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Profile: James Dobbins
James Dobbins was a participant or observer in the following events:
Shortly after State Department official Hillary Mann joins the National Security Council staff as its resident Iran expert, she flies to Europe with senior State Department official Ryan Crocker to establish contact with Iranian government officials. Iran has let the US know through back channels that it is ready to re-establish diplomatic relations (see Fall 2001); Mann’s efforts were critical in the early stages of diplomatic contacts (see September 11, 2001). Mann and Crocker meet with Iranian diplomats in the old United Nations building in Geneva, and the two sides hammer out an agreement for Iran’s assistance in the war against the Taliban. The Iranians agree to provide assistance if any American fliers are shot down near their border with Afghanistan, let the US ship food across their borders, work with the Americans to intercept Iraqi oil being shipped out of the Persian Gulf, and even help capture some “really bad Afghans,” particularly anti-American warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom they agree to quietly put under house arrest in Tehran. In addition, the Iranians offer the US tactical assistance in the war against the Taliban, including sharing their deep knowledge of the Taliban’s strategic capabilities. Simultaneously, special envoy James Dobbins has a successful meeting with the Iranian deputy foreign minister in Bonn, Germany, discussing Iranian involvement in establishing a new government for Afghanistan. Mann will recall one meeting with Iranian officials shortly after the US began bombing Taliban targets (see October 19, 2001); an Iranian interrupts a rather desultory conversation about a future Afghani constitution by pounding on the table and shouting, “Enough of that!” He then unfurls a map of Afghanistan and begins jabbing his finger at points on the map, telling Mann and her colleagues that the Americans need to bomb this and that target. [Esquire, 10/18/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 245-246]
James Dobbins. [Source: PBS]James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, writes an analytical piece on the subject of engagement with Iran: “Washington is not ready to join the Europeans in negotiating limits on Iran’s program, nor is it willing to offer any incentives. Conversely, the United States cannot threaten Iran with political isolation or economic sanctions because America already has in place a comprehensive economic embargo and blackout on communication.” Dobbins adds that “America has refused to negotiate, to offer concessions or to join in multilateral economic and political arrangements that its European allies may negotiate…. [W]hile Europe offers carrots, Washington brandishes no sticks. Given American difficulties in Iraq, a military invasion of Iran is implausible. An aerial attack on known nuclear sites in Iran might slow that country’s weapons program, but only at the cost of accelerated efforts at clandestine sites…. Washington is no more than an excited bystander offering advice from a safe distance.” In conclusion, Dobbins states that: “If blocking Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations is as urgent as it would seem, then engagement on that issue is imperative. At present, nothing Iran does or fails to do will alter the American posture. This unyielding attitude undercuts the prospects for Europe’s effort to negotiate a positive resolution to the nuclear crisis. It also provides the weakest possible basis for common action in the absence of such a settlement.” [International Herald Tribune, 12/2/2004]
NWFP Minister Bashir Bilour with Swat Treaty Hasham Ahmed. [Source: Agence France Presse - Getty Images]Pakistan agrees to a truce with Taliban fighters that would impose strict Islamic religious law—sharia—on the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, a setback for the Obama administration’s hopes to mount a united front against Islamist militants there and in Afghanistan. The agreement gives the Taliban religious and social control of the Swat region, considered of critical strategic importance in battling insurgents in the wild border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. James Dobbins, a former Bush administration envoy to Afghanistan, says: “It is definitely a step backwards. The Pakistanis have to take a stronger line with extremists in the region.” Obama administration envoy Richard Holbrooke says, “We are very concerned about Pakistan and stability.” A Pentagon official calls it a “negative development,” but other officials are more circumspect. “What is, of course, important is that we are all working together to fight terrorism and particularly to fight the cross-border activities that some Taliban engage in,” says Pentagon spokesman Gordon Duguid. NATO officials take a tougher stance, with NATO spokesman James Appathurai calling the truce a “reason for concern.” He adds, “Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse.” Amnesty International official Sam Zarifi says, “The government is reneging on its duty to protect the human rights of people from Swat Valley by handing them over to Taliban insurgents.” [Associated Press, 2/18/2009]
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