Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Back-Channel Approach to Iran

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Back-Channel Approach to Iran

Article excerpt

Something very strange is going on, behind closed doors, among the governments of Israel, Germany, the Czech Republic and Iran. Blinded again by the urge to recover hostages and the delusion of Iranian "moderates," Israel may unwittingly be providing the intelligence cover that could help Tehran acquire Western nuclear technology.

I have only fragments of the Skoda story, and may be putting them together mistakenly; but rather than exhort the Washington pursuers of Whitewatergate, let me lay out a few curious connections picked up recently in Central Europe.

Three months ago, the head of Iranian intelligence paid a visit to Germany at the invitation of Bernd Schmidbauer, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's intelligence chief. The meeting was arranged at the secret request of the Israeli government, which had its representatives in a room 50 feet down the hall from the Iranians and Germans.

The subject of the proximity talks was, presumably, Israelis held hostage by the Hezbollah in Lebanon, which operates under Syrian sufferance but under the primary control of Iran. The meeting in Bonn went badly, and the Iranians publicly made known their presence in the German capital.

This triggered a vigorous U.S. protest - why were the Germans secretly playing host to the Iranians? - and embarrassed Kohl, who has been tight as a tick with Bill Clinton. It forced the Israelis (whose presence down the hall may or may not have been known to the Iranians) to acknowledge that the meeting had been held at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's request. Two weeks ago, Rabin met Kohl in Bonn.

So the Israelis will go to great lengths to get their people back, and the Germans comply - what's the big deal? It is that this back channel overlaps - and muddies up - other activity between the Germans and Iranians, with the Czechs as intermediaries, that could transform Iran into a nuclear terrorist power.

For years, Iran has been trying to get Germany's Siemens A.G., whose nuclear technology is far in advance of Russia's or China's, to build its nuclear facilities. Iran already has enough cheap oil to satisfy energy needs for generations; its only interest is in acquiring the ability to build nuclear bombs. …

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