And the new secretary of state did not offer to tell him. "The issue was not raised once by either side," Mr Straw said afterwards. "It was not on the table." The Guardian
When the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, met Condoleezza Rice in Washington this week, he did not ask whether the US had plans to use military force against Iran. And the new secretary of state did not offer to tell him. "The issue was not raised once by either side," Mr Straw said afterwards. "It was not on the table."
His lack of curiosity seems odd given recent reports, privately confirmed by US officials, that special forces commandos operating inside Iran had identified targets for future air strikes.
But this "ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies" approach to the post-Iraq special relationship may suit Mr Straw. He has invested considerable personal effort in building links with Iran.
He hopes groundbreaking EU diplomatic negotiations to curb its nuclear ambitions will succeed. And it is evident that, seared by the Iraq experience, the foreign secretary does not want Britain to be sucked into another US-driven Middle East conflict.
Mr Straw has said repeatedly that he can "envisage no circumstances in which military action would be justified" against Iran. That contrasts uncomfortably with this week's refusal by Tony Blair, echoing George Bush, to rule out the use of force.
A senior European official based in London said yesterday: "It is clear that Straw wants to make plain to Blair that he will not support another adventure if he is still in government. But Blair is less prudent. If Blair is saying implicitly that we must keep all our options open, that will encourage the neo-con hardliners in Washington just like in Iraq.
"I'm not even sure the military option, or international sanctions, would be a deterrent. Everyone forgets that the [1981 Israeli"> attack on Iraq's Osirak reactor did not prevent Saddam [Hussein"> building a nuclear arsenal - it may strengthen the ayatollahs, not weaken them. They will say to Iranians, 'See, the west is threatening us.' It will provide them with a sort of glue."
While stressing diplomacy for the time being, Ms Rice and other senior US officials do not expect the EU-Iran negotiations to succeed.
Addressing the Senate last week, Ms Rice showed no interest in reviving bilateral relations frozen since the 1980 hostage crisis in Tehran. Iran's past attempts at rapprochement have been rebuffed. Diplomats say Washington's likely next step, no later than this autumn, will be to seek UN security council sanctions. If sanctions fail to change Iran's attitude, or are blocked, President Bush will look to the Pentagon.
Mr Straw's non-question about US intentions might be better put to the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, or to the US vice-president, Dick Cheney. They have not always confided in Ms Rice, and, unlike her, they would certainly know the answer.
Washington has been agog this week over revelations that Mr Rumsfeld secretly bypassed the CIA and created new "battlefield intelligence units" to work alongside the special forces. They have been silently operating for at least two years.
This is exactly the sort of capability that the American investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh, said was used inside Iran.
Mr Rumsfeld, known for his wry humour, slipped the project past congressional budget overseers by calling his spies "human augmentation teams". Mr Cheney also effectively pre-empted Ms Rice (and Mr Bush) on inauguration day. In case she was unclear about which of her "six outposts of tyranny" mattered most, Mr Cheney declared Iran to be "right at the top of the list". And, waspishly, he suggested that the Israelis, who say the nuclear threat is imminent, might "act first".
Iran is watching these machinations with alarm and bemusement. Iran's president, Mohammad Khatami, observed that the US already had enough problems without creating more. "We hope that one day they come to their senses," he said on Wednesday. But he added that he thought this unlikely.
As Mr Straw surely knows, the die is not yet cast in Washington. Opinion remained ambivalent, the European official said. As usual, opposing factions are at work. "They want relations with Iran, but not that Iran. But military threats are the wrong way to achieve change. If there is to be regime change, it has to arise from inside. On this we need a strong international consensus."