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The letter to Iran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a detailed letter of congratulations to new US President Barack Obama. Now comes the time for Obama to return the courtesy. But drafting a letter is not all that is there to it: the new administration is also taking other diplomatic steps, such as naming an Iran envoy, who may even tower above his peers. Pepe Escobar examines who seems to be on Obama’s side, and who seems to be peddling a different agenda.

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Story Transcript

The letter

Pepe Escobar, Washington, DC

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST, TRNN: On November 6, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a detailed letter of congratulations to new US president Barack Obama. Now Obama may be finally ready to return the courtesy, as The Guardian has revealed. It will probably be an open letter or a letter addressed to the Iranian people and sent directly to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. The responsibility for the final draft falls on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Clinton State Department is spinning as a symbolic gesture and a change in tone compared to the Bush "Axis of Evil" era. But what will Washington actually tell Tehran? That the US does not want regime change anymore, just a little change in behavior. Take the condescending tone in one of the drafts. It asks Iran to let loose of its pariah status in the West. Well, Iran is not a pariah state in Latin America, in Africa, or in the Middle East. And it calls on Iran to stop sponsoring terrorism. Well, this is still Bush rhetoric, basically. Tehran may reply, "What about the US sponsoring dictators and terrorists for these past five decades?" And they can also say, "What about US suspending the CIA covert action regime-change campaign, very active for the past two years in Iranian-Kurdistan, in Sistan-Baluchestan in the southeast, and in Khuzestan province in the southwest, where the Iranian oil fields are. With nothing for the postman to deliver yet, Washington was telegraphing other ambiguous moves, such as the appointment of this man as the new envoy to Iran. But former Bill Clinton Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross happens to be the co-chairman, with new Afghanistan-Pakistan envoy Richard Holbrooke, of this organization which happens to, I quote, "congratulate them on their recent appointments to the Department of State," even before Dennis Ross actually got his job. Also worth noting is that the advisory board of this organization includes this man, former CIA head James Woolsey, who has been peddling World War IV against Islamo-fascism for years. Dennis Ross is also councilor and distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy (WINEP), founded in 1985 and always very, very close to the executive power in Washington. Realist scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearscheimer, they have defined WINEP as the crucial think tank of the Israel lobby. The very well-informed Nelson Report here in Washington got a crucial leak, an internal memo by the leaders of WINEP to its board of trustees, where WINEP was already billing Ross as, I quote, "top adviser on a wide range of Middle East issues, from the Arab-Israeli peace process to Iran"—in sum, the Middle East Obama envoy. But maybe Ross won’t be superman after all, towering over all the other envoys. There has been strong opposition to him. What he is about to get for sure is Iran—everything: the nuclear dossier, the relationship with Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran and Iraq, and relationship between Iran and the rest of the Persian Gulf and the Arab world. But there’s a problem. Israeli-lobby Ross knows nothing about Iran. Does Ross fit into Obama’s self-declared new mutual respect relationship with the Muslim world? Hardly. It’s a disastrous message to Tehran. Take the hardline newspaper Kayhan, very close to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. They denounced Ross as, I quote, a "Zionist lobbyist." And what about Ahmadinejad? Well, he’s running for reelection next June. Although his economic policies have been an absolute disaster and his diplomatic skills appalling, he retains a good chance of winning. Ahmadinejad knows exactly what ordinary Iranians want to hear. Ahmadinejad wants two very specific apologies from Washington, taken very, very seriously by Iranians of all political persuasions: number one, the CIA-financed 1953 coup against Prime Minister Mosaddeq that got the Shah into power; and number two, the US shooting down Iranian airbus with a cruise missile in 1988, killing 290 civilians. If and when this letter goes through, the next step is to wait. Tehran will bide its time. The internal controversy is nothing but boiling hot in Tehran. The realists, they want normal relations with the US. But ideologues—and that includes the Ahmadinejad faction—they are not so sure. And the same thing goes for US-Israel. Admiral Mike Mullen, to the delight of The Jerusalem Post, he wants to keep his bombing options on the table. And Pentagon supremo Bob Gates, true to his record (he did the same thing to Bush’s father), seems to be on the same page with Mike Mullen. The stakes are very, very high. On one side, Obama; on the other side, the Pentagon, the Israel lobby, and radicals in Tehran. Please, please, wait a minute, Mr. Postman. This letter better be damn good.

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