The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that in recent months "U.S. commanders [in Iraq] have been acknowledging that Tehran appears to be keeping a promise made to Iraq's government to control arms smuggling over the border."[1]  --  This is a marked change in tone from earlier in the year, and reporter Tina Susman called attention to an interview with CentCom commander Adm. William Fallon in the Financial Times of London on Nov. 12 that exemplifies the shift.  --  Also on Saturday, PRESS TV (Iran) reported that a high Iraqi official said that Iranian and U.S. officials will soon hold another round of talks on the security situation in Iraq.[2]  --  The Tehran Times echoed the report on Sunday.[3]  --  A blog on the web site of the Baltimore Sun reported on Thursday that talks were imminent, and that "The talks will be headed on the U.S. side by Marcie B. Ries, a former Ambassador to Albania who is now counselor for political-military affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad."[4]  --  NOTE:  About 600,000 former Iranian nationals and their descendants are said to live in Los Angeles.  The New York Times and Washington Post have not reported on the latest news concerning the new talks....

1.

World

IN IRAQ, U.S. SHIFTS ITS TONE ON IRAN
By Tina Susman

** Officials have backed off the accusations of arms smuggling and agreed to talk. It could be each side needs the other. **

Los Angeles Times
December 1, 2007

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-iraqiran1dec01,1,2121619.story

[PHOTO CAPTION:  A U.S. Army officer picks up a piece of evidence, purported to be gathered by U.S. military to support the claim that Iran is supporting militant Iraqis, at a press conference February 14, 2007 in Baghdad.]

BAGHDAD -- Not long ago, U.S. military officials in Iraq routinely displayed rockets, mortars, and jagged chunks of metal to reporters and insisted that they were Iranian-made arms being fired at American bases. Collaboration between Tehran and Washington on stabilizing Iraq seemed doubtful at best.

In the last two months, though, there has been a shift in U.S. military and diplomatic attitudes toward Iran. Officials have backed away from sweeping accusations that the Iranian leadership is orchestrating massive smuggling of arms, agents, and ammunition. Instead, they have agreed to a new round of talks with Iranian and Iraqi officials over security in Iraq. The meeting is expected to take place this month.

The U.S. also freed nine Iranian men last month, some of whom it had been holding since 2004. Iran denied U.S. accusations that many of them had been assisting anti-U.S. militias in Iraq, and had demanded their release in a series of testy exchanges with U.S. officials.

When the U.S. freed them, it did not allude to the Iranian demands. It said only that they no longer posed a threat.

Pentagon officials and analysts cite several reasons for the change, including U.S. concern that provoking Iran could set off a confrontation that military commanders are keen to avoid, and the realization that better relations with Iran would help stabilize Iraq.

"I do think that the military and civilian leadership in Washington has by and large come to the realization that it's going to be impossible to stabilize Iraq without Iran's positive contribution or cooperation," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Iraq also has served both Iran and the U.S. as a proxy battlefield for their dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions, and it may serve both sides now in tamping down the tensions.

Washington hard-liners have suggested that military force be used against Iran over its refusal to drop its nuclear enrichment program, and linking Iran to the violence in Iraq could bolster their case for military action. Analysts say the U.S. shift reflects the increased assertiveness of more moderate military and civilian forces concerned about a possible backlash from Iran at a time when the U.S. military is badly stretched. Meanwhile, analysts say Iran may be looking for ways to avoid more international sanctions against its nuclear program.

DECLINE IN ATTACKS

Since October, when attacks on American forces in Iraq dropped dramatically over previous months, U.S. commanders have been acknowledging that Tehran appears to be keeping a promise made to Iraq's government to control arms smuggling over the border. They are far from lavishing praise on the Iranian leadership, but their comments are a turnabout from the Iran-bashing of previous months.

The change has been echoed in the senior military leadership, particularly by the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, and the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Navy Adm. William J. Fallon.

