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Viewing cable 09AMMAN813, WARY OF U.S.-IRAN ENGAGEMENT, JORDAN OFFERS WORDS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09AMMAN813 2009-04-02 05:05 2010-11-28 18:06 SECRET Embassy Amman
VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHAM #0813/01 0920549
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 020549Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY AMMAN
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4793
S E C R E T AMMAN 000813 
 
SIPDIS 
 
NEA/ELA AND INR/TCA 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/02/2029 
TAGS: PREL PINR IR JO
SUBJECT: WARY OF U.S.-IRAN ENGAGEMENT, JORDAN OFFERS WORDS 
OF CAUTION 
 
REF: A. STATE 25892 
     B. 08 AMMAN 3329 
     C. AMMAN 668 
     D. 08 AMMAN 3189 
     E. 08 AMMAN 2660 
     F. 08 AMMAN 3372 
 
Classified By: Ambassador R. Stephen Beecroft 
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
1.  (S) Summary: This cable responds to Ref A request for 
evaluations of third-country reactions to possible U.S. 
engagement with Iran.  Jordan's leaders believe such 
engagement would reward regional hardliners while undermining 
Arab moderates - without convincing Iran to cease its support 
for terrorism, end its nuclear program or drop its hegemonic 
aspirations.  Jordanian officials argue that the best way to 
counter Iran's ambitions is to weaken the salience of its 
radicalism on the Arab street by fulfilling the promise of a 
"two-state solution," resolving other Arab-Israeli disputes, 
and making sure that Iraq's political and security 
institutions are not overwhelmed by Iranian influence when 
the U.S. drawdown is complete.  If U.S.-Iran engagement does 
proceed in earnest, Jordan hopes to be closely consulted in 
advance and for its interests to be taken into account.  End 
Summary. 
 
Beware the Iranian Tentacles ... and Cut Them Off 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
2.  (S) The metaphor most commonly deployed by Jordanian 
officials when discussing Iran is of an octopus whose 
tentacles reach out insidiously to manipulate, foment, and 
undermine the best laid plans of the West and regional 
moderates.  Iran's tentacles include its allies Qatar and 
Syria, Hizballah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian 
territories, an Iraqi government sometimes seen as supplicant 
to Tehran, and Shia communities throughout the region.  While 
Jordanian officials doubt dialogue with the U.S. will 
convince Iran to withdraw its "tentacles," they believe they 
can be severed if Iran is deprived of hot-button issues that 
make it a hero to many on the Arab street, such as its 
championing of the Palestinian cause. 
 
3.  (C) According to the GOJ analysis, Iran's influence 
derives from the perception that Tehran is able to "deliver" 
while moderates are not.  The main failure of moderates as 
cited by radicals is ongoing Palestinian suffering and 
dispossession despite an international consensus favoring a 
viable, independent Palestinian state living peacefully next 
to Israel.  The MFA's Deputy Director of the Arab and Middle 
East Affairs Department, Muwaffaq Ajlouni, put it this way: 
"Iran is not welcomed in the Arab world, but it is taking 
advantage of helpless people."  From Jordan's perspective, 
the U.S. would benefit from pressing Israel to proceed to 
final status negotiations, which would garner Arab support to 
deal with shared security concerns about Iran. 
 
4.  (S) In Lebanon, the GOJ fears Iran's Hizballah proxy has 
been given too much rope and could be poised to increase its 
political influence during upcoming parliamentary elections. 
The King sees the Lebanon-Israel War of 2006 as having 
benefited Iran and Hizballah, by allowing a Sunni Arab street 
enamored of "resistance" to see past its suspicions of the 
Shia.  And then-Foreign Minister Salah Al-Bashir in late 2008 
described the spring 2009 vote as "when we will know who won 
last May," referring to the outcome of the Doha Accords that 
put an end to Lebanese infighting.  Much like with the 
Palestinian issue, Jordanian leaders have argued that the 
only way to pull the rug out from under Hizballah - and by 
extension their Iranian patrons - would be for Israel to hand 
over the disputed Sheba'a Farms to Lebanon.  With Hizballah 
lacking the "resistance to occupation" rationale for 
continued confrontation with Israel, it would lose its raison 
d'etre and probably domestic support. 
 
5.  (S) In Iraq, signs of growing security and political 
stability over the past year in particular have served 
somewhat to calm Jordanian nerves about Iran's interference. 
The King and others have cited indications that Iraqi Prime 
Minister Nuri Al-Maliki is showing himself to be a national 
rather than a parochial or Iranian-controlled leader.  During 
the U.S.-Jordan Political Dialogue in November 2008, FM 
Bashir noted that the Iraqi government had a "tendency to 
appease Iran," but he saw increased Jordanian (and Sunni 
Arab) diplomatic engagement with Baghdad as a potential 
bulwark against Iran (Ref B).  Positive trends 
notwithstanding, many of our Jordanian interlocutors stress 
that the U.S. should leave Iraq only when it "makes sense," 
and thereby avoid a political and security vacuum that could 
be easily filled by Iran (Ref C). 
 
