Morning Report: November 14, 2006

Tehran's determination, Washington's vacillation, London's negotiation. Has the West's strategy changed? Did the West ever even have a strategy? Iran has one - and it hasn't changed.

Ahmadinejad: Fuel program near completion. AP via Yahoo: 'President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday said Iran would soon celebrate completion of its controversial nuclear fuel program. "With the wisdom and resistance of the nation, today our position has stabilized. I'm very hopeful that we will be able to hold the big celebration of Iran's full nuclearization in the current year," the hard-line president said referring to the country's nuclear fuel program. Iran's current calendar year ends on March 20.' (AP)

Nasrallah: Lebanon's Siniora government to go. Debka: 'Nasrallah tells his Hizballah followers in S. Lebanon: Siniora government will soon be ousted. It will soon be replaced with a “clean government,” he said. Six pro-Syrian ministers including Hizballah quit the Lebanese government Saturday, breaking up unity coalition talks and aiming to torpedo Foud Siniora’s initiative for an international tribunal to try the men implicated in the Feb. 2005 murder of the Lebanese politician Rafiq Hariri last year, including relatives of Bashar Asad’s. The pro-Syrian camp demanded veto power in the new coalition and threatened to foment civil unrest if their demands were not met. Nasrallah reported that until now Hizballah had spent $300 m in funds received from Iran to repair the damage caused in its war on Israel.' Strategy Page: 'Hizbollah is demanding more seats in the Lebanese cabinet, so that Hizbollah would have a veto over anything the government sought to do. The majority Christians, Sunnis and Druze have refused. Hizbollah believes that it is strong enough to impose its will on the majority of Lebanese. Hizbollah openly boasts of the huge amount of cash it is getting from Iran, and points out that the UN peacekeepers in southern Israel do not interfere with Hizbollah, and, instead, protect Hizbollah from the Israelis. If the majority Lebanese refuse Hizbollah demands, they risk starting another civil war. Hizbollah is less afraid of another war, and this gives Hizbollah an edge.' (Debka, Strategy Page)

Amir Taheri: Iraqis' uncertainties. Amir Taheri at Benador:
The Shiites, grateful though they are to America for having helped them win power for the first time, feel obliged to have a insurance policy for when (not if) the Americans cut and run. This is why all prominent Iraqi Shiite politicians have been to Tehran.

That insurance, however, comes at a price. Iran's rulers insist that the new Iraq turn a blind eye to the activities of Shiite militias, created and armed by Tehran with Hezbollah support.

And, because they are unsure of American steadfastness, the Shiites are pressing for a federal structure that would give them 90 percent of Iraq's oil regardless of what happens next. That, together with the increased activities of Shiite death squads, enrages the Arab Sunnis.

These Sunnis know that as long as there is a U.S. military presence, the Shiites can't move into Sunni provinces to solve the problem the Oriental way - that is, by large-scale killings and ethnic cleansing. But what if the Americans leave before Iraq has a government capable of protecting all communities?

Uncertain about U.S. intentions, many Sunni Arabs tolerate (if not actually support) the Saddamite bitter-enders and, to a lesser extent, the non-Iraqi jihadists and suicide bombers. Just as Iraqi Shiites look to Iran for insurance, Iraqi Sunnis regard Jordan and, to a lesser extent, Syria and Egypt, as putative protectors.

Uncertainty about American fidelity also affects the policies pursued by Iraqi Kurds. ...

Read the rest at the link. (Benador)

Blair's foreign policy speech: Ties with America, isolation for Iran. Via Iran Focus:
There is a fundamental misunderstanding that this is about changing policy on Syria and Iran. First, those two countries do not at all share identical interests. But in any event that is not where we start.

On the contrary, we should start with Israel/Palestine. That is the core. We should then make progress on Lebanon. We should unite all moderate Arab and Moslem voices behind a push for peace in those countries but also in Iraq. We should be standing up for, empowering, respecting those with a moderate and modern view of the faith of Islam everywhere.

What is happening in the Middle East today is not complex. It is simple. Iran is being confronted over its nuclear weapons ambitions. Its stock market has lost a third of its value in the last year and foreign credit is increasingly hard to come by. The statements of its President - such as wiping Israel from the face of the earth - are causing alarm, even in Iran.

