WASHINGTON - Reflecting rapidly changing events on the ground in the Middle East, the United States is readying a new, direct channel with Iran that will allow the two powers to coordinate strategy against the menace of ISIS, a terrorist militia conquering territory throughout eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
The Obama administration is already preparing a channel separate from its efforts to forge a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, and hopes to begin talks this coming week, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
Independently, The Jerusalem Post
could only confirm that deliberations are under way among administration officials over what the nature of such a line of communication between Washington and Tehran should look like.
"Whatever dialogue may or may not be taking place [with Iran] would take place on the sideline or outside the mainstream of the nuclear talks" in Vienna, US Secretary of State John Kerry told members of the press on Friday in London, standing with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "We don't want that linked and mixed."
Kerry phoned his counterparts in Doha, Riyadh and Amman on Sunday over the crisis, which unfolded with dramatic speed last week as ISIS, a Sunni militia seeking a caliphate throughout Iraq and the Levant region, took control of Mosul and threatened an attack against Baghdad.
The group already claims domain in Syria, where the insurgent group formerly concentrated in Iraq managed to recalibrate its tactics and its funding. ISIS began a military campaign in October 2013 with the explicit aim of conquering territory for its own.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that he and US President Barack Obama have exchanged letters, and that Iran stands "ready to help" in coordination with US military operations.
A similar exchange took place under the George W. Bush administration, the Journal noted, over a shared interest in toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.
But Rouhani's overture marked a dramatic shift in relations nevertheless, after decades of near-silence between the two governments. A public rapprochement began last September— the first of its kind since the Iranian Revolution of 1979— when Obama called Rouhani congratulating him on his election, and expressing hope for better relations between the two nations.
Talks resume this week in Vienna over Iran's nuclear program, and US officials might choose to speak on the sidelines of that negotiation with their Iranian counterparts over the ISIS threat.
Qasem Suleimani, commander of the elite Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, was already in Iraq this weekend for consultations over how Iran might assist in Baghdad's efforts to fight the small Sha'ria army.
Top Republican lawmaker Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Sunday suggested that a deal with Iran might be necessary in the short term to stop ISIS from marching on Baghdad— not dissimilar to America's alliance with Stalin's Soviet Union at the height of the Second World War.
"We're going to have to have some dialogue with the Iranians," Graham said.
Graham, long a harsh critic of the Obama administration, joined a chorus of his peers from across the American political aisle in warning of the dramatic consequences of what might come next without a campaign to counter the terrorist group.
"We had al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of ISIS, on their backs," Graham said, calling on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to resign. "We had this place in a good spot. They were playing politics, rather than killing each other."
ISIS "will eventually march on Jordan and Lebanon," Graham warned. "They're going to take the king of Jordan down."
US President Barack Obama remained in Palm Springs, California, over the Father's Day weekend while his national security team weighed military options to offer the president. In preparation for any possible campaign, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel moved the USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier to the Arabian Gulf, equipped with Patriot missiles with reach throughout the country.
The US intelligence community estimates that ISIS has roughly $1.2 billion in cash flow from the black market trade of oil, pumped by the organization in eastern Syrian fields, and from the takeover of Iraq's central bank of Mosul, where the group seized nearly $500 million.
That makes ISIS the richest terrorist organization in the world: for perspective, Al-Qaida was said to be rich before September 11, with estimated wealth at that time at $30 million.