Iran's negotiating team in Lausanne
The next dispatch can be read here: “Iran is America’s new Iraq” (& ISIS beheads a Hamas leader in Syria)
UPDATE, April 3, 2015, following signing of “Plan of Action”:
While some media cheer the Iran deal on, Ari Shavit, lead commentator for the Israeli leftist paper Haaretz calls it “Munich,” and the Washington Post editorializes as follows:
“THE “KEY parameters” for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program released Thursday fall well short of the goals originally set by the Obama administration. None of Iran’s nuclear facilities — including the Fordow center buried under a mountain — will be closed. Not one of the country’s 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled. Tehran’s existing stockpile of enriched uranium will be “reduced” but not necessarily shipped out of the country. In effect, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, though some of it will be mothballed for 10 years. When the accord lapses, the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.”
* Defecting Rouhani aide: “The U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal”
* French government and French intelligence service’s objections to Obama and Kerry’s proposed deal are reportedly now almost as strong as Israel’s.
* While West makes concessions, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, head of the central Basij militia unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, on Tuesday said that “erasing Israel off the map” is “non-negotiable”.
* Taking a very different line than Obama’s cheerleaders at the New York Times, The Times of London editorializes: “If a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme is clinched, it will be hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough. It will be nothing of the kind. If the framework agreement is signed on the basis of current drafts it will a reckless recasting of the Middle East. The determination to notch up at least one success in Middle East peacemaking has, however, led Mr Obama to make ill-considered concessions…The deal is flawed and … naive. Instead of containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, this deal may simply give Tehran carte blanche to plan a future with its own bomb.”
* New York Observer editorial: “President Obama must not complete a disastrous deal with Iran. Forget Churchill – Obama isn’t even measuring up to Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain acted out of a sincere belief that he was avoiding a greater evil. Chamberlain was not thinking of his place in history. He was thinking only of the Britain that he loved, a Britain that was all but disarmed, exhausted, and vulnerable. He was dealing with a nation that had been decimated by the Great War, and a nation that was as materially unprepared for war as Germany was prepared to fight.
“Chamberlain dealt from a position of weakness, one that Hitler continually exploited in the negotiations, even by changing the time and place to make it more inconvenient for the British leader to attend them. In sharp contrast, Mr. Obama is acting out of personal aggrandizement. Mr. Obama is dealing from a position of strength that he refuses to use. Instead of using the sanctions to pursue his original promise that Iran would not get the bomb, Mr. Obama has moved the goal post...
“Even Chamberlain would not have made the disastrous agreement that Mr. Obama seems so eager to conclude… Mr. Obama is surrounded by sycophants, second-rate intellectuals, and a media that remains compliant and uncritical in the face of repeated foreign policy disasters…
“Is Obama more concerned about a Jew building an extra bedroom in Jerusalem than an Iranian building a bomb at Fordo?”
* The Economist magazine, which is normally scathing of Israeli PM Netanyahu, says in an editorial that Netanyahu is right to raise objections to Obama’s proposed Iran deal.
* Senior Hoover Institute fellow and leading African-American intellectual Thomas Sowell: “Clearing the way for Iran to get nuclear bombs may – probably will – be the most catastrophic decision in human history.”
* Obama’s former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross: “The claim of the Obama administration that any eventual agreement will block all pathways toward an Iranian nuclear weapon is surely an overstatement. At best, a deal will create impediments for the life of the agreement but offer little afterward. At that point, the administration and its successors would need to make clear that should Iran seek to break out to the production of weapons-grade enriched uranium – or the preparation of nuclear weapons – it would trigger the use of force by us…
“It is noteworthy that the agreement that the administration will now try to finalize with the Iranians by June 30 does not reflect the objective we had hoped to achieve for much of President Barack Obama’s first term. At that point, when I was in the administration, our aim was to transform the character of the Iranian nuclear program so that the peaceful intent of its capabilities would be demonstrated unmistakably to the international community.”
* Eli Lake: “Whatever you might think of Iran’s foreign minister, he knows how to bargain. Today, Zarif appears to be on top of the world. In interviews he has been downright brazen with his liberal interpretations of Iran’s history. Earlier this month, he told NBC’s Ann Curry that Iran – throughout its history – has been a savior of the Jewish people. This would seem more credible if Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wasn’t tweeting out his fervent wish to see the world’s only Jewish state destroyed.”
“Zarif’s contentions on his country’s nuclear program also strain credulity. In an interview with C-Span in February 2000, Zarif said, ‘Iran has opened its doors with regard to inspections of nuclear technology.’ Three years later, Iran admitted to having hid a secret uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.’
“Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, remembers pressing Zarif about the case of eight Iranian Jews from Shiraz who had gone missing in 1994. ‘He has charm,’ Hoenlein said. ‘He was gracious. He invited us to his home. We communicated this to him, and asked him to look into the fate of these young boys. But in the end the answer was, ‘we don’t know, we have no information.’
