The recent crisis created for the US and its friends by WikiLeaks proves one thing beyond doubt; it is still a rare privilege to be on the wrong side of the sole super power, for only those countries or people had to suffer the embarrassment as a result of the leaks who, in one way or the other, were connected with the US. And those who had diplomatic links, or were somewhat closer to US diplomats had to suffer the humiliation more than anybody else. It is dangerous to be America’s enemy, but it is far more dangerous to be her friend. The WikiLeaks have proven that. Take the example of Iran; it will appear only on the US Embassy dispatches before 1979 period when the United States severed its diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic (in 1980) while 52 Americans were being held against their will in their country’s embassy on a main boulevard downtown.
That’s not to say that U.S. diplomats have stopped following their main Middle East adversary. To the contrary, says Foreign Policy Magazine, Iran is famously at the center of much of the diplomatic business recorded in the WikiLeaks cables — that business, though, is forced to take place in other countries. Indeed, WikiLeaks has shed light not only on the content of America’s Iran strategy, but on the unorthodox ways in which Washington finds itself gathering information about a state with which it has had limited direct contact. At the center of those efforts are the so-called Iran Watch stations, a set of monitoring posts the United States has been operating in more than a dozen cities on Iran’s periphery and in Western Europe.
These offices were established starting in 2006 by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Dismayed by the State Department’s failure to cultivate linguistic and diplomatic expertise on Iran, she beefed up the department’s Iran desk and insisted that Farsi-speaking U.S. diplomats be placed in embassies and consulates outside the Islamic Republic. Nicholas Burns, then the undersecretary of state for political affairs and the George W. Bush administration’s point man on Iran, compared the strategy to posting Soviet expert George Kennan to Riga, Latvia, in the 1920s before the United States recognized the Soviet Union. The new push began with the Iran Regional Presence Office in Dubai, just across the Persian Gulf from Iran’s Hormozgan province and adjacent to the Strait of Hormuz, the geographic bottleneck through which nearly 40 percent of the world’s traded oil passes. Dubai is also home to a large Iranian expatriate community. With about a half-dozen staff, Dubai’s is the largest Iran Watch station and benefits from the regular traffic between the emirate and Iran by Iranians and others visiting the Islamic Republic.
Other Iran Watch posts are single-officer affairs and are currently located in Baghdad, Baku, Berlin, Istanbul, London, Paris, and Tel Aviv. There was also an Iran Watch officer in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, for several years, but the office closed in part because of the repressive nature of the local government and the lack of high-value Iranian contacts. Aside from reporting on Iran, the watchers interact with Iran experts in local governments. The creation of these monitoring stations is having a cumulative impact on the State Department’s bureaucracy, helping re-create an Iran-centered career track within the agency. But, more substantively, the posts are useful in providing a reality check for U.S. policymakers in the form of unvarnished information about Iranian political developments, says John Limbert, who was responsible for the Iran Watch stations during his recently ended nine-month stint as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.
A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, agrees. “It’s the internal reporting about what’s afoot in Iran that Washington is starved for,” the U.S. official said. “It supplements what we get from other sources.”Still, Limbert, who personally visited all the Iran Watch stations, expressed frustration that the diplomats’ views were often not taken into account by an administration that has focused more in recent months on economic sanctions than on outreach.Other cables analyze Iran’s tumultuous domestic scene. One missive from the U.S. Iran watcher in Baku dated June 12, 2009 — the day of Iran’s presidential election — reports growing sectarian unrest in Sistan and Balochistan, scene of recent suicide bombings and other attacks. The predominantly Sunni Muslim population there was allegedly so opposed to the Shiite Iranian government that neighboring Pakistan decided to postpone “completion of the long-planned improved rail link between Pakistan and Iran,” the cable says. On the other side of Iran, the Baku-based watcher also says that local seizures of heroin from Iran in Azerbaijan totaled nearly 59,000 kilos in the first quarter of 2009 compared with 15,000 kilos in the same period of 2008.
Many of the leaked cables deal with Iranian politics, describing the trajectory of optimism and despair that led up to and followed Ahmadinejad’s fraud-tainted reelection. The then Iran Watcher in Ashgabat, writing three days after the election, quotes a source as saying that the Revolutionary Guards have pulled off a “coup d’etat” and that Ahmadinejad is now akin to the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
According to the source, whose name has been redacted by the Guardian, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s chief opponent, got about 26 million votes — 61 percent of the 42 million votes cast — while Ahmadinejad got “a maximum of 4-5 million votes.” Mehdi Karroubi, another opposition candidate, actually got between 10 million and 12 million votes, according to the source, while the rest went to conservative Mohsen Rezai. (Official Iranian results said that Ahmadinejad won by a landslide of 63 percent, that Mousavi got 34 percent, and that Karroubi and Rezai split the rest.) The cable quotes the source as saying that the pro-Ahmadinejad forces stole the election by refusing to allow local precincts to announce the votes and having central election authorities declare the results.
Please also read: It still pays to be on the wrong side of the USA