Imagine US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meeting next Tuesday, September 24, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. No, this is not a hallucination.
That would be a cautious first step trying to breach the impenetrable 34-year Wall of Mistrust between Washington and Tehran. And it has entered the realm of the possible after Obama admitted in an interview that letters have been exchanged between himself and Rouhani.
It's been a long, tortuous and invariably nasty road since US President Jimmy Carter met the Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, in 1977. The timing now couldn't be better. Even if it's just an ultra-choreographed photo op in an obscure UN corridor, so plausible deniability could be deployed by both sides -- after all, influential hawks in Tehran, but especially in Washington, have been working for decades to prevent such a meeting. Not by accident has the White House pre-emptively denied any possible meeting.
Rouhani, technically, has already stopped a war -- as Tehran worked closely with Damascus and Moscow devising a solution for the Syrian chemical weapons impasse. Rouhani is on full high-stakes diplomatic mode. Last week, he met with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) annual summit in Kyrgyzstan. They discussed not only the nuclear dossier, but also a common strategic path forward.
The Obama interview, recorded before the tentative deal struck in Geneva between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, offers a window on Obama's game.
In the "carrot" department, Obama for the first time admitted Iran should be part of the solution in Syria if it recognized "that what's happening there is a train wreck that hurts not just Syrians but is destabilizing the entire region." In fact Tehran has been trying to convey that to Washington for months, even warning that the "rebels" had access to chemical weapons.
US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo)
But then, in the "stick" department, Obama reverted to the same old message: "I think what the Iranians understand is that the nuclear issue is a far larger issue for us than the chemical weapons issue, that the threat against ... Israel that a nuclear Iran poses is much closer to our core interests. That a nuclear arms race in the region is something that would be profoundly destabilizing."
It's as if Obama was performing as a ventriloquist's puppet for Tel Aviv.
And right on cue, a threat could not have been more explicit: "My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn't draw a lesson that [because] we haven't struck to think we won't strike Iran."
Call it another exhibition of political schizophrenia. Still, Obama seems to leave a diplomatic door half-open: "You know, negotiations with the Iranians are always difficult. I think this new president is not going to suddenly make it easy. But you know, my view is that ... if you have both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, that in fact you can strike a deal."
Way more brazen is the White House's drive to steal all the credit for the Kerry-Lavrov deal from Moscow -- when it was the concerted Moscow-Tehran-Damascus negotiation that actually saved Obama's presidency from absolute disaster.
Obama had the gall to assert he acted according to a US game plan to use Moscow to neutralize Syria's chemical weapons -- and then open the door for a road map towards political transition in Syria.
Yet the current mess on what sort of UN resolution will regulate the dismantling of Damascus's chemical weapons already reveals that Washington, London and Paris are doing everything they can to unravel the Geneva agreement even before it is implemented.
There's absolutely no way Russia and China will accept this Syrian dossier falling under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, in an Iraq-style framework. Verification and implementation is fine; but not the UN Security Council imposing "m easures" (as in war) under Chapter 7 in case of non-compliance by Syria. "Non-compliance" could involve anything from "rebels" attacking inspectors to staging a false flag to implicate the government.