Friday, April 25, 2008

MEPGS: "...The emphasis on making progress in Iraq is at the expense of flagging US efforts in Lebanon..."

"....The central event will be to participate in Israel's 60th Anniversary party. But the 'Survey' has learned that the President will also take the opportunity to again visit Saudi Arabia, as well as meetings in several other Arab lands [but not, at this point, the West Bank]. Lebanon, too, continues to generate discussion, even controversy,as the political stalemate there shows no signs of easing. And even Libya has popped up again on the Administration's radar as Congressional action threatens to undermine the Administration's one undisputed Middle East success.
"....As one well-placed US official said thisweek, "We are deeply conflicted about what to do about Iran." Congressional testimony last week by General Petreus and Ambassador Crocker emphasized the increasingly aggressive role Iran has played in Iraq. A day later Defense Secretary Gates, as one State Department official put it, "Walked back the impression that we were about to do something rash to counter Iran." Still,some US policy makers are convinced there are no good options for dealing with Iran, unless, as one US official puts it, "We take it to them, instead of always playing defense." This official and as well as his colleagues and veteran observers consider major military moves against Iran highly unlikely, especially in the waning days of this Administration But they do speak of "drawing new red lines" and pushing back harder against Iranians on the ground in Iraq. Some even have again raised the possibility of trying to destabilize the Teheran regime via greater support for opposition groups.
"....On the nuclear front, little seems to be going the Administration's way. United Nations Security Council resolution1803, passed in March, the third since December 2006 appears, like its predecessors to have had little impact on Teheran's continued nuclear program. Hopes that Iran's trading partners, particularly the Europeans, would, in the words of one diplomat "take the vigilance called for in the resolutions and turn it into obligations," has not materialized. On the contrary, within the European Union, dissenters, led by Italy, have stymied unified action. And the recent multi-billion dollar gas deal concluded with Switzerland has further eroded efforts to financially squeeze Iran [US officials are so upset by the Swiss deal that they are looking for a legal mechanism that would allow US interests in Iran, heretofore represented by Switzerland, be switched to Poland].
".....Iran's stepped up activities in Iraq come against a backdrop of the Maliki government's attempts to extend its authority. Byc onfronting hard line cleric Muktada al-Sadr and his militia, Maliki precipitated a fight that has US officials still debating who came out on top. Some analysts note, that while Muktada waited out developments safely in Iran, his forces performed well, those rogue elements who have opposed him became "fairgame" for US and Iraqi forces and finally when it came time to show the Iraqi people that enough bloodshed had been spilled, he had the power to impose a cease fire.
"....Some US officials take a more upbeat assessment of this struggle. They see Maliki finally acting as an Iraqi leader, not merely as a Shia -- something crucial to US efforts to attract Sunni insurgents. And this comes at a time when the Sunni tribes have clearly gained the upper hand over Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Moreover, US officials emphasize that progress is being made in legislation that addresses central concerns such as oil revenue and provincial voting. "It's no wonder Iran is upping the ante," says one State Department official. "They don't like the way things are going."
".....Some analysts argue that the emphasis on making progress in Iraq is coming at the expense or at least with the realization that US efforts in Lebanon have begun to flag. Administration officials continue to go out of their way to show support for the Siniora government. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch was in Beirut doing just that last week and in previous weeks the Administration has opened its doors to a wide range of pro-Siniora politicians, including the former Christian militia leader Samir Geagea (who, despite his somewhat unsavory reputation was quite effective in his presentations, including a meeting with Secretary of State Rice). And the Administration still has high hopes for the International Tribunal that will look into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
"....However, US officials admit that a certain distance has emerged between the US and France, its primary partner in Lebanon policy. Lacking the personal link that former French President Chirac had with Lebanon in general and Hariri in particular, policy in Paris has begun to steer a somewhat different course. "They (the French) are not nearly as quick to voice support for the government, preferring instead to see a certain equivalence between the Government and the Opposition," says one State Department official. At the same time, there are signs that the Saudis, who have acted uncharacteristically tough towards Syria for its assumed role in the Hariri assassination and backing for Hezbollah and the Shias over a Sunni-led government, are having second thoughts. The former Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki al-Feisal, told US officials recently that his government has run out of ways to influence Syrian behavior [One diplomat observed wryly that the Saudis should try speaking Turkish - a reference to the ability of the Ankara government to get its way with Syria -- given its willingness to threaten to use force or divert water sources Syria depends upon].
".....When President Bush visits Saudi Arabia, there is one item certain to be missing from his briefing book -- selling nuclear energy. Administration insiders say the President was miffed at being reduced on his last trip to what one official called a "salesman" on behalf of the US nuclear industry. The President had been enlisted by US officials eager to court Gulf states looking to buy nuclear power plants and are in competition with France, whose President Sarkozy, like his predecessors, is shameless in promoting French industry on any foreign trip. The kind of nuclear success the White House is looking for is the one achieved with Libya when the Qadaffi regime "came clean" about its nuclear program. But since then, the Administration's attempts to reward Tripoli have been stymied by Congressional efforts to insure that families of victims of Libyan sponsored terrorism are fully compensated for theirlosses. Now the Administration is hard at work trying to reach a "global settlement" which would satisfy all outstanding claims and allow Libya to be taken off the official terrorism list. "It is important that countries know that reform is possible and once guilty is not always guilty," says one State Department official.

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