Posted by Joshua on Sunday, October 12th, 2008
Gates says US talks with Taliban conceivable Robert Gates said Washington could “ultimately” contemplate the idea of negotiating with the Taliban to secure a political settlement in Afghanistan
GROSS: Oh, if you’re just joining us, my guest is Robert Baer. He was a CIA agent for 21 years. He resigned in 1997. He worked largely in Middle East. His new book is called “The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower.” My guest is Robert Baer and he was a CIA agent for 21 years, from 1976 to 1997.
GROSS: So why wouldn’t Iran want an agreement between the U.S. and Iraq?
Mr. BAER: Well, what they don’t want is an open-ended agreement between the United States and Iraq which would leave U.S. bases or U.S. troops or a security arrangement. Iran would like to pry us out Iraq very peacefully without leaving chaos behind or any sort of civil war, of course.
GROSS: So Iran wants the U.S. out completely, no bases, no remaining soldiers?
Mr. BAER: They want us gone. They want us out of the Gulf. If they could arrange it, they want us out of the Gulf. The way they look at it, the Persian Gulf is called that for a reason. It’s an Iranian body of water. 90 percent of the rim of the Gulf is Shia. All those Shia either look to Qom, the Holy City in Iran, or they look to Najaf, the Holy City in Iraq, which is very heavily influenced by Iran.
GROSS: Well, since you’re saying that Iran wants basically to be an empire and to have proxies, including Iraq, would that make it even more dangerous for the United States to do what Iran wants and withdraw completely from Iraq without soldiers or bases?
Mr. BAER: No. I take this as good news. In my book, I take a look at Sunni fundamentalism, and I took a look at Shia fundamentalism, and when I started this book, I had no idea where I was going to go. I spent a lot of time with a Hezbollah group that set off car bombs that fought this 18-year war. In Lebanon, I spent a lot of time in Israeli jails talking to Sunni extremists, suicide bombers.
And what I found, I walked away from all of this – I did this over a course of three years – was that the Shia, because of the nature of their sect, it is much more disciplined, and we are capable of making a deal with them which will hold. We are not capable of making the same deal with the Sunni, who are anarchists. You know, it’s a stretch using that word, but they are anarchists….They have a reasonable complaint against Saudi Arabia. They do not like it that Saudi Arabia administers Mecca to the exclusion of the Shia. Iran does not like it that Saudi Arabia is repressing, and there’s no other way to put it, the Shia that live in Saudi Arabia in the eastern province. They do not like it that Saudi Arabia has so much influence in Washington. What ultimately the Iranians would like is to become an equal partner of the United States. I know this is a tall order, and we’re going to wait decades for anything like this to come about, but in their hearts, this is what they’d like.
GROSS: An equal partner on what?
Mr. BAER: In the Middle East. They would like to sit down with the United States and Israel and actually come to a solution for the Palestinians. They would like to support and give power in Lebanon to the Shia because the Shia are approaching a majority on Lebanon. They would like to co-administer Mecca with the Saudis. They feel that their sect has been repressed since 680 A.D., since the murder of the prophet’s grandson. They believe that this is the Shia millennium.
GROSS: You know, if Iran becomes the key player with the United States in negotiating a settlement for the Middle East, I mean, we know what President Ahmadinejad of Iran wants. He wants all Palestinians to participate in elections, Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and I think also Palestinians in the Palestinian diaspora, and that would effectively eliminate Israel as a Jewish state.
Mr. BAER: This is what Ahmadinejad says. During the last year I’ve sat down, for what it’s worth, with Hezbollah for more than a few meetings. And they’ve told me over and over again that the real policy in Iran, and Hezbollah’s real policy, is to come to a solution that the Palestinians accept, the vast majority of them. And I asked them, would that be on Resolution 242, which gives the West Bank to the Palestinian and East Jerusalem? They said, if the Palestinian accept it, we accept it. We do not want to be more Palestinian than the Palestinians. The Iranians have officially stated this.
Now, there’s a lot of people going to say, well, look at Ahmadinejad. Look at his statements. We can’t trust him. Well, I think we have to sit down with Khamenei and the real leadership and find out if, in fact, they’re serious. By not talking to your enemy, you’re going to miss signals. You’re going to miss opportunities.
GROSS: Do you think, if Iran does successfully complete development of a nuclear weapon, that that weapon would pose an existential threat to Israel?
Mr. BAER: I don’t think – the Israelis have nuclear weapons, and they would obliterate Iran if attacked, and they are capable of doing it. The Iranians understand this. I think what we don’t want is the Iranians to get a nuclear weapon simply because it would start an arms race the Gulf. The Saudis would immediately build one. You know, what’s to stop the Kuwaitis or the Emirates and so forth?….
Iran’s talks with West not in crisis – Larijani, Kuwait News Agency – 12 October, 2008
Speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani said Saturday Tehran’s talks with the West were not in a crisis phase.
Larijani, in a meeting with a delegation of French parliamentarians here, said Iran and the Western countries could reach a solution over the Iranian nuclear program providing “some Western behaviour change.” The policies and reactions of some Western countries, which were not named, against Iran were “illogical and hasty,” Larijani was quoted by state-run news agency (Irna) as saying. Head of the French delegation MP Jean-Louis Bianco said Europe was calling for dialogue with Iran to iron out all differences over the nuclear program.