“The missing boys were captured, jailed and murdered by Iranian authorities. It’s worth asking whether Zarif knows anything more about the fate of the Iranian Jews than he does about his country’s nuclear intentions. In either case, he’s sure to have a smooth answer.”
* Tom Gross: Here is something more fun: The 2015 Passover video made by students at Israel’s Technion Institute.
* Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.
1. “The U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal”
2. Nuclear “peace in our time”?
3. “A Bad Deal: Iran is outwitting the West in nuclear talks” (Times of London editorial, March 30, 2015)
4. ‘President Obama must not complete a disastrous deal with Iran’ (New York Observer editorial, March 30, 2015)
5. “Deal or No, Iran will remain a nuclear threat” (By Dennis Ross, Politico, March 31, 2015)
6. “Etiquette versus annihilation” (By Thomas Sowell, Townhall, April 1, 2015)
7. “Iran’s Charmer in Chief Wins Again” (By Eli Lake, Bloomberg, March 31, 2015)
8. “How France became an Iran hawk” (By Joseph Bahout, Benjamin Haddad, Foreign Policy, March 30, 2015)
“THE U.S. NEGOTIATING TEAM ARE MAINLY THERE TO SPEAK ON IRAN’S BEHALF WITH OTHER MEMBERS OF THE 5+1 COUNTRIES AND CONVINCE THEM OF A DEAL”
[Note by Tom Gross]
As the Iran nuclear talks drag on past their deadline for yet another day, below is a further round up of articles on them. These articles cast doubt on the wisdom of the Obama position. I don’t agree with each and every aspect of these articles, but attach them to counter-balance some of the reporting on media such as New York Times, The Guardian and the BBC.
It is also noteworthy that not only the French, but the other world powers seem to have grave doubts about Obama and Kerry’s policymaking.
An aide to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani covering the P5+1 nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, has defected to Switzerland, and has criticized the U.S. negotiating team as apologists for Iran: “The U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal,” he said.
Motaghi was a close aide for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and was the head of his public relations team during his 2013 election campaign.
More here from the London Daily Telegraph.
NUCLEAR “PEACE IN OUR TIME”?
There are many differences between the situation today and that in the 1930s. Yet it is worth remembering British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s words on September 30, 1938, to recall how naive western leaders can often be when dealing with dictatorial regimes:
“The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine… We regard the agreement signed last night… as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again… I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
“THIS DEAL MAY SIMPLY GIVE TEHRAN CARTE BLANCHE TO PLAN A FUTURE WITH ITS OWN BOMB”
A Bad Deal
Iran is outwitting the West in nuclear talks at Lausanne
The Times of London editorial
March 30, 2015
If a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme is clinched in the coming days, it will be hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough. It will be nothing of the kind. Judging by leaks from the negotiating table, Tehran has not done enough to allay suspicions that it intends eventually to produce nuclear weapons.
Worse, if the framework agreement is signed on the basis of current drafts it will contribute to a reckless recasting of the US position in the Middle East. Iran would be upgraded to the status of regional ally, while Israel, whose fears have been largely ignored during a year of diplomacy, would be awarded the status of regional irritant.
These are unintended consequences of the broader failure of the Obama administration’s policies in the Middle East. Plainly President Obama is not actively seeking a nuclear Iran. Rather he wants to reduce the chances of the United States, or Israel, having to launch a pre-emptive attack against Tehran. The diplomatic aim of the US and its five negotiating partners, including Britain, has thus been to cap the number of centrifuges capable of enriching uranium and limit to 12 months the time Iran would need to make a bomb.
The determination to notch up at least one success in Middle East peacemaking has, however, led Mr Obama to make ill-considered concessions in the belief that Iran is acting in good faith. The original negotiating aim of the US was to disable Iran’s uranium enrichment by restricting its centrifuges to between 500 and 1,500. The draft deal emerging out of talks in Switzerland suggests that Iran will instead cut its centrifuges from 10,000 to 6,000 at the Natanz site and operate 500 more in the fortified bunker in Fordow. The Fordow machines are supposed to be dedicated to medical and scientific purposes. In return for this, and for accepting strict verification procedures, Iran can expect the lifting of sanctions.
The deal is flawed. First, the Fordow plant can be quickly switched back to enriching uranium. Second, Iran has still not come clean to the International Atomic Energy Agency about its past attempts to develop nuclear weapons. This has made it difficult to determine whether secret programmes are continuing. Third, any arrangement hinges on transparency: Iranian readiness to accept snap inspections without let or hindrance. Finally, the supposedly comprehensive deal is set to run only for ten to twelve years.
It is therefore possible that Iran has made a conscious decision to prepare for nuclear “breakout” but not to go fully nuclear until 2025. Sanctions will be lifted. Tehran will prosper and spin an ever wider web of regional alliances that challenge Saudi Arabia and Israel. Its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and its backing for the Assad regime and for the Shia militias in Iraq and the rebels in Yemen are only a foretaste of what is to come. Its clout will be increased by the knowledge of its nervous neighbours that it is on the cusp of becoming a nuclear power, and that the US is not willing to slow Iran’s ascent.
