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Enters Turkey Into The Regional Game.

Turkey has been massing troops with tanks on Iraq's northern border, with a message from Ankara that it is ready to attack PKK guerrillas as well as any elements of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) who backed them. The real message, however, was that Turkey wanted to share with the US responsibility for the stability of the Middle East.

That puts Turkey in direct competition with Iran. And Ankara has a huge advantage over whatever card Tehran can possess: an alliance between Israel and Turkey's military establishment, a bond cemented by the fact that most Turkish military commanders are "dolma Jews" - i.e., Jewish people having converted into Sunni Islam since the days of the Ottoman Empire. These are the core of the Kemalist regime on which the military establishment has been based since the days of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk). Kemalism means many things other than its staunchly secular ideology.

The Ankara message to the US is directly from the military establishment, rather than from the Islamist government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The government's Justice and Development party (AKP) grew out of an Islamist movement. PM Erdogan is yet to join the military establishment in its message. This can be clear if the military's message - to begin an offensive on the PKK in the KRG zone and to stay there - is approved by the Turkish parliament; if not, the military would simply attack the PKK and its allies in northern Iraq and then immediately withdraw. That will be sufficient for Washington to get the message: that the military can take over power in Ankara, rather than let an Islamist candidate - AKP's deputy leader and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to be elected as Turkey's next president.

On May 30, the US-led MNF handed over to the KRG responsibility for security in the northern provinces of Arbil, Suleymaniya and Dohuk. On the Baghdad side of the ceremony was headed by National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubai'e, representing PM Nuri al-Maliki. In a speech, Rubai'e said the KRG must raise the Iraqi flag along with KRG's and that the Iraqi national anthem must be played along with KRG's. It was agreed that KRG's armed forces, the Pesh Merga, will merge with Iraq's armed forces, but the Kurdish forces will only take orders from the KRG.

It is said that, on US advice, Kurdistan's President Mas'oud Barzani during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia promised that the KRG would postpone a referendum on the status of oil-rich Kirkuk in return for Saudi investments in Kurdistan worth about $10 bn, to avoid bloodshed in that potentially explosive issue. The KRG has been insisting that Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan, a claim hotly contested by that region's Turkoman and Arab (mainly Shi'ite) communities.

Neo-Con War Talk: Powerful US neo-cons - including some of those who were most active in promoting the invasion of Iraq - are to gather for an all-expenses-paid conference entitled "Confronting The Iranian Threat: The Way Forward" at a luxurious resort in the Bahamas. Many of the 30 or so invited guests have been strident critics of Iran's Shi'ite theocracy and its supremacist hardliners on maintaining the US presence in Iraq.

They include six current Bush administration officials - among them US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad (until March the US envoy to Baghdad) and his powerful wife, Under-Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky - as well as think-tank academics, neo-con opinion columnists and Uri Lubrani, the top adviser on Iran to Israel's PM Ehud Olmert.

A spokesman for the organisers, the Washington-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies, was on May 29 quoted as saying the conference was "to bring together a wide range of experts to examine all options for dealing with Iran". President Bush himself identified some of them recently in response to reports from the IAEA that Iran was expanding uranium enrichment in defiance of UNSC demands that it freeze that activity.

IAEA chief Dr. Muhammad ElBaradei says Iran is three to eight years from having a nuclear weapon. Bush said: "My view is that we need to strengthen our sanction regime", adding that he and Secretary Rice had discussed plans to beef up punitive UNSC measures.

TIME's Joe Klein says VP Cheney is actively promoting military action against Iran, despite such a course of action being unanimously opposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a meeting with President Bush last December.

Two long-time Bush supporters among the neo-cons - an ideological pressure group with advocates in and out of government - have revived public calls for military action against Iran. Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, authored an article in the magazine's June 2007 issue, "The Case for Bombing Iran". Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton told Fox News "the only recourse is to dramatically ratchet up the economic and political pressure on Iran and keep open the option of regime change or even military force".

The US is putting on a major show of that military force, as a US Navy flotilla of nine warships carrying 17,000 sailors and Marines has moved into the Persian Gulf. Carrier strike groups led by the USS John C. Stennis and the USS Nimitz were joined by the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard and its strike group. Planes from the two carriers and the assault ship have carried out exercises, while ships ran submarine, mine and other games.

