Sensational headlines aside, there are some revealing moments among the few newly-released Department of State cables published by Wikileaks. Although the transcript for this particular cable is long, it's worth reading the entire strand in context rather than by excerpt.
A somewhat long cable narrative, relating the gist of a meeting between Senator John Kerry and the Amir of Qatar reveals how the urgent the Obama administration views Iran's misbehavior in the region, and how frustrated they are at Iran's continued rebuffs. Qatar's Amir is clearly biased toward Iran, claiming that Ahmadinejad's success is due to the fact that he is "uncorrupted" as he chides Kerry and the US for siding with the protesters during the Iran elections.
At one point, the Amir points out that the US must remember that Iranians are Persians first, and must be approached on that basis. What does that mean, exactly? There is another cable from 1979, written by Victor Tomseth before he was taken hostage later that year which outlines the basis upon which the US should approach any negotiations with Iran, beginning with the understanding that the single dominant aspect of the Persian psyche is an "overriding egoism". I'm not sure if this was what the Amir was referring to, and Senator Kerry seems to look at his warning as an admonition to recognize the Persian tradition in arts, education and music. It might be instructive for him to consider the content of Tomseth's cable.
The takeaway for me so far with regard to the Middle Eastern set of cables is how the Obama administration is taking that region as a holistic endeavor, recognizing that peace between Israel and Palestine is part of finding a peaceful resolution to the ever-restive Iranians, and they are serious about trying to broker a peace throughout that region.
The full quote from the cable of this portion of the conversation follows.
¶25. (C) Senator Kerry observed that the international community is moving toward imposing additional economic sanctions on Iran. Understanding and respecting that Qatar needs to balance its relationships with regional powers, including Iran, the Chairman asked the Amir for his perspective on where we are going on Iran.
¶26. (C) The Amir answered by affirming that his first obligation is to defend the interests of Qatar. Due to the natural gas field Iran shares with Qatar, Qatar will not "provoke a fight" with Iran. He added that in the history of the two countries, "Iran has not bothered us." That said, the Amir noted that Iran is an important country in the Middle East. He faulted the U.S. for "making the mistake of speaking up for protesters" after the disputed Iranian presidential elections.
¶27. (C) The Iranian regime is strong, continued the Amir, because President Ahmadinejad is uncorrupted. "That is the secret to his success." Khatami is also not corrupted, but as a reformer he is in a weak position. Rafsanjani, on the other hand, is corrupt.
¶28. (C) Senator Kerry lamented that every communication the current Administration has attempted to the Government of Iran has gone back channel and been met with no response. There have been non-U.S. initiatives, too. Again, no success. The Chairman observed that the Iranians are scared to talk. The Supreme Ayatollah had met with Russian President Putin, but seems not inclined to meet with other political leaders. Our instinct is that we need to find a way to talk to him.
¶29. (C) Your instinct is right, replied the Amir. The U.S. needs to talk directly with senior Iranian officials. The Amir then asked, "What if I talk to the Iranian President. What would you have me say?"
¶30. (C) Senator Kerry responded, "The U.S. seeks serious discussion and sought to create a new foundation for a relationship based on Iran's non-confrontational compliance with IAEA requirements and other mutual interests." Those interests include dealing with drug-running, the Taliban, and illicit trade. The Chairman told the Amir he feared that Iran still thinks it is dealing with the 1953 America that tried to overthrow the Iranian government.
¶31. (C) The Amir responded that you cannot blame them for having that attitude, and Senator Kerry agreed, adding that the U.S. has a very different posture in the post-Cold War world of today. Iran has ambitions; I know this from other regional leaders, said the Senator. These are the first words that come out of their mouths.
¶32. (C) Iran wants to be a "big power," agreed the Amir, but what sort? He reminded Senator Kerry the U.S. should not forget that Iranians are Persian and the U.S. needs to approach them in that framework.
¶33. (C) Senator Kerry stressed that the U.S. "would love to have that dialogue." The U.S. respects Iranian civilization -- talent, art, culture, etc. It is crazy to continue on this collision course. The region needs schools and jobs, emphasized the Chairman, not another war. The Amir agreed that "demographics are a big worry." Not just for the countries in the region but for the U.S. too.
¶34. (C) Many scientific and technological transformations are underway, noted the Senator, "but Iran misinterprets the road to being a great power and the degree to which the international community is concerned about Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons." We are at a "fork in the road," and Iran must choose between confrontation or building partnerships. If the latter, we can open up new opportunities for cooperation in the sciences, technology, education, robotics, energy and other ongoing transformations.
¶35. (C) Going back to the speech he had delivered in Doha the previous evening, Senator Kerry told the Amir that 17 former U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense had come out in favor of eliminating nuclear weapons. Every stop closer to realizing that goal is a sign of progress, but "no one believes Iranian nukes get us closer to that goal."
¶36. (C) Senator Kerry reported that leaders of regional Arab countries tell me they want nuclear weapons if the Iranians have them. The Amir responded that he did not believe they were serious, but are saying this to put additional pressure on Iran.
¶37. (C) The Chairman noted that the disputed Iranian presidential elections may have derailed U.S. efforts to have serious dialogue with Tehran. The Amir agreed, offering that the Israelis are also using Iran's quest for nuclear weapons as a diversion from settling matters with the Palestinians. The historical backdrop of Arab-Persian relations does not help, the Amir added.