The agreement taking shape in Lausanne is based on the most generous possible reading of Iranian intentions, namely that the regime will make genuine concessions because it is desperate to be readmitted to the club of rational, benign states who crave nothing but peace in the Middle East. That is naive. Instead of containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, this deal may simply give Tehran carte blanche to plan a future with its own bomb.
PRESIDENT OBAMA MUST NOT COMPLETE A DISASTROUS DEAL WITH IRAN
President Obama Must Not Complete a Disastrous Deal With Iran
Forget Churchill – Obama Isn’t Measuring up to Neville Chamberlain
By The Editors
New York Observer
March 30, 2015
With the US on the brink of signing an agreement that will lift the crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for alleged guarantees that Iran will limit its nuclear ambitions to peaceful means, the Observer urges President Obama not to place his personal hunger for a legacy issue ahead of his most solemn duty – protecting America’s national security.
Barack Obama has been compared to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain , who concluded the ill-fated Munich Pact with Hitler in 1938. But Chamberlain acted out of a sincere belief that he was avoiding a greater evil. Chamberlain was not thinking of his place in history. He was thinking only of the Britain that he loved, a Britain that was all but disarmed, exhausted, and vulnerable. He was dealing with a nation that had been decimated by the Great War, a nation whose “best and brightest” five years earlier had declared in the infamous Oxford Oath that they would not fight for king or country, and a nation that was as materially unprepared for war as Germany was prepared to fight. Chamberlain dealt from a position of weakness, one that Hitler continually exploited in the negotiations, even by changing the time and place to make it more inconvenient for the British leader to attend them.
In sharp contrast, Mr. Obama is acting out of personal aggrandizement. He believes he is replicating President Richard Nixon’s historic opening of China. For Mr. Obama, the Iranian nuclear arms deal is about his place in history. Mr. Obama is dealing from a position of strength that he refuses to use. The sanctions have hurt Iran. Falling oil prices only add to Iran’s vulnerability. Instead of using the sanctions to pursue his original promise that Iran would not get the bomb, Mr. Obama has moved the goal post. Iran would not get the bomb immediately. It would be permitted to enrich uranium well beyond the 5 percent need for generating nuclear energy and be left with a breakout capacity to create a bomb.
Meanwhile, Iran is refusing surprise inspections, the hallmark of any such agreement, and has ruled its military facilities, such as the enrichment plant at Fordo, off limits to any inspections, period. Iran continues to showcase public displays of Israel being obliterated by an Iranian nuclear bomb, and even in the midst of negotiations government-orchestrated mass rallies cry out, “Death to America.”
If Chamberlain possessed America’s strength and was dealing with Iran’s weakness, would he be negotiating as Mr. Obama is? Would he be more concerned about a Jew building an extra bedroom in Jerusalem than an Iranian building a bomb at Fordo?
Before becoming prime minister, Chamberlain held two ministerial portfolios. He was considered a thoughtful and effective cabinet member. Upon becoming Prime Minister in 1940, Winston Churchill appointed Chamberlain to the new War Cabinet.
History has debated whether Chamberlain was the reckless appeaser that he is stereotyped as or the man who dealt from a position of extreme weakness against a foe he was unprepared to go to war against and who sacrificed part of Czechoslovakia to buy Britain time to rearm. Even Churchill, who filleted Chamberlain with his famous “choice between war and dishonor and now will get both” zinger, understood that Chamberlain was acting in good faith and kept his vanquished predecessor in his War cabinet.
ON IRAN, NO DEAL IS BETTER THAN A GOOD DEAL
It is unrealistic to hope that Mr. Obama could emerge as a modern Churchill in this chaotic and dangerous chapter in human history. But even Chamberlain would not have made the disastrous agreement that Mr. Obama seems so eager to conclude.
Mr. Obama is an amateur who is enthralled with the sound of his own voice and is incapable of coming to grips with the consequences of his actions. He is surrounded by sycophants, second-rate intellectuals, and a media that remains compliant and uncritical in the face of repeated foreign policy disasters. As country after country in the world’s most dangerous region fall into chaos – Libya and Yemen are essentially anarchic states, even as Syria and Iraq continue to devolve – Mr. Obama puzzlingly focuses much of his attention and rhetoric on Israel, childishly refusing to accept the mandate its people have given their prime minister in an election that, by the way, added three additional seats to the country’s Arab minority.
We can debate whether we should ever have been in Iraq, but Mr. Obama’s hasty withdrawal to make good on a campaign promise created the power vacuum filled by the Islamic State. In Syria, he vacillated over the enforcement of red lines and whom to arm. There too, he created a vacuum filled by the Islamic State.
In Egypt, he withdrew support for President Hosni Mubarack, who for thirty years kept the peace with Israel and turned Egypt into a stable and reliable ally. Obama permitted the tyrannical Muslim Brotherhood to come to power failing to realize that one election, one time, resulting in a tyranny is not democracy.
