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Topic: Ian Kelly

Slow-Motion Train-Wreck Watch

If train wrecks really happened in slow motion, observers might have time to note carelessness and irrelevance in the human actors involved. Metaphorical train wrecks certainly afford us such opportunities. The State Department bracketed a busy weekend for the Iran problem with a bit of both. In the daily briefing on Friday, spokesman Robert Wood responded to a point-blank question on why we are stretching out the time line on negotiations with this affirmation:

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are — we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. Iran has had plenty of time to consider this proposal. We still hope that they will reconsider and give the IAEA Director General a yes. But that’s up to Iran.

Iran had already, last week, given the IAEA director general a “no,” rejecting the P5+1 proposal to ship Tehran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country and offering a counterproposal: to exchange higher-enriched uranium for Iran’s current stock, simultaneously and inside Iran. In support of this negotiating ploy, the regime launched a major joint-forces exercise over the weekend, punctuating it with air-defense drills around the nuclear sites. In case the message was unclear, a senior Revolutionary Guard official emphasized the “deterrence power” of Iran’s ballistic missiles and threatened Tel Aviv with them. Meanwhile, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, with Ahmadinejad at his side, affirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear technology and criticized “attempts to isolate Iran,” a condemnation that included the imposition of further sanctions.

So it’s not clear what gave Wood hope that Iran might reconsider. Monday’s laconic briefing from Ian Kelly projected a peculiar air of detachment, revealing mainly that there was no new policy guidance on Iran since Friday. There were some laughs, however. Kelly alluded, in suggesting that Iran seize a “fleeting opportunity,” to Friday’s thrice-repeated theme that the diplomatic window for Iran won’t be open forever. This led to a humorous exchange in which the word “fleeting” was suggested to amount to “new guidance.”

Surreal levity aside, Iran’s strategic wisdom in making a counterproposal, to which the P5+1 will have to take time in responding, has probably guaranteed that “fleeting” will not accurately describe the window bounded by negotiations. What the State Department has to show for eight years of business-as-usual negotiations is an Iran much closer to a working nuclear weapon. Robert Wood, in that sense, was exactly right: as long as we have a diplomacy-only approach, it is up to Iran. The only way to change that is to pose the credible threat of involving a different department of the U.S. government.

If train wrecks really happened in slow motion, observers might have time to note carelessness and irrelevance in the human actors involved. Metaphorical train wrecks certainly afford us such opportunities. The State Department bracketed a busy weekend for the Iran problem with a bit of both. In the daily briefing on Friday, spokesman Robert Wood responded to a point-blank question on why we are stretching out the time line on negotiations with this affirmation:

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are — we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. Iran has had plenty of time to consider this proposal. We still hope that they will reconsider and give the IAEA Director General a yes. But that’s up to Iran.

Iran had already, last week, given the IAEA director general a “no,” rejecting the P5+1 proposal to ship Tehran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country and offering a counterproposal: to exchange higher-enriched uranium for Iran’s current stock, simultaneously and inside Iran. In support of this negotiating ploy, the regime launched a major joint-forces exercise over the weekend, punctuating it with air-defense drills around the nuclear sites. In case the message was unclear, a senior Revolutionary Guard official emphasized the “deterrence power” of Iran’s ballistic missiles and threatened Tel Aviv with them. Meanwhile, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, with Ahmadinejad at his side, affirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear technology and criticized “attempts to isolate Iran,” a condemnation that included the imposition of further sanctions.

So it’s not clear what gave Wood hope that Iran might reconsider. Monday’s laconic briefing from Ian Kelly projected a peculiar air of detachment, revealing mainly that there was no new policy guidance on Iran since Friday. There were some laughs, however. Kelly alluded, in suggesting that Iran seize a “fleeting opportunity,” to Friday’s thrice-repeated theme that the diplomatic window for Iran won’t be open forever. This led to a humorous exchange in which the word “fleeting” was suggested to amount to “new guidance.”

Surreal levity aside, Iran’s strategic wisdom in making a counterproposal, to which the P5+1 will have to take time in responding, has probably guaranteed that “fleeting” will not accurately describe the window bounded by negotiations. What the State Department has to show for eight years of business-as-usual negotiations is an Iran much closer to a working nuclear weapon. Robert Wood, in that sense, was exactly right: as long as we have a diplomacy-only approach, it is up to Iran. The only way to change that is to pose the credible threat of involving a different department of the U.S. government.

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Gilo and Diplomatic Dismay

Noah, as you note, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’s statement that the administration is “dismayed” at the construction of more housing in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem — because “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations” – is a non-sequitur.  Last May, Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the White House for his first meeting as prime minister with President Obama and announced he wanted to commence negotiations “immediately,” without preconditions, which has been his position ever since.

What unilaterally preempted negotiations was the Obama/Abbas precondition of a settlement “freeze” that (1) was not previously demanded in any prior negotiations, (2) contradicted a six-year understanding about the meaning of a “freeze” (no new settlements, no expansion of existing settlement borders, and no financial incentives for new settlers), (3) could not be defined in practical terms even by George Mitchell, and (4) was not a condition that any Israeli government, Left or Right, could accept.

