Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Why the West thinks it is time to talk to the Taliban

Jason Burke
The Observer
Sunday, September 28 2008

Negotiations have begun in secret with the enemy in
Afghanistan. Jason Burke reveals the back channels of
diplomacy that led to the controversial talks

For the past few months an incongruous figure has passed
through the airports of the Middle East and Europe: a
senior Afghan cleric who defected from the Taliban. Bearded
and in traditional dress, he has unsurprisingly needed the
help of the Saudi Arabian and British intelligence services
- among others - to pass unhindered between capitals.

He has always travelled in great secrecy, his movements
known only to a few individuals at the highest levels of
the Afghan government, in Riyadh and among certain Western
allies. His mission: to talk to the Taliban leadership
about a possible peace deal.

The backing given by the West to these talks is a measure
of how badly things have gone wrong in Afghanistan, and how
far Western governments are prepared to go to stabilise a
deteriorating situation which is costing more in men, money
and political capital than they ever imagined. The equally
worrying situation in Pakistan, where the Taliban are
largely based and where a separate but related insurgency
has broken out, has given the initiative a new urgency.

That the Saudi Arabians accepted the invitation of the
Afghan government to sponsor the initiative this summer is
a measure of how concerned those who govern the
traditionally leading nation of the Sunni Muslim world are
about Afghanistan and al-Qaeda and the consequences they
might have for the rest of the Islamic world and beyond. It
is also a measure of the esteem in which the Saudis are
still held.

This is not the first time the Saudi Arabians have brokered
talks with the Taliban, and Western powers have been keen
to get Riyadh more involved in Afghanistan for some time.
The Saudis, along with Pakistan and the United Arab
Emirates, were the only states to recognise the hardline
Islamic militia as rulers of Afghanistan in the Nineties.
In 1998 they also nearly concluded a deal with Mullah
Mohammed Omar, the reclusive leader of the Taliban, to hand
over Osama bin Laden.

For the West, the sponsorship of Riyadh is essential.
Western efforts to negotiate with the Taliban have rarely
brought any durable positive results. The reconciliation
process launched by the Afghan government has brought in
about 5,000 low-level fighters and a handful of mid-level
commanders, but has never had the political backing or
resources that was needed for it to become a genuine means
of sapping the strength of the Taliban.

But these most recent talks also show that, at the very
least, some of the Taliban senior command are getting
tired. 'They've been fighting for nearly seven years,
living undercover, moving regularly, unable to go back to
Afghanistan without risking a violent death. Despite the
bellicose rhetoric and the successes of recent months, they
have lost a lot of people and there is a certain degree of
fatigue,' said one experienced Pakistan-based observer.

The Saudi initiative has resulted in the submission of a
list of demands by the Taliban to Kabul. One problem was
that those demands keep changing, said one Afghan source. A
second is the question of whether any potential agreement
could be made to stick.

'We could agree something with the high command that won't
be put into action at a grass-roots level,' said an adviser
to the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.

The Taliban demands are also unlikely to be acceptable to
the Western powers, especially the US, which have
bankrolled the effort to stabilise and reconstruct
Afghanistan. Hekmat Karzai, director of a think tank in
Kabul, said that although discussions with the Taliban
'might not be too difficult... getting the international
community on board would be extremely hard'.

Another problem would be convincing other ethnic groups in
Afghanistan who suffered heavily under the Taliban regime
to accept any deal.

However, there is increasing acceptance among Western
officials and strategists that some kind of political
accommodation to at least divide the Taliban may be
inevitable. There are also question marks over to what
extent Taliban factions may be manipulated by elements
within the Pakistani security establishment. However,
Islamabad is unlikely to oppose moves to integrate senior
Taliban figures into the political process in Kabul.

Previous attempts to negotiate with the Taliban have been
problematic. A controversial truce in Helmand province,
where British troops are deployed, was widely criticised
for handing the key town of Musa Qala back to the militants
and necessitating a major operation to recapture it.

In May, the former Afghan President Burnahuddin Rabbani
said he had contacted the Taliban and received 'encouraging
responses'. The Taliban published a statement on their
website saying they would 'fight until the withdrawal of
the last crusading invader', but added that 'the door for
talks, understanding and negotiations will always be open'
to 'mujahideen' such as Rabbani, who fought the Russians in
the Eighties.

