WASHINGTON — An expert adviser to the Baker-Hamilton commission expects the 10-person panel to recommend that the Bush administration pressure Israel to make concessions in a gambit to entice Syria and Iran to a regional conference on Iraq.
The assessment was shared in a confidential memorandum — obtained yesterday by The New York Sun — to expert advisers to the commission from a former CIA station chief for Saudi Arabia, Raymond Close. Mr. Close is a member of the expert group advising the commission and was a strong advocate throughout the panel's deliberations for renewed American diplomacy with Iran and Syria. In the memo, Mr. Close shares his "personal predictions and expectations" for what the Iraq Study Group will recommend in its final report next month.
Mr. Close writes that he expects the study group to urge President Bush to convene a regional conference "to enlist the support of neighboring states in establishing stability in Iraq." Among the participants in the regional conference should be "all principal states of the region," including Iran, Syria, and Israel. The inclusion of Israel, according to Mr. Close, is crucial because it will provide the only leverage by which Iran and Syria can be enticed to help stabilize Iraq.
"To have any realistic chance of success, I believe that the process would have to start with the announcement of a major initiative, promoted and vigorously supported by the United States, to reach a comprehensive resolution to the Israel-Arab crisis through a process of reasonable compromise and accommodation between Israel and its Arab neighbors," he writes.
While it is widely expected that the Baker-Hamilton commission will recommend renewed diplomacy with Iran and Syria in an effort to share the burden in stabilizing the country, the content of such negotiations has until now been a mystery. According to Mr. Close, the talks will center around a resolution of the conflict between the Jewish state and the Arab and Islamic world.
Other members of the expert working groups yesterday, when asked about the memo, confirmed it was authentic. Mr. Close did not return an email seeking comment. But two members cautioned that the views of Mr. Close were his own and that in the last three weeks the commission and team of staffers at the U.S. Institute of Peace have not formally sought the opinions of the expert working groups. That said, some of the individual experts have provided private counsel and analysis to individual members.
Mr. Close believes a regional conference centering on Israel's conflict is so likely that "If the ISG suggests a regional conference to which would not be invited, that could only be because Israel and its supporters in the United States intervened to protect Israel from involvement in a process in which it would inevitably have to make significant concessions and compromises."
Mr. Close does not specify what those compromises would be. He does however write that America and Israel will need to make "significant modifications" to their current positions. He also writes that America should not offer Syria an opportunity to restore its semi-sovereignty over Lebanon. But in lieu of that, "perhaps the US will have to put pressure on Israel to make territorial concessions in the Golan." The reference is to the Golan Heights, which Israel annexed after winning from Syria in the Six Day War of 1967.
The memo from Mr. Close is deeply pessimistic about any chance that Mr. Bush will achieve a victory in Iraq on his original terms as a beacon of democracy for the Middle East. He derides what he expects will be conclusions from an internal government review that "will continue to promote the delusion that ‘success' is still a realistic objective in Iraq." He describes Iraq as a "looming catastrophe," ending his thoughts with this terse summary: "No simple or convenient solutions. Very little hope of success. But no better ideas to work with."
Mr. Close has been an outspoken critic of the war for which he was tasked to advise a strategy. On June 10, 2003 he penned an article for the newsletter "Counterpunch" in which he concluded that the Bush administration's alleged manipulation of pre-war intelligence "was a crime against those values for which America stands most proud."
Mr. Close has also been an ally of Saudi Arabia. In 1977, on the day of his retirement from the CIA, while still in Jedda, Mr. Close began working with Saudi Arabia's then intelligence chief, Kamal Adham, according to one of his former bosses at the agency's directorate of operations.
"On the day he retired from the CIA, Ray walked across the street and joined Kamal Adham in a business relationship," Duane Clarridge said yesterday in an interview. "To many officers in the CIA this seemed untoward because as a government official, he had an official relationship with Kamal Adham. Now he was in a commercial relationship which over the years reportedly made Close a very wealthy man."
Mr. Adham later went on to play a key role in the BCCI banking scandal, where the bank was accused of bribing senior government officials in a variety of countries as well as graft.
Mr. Close's son, Kenneth, is a registered foreign agent for Saudi Arabia.
EXTRACTS FROM THE CONFIDENTIAL DOCUMENT BY RAY CLOSE OBTAINED BY THE SUN.
Fasten your seat belts, as Bette Davis would say, because it's going to be a bumpy ride.
. . . Baker and Hamilton will soon announce a set of recommendations of which the following is, in my opinion at least, the most important and potentially the most controversial: Encourage the holding of a regional conference to enlist the support of neighboring states in establishing stability in Iraq. . . All principal states of the region would be invited, particularly including Iran and Syria — and Israel. . . . This initiative could succeed only if the United States and Israel were to convey to prospective attendees in advance their readiness in principle to make significant concessions and accommodations in return for comparable concessions and accommodations from Iran and Syria, by themselves and on behalf of their allies in Lebanon and Palestine. …
The strongest and most forward-looking members if [sic] the Baker-Hamilton Commission, … are prepared to recommend that effort. … There is . . . no simple or easy way to escape the looming catastrophe that was set in motion by the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. . . . The ISG is also obviously going to address the question of when and under what conditions the United States will start withdrawing troops from Iraq. Some kind of withdrawal plan is a minimum insisted upon by the majority of Democratic members of the Commission and some of the Republicans, as well. …
A new and comprehensive "regional policy makeover" is a grand idea, but presents many serious complications. … To have any realistic chance of success, I believe that the process would have to start with the announcement of a major initiative, promoted and vigorously supported by the United States, to reach a comprehensive resolution to the Israel-Arab crisis through a process of reasonable compromise and accommodation between Israel and its Arab neighbors. …
The proposal to call a regional conference sounds good, but does not stand up very well to hard analysis. With George W. Bush in the White House, I cannot see a single prospective participant in a regional conference of this kind (particularly the United States and Israel) coming to the table prepared to make the compromises and concessions that will be essential to reaching a constructive outcome of US policy in Iraq. …
However …I believe that the ISG will nevertheless recommend the convocation of a regional conference. …Tragically, I think George W. Bush will not agree even to give it a sporting chance.