Cheney pushes Bush to act on Iran

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2127115,00.html

Military solution back in favour as Rice loses out
President 'not prepared to leave conflict unresolved'

Ewen MacAskill in Washington and Julian Borger
Monday July 16, 2007

The balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in
favour of military action before President George Bush leaves office in 18
months, the Guardian has learned.
The shift follows an internal review involving the White House, the Pentagon
and the state department over the last month. Although the Bush
administration is in deep trouble over Iraq, it remains focused on Iran. A
well-placed source in Washington said: "Bush is not going to leave office
with Iran still in limbo."


The White House claims that Iran, whose influence in the Middle East has
increased significantly over the last six years, is intent on building a
nuclear weapon and is arming insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The vice-president, Dick Cheney, has long favoured upping the threat of
military action against Iran. He is being resisted by the secretary of
state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates.

Last year Mr Bush came down in favour of Ms Rice, who along with Britain,
France and Germany has been putting a diplomatic squeeze on Iran. But at a
meeting of the White House, Pentagon and state department last month, Mr
Cheney expressed frustration at the lack of progress and Mr Bush sided with
him. "The balance has tilted. There is cause for concern," the source said
this week.

Nick Burns, the undersecretary of state responsible for Iran and a career
diplomat who is one of the main advocates of negotiation, told the meeting
it was likely that diplomatic manoeuvring would still be continuing in
January 2009. That assessment went down badly with Mr Cheney and Mr Bush.

"Cheney has limited capital left, but if he wanted to use all his capital on
this one issue, he could still have an impact," said Patrick Cronin, the
director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The Washington source said Mr Bush and Mr Cheney did not trust any potential
successors in the White House, Republican or Democratic, to deal with Iran
decisively. They are also reluctant for Israel to carry out any strikes
because the US would get the blame in the region anyway.

"The red line is not in Iran. The red line is in Israel. If Israel is
adamant it will attack, the US will have to take decisive action," Mr Cronin
said. "The choices are: tell Israel no, let Israel do the job, or do the job
yourself."

Almost half of the US's 277 warships are stationed close to Iran, including
two aircraft carrier groups. The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise left
Virginia last week for the Gulf. A Pentagon spokesman said it was to replace
the USS Nimitz and there would be no overlap that would mean three carriers
in Gulf at the same time.

No decision on military action is expected until next year. In the meantime,
the state department will continue to pursue the diplomatic route.

Sporadic talks are under way between the EU foreign policy chief, Javier
Solana, and Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, on the possibility
of a freeze in Iran's uranium enrichment programme. Tehran has so far
refused to contemplate a freeze, but has provisionally agreed to another
round of talks at the end of the month.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has
said that there are signs of Iran slowing down work on the enrichment plant
it is building in Natanz. Negotiations took place in Tehran last week
between Iranian officials and the IAEA, which is seeking a full accounting
of Iran's nuclear activities before Tehran disclosed its enrichment
programme in 2003. The agency's deputy director general, Olli Heinonen, said
two days of talks had produced "good results" and would continue.

At the UN, the US, Britain and France are trying to secure agreement from
other security council members for a new round of sanctions against Iran.
The US is pushing for economic sanctions that would include a freeze on the
international dealings of another Iranian bank and a mega-engineering firm
owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Russia and China are resisting
tougher measures.