 
Prepare for Iran to Disappoint 
------------------------------ 
 
6.  (S) Jordan's leaders are careful not to be seen as 
dictating toward the U.S., but their comments betray a 
powerful undercurrent of doubt that the United States knows 
how to deal effectively with Iran.  Foreign Minister Nasser 
Joudeh has suggested the Iranians would be happy to let talks 
with the U.S. continue for ten years without moving them 
forward, believing that they can benefit from perceived 
acceptance after years of isolation without paying a price. 
 
7.  (S) Upper House President Zeid Rifai has predicted that 
dialogue with Iran will lead nowhere, arguing that if the 
U.S., the EU, and the Arab states agree that under no 
circumstances should Iran be allowed to obtain a nuclear 
weapon, military force becomes the only option.  "Bomb Iran, 
or live with an Iranian bomb.  Sanctions, carrots, incentives 
won't matter," was how he put it to visiting NEA DAS David 
Hale in November.  While Rifai judged a military strike would 
have "catastrophic impact on the region," he nonetheless 
thought preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons would 
pay enough dividends to make it worth the risks (Ref D). 
 
8.  (C) Speaking to PolOffs in early February 2009, Director 
of the Prime Minister's Political Office Khaled Al-Qadi noted 
that the Gaza crisis had allowed Iranian interference in 
inter-Arab relations to reach unprecedented levels.  He urged 
the U.S. to "understand the history," explaining that "after 
the Israelis, the Iranians are the smartest.  They know where 
they are going and what they are doing."  He doubted there 
would be any diplomatic breakthrough before Iran's June 
elections, partly because Iranian pragmatists cannot be 
practical due to religious and ideological considerations. 
He hoped any dialogue would be aimed at weakening hardliners, 
many of whom believe their "Great Satan" rhetoric. 
 
Talk If You Must, But Don't Sell Us Out 
--------------------------------------- 
 
9.  (S) If direct U.S.-Iran talks must happen, the Jordanian 
leadership insists it not be at the expense of Arab 
interests, particularly those of moderates like Jordan, 
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. 
 Furthermore, they worry that engagement will set off a 
stampede of Arab states looking to get ahead of the curve and 
reach their own separate peace with Tehran.  King Abdullah 
counseled Special Envoy George Mitchell in February that 
direct U.S. engagement with Iran at this time would just 
deepen intra-Arab schisms and that more "countries without a 
backbone" would defect to the Iranian camp.  The Prime 
Ministry's Qadi has assessed that Iran sought to "transform 
the Israeli-Arab conflict into an Islamic-Israeli conflict" 
and that this strategy was already working with Syria and 
Qatar.  Even more conspiratorially, then-FM Bashir in 
September 2008 highlighed Arab fears to a visiting CODEL that 
the United States and the West would allow Iran to play a 
hegemonic role in Iraq and throughout the region in exchange 
for giving up its nuclear program (Ref E). 
 
10.  (S) Asked late last year whether he advocated engaging 
Iran or working against its interests without engagement, the 
King told visiting U.S. Senators that U.S. should undertake 
both approaches concurrently but that engagement needs to be 
done "smartly" by setting benchmarks for behavior (Ref F). 
International Affairs Director at the Royal Court Jafar 
Hassan on April 1 operationalized Jordan's position as 
follows: the U.S. must not only consult its friends in the 
region, but declare that it is doing so publicly as a signal 
to Iran that the Arabs are full parties to the U.S. policy 
review.  He called for the U.S. and the Arabs to work 
together to determine what deliverables are required from 
Iran, what subjects are appropriate for discussion, and also 
to set clear redlines.  (Note: Hassan said Jordan was trying 
to work with its friends in the region to develop a 
joint-Arab strategy, but that this has yet to materialize. 
End Note.) 
 
11.  (S) Comment: Believing the U.S. is predisposed toward 
engagement with Iran, Jordanian officials have avoided 
forthrightly rejecting such overtures, but they remain 
anxious that Iran will be the only one to benefit - at their 
expense.  Given Jordanian skepticism that Iran's regional 
ambitions can be reined in, they probably see establishing 
benchmarks as a way to keep U.S.-Iranian engagement limited 
and short-lived.  Re-engagement could trigger a review of 
Jordan's relationship with Iran and with Islamic groups like 
Hamas, with which Jordan held limited security talks last 
year.  When asked periodically whether by engaging with 
Hamas, Jordan was undermining PA President Mahmoud Abbas, 
 
official interlocutors simply pointed out that Israel meets 
with Hamas through Egypt, that Syria and Iran are actively 
engaged with Hamas, and that Jordan cannot be disengaged. 
End Comment. 
 
 
Visit Amman's Classified Website at 
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/amman 
Beecroft