WEEKEND READ: The deafening silence on Iran

The Bush administration's silence on Iran is enormously significant and hints more at deal-making than imminent hostilities.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visiting Libya, said that Iran and North Korea should emulate Libya’s example. What she meant by that was, like Libya, they should reach an accommodation with the United States while abandoning policies that the United States opposes.

That seems like a fairly uninteresting statement, except for the fact that Iran was mentioned. We have heard nothing from the Bush administration on Iran since before the war in Georgia – although a State Department official told us on September 4 that the last official statement was issued by the US Treasury on August 12. Certainly, the constant barrage of comments by the Bush administration on the Iranian threat has decreased dramatically. Frankly, while there might have been passing mentions, the administration appears to have simply dropped the subject.

The silence is, of course, enormously significant.

Prior to August 8, the focus of the United States was on Iran. The United States was warning Iran that the deadline for delivering an answer on freezing nuclear development had passed, and the United States was now going to ask its partners in dealing with Iran – the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – to impose sanctions. Obviously, Russia was part of that group and, equally obviously, it was in no mood to work with the United States on placing sanctions. The Russians have said that they do not see sanctions in general as a desirable strategy. With the Russians out of the picture, the sanctions won’t work anyway. You can’t have a dam with a section missing.

That made the negotiations and the sanctions strategy moot. What strikes us as extraordinary is that the Bush administration has not returned to discussing Iran and outlining a new strategy or making new threats. The administration simply has acted as if a major confrontation with Iran had not been under way just prior to the Russo-Georgian war and, indeed, has acted as if Iran was not a major issue, which it obviously was and continues to be. The American media have not been particularly aggressive in demanding that the administration explain the relative silence on Iran, and the administration has not raised it.

All this becomes more interesting with confirmation that an anti-Iranian group – Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MeK) – had been ordered by the Iraqi government to leave Iraq, amid accusations that it had been involved with al Qaeda. The MeK has been a major issue between Iran and the United States. The Iranian position has been that while the Americans demand that Iran pull its support for Hezbollah, the United States is itself supporting an anti-Iranian terrorist group. The reports appear to be true, since supporters of the MeK demonstrated in the United States today protesting the expulsion from Iraq.

It is unlikely that the Iraqis decided to do this unilaterally. The United States had to have supported this. It is understandable why the United States would not want its fingerprints on this, since the MeK has been a longtime ally, and this change of policy would leave other longtime allies nervous. Still, it is happening. And that means that the Americans have given in to a long-standing demand of the Iranians.

There are rumours that the United States and Iran have signed a document concerning the MeK – which is something we find hard to believe, and the sources aren’t great. There is also a report from a pretty good Stratfor source who is in a position to know that a meeting is scheduled between US Vice President Dick Cheney and unnamed Iranian officials at Italy’s Lake Como later this week. We are not saying that we know that a meeting is taking place; we are saying only that we have received rumours about this meeting. But there are many such rumours in the region at the moment. It should be noted that there are such rumours whenever a senior American and Iranian official are within 50 miles of each other.

Given that, we still note three things.

First, the United States has gone silent on Iran for the first time in a very long time.

Second, the United States engineered or did not prevent the expulsion of the MeK from Iraq – which is a substantial concession to Iran.

Third, unlike Syria, Iranian leaders have not gone to Moscow since the end of the war with Georgia and have been fairly subdued on the matter.

One geopolitical option now is a deal with Iran. We do not know whether one is in the works, but we know this: the rhetoric from Washington on Iran has quieted since the Russo-Georgian war and has stayed quiet. And the United States has made a major concession to Iran this week.

The media have lost interest in Iran, but it is hard to believe the Bush administration has.

Yet the rhetoric has shifted. We do not think the United States is on the brink of attacking Iran. If the Americans were planning an attack on Iran, the last thing they would do is pull the MeK back. So something is up.

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