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Obama in Second Term May Alter Policies on Iran, Syria, Missile Defense

As it prepares for a second term, the Obama administration now has the political space to re-examine policies on a number of national security fronts including Iran's nuclear program, a potential intervention in the Syrian civil war and missile defense, according to a Tuesday Los Angeles Times article.

Senior Obama officials say they are considering whether to extend Iran a compromise deal on its uranium enrichment program, pursue novel areas of collaboration with China, and increase U.S. activities with Syrian opposition forces, among other matters.

Multinational negotiations between the United States, five other world powers and Tehran on Iran's disputed atomic activities have not been held in months. The Obama administration wished to avoid being seen as unduly compromising while Tehran concluded it was not likely to be offered any viable arrangement until after the Nov. 6 U.S. elections. In recent days, however, Iran and the United States have indicated they are open to bilateral discussions or talks within the wider negotiating arrangement that also includes China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom.

Nuclear negotiations might be held as soon as November. If they do take place, a compromise deal could be offered to allow Iran to domestically enrich uranium at low levels under enhanced international monitoring to make certain there is no diversion to a nuclear weapons program. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others made positive remarks about the possible proposal though the administration did not permit it to be talked about while the presidential race continued.

Tehran denies all Western accusations it is pursuing a military atomic capability.

Throughout the nearly 20-month Syrian civil war,  Washington has refused to militarily intervene in support of the rebels, saying it would only do so if Syrian dictator Bashar Assad crosses a "red line" and mounts chemical weapon attacks. The Obama White House has also spurned entreaties to provide the opposition with powerful arms.

Prior to last week's voting, ramping up U.S. activities in Syria "was counter to the administration narrative that it would avoid too much action in the Middle East," Washington Institute for Near East Policy Arab studies expert David Schenker said in an interview. Today, U.S. policy planners are concerned the increasingly bloody fighting in Syria "could turn out very badly if we don't change the nature of our role."

While Washington's stance is being reviewed, a large number of high-level Obama administration personnel worry that any level of armed forces action or backing for the rebels is a bad idea, to some degree due to concerns that U.S. arms might end up in terrorists' hands.

Obama was overheard in March telling then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have greater "flexibility" to reach an accord with Moscow on missile defense after the election was over.

It was politically impossible during the campaign to offer the Kremlin the kind of concrete assurances it was demanding on U.S. interceptors planned for fielding in Europe. The Kremlin has directly connected future bilateral nuclear arms control talks with an agreement that guarantees Russian ICBMs will not be threatened by U.S. planned antimissile systems for the continent.

"To cement his legacy, he needs another nuclear reductions agreement," Council for a Livable World Executive Director John Isaacs said. The New START pact, which entered into force last year, already requires both nations by 2018 to reduce their deployed arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems.

Separately, the abrupt resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus late last week has left the agency with an opening to pivot back toward its traditional realm of intelligence gathering and away from the targeted drone strike campaign it focused so heavily on under the former four-star general, Wired reported on Tuesday.

"We have been tremendously focused on counterterrorism for the last 11 years [since 9/11]," one-time CIA head Michael Hayden said. "How do you now begin to make sure that you cover other necessary things without making the country less safe?"

"We have been laser-focused on terrorism," Hayden said in an interview. "Some of that is very high end, very sophisticated, very nuanced. But an awful lot of that, when you step back, looks more like targeting than it does classical intelligence."

All major international security concerns involve matters of intelligence, according to the magazine, such as identifying the intentions of the Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea, determining the reasoning behind the scaling up of China's maritime capabilities, figuring the exact status of Iran's atomic development program and analyzing what will happen in the Syrian civil war.

"Those are things that you're not going to learn through diplomacy or through press reporting. And that takes you to intelligence," former interim CIA chief John McLaughlin said.

 

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