Friday, January 30, 2009

Obama's Diplomacy Receives Chilly Reception in Tehran

Kenneth R. Timmerman

State Department officials have been drafting a presidential letter to be sent to the Supreme Leader of Iran, offering significant U.S. concessions to the Iranian leadership, the Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday.

One draft of the letter reportedly includes assurances that the United States does not want to overthrow the Islamic regime, and will not support opposition groups operating in the border regions with Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and Iraq. But among Iran’s power elite, the make-nice diplomacy has been given a chilly reception.

Speaking to supporters in western Kermanshah province on Wednesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cautiously welcomed Obama’s offer to “change” the dynamic of U.S-Iranian relations, then put a price on the type of “change” he expects from Washington that undoubtedly even the Obama White House would find unacceptable.

[...] “U.S. Democratic administrations always chose the wrong allies,” oppositive activist, Roozbeh Farahanipour, told Newsmax. “Instead of choosing the Iranian people, they chose a fundamentalist terrorist government to be their ally. That’s not a good strategy.”

Calling Obama’s rhetoric “good words,” he warned that the U.S. could offer “fundamental change,” including a “reorientation” of its policies toward Iran and the Middle East, or merely a “tactical” change in approach.

A tactical change in the language the United States government uses toward Iran, such as abandoning the Bush administration’s epithet “axis of evil” when referring to the Iranian regime, was mere “political rhetoric and tricks,” he said.

But Iran would welcome fundamental change, Ahmadinejad said. "The U.S. government must end its military presence in the world, which means the U.S. getting all their troops together and bringing them back to the U.S. to serve America within the territorial boundaries of the country.”

Fundamental change also would mean that the United States “should stop narcotics production in Afghanistan,” and “not intervene in internal affairs of other nations,” he said.

Ahmadinejad also demanded that the United States cut off support for Israel, “these rootless, uncultured, illegal, phony, murderous, killers of women of children, killers of babies, the Zionists.”

Finally, he demanded that the United States “apologize to the Iranian nation and compensate [it] for their crimes against the Iranians.”

In neither the Persian-language version of his speech, translated by the American Enterprise Institute’s Iran News Roundup, nor the shorter, English version provided by the official Fars News Agency, did Ahmadinejad specify what “crimes against the Iranian nation” the United States had committed.

Ahmadinejad’s comments drew a mild response from acting State Department spokesman, Robert Wood. “Our Iran policy is under review,” Wood told reporters on Wednesday.

“I think what we want to see is improved behavior on the part of Iran internationally. We’re certainly interested in having a dialogue with the Iranian people . . . But there are certain things that Iran knows it needs to do if it wants to get back into the good graces of the international community, particularly with regard to its nuclear program, in terms of its activities in supporting terror in the Middle East region. So Iran needs to take a number of steps before the international community is going to welcome it back into its good graces,” he said.

Further complicating any effort by the new U.S. administration to reach out to Iran was the flat-out rejection of any talk of improved relations by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the powerful secretary general of the Guardian Council.

“I warn those despised and marginalized groupings who are engaged in establishing relations with America and show the American President a green light, I warn them not to make themselves worse than they are,” he said on Wednesday.

“In our country, America has no share. Power and dignity solely belongs to the people, and those who desire relations with America, meetings with America and showing the green light to the U.S. president, only give us trouble and headache,” Jannati said.

Jannati’s radical Islamist faction backed Ahmadinejad in the 2005 elections and is likely to back him when he runs for re-election this May.

Reaching out to the Tehran regime has been made more complicated in recent weeks by the blatant support of Iran for Hamas in its terror war against Israel.

Israel has accused Iran of helping Hamas to smuggle thousands of rockets into Gaza through tunnels beneath the Egyptian border, which Hamas has been lobbing at Israeli towns and cities.

The United States signed a protocol with Israel on Jan. 16, in one of the last official acts of the Bush administration, pledging to help Israel crack down on the weapons smuggling through the Gaza tunnels.

The protocol calls for “an international response to those states, such as Iran, who are determined to be sources of weapons and explosives supply to Gaza,” according to a copy the Israeli Foreign Ministry made available.

Israel Defense Force spokesmen have shown reporters 122 mm rockets supplied by Iran and Syria that they confiscated in Gaza, similar to the Iranian-supplied rockets that Hezbollah fired into northern Israel in the summer of 2006.

Recently, the Israelis say that Iran has supplied Hamas with extended-range GRAD rockets that can reach targets 40 kilometers away, bringing the Israeli cities deep in the Negev desert and along the densely populated Mediterranean Sea coast into range for the first time.

During the fighting this month, Iranian-supplied rockets hit the Israeli cities of Be’er Sheva, Ashdod, and Ashkelon, which previously had been out of range.

Smugglers bring in the rockets in kits through the tunnels into Gaza, where Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps weapons specialists supervise small Hamas workshops to assemble them locally.

The IDF also succeeded in destroying the so-called “Iranian unit” of Hamas, sources in Gaza said during the fighting.

Around one hundred members of this special unit, trained by Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers at Hezbollah camps in Lebanon were killed during fighting in the Zeytun neighborhood of Gaza City, the sources acknowledged.

Iran’s blatant support for Hamas during the recent fighting “significantly complicated” efforts by the Obama administration to launch a successful diplomatic initiative with Iran, says John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Direct U.S.-Iranian negotiations will not change the fundamental policy equation, or the reality that there are no incentives that will dissuade Iran from trying to acquiring nuclear weapons,” Bolton believes.

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