One problem with the Saudi-sponsored talks so far is that
the go-between has been unable to speak directly to Mullah
Omar. However, an Afghan source described the initiative as
'a step in the right direction', whatever the result.
'Anything that might be an ice-breaker and might take us
forward is welcome,' he said.

Friday, 26 September 2008


US told it must hold talks with Taliban's Mullah Omar
Isambard Wilkinson, Telegraph

The US must broker a power-sharing agreement with the head
of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, in order to establish peace in
the region, the Governor of Pakistan's lawless border areas
has said.

Peshawar, 24 Sep 2008

Owais Ghani, who governs the North West Frontier Province
and its adjoining tribal areas, is the most prominent
figure to date to publicly advocate holding talks with
militant commanders leading the insurgency against
coalition forces in Afghanistan.

His thinking reflects that of the conservative hardcore of
Pakistan's military hardliners who are accused by Western
intelligence operatives of supporting the Afghan Taliban as
a "hedging policy" to maintain influence in Afghanistan.

"They have to talk to Mullah Omar, certainly – not maybe,
and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani group," Mr Ghani
told The Daily Telegraph in an interview in Peshawar.

"The solution, the bottom line, is that political stability
will only come to Afghanistan when all political power
groups, irrespective of the length of their beard, are
given their just due share in the political dispensation in

The governor's remarks are likely to cause controversy
among Pakistan's allies in the US-led "war on terror" and
at home where the ruling Pakistan's People's Party is
opposed to the Taliban.

Mullah Omar went into hiding during the US-led invasion of
Afghanistan in 2001. British intelligence believes that he
has his headquarters in Quetta in southwestern Pakistan.

In 2006, Mr Musharraf acknowledged that some retired
Pakistani intelligence officials may still be involved in
supporting their former Taliban protégés whom they worked
with during the 1990s when Pakistan helped the movement
sweep to power in Afghanistan.

Jalaluddin Haqqani is a veteran commander of the
American-backed Afghan war against Soviet invasion in the
1970s and 1980s, and developed links with Osama bin Laden
during that period.

Haqqani has had close links with the CIA and Pakistani
intelligence agencies, notably the military Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI).

The New York Times reported in July that the CIA had given
the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, evidence of the
ISI's continued involvement with Haqqani, who is now
leading militants against coalition forces in Afghanistan,
along with evidence of ISI connections to a suicide bombing
at the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed nearly 60 people
on July 7.

The Hezb-e-Islami, the Mujahideen faction of the former
Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was one of the
groups which helped end the Soviet occupation of
Afghanistan but has had links with Pakistan since 1978.

But in the civil war that followed in the early 1990s, his
group of fundamentalist Sunni Muslim Pashtuns clashed
violently with other Mujahideen factions in the struggle
for control of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The Hezb-e-Islami was blamed for much of the terrible death
and destruction of that period, which led many ordinary
Afghans to welcome the emergence of the Taliban.

Some of his party members are part of the Afghan parliament
and he is said to have taken part in back-channel
negotiations with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

Mr Ghani said that all three militant commanders were in

"They are a power group that has to be preserved to seek
political solutions we would not destroy them because then
you are contributing to further instability," he said.

He denied that Pakistan "wants the Taliban back".

He added: "No sir, we have no favourites in Afghanistan."

Mr Ghani said that West must accept that the "Mullah is a
political reality".

However he denied that Pakistan is supporting them by
pointing out that it had handed over key Taliban ground
commanders operating in Helmand province where British
forces are based.

Senior American commanders and policymakers are considering
a shift in strategy in Afghanistan. The chairman of the US
joint chief of staffs, Admiral Mike Mullen, recently said
that failure there was possible and "time was running out".

Mr Ghani said: "You are headed for failure. I think
Afghanistan is practically lost. It is compounding our

The governor added that the West must hold talks with the
Taliban as al-Qaeda was regrouping from Iraq to
Afghanistan. Russia had begun to supply weapons to
militants and that the Afghans were intolerant of
foreigners on their soil and so were staging "a national

"To eliminate the Taliban you have to slaughter half the
Afghan nation," said Mr Ghani.

President Karzai routinely renews his call for peace talks.
Members of a cross-border Afghan-Pakistani tribal council
agreed last year to pursue talks with the Taliban.

The initiative received initial encouragement from the
Taliban but its leadership then set preconditions for the
50,000 US and Nato troops to be withdrawn and Islamic law
to be restored to the country.

Washington rejects talks with the Taliban maintaining that
America will not negotiate with "terrorists".

