The Envoy
  • Gen. Martin Dempsey, US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, in London Nov. 2011. (Andrew Winning/ Reuters)

    The United States' top military officer, Gen. Martin Dempsey, arrived in Israel Thursday to confer with Israeli allies on policy to Iran.

    It is Dempsey's first trip to the Jewish state since assuming the post of chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in September. His visit comes as the United States and Israel have been engaged in intense efforts to reconcile their timelines to try and persuade Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

    In advance of Dempsey's arrival, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday signaled some progress on that front, telling Israel's Army Radio that any Israeli decision to pursue military action against Iran's nuclear facilities is in the future.

    "We haven't made any decision to do this," Barak said, according to Haaretz newspaper. "This entire thing is very far off."

    "I don't think our ties with the United States are such that they have no idea what we are talking about," Barak added.

    Barak's assertion came as an Israeli intelligence assessment reportedly judged that Iran has not yet decided whether to assemble a nuclear warheads--though it is considered to be advancing efforts to pursue some of the elements that would be needed for a bomb.

    "The intelligence assessment Israeli officials will present later this week to Dempsey indicates that Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb," Haaretz's Amos Harel reported.

    Read More »from U.S. military chief Dempsey arrives in Israel as allies huddle on Iran
  • Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Ecuador this month. (AP)Amid intense diplomatic activity to broker a new round of international talks with Iran over its nuclear program, the White House disputed Iranian reports Wednesday that President Obama sent a letter to Iran's Supreme Leader offering direct bilateral talks.

    According to Iran's Fars News, Iran has received a letter from President Obama warning against closing the Strait of Hormuz, but also offering direct talks.

    "The first part of the letter contains threats and the second part contains an offer for dialogue," Iran parliament member Ali Motahari told the Iranian news service, according to the Associated Press. "In the letter, Obama called for direct talks with Iran … [and] also said that closing the Strait of Hormuz is (Washington's) red line."

    The administration disputed the lawmaker's characterization.

    Obama's message to the Iranian leader was a standard diplomatic communication--not a letter--relaying privately what the United States has said publicly about red-lines in the Strait of Hormuz, a source explained on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic communications. The diplomatic demarche also repeated the message that the United States and its UN Security Council partners remain committed to a diplomatic solution to tensions.

    The White House earlier said it had "nothing new to add" on the alleged presidential communication, a spokesperson told Yahoo News Wednesday. They referred back to comments on U.S.-Iran communications made by White House spokesman Jay Carney last week.

    "We have a number of ways to communicate our views to the Iranian government, and we have used those mechanisms regularly on a range of issues over the years," Carney said at the White House press conference Jan. 13, declining to discuss "the details of those communications or mechanisms."

    Carney also indicated the U.S. message to Iran is "broader" than the reported warning against closing the Strait of Hormuz.

    Yahoo News previously reported that analysts believe the latest White House communication to the supreme leader was likely conveyed by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu on a trip to Iran earlier this month.

    Confidence Building Measure: Key Test

    But amid the many signals indicating efforts to resume international Iran nuclear talks--likely in Turkey toward the end of the month--western analysts and policymakers express deep uncertainty about whether Iran is prepared to negotiate.

    American non-proliferation officials and diplomats have prepared a so-called "confidence building measure" for Iran to accept as an outcome of the next round of talks. Western governments see Iran's reception of the measure as a key test of whether further negotiations would be productive--or if Iran is even capable of making a decision.

    Two Washington Iran analysts described the draft U.S. confidence building measure to Yahoo News last week, as they understood it from conversations earlier this month with its principal author, State Department non-proliferation expert and Iran sanctions czar Robert Einhorn. Under the proposed measure, which the U.S. has been presenting to its P5+1 partners, Iran would agree to halt enriching uranium to 20 percent, and turn over its existing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium. In exchange, western countries would agree not to pass another UN Security Council Resolution sanctioning Iran.

    Read More »from Obama Iran policy deep-dive: Details on measure US sees as key test, as WH disputes Obama letter reports
  • Defense Sec. Leon Panetta met with Israeli Defense Min. Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv Oct. 3, 2011. (Win McNamee/AP/Pool)

    The Pentagon is pushing back on media reports suggesting that a major U.S.-Israel war game was postponed at the direction of the United States.

    As Yahoo News first reported Sunday, a major U.S.-Israel missile defense drill due to take place in the spring was postponed at the request of the Israeli Defense Minister, according to U.S. officials:

    Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a request to the Pentagon last month that the planned joint exercise be postponed, a U.S. official told Yahoo News Sunday.

    "It was Barak," the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. ...

    But despite that assertion, sources have subsequently been engaging in something of a whispering campaign in both the Israeli and American media, implying that the war games are being pushed back because the Obama administration doesn't want to further ratchet up tensions with Iran at this time, Yahoo News wrote in a follow-up report Monday:

    ...Because the decision to postpone the war games leaked first in Israel, plans for a joint statement didn't materialize Sunday, and rumors subsequently abounded about what explained it. [...]Meantime, in Israel, ... [an unnamed] Israeli defense source was cited by Channel 2 [saying that]  the United States had requested the delay in the war games, in order to avoid further escalating tensions with Iran at this time.It's a contention American officials flatly deny--and has left some in the Pentagon puzzled. [...]

    To the various rumors circulating that the United States had instigated the delay, one U.S. official told Yahoo News Sunday: "b.s. It was Barak." ....

    But confusion and finger-pointing over why the exercise was postponed have persisted--with at least one American pro-Israel group, the Zionist Organization of America, issuing a press release Tuesday morning blasting the Obama administration for the delay. Former Bush White House Middle East hand Elliott Abrams also took to his blog Monday to chastise what he interpreted as the Obama administration's retreat in the face of Iranian provocations.

    So on Tuesday, the Pentagon pushed back a bit harder on the misinformation, telling the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was not happy about Barak's request to delay the exercise:

    Read More »from Pentagon pushes back on rumors U.S. delayed Israel war game (Updated)


(679 Stories)
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