Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Update: Iran/US talks on Iraq called off

It is pretty much under the radar, but the planned Iran/US talks scheduled for next week have been called off indefinately.

Had talks taken place, this would have been the first meaningful diplomatic encounter between the US and the Islamic Republic in 25 years.

US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad merely said: “We do not want to give the impression that the United States is sitting with Iran to decide about the Iraqi government. The Iraqis will decide that.”

Of course, the reason that an Iraqi government is nowhere in sight 4 months after the election is that Shiite prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari refuses to step down..and he's unacceptable to the Kurds and Sunnis, because of his close ties with Iran.

And Iran has thrown its support behind Jaafari,backed up by the muscle of the Iranian trained and equipped Mehdi Army, led by Moqata al-Sadr.

Aparently Iran confronted the Americans with an earlier surprise at the last minute, a demand to expand the agenda for the talks to include a `mutually acceptable' nominee for Iraqi Prime Minister!

This was a major departure from the agenda of the proposed talks laid down for the by President Bush and Ambassador Khalilzad. It was designed to give Iran equal say in the government in Iraq, to keep Iran's interests and proxies in the forefront and to create asituation where nothing could be settled in Iraq without Tehran's OK.

This was a challenge to the Bush administration to swallow a new reality – behind the scenes if not publicly - that Iran’s influence in Iraq was the same or greater than that of America’s military and political leadership, based on Iran's political and intelligence penetration of Iraq.

This first came up at the preliminary conversations between Iran and the US that were held near Zurich near the end of March. After this, only two options remained for the US: to break off the talks or keep them going on Tehran’s terms.

On April 2, the US tried to finesse this by sending Condi Rice and British foreign secretary Jack Straw in a the surprise joint trip to Baghdad. But Jaafari hung tough,backed up by Iran and again refused to step down. He described the two officials’ visit as ill-timed, counter-productive and “naked intervention.”

So the stalemate remains, an Iraqi government - the first step involved for a US troop withdrawal- still has no chance of being formed, and any negotiations between Iran and the US are off the table for the forseeable future.

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