Friday, March 02, 2007

US to talk to Iran on Iraq

The US has done an about face and endorsed a key suggestion of the Baker-Hamilton report that it talk to Iran regarding the instabilities in Iraq. According to The Economist the US will join in regional talks (Iran and Syria included) in Bhagdad on the security situation in Iraq. The US has abandoned its insistence that Iran constrain its nuclear developments as a precondition for talks.

The Economist is vague on the reasons for the US change of heart but suspects it might reflect a gradually improving security situation in Bhagdad as the 'surge' in US troop numbers impacts. The pressures imposed on Iran via a threatening US military posture and increased troop commitments in Afghanistan (which increase pressures on the 'other side' of Iran) put the US in a position of greater power and plausibly make it more interested in bargaining.

Whatever the reasons there is little to lose in talking.

3 comments:

rabee said...

"The pressures imposed on Iran via a threatening US military posture and increased troop commitments in Afghanistan (which increase pressures on the 'other side' of Iran) put the US in a position of greater power and plausibly make it more interested in bargaining."

I really don't think that's entirely correct. The US needs help in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In both cases they are fighting people who hate Iran and who Iran hates. So there is an intersection of interests.

Similarly, Syria and the US share common enemies in Iraq. Syria is strongly promoting a form of Sunni Islam that is orthogonal to that supported by Saudi Arabia and the Sunni insurgents in Iraq hate this. They also hate the Syrian regime because it is secular and dominated by a Shiite sect.

What is happening in the US is that the grownups now have the upper hand in the administration. The fake experts on the Middle East, such as the AEI and almost every high profile pro-war pundit have lost a lot in recent months. Agreeing to sit on the same table as Iran and Syria is a major defeat for the hawks in the administration.

It could be a victory for Iran and Syria. They have been demanding unconditional talks for some time, and they want a payoff for keeping Iraq "less bad than it could be".

The present battle, however, is on the "shape of the table" at these meetings. The extremists in the administration would like the meetings to fail. The rumor is that they are trying appoint John Bolton as the US representative at the meeting. But the US is facing defeat in the middle east and I'm sure that there are reasonable people with influence that understand this and understand that the likes of Bolton should not have any input.

hc said...

Rabee, There is only a case for bargaining if there is the potential for both sides to enjoy some gain. Iran and Syria can feel pressure taken off them and the US can gain help in Iraq. You might be right that rationality has help convince the US of the potential for gain. Of course the world gains if a potentially enormously costly war against Iran is averted and the Muslim world gains id its various sectarian groupings stop killing each other.

rabee said...

I think that the US can gain a lot out of these talks. Principally in Iraq.

Iran basically would like to be left alone to pillage and dominate south/east Iraq. Iraq to them is also a buffer zone protecting them from the Saudis.

Syria desperately wants to secure a peace treaty with Israel and at present the US is preventing such a treaty.

I think that there is a problem with thinking that the threat of war is somehow strengthening America's hand in negotiations with Iran. Iran well understands that the extremists in the administration want a war. But it also understands that the sane part of the US government knows that a war would be catastrophic.

First, there is the matter of a struggling US army in Iraq, which is exposed to any Shiite uprising. I note here that Shiite attacks on US forces increased dramatically during the recent war in Lebanon. Second, hardly any western country will join such an attack. Third, congress won't let them attack before an election.
(Israel is in no position to attack Iran, and as far as I can tell its principal aim is to kickoff negotiations with Syria, something that the extremists in the US are preventing.)

The main reason for sectarian strife in the Middle East (outside Iraq) is the Saudis who have been aggressively promoting sectarianism. They have to be dealt with, and should have been dealt with after 9/11. I don't know why the extremists and the fundamentalists who were running the administration a few years back didn't fix their eyes on Saudi Arabia. Perhaps their aim was not to deal with real problems. One thing is clear from reading their literature, they simply were clueless and they still are.