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Has US-Iran conversation begun already?

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | July 29, 2018

About 4 months ago, when Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif travelled to Muscat to meet his Omani counterpart Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, I had written that something important might be brewing, since Oman was after all the intermediary that Barack Obama thoughtfully handpicked for opening a line to Tehran.

Oman handled the job with such rare aplomb that a couple of years later, later when US-Iran direct negotiations became public knowledge, the Saudis got furious with Muscat for keeping them in the dark. Oman is actually a very sophisticated practitioner of diplomacy, unlike the pompous petrodollar Gulf states that are so full of themselves, and has an independent foreign policy, although a close ally of the US.)

At any rate, news has just appeared that Alawi has paid a visit to the US where amongst others he met US Defence Secretary James Mattis. To my mind, all this probably began when Mattis visited Oman in March (in the backdrop of President Trump’s impending announcement on the US walkout from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.)

Thus, while the back-and-forth flow of rhetoric between Washington and Tehran in the recent weeks might have conveyed a sense of imminent confrontation, the reality could be very different. Indeed, when it comes to US-Iran tango, rhetoric can be deceptive – like cats in heat making strange growl.

It couldn’t have been coincidental that over the weekend, following the talks with the visiting Omani minister, Mattis made two very significant remarks regarding Iran during a Pentagon briefing for the media. In the first remark, Mattis said that beyond the stated agenda of curbing Iran’s “threatening behavior” in the Middle East, Washington is not seeking regime change in Tehran. He was specific: “We need them to change their behavior on a number of threats that they can pose with their military, with their secret services, with their surrogates and with their proxies.”

In the second remark, Mattis took on frontally any talk of the US preparing for a military strike against Iran. Pegging his remark on an Australian news report, Mattis said, “I have no idea where the Australian news people got that information. I’m confident that it’s not something that’s being considered right now, and I think it’s a complete, frankly, it’s fiction.”

Taken together, what Mattis said significantly waters down Trump’s recent threatening tweet where he challenged Iranian President Hassan Rouhani by name. Trump tweeted:

  • To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!

But then, arguably, Rouhani’s earlier remark itself was misunderstood. Rouhani had said, “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.” To my mind, Rouhani probably made an overture to Washington to the effect that making nice is still viable and a ‘win-win’ proposition.

Of course, Trump himself made amends the very next day, adjusting his rhetoric and suggesting that Washington is ready to go back to the negotiating table with Tehran for a new nuclear deal. Trump told a convention in Kansas City, “I withdrew the United States from the horrible one-sided Iran nuclear deal, and Iran is not the same country anymore. We’re ready to make a deal.”

Much will depend now on whether Allawi carried back from Washington some ‘talking points’ for transmission to Tehran.

July 30, 2018 - Posted by | Wars for Israel | , ,

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