In Libya, President Muammar al-Gaddafi, once an international pariah, had reversed course as far back as 1999 and attempted to reenter the community of nations, even giving up his nuclear program. Libya was a stable dictatorship that was willing to engage in economic and diplomatic relations with the West. Its revolutionary ambitions of pan-Arabism and its expansionist tendencies had abated. When revolutionary forces rose up against Gaddafi, Mr. Obama not only verbally supported the revolutionaries, he sent NATO war planes to assist them. Gaddafi was defeated and murdered. Libya is now in chaos and another hot house for Islamic extremism.
The deal with Iran follows in the wake of these foreign policy disasters. Among our traditional Sunni allies in the region, it is seen as a betrayal not simply because it advances Iran’s nuclear ambitions but also because it encourages Iran’s support for the Houthi Shiite militia in Yemen and Iran’s adventurism in Iraq. The lifting of sanctions means more resources for Iran to transfer to its meddlesome proxies like Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the assassin of Lebanon’s democratic aspirations. The nuclear deal gives Iran an unacceptable nuclear umbrella that will compel the Gulf State Sunnis to launch their own nuclear programs, setting off a disastrous proliferation in the region.
The Iran deal is a march toward the nuclear abyss hand-in-hand with the world’s largest exporter of terrorism– the patron of Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthi militias in Yemen, Shiite militias in Iraq, and operatives killing Jews in Argentina. Regrettably, a naïve, petulant President Obama sees this as a crowning part of his legacy and nothing will stand in his way.
Until Mr. Obama released a 1987 classified report detailing Israel’s nuclear program, we believed that the president’s Iranian policy was motivated by a different vision of America’s interests in the Middle East. Admittedly, it is one that would be difficult to dissect, let alone to explain.
But Mr. Obama’s latest petulant act shows that this is not a president motivated by policy but by personal feelings. He sacrificed the security of our close ally and its seven million citizens because he felt slighted. How else does one explain that Israel’s nuclear program is made public while the report’s description of the programs of our NATO partners is redacted?
We might call for Mr. Obama to find his inner Churchill and walk away from this tragedy, but we would be happy if he would simply find the character of the “real” Neville Chamberlain, who when dealing from a position of America’s strength would never have signed a deal with the devil. Ultimately, this deal will come back to haunt Mr. Obama’s legacy far more than Munich haunted Chamberlain’s.
DEAL OR NO, IRAN WILL REMAIN A NUCLEAR THREAT
Deal or No, Iran Will Remain a Nuclear Threat
By Dennis Ross
March 31, 2015
Even if much remains to be thrashed out, with the deadline extended to Wednesday, the tentative framework understanding that the P5+1 is now finalizing with Iran represents progress toward constraining the Iranian nuclear program. The claim of the Obama administration that any eventual agreement will block all pathways toward an Iranian nuclear weapon, however, is surely an overstatement. At best, a deal will create impediments for the life of the agreement but offer little afterward. At that point, the administration and its successors would need to make clear that should Iran seek to break out to the production of weapons-grade enriched uranium – or the preparation of nuclear weapons – it would trigger the use of force by us.
But in that case, we would be acting to deter the Iranians from translating their sizable nuclear infrastructure into a nuclear weapon, not to dismantle the program.
It is noteworthy that the agreement that the administration will now try to finalize with the Iranians by June 30 does not reflect the objective we had hoped to achieve for much of President Barack Obama’s first term. At that point, when I was in the administration, our aim was to transform the character of the Iranian nuclear program so that the peaceful intent of its capabilities would be demonstrated unmistakably to the international community. Necessarily, that meant that Iran could not have a large nuclear infrastructure. If permitted enrichment, it would have to be highly circumscribed and limited to small numbers for the purposes of research or production of medical isotopes. If Iran wanted additional nuclear reactors to generate electricity, it would receive its fuel from international fuel banks and its spent fuel would be sent out of the country – much like is done with the Bushehr reactor today. Similarly, there would be no stockpile of enriched uranium in the country that the Iranians might surreptitiously seek to purify to weapons grade. And, the questions about the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program – a euphemism for Iran’s efforts to create a nuclear weapon – would have been satisfactorily answered.
At some point, the Obama administration changed its objective from one of transforming the Iranian nuclear program to one of ensuring that Iran could not have a breakout time of less than one year. The former was guided by our determination to press Iran to change its intent about pursuing or at least preserving the option of having a nuclear weapon. The latter clearly reflects a very different judgment: that we were not able to alter the Iranian intentions, so instead we needed to focus on constraining their capabilities.
By definition, when we speak about a one-year breakout time, we are accepting that Iran will have the means and infrastructure to produce nuclear weapons and we are trying to develop impediments to its doing so – even as we also create indicators that alert us to any such Iranian effort.
