's Islamic constitution recognizes the Jews as a people of the book and guarantees their constitutional rights, reflected in the parliamentary seats allocated to Iran's small Jewish minority, who enjoy religious freedom.

In conclusion, another possibility regarding Obama's speech is that he may be positioning himself for better political bargaining with the powerful Jewish community in the US, that has put in his election coffer millions of dollars and, yet, is showing overt signs of tilting in favor of Obama's likely Republican contender, Mitt Romney. If so, Iran should not vest too much hope in Obama's small olive branch, but rather a small step back designed to force a better bargain from this crucial constituency.

1. Afrasiabi, Iran Phobia and US Terror Plot, A Legal Deconstruction CreateSpace (January 14, 2012).

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry, click here. He is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations CreateSpace (November 12, 2011).

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