Washington may also be moving to ratchet up covert pressure on Tehran. ABC News has reported that President Bush has given the CIA a green light to conduct non-lethal covert operations against Iran using propaganda, disinformation and the squeezing of Iran's international banking transactions.

Secretary Rice on June 1 sought to minimise any sense of division over Iran within the Bush administration after Dr. ElBaradei criticised the "new crazies" in the US pushing for military action against Tehran. She said: "The president of the United States has made it clear that we are on a course that is a diplomatic course. That policy is supported by all of the members of the cabinet and by the vice president of the United States".

Rice's comment came as senior State Department officials were expressing fury over reports that members of Cheney's staff had told others that the VP believed the diplomatic track with Iran was pointless and was looking for ways to persuade Bush to confront Iran militarily. Rice said Cheney supported her strategy of trying to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions through diplomacy.

The FT on June 2 quoted a "senior Bush administration official" as denying that there was a deep divide between Rice and Cheney on Iran. But, the official said, "the vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff".

The reports about hawkish statements by members of Cheney's staff surfaced recently in The Washington Note, a blog put out by Steve Clemons of the left-leaning New America Foundation. The reports have alarmed European diplomats, some of whom fear the struggle over Iran's nuclear programme may evolve into a decision by the Bush administration to resort to force. In interviews, people who have spoken with Cheney's staff have confirmed the broad outlines of the reports. Some said hawkish statements to outsiders were made by David Wurmser, a former Pentagon official who is now Cheney's main deputy assistant for national security.

In an interview with BBC Radio broadcast on June 1, Dr. ElBaradei said he did not want to see another war like the one raging in Iraq four years after the US-led invasion. He said: "You do not want to give additional argument to new crazies who say, 'Let's go and bomb Iran'. I wake up every morning and see 100 Iraqis, innocent civilians, are dying". ElBaradei, who has urged Western powers to consider allowing Iran limited enrichment on its own territory, has faced criticism from Bush officials who contend he should stick to monitoring Iran's nuclear programme and leave diplomatic policy to the six powers which have banded together to try to rein in Tehran's nuclear ambitions. But several West European officials echoed his concerns and said privately they were worried that Cheney's "red line" - the point at which he believes Iran would be on the brink of acquiring a nuclear weapon and a military strike was necessary - may be coming up soon.

ElBaradei told the BBC one could not "bomb knowledge". Asked who the "new crazies" were, he replied: "Those who have extreme views and say the only solution is to impose our will by force". (On June 1, 2006, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US offered Tehran a package of incentives if it stopped enriching uranium, which it maintains is for peaceful purposes but the West believes is for nuclear weapons. Iran rejected the offer and the UNSC has since passed two sets of mild sanctions aimed at forcing Tehran to change its mind.

(Rice was the one who prodded Bush in 2006 to reverse 27 years of US policy and join European talks with Iran over its programme, provided that Tehran suspended enrichment of uranium. Some conservatives in the administration have expressed doubts that the diplomatic course would yield much. Recently, the IAEA issued a report detailing Iran's progress in enriching uranium. It said Tehran had 1,300 centrifuges running during a surprise inspection in May. The report noted that Iran had fed only 260 kilos of uranium hexafluoride into the machines for enrichment over the past few months, suggesting the centrifuges were running quite slowly, perhaps to keep from failing. But US officials have nonetheless called the report "alarming" because Iran was closing in on the 3,000 centrifuges needed to make a nuclear bomb.

Travelling in Europe last week, Rice declined to say where her own "red lines" were on Iran and said she intended to continue to pursue diplomacy with Iran. In Madrid for a brief stop to try to mend the Bush administration's tattered relations with Spain's Socialist government, Rice was asked whether she could assure that Cheney did not want to use military action against Iran. She said: "The most powerful set of disincentives that we have now are the collateral effects of Iran being under a Security Council resolution, which has made the private sector think twice about the investment and reputational risk of getting involved with Iran. I will tell you what will help to get us to a place where we don't have an unpalatable choice. We do have a choice, we have a diplomatic choice".

Iran took a small step towards allaying Western concerns about its nuclear programme, offering to come clean to the IAEA about its past nuclear-related activities. During a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Iran's top nuclear negotiator Larijani pledged to end years of stonewalling about what Iran's nuclear programme entailed. But the offer was short of the concession the US and EU had demanded - suspension of uranium enrichment - and was unlikely to be enough to break the impasse.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Strategic Balance in the Middle East
Date:Jun 4, 2007
Words:1838
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