With the media and international affairs observers focused on the Bush administration's decision to send a US envoy to international nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva this weekend, this detail in a wire report out of the Turkish capital Ankara today is interesting. From the AP, who's in Turkey today? White House national security advisor Stephen Hadley. What's he doing there? According to the AP report, talking about Iran. And who is coming to Turkey tomorrow? Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Now, Turkey has been playing the role of mediator - for a long time secretly, and recently openly - in indirect proximity talks between long time adversaries Israel and Syria. One wonders, is Turkey hosting some sort of pre pre-negotiations now between the US and Iran?
One former State Department official tells me that is unlikely. "It seems highly improbable
If only because it would undercut (or worse) the prospective Jalili-Burns meeting on Saturday. Mottaki is far less influential, so why would you have a more senior [US government] official do a sit-down with him?"
But Abdullah Akyuz, Washington president of the Tusiad Turkish business association, tells me Turkey and its ruling Ak party has been playing a growing role as mediator between Iran, Syria, and the West.
A former White House official tells me it strikes him as plausible. "I believe anything is plausible at this point," he said. "While Hadley would be a level higher and bring the prestige of the White House into play, a huge step was already taken in sending [Undersecretary of State for political affairs] Bill Burns to Geneva. Moreover, [Secretary of State] Condi [Rice] may want the prestige of the White House invested so that she is not the focal point of conservative wrath.
"[Rice] often employs the 'are you betraying the president?' argument stopper whenever she is contradicted or challenged," the former White House official continued. "So she would be eager to ensure Bill Burns' mission doesn't leave her standing alone as the target in the crosshairs of conservatives, and to get the investment of the Oval Office into her policy."
For his part, another former State Department official says he doesn't think Hadley's visit to Turkey has to do with Iran. "Nor would he use the Turks as an intermediary with Iran."
Turkish daily Sabah reports: "Hadley was in Ankara yesterday and gave messages on the meeting with Iran: 'There will not be any negotiations unless Teheran quits their uranium program.' ... Hadley sent messages to Iran before the meeting in Geneva and held a confidential summit with the security consultants of nine countries, members of NATO. Hadley said: 'We did not sign a confidential agreement with Iran. The US minister of foreign affairs assistant William Burns will go to Geneva for showing our diplomatic efforts and the gravity of our suggestion to Geneva.'"
(Photo of US national security advisor Stephen Hadley and Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, via Turkish daily Zaman.)