Foreign Policy Blogs

Mixed Signals Between the United States and Iran

white-house-at-night.jpgFormer Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering tells the Independent the United States and Iran have been holding back channel talks over its nuclear program for several years.

Last month Pickering, along with William Leurs and James Walsh, authored an editorial in the International Herald Tribune regarding stagnation in the United States' policy towards Iran. They note a "growing number of American leaders calling for direct talks with Iran." However, the authors acknowledge "not one has yet made a concrete proposal on what to say to the Iranians other than to tell them to stop enrichment."

In the absence of public officials discussing and working through such a proposal, Pickering and a number of other American "former diplomats and experts" are fleshing through details on "wide ranging issues" that could lead to an agreement between the two nations. The Iranian group includes "academics and policy advisors." Two institutions have aided the group in its organization, the UN Association of the USA and the International Peace Research Institute.

It's difficult to judge if the group's work has any influence in discussions within the administration concerning a policy alternative. Pickering did mention, "the Bush administration "did not discourage us.'"

Despite this recent development, the United States raised its level of rhetoric against Iran. Regarding its influence in Iraq, Iranian analyst Nader Uskowi viewed General Patreaus' comments during his Congressional testimony last week as evidence of the United States drawing a line, with potential consequences:

"Any assertion of tactical command role played by Iran in armed clashes, like what happened in Basra last week, could have immense consequences on US relations with Iran. It would renew concern that such assertions could be precursor to a military attack on Iran, even though the mathematics involving the availability of US troops to open a new front against Iran is highly questionable."

Meanwhile, Iran recently installed 3,000 new centrifuges in Natanz.