On Wednesday, Steve Clemons published an Oct. 17 private letter from Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) to President George W. Bush calling for "direct, unconditional talks with the Government of Iran." -- The full text of the letter, as well as a link to a PDF file of the document, appears below. -- Warren Strobel and Kevin Hall of McClatchy Newspapers pointed out last week that Sen. Hagel was outspoken in his criticism of the Bush administration's unilateral sanctions against Iran, announced on Oct. 25. -- "Unilateral sanctions rarely ever work," Hagel said then. "I just don't think the unilateral approach and giving war speeches helps the situation. It will just drive the Iranians closer together" and "escalates the danger of a military confrontation." ...
PRIVATE NOTE TO BUSH FROM HAGEL CALLS FOR DIRECT, UNCONDITIONAL, COMPREHENSIVE TALKS WITH IRAN
By Steven C. Clemons
October 31, 2007
I have just secured a private letter -- not yet publicly released -- from Senator Chuck Hagel to President Bush and copied to Condoleezza Rice, Robert Gates, and Stephen Hadley. I should add that I did not receive this letter from Senator Hagel but from other sources.
The letter urges the President to pursue "direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran."
In the letter, both attached and reprinted in full below, Hagel warns that "unless there is a strategic shift [from the current situation], I believe we will find ourselves in a dangerous and increasingly isolated position in the coming months." Hagel continues, "I do not see how the collective actions that we are now taking will produce the results that we seek."
Senator Hagel encourages President Bush to take the bold strategic step of offering a completely different course for U.S.-Iran relations. He writes about direct unconditional talks: "An approach such as this would strengthen our ability across the board to deal with Iran. Our friends and allies would be more confident to stand with us if we seek to increase pressure, including tougher sanctions on Iran. It could create a historic new dynamic in U.S.-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West. We should be prepared that any dialogue process with Iran will take time, and we should continue all efforts, as you have, to engage Iran from a position of strength. We should not wait to consider the option of bilateral talks until all other diplomatic options are exhausted. At that point, it could well be too late."
This letter is a call for serious, level-headed rationality from one of the Senate's most stalwart "classic conservatives."
I have since learned that the letter somehow made its way to U.S. Central Command Commander William Fallon, perhaps through Defense Secretary Gates or other avenues, and Fallon allegedly communicated with the Senator that serious articulations of American interests and consideration of the options Hagel recommends are much needed in this current political and policy environment.
I need to also report that while I am in complete agreement with the content of Senator Hagel's letter and had the privilege of moderating a dinner discussion with him yesterday evening, the content of this letter came via other sources to me -- and I trust the Senator and his staff will respect the fact that I felt it important to bring this letter to public attention and have not violated any trust with any person in his office.
FULL TEXT OF LETTER FROM SENATOR CHUCK HAGEL TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH ON U.S. IRAN POLICY, 17 OCTOBER 2007
"October 17, 2007
"The White House
"Washington, DC 20500
"Dear Mr. President:
"I write to urge you to consider pursuing direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran.
"In the last two years, the United States has worked closely with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany, Japan, and other key states as well as the U.N. Secretary General and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency to pursue a diplomatic strategy regarding Iran's nuclear program. I have supported your efforts. Maintaining a cohesive and united international front remains one of our most effective levers on Iran.
"In the last year, you have also authorized our Ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, to hold bilateral talks with Iranian officials regarding the situation in Iraq. I have also supported this effort. Although Iran has continued dangerous actions in Iraq, this channel for dialogue is important.
"I am increasingly concerned, however, that this diplomatic strategy is stalling. There are growing differences with our international partners. Concerns remain that the United States' actual objectives is regime change in Iran, not a change in Iran's behavior. Prospects for further action in the U.N. Security Council have grown dim, and we appear increasingly reliant on a single-track effort to expand financial pressure on Iran outside of the U.N. Security Council. Iran's actions, both on its nuclear program and in Iraq, are unchanged. Iran's leaders appear increasingly confident in their positions vis-à-vis the United States.
"Unless there is a strategic shift, I believe we will find ourselves in a dangerous and increasingly isolated position in the coming months. I do not see how the collective actions that we are now taking will produce the results that we seek. If this continues, our ability to sustain a united international front will weaken as countries grow uncertain over our motives and unwilling to risk open confrontation with Iran, and we are left with fewer and fewer policy options.
"Now is the time for the United States to active consider when and how to offer direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with Iran. The offer should be made even as we continue to work with our allies on financial pressure, in the U.N. Security Council on a third sanctions resolution, and in the region to support those Middle East countries who share our concerns with Iran. The November report by IAEA Director General ElBaradei to the IAEA Board of Governors could provide an opportunity to advance the offer of bilateral talks.
"An approach such as this would strengthen our ability across the board to deal with Iran. Our friends and allies would be more confident to stand with us if we seek to increase pressure, including tougher sanctions on Iran. It could create a historic new dynamic in U.S.-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West. We should be prepared that any dialogue process with Iran will take time, and we should continue all efforts, as you have, to engage Iran from a position of strength.
