A diplomatic opening with Iran?

Once again, U.S. President George W. Bush is talking about World War III with Iran: [T]his is a country that has defied the IAEA — in other words, didn't disclose all their program — have said they want to destroy Israel. If you want to see World War III, you know, a way to do ...

Once again, U.S. President George W. Bush is talking about World War III with Iran:

[T]his is a country that has defied the IAEA -- in other words, didn't disclose all their program -- have said they want to destroy Israel. If you want to see World War III, you know, a way to do that is to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon. And so I said, now is the time to move."

The timing of Bush's statement kind of makes you wonder. Buried on A14 of yesterday's Washington Post post was a quick story by Robin Wright on the impending release of nine Iranians who had been detained by the U.S. military in Iraq on the grounds that they were helping plot attacks on U.S. soldiers. Bush assuredly knew about the decision, Wright reports:

Once again, U.S. President George W. Bush is talking about World War III with Iran:

[T]his is a country that has defied the IAEA — in other words, didn't disclose all their program — have said they want to destroy Israel. If you want to see World War III, you know, a way to do that is to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon. And so I said, now is the time to move."

The timing of Bush's statement kind of makes you wonder. Buried on A14 of yesterday's Washington Post post was a quick story by Robin Wright on the impending release of nine Iranians who had been detained by the U.S. military in Iraq on the grounds that they were helping plot attacks on U.S. soldiers. Bush assuredly knew about the decision, Wright reports:

The status of the captured Iranians is so diplomatically and militarily sensitive that it has been reviewed by the White House. President Bush was briefed on the decision, which was made on the recommendation of military officials after weeks of deliberation, U.S. sources said.

Wright doesn't quite find a U.S. official willing to say that Iran is being less of a problem in Iraq these days, but an anonymous Iraq official apparently believes this to be so: 

A senior Iraqi official said the Iranians' release reflects growing recognition that Iran has been playing a less provocative role in Iraq recently, evident in fewer U.S. deaths caused by roadside bombs and in restraint by Shiite militias on U.S. targets.

"There is wide acceptance of the notion that over the past month or two, they have been less problematic in Iraq," he said.

What appears to be happening here is that the United States is testing Iranian intentions by releasing these nine prisoners. Are the Iranians trying to show that cooperation is in the offing? Or are they signaling that Iran has a lot of control over the violence in Iraq, and could therefore make the situation much, much worse in the event of a U.S. attack?

Whatever the case, the Bush administration has a history of screwing up these delicate games of diplomatic semaphore, as Barbara Slavin demonstrates in a new piece for FP. Based on her original reporting for USA Today and her research at the U.S. Institute of Peace for her excellent new book, Slavin's piece offers a reminder that the White House has botched countless opportunities to engage Iran over the last 6 years. Could Bush, with all his loose talk about "World War III," be missing another chance? Check it out.

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