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US Rejects Attempts to Link Iraq Crisis and Nuclear Talks

As Sunni and other opposition groups continue to threaten the US-created and Tehran-allied government of Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, American officials have signaled willingness to share information and perhaps coordinate strategy with their traditional enemies in the Iranian government. In spite of this, it is clear that there are strict limits being placed upon how much that coordination would be permitted to affect US policy towards Iran. 

The State Department dialed back its initial statements about potential cooperation, indicating that military coordination was not an option that was being considered. Secretary of State John Kerry indicated that his office was simply interested in communicating with Iran to assure that “there is a sharing of information so people aren’t making mistakes.” Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesperson Read Admiral John Kirby emphasized, “There are no plans to have consultations with Iran about military activities in Iraq.” 

More than that, certain advocates of US-Iran communication on the Iraqi crisis, such as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, have made this recommendation with the goal in mind of keeping pressure on Iran to limit its influence in a situation where the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force is already running the war in support of the Maliki government. 

While Graham and other major Iran critics are striving to use US authority to influence the roles being played in the Iraq crisis, Iranian officials are striving to use the Iraq crisis to mitigate US authority. Speaking to reporters at an international relations forum in Oslo on Wednesday, Mohammad Nahavandia, the chief of staff to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, suggested that the US government consider hastening a final deal in nuclear negotiations in order to secure Iranian cooperation on the issue of Iraq. 

The current crisis and American concerns about it are being perceived as potential sources of the leverage that at least one European negotiator has said Iran desperately needs in negotiations that are largely at an impasse. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has declared several red lines that negotiators cannot cross, including absolutely fundamental points of contention, such as how many enrichment centrifuges the regime will be allowed to keep in place. 

Although some Iran critics and human rights activists have criticized the Obama administration for refusing to use nuclear talks to engage Iran on the topic of its human rights abuses or regional interference, the separation of these various issues apparently remains firm in the minds of US policymakers now that Iran is trying to undermine it for the sake of its own advantage. The US has flatly rejected Nahavandian’s attempts to link Iran’s potential role in the Iraqi crisis with its responsibilities under the interim nuclear agreement.

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf declared on Wednesday, “Any discussion about Iraq with Iran will be entirely separate, and any effort to link the two — or any other regional issue — is a nonstarter.” The comments reiterate a position that had been expressed since about the time that US-Iran coordination was first mentioned. Although there were sideline discussions about the crisis at the fifth round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 this week, they were reportedly brief, and were kept completely separate from the main talks, with Western officials emphasizing that they had no bearing on the formulation of a nuclear deal.

This policy of separating Iran-related issues is not unique to the US. On Tuesday it was announced by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague that the UK would be reopening its embassy in Iran, which was closed two and a half years ago after being stormed by protestors. However, in his comments on the move, Hague insisted that it did not represent a general change in British policy towards Iran, and would largely serve the purpose of being able to talk directly with the regime while continuing to exert pressure on it over nuclear negotiations and other issues. 

But Mr. Nahavandian’s remarks on Wednesday raised questions about the willingness of the Iranian regime to recognize or maintain such separation of distinct issues. Indeed, key Iranian positions in the nuclear talks are regarded as so indefensible by Western powers that Iran may have to utilize both tangential leverage and outright deception to try to obtain extreme concessions from its negotiating partners.

 

Nahavandian’s attempt to link the nuclear issue to the Iraq crisis comes about a week after the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran issued a widely disputed paper claiming that Iran is years away from developing a nuclear weapon. Amidst combative domestic statements about conflict with the West and inconsistent cooperation with international nuclear inspectors, these two latest developments are further evidence that Iran is angling to secure a deal with the West without significantly moderating its dangerous policy positions.

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