Both four-star admirals have given interviews in recent weeks in which they downplayed suggestions that the United States was preparing to strike Iranian nuclear facilities. Their comments were noteworthy because they came at the same time the White House, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, had been delivering bellicose warnings against Tehran.

In an interview Nov. 12 with the *Financial Times*, Fallon described such rhetoric as "not particularly helpful."

Mullen has been more circumspect in public, but Pentagon officials familiar with his thinking say he is concerned about provoking extremist elements within the Iranian regime, which could make things worse in Iraq.

"You're just expanding the violence in the region instead of controlling it, essentially opening another front in the war," one military officer said, describing Mullen's thinking.

The military still remains wary of Iran's involvement in Iraq. Last Saturday, a military spokesman, Navy Rear Adm. Greg Smith, alleged that rogue militiamen backed by Iran were responsible for a market bombing in Baghdad a day earlier that killed as many as 15 people.

But Smith emphasized that he was not blaming Iran's government for the market blast. Rather, he said that people arrested in connection with it were members of a cell historically backed by Iranian elements.

At a Baghdad briefing Nov. 15, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James Simmons told reporters there was no recent evidence that the roadside bombs that caused most American deaths were still crossing Iran's border.

"We believe that the initiatives and the commitments that the Iranians have made appear to be holding up," he said.

The change followed a subtle altering in past months of U.S. attitudes toward another Iraqi figure with links to Iran, anti-U.S. Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr. American military leaders have given Sadr tacit praise for reining in his Mahdi Army militia since February, when an additional 28,500 U.S. forces began arriving in Iraq to try to quell the violence.

U.S. officials had long accused Sadr's militia of enjoying Iranian support. Lately, they have said most Sadr loyalists are adhering to a cease-fire the cleric called in August and say only rogue elements operating out of Sadr's control are causing problems.

Analysts say the changes are the most hopeful signs of improved U.S.-Iranian relations since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003 and reflect a realization in Washington that both Iran and Sadr are powerful presences here to stay.

Sadjadpour and others say the departure of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has helped alter attitudes in the Pentagon. A senior Pentagon official suggested that Rumsfeld's replacement, Robert M. Gates, was seeking to moderate public rhetoric after concluding that a strike on Iranian nuclear sites could be counterproductive.

Gates has not publicly echoed the comments of Mullen and Fallon. But unlike Rumsfeld, who was frequently accused of muzzling senior military leaders, he has not rebuked them for their softer tone on Iran, a signal he is sympathetic to their stance.

AKIN TO EARLIER TACK

Gary Sick, an aide to President Carter during the 1979 Iranian revolution and U.S. hostage crisis, compared the turnaround to the U.S. military's decision early this year to recruit former insurgents and their supporters into the Iraqi security forces, rather than try to eliminate them. The campaign is credited with greatly reducing violence in many parts of the country.

"The bottom line is, saying these people are enemies and we have to kill them is not a solution to our problems," said Sick, now a researcher at Columbia University.

There also is the possibility that the standoff over Iran's nuclear enrichment program has had the unintended result of forcing the two sides to deal more civilly with each other.

Tehran denies the U.S. allegations that it has meddled in Iraq and says such accusations are designed to build support for an American strike on its nuclear enrichment facilities.

Despite Iran's public show of defiance, though, Sick said he believed it had been badly jolted by two sanctions resolutions passed this year by the U.N. Security Council over the nuclear issue. The United States is pushing for a third resolution.

"They found those very troublesome and want to avoid another round," Sick said of the sanctions, which have affected Iranian officials' assets, freedom to travel and the country's ability to obtain technology and funds for its nuclear program. "It could . . . mean that they are interested in working out a more reasonable relationship with the United States in Iraq."

At the same time, the United States has to accept that Russia and China will keep trying to block further sanctions, said Sadjadpour. That has reminded Washington that Iran is a force to be reckoned with, either on nuclear or Iraqi issues, he said.

Both agreed that Iran wanted to bolster its image in Iraq and the region to heighten its influence not just among Shiites, but among all Muslims. It could start by convincing the United States it is not sowing trouble in Iraq.

