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The Iran Back Channel

Yochi Dreazen of The Wall Street Journal reports that during the Sadr-Maliki fighting in Basra earlier this month, the Iranians passed messages to Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker through Iraqi intermediaries denying responsibility.

Senior U.S. officials in Baghdad received back-channel messages from Iran condemning the recent bloodshed in the Iraqi city of Basra and denying that Tehran was responsible, according to people familiar with the matter.

The messages, which haven’t been publicly disclosed, come amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran and debate about Iran’s intentions in Baghdad. Many U.S. officials have accused Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq and have begun describing Iran as the biggest threat to Iraq’s long-term stability. Iranian officials deny the claims and accuse the U.S. of fabricating a threat to justify the military occupation of Iraq.

A senior civilian sniffs, "If the Iranians have something to say to us, they can do so directly." Experience teaches that’s not the case. In 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq the Iranians sent a communication through a Swiss diplomat offering terms for a new U.S.-Iranian relationship. The move actually vindicated the Bush administration’s contention that a massive demonstration of American power in the Middle East would cause Iraq’s neighbors to adjust their behavior to our terms. So what did the administration do? It snubbed Iran. "We don’t negotiate with evil," Dick Cheney famously said, "we defeat it." Except when we defeat ourselves. Predictably, the moderates lost power; Ahmedinejad gained power; the rest is tragic history. And now Iran is going to reach out directly?

The same civilian cautions that the backchannel message "should not be overinterpreted," and there, he or she is right. But for a generation, the demonization of Iran has prevented any administration, Republican or Democrat, from taking yes for an answer — or even from exploring, in a serious and credible way, whether it’s taking yes for an answer. The result has been, among other things, a state of permanent, irrational and unnecessary hostility that has the potential to get a lot of people killed. And for what?

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