A separate piece

The story by Benny Avni in today’s New York Sun catches the French in the act of being themselves: “Chirac threatens a separate peace with Iran regime.” Avni quotes Chirac on Europe 1 radio: “I don’t believe in a solution without dialogue.” The past three years have apparently provided insufficient time for France and Iran to engage in “dialogue.” In talking his way to a separate peace, Chirac seems likely to find Ahmadinejad as disappointing an audience as Nick Adams found Rinaldi in Hemingway’s story.

Avni bluntly states that Chirac has reneged on previous promise of support for a united international approach to constraining Iran’s nuclear program. Suggestive of the narrowing American options on Iran, Eli Lake follows up on his own New York Sun story yesterday regarding a renewed push for an Israeli/Palestinian “peace process” in the context of diplomatic efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear weapons program: “Rice: Iran sanctions will not be linked to Israel peace talks.”

Lake’s story today bears on the message we posted from State Department spokesman Sean McCormack here last night in response to Lake’s story yesterday. Lake reports:

Secretary of State Rice yesterday contradicted her senior counselor, Phillip Zelikow, and assured her Israeli counterpart that America’s diplomatic efforts to sanction Iran will not be linked to the peace process.

The reversal, however, may be tactical for now. It may also reflect a wider rift within the Bush administration, which has wrangled for the last month on a State Department proposal to re-energize negotiations between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Arabs.

The National Security Council official who oversees the Middle East, Elliott Abrams, is said by administration officials to have opposed a broader peace initiative linked to America’s Iran diplomacy. At the same time, Ms. Rice and her inner circle are advocating the policy.

Lake notes the message we received from McCormack and is not persuaded by it:

“The issues of Iran and Israeli-Palestinian interaction each have their own dynamic, and we are not making a new linkage between the two issues,” the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said in an e-mail to the Powerline Web site. “Nothing in Philip’s remarks should be interpreted as laying out or even hinting at a change in policy.”

Mr. Zelikow, however, highlighted the link between the peace process and Iran on Friday. In a speech at the annual conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, he said America is seeking to create “a coalition of builders” that will focus on the peace process as well as preventing the Iranians from acquiring an atom bomb. He said European and Arab allies see the peace process as the “sine qua non,” or essential precondition, for any cooperation with the Europeans and moderate Arab states on Iran policy and even the wider war on Islamic terrorism. The dispute over the peace process comes as President Bush is preparing to address the U.N. General Assembly today in a speech that will focus on the Middle East. He is expected to unveil a new humanitarian aid package for the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza, but he also is expected to remind the body of its August deadline for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

Lake’s eagle-eyed reporting on the administation’s efforts to deal with Iran is suggestive of confusion and disarray on one of the most pressing national security issues confronting the United States. In Avni’s story, by contrast with M. Chirac, Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman provides a voice of unusual clarity on the subject of Iran:

“We had a lot of dialogue, too much dialogue,” Senator Coleman, a Republican of Minnesota, told The New York Sun. “The time for action is now.”

Mr. Coleman, who along with Senator Boxer, a Democrat of California, represents Congress at the annual U.N. General Assembly added, “I’m sure the Iranians would love to have dialogue until the day they activate a nuclear weapon.”

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