Iran Crisis: Cheney Plays the Egypt Card


WASHINGTON, D.C.–With both Russia and China seeking to quiet the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program, Vice President Dick Cheney’s current visit to the Middle East, where he met with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak Tuesday, seems likely to make matters worse. Talk of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran, supported loudly by some in the U.S. Congress, is playing badly overseas.

And the sanctions aren’t failing just in the Middle East, either. “Sanctions are not the best or the only way to solve international problems,” Sergei Lavrov, the Soviet foreign minister said in Moscow on Tuesday. “The question of sanctions against Iran puts the cart before the horse,” news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying.

According to the Iraqi press, Cheney was expected to broach the possibility of Egypt’s sending troops to Iraq–as a last resort–along with other units from countries in the Arab League. Cheney is expected to raise the same idea in Saudi Arabia.

The thinking is that Egypt can be drawn into a confrontation with Iran because of its close proximity and because Egypt’s leaders would be happy to come down hard against any Shiite radicals working out of Iran and bent on causing trouble in Egypt. This all comes from Juan Cole, the Mideast expert who teaches at the University of Michigan and keeps a Web page.

The Iraqi government might agree to such a deal in the end run. Egypt has longstanding friendly relations with people in the Iraq guerrilla movement and might have some sway with them. In addition, helping the U.S., which gives it $2 billion in aid, would be a plus, and there is always the possibility of Egypt and the U.S. completing some sort of free-trade arrangement that would open the U.S. to Egyptian goods.

Should the Iran imbroglio go to the UN, Egypt could operate under the UN flag. The countries of the Arab League are against Iran developing nuclear armaments. In other words, dragging Egypt into Iraq might kill two birds with one stone–inserting Egypt as a player in that war, and pushing them toward a confrontation with Iran.

Russia, which has a $1 billion reactor deal in Iran, and China, which gets 12 percent of its oil from Iran, don’t want to put the Iran issue before the UN Security Council for fear the dispute will blow up into a demand for sanctions. Should sanctions be imposed, Iran’s leaders have threatened to push up the price of oil, even higher than its current high level. Iran, a big oil and gas producer, plays a major role in OPEC.

As is well known, regime change across the Middle East is the ultimate goal of the neoconservative foreign policy elite within the Bush administration. Overthrowing the right-wing Shiite religious leaders who run Iran is one goal. Another objective is to gut OPEC, which not only includes Iran but also Venezuela, another country openly challenging the U.S. hegemony.

As for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a BBC report, quoting several scientific sources, estimates that country is a good decade away from building any bomb. It is argued in Europe and the Mideast that the Iran situation was pushed into a “crisis” mode by the U.S.

Additional reporting: Michael Roston

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