Saturday, April 6, 2013

On Iran, 'Obama to continue down the diplomatic & sanctions tracks'

'In Washington’s eyes, the North Korean situation still falls short of becoming a full-blown crisis. Although intelligence community analysts now believe that there is a better than even chance that Pyongyang will launch a missile for test or demonstration purposes, they assess that Kim Jung-un would then have satisfied his saber-rattling purposes and would then step back from the brink. They acknowledge that US intelligence coverage is far from perfect. As such, no assessment can be fully reliable and every forecast contains an explicit caveat that an accident could quickly trigger a real emergency. Nonetheless, the atmosphere in Washington is calm, with little expectation that war is imminent. Diplomatic exchanges with the Chinese military leadership have been generally reassuring, as have talks with the South Koreans. Secretary of State Kerry will visit the region at the end of next week. With regard to Iran, the inconclusive talks in Almaty will once again raise speculation that the window for negotiations is closing. There will certainly be voices making that argument. However, our contacts with the Administration still suggest to us that President Obama will prefer to continue down the diplomatic and sanctions tracks. With elections looming in Iran, the prospects for progress until after the new government emerges in Tehran seem slight. On the Middle East peace process, Kerry’s April 6th-9th trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah represents further effort to follow up on Obama’s visit to Israel. There are few officials in Washington who believe that these efforts amount to more than lip service to the notion of US engagement in the peace process. In parallel with these diplomatic activities, an important debate on defense spending has now begun. Secretary of Defense Hagel is more open to radical rethinking of the size and shape of the US military establishment than either of his two immediate predecessors. With the Republican Party also less instinctively supportive of high defense spending than for a generation, the debate about defense strategy may make real progress.'

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