Thursday, January 21, 2010

US Officials: "toppling of Ahmadinejad & Khameini would only lead to the immediate empowerment of the IRGC ..."

MEPGS: Excerpts:
According to Administration officials, the US has "made the pivot" on its policy towards Iran and will no longer pursue a serious "outreach" towards the government in Tehran.
"While we will keep open `engagement' in some sense, it is no longer being thought of as a viable option," said one well-placed State Department official this week. Instead, the Administration is going full speed ahead with efforts to implement economic sanctions against Iran.
While Undersecretary of State William Burns and Undersecretary of Treasury Stuart Levy (both Bush Administration holdovers) have been the most active in working with their counterparts among US friends and allies (as well as China and Russia), other US officials, including President Obama are now more deeply involved. What US officials are seeking first is a United Nations Security Council resolution which, in one official's words, would serve as a "coat hanger" for other
efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program. The Russians are said to be particularly insistent that the UN resolution preceed these other efforts.
However, given the length of time it took to agree upon what turned out to be rather ineffective prior UN resolutions, the Administration is not inclined to wait
very long before pressing for sanctions from what are called other "like-minded" countries. Moreover, it is not known at this point whether China will agree to any resolution [marking the first time it has stood alone --without Russian backing -- on any issue other than Taiwan]. If there is a resolution, US officials say it will be aimed at sanctioning Iran's Revolutionary Guards. But even here, there is wariness about how far even the US should go. The Guards [or "IRGC" as they are commonly referred to] have become deeply involved in a wide range of economic activities, including telecommunications. So, US officials reason, targeting them could have an adverse impact on the general population in Iran.
This question raises another issue of debate both within the Administration and among its allies. Some, including the French (who are considered among the toughest when it comes to sanctioning Iran], say no matter what sanctions are imposed, the Iranian public will blame, not the outside world, but its own "discredited" leadership. Says one European diplomat, "Since the June elections, the government has so alienated the public that no amount of economic sanctions would have the effect of uniting the people behind it." Another veteran diplomat suggests that strong sanctions, including even military action could lead to the toppling of the regime.
US officials strongly disagree with this analysis. They say the weight of the evidence they have seen suggests caution when implementing sanctions. They also argue that a toppling of President Ahmadinejad and Ayotollah Khameini would only lead to the immediate empowerment of the IRGC [Something they admit may well be occurring slowly, anyway]. Says one key State Department official, "The `best case scenario' of regime replacement will not improve the situation with regard to the nuclear issue." As evidence of this view, he points to politically embattled Ahmadinejad's reluctance to compromise with the outside world on the issue of Iran's nuclear program. "If seeking international support would make him popular at home, he would have embraced it by now," argues this official.
While the problem of handling Iran looms larger, Iraq has noticeably diminished as an issue for many officials not directly involved in the execution of policy there. And even these officials note that in December for only the second time since the war began, there were no US casualties. This latest piece of evidence has reinforced the view, expressed more often now -- if only in private -- that the insurgency is effectively over. US officials say while Baghdad remains a target and Mosul continues to be a problem, the rest of the country is settling down. "Even in a contentious place like Kirkuk, the folks on the ground are working out a modus vivendi," says one State Department official.

US experts note that what they call the "terrorists" are so short of funds that they have begun to link up with purely criminal elements. This, in turn, has further undermined their credibility among the populace, leading to an increased willingness of the average Iraqi to cooperate with security forces. "The terrorists are also easier to penetrate because their new allies are a lot sloppier in their operating methods," notes one US expert.
Still, Administration officials are concerned that the Parliamentary elections lead to a credible government. Outside investors crave predictability, notes one Iraq watcher and until the post-election bargaining is completed (optimistically by May] no one will know who controls key ministries. Ironically, US companies have been lagging in efforts to take advantage of the improved security climate in Iraq. One reason say Administration experts: As Americans they know they are primary targets for the terrorists. However, they expect US companies to adjust, using foreign subsidiaries to facilitate their entry into Iraq.
Some US companies are also beginning to look at investment in Syria. Once again to the chagrin, if not the surprise of US officials, the Baathist regime in Damascus has, in the words of one State Department veteran "...been successful in hunkering down and weathering the storm." The announcement of the appointment of a new US Ambassador is expected any day now [Final approval awaits an OK from the White House]. Saad Hariri, the son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who most assume was assassinated by the Syrians, has made what one State Department veteran calls "his pilgrimage to Damascus to kiss the ring" [of President Bashar al-Assad]. With the Saudis wooing Assad, Syrian rehabilitation is nearly complete, says US analysts.
Even US Special Envoy, George Mitchell, is about to make a stop in Damascus on his latest Middle East foray. Although he also visits Beirut ["You can never too often show the Lebanese how much you love them," notes one State Department official wryly], the main objective continues to be his pursuit of progress in restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
These talks have been stalled, say US officials, on account of the unwillingness of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to reenter talks until Israel agrees to a complete settlement freeze, including new construction in Jerusalem. Even US officials sympathetic to Abbas' political difficulties say he is being unwise not to consider other ways around this obstacle. "His preconditions are unreasonable," says one US official who knows and likes the Palestinian leader. "He is making the Israelis look good." For their part, the Israelis, particularly Prime Minister Netanyahu, have been willing to talk at length with Administration officials about various ways to break the deadlock. This has most recently been the case, say Administration insiders, during the recent visit there by National Security Advisor Jones, who was accompanied by long time Arab-Israeli negotiator, Dennis Ross.[]

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