Wednesday, December 06, 2006

David Ignatius
DUBAI -- On the eve of the Baker-Hamilton commission's report, a top Iranian official set a tough condition for his country's help in stabilizing Iraq, saying that Tehran isn't interested in such cooperation unless the Bush administration sets a timetable for withdrawing its troops.

Ali Larijani, Iran's national security adviser, said in an interview that a U.S. plan for removing "occupation forces" from Iraq would be considered "a sign of a change in strategy." In that case, he said, "Iran would definitely extend the hand of assistance and would use its influence to help solve the problem."

The Iranian official made his comments after a speech yesterday to a conference here called the Arab Strategy Forum. His remarks were the clearest statement I've heard of how Iran views its role in the region following what he described as the failure of U.S. intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. His tone was triumphalist: In his view, America is bogged down in Iraq and "in dire need of change," while a newly confident Iran is positioning itself as a dominant power for the region.

...Harvard professor Graham Allison, who had a private talk with Larijani following mine, said: "In discussing Iraq after U.S. withdrawal he didn't seem to have a credible idea of what comes next."

As for the idea of a regional peace conference involving Iraq's neighbors, Larijani told me he favored a smaller group of countries that are committed to the "new paradigm" in Iraq flowing from its democratic elections and constitution -- both of which enfranchised Iraq's Shiite majority. "We are against a tribal democracy," he said.

Larijani said President Bush's statement in an interview with me in September, in which Bush recognized Iran's status as an important nation in the region, was "the first sign of having any respect for the long history and cultural background of Iran." But Larijani said the administration needed to accompany such rhetoric with a halt to its "adventurous moves" against Tehran. "The Iranian people might be great and gracious, but not naive," he said.

Larijani isn't proposing a grand bargain but a ruthlessly pragmatic one shaped by Tehran's view of current realities: Iran is up, America is down, and any post-Iraq settlement should reflect those facts. That's the steep price of Tehran's help.
A "steep price" only for the arrogant and foolish.

The Arab Strategy Forum is more important than Baker-Hamilton.
(and Broder is an idiot)

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