To be fair, they have a genuine, if entirely misplaced fear, that the US seeks a military solution in Iran. They don't. But we all want Iran to suspend its enrichment process which if allowed to continue, will give them a nuclear weapon. Under the agreement we brokered in June, the US has said they will talk to Iran direct for the first time in 30 years, if they abide by the UN demand to suspend enrichment. But Iran is refusing to do it.

Instead they are using the pressure points in the region to thwart us. So they help the most extreme elements of Hamas in Palestine; Hizbollah in the Lebanon; Shia militia in Iraq. That way, they put obstacles in the path to peace, paint us, as they did over the Israel/Lebanon conflict, as the aggressors, inflame the Arab street and create political turmoil in our democratic politics.

It is a perfectly straightforward and clear strategy. It will only be defeated by an equally clear one: to relieve these pressure points one by one and then, from a position of strength to talk, in a way I described in July in my speech in Los Angeles: offer Iran a clear strategic choice: they help the MEPP not hinder it; they stop supporting terrorism in Lebanon or Iraq; and they abide by, not flout, their international obligations. In that case, a new partnership is possible. Or alternatively they face the consequences of not doing so: isolation.

Blair goes on to stress the importance of ties with America. Full text of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech at the link. (Iran Focus)

Commentary. Marze Por Gohar quotes the Financial Times:
Downing Street officials made clear Mr Blair's speech did not represent a change of policy on Iran and Syria - and Mr Blair himself suggested that those who thought it was such a change were guilty of a "fundamental misunderstanding".

In July - in a speech in Los Angeles - Mr Blair made a similar plea that Iran and Syria must "come in to the international community and play by the same rules as the rest of us - or be confronted". However, Mr Blair's restatement of the argument is now more significant because the Bush administration is thinking hard about whether to engage with Iran and Syria.

The Telegraph has this to say:
Both the American and the Downing Street versions of this formula are being billed as fresh, realistic responses to the dilemma of post-war Iraqi chaos. In fact, they represent a stunningly abrupt volte-face in the Anglo-American approach to the problems of the region.

Iran and Syria would be offered privileged status in resolving the future of Iraq, even though they have previously been regarded as serious obstacles to peace in the Middle East and, in the case of Iran, the most prolific sponsor of terrorism in the West — as Con Coughlin reminds us today with his revelations about Teheran's links with al-Qa'eda. ...

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Washington and London are now so eager for a face-saving formula that would enable them to wash their hands of Iraq and its apparently intractable problems that they are prepared to retreat from positions which they had declared, only weeks ago, to be principled and unflinching.

Instead of delivering ultimatums to Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his nuclear ambitions, Britain and America are to offer him an invitation to play a larger and more influential role in global politics.

I don't have any comments directly on Blair's speech. The Telegraph's view reflects a disappointment with both London's and Washington's retreat into myopic "realist" foreign policy doctrine. My general impression from the text is that Blair has not really said anything new on the Middle East; but his stress on the importance of relations with America is interesting. He's mentioned Russia, China, and the EU in passing, but the stress is on US ties. Clearly a lot of this is directed at the British Left (and perhaps specifically the Mayor of London) but I don't know what the significance of it is in the context of Mideast policy.

My impression from reading the Iranian activist sites is that pro-democracy Iranians view the UK with much greater suspicion than they see the United States. As for what change, if any, is in store for cozy London-Tehran ties, we'll have to wait and see. I'll be watching this closely.

UPDATE: This post by Hashem Hakimi at the Free Iran news forum illustrates exactly what I'm talking about:
The Brits did it at the end!!!??

This was the Brits plan right from the start. To pull the Yanks in & then see to it that they are out with disgrace!? The same old story of special relationship of Brits & the Yanks!!??

Did you learned your lesson!?

INDEPENDENT 14th November 2006.
By Liz Harris

In a major departure from previous foreign policy, Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair urged his so-called “war on terror” ally George Bush last night to engage with Iran and Syria and encourage them to contribute to sorting out the endemic violence in Iraq.

In his annual foreign affairs speech last night at London’s Guildhall, the Prime Minister threw in his lot with the voices of the Iraq Study Group and urged co-operation with Iran and Syria.

The PM is at pains to deny that this is a policy shift. The two countries can either co-operate or face isolation, he told the gathering. ...

Dr. Hakimi's point is that Blair's declaration is indeed no policy shift for London, but rather part of its plan from the beginning - a plan that has little concern for the interests of America or the freedom-loving people of Iran.