Iran wants concrete timetable in exchange for fuzzy offer of help

David Ignatius:

On the eve of the Baker-Hamilton commission's report, a top Iranian official set a tough condition for his country's help in stabilizing Iraq, saying that Tehran isn't interested in such cooperation unless the Bush administration sets a timetable for withdrawing its troops.

Ali Larijani, Iran's national security adviser, said in an interview that a U.S. plan for removing "occupation forces" from Iraq would be considered "a sign of a change in strategy." In that case, he said, "Iran would definitely extend the hand of assistance and would use its influence to help solve the problem."

The Iranian official made his comments after a speech yesterday to a conference here called the Arab Strategy Forum. His remarks were the clearest statement I've heard of how Iran views its role in the region following what he described as the failure of U.S. intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. His tone was triumphalist: In his view, America is bogged down in Iraq and "in dire need of change," while a newly confident Iran is positioning itself as a dominant power for the region.

"When we face a strategic stalemate, we can break it only by changing the strategy itself," Larijani said in his speech. He explained that America's choice was to stick with a failing strategy of unilateralism, tinker with it to "retard the process" of defeat, or replace it altogether with a new strategy of "interdependence" that recognized Iran's primacy as a regional power. By embracing a new strategy, he said, the United States "would bring psychological calm to the region and help America to behave in a more rational way."


Harvard professor Graham Allison, who had a private talk with Larijani following mine, said: "In discussing Iraq after U.S. withdrawal he didn't seem to have a credible idea of what comes next."


Larijani isn't proposing a grand bargain but a ruthlessly pragmatic one shaped by Tehran's view of current realities: Iran is up, America is down, and any post-Iraq settlement should reflect those facts. That's the steep price of Tehran's help.

What is missing from these conversations is what exactly Iran is doing now to make the US situation worse, that they would be willing to stop if we left. For example, recent reports have revealed evidence that Iran is supplying new weapons to factions in Iraq. Do they currently openly admit that and agree to stop it in the future? What specifically is Iran willing to do. Based on tis story it appears they are only willing to brag and posture.


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