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ARAB-US RELATIONS - May 27 - US Fails To Toe Tough Bush Line On Mideast.

The US has followed up President George W. Bush's warning this month about the risks of appeasement in an unusual way. Washington has welcomed negotiations with some of the Middle Eastern actors the Bush administration most distrusts. Last week, days after Bush attacked the idea of negotiations with "terrorists and radicals" such as Hizbullah and Hamas, the US found itself congratulating the Lebanese government for a deal with Hizbullah and giving a guarded welcome to indirect talks between Israel and Syria, a state that supports both Hizbullah and Hamas. In his speech to the Israeli Knesset, Bush had appeared to compare proponents of negotiations with leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran's president, to the champions of appeasement with Nazi Germany. But in coming days Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, is due to present Ahmadi-Nejad's foreign minister with a formal proposal for talks between Tehran and the world's big powers - including the US. "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along", Bush had said in the Knesset. "We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement". However, his tough rhetoric - which was interpreted as an attack on the likely Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama - appears to be at odds with what some analysts see as Washington's diminishing influence in the Middle East, amid rival pressures from countries in the region, European allies and even the US presidential campaign. The administration told Israel of its doubts about the usefulness of negotiations with Syria. But when the news of the talks broke, Washington had little option but to endorse its ally's initiative, albeit with a note of scepticism. Similarly, US officials had indicated their desire for Lebanon's government to take a forceful position regarding Hizbullah. But when the two sides agreed to give the militant Shi'ite movement a blocking minority in the Lebanese cabinet in return for ending an impasse over the country's presidency, Washington called the deal "necessary and positive". Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, argues that Hizbullah will ultimately be weakened because it reduced its legitimacy by turning its guns on Lebanese citizens in the confrontation that preceded the agreement. But Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Centre at the Brookings Institution, a liberal Washington think-tank, and a former Clinton administration official, says Lebanon is just one of several theatres that has exposed Bush's reduced clout in the Middle East. "This administration is running out of juice", he says. "The reality is that Hizbullah won this round". As for Iran, the US has reluctantly acceded to the idea of a new offer to Tehran as a quid pro quo for European, Russian and Chinese support for the most recent UN resolution imposing sanctions against Iran. "The question isn't why we won't talk to Tehran", Ms Rice said on May 25, stressing the big powers' current insistence that Iran halt uranium enrichment before negotiations begin. "The question is why won't Tehran talk to us". Despite this official US line, the issue of whether engagement with hostile regimes amounts to appeasement has become one of the most divisive topics in the US presidential contest so far. This is partly because of the declared willingness of Obama to meet Iran's leaders. Meanwhile, Bush has increasingly sought to project White House resolve over Iran - a resolve queried by some of Washington's regional allies following a US intelligence report last year that concluded that Tehran had halted a nuclear weapons programme in 2003. The tougher presidential statements have occasionally backfired. The White House now says it has no knowledge of any specific declaration by Iran of its intent to acquire nuclear weapons, despite statements to the contrary by Bush. In March, he said on Voice of America's Persian news network that Iran was isolated "because of the government's decisions on foreign policy matters - such as announcing they want to destroy countries with a nuclear weapon". Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said Bush had been using "shorthand".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 31, 2008
Words:679
Previous Article:ARAB-US RELATIONS - May 29 - US Cancels Fulbright Grants To Palestinian Scholars.
Next Article:IRAN - May 28 - Larijani Elected Iran's Parliament Speaker.
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