There was a little comedy silver at the State Department press conference yesterday, as spokesman Ian Kelly repeated the notion that the expansion of housing in Gilo was “dismaying” because it could “unilaterally” preempt negotiations. One of the reporters asked Kelly if he could “give us just a brief synopsis of the progress that Senator Mitchell has made in his months on the job” — to which Kelly responded that the administration had gotten both sides to agree on a goal:

QUESTION: But previous Israeli administration — previous Israeli governments had agreed to that already.

MR. KELLY: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: So in other words, the bottom line is that, in the list of accomplishments that Mitchell has come up with or established since he started, is zero.

MR. KELLY: I wouldn’t say zero.

QUESTION: Well, then what would you say it is?

MR. KELLY: Well, I would say that we’ve gotten both sides to commit to this goal. They have — we have — we’ve had a [sic] intensive round or rounds of negotiations, the President brought the two leaders together in New York. Look —

QUESTION: But wait, hold on. You haven’t had any intense —

MR. KELLY: Obviously —

QUESTION: There haven’t been any negotiations.

MR. KELLY: Obviously, we’re not even in the red zone yet, okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: I mean, we’re not — but it’s — we are less than a year into this Administration, and I think we’ve accomplished more over the last year than the previous administration did in eight years.

QUESTION: Well, I — really, because the previous administration actually had them sitting down talking to each other. You guys can’t even get that far.

MR. KELLY: All right.

In the last year of the Bush administration, the U.S. convened an international conference at Annapolis to launch final-status negotiations, devoted its secretary of state to trip after trip to the Middle East to push the negotiations, produced a new Israeli offer of a Palestinian state on effectively all the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem, and watched the Palestinians take the opportunity to miss another of their famous opportunities.

In the first year of the Obama administration, the U.S. has not been able to start negotiations, even after the president made it his first foreign-policy priority, and even after Israel announced it wanted to start them immediately without preconditions.

The proper response to this extraordinary display of diplomatic incompetence should not be dismay at Israel — and certainly not the inaccurate claim of accomplishing eight years’ worth of peace-processing in one year — but rather serious self-reflection. As Jonathan properly notes, the treatment of Gilo by the Obama administration as if it were a “settlement” is a serious change in the tone and substance of the U.S. position (contradicting, among other things, the 2004 Bush Letter given in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and encouraging further Palestinian intransigence), one that puts peace even further away.

Noah, as you note, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’s statement that the administration is “dismayed” at the construction of more housing in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem — because “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations” – is a non-sequitur.  Last May, Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the White House for his first meeting as prime minister with President Obama and announced he wanted to commence negotiations “immediately,” without preconditions, which has been his position ever since.

What unilaterally preempted negotiations was the Obama/Abbas precondition of a settlement “freeze” that (1) was not previously demanded in any prior negotiations, (2) contradicted a six-year understanding about the meaning of a “freeze” (no new settlements, no expansion of existing settlement borders, and no financial incentives for new settlers), (3) could not be defined in practical terms even by George Mitchell, and (4) was not a condition that any Israeli government, Left or Right, could accept.

There was a little comedy silver at the State Department press conference yesterday, as spokesman Ian Kelly repeated the notion that the expansion of housing in Gilo was “dismaying” because it could “unilaterally” preempt negotiations. One of the reporters asked Kelly if he could “give us just a brief synopsis of the progress that Senator Mitchell has made in his months on the job” — to which Kelly responded that the administration had gotten both sides to agree on a goal:

QUESTION: But previous Israeli administration — previous Israeli governments had agreed to that already.

MR. KELLY: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: So in other words, the bottom line is that, in the list of accomplishments that Mitchell has come up with or established since he started, is zero.

MR. KELLY: I wouldn’t say zero.

QUESTION: Well, then what would you say it is?

MR. KELLY: Well, I would say that we’ve gotten both sides to commit to this goal. They have — we have — we’ve had a [sic] intensive round or rounds of negotiations, the President brought the two leaders together in New York. Look —

QUESTION: But wait, hold on. You haven’t had any intense —

MR. KELLY: Obviously —

QUESTION: There haven’t been any negotiations.

MR. KELLY: Obviously, we’re not even in the red zone yet, okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: I mean, we’re not — but it’s — we are less than a year into this Administration, and I think we’ve accomplished more over the last year than the previous administration did in eight years.

QUESTION: Well, I — really, because the previous administration actually had them sitting down talking to each other. You guys can’t even get that far.

MR. KELLY: All right.

In the last year of the Bush administration, the U.S. convened an international conference at Annapolis to launch final-status negotiations, devoted its secretary of state to trip after trip to the Middle East to push the negotiations, produced a new Israeli offer of a Palestinian state on effectively all the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem, and watched the Palestinians take the opportunity to miss another of their famous opportunities.

In the first year of the Obama administration, the U.S. has not been able to start negotiations, even after the president made it his first foreign-policy priority, and even after Israel announced it wanted to start them immediately without preconditions.