"We should not wait to consider the option of bilateral talks until all other diplomatic options are exhausted. At that point, it could well be too late.
"I urge you to consider pursing direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran.
"Thank you for considering my views.
"[signed] Chuck H.
"United States Senator
"cc: Condoleezza Rice
"Robert M. Gates
"Stephen J. Hadley"
This is a letter benchmarking the views of one of the most grounded, foreign policy savvy, common sense thinkers about the eroding state of America's military and national security portfolio. And he's a Midwestern American Republican who served in the United States Military.
Senator Hagel will be speaking for the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday, 8 November, at the Capital Hilton at 11 am on the subject of America's Iran policy -- and no doubt this letter that I have secured will be among the topics of discussion.
NEW U.S. SANCTIONS LIKELY TO WEAKEN INTERNATIONAL UNITY ON IRAN
By Warren P. Strobel and Kevin G. Hall
October 25, 2007
WASHINGTON -- For more than two years, the United States has insisted that the key to stopping Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program is maintaining unified international pressure on the Islamic Republic.
But on Thursday, the Bush administration signaled in no uncertain terms that it's prepared to go its own way in confronting what it considers to be a growing threat from Iran, even if doing so demolishes an increasingly shaky global consensus.
The administration unilaterally imposed the toughest set of sanctions on Iran since the country's Islamic revolution in 1979.
The measures target the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the military vanguard of Iran's Islamic state; the IRGC's paramilitary arm, the Quds force; Iran's largest state-owned bank and two others; and 17 companies and individuals that are part of the IRGC.
The sanctions are intended to cut off Iran's access to the U.S. financial system and discourage private businesses from operating in the country.
President Bush's action drew immediate criticism from his own party.
"Unilateral sanctions rarely ever work," Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a foreign policy moderate, said during his weekly news conference. "I just don't think the unilateral approach and giving war speeches helps the situation. It will just drive the Iranians closer together."
It also "escalates the danger of a military confrontation," Hagel said.
West European governments didn't immediately react to the sanctions. But Russian President Vladimir Putin warned scathingly that new sanctions could worsen relations with Iran and bring talks to "a dead end."
"It's not the best way to resolve the situation by running around like a madman with a razor blade in his hand," he said during a visit to Portugal.
The broad sanctions, senior U.S. officials said, are meant to target not only Iran's nuclear program, but also what Washington asserts is its support for anti-U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, export of ballistic missiles, and support for international terrorism.
Matthew Levitt, an expert on terrorist financing and a former Treasury Department official, said the measures are "the largest single sanction action that I know of. . . . This is huge."
Others said that while the sanctions are likely to deepen Iran's isolation, other countries with deep business ties to Iran, such as China and Russia, are unlikely to follow suit.
The sanctions end what bankers call "U-turn" transactions -- using third parties to settle oil contracts in the United States -- which allowed Iran to conduct business in dollars despite previous sanctions.
But Iran had prepared for the U.S. decision by moving most of its oil business into euros and yen, the currencies of the European Union and Japan. "It's not like it came without warning," said Hal Eren, a Washington attorney who specializes in legal issues involving economic sanctions.
The unilateral U.S. move, under consideration for several months, appears to be an acknowledgement that U.S.-led efforts to contain Iran via the United Nations Security Council have faltered.
Last month, in the face of resistance from Russia, China and Germany, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice agreed to postpone consideration of new U.N. sanctions until next month, pending talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"We haven't seen the kind of action from many countries around the world who trade with Iran. China, for instance, has increased its trade with Iran," said Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns. "And since we believe in diplomacy and want to make it work, we have to find another way to make diplomacy work and that is through these strengthened sanctions."
Burns and Rice went out of their way to insist that the sanctions weren't a prelude to military action against Iran.
However, the U.S. actions, announced by Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, also underscore a growing divergence between the United States and even its European allies in how they perceive the Iranian threat.
France, Britain and, to a lesser extent, Germany and others are focused on Iran's enrichment of uranium, which could be used for nuclear weapons.
But the United States now finds itself locked in proxy combat with Tehran on a broader front, including the nuclear issue; the flow of arms from Iran to Shiite militias in Iraq; and Iranian backing for groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah that oppose U.S. plans in the Middle East.
"Not all countries may have the breadth of interests the United States has," Burns said.
Levitt predicted that other countries eventually may follow the new U.S. sanctions with similar measures. Banks and firms in Germany, France, and elsewhere have begun reducing business in Iran, and a 34-nation group known as the Financial Action Task Force recently advised its members' banks to weigh the risks of dealing with Iran.
Some experts doubt the sanctions will sway Russia and China, however.
"I think from Putin's visit to (Iran President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad the other day, he's probably not going to go along with this effort. And the Chinese are playing a very quiet role, but I too expect they will be very reluctant," said Gary Hufbauer, an expert on economic sanctions at the Petersen Institute for International Economics.
"Maybe this is the best that can be done," Hufbauer said.