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Wikileaks Reveals Treacherous Terrain for Iran Policy

Leaked diplomatic cables reveal hazardous playing field for U.S. policy towards Iran and other regional actors.

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Inter Press Service

The leaked reports sent by U.S. officials abroad to Washington reveal a treacherous playing field for the United States in the Middle East.

While the some of the 219 diplomatic cables publicly released to date – of a reported 251,000 obtained by Wikileaks, an independent international organisation that facilitates leaks and makes documents public – cover a range of countries and issues, a major theme of particular interest to U.S. media was the support by some Arab leaders for a U.S. attack on Iran.

For U.S. President Barack Obama, the now-revealed symphony of war cries could pose challenges to his stated policies toward Iran, which so far have focused on averting a war over Iran's nuclear programme by attempting to engage Tehran at the negotiating table while simultaneously pressuring the Islamic Republic with unilateral and multilateral diplomatic and economic sanctions.

The U.S., along with the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, will meet with a senior Iranian diplomat for the first time in more than a year next week in Geneva, it was announced Monday.

The cables, drawn from diplomatic meetings in the region between 2006 and early 2010, recorded comments hostile to Iran by high-ranking Arab officials from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Yemen.

In 2009, for instance, Mohammed bin Zayed, a crown prince of UAE's Abu Dhabi, called Iranian President Ahmadinejad "Hitler" and warned against "appeasement", the latter in the words of the U.S. note-taker.

Separately, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. reportedly "recalled the King's frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons program" in an Apr. 17, 2008 meeting with U.S. diplomats.

"He told you to cut off the head of the snake," Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir told U.S. diplomats, according to a cable sent to the State Department three days later.

Neo-conservatives and other war hawks, including those in power in Israel, have responded to those comments with barely concealed glee.

"[T]he most interesting thing to come from the latest WikiLeaks round is Arab world leaders' being forced to come out of the diplomatic closet and declare Iran's regime the number one enemy in the Middle East," wrote Benjamin Weinthal, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, on the website of the National Review.

"In the Israeli media, defense analysts are concluding that the leaked comments vindicate Israel's longstanding position on the need for swift and powerful action against Iran's out-of-control regime," Weinthal continued.

"The corollary to this is that Arab leaders very generally will not speak to Americans – though they will speak to others – about their fear of Israel," Chas Freeman, a former diplomat who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told IPS. "So the fact that Israel doesn't feature in these conversations says nothing other than the Arabs are tactfully obsequious."

Jennifer Rubin of Commentary magazine used a quip from bin Zayed to declare that "linkage" – the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process helps U.S. interests in the Middle East – was "nonsense". She said the peace process was a "distraction" and that "Obama frittered away two years that could have been spent cementing an Israeli-Arab alliance against Tehran."

The pressure to attack Iran from Israeli and U.S. hawks and now, publicly for the first time, Arab officials will force Obama to make "some tough decisions" in "a region on the verge of a major war", National Iranian American Council (NIAC) president Trita Parsi, currently a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center here, wrote in an e-mail to Politico's Laura Rozen.

"The cables reveal that even though Obama came in with a strong vision for engagement, that vision has since inauguration day 2009 been compromised for several reasons, including opposition from some Arab states, France and Israel as well as the actions of Tehran," wrote Parsi. "The choice now is between trying diplomacy in earnest or prepare for the confrontation that inevitably will come if the current trajectory of tensions prevail."

Gary Sick, an Iran expert and Columbia University professor who served on the National Security Council for three presidents, expanded on a separate point by Parsi, writing on his blog that the Obama administration created a self- fulfilling prophecy by telling allies early on that negotiations with Iran would falter.

"The U.S. undertook its engagement strategy with Iran with the clear conviction that it would fail," wrote Sick. "At the same time, it was preparing (and disseminating in private) an alternative pressure strategy. This is the most serious indictment of all."

"Iran could hardly have been unaware of all this, so the chance that they would respond favorably – even before the contested election in June 2009 and the brutal crackdown that followed – was essentially zero," he continued. "The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Obama was never sincere about his engagement strategy. It has yet to be tried."

But Freeman, the former U.S. diplomat, thought that the lessons and effects of the Wikileaks document dump were not as significant and represented normal diplomatic dialogue.

"It's never been a secret that the Gulf Arabs are deeply concerned by Iran's growth in power and influence in the region, much of which was made possible by various U.S. policies (in Iraq, Syria, the occupied territories, and Lebanon)," he told IPS.

"But I think it's easy to misread these expressions. If you say 'cut off the head of the snake,' or if you say 'not dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue is more dangerous than dealing with it,' what you're saying, in my experience with rulers in the Gulf, is that you look to the U.S. to solve problems that you have no idea how to deal with but which bother you," Freeman said.

"Does that mean that you're endorsing military strikes? Despite the vivid language, I'd say it doesn't. What is says is there's a problem and we look to you (as a superpower) to handle it," he said.

Ali Gharib writes for Inter Press Service and Jim Lobe is the bureau chief of the Inter Press Service. Both are contributors to IPS Right Web (http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/) and blog at http://www.lobelog.com.

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