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John McCain and Dick Cheney attempt to rally support against Iran

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Keeping pressure on Iran

VOICE OF ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: John McCain made a foreign policy speech today, in which he severely denounced Iran.


Los Angeles, CA
March 26, 2008

JOHN MCCAIN, US SENATOR (R-AZ): I believe a reckless and premature withdrawal would be a terrible defeat for our security interests and our values. Iran will also view our premature withdrawal as a victory. And the biggest state supporter of terrorists, a country of nuclear ambitions and a stated desire to destroy the state of Israel will see its influence in the Middle East grow significantly.


McCain’s speech came in the wake of Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent visit to the Middle East, where critics claim Cheney’s intention was not just aimed to foster peace between Israel and Palestine, but to shore up regional support against Iran. Senior editor Paul Jay spoke to Babak Yektafar, editor-in-chief of WashingtonPrism in Washington, DC.

PAUL JAY: Vice President Dick Cheney ended his whirlwind Middle East tour in Turkey, where he was interviewed by ABC News. Babak, here’s what he said, and it was a constant theme throughout his trip, which essentially, the idea that Iran is the obstacle to peace in the Middle East. [text on screen] “The concerns that leaders in the region have for what they see happening in Iran goes with everything from their support for Hezbollah, their efforts working through the Syrians for example to interfere with the political process inside Lebanon. They’ve supported Hamas with the intention, I believe, of trying to disrupt the peace process. Obviously, they’re also heavily involved in trying to develop nuclear weapons enrichment, the enrichment of uranium to weapons grade levels. It’s very disturbing to many of the leaders in the region because they believe that if Iran stays on the course they’re on, that it does offer the prospects for instability, and that it’s a threat to the regimes in the area.” (Vice President Dick Cheney) Is Iran the obstacle to peace? What do you make of Cheney’s statements?

BABAK YEKTAFAR: Well, first of all, I think (A) it’s interesting that in the past couple of months, two or three months, we’ve seen so much heightened activity by the administration, with the president, secretary of state, and now vice president, as well as secretary of defense, have been traveling to the region. It used to be in the olden days just a phone call would do, but I think this shows a great deal of concern among the folks at the White House that they feel compelled that they need to travel personally to try to somehow put together this coalition. That is proving to be a difficult task.

JAY: That is a coalition against Iran, essentially.

YEKTAFAR: A coalition against Iran. But the main problem with the Arab countries in particular, the countries that the United States is trying to pull together as a sort of a barrier against Iran or what the United States calls the growing influence of Iran, or this darkening shadow, is—to quote a colleague of mine—is that what the Arabs in essence see is that (A) they do not want Iran to have the bomb, but at the same time, they do not [inaudible] see Iran bombed.

JAY: Now, Cheney, in this quote from the ABC interview, he really focused on the idea that Iran is a threat to these Arab regimes themselves. It’s not just a question of America’s interest; these regimes’ future is threatened by Iran. Are these regimes, do they buy this line of Cheney?

YEKTAFAR: See, I don’t think they do. I think what they do understand is this: I mean, it’s one thing to say that Iran is a growing power, but the reality of it is that you look at a country where its economy is in shambles, where militarily, you know, because of all the sanctions, all it can afford to do is basically buy secondhand, used stuff from other countries and try to develop something indigenously. And it has not been tried in conventional warfare since the Iran-Iraq War. So what they really mean is that it’s not a power that can shape the Middle East—.

JAY: Well, they would argue against that. They would say that Hezbollah turned out to be quite a formidable force when Israel invaded, and that was only possible because of Iran. That’s what they say, but is that the case actually?

YEKTAFAR: But I think what the Arabs do realize is the fact that Iran’s so-called power or the rising power is more in how they can disrupt things as opposed to impact it in a way that they can be this regional force

JAY: There’s been a lot of speculation that Cheney’s visit, McCain’s visit, Condoleezza Rice’s visit, it’s all part of a real campaign heading towards a military confrontation with Iran. Is there that kind of sense in the Arab press or in the Iranian press?

YEKTAFAR: No, I don’t see that. I mean, that’s not to say that somewhere in their conscience, somewhere in their mind they’re not thinking about it, but I think the Arab leaders, as well as the Iranians and my read of it, they’re pretty much convinced that something like that, an attack, even, you know, a very strategic kind of pinpointing of the nuclear facilities kind of an attack, is not likely to happen, again, given the fact that some of the issues that right now the United States is involved with and has his hands full.

JAY: Now, of course, there’s been a lot of speculation that a crisis with Iran would be good for a McCain candidacy. Does that get talked about in the Iranian and the Arab press? And what’s your thinking on that?

YEKTAFAR: Well, I mean, to a certain extent it can. I mean, you know, for example, even if you read American media on that matter, even though the Iraq war is unpopular with the American media, but it seems that at least because McCain has a very solid view, he has a very solid position on the war in Iraq, as unpopular as it may be, it seems that people have a tendency of kind of relying a little bit more on him. But that’s not to say that, for example, you know, a Democratic nominee will not have a chance against McCain, but it seems that neither one of the two main nominees from that side have been able to articulate a position in regards to security, Middle East, Iraq, Arab-Israeli peace process, Iran, and so on and so forth. And so it is possible that if there is a crisis of the magnitude that we’re talking about, that it may benefit McCain.

JAY: The McCain election strategy and the Bush-Cheney strategy seems to be pretty clear: to connect Iran with the word “terrorism.” And even McCain tried to connect it with the word al-Qaeda—whether that was a mistake or not I guess one can speculate. But the connection of Iran and the war on terror seems to be what the election campaign’s going to be about. And Cheney’s been trying to drum up support for that in the Middle East. Is he getting it?

YEKTAFAR: Yes, absolutely. I mean, you know, in all honesty, I don’t see that much difference between what’s going on right here and what went on with Iraq. It’s these little words that kind of creep into these speeches. And, you know, you put these words in there just as it happened in Iraq, and eventually, you know, your hope is that you’re going to turn public opinion. And once that is turned a little bit, then it’s easier to kind of get the leaders of these countries on your camp to form this sort of a barrier coalition against Iran.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Babak Yektafar, Editor-in-Chief of Washington Prism is a graduate of Farleigh Dickinson University with a B.A. in Communications. From 1999 to 2005, Babak was a producer with C-SPAN network’s national live morning program, Washington Journal.