Mr Karzai and the United Nations have stipulated that a key
condition for peace talks is that the Taliban must accept
the constitution that was signed by Mr Karzai in 2004.

It is doubtful that the America's allies in
Afghanistan-which is formed among ethnically distinct
groups from the Pashtun Taliban, the Northern Alliance,
would accept such talks.

Mr Ghani said that Mr Karzai "does not represent any power
group – tribal, religious or political and therefore like
the people in his government he is dependant on foreign
power. He is therefore an obstacle to dialogue and peace."

He described Pakistan's military strategy as one of
containment. "We are not looking for quick fixes. We want
to hold it to a level where we can just tolerate it until
Afghanistan settles down," said Mr Ghani.

When asked about allegations that Pakistan has used the
Taliban to retain its influence in Afghanistan, Mr Ghani
replied: "We could counter that by saying India uses the
Northern Alliance."

Wednesday, 24 September 2008


Iran's Ahmadinejad: US 'empire' nears collapse

Associated Press

Iran's president addressed the U.N. General Assembly
Tuesday declaring that "the American empire" is nearing
collapse and should end its military involvement in other

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said terrorism is
spreading quickly in Afghanistan and that "the occupiers"
are still in Iraq nearly six years after Saddam Hussein was
ousted from power in Iraq.

"American empire in the world is reaching the end of its
road, and its next rulers must limit their interference to
their own borders," Ahmadinejad said.

He accused the U.S. of starting wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan to win votes in elections and blamed a "few
bullying powers" for trying to undermine Iraq's nuclear

Ahmadinejad's hardline rhetoric came as no surprise and
offered little in the way of compromise at the U.N., where
he faces a new round of sanctions if no agreement is
reached on limiting Iran's nuclear capabilities.

While he reiterated that the country's nuclear program is
purely peaceful, the U.S. and others fear it is aimed at
producing enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons.

Iran already is under three sets of sanctions by the U.N.
Security Council for refusing to suspend uranium
enrichment. Washington and its Western allies are pushing
for quick passage of a fourth set of sanctions to underline
the international community's resolve, but are likely to
face opposition from Russia.

"A few bullying powers have sought to put hurdles in the
way of the peaceful nuclear activities of the Iranian
nation by exerting political and economic pressures against
Iran," he said.

Ahmadinejad also lashed out at Israel on Tuesday, saying
"the Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse, and
there is no way for it to get out of the cesspool created
by itself and its supporters."

The Iranian president is feared and reviled in Israel
because of his repeated calls to wipe the Jewish state off
the map, and his aggressive pursuit of nuclear technology
has only fueled Israel's fears.

Ahmadinejad accused "a small but deceitful number of people
called Zionists ... (of) dominating an important portion of
the financial and monetary centers as well as the political
decision-making centers of some European countries and the

In discussing Afghanistan, he suggested that the presence
of U.S. and NATO forces has contributed to a sharp rise in
terrorism and a huge increase in the production of

He predicted that the war would end in the alliance's

"Throughout history every force that has entered
Afghanistan has left in defeat," Ahmadinejad said.

His speech came just hours after President Bush made his
eighth and final appearance before the U.N. General
Assembly, urging the international community to stand firm
against the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.

"A few nations, regimes like Syria and Iran, continue to
sponsor terror," Bush said. "Yet their numbers are growing
fewer, and they're growing more isolated from the world. As
the 21st century unfolds, some may be tempted to assume
that the threat has receded. This would be comforting. It
would be wrong. The terrorists believe time is on their
side, so they've made waiting out civilized nations part of
their strategy."

At one point during Bush's 22-minute speech, Ahmadinejad
turned to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and
gave a thumb's down.

As in past years, the United States only had a low-level
note-taker sitting in a rear seat reserved for the U.S.
delegation during the Iranian president's address, said
Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the
United Nations. The U.S. and Iran do not have diplomatic

During interviews ahead of his speech Tuesday, Ahmadinejad
blamed U.S. military interventions around the world in part
for the collapse of global financial markets. He said the
campaign against his country's nuclear program was solely
due to the Bush administration "and a couple of their
European friends."

"The U.S. government has made a series of mistakes in the
past few decades," Ahmadinejad said an interview with the
Los Angeles Times. "The imposition on the U.S. economy of
the years of heavy military engagement and involvement
around the world ... the war in Iraq, for example. These
are heavy costs imposed on the U.S. economy.

