In the seemingly never-ending internal battle
between hawks and realists in the administration of US President George W. Bush
for control of foreign policy, the realists appear to have chalked up another
win over their once-dominant foes.
The decision to send the State Department's third-ranking official to Geneva
Saturday to join talks between the other four permanent members of the UN Security
and Germany, on the one hand, and Iran, one of the three charter members of
Bush's "Axis of Evil," on the other, marks a significant relaxation
of administration policy which, until now, had insisted it would not participate
in direct talks until Tehran froze its uranium enrichment program.
Combined with other recent actions and statements by senior administration
officials, the move also strongly suggests that Bush intends to leave office
next January without launching yet military attack against a predominantly Islamic
nation, even if the future of Iran's nuclear program remains unsettled by the
time of his departure.
"What this does show is how serious we are when we say that we want to
try to solve this diplomatically," Bush spokesperson Dana Perino told reporters
in confirming that Undersecretary of State for Policy William Burns will sit
at the same table with Iran's nuclear envoy Saeed Jalili, even if his role will
formally be confined to "listening," as the White House insists.
Analysts compare the latest move to the realists' victory over the hawks, whose
most influential member inside the administration has been Vice President Dick
Cheney, to the evolution of US policy toward North Korea's nuclear program since
late 2006 when Pyongyang exploded a nuclear device.
Shortly afterward, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helped convince Bush
to drop his opposition to direct engagement with Pyongyang in order to revive
the stalled Six-Party Talks that were launched in 2003 to persuade Kim Jong-il
to abandon his nuclear program
She was aided in that quest by the other members of the process most notably
China and South Korea, as well as Japan and Russia who had long argued that
the talks were unlikely to make progress unless Washington engaged Pyongyang
Despite repeated howls of protest and cries of "appeasement" by the
hawks, most recently given voice by former UN Amb. John Bolton in a searing
column, "The Tragic End of Bush's North Korea Policy," published by
the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Bush has stuck by his decision to
give Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher
Hill the flexibility he has requested to give new life to the talks.
Similarly, hawks, most especially Bolton, who is widely seen as representing
Cheney's views, have complained loudly about the evolution of Bush's Iran policy
since Rice persuaded the president in May 2006 to offer to join multilateral
negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program if Iran suspended its enrichment
program Until then, Bush had heeded hard-liners who argued that direct talks
would be seen as legitimizing the regime and demoralize its opposition.
As in the North Korea case, Rice was aided by Washington's foreign partners
in this case, the EU-3 (France, Germany, and Britain), Russia and China
who argued that they were unlikely to make any progress in persuading
Tehran to freeze its program unless the US at least made a conditional offer
to join the talks.
Despite co-sponsoring two rounds US-sponsored UN Security Council resolutions
imposing sanctions on Tehran for failing to comply with their demands to freeze
uranium enrichment, those same powers have since successfully prodded Washington
to make a series of other concessions, including offering more attractive carrots
as part of a negotiating package designed to lure Iran into compliance, to get
When these did not have the desired effect, however, they privately urged the
administration to modify its precondition in a way that would permit Washington
to at least sit at the table in the forthcoming talks with Iran over their latest
proposal the so-called "freeze for freeze," a simultaneous
suspension of international sanctions and uranium enrichment as set forth
by their chief negotiator and the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier
Even before the State Department confirmed that Burns would attend Saturday's
talks, Bolton was complaining bitterly on the Journal's editorial page Tuesday
about what he and his fellow-hawks consider a disastrous sellout, blaming the
EU3 and the State Department for "failed diplomacy." He argued that
if Iran proceeds with what the hawks are convinced is a nuclear arms program
aimed at Israel, it will change the "Middle East, and indeed global, balance
of power ...in potentially catastrophic ways."
To redress the situation, he called for the US to attack Iran's nuclear installations
or, at the least, to "place no obstacles in Israel's path" if it decides
to carry out such an attack.
That Bolton could be both so scathing and so apocalyptic even before the Burns
announcement suggests that the hawks are increasingly despairing about their
ability to influence, let alone regain control of, US Iran policy between
now and the end of Bush's tenure.
Indeed, as noted by Gary Sick, an Iran specialist at Columbia University who
worked in the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan,
Bolton's analysis of the direction of US policy and the balance of power within
the administration is "unerringly accurate."
Indeed, despite the ritual invocation that "all options are on the table"
with respect to Iran, several moves in recent weeks have suggested a more accommodating
policy, not least the unrebutted suggestion by unnamed senior State Department
officials that Washington should open an Interests Section in Tehran.
In addition, the official reaction to Iran's recent missile launches, voiced
by Burns himself, was unexpectedly muted.
But perhaps most significant was a series of statements by the chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, after a visit to Israel late
last month that any attack on Iran whether by the US or Israel
would be destabilizing to the region and "extremely stressful" on
his military forces. He also called for a "broad dialogue with Iran."
At the same time, Pentagon chief Robert Gates, who has made little secret of
his desire to engage Tehran, ordered one of the two aircraft carrier groups
stationed in the Gulf to deploy instead to the Arabian Sea off Pakistan in light
of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The move not only helped underline
the military's conviction that the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan
have become the "central front" in the war on terror, but also appeared
designed to reduce tensions with Iran.
(Inter Press Service)