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
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
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
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
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.