Clearly, during the course of negotiations, faced with intransigence from Tehran, the administration came to the conclusion that we could not diplomatically roll back the Iranian nuclear infrastructure in any significant way. But we could diplomatically succeed in containing the Iranian nuclear program, putting limits on it and preventing its growth for the next 15 years. Moreover, during that time, we could also create enough transparency to know whether the Iranians were moving toward a bomb – and whether the Iranian awareness of that would deter them from pursuing such a capability. Apparently, for the president, the secretary of state and our lead negotiators, other alternatives could not promise as good an outcome. Indeed, increased sanctions might pressure the Iranians but could not stop the acceleration of their nuclear program if diplomacy broke down. That might leave the use of force, with all its unintended consequences, as the only option, and that has little appeal for the administration, particularly if we can limit the Iranians through other means.
But if the measure of the negotiations is now about breakout time, then the administration needs to show convincingly that the verification regime will be far-reaching and capable of detecting whatever the Iranians are doing and whenever they do it. In fact, a one-year breakout time depends not just on the number and type of centrifuges, their output and the stockpile of enriched uranium – all of which can be calculated – but also on the administration’s ability to discover the moment at which the Iranians begin to sneak out, creep out or break out from the limitations placed on them.
Moreover, for those who say that one year is not enough time because even discovery of a violation does not ensure a response, the administration will need to explain why this agreement will not function like other arms control agreements, where questions related to noncompliance have historically bogged down in endless discussions. How will we respond if we detect a violation, particularly a serious one? Will the mechanism for response provide for a quick determination? What if the Russians and others don’t agree or insist that an extended discussion with the Iranians is required? How can we be sure that small violations don’t change the base line and shrink the breakout time? Under what circumstances might we act unilaterally?
Assuming an agreement is finalized by June 30, the administration may well be right that this was the best one possible – and that it is better than the other alternatives. That, of course, does not make it a good agreement. Even a bad agreement might be better than the available alternatives, but if the administration wants to prove that the eventual agreement is acceptable, it will need to show that it has produced the bare minimum of the outcome that we once hoped for: that there will be a breakout time of at least one year; that the Iranians cannot deny inspectors access to any site, including those on military or Revolutionary Guard facilities; and that it has anticipated a full range of different Iranian violations and won’t wait for others to respond to them. In reality, if we are to deter Iranian violations, they must know in advance what the consequences are and that they will be high.
Skepticism about an agreement based on constraining Iranian capabilities, and not on demonstrating a shift in Iranian intentions, is understandable. Rather than questioning the motivations of the skeptics, the administration would be wise to demonstrate that it has compelling answers to their concerns about the possible vulnerabilities of the deal. It might just convince some of the skeptics that the agreement is acceptable.
“IT MAY BE THE MOST CATASTROPHIC DECISION IN HUMAN HISTORY”
Etiquette versus annihilation
Clearing the way for Iran to get nuclear bombs may – probably will – be the most catastrophic decision in human history.
By Thomas Sowell
April 1, 2015
Recent statements from United Nations officials, that Iran is already blocking their existing efforts to keep track of what is going on in their nuclear program, should tell anyone who does not already know it that any agreement with Iran will be utterly worthless in practice. It doesn’t matter what the terms of the agreement are, if Iran can cheat.
It is amazing – indeed, staggering – that so few Americans are talking about what it would mean for the world’s biggest sponsor of international terrorism, Iran, to have nuclear bombs, and to be developing intercontinental missiles that can deliver them far beyond the Middle East.
Back during the years of the nuclear stand-off between the Soviet Union and the United States, contemplating what a nuclear war would be like was called “thinking the unthinkable.” But surely the Nazi Holocaust during World War II should tell us that what is beyond the imagination of decent people is by no means impossible for people who, as Churchill warned of Hitler before the war, had “currents of hatred so intense as to sear the souls of those who swim upon them.”
Have we not already seen that kind of hatred in the Middle East? Have we not seen it in suicide bombings there and in suicide attacks against America by people willing to sacrifice their own lives by flying planes into massive buildings, to vent their unbridled hatred?
The Soviet Union was never suicidal, so the fact that we could annihilate their cities if they attacked ours was a sufficient deterrent to a nuclear attack from them. But will that deter fanatics with an apocalyptic vision? Should we bet the lives of millions of Americans on our ability to deter nuclear war with Iran?
It is now nearly 70 years since nuclear bombs were used in war. Long periods of safety in that respect have apparently led many to feel as if the danger is not real. But the dangers are even greater now and the nuclear bombs more devastating.
Clearing the way for Iran to get nuclear bombs may – probably will – be the most catastrophic decision in human history. And it can certainly change human history, irrevocably, for the worse.
Against that grim background, it is almost incomprehensible how some people can be preoccupied with the question whether having Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu address Congress, warning against the proposed agreement, without the prior approval of President Obama, was a breach of protocol.
Against the background of the Obama administration’s negotiating what can turn out to be the most catastrophic international agreement in the nation’s history, to complain about protocol is to put questions of etiquette above questions of annihilation.
Why is Barack Obama so anxious to have an international agreement that will have no legal standing under the Constitution just two years from now, since it will be just a presidential agreement, rather than a treaty requiring the “advice and consent” of the Senate?
