Thursday, February 08, 2007

Just the fax, m'am

I think I've finally figured out the Bush Administration's strategy to avoid total collapse from scandal.

More scandal.

It's sort of like slamming a hammer on your big toe to take your mind off of the thumb that you pounded the moment before. Only in this case, it's the American public getting pounded.

In addition to 9/11, lying the US into war, ignoring the Iraqi insurgency, New Orleans, and a bunch of other crazy stuff, now it turns out that Bush told Iran that the US wasn't interested in a peaceful co-existence with Iraq's neighbor to the east, even if the Iranian government was willing to recognize Israel.

Some uppity Democratic senators just asked Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice about the Iranian overture, which was faxed to the US State Department through a Swiss intermediary, but she couldn't remember the details. In fact, she's not sure if the offer was ever made. Some things are so minor, so inconsequential, that they escape our memories in order to make room for the theme from Rawhide, or where Dubya keeps the keys to his pickup.
Rice was pressed Wednesday on whether the Bush administration missed an opportunity to improve relations with Iran in 2003, when Tehran issued a proposal calling for a broad dialogue with the United States, including cooperation on nuclear safeguards, action against terrorists and possible recognition of Israel.

Although former administration officials have said the proposal was discussed and ultimately rejected by top U.S. officials, Rice said she never saw it.

"I have read about this so-called proposal from Iran," Rice told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, referring to reports in the Washington Post and other publications last year. "I think I would have noticed if the Iranians had said, 'We're ready to recognize Israel.' ... I just don't remember ever seeing any such thing."

Rice's comments add a new level of complexity to an issue that has generated debate among foreign-policy experts: Did the Bush administration forego a chance to pursue a dialogue with Iran shortly after the fall of Baghdad, when U.S. power seemed at its height?

The Iranian document, conveyed to Washington via the Swiss Embassy, listed a series of Iranian aims for potential talks, such as ending sanctions, full access to peaceful nuclear technology, and recognition of its "legitimate security interests," according to a copy that has circulated in Washington and was verified by Iranian and U.S. officials.

Iran agreed to put a series of U.S. aims on the agenda, including full cooperation on nuclear safeguards, "decisive action" against terrorists, coordination in Iraq, ending "material support" for Palestinian militias and accepting a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The document also laid out an agenda for negotiations, including possible steps to be achieved at a first meeting and the development of road maps on disarmament, terrorism and economic cooperation.

Flynt Leverett, Rice's former staff member, had publicly discussed seeing the proposal when he worked at the White House.

Leverett said Wednesday he became aware of the two-page offer, which came over a fax machine at the State Department, in his waning days in the U.S. government as a senior director at the National Security Council, but that it was not his responsibility to put it on Rice's desk because Rice had placed Elliott Abrams in charge of Middle East policy.

Abrams is currently deputy national security adviser in charge of the Middle East and democracy promotion. A security council spokeswoman, speaking on behalf of Abrams, said Wednesday that Abrams "has no memory of any such fax and never saw or heard of any such thing."
I'm probably making too big a thing of this. After all, if the Bush administration did follow up on Iran's offer, they would have dropped the ball.

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