News and views relevant to U.S.-Iran relations for September 23.
- The Wall Street Journal: Jay Solomon and Richard Boudreaux (with Farnaz Fassihi) write that while Iran hints it might be ready to resume talks on its nuclear program, U.S. and EU officials remain skeptical of any breakthrough. They note criticism from U.S. “allies such as Israel” who think “Tehran could be only months from achieving a nuclear weapons capability” and that talks are just a stalling technique. Nonetheless, an unnamed U.S. official tells the Journal that the U.S. and its allies are “focused heavily on preparations for […] talks.” Even so, the sanctions track continues with the U.S. applauding a Russian ban on selling missiles to Iran (see below). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to meet her counterpart from Syria on Monday for the first time. The authors note that, with Syria as one of Iran’s closest allies, this could portend an effort to weaken the ties between these two countries.
- Foreign Policy: Former National Iranian American Council assistant policy director Patrick Disney writes about the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) — the dissident Iranian exile group labeled a “foreign terrorist organization” by the State Department — and its efforts to make inroads on Capitol Hill. Disney frames the piece with a resolution sponsored by Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), which already has 83 co-sponsors, which calls on the U.S. government to support regime change by supporting the MEK. Disney gives a summary of the group and its activities, its supporters (in and outside of Congress) and detractors (including former members), and what appears to be MEK’s ultimate goal: “to be removed from the terrorist list and to gain US backing in their fight against Iran’s clerical government.” Describing the group as a sort of “Ahmad Chalabi for Iran” (something we’ve written about), Disney enumerates reasons why using the MEK for regime change — and regime change itself — is not such a great idea: “[T]hey continue to call for American bombing, invasion, and occupation of Iran. De-listing the MEK would signal US backing for the group’s agenda, including regime change operations…” He concludes, “It should go without saying that Rep. Filner’s proposal is the wrong way for Iran”
- The New York Times: Andrew E. Kramer reports Russia has ended its talks on exporting S-300 air defense missiles to Iran. Through a post on his website, Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev announced that Russia interprets the latest round of UN sanctions as prohibiting the sale of major weapons systems to Iran. This announcement puts to rest U.S. and Israeli concerns that Russia might go forward with a major arms deal with Tehran, which could have strengthened Iran’s air defenses against a military strike on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.
- The Wall Street Journal: In his weekly column, Bret Stephens describes attending a Tuesday morning breakfast host by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Stephens, known for his hawkish views on Iran, describes the breakfast as, “We get access to Ahmadinejad—and the feeling of self-importance that goes with that. In exchange, we pay him court.” Ahmadinejad, according to various accounts, deflected questions by offered lengthy monologues tangential to the issues. He denied the Iranian economy was negatively impacted by sanctions and rejected allegations that opposition leaders’ offices were raided last month. He also stated, “There is a good chance that [nuclear] talks will resume in the near future,” and downplayed the threat of an Israeli or U.S. military strike. Stephens concluded with a cautionary warning. “Perhaps I haven’t achieved the appropriate degree of jadedness, but my own impression of Ahmadinejad was that he was easily the smartest guy in the room. He mocked us in a way we scarcely had the wit to recognize. We belittle him at our peril.”