At the end of the week, Condoleezza Rice was busy attempting to put down suggestions in the press of a growing rift between her and Vice President Cheney. She didn’t convince anybody in her remarks; in fact some of them added fuel to the fire. Michael Hirsh and Mark Hosenball at Newsweek have a very solid study of the whole issue:
A NEWSWEEK investigation shows that Cheney’s national-security team has been actively challenging Rice’s Iran strategy in recent months. “We hear a completely different story coming out of Cheney’s office, even now, than what we hear from Rice on Iran,” says a Western diplomat whose embassy has close dealings with the White House. Officials from the veep’s office have been openly dismissive of the nuclear negotiations in think-tank meetings with Middle East analysts in Washington, according to a high-level administration official who asked for anonymity because of his position. Since Tehran has defied two U.N. resolutions calling for a suspension of its uranium-enrichment program, “there’s a certain amount of schadenfreude among the hard-liners,” says a European diplomat who’s involved in the talks but would not comment for the record. And NEWSWEEK has learned that the veep’s team seems eager to build a case that Iran is targeting Americans not just in Iraq but along the border of its other neighbor, Afghanistan.
There are now three American hostages in Iranian hands, and five Iranian hostages seized by the Americans in Arbil. Cheney’s decision to block Rice’s proposal to release the Iranians in Arbil was a conscious provocation targeting Tehran, and the Ahmedinejad government has responded just the way Cheney wants: in kind. The hands of this crisis are again approaching midnight, and Rice’s mastery of the strategic playing field in Washington is anything but clear.