The Iranian reactions to Washington’s “request” to return the Beast of Kandahar make an interesting study. The reactions have come at 3 levels - foreign ministry spokesman, defence minister and president. MFA spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said US owes an apology since the drone violated Iran’s air space. He harped on international law. Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the drone is now Iranian property (under international law).
Neither of these two officials turned down the US request point-blank. They danced around it. Vahidi was obviously making an impromptu remark
. Interestingly, in his most detailed comment on the subject today during a TV interview, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad didn’t even refer to the US request
, but instead harped on Iran’s capabilities in military technology. The most interesting part of the interview was that he implicitly signalled that Iran has had no need whatsoever to associate Russia and China with this affair.
Equally, Mehmanparast also today went back on the Tehran Times report of Monday that Saeed Jalili, secretary-general of Iran’s National Security Council left for Moscow to discuss the drone issue. He said today Jalili’s current visit has nothing to do with the drone affair
In short, Tehran has underlined that this is a US-Iran issue - pure and simple. Of course, US would also dearly wish it were indeed so rather than Tehran allowing in its friends in Moscow and Beijing.
At the same time, Tehran has turned on the heat a little bit on Kabul
by linking the drone affair with the proposed US plan to establish military bases in Afghanistan. By the way, what a coincidence! The US defence secretary Leon Panetta arrived today in Kabul unannounced.
What is intriguing amidst all this are two things that aren’t entirely unrelated, either. First, Iran has formally charged the 15 individuals out of the 42 apprehended (whose identities still remain undisclosed) who were allegedly part of the spy network operated by the CIA and Mossad, which Iranian and Hezbollah counter-intelligence busted in a dramatic operation in a Pizza Hut joint in Beirut in May.
According to reports circulating in May, the entire CIA network in the region has been decimated in the Iranian-Hezbollah operation. The question is why the indictment of the spies right now amidst the drone fracas. Surely, there is a message somewhere here to Washington and Tel Aviv.
Second, Iran’s powerful intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi visited Riyadh
on Monday and was received by the Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz. (Riyadh broke the news first.) Iran has been battling the US-Saudi axis across the Middle East in recent months. The Saudi account said the two sides discussed “questions of common interest” while Tehran says Moslehi aimed at “removing misunderstandings and discussing security issues.” Moslehi is known to be close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
In sum, Tehran is moving on more than a single track. As the Americans and Israelis are often fond of saying, all options are on the table. But it does seem the ground is shifting. By the way, let me recall again the parallel with the U-2 spy plane incident in 1960. Sometimes, it needs a severe trauma to reset the ground rules in a difficult and dangerous relationship.