May 12, 2007

Could Cameron Have Made It Any More Hokey?

The Iran info-op got some "big time" juice yesterday.

Vice President Dick Cheney used the deck of an American aircraft carrier just 150 miles off Iran's coast as the backdrop yesterday to warn that the United States was prepared to use its naval power to keep Tehran from disrupting oil routes or "gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region."

(Watch AP's video snippet of speach)

Mr. Cheney said little new in his speech, delivered from the cavernous hangar bay of the John C. Stennis, one of the two carriers in the Persian Gulf. Each line had, in some form, been said before at various points in the four-year nuclear standoff with Iran, and during the increasingly tense arguments over whether Tehran is aiding insurgents in Iraq.

But Mr. Cheney stitched all of those warnings together, and the symbolism of sending the administration’s most famous hawk to deliver them so close to Iran's coast was unmistakable. It also came just a week after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had talked briefly and inconclusively with Iran's foreign minister, a step toward re-engagement with Iran that some in the administration have opposed.

Mr. Cheney's sharp warnings appeared to be part of a two-track administration campaign to push back at Iran while leaving the door open to negotiations. It was almost exactly a year ago that the United States offered to negotiate with Iran as long as it first agreed to stop enriching uranium, a decision in which Mr. Cheney, participants said, was not a major player.

Senior officials said Mr. Cheney's speech was not circulated broadly in the government before it was delivered. ...

Without question, symbols of coercion were part of the backdrop: Mr. Cheney spoke in front of five F/A-18 warplanes. While he never said so, it is clear to the Iranians that several of their major nuclear sites, including the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, are within reach of the Navy's weapons. ...

"This is about saber-rattling, and power projection," one senior State Department official said yesterday. "And who better to do it?"

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