Whether Washington will ever be convinced is impossible to say, they said, but there are hints it is more open to persuasion than before.

"I'm very, very cautiously optimistic," Sick said. "I think we've all been wrong enough times, but there are some interesting, tantalizing signs that maybe something is going on that could lead to change."

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2.

IRAN, U.S. 'TO RESUME TALKS ON IRAQ'

Press TV (Iran)
December 1, 2007

http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=33252&sectionid=351020101

Abdel-Aziz Hakim, head of the United Iraq Coalition, has said that Iran and the U.S. would soon hold their fourth round of talks on Iraq.

Iran has been playing a positive role in improving security in Iraq and the country's strong support for the Iraqi nation has been proved, Mehr New Agency quoted Hakim as telling reporters.

He also said it was the Iraqi nation that managed to improve the security situation in the country through playing a more active role in the fight against terrorism.

Iran and the US have already held three rounds of talks on Iraq's security, which took place on May 28, July 24, and August 6.

The first and second rounds of the talks were held between Iran's Ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, and his American counterpart, Ryan Crocker, while the third round was attended by experts from the two countries.

3.

NEW IRAN-U.S. TALKS ON IRAQ IMMINENT: HAKIM

Tehran Times
December 2, 2007

http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=158263

TEHRAN -- Iraqi Islamic Council Chairman Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim has said that Iranian and U.S. officials are to hold their fourth round of talks in coming days over the security situation in Iraq, Radio Sawa said on its website.

In his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington on Friday, Hakim underlined Iran’s positive measures to help reinforce security in Iraq.

He stated that his talks with Rice focused on Iraq’s security, national reconciliation, and Iraq’s reconstruction and issues related to neighboring countries.

Hakim asserted that Iran plays a positive role in establishing security in Iraq, adding, “There are documents proving that Iran has supported Iraq.”

The Iranian and U.S. ambassadors to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi and Ryan Crocker, met on August 6 in Baghdad for their third round of security talks. The first and second rounds of negotiations were held in Baghdad on May 28 and July 24.

The negotiations have so far led to the establishment of a trilateral security committee between U.S., Iran, and Iraq to investigate issues such as support for militias and al-Qaeda in Iraq.

4.

The Swamp

NEW TALKS WITH IRAN?
By Bay Fang

Baltimore Sun
November 29, 2007

http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/politics/blog/2007/11/new_talks_with_iran.html

A long-delayed fourth round of U.S. talks with Iran over security in Iraq is expected to take place soon, but Iran has not yet agreed on a date, according to U.S. officials. The Americans had been saying that the talks could begin as early as tomorrow.

The talks will be headed on the U.S. side by Marcie B. Ries, a former Ambassador to Albania who is now counselor for political-military affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Tehran had originally hoped for an ambassador-level meeting, according to a U.S. official, and has not yet announced who will be representing it at the talks.

It is not clear why the Iranians have not yet agreed on a date. One obstacle could be a meeting in Paris Saturday of diplomatic officials from France, Britain, Russia, China, Germany, and the U.S. to discuss the next round of United Nations sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear program.

Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, will be representing the U.S. at those talks, and he hopes to get Chinese cooperation on pushing a stronger set of sanctions on Iran.

U.S. officials in Iraq have noted a decline in the number of Iranian-sponsored attacks around the country over the past couple of months, but have not spoken directly to Tehran about security in Iraq since the last round of talks conducted by Ambassador Ryan Crocker in August. The previous sessions ended inconclusively, with Iran rejecting U.S. claims that Tehran is providing bomb-making material to Shi'ite insurgent groups that is used against U.S. troops.

The talks, which were first proposed by Iraq, would address only security issues in that country. Iran would like to raise the question of the Mujahideen el-Khalq, a militant group based in Iraq that advocates the overthrow of the Iranian regime.

Earlier this month, the U.S. released nine of the 20 Iranians captured in Iraq, which the U.S. accused of being members of the elite Quds Force, the arm of the Revolutionary Guard corps responsible for foreign operations.