Condi to Bush: Release the Irbil Five

Bush to Condi: no.

Dedicated to my pal Tanya, who, like me, once thought Condi was presidential timber. Those were the days.

At a meeting of the president’s top foreign policy team Tuesday, the administration decided that the five Iranians will remain in custody and go through the periodic three-month review used for other foreign detainees picked up in Iraq, U.S. officials said. The next review may not happen for weeks, and possibly not until July…

Iran is threatening not to attend a pivotal meeting in Egypt next month of Iraq’s neighbors — plus the United States and international groups involved in Iraq — that Washington hopes will increase regional cooperation to stabilize the country. Without Iran, which exerts great influence in Iraq, the meeting could end up having marginal impact, according to Iraqi officials and Middle East experts.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went into the Tuesday meeting with a recommendation to free the men, but after a full review of the options she went along with the consensus, U.S. officials said. Vice President Cheney’s office made the firmest case for continuing to hold the men.

Supposedly one of the factors here is that they don’t want to release the five too soon after the British sailors got sprung or else it’ll look too much like what it actually is, i.e., a quid pro quo. So it’s not so much that it’s not happening as that it’s not happening now. Looks like I was too pessimistic in predicting April 26 as the release date, which makes this the second time today I’ve been wrong about something and the second time I’ve been happy about it.

Another factor is the risk of Iran starting to kidnap our guys to force an exchange. Has that process already begun? Maybe:

An American fugitive living in Iran since he murdered an Iranian opposition activist in the US in 1980 has revealed that he met a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent shortly before the latter disappeared on the Iranian island of Kish a month ago.

US authorities have been anxiously seeking information about the former agent, Robert Levinson, for several weeks. The Iranian foreign ministry says it is trying to clarify his whereabouts. US officials suspect he is in Iranian detention.

[Dawud] Salahuddin, known in Iran as Hassan Abdulrahman, said he was detained by officials in plain clothes at 11pm and taken from the room he shared with Mr Levinson to be questioned about his Iranian passport. Mr Salahuddin was freed the next afternoon and told by the officials that Mr Levinson had flown back to Dubai…

According to Mr Salahuddin, the meeting was only to put Mr Levinson in touch with Iranian authorities to help his investigations on smuggling of cigarettes as part of the former agent’s work for a tobacco company.

Salahuddin isn’t the most credible source. He’s an old-school homegrown American jihadi who converted to Islam in the late 1960s, killed an Iranian dissident living in Maryland in 1980 as “an act of war and religious duty,” then escaped to Iran where he’s lived ever since as a fugitive from justice. On the other hand, what would a guy like that gain by implicating his Iranian protectors in Levinson’s disappearance? If they wanted that fact made public, there are plenty of other ways to do it.

Finally, the Blotter has a follow-up on that Pakistani jihadist group which it claims is being funded by the U.S. government to attack Iran. Funny how motivated Musharraf can be when he wants to go after Talibs:

On Wednesday, a contingent of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, acting with what the Pakistani source called “specific intelligence,” moved against several Jundullah hideouts in and around the towns of Pishin and Zahedan in Iranian Baluchistan. Ninety members of Jundullah were reported arrested, and weapons caches were seized, some of them containing what the source described as “heavy weapons.”

According to the source, the Pakistani military moved against similar Jundullah elements on Thursday morning near the town of Mand, along Pakistan’s border with Iran, right across the border from Pishin. A gun battle ensued, during which four Jundullah militants and a Pakistani security officer were killed.

The Pakistani military is reported to have grown increasingly uncomfortable with Jundullah’s cross-border raids into Iran and has been trying for several months to push the group to move its activities to Afghanistan, where it also has a presence.

Probably for the best. The fewer jihadis, the better, whoever’s side they’re — temporarily — on.