"The world economy can no longer tolerate the budgetary
deficit and the financial pressures occurring from markets
here in the United States, and by the U.S. government," he

Tuesday, 23 September 2008


The Way Out
by Moazzam Begg
Cage Prisoners

It’s almost seven years since the notorious images depicting kneeling
Muslim men attired in the signature orange clothing of Camp X-Ray,
Guantanamo Bay, were unleashed through the world’s media. Their eyes
covered with blackened-out goggles, their mouths masked and their
ears covered with earmuffs. They saw no evil, spoke no evil and heard
no evil: they only experienced it. Ironically, they were – and are
still – regarded by the world’s most powerful military machine as the
epitome of evil, the ‘worst of the worst.’ My time with them was
comparatively short but, I had the honour of being in these men’s
company for three years.

The president of the USA called them ‘bad men’, ‘terrorists’ and
‘murderers’ who were so dangerous they would ‘gnaw through the cables
of an aircraft in order to bring it down’ (hence the justification
for face masks.) Despite not one person being convicted of any crime
related to September 11 (the whole reason why Guantánamo was
allegedly instituted as a prison facility) the men are still treated
worse than convicted criminals. In fact, they are still regarded as
‘the worst of the worst’ at worst or, with deep suspicion at best –
even by Muslims. So how is one meant to judge these people,
especially when we learn what these men were doing before they had
the fortune to be tested in the manner of the Prophets of old?

It is now clear from released prisoners and mountains of US military
documentation that the overwhelming majority of those detained in
Guantánamo had nothing to do with the targeting and killing of
innocent civilians in America – or anywhere else. Although this fact
has not been conceded by the US in word it has been in deed with the
release of 500 of us to date. But 250 still remain in Guantanamo and,
more disturbingly, thousands have been simply ‘disappeared’ or held
in ‘ghost’ detention sites around the world.

Some of the men were abducted from places as diverse as like Gambia,
Zambia, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, the Persian Gulf – no where near the
‘theatre of combat operations.’ But most of the men, me included,
were in Pakistan and Afghanistan working on benign projects to build
schools, wells, orphanages and aid centres. Others had come to this
region to live under what they believed was a land of hijrah
(migration) for the sake of Allah, or to study the tenets and
jurisprudence of their faith, or to live as exiles from their various
homelands – like the Chinese Uyghurs – escaping terrible persecution.
It is also undeniable that some came to repel the occupiers of a
Muslim land by non-Muslim forces, in the way that thousands had come
before them during the last superpower’s occupation of Afghanistan.
But that’s very different from what they stand accused of being:

Hitler’s propaganda minster, Joseph Goebbels once said: “If you tell
a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come
to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the
State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or
military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important
for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the
truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the
truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” This formula has been
adopted by many of today’s leaders and those who follow them. We know
how these men – and Muslims in general - have been described by
certain western leaders and their Middle Eastern sycophants. But how
does the one who created them and gave them purpose of life describe

‘Those who believed, and emigrated, and struggled for the Faith in
the Cause of Allah, as well as those who give (them) asylum and aid--
these are indeed the true believers: for them is the forgiveness of
sins and a provision most generous.’

Are these men not Muslims – believers in fact? Did they not emigrate
for the various reasons cited? Did not the Prophet (saws) say that
hijrah in the way of Allah wipes out all prior sins, even more so
than Hajj? Did they not struggle in the cause of Allah with their
wealth and in person against all the hardships one must endure to
live in one of the world’s poorest and destitute countries? Did not
Allah promise them the greatest of rewards in the Hereafter for their
struggle and sacrifice? Did they not come to give support and aid to
the beleaguered people of impoverished lands?

And when Allah continued to test them in the way He tested his
beloved Yusuf (as) did we find they faltered or changed? When
tortures and humiliations like those meted out to Bilal, Ammar and
Summaya were inflicted upon them did they not hold fast to their
faith and cry out: Hasbuna Allaha wa ni’mal wakeel (Allah is the
sufficient protector for us)? When they heard about the births of
their children – or their deaths – during their time in prison did
they despair and lose hope in Allah’s mercy and deliverance? Did not
the very earth shake under their feet after such tumultuous trials
until they said: ‘When will the help of Allah come?’ Were they not
contented with His words: ‘Surely, the help of Allah is near’?

There is a verse I came to learn, to know, to recite, to contemplate
and to believe in – even during the bleakest of times:

‘And whoever fears Allah He will make for him a way out and provide
for him from whence he never imagined.’

