Thursday, August 18, 2005

Iran can make matters worse

Interesting story on A4 of the Wall Street Journal today:
Iran Holds Big Bargaining Chips in Dispute
Tehran May Use High Oil Prices, Iraqi Turmoil as Leverage in Nuclear Talks With the West

“Iran’s role as both an oil producer at a time of record prices and as a player in the politics of neighboring Iraq have made it trickier for the Bush administration to get tough on Tehran in the nuclear showdown. The administration has threatened to seek United Nations sanctions against Iran in the fall if the country refuses to accept international oversight of its nuclear program.”

Notice how our being stuck in this Iraqi quagmire has weakened our position in dealing with a more serious threat. Here we have the Iranian mullahs openly saying they will revive their nuclear-enrichment program and the best we can do is threaten them with U.N. sanctions sometime in the fall.

”The nuclear standoff comes at a particularly inopportune time for the Bush administration. In Iraq, the administration is scrambling to help the country’s factions overcome differences and hammer out a constitution, taking a crucial step toward solidifying the country so U.S. troops might eventually withdraw.
Iran, which shares a long border with Iraq, has huge sway over much of Iraq’s now-dominant Shiite population, and it could disrupt the constitutional process if it so chose. Western diplomats in Tehran say Iranian officials have been blunt in recent weeks on that point, threatening to cause problems in Iraq if the Bush administration tries to punish Iran with international sanctions.”

The story goes on to note that the most powerful man in Iraq today is the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, whose approval has been central to every political twist and turn. And Sistani is much closer to officials in his native Iran than he is with the U.S.

”When Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharazi, visited Iraq recently he visited Mr. Sistani - an audience so far denied to top U.S. officials. ‘It didn’t exactly please us to see the Iranians getting face time with Sistani,’ said a senior American diplomat in Iraq.”

But that is not the only leverage that Iran has right now. You think oil prices are high now? Just wait until they start messing around with oil shipments in the Middle East.

”Officials in Tehran have suggested that they might move to crimp tanker flows through the crucial Strait of Hormuz, which would have far more serious consequences. Around 15 million barrels of oil a day, and a large percentage of the world’s gas supplies, flow through Hormuz.”

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