The US and Iran got to talking about the crisis in Iraq yesterday. The Guardian notes was “the first time the two nations have collaborated over a common security interest in more than a decade”:
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, pointedly declined to rule out military cooperation in an interview with Yahoo News, but US and Iranian officials later stressed that there was no prospect of military cooperation, and none was discussed in Vienna, where the talks were described as short and inconclusive.
“We are open to engaging the Iranians,” said a senior State Department official, who characterised the discussions as brief. “These engagements will not include military coordination or strategic determinations about Iraq’s future over the heads of the Iraqi people,” the US official said, on condition of anonymity. The Iranians confirmed that military cooperation was not on the cards. “The disastrous situation in Iraq was discussed today. No specific outcome was achieved,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters.
The UK, meanwhile, is reopening its embassy in Tehran. Calling Iran “the most stable country in the Middle East right now,” Trita Parsi scrutinizes why cooperation with the US is a good move for the Islamic Republic:
Iran … will pay a price if it clings to an outdated understanding of the regional and global strategic landscape. Contradictory messages have come out of Tehran, with officials telling Reuters that they are open to collaboration with the United States against ISIS, and then having their Foreign Ministry spokesperson strongly oppose U.S. military intervention. Similarly, the U.S. position seems to be shifting, from first denying any plans for talking to Iran about Iraq to signaling a desire to sit down with Tehran.
Iran’s key objective is to be recognized as a stabilizing force. But that is a role it ultimately cannot play if it simultaneously wishes to challenge the United States. Unlike in Afghanistan, any cooperation in Iraq will likely be more public. If Iran plays a constructive role, the world will notice. But changing old patterns require courage, strength, and political will. It remains to be seen if the leadership in Tehran can deliver those — or if Washington will be receptive.
My own preference would be for very light coordination with the Iranians if they are really the only force capable of halting ISIS’s advance on Baghdad, and no US troops anywhere, but for defending key US assets like the embassy.
The neocons will howl as their botched war further empowers their arch-enemy in Tehran – see this classic know-nothing-learn-nothing piece from the Greater Israel fanatic, Elliot Abrams – but I tend to agree with Allahpundit. A shrewd strategy
to “blunt Iran’s rise in the region” would be to force them to fight a two-front war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq without western help, not to start bombing their enemies while sternly warning them not to capitalize once we’re gone.
Then there’s how all of this impacts the delicate negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program – now significantly weakened undr the provisions of the interim agreement. Could mild cooperation in Iraq facilitate a resolution? Again, the neocons are quick to state the opposite. Jonathan Tobin claims that Iran’s negotiating power over the US and Europe at the P5+1 just increased exponentially:
The administration’s zeal for a deal that would end the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been no secret since it concluded an interim pact last November that tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and started the unraveling of the economic sanctions that had taken years to enact and enforce. The Iraqi crisis not only strengthens Tehran’s already strong bargaining position in the continuing P5+1 talks; it also gives President Obama one more reason to seek to appease Iran rather than pressure it to make concessions on outstanding issues such as its ballistic missile program or its nuclear military research.
The talks, I presume, will stick to their original agenda, and not include the entire neocon wish-list (which is really a poison pill for any rapprochement). A good omen – and Jennifer Rubin is hyperventilating:
It seems the president will do anything to avoid using U.S. power in the region, even if it means accelerating Iran’s influence in Iraq. Imagine the reaction of our allies in Egypt, Sunni Gulf states and Israel when we let on that we are going to be assisting Iran’s hegemonic vision and thereby bolstering the state sponsor of groups including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. In lieu of strengthening U.S. influence in the Middle East, Obama seems ready to bolster Iran’s. And if he is bent on this course, surely he’ll not challenge Iran and its puppet in Syria. Why, that might “upset” Iran and either wreck a nuclear deal or force Obama to handle Iraq on his own.
But Paul Pillar sticks up for cooperation, calling the ISIS surge “one of the most salient and clearest examples in which U.S. and Iranian interests are congruent”:
There is right now an excellent opportunity for useful coordination between Washington and Tehran regarding messages to be sent to, and pressure to be exerted on, Prime Minister Maliki. If both the United States and Iran—the two foreign states on which Maliki’s future most depends—tell him the same thing about the need to move beyond his destructively narrow ways of governing, such pressure might begin to have a beneficial effect. Although the Iranians have been happy to see the Shia majority in Iraq finally get out from under Sunni political domination, they also are smart enough to realize that Maliki’s performance is more a prescription for unending instability and Sunni radicalism, which neither the Iranians nor we want.
The United States and Iran have wisely been concentrating over the past year on the nuclear issue, so as not to complicate the negotiations with a premature broadening of the bilateral agenda. The ISIS offensive may be a reason to move up the broadening a bit.
But maybe we’re not the ones who ought to be talking to Iran. “The real fault,” Bilal Y. Saab writes, “should be assigned to those actors who, despite having tremendous influence and real leverage over the majority of the Iraqi antagonists, have so far decided not to intervene politically. That’s Iran and Saudi Arabia”:
A dialogue between the Iranians and the Saudis is desperately needed not just to stop Iraq’s bleeding and prevent another full-blown civil war, but to extinguish at least the major Sunni-Shi’ite fires throughout the Middle East that are fueling this violence and chaos.
This is not a naive call for putting an end to an old and fierce rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran and to an historic feud between the two biggest branches of Islam. That’s just not going to happen. Instead, this is a realistic invitation for two regional heavyweights who, for better or worse, speak for the majority of Sunnis and Shi’ites in the Middle East, to negotiate a path out of this catastrophic situation. Call it arms control, dialogue, or cooperation. The bottom line is that they need to sit down and talk about ways to manage or stabilize their regional competition by agreeing to hard rules that would benefit both, otherwise Arab League chief Amr Moussa’s nightmare scenario of the gates of hell opening in the Middle East will turn into a reality.