There are at least two reasons. One reason is that such an agreement will serve as a fig leaf to cover his failure to do anything that has any serious chance of stopping Iran from going nuclear. Such an agreement will protect Obama politically, despite however much it exposes the American people to unprecedented dangers.
The other reason is that, by going to the United Nations for its blessing on his agreement with Iran, he can get a bigger fig leaf to cover his complicity in the nuclear arming of America’s most dangerous enemy. In Obama’s vision, as a citizen of the world, there may be no reason why Iran should not have nuclear weapons when other nations have them.
Politically, President Obama could not just come right out and say such a thing. But he can get the same end result by pretending to have ended the dangers by reaching an agreement with Iran. There have long been people in the Western democracies who hail every international agreement that claims to reduce the dangers of war.
The road to World War II was strewn with arms control agreements on paper that aggressor nations ignored in practice. But those agreements lulled the democracies into a false sense of security that led them to cut back on military spending while their enemies were building up the military forces to attack them.
A CHARMING IRANIAN PROPAGANDIST
Iran’s Charmer in Chief Wins Again
By Eli Lake
March 31, 2015
Now is the time to praise Javad Zarif. Whatever you might think of Iran’s foreign minister, he knows how to bargain.
With a final announcement due any moment from negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program in Lausanne, Switzerland, Iran appears to be doing quite well for itself.
After all, before the real negotiations began, Iran won vague recognition – from the U.S. and five other great powers – that it has a right to enrich uranium. Between 2008 and 2012, the United Nations Security Council passed five resolutions sanctioning Tehran for violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by operating centrifuges at facilities it had not bothered to tell the International Atomic Energy Agency about.
Now, if press leaks turn out to be correct, Iran is on the brink of securing an agreement to allow it to keep thousands of those centrifuges, and also to operate its laboratory at Fordow, a facility burrowed deep into a mountain for the production of what Zarif assures us are medical isotopes. When U.S. spies smoked out that facility in 2009, Obama demanded that Iran come clean about all of its past nuclear activities. Last week, the IAEA reported that Iran continues to stonewall the agency on the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program before 2003.
Zarif’s ability to negotiate concessions despite Iran’s shaky past would be impressive enough for any foreign minister. But consider that he was able to do so even as his bosses in Tehran waged a successful proxy war against Western allies throughout the Middle East. In Yemen, a pro-American government fell this month to Iranian backed Houthi fighters, and prompted Saudi Arabia to launch an air war to beat them back. In Syria, Iranian support has been vital to the survival of Bashar al-Assad, the dictator Obama used to say had to go.
How does Zarif do it? Part of the answer is personal charm. He has for more than a decade cultivated Washington policy elites the way an aspiring presidential candidate works over local party activists in Iowa and New Hampshire. Just as local county commissioners are lucky to just get some face time with national political figures, Zarif, who was ambassador to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007, became the one Iranian official who bothered responding to e-mails from journalists, analysts and members of Congress happy to have the access.
“He makes himself accessible,” Ray Takyeh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told me. “When he was ambassador, he was willing to debate and have a conversation. Given the fact that there are not too many Iranian ambassadors to the United Nations who have been willing to do so, the fact that he does that is important.”
Zarif has had some help in this charm offensive. E-mails that surfaced from a defamation lawsuit brought by Swedish-Iranian activist Trita Parsi against an Iranian emigre, Hassan Dai, show that Zarif has worked closely with Parsi and the organization he founded, the National Iranian American Council.
For example, they show that in 2006, Zarif and Parsi tried to persuade journalists to write about a peace offer Iran had supposedly offered the George W. Bush administration after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Yet according to senior Bush administration officials, that 2003 offer was not a serious piece of diplomacy, and was not made through the channels by which the Bush administration communicated with Iran. Nonetheless, the narrative stuck that the Bush team blew a chance at a breakthrough in 2003. On the eve of the current negotiations in 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry repeated Zarif’s talking point about the 2003 offer in an interview ABC’s “This Week.” (The Washington Post judged the claim as dubious, earning it three Pinocchios).
It should be noted that when Zarif was cultivating these relationships out of the U.N., the FBI was investigating him for his alleged role in controlling a charity called the Alavi Foundation. The Justice Department claimed that the group – with several hundred million dollars in assets – was secretly run on behalf of the Iranian government to fund university programs and launder money to evade U.S. sanctions. Last year, the foundation settled a lawsuit with the U.S. government to forfeit a 36-story office building in Midtown Manhattan.
Yet Zarif’s reputation remained untarnished. After leaving the U.N. post in 2007, Zarif largely stayed out of government during the presidency of the stridently anti-American Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But after the election of Hassan Rouhani in 2013, Zarif ascended to his role as foreign minister. At the time, he gave an interview with Iranian TV on his hope to sow discord on Washington’s Iran policy. “Despite AIPAC’s pressure, twenty lawmakers refused to vote for the latest sanctions against Iran,” he said, according to a translation by Dai. “These divisions over Iran provide us with opportunities to maneuver in Washington and advance our interests. The Iranian community can play an important role to combat AIPAC and defend our interests.”
