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Success of Iran-U.S. dialogue depends on doves-hawks rivalry: Jim Lobe

TEHRAN, July 22 (Mehr News Agency) - Iran and the United States are poised for a second round of direct talks about Iraq soon. Ambassadors of Iran and the U.S. in Baghdad last held face-to-face talks on May 28.

"After a series of ups and downs, Iran and America's ambassadors will hold talks about Iraq on Monday in Baghdad," Iran's Hamshahri newspaper said on Sunday, quoting an unidentified official. However, a U.S. embassy spokesman in Baghdad said the embassy was not expecting a second round on Monday, adding that any further information would come from Washington.

In an interview with the Mehr News Agency on July 19, American journalist Jim Lobe said the success of talks is dependent on the competition between hardliners and moderates in the U.S. administration.

Lobe, an American journalist and the Washington Bureau Chief of the international news agency Inter Press Service (IPS), also said the U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and persons around him don't want the talks succeed so that they can pretend that Washington tried to engage Iran but Iran was inflexible.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: Do you think anything constructive will come out of U.S.-Iran talks?

A: I think that the fact that both sides appear to want talks can only be seen as a good sign, but I'm not sure how sincere either party may be in resolving their differences over Iraq, in particular, let alone over the broader range of issues.

Q: Is there any firm support for a second round of talks on both sides?

Who are against the talks in the U.S.?

A: On the U.S. side, there remain hawks, particularly neo-conservatives around Vice President Dick Cheney, who strongly oppose any form of engagement with Iran, even over Iraq, let alone the broader issues you cite below. The question is how powerful they remain with in the administration. The Pentagon under Robert Gates clearly favors talks, and the State Department has long wanted to engage Iran on a host of issues (and has favored the release, for example, of the five Iranians seized by U.S. forces in Irbil in January), but it's not clear whether they hold the balance of power in the White House. Cheney obviously remains very influential and is smart enough to know that bilateral meetings confined to Iraq that take place once every two months will not get very far and can eventually be used to argue to the American public and European allies that Washington tried to engage Iran but that Iran was inflexible so stronger actions against it are necessary.

Q: Some say continued negotiations will ease regional tensions.

A: Again, I think talks can only help ease tensions - just as talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia on Lebanon appear to have helped ease tensions there. But much depends on the balance of power between hawks and doves, or pragmatists and neo-conservatives in both Washington and Tehran, and that is very difficult to ascertain.

Q: Do you think that the dialogue will cover broader issues such as Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf security, and the tension in the Middle East?

A: If talks about Iraq result in some kind of concrete understandings on which both sides are agreed - that is, if they can go beyond the ritual statement of their long-held positions about how best to stabilize Iraq - then you could see some momentum towards a broader engagement on all the issues that you mention. Ultimately, however, the Bush administration is most concerned about Iran's nuclear program, and the White House is unlikely to show much interest broadening the engagement beyond Iraq (and maybe Afghanistan, too) unless they are satisfied that Tehran will make serious concessions to western demands on that issue. IF those are forthcoming, I think you would see a willingness to broach a range of issues, just as you are seeing now with respect to North Korea.

... Payvand News - 7/22/07 ... --

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