Spiegel: Iran may have $400M secret fund for nuke expansion

Not to worry. Bush is at the feet of the master this afternoon learning realpolitik. They’ll give up on this sort of thing once we try “the new approach”:

Iran may have set aside a secret $418 million fund to protect its nuclear sites from attack and build a secret new nuclear plant, according to a Western intelligence service which says it has tapped phone calls by a top Iranian politician…

The monitored messages show that the $418 million will be to upgrade the defense of Iranian nuclear facilities around the country, especially for tunnelling projects because Iran’s leadership fears an American or Israeli surprise attack.

Other intended uses for the money are the production of dozens of new centrifuges for uranium enrichment, the expansion of its research program and — this is making Western intelligence services especially nervous — construction of a secret new nuclear plant at an unkown location.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, laments the end of the golden age of American influence in the Middle East that was marred only by the occasional airplane crashing into a skyscraper on Wall Street:

SPIEGEL: And then there are Iraq and the Middle East. You just published an article in the journal Foreign Affairs in which you say that the situation is enough “to make one nostalgic for the old Middle East.”

Haass: The old Middle East — an era which I believe has only recently ended — was one in which the United States enjoyed tremendous dominance and freedom of maneuver. Oil was available at fairly low prices, the region was largely at peace. I believe largely because of the American decision to go to war in Iraq and how it has been carried out, as well as the emphasis on promoting democracy and a lack of any serious energy policy, the Middle East has considerably grown worse. It’s one of history’s ironies that the first war in Iraq, a war of necessity, marked the beginning of the American era in the Middle East and the second Iraq war, a war of choice, has precipitated its end.

Iraqi deputy PM Barham Salih says realpolitik in the form of “phased redeployment” would be catastrophic for Iraq, which, really, everyone understands. The questions are: (a) how many Americans still care, and (b) would it be a catastrophe for the United States too? On the latter point, I remind you of what Nasrallah said two weeks ago. You’ll be hearing a lot of Iraq/Vietnam comparisons later this week, but I’ll wager you won’t hear this one:

The Americans will gather their belongings and leave this region – the entire region. They have no future whatsoever in our region. They will leave the Middle East, and the Arab and Islamic worlds, like they left Vietnam. I advise all those who place their trust in the Americans to learn the lesson of Vietnam, and to learn the lesson of the South Lebanese Army with the Israelis, and to know that when the Americans lose this war – and lose it they will, Allah willing – they will abandon them to their fate, just like they did to all those who placed their trust in them throughout history.

Blair’s supposedly going to call for dialogue with Iran and Syria in a major foreign policy speech he’ll deliver within the next few hours. I’m hoping to have video later. Omar at Iraq the Model: “Mr. Blair, what you’re suggesting is replacing conventional war with a nuclear one…”

Exit question: just how steep will the price be of a cold peace with Tehran and Damascus?