Pre-game on the Iran meeting.
The United States intends to lay out a comprehensive account of Iran's growing military role in Iraq -- including the array of arms provided to both Shiite and Sunni militias -- during critical talks between U.S. and Iranian diplomats scheduled for tomorrow in Baghdad, according to senior U.S. officials.
Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, will also outline steps Iran could take to help stabilize war-ravaged Iraq, both politically and militarily. Any subsequent meeting will depend on the quality of the dialogue and Iran's cooperation in the coming weeks, the sources added.
"If the meeting is productive and there's a promise that these meetings will be worthwhile, we'll agree to a second meeting," said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate diplomacy.
However, the Bush administration enters the dialogue with limited leverage, analysts said.
"Iran has every advantage in these talks -- in geography, demography and time -- and they know it. Iran has better relations with every political party, militia and warlord in the Shiite and Kurdish communities than we do. It has the best intelligence apparatus in Iraq. And it has the advantage of a religious relationship with the majority population that is unique," said Bruce Riedel, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution.
Negotiations are not about facts, they are about leverage.
Two other notable moves from the US side coming into this meeting.
1) The "leak" of a presidential finding authorizing nonlethal covert efforts to destabilize Iran.
2) The dismantling of the Iran-Syria operations group.
Reading between the lines, it sounds like the Bush administration wanted the Iranians to know that the Iran hawks were no longer running the show.
Also: The US and British conduct more very public operations against Moqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army.