The proper response to this extraordinary display of diplomatic incompetence should not be dismay at Israel — and certainly not the inaccurate claim of accomplishing eight years’ worth of peace-processing in one year — but rather serious self-reflection. As Jonathan properly notes, the treatment of Gilo by the Obama administration as if it were a “settlement” is a serious change in the tone and substance of the U.S. position (contradicting, among other things, the 2004 Bush Letter given in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and encouraging further Palestinian intransigence), one that puts peace even further away.

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Fresh Outreach

Iran this week has thrown a one-two diplomatic punch in the matter of Yemen’s insurgency problem. It remains to be seen if the Islamic revolutionary state is punching above its weight; that may depend on what, if anything, the U.S. does. But Arabs in the region have taken Iran’s initiative badly, seeing it as the continuation of a trend toward Iranian meddling in Arab nations’ affairs.

On November 5, Saudi Arabia launched a counteroffensive against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Shias with Iranian backing who have violated the Saudi border in the course of their fight against the central government in Sana’a. A Saudi officer was reportedly killed by the Houthis last week, and the Saudis are losing confidence in the ability of the Saleh government to quell the insurgency. On November 10, Iran — the Houthis’ supplier — warned “Yemen’s neighbors” against meddling in Yemeni affairs. Since “Yemen’s neighbors” amount to Saudi Arabia and Oman, this warning was quite pointed.

Today Al Jazeera reports that Iran has offered to “aid Yemeni security,” proclaiming Tehran ready to help restore peace to the insurgency-torn nation. Al Jazeera’s hostile view of this disingenuous initiative is a reliable reflection of sentiment in Arab capitals. The proposal is also a direct challenge to America’s network of partnerships in the region. Iran advancing itself as a moderator of an Arab nation’s internal affairs is, in fact, a power play, one that would not be mounted in an environment of American alertness and determination.

Iran has conducted its foreign policy for years through the sponsorship of terrorism against Israel and Lebanon. It’s through gaining an insidious foothold in other nations, through coming in the back door, that Iran has sought regional influence. Now the mullahs propose to be admitted through the front door in Yemen, and have their support to the Houthi guerrillas validated by a recognized diplomatic process.

With Iran already an established presence in Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia, will the Obama administration discourage this fresh initiative with any level of firmness? Or will it leave the Saudis and Yemenis to make their own arrangements for resistance to Iran’s outreach? See what you think (from the Huffington Post piece linked above):

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters [on November 5] he had no information about whether the conflict had spread across the border but expressed Washington’s concern over the situation.

“It’s our view that there can be no long-term military solution to the conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels,” Kelly said. “We call on all parties to the conflict to make every effort to protect civilian populations and limit damage to civilian infrastructure.”

That doesn’t sound to me like a posture Iran would have to worry about colliding with. It probably didn’t sound like one to Iran either.

Iran this week has thrown a one-two diplomatic punch in the matter of Yemen’s insurgency problem. It remains to be seen if the Islamic revolutionary state is punching above its weight; that may depend on what, if anything, the U.S. does. But Arabs in the region have taken Iran’s initiative badly, seeing it as the continuation of a trend toward Iranian meddling in Arab nations’ affairs.

On November 5, Saudi Arabia launched a counteroffensive against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Shias with Iranian backing who have violated the Saudi border in the course of their fight against the central government in Sana’a. A Saudi officer was reportedly killed by the Houthis last week, and the Saudis are losing confidence in the ability of the Saleh government to quell the insurgency. On November 10, Iran — the Houthis’ supplier — warned “Yemen’s neighbors” against meddling in Yemeni affairs. Since “Yemen’s neighbors” amount to Saudi Arabia and Oman, this warning was quite pointed.

Today Al Jazeera reports that Iran has offered to “aid Yemeni security,” proclaiming Tehran ready to help restore peace to the insurgency-torn nation. Al Jazeera’s hostile view of this disingenuous initiative is a reliable reflection of sentiment in Arab capitals. The proposal is also a direct challenge to America’s network of partnerships in the region. Iran advancing itself as a moderator of an Arab nation’s internal affairs is, in fact, a power play, one that would not be mounted in an environment of American alertness and determination.

Iran has conducted its foreign policy for years through the sponsorship of terrorism against Israel and Lebanon. It’s through gaining an insidious foothold in other nations, through coming in the back door, that Iran has sought regional influence. Now the mullahs propose to be admitted through the front door in Yemen, and have their support to the Houthi guerrillas validated by a recognized diplomatic process.

With Iran already an established presence in Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia, will the Obama administration discourage this fresh initiative with any level of firmness? Or will it leave the Saudis and Yemenis to make their own arrangements for resistance to Iran’s outreach? See what you think (from the Huffington Post piece linked above):

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters [on November 5] he had no information about whether the conflict had spread across the border but expressed Washington’s concern over the situation.

“It’s our view that there can be no long-term military solution to the conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels,” Kelly said. “We call on all parties to the conflict to make every effort to protect civilian populations and limit damage to civilian infrastructure.”

That doesn’t sound to me like a posture Iran would have to worry about colliding with. It probably didn’t sound like one to Iran either.

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