On a personal level, Zarif’s rise within Iran is remarkable. According to an excellent profile in the New Republic last year, during the 1979 revolution Zarif wasn’t in Iran, but continued his studies in the U.S. Yet experience in America didn’t moderate him: He attached himself to the new revolutionaries and his political fortunes rose with them.
Today, Zarif appears to be on top of the world. In interviews he has been downright brazen with his liberal interpretations of Iran’s history. Earlier this month, he told NBC’s Ann Curry that Iran – throughout its history – has been a savior of the Jewish people. This would seem more credible if Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wasn’t tweeting out his fervent wish to see the world’s only Jewish state destroyed.
Zarif’s contentions on his country’s nuclear program also strain credulity. In an interview with C-Span in February 2000, Zarif said, “Iran has opened its doors with regard to inspections of nuclear technology.” Three years later, Iran admitted to having hid a secret uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.
Zarif is fond of saying that Iran’s nuclear program has been inspected more than any other country’s on the planet, with the exception of Japan. Yet not only did Iran hide the facilities at Natanz and Fordow, it still won’t allow IAEA inspectors access to any military installations. Zarif’s statements about inspections “are more for political consumption,” said Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director general at the IAEA: “Their attitude towards the IAEA has not changed in 10 years. There is a change in tone, but no change in policy.”
But Zarif gets away with it. One of his greatest assets is plausible deniability – he says he doesn’t actually know all of the details of his country’s nuclear program, and there is no reason to disbelieve him. The Islamic revolutionaries make war and build nuclear weapons, while the diplomats can say they are seeking peace.
This diplomatic advantage is perhaps best explained by a long-forgotten episode from the early 2000s. Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, remembers pressing Zarif about the case of eight Iranian Jews from Shiraz who had gone missing in 1994. “He has charm,” Hoenlein told me. “He was gracious. He invited us to his home.”
But at the end of the day, Zarif’s personal qualities masked an inability to help the Jewish leaders find the men, who ranged in age from 15 to 36. “He kept promising us on the missing young people, but we never ended up getting any information,” Hoenlein told me. “We gave him the information on where they were seen, in jail, we communicated this to him, and asked him to look into the fate of these young boys. But in the end the answer was, ‘we don’t know, we have no information.’ “
Last year, the Israeli government made public a report that its intelligence service, the Mossad, had learned the missing boys were captured, jailed and murdered by Iranian authorities. It’s worth asking whether Zarif knows anything more about the fate of the Iranian Jews than he does about his country’s nuclear intentions. In either case, he’s sure to have a smooth answer.
HOW FRANCE BECAME AN IRAN HAWK
How France Became an Iran Hawk
The French don’t trust Iran’s nuclear promises, but they don’t trust Washington much, either.
By Joseph Bahout, Benjamin Haddad
Foreign Policy magazine
March 30, 2015
As a March 31 deadline looms in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, the United States and France, two strong allies, have found themselves increasingly at odds, at times quite publicly.
While the White House has been pushing hard for consensus on the framework for a deal ahead of the deadline, Paris has been pushing back. “Repeating that an agreement has to be reached by the end of March is a bad tactic. Pressure on ourselves to conclude at any price,” Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador in Washington, tweeted on March 20. On Tuesday, Francois Delattre, France’s ambassador to the United Nations, said that Iran’s progress was “insufficient.”
The word from Paris has been equally unsupportive of the U.S. push for a deal. “France wants an agreement, but a robust one that really guarantees that Iran can have access to civilian nuclear power, but not the atomic bomb,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared on March 21.
What gives? Is France’s Socialist President Francois Hollande actually a neoconservative? Has Paris suddenly turned into a hawk among nations?
Not quite. France’s policy is dictated by a set of principles with regard to non-proliferation that have guided administrations on both sides of the political spectrum in the talks with Tehran since 2002. And the tension with Washington is just one expression of a larger disagreement between the two countries over U.S. strategy in the Middle East.
Differences between Washington and Paris have been quietly brewing for months. The French feel that they are being kept out of the loop in critical discussions. The multilateral framework of the Iran and P5+1 (the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany) has turned into a bilateral discussion between Iran and the United States.
This exclusion has been coupled with increasing pressure from Washington. French diplomats complain (albeit only privately) that their American counterparts are trying to force them to make concessions on issues like the number of centrifuges allowed or sanctions in order to reach an agreement by March 31, a deadline that the French, like many of the White House’s critics back home, see as artificial and counterproductive.
The French do not share the sense of hurry that Washington seems to feel. As France’s ambassador to the United States tweeted on March 3: “We want a deal. They need a deal. The tactics and the result of the negotiation should reflect this asymmetry.”
But the differences between the French and American positions go beyond process and into matters of substance. The lifting of sanctions, the scope of inspections, research and development capacities, the number of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to maintain, and how long the agreement will last are all areas in which Paris and Washington differ. In Lausanne last week, France rejected Iran’s demand to immediately lift United Nations Security Council sanctions linked to proliferation after an agreement, arguing this can only come progressively, with verifications.
