Tehran Postpones Fourth Round of U.S.-Iran Talks

Fox News, February 19, 2008

The fourth round of U.S.-Iran talks over Iraq’s security, originally scheduled to take place in December of last year in Baghdad, was again postponed by Tehran for “technical” reasons. Let’s not forget that the U.S. embassy in Baghdad has on numerous times expressed the complete readiness of the American side for these talks. Are ayatollahs in Tehran playing hard-to-get with Washington?

Speculations on reasons behind Tehran’s reluctance abound. Some Iraqi officials have blamed the release of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program for the postponements saying the report has emboldened Tehran by taking the pressure off ayatollahs’ backs. Still, there are others who suggest that Tehran will wait until after Ahmadinejad completes his visit to Iraq scheduled for March 2, to resume the talks.

Some argue that intense political maneuvering in Iran, weeks before the key parliamentary elections is the main culprit. In recent weeks, mullah’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i, has been making rounds around the country making negotiations with the “Great Satan,” a central election issue and a litmus test of loyalty to the “principals of revolution.” It would be only logical to conclude that Khamene’i, siding with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, could ill afford to give the go-ahead for talks with Washington when he has made it a huge political taboo at home.

Regardless of reasons behind Tehran’s cancellation of the talks, one basic fact should be fully understood when it comes to the issue of negotiations with Tehran: Ayatollahs have no intention of improving security in Iraq and ending their nefarious meddling there. Indeed, after three rounds of Washington-Tehran talks, not only the regime has not scaled down any aspect of its meddling, it has intensified its political, intelligence, terrorist, and propaganda campaign in Iraq. Given Tehran’s massive investment in Iraq to date, the probability that it could be negotiated to give up its network in Iraq and decommission its Qods Force is next to zero.

The destruction that Tehran has been able to level at Iraq reveals the depth of ayatollahs’ commitment in destabilizing their neighbor to the west. According to my sources, Tehran is spending at least $70 million per month arming, training, and funding Iraqi militias fomenting sectarian violence and attacking coalition troops.

The fact is that the two sides come to the table with a diametrically opposing set of goals. Tehran seeks to escalate violence and further subvert the country while Washington intends to reduce tension and stabilize the nation. One seeks to establish a theocratic state modeled after its own, and the other a secular Iraq.

Tehran’s multi-pronged campaign in Iraq has two primary objectives; both having to do with its survival. Ayatollahs’ first objective is the expulsion out of Iraq of Iran’s main opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, whose members reside in Ashraf City, 60 miles north of Baghdad in the Diyala Province. Tehran correctly believes that the 3,800 members of the anti-fundamentalist Muslim MEK have played a significant role in unifying the democratic and secular voices of Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis against its influence in Iraq. The clerical regime therefore views the MEK as the biggest obstacle to fulfilling its ambition of establishing a sister Islamic republic in Iraq.

The MEK has been instrumental in exposing the Qods Force’s clandestine terror network in Iraq. The group’s members in Ashraf City, Iraq are now protected by the United States military as “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Administration officials and U.S. military commanders in Iraq have acknowledged that the MEK has been the most helpful on neutralizing Tehran’s covert mission in Iraq. Many moderate Iraqi politicians, including some key members of the Iraqi Parliament, believe that the MEK in Ashraf City is an unrivaled catalyst for conflict resolution and stability in Iraq.

Equally important, Iran’s other objective is to force the U.S. military out of Iraq and the creation of a huge political and security vacuum there which is essential for the success of Iran’s ultimate goal of establishing a clients state in Iraq.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury addressed Tehran’s agenda in a statement following the blacklisting of three Tehran-backed persons and entities for fomenting terror and murdering American and coalition forces in Iraq. The Treasury’s January 9 statement declared that to advance its strategic interests, the regime in Tehran uses the Qods Force as its “primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists and Islamic militants.”

It added that Iran-sponsored terror networks in Iraq have been created for not only affecting “the Iraqi political process in Iran’s favor,” but “to fight U.S. forces” and eliminating “Iraqi politicians opposed to Iran’s influence.” The statement explained that “In an effort to cause instability in Iraq,” Iran-backed terrorist networks “were actively targeting Iraqi government officials, Sunni community leaders, and anyone who cooperated with Coalition Forces.”

And last week, David Satterfield, the U.S. State Department’s Iraq coordinator, told reporters that “We see an Iran intent on continuing to promote violence within Iraq, which is directly contradictory to Iran’s public pledge of support for a stable, peaceful, sovereign Iraq.” He added that “We very much believe that Iran wishes to see the forced departure of foreign forces, particularly U.S. forces, from Iraq in the most humiliating and devastating manner possible.”

Against this backdrop, it would be highly naïve, if not unforgivably reckless, to entertain the notion that ayatollahs would ever show good will and genuinely cooperate for Iraq’s security. Negotiations, while essential for resolving conflicts diplomatically, in Tehran’s case have a proven record of failure. They have emboldened the ayatollahs and afforded them time and diplomatic cover to advance their sinister agenda. Every inch that the U.S. concedes is interpreted in Tehran as a sign of weakness which in turn invites more terrorism and sectarian violence.

Iraq will be secure and stable when Iran’s influence is cut off. To accomplish that, the United States should be ready to take drastic measures. It can start by stepping up the arrest of the regime’s agents in Iraq; cutting off smuggling routes for weapons, explosives and agents; disarming the Shiite militias; and purging the Iraqi government of Tehran’s proxies — essentially dismantling Iran’s network in Iraq. This must be coupled with empowering the moderate voices among the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.