Morning Report: November 18, 2007

An about-face, or two, from the US government - and an Israeli official surprises liberals with her comments.

US - Iran deal behind the scenes? Reuters, November 17: 'Iraq is encouraged by signs of a thaw in ties between Iran and the United States over security in Iraq but wants the two sides to have a "proper dialogue" about the issue, the Iraqi government spokesman said on Saturday. U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker has held three rounds of talks with his Iranian counterpart this year on Iraqi security, easing a diplomatic freeze that lasted almost three decades. Crocker has said he expected more discussions soon.' Full article at the link. American Future:
The following [New York Times article] makes me wonder whether some kind of quid pro quo has been reached between the U.S. and Iran. If so, is it in any way related to the U.S. position on the Iranian nuclear program and is it a signal that Washington and Tehran may soon be (or already are) negotiating?

The New York Times: 'The Iraqi government on Saturday credited Iran with helping to rein in Shiite militias and stemming the flow of weapons into Iraq, helping to improve the security situation noticeably. The Iraqi government’s spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, speaking at a lunch for reporters, also said that the Shiite-dominated government was making renewed efforts to bring back Sunni Arab ministers who have been boycotting the government for more than four months. ... Mr. Dabbagh’s comments echoed those of the American military here, who in recent days have gone out of their way to publicly acknowledge Iran’s role in helping to slow the flow of weapons into the country.' That last bit is quite interesting.

Oil prices vs. Iran sanctions. Victor Comras at CTB:
A major debate is ranging in European capitals on how best to deal with the growing prospect of confrontation with Iran over its ongoing nuclear weapons development program. Last month French President Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called on their EU colleagues to impose new EU sanctions against Iran. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also warned that dire consequences could result if Iran were permitted to continue unimpeded on its presence course. G7 Ministers meeting in Washington also praised new warnings issued by the 34 nation Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that Iranian banks posed serious international money laundering and terrorism financing risks. The United States had hoped that against this background EU countries would follow-suit after the US targeted new sanctions measures against Iran’s largest banks, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and IRGC controlled companies. But, this has not happened. Rather, the EU council has put on hold any new measures pending further developments and further reports from EU negotiator Javier Solana and IAEA director Mohamed El Baradei.

Some of my colleagues have suggested that the new US measures, and threats that the US will look more closely at those institutions doing business with designated entities in Iran, would persuade major European and other financial institutions to disengage from such relationships. But, without EU Countries adopting their own new sanctions measures, this may be no more than wishful thinking given the rise in the price of oil, significant increases in Iran’s oil revenues, and profit motivations.

Comras concludes that 'increased oil revenues have resulted in a government revenue surplus which can be used to substitute for the loss of foreign funding for current critical infrastructure projects. However, this increased oil revenue has not insulated Iran’s vulnerable commercial class from the potential impact of any new European trade restrictions that might be directed at them. And this commercial class, which is crucial to providing new job development and for moderating current high urban unemployment rates, could prove to be Iran’s Achilles Heel.' Oh, and speaking of the IRGC, The Spirit of Man cites Amir Taheri (WSJ subscription) an illuminating post this morning. Here's Taheri as quoted by TSOM:
A few IRGC commanders, including some at the top, do not relish a conflict with the U.S. that could destroy their business empires without offering Iran victory on the battlefield. Indeed, there is no guarantee that, in case of a major war, all parts of the IRGC would show the same degree of commitment to the system. IRGC commanders may be prepared to kill unarmed Iranians or hire Lebanese, Palestinian and Iraqi radicals to kill others. However, it is not certain they would be prepared to die for President Ahmadinejad's glory.

TSOM adds: 'A limited bombing strike against the command and control sectors of the Iranian regime will eventually help accelerate the fall of the clerical establishment. Let's get rid of this regime without much bloodshed. To be honest, we the people of Iran haven't been able to do this on our own and an assistance is needed. All we can do now is to be more prepared for the mess when the mullahs are gone. That's when a shadow government in exile will come to be an important element of our struggle against the evil clerics. ...' Winston's main concern is whether Iranian opposition groups at home and abroad are yet ready to assume leadership, once a power vacuum is created by the regime's fall.

Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, 12 companies delisted. Meanwhile, there's this, from Jonathan Winer at Counterterrorism Blog:
In a move subject to no publicity whatsoever, and so far not reported by the press, the UN Security Council today without explanation removed Ahmed Idris Nasreddin and 12 of his companies from the terrorist sanctions list, freeing them from sanctions on a global basis. The UN action followed a similar action by the United States dated yesterday.

The move reflects a 180 degree change from previous assessments of Nasreddin, as articulated by the U.S. Treasury when he and his companies were designated as terrorist financiers by the G-7 on April 19, 2002 and by the UN a week later.

At that time, Treasury stated that Nasreddin operated an extensive financial network providing support for terrorist related activities through commercial holdings which included "an extensive conglomeration of businesses" from which he derived income and conducted transactions. Back then, Treasury stated without qualifiication that "Nasreddin’s corporate holdings and financial network provide direct support for Nada and Bank Al Taqwa," themselves designated as terrorist financiers by the U.S. on November 7, 2001, and the UN on November 9, 2001.

Five years ago, the U.S. Treasury stated that Nasreddin held a controlling interest in Akida Bank, also on the terrorist finance sanctions list, which it described as not being a functional banking institution but a shell company lacking a physical presence, and which had its license revoked by the Bahamian government.

Treasury further stated that Bank Al Taqwa, for which Nasreddin was a director, was established in 1988 with significant backing from the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been involved in financing radical groups such as the Palestinian Hamas, Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front and Armed Islamic Group, Tunisia's An-Nahda, and Usama bin Laden and his Al Qaida organization. ...

The article doesn't mention any connection between Nasreddin & Co. and Iran, but the timing is interesting nevertheless.

You say that like it's a bad thing. Arutz Sheva: 'Labor Knesset Member Ofir Pines-Paz asserted that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni "sounds like [Israel Is Our Home party leader] Lieberman" after she insisted that Israeli Arabs accept Israel as a Jewish nation. "I call on Foreign Minister Livni to retract her statement," the Labor MK said. "The State of Israel is the home for the Jewish people, but we have to remember that it also is the country and home of non-Jews."' He's talking about this remark: 'Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni lashed out at Arab Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi Sunday for his rejection of the government demand that the Palestinian Authority (PA) recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last week that "anyone who wants to negotiate with me" must define Israel as a Jewish home, as it was described in the Balfour Declaration 90 years ago. Foreign Minister Livni said that Arabs cannot ask for a new Arab country to be established within Israel's current borders without recognizing Israel as Jewish.'

Commentary. This morning, I'm going to let Michael Totten have the last word. He's in Fallujah. He says it's lovely.