A central concern is “breakout time” (the minimum time needed to make weapons-grade uranium). According to current reports, a deal would ensure Iranian breakout time would be moved back to one year. French negotiators want to ensure that Iran’s agreed upon breakout time will last the entire duration of the deal – and after. They also want a deal that lasts as long as possible.
“Ten years is short when you talk about nuclear issues,” one diplomat said.
Another diplomat summed it up: “We spent more than 10 years talking, slowly setting an architecture of sanctions, of pressure, defining principles of negotiations. Once we dismantle this, it won’t come back up. So we better get the best possible deal.”
French diplomats insist a political agreement, if reached by March 31, will only be a first step. Tough negotiations will continue. Bruno Tertrais, an expert in nuclear issues who is influential in the French diplomatic community, even suggested recently a series of temporary deals could be a better alternative to a bad definitive deal.
None of this goes against longstanding French policy, though. France has consistently been the toughest member of the European Union when it comes to Iran, going back to the administration of President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. Paris has consistently advocated for firmer sanctions and E.U. sanctions, beyond the scope of United Nations resolutions. In 2012, France was notably responsible for convincing Europeans to ban the import on oil products, despite the objections of many countries.
Nuclear deterrence has been central to France’s foreign policy ever since Charles de Gaulle’s presidency, a pillar that has been largely bipartisan. And just as nuclear doctrine has stayed remarkably stable through the years, so have the officials in charge of conducting French nuclear strategy and proliferation policy, regardless of who is in the Élysée.
In fact, some of the most preeminent positions in the French diplomatic and defense establishments are occupied by career civil servants trained as nuclear strategists who have worked on Iran for over a decade. This close-knit group of diplomats includes, among others, Araud, as well as Jacques Audibert, Hollande’s diplomatic advisor, who both previously served as France’s chief nuclear negotiator with Iran.
These diplomats generally share the conviction Tehran’s enrichment program is aimed at obtaining a nuclear weapon and that a bad deal that allows the Iranians to keep enriching uranium at dangerous levels will lead to a disastrous game of regional proliferation. Araud, Audibert, and their colleagues know the situation well: They have been engaged in 12 years of talks on these issues and at this point they feel they have little reason to trust the Iranians, or believe regional arrangements with Iran would decrease its desire to acquire nuclear capabilities.
But policymakers in Paris might not trust the Americans much, either – and not just when it comes to the nuclear negotiations. French officials no longer hide their dismay at many of Washington’s policies in the Middle East.
Numerous French diplomats suspect that the United States, now that it is less dependent on Gulf oil, “pivoting” to Asia, and focused on fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is on the verge of profoundly reshaping of its traditional alliance system in the Middle East, moving from a system where Iran replaces Saudi Arabia as the central pillar of regional stability. This especially concerns the French because they have built strong political and defense relationships with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates in recent years.
The nuclear talks, French diplomats suspect, are just one part of a strategic rapprochement with Iran. Washington has practically sub-contracted the war against the Islamic State’s forces in Iraq to Iranian special forces and Tehran’s Iraqi militia proxies. The French view this as a potentially counter-productive move, one more part of Washington’s turn away from its Sunni allies and toward Tehran.
French officials are also critical of the American strategy of fighting the Islamic State first in Iraq, then in Syria, disregarding the fact that both theaters are interlinked. Paris would rather see more and better inclusion of Sunnis in both countries, including more concrete support for the moderate Syrian rebel factions.
Meanwhile, the U.S. approach to Syria’s civil war is seen in Paris as hesitant and ambiguous, lacking means and resolve, and indirectly leaving aside the core question of the Assad regime’s fate – thus comforting the dictator in Damascus. This issue has come up publicly recently, as after Secretary of State John Kerry said on March 15 that negotiating with Assad would be necessary to end the war in Syria. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said a day later that “There will not be a political solution, there will not be a solution for Syria as long as Bashar al-Assad stays, and John Kerry knows it.” Among the concerns for French policymakers is that the temporary survival of Assad that endangers Lebanon, a country that remains dear to France.
Relations between Paris and Washington have been tainted with suspicion ever since Syria used chemical weapons in August 2013 and Obama failed to enforce his “red line.” The sudden American about face was perceived by Hollande as a sign that Obama was dumping his allies. European countries, and France in particular, were ready to attack Syria in September 2013, after two weeks of stepping up pressure and building up their military presence in the Mediterranean.
Paris is in good company, alongside many of Washington’s traditional allies in the region, including Gulf States, Israel, and Turkey, who have all felt shunted aside in the interest of reconciliation with Iran. Within the nuclear talks, France, which has strong ties with Gulf countries, has voiced these concerns.
Behind the Iran nuclear talks hovers the question of the future and shape of American power and leadership. For a decade, European countries have worked on trying to rein in Iran’s nuclear program. France, like the other countries, has taken an economic hit in this effort, thanks to the sanctions regime. Now the view from Paris is of a Washington that seems to lack empathy and trust for its long-time friends and partners – more interested in making nice with Iran than looking out for its old allies.