The word at the end of this verse is ‘makhraja’ which in Arabic
literally means exit and although it refers to a set of circumstances
relating to marital affairs, the rule therein was, for us,
devastatingly simple: fear Allah, turn to him, keep to your duty and
He will find you a way out. And so we were released – at least some
of us were. But what of those who remain? Does it mean they did not
fear Allah, did not keep to their duty and promise to Allah? Of
course not. The Prophet (saws) said: When Allah loves a person He
puts them to trial. And if He did this with his beloved Prophets,
then what of us? Was not Yusuf thrown into a dungeon for years,
despite his innocence? Could the Torah, the New Testament and even
the Quran have been complete without this story of wrongful

I am honoured to have been in the company of these few men who held
on to the rope of Allah when many others would have wavered and
fallen. They have not all been released, but they have been mentioned
specifically by the one in whose hands their souls lie:

‘Amongst the believers are men who remained true to their covenant
with Allah; of them some have fulfilled their obligations, (i.e. have
left this world) and some still are waiting, but they have never
changed in the least.’

In these last nights of Ramadhan some of us will be praying all night
at home, in the mosques and even in the Masaajid al-Haraam (in Makkah
and Madinah – where rewards for prayers are multiplied in their
thousands). Some of us will be doing ‘itikaaf, qiyaam al-lail and
reciting the whole Qur’aan several times and attending Friday prayers
with record numbers of worshippers in continually expanding mosques.

My imprisoned brothers have not prayed a single prayer in
congregation in seven years. They have not prayed Jum’ah once in
seven years. They have had no Eid with their families in seven years.
They are waiting with the patience of Yunus (as) for deliverance. But
they have made ‘itikaaf in their tiny cages for seven years. Some of
them fasted every Monday and Thursday – even when they were given no
food to break the fast; some of them fast on every alternate day
outside of Ramadhan (the fast of Dawood (as)). And their recitation
and memorisation of the Quran far surpasses that of freemen; their
supplications during the night prayer have brought tears to the eyes
of men who have encountered every hardship imaginable, men whose
tears you’d have thought would have dried up by now. But their tears
are not of grief and sadness for this world: they cry fearing what
might become of them in the Hereafter. Yes, they fear Allah still. It
is the only way they will find an exit.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


Gaddafi and Berlusconi sign accord worth billions

By Salah Sarrar
Saturday, August 30, 2008

BENGHAZI, Libya: Libya and Italy signed an accord on
Saturday under which Italy will pay $5 billion in
compensation for colonial misdeeds during its decades-long
rule of the North African country.

"This accord opens the door to the future cooperation and
partnership between Italy and Libya," Libyan leader Muammar
Gaddafi said at the signing ceremony at a palace which was
once the headquarters of the Rome government's senior
official during the 1911-1943 colonial rule.

Italy has had difficult relations with Gaddafi since he
took power in 1969 but has backed Tripoli's recent drive to
mend fences with the West. The "friendship pact" removes a
major hurdle to an improvement in ties.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the accord
ends "40 years of misunderstanding", adding that "it is a
complete and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted
on Libya by Italy during the colonial era".

"In the name of the Italian people ... I feel the duty to
apologise and show our pain for what happened many years
ago and which affected many of your families," Berlusconi
said, according to a text on the government's website.

Libya says Italian troops killed thousands of Libyans and
drove thousands more from their villages and cities during
the colonial era.

"In this historic document, Italy apologises for its
killing, destruction and repression against Libyans during
the colonial rule," Gaddafi said.

Present day Italy is a friendly country, added Gaddafi, who
expelled Italian residents and confiscated their property
in 1970.

Gaddafi gave no details of the amount of money involved in
the deal but Berlusconi said on arrival that $200 million
per year will be invested by Italy in Libya over 25 years.

"Italian companies will set up more business in Libya,"
Berlusconi said, without giving details.


Italian officials said the amount of compensation would
total $5 billion in investments, including the construction
of a highway across Libya from the Tunisian border to

It also involves a project to clear mines dating back to
the colonial era.

Italy expects in return to win energy contracts and for the
Tripoli government to toughen security measures, including
joint maritime patrols, to stem the flow of illegal

In a goodwill gesture on Saturday, Italy returned an
ancient statue of Venus taken to Rome during colonial rule,
Libyan state media reported.