Iran, he said, “can help a lot to achieving peace and stability in the region specially in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Bianco, in earlier remarks here, said France has never opposed Iran’s right to to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
3,000 families flee Iraq’s Mosul: Official, Khaleej Times – 12 October, 2008
Hundreds of terrified Christian families have fled Mosul to escape extremist attacks that have increased despite months of U.S. and Iraqi military operations to secure the northern Iraqi city, political and religious officials said Saturday. Some 3,000 Christians have fled the city over the past week alone in a “major displacement,” said Duraid Mohammed Kashmoula, the governor of northern Iraq’s Ninevah province..“The Christians were subjected to abduction attempts and paid ransom, but now they are subjected to a killing campaign,” Kashmoula said, adding he believed “al-Qaida” elements were to blame and called for a renewed drive to root them out. …. Mosul police have reported finding the bullet-riddled bodies of seven Christians in separate attacks so far this month….. Iraq’s Christian community has been estimated at 3 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people, or about 800,000, and has a significant presence in the northern Ninevah province…. Joseph Jacob, a professor at Mosul University, said there were nearly 20,000 Christians in the city before the 2003 U.S. invasion. But over half have since left for neighboring towns, or new countries, he said.
Islamic extremists have frequently targeted Christians since the invasion, forcing tens of thousands to flee Iraq. Attacks had tapered off amid a drastic decline in overall violence nationwide, but that appears to be changing with the deaths this month….
Bush’s Crucial Handoffs, (By David Ignatius, The Washington Post)
One bridge-building opportunity involves Syria, a country that has often confounded U.S. policy in the Middle East. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has asked America to join France and Turkey as a co-sponsor of its indirect peace talks with Israel. The Syrians want to lock in U.S. support for an initiative that has Israeli, Syrian and European backing.
The administration has been cautious here, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met her Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moualem, in New York last month to resume high-level dialogue; her top Middle East deputy, David Welch, held a follow-up meeting. They should take the next step and test Syria’s promise to meet directly with Israel if the United States backs the negotiations. Meanwhile, Washington and Damascus should reopen the channel they created after the Sept. 11 attacks to share intelligence about the common threat from radical jihadist groups.
After relenting on nuclear inspection, North Korea off U.S. terrorism list, The Associated Press
North Korea will allow atomic experts to take samples and conduct forensic tests on its nuclear facilities.
Damascus: Day of the Khans / يوم الخانات
This Saturday, 11 October, from 2:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) is proud to co-sponsor the Day of the Khans as part of the 2008 Silk Road Festival.
This event aims to highlight the unique cultural and architectural heritage of Damascus’ khans – large buildings nestled within the covered souks of old Damascus that served as important centers for both trade and the meeting of different cultures.
From Syrian fishing port to naval power base: Russia moves into the Mediterranean
By Hugh Macleod
The Guardian, Wednesday October 8 2008
During balmy evenings in the sleepy Syrian port of Tartous locals promenade along the seafront or suck on hookahs discussing the two great pillars of their society: business and family.
Politics, such as it is in the tightly controlled one-party state, rarely gets a mention, and certainly not in public. But few could fail to wonder about the foreign sailors dockside and the grey warship dominating a harbour that was once a trading hub of the Phoenician empire and is now the centre of a new projection of power, this time by Syria’s old ally Russia.
Tartous is being dredged and renovated to provide a permanent facility for the Russian navy, giving Moscow a key military foothold in the Mediterranean at a time when Russia’s invasion of Georgia has led to fears of a new cold war.
The bolstering of military ties between Russia and Syria has also worried Israel, whose prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was in Moscow yesterday seeking to persuade the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, to stop Russian arms sales to Syria and Iran. Mr Olmert later said he had received assurances that Russia would not allow Israel’s security to be threatened, but offered no indication he won any concrete promises on Russian arms sales…
Iraq offers free returns for its Syrian refugees
By Albert Aji
The Associated Press, 8 October 2008
The Iraqi embassy in Damascus is organizing free journeys for refugees who want to return from Syria — the second such project in as many years — though two days into the campaign Wednesday, there have been no takers.
A large black banner plastered on the wall of the embassy urged Iraqis to register to return home. Similar posters have been placed on religious centers and offices of Iraqi parties in Damascus.
Adnan al-Shourifi, the commercial secretary at the Iraqi embassy, said that free convoys and plane tickets would be provided for the returnees, along with about US$1,300 in cash to each family from the Iraqi government and US$500 from the U.N.
Last November, the Iraqi embassy organized similar free convoys. Hundreds of refugees went back home at the time as the situation improved amid a U.S. troop increase and Iraqi forces taking more control of tense areas.
On Tuesday, the U.N. opened a registration center in a Damascus suburb for those interested in returning to Iraq but no one showed up, officials at the center said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Rashid Abdo, 36, who came to Syria five years ago from Baghdad, said he wouldn’t return. “There is no confidence in this Iraqi government. I prefer any country in the world over Iraq,” he said.
Al-Shourifi, the diplomat, said no date has been set for the first free trip, but stressed that another incentive for the returnees will be an extra monthly pay of US$120 per family. He did not say for how long those sums would be paid.
The returnees would also get houses and jobs back home, he said.
“We expect a large number of refugees to return,” al-Shourifi said, adding that plans include one free convoy a week once all arrangements are made.
Syria is home to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who fled the violence in their country after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Syria says their influx has strained its education, health and housing systems, pushing the government to tighten visa requirements and to call for international assistance.
Damascus has said the cost of the Iraqi refugees’ stay in Syria is estimated at US$1.6 billion a year.