A role for Iran in an Iraq exit strategy

Apparently despairing of resolving the Iraq conflict within Iraq alone, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group has begun exploring ways to enlist the influence of neighboring countries – Syria, and especially Iran, which has influence with the Shiites of Iraq.

It has not been announced, but last month, the commission's chairman, James Baker, former Secretary of State and friend of both presidents Bush, had a three-hour dinner meeting in the New York home of Muhammad Javad Zarif, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran; they are at loggerheads over Iran's nuclear program. But Mr. Baker, although he briefed the White House this past Monday, can claim not to represent the government in any official way.

Baker has some experience in multilateral diplomacy. In 1991 as the senior President Bush's secretary of state, he organized, with Soviet support, a conference in Madrid attended by Israel and the neighboring states, thus launching the first ever direct talks between Israel and all its neighbors. The negotiations that resulted from the Madrid accord represented one of the high points in the peace process in recent years.

But that was before there was an Iranian nuclear program that drew down American sanctions and international condemnation. Undoubtedly, Iran could be of service in trying to resolve the Sunni-Shiite sectarian war, which reached a bloody climax with brazen kidnappings on Tuesday. But Israel, for one, would be strenuously opposed to including Iran in any regional conference.

It may be coincidental that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the leaders of the Iraq Study Group are in Washington simultaneously, discussing their overlapping problems with both Iraq and Iran.

Little has been said about what ideas were discussed with the Iraq Study Group. What effect these consultations will have on the central American political problem – when the troops can come home – is hard to divine at this point.

But clearly some move is under way to internationalize the Iraq problem by bringing together the countries of the region. Whether Iran will be involved is hard to say.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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