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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Newsweek: Maybe Too Late To Stop Iran Nukes

A senior U.S. official tells Newsweek that some inside the administration believe it may be too late to stop Tehran from continuing its nuclear program. Should diplomacy fail,Washington might have to accept Iran as a "virtual nuclear-weapons state" if President Bush gets help on Iraq and other issues, this official says.

That means Tehran might be permitted to develop the technology for making nuclear fuel -- and potentially a bomb -- as long as it holds to its pledgeto limit its program to peaceful purposes. But this is still seen as aremote fallback position.

In Newsweek's November 27 issue (on newsstands Monday, November 20), Senior Editor Michael Hirsh and National Security Correspondent John Barry report on new, public signals that Washington isedging closer to Tehran's terms for talks.

Tehran is interested only in a broader deal that links the U.S. desirefor help in Iraq with Iran's desire to be allowed to enrich uranium, amongother issues, report Hirsh and Barry. Over dinner with James Baker, longtime Bush family confidant and Iraq Study Group co-chair, Javad Zarif, Iran's ambassador to the U.N., politely aired past grievances, complainingthat U.S. administrations dating back to George H.W. Bush -- when Baker was secretary of state -- had failed to take Iran seriously. Zarif said the Americans never showed appreciation for Tehran's help freeing U.S. hostages in Lebanon in the early '90s -- and, more recently, for countering the Taliban in Afghanistan, according to two participants at the meeting.

Zarif's not-so-subtle message: Iran isn't giving anything for free anymore. Baker, known for his deft bargaining skills, said that the only issue he had come to talk about was Iraq. Baker argued that a failed state next door would hurt Iran more than the US -- which, after all, can always just leave the region.

Despite the friendly ambience, Zarif suspected in the end that Baker was "trying to buy Iran's cooperation on Iraq at a very cheap price."

But the question of whether Tehran can stop the sectarian killing --even if Washington does cut a deal -- remains, Hirsh and Barry report. On Capitol Hill, CIA Director Michael Hayden said an "Iranian hand is stokingthe violence" in Iraq. But the private view of U.S. intelligence agenciesis that Tehran is "torn" over how much it wants to stir up trouble, says an official familiar with classified intelligence briefings on Iran.

The Iranians, he says, "don't want complete chaos."

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