The headless "Venus of Cyrene" was carried away from the
town of Cyrene, an ancient Greek colony, by Italian troops
and put on display in Rome.

Tripoli's relations with the West have improved
dramatically since 2003 when Libya accepted responsibility
for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie,

Libya has also said it would stop pursuing nuclear,
chemical and biological weapons.

On August 14 Libya signed a deal with the United States to
settle both countries' claims for compensation for

Thursday, 11 September 2008


The Deafening Silence on Iran

September 7, 2008

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visiting Libya,
said on Thursday that Iran and North Korea should emulate
Libya's example. What she meant by that was, like Libya,
they should reach an accommodation with the United States
while abandoning policies that the United States opposes.

That seems like a fairly uninteresting statement, except
for the fact that Iran was mentioned. We have heard nothing
from the Bush administration on Iran since before the war
in Georgia — although a State Department official told us
on Thursday that the last official statement was issued by
the U.S. Treasury on Aug. 12. Certainly, the constant
barrage of comments by the Bush administration on the
Iranian threat has decreased dramatically. Frankly, while
there might have been passing mentions, the administration
appears to have simply dropped the subject.

The silence is, of course, enormously significant. Prior to
Aug. 8, the focus of the United States was on Iran.
Washington was warning Iran that the deadline for
delivering an answer on freezing nuclear development had
passed, and the United States was now going to ask its
partners in dealing with Iran — the permanent members of
the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — to impose
sanctions. Obviously, Russia was part of that group and,
equally obviously, it was in no mood to work with the
United States on placing sanctions. The Russians have said
that they do not see sanctions in general as a desirable
strategy. With the Russians out of the picture, the
sanctions won't work anyway. You can't have a dam with a
section missing.

That made the negotiations and the sanctions strategy moot.
What strikes us as extraordinary is that the Bush
administration has not returned to discussing Iran and
posing new strategy or making new threats. The
administration simply has acted as if a major confrontation
with Iran had not been under way just prior to the
Russo-Georgian war and, indeed, has acted as if Iran was
not a major issue, which it obviously was and continues to
be. The American media have not been particularly
aggressive in demanding that the administration explain the
relative silence on Iran, and the administration has not
raised it. All this becomes more interesting with
confirmation that an anti-Iranian group —
Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MeK) — had been ordered by the Iraqi
government to leave Iraq, amid accusations that it had been
involved with al Qaeda. The MeK has been a major issue
between Iran and the United States. The Iranian position
has been that while the Americans demand that Iran pull its
support for Hezbollah, the United States is itself
supporting an anti-Iranian terrorist group. The reports
appear to be true, since supporters of the MeK demonstrated
in the United States on Thursday protesting the expulsion
from Iraq.

It is unlikely that the Iraqis decided to take this action
unilaterally; the United States had to have supported it.
It is understandable why Washington would not want its
fingerprints on this, since the MeK has been a longtime
ally, and this change of policy would leave other longtime
allies nervous. Still, it is happening. And that means that
the Americans have given in to a long-standing demand of
the Iranians.

There are rumors that the United States and Iran have
signed a document concerning the MeK — which is something
we find hard to believe, and the sources aren't great. We
have also received a report from a pretty good source who
is in a position to know that a meeting is scheduled
between U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and unnamed Iranian
officials at Italy's Lake Como later this week. We are not
saying that we know that a meeting is taking place; we are
saying only that we have heard rumors about this meeting.
But there are many such rumors in the region at the moment.
It should be noted that there are such rum ors whenever a
senior American and Iranian official are within 50 miles of
each other.

Given that, we still note three things. First, the United
States has gone silent on Iran for the first time in a very
long time. Second, the United States engineered or did not
prevent the expulsion of the MeK from Iraq — which is a
substantial concession to Iran. Third, unlike Syria, Iran
has not sent its leaders to Moscow since the end of the war
with Georgia and has been fairly subdued on the matter.

As we have said, one geopolitical option for the United
States now is a deal with Iran. We do not know whether one
is in the works, but we know this: The rhetoric from
Washington on Iran has quieted since the Russo-Georgian war
and has stayed quiet. And the United States has made a
major concession to Iran this week.

The media have lost interest in Iran, but it is hard to
believe the Bush administration has.

Yet the rhetoric has shifted. We do not think the United
States is on the brink of attacking Iran. If the Americans
were planning an attack on Iran, the last thing they would
do is pull the MeK back. So something is up.