MOSCOW. (Gennady Yevstafiev for RIA Novosti) - Things are getting curioser and curioser in the United States as encouraging news comes from Tehran in response to the latest six-party nuclear offer.
The Bush Administration seems to be taken totally by surprise by new political advice that negotiations should be promoted and even that Iran, in fact, has some right to a local version of the nuclear cycle.
While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Shanghai meeting with Vladimir Putin has ended in a declaration of Iran's readiness for talks - which certainly adds weight to Russia's longtime calls for commitment to prudent and unbiased enforcement of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and respect for all other commitments stemming from it - the Europeans and the Americans have suddenly emerged with surprisingly bright ideas on something they had earlier denied even thinking of.
Iranian leader's Shanghai promises are highly likely to broaden the divide in the U.S. political community. The hawkish faction will probably have to back down a little under pressure from "talks" people who have really big cards to play with. First, with the U.S. forces stuck in Iraq, the nation simply cannot afford another unpredictable military adventure. Second, they might add, some of Iran's new decision-makers seem savory enough for India-like negotiating with the possible outcome of Russians and Europeans being, slowly but surely, squeezed out of what will then turn into a new promising playground.
True, the old "you can never trust the Russians, better try the West" approach is already circulating across Iranian society, especially among people who have relatives in the U.S. This is what they call a true intrigue, one that makes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's dream come true - finally the Russians are being labeled as "undependable partners" by Iranian ayatollahs, who used to be so loyal to them. But these subtleties are also exactly what diehard Republican conservatives despise Dr. Rice for, putting on her all the blame for "sluggish progress" on Iran.
Although the gap between neocons and moderates is so narrow that any inconvenience with Iran - for example, a single Ahmadinejad's offensive remark on Israel - might prompt most moderates to suddenly turn hawkish, some of the turns and twists of U.S. Iran nuclear debate are truly remarkable.
There seems to be a consensus on describing the ideology-driven President Ahmadinejad as the greatest obstacle to a possible Washington-Tehran deal. Ahmadinejad is popular with the Iranian youth - not the urban yuppies craving for Western mass culture but the poor rural Muslim people who appreciate his youth development programs. So the U.S. intelligence people, well aware that the president is foreign to the narrow group of nuclear decision-makers, wonder how then he managed to win the election against the rich and powerful Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
The obvious American question here is "where's the money?" To some, the answer is very easy and simple: it's the Russians again. If anyone sees a "Russian oil money propelled Ahmadinejad to power" headline in a U.S. newspaper tomorrow, they should look no further than this essay. Ridiculous? We have seen more ridiculous things, thank you very much, that were printed and sold as perfectly true.
Meanwhile, United States Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte and Dr. Rice are setting up their own Iran think tanks, including a special office on Iran at the State Department. While this is a sign of hope that military option is currently not the first on the table, and what Ahmadinejad told Putin in Shanghai sounds plausible enough, everyone needs to do more. Iran, for its part, should move faster to walk the walk on its deliberations with the "Iranian Six." Dragging out the issue would clearly not be in its best interests as it would play straight into the hands of the hawks over the Atlantic.
Gennady Yevstafyev is a retired Lieutenant General of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service.