On Friday, the Financial Times of London reported that at a meeting last week of "30 Iranians, including analysts, academics, and members of religious and ethnic minorities" White House officials Elliott Abrams and Nicholas Burns "argued against régime change," in the words of an Iranian participant.[1]  --  Guy Dinmore noted that "independent analysts" have concluded "that the Bush administration has no desire to broaden the war in Lebanon."  --  But the opposite is also true, since independent analysts like James Bamford and Wayne Madsen have recently concluded the Lebanon is the first phase of a deliberate plan for a wider conflict.  --  The Financial Times seems to share those anxieties.  --  Dinmore quoted Trita Parsi, an analyst of the Iran-Israel relationship, who noted:  "By pre-emptively attacking Hamas and Hezbollah now, Israel can significantly deprive Iran of its capabilities to retaliate against Israel in the event of a U.S. assault on Iran." ...



Middle East & Africa

By Guy Dinmore

Financial Times (UK)
July 28, 2006


Despite its occasionally strong rhetoric against Iran and Syria, the Bush administration has no desire to broaden the war in Lebanon to engulf those two states, nor wage a "proxy war". This was the view that emerged from a meeting last week between White House officials and exiled Iranian opposition activists.

The gathering of 30 Iranians, including analysts, academics and members of religious and ethnic minorities, was billed by the White House as a "historic first step in promoting personal freedom and liberty in Iran". The two officials presiding were Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy, dubbed by his critics as the "neo-cons' neo-con", and Nicholas Burns, the third-ranked official in the state department who handles the Iran portfolio.

Expecting a ringing endorsement of President George W. Bush's "freedom agenda" and support for "regime change", several participants came away with a very different message. "They argued against regime change," one Iranian said of Mr Abrams and Mr Burns. "They said there are other governments we don't like, but we don't change them."

There was virtually no discussion of events in Lebanon or Iran's backing of Hezbollah, nor of U.S. plans to give millions of dollars to Iranian pro-democracy activists. Instead the agenda was dominated by Iran's nuclear program, and the U.S. diplomatic approach at the United Nations to stop it. "They are obsessed with the nuclear issue," commented one Iranian.

A White House spokesman did not dispute that account of the meeting. He cited Mr. Abrams as saying that the U.S. "would obviously like regime change" in a number of countries that were not free, but this attitude was "not a daily guide" to dealing with them.

Accounts of that meeting have confirmed the conclusions of independent analysts -- and the fears of Washington's pro-Israel neo-conservatives -- that the Bush administration has no desire to broaden the war in Lebanon.

"The regime change thing is very low on their priority list," said one veteran Iran-watcher. He said it reflected U.S. recognition that regime change was not feasible at present, and the depth of the U.S. "quagmire" in Iraq.

Meanwhile, U.S. pressure on Iran would concentrate on the nuclear issue at the U.N. Security Council.

A European diplomat who follows U.S.-Iran policy said Israel's assault on Hizbollah should not be seen as a proxy war between the U.S. and Iran. "The Bush administration blames Iran to some degree, but this is not an Iran-centred crisis," he said. But, as Trita Parsi, an analyst of the Iran-Israel relationship, points out, Hezbollah's arsenal and close ties with Iran is seen as the Islamic republic's main military deterrence outside its ability to stop oil tankers moving through the Gulf.

"By pre-emptively attacking Hamas and Hizbollah now, Israel can significantly deprive Iran of its capabilities to retaliate against Israel in the event of a U.S. assault on Iran," he said.

Analysts warn, however, that ambiguities in U.S. strategy could yet drag Iran and Syria into a wider conflict that they do not want.

As the U.S. continues to provide munitions and encouragement to Israel to degrade Hezbollah -- with the resulting cost in civilian lives, infrastructure, and inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment -- the danger remains that Hezbollah will carry out its threat to hit targets deeper inside Israel, possibly with Iranian-supplied missiles.

* China indicated yesterday that failure by the U.S. to agree to a draft Security Council statement condemning Israel's bombing of a U.N. observer post in Lebanon could diminish immediate prospects for a deal on Iran's nuclear program, writes Mark Turner at the United Nations.

Wang Guangya, China's ambassador, said there was a "feeling of frustration" that would have a "negative impact" on other discussions. A Chinese soldier was one of four observers killed in the attack.

A meeting had been scheduled yesterday morning to discuss a resolution ordering Iran to suspend its nuclear program. But it was cancelled due to the bad atmospherics, a diplomat said.