A veteran of three White House national security teams spanning from Ford through Reagan, Columbia University's Gary Sick is not given to excessive flights of optimism. Experience would favor caution. While serving in the Carter administration, for instance, Sick was working as the principal White House aide on Iran during the 1979 Iranian revolution and hostage crisis, a trauma from which U.S.-Iranian relations has never recovered. But a recent analysis Sick has shared with a private list he runs on Persian Gulf affairs offers a hint of cautious optimism about recent, mostly below-the-radar developments between Washington and Tehran, especially on the Iran-in-Iraq front. Here's an excerpt, shared with permission:
Over the past several weeks, there has been a quiet process of apparent concessions and small gestures of approval between the United States and Iran in Iraq. General Petraeus told the Wall Street Journal that Iran "made promises at the highest levels of the Iranian government to the highest levels of the Iraqi government. These were unequivocal pledges to stop the funding, training, arming and directing of militia extremists in Iraq. It will be hugely significant to see if that's the case." Only a few weeks earlier, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had noted that the discovery and use of improvised explosive devices (IED) of suspected Iranian origin in Iraq had declined, along with the general decline of violence associated with the U.S. military surge and new counter-insurgency tactics.
In between these two announcements, the U.S. military released nine Iranians who had been arrested and held for many months. Even more unusual was the fact that the release of these men, now officially labeled of "no continued intelligence value," had been reviewed only a few months earlier and rejected. Stranger still, they were identified as members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its special intelligence division, the Qods Brigade, which had just been officially designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Shortly thereafter, the Iraqi government announced that a fourth round of direct talks between the United States and Iran would take place in the near future.
So, what is going on here?