The Leveretts have an article at HuffPo entitled "Obama's Choice: Real Diplomacy With Iran -- or War" wherein they say,
Tehran's conditions for a long-term deal remain fundamentally what they have been for years -- above all, U.S. acceptance of Iran's revolution and its independence, including its right to enrich under international safeguards. Just as importantly, the Obama administration is no more prepared than prior administrations to accept the Islamic Republic and put forward a proposal that might actually interest Tehran. And Obama's ability to modify sanctions in the course of negotiations -- or lift them as part of a deal -- is tightly circumscribed by laws that he himself signed, belying the argument that sanctions are somehow a constructive diplomatic tool.
Frankly, I don't see the point. By now it is obvious that Obama does not have the balls to take on AIPAC, and yet the US is in no position to start another war either ... So Obama will most likely make all the right noises to keep the Israelis satisfied and yet will kick the ball down the road.
Like I keep saying, if you're expecting these talks to ever pan out, you're betting on the wrong horse. The Israeli influence over US foreign policy has not disappeared by magic -- it is still there, and any US-Iran rapprochement is anathema for them. With Syria wobbling, the US and Israel are not interested in making any deals because their hand could be stronger later if Assad falls. But this assumes that the US is actually interested in making a deal in the first place, rather than dragging out this standoff until there is an opportunity to impose regime-change in Iran (which is and will always be the "best scenario" goal of the US and Israel.) The history of this standoff has shown that's the case: the US has repeatedly batted away opportunities to resolve this standoff peacefully whilst also addressing any actual proliferation threats, and instead has repeatedly deliberately imposed conditions on the talks that were intended to kill any chance for compromise. And in addition, we all know that Obama is simply not capable of making any sort of deal with Iran even if he wanted to anyway, since the removal of sanctions would be the minimum quid-pro-quo demand by Iran, and US sanctions are mostly imposed by the pro-Israeli Congress not the US President. (That fact could not have been made more apparently by the treatment meted out to Hagel in his disgusting nomination process as Obama's Sec of Def.)
In any case I was reminded of an Dec 2006 interview with Iranian Ambassador Javad Zarif published in the National Interest Online site, when he predicted that the sanctions won't have any effect except to act as an obstacle to reaching one of the many compromise solutions offered by Iran and others which would have addressed any real weapons proliferation threats, but certainly they won't prevent Iran from continuing her perfectly legal nuclear program. Amb Zarif pointed out even back then that in fact the sanctions policy seems more intended to prevent any sort of resolution rather than solving the standoff:
The Security Council sanctions will not be able to stop the Iranian program [and] the sanctions that are requested will not satisfy proliferation concerns. Proliferation concerns—if there are any real, sincere proliferation concerns—can be addressed through mechanisms that would bring about transparency, international monitoring and other possibilities that would provide the assurance that Iran’s program will always remain peaceful. The Security Council can impose sanctions but that does not provide that assurance.
Because Iran has been denied technology over the last 27 years and this resolution only officiates what has been the policy and practice, Iran has had to be discrete in its acquisitions of peaceful nuclear technology to the point that today Iran’s nuclear program has been localized. Every element of that program is produced locally and our own scientists have developed the scientific know-how in order to be able to sustain the program without any external support.
That was not always the case. Our desire was to have international cooperation in order to have access to technology. But the option that was provided to Iran throughout the past 27 years—and now more officially in this resolution—is to either accept being deprived of this technology—which is assuming greater and greater significance—or to try to develop it based on our own. Between these two options, we certainly choose the latter.
If the option were to be provided to Iran to develop this technology through cooperation, that is what we have suggested: an international consortium. Other countries, including Western countries, could own jointly with Iran the facilities, and also jointly operate them. That would give the greatest assurance that these programs are not diverted into any illicit activities.
Prof. Walt has an blog entry at Foreign Policy in which he essentiaaly makes th point that even if Iran had a nuclea weapon, it would be pretty useless, and the US would not attack Iran over it.
He starts out positing so many "suppose that" in order to put a hypothetical nuke in Iran's hands, arguendo, that I got lost. I don't have an argument with his article as such. My real criticism however is that by even hypothetically accepting such a premise, articles like this legitimate the the idea that Iran's nuclear program is really the cause of the current standoff b beteen the US and Iran, when it clearly isn't. The article implicitly buys into the framing that "the problem" is the nuclear program in Iran and not AIPAC-dictated policy of imposing regime change. The nuclear issue is and always has been a pretext, and we should not forget that fact, even for the sake of argument.
But aside from that, I was reminded by Walt's article about a "scandal" in Fance a few ears ago when Jacques Chric decided to ad lib a little instead of mouthing the same tired lines (which have become evev more shabbily worn since) about this alleged "Iranian nuclear threat" What did Chriac say that caused the scandal?
During a presidential press briefing at the
Elysée palace devoted to the Paris conference on
climate change, a New York Times journalist changed
the subject to ask the French President about the
Iranian nuclear threat. Chirac began with the standard
official "International Community" line, namely that
Tehran's refusal to give up its uranium enrichment
program was "very dangerous". But then, Chirac
(thinking, he explained later, that he was speaking
off the record) gave in to the temptation to speak
honestly. For Iran to have a nuclear weapon was not
really so dangerous, he said. To make his point, he
asked rhetorically what good it would do Iran to have
a nuclear bomb, or even two. "Where would it fire that
bomb? At Israel? It wouldn't have traveled 200 meters
through the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed."
Chirac even went so far as to suggest that Iran had a
motive for its nuclear research, including its fear of
being "challenged or threatened by the international
community. And the international community, who is
that? It's the United States."
Of course the media went crazy about this. How dare Chirac say Iran's nuclear program isn't the threat that Israel and the US say it is, even though the Israelis themselves quietly say they don't really feel threatened by it either!
Just listened to a BBC News segment on the March 16, 1988 poison gas attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja by Saddam's forces during the Anfal campaign,which killed 5000 people. Of course, there was no mention of the US/German and othe European backing of Saddam, or the facts that the US tried to shift blame for the attack off of Saddam and onto Iran (even though it was the Iranians who first tried to bring Saddam's gas attacks to public attention through the UN, though the US had instructed its representative at the UN to try to stifle debate over the issue, while at the same time the US was arming Saddam.) Specifically, the first photographs (warning: images of death)of the aftermath of the attack were taken by an Iranian photojournalist Kaveh Golestan who was later killed covering the US invasion of Iraq. Ironically, he was working for the BBC when he was killed.
Ironically, and despite US complicity in the atrocity at Halabja, Bush cited the event as a pretext for invadng Iraq: “On this very day 15 years ago, Saddam Hussein launched a chemical weapons attack on the Iraqi village of Halabja,” George W. Bush proclaimed at the Azores summit on March 16, 2003. “If military force is required, we’ll quickly seek new Security Council resolutions to encourage broad participation in the process of helping the Iraqi people to build a free Iraq.” Failing to get another Security Council resolution to authorize the use of military force, he went ahead anyway, and killed even more Iraqis.
Iran had been trying to bring Saddam's use of WMDs to the world's attention ever since the Nov 13 1983 chemical attack on Panjavin, an Iraq village a few miles from Halabja, causing 30,000 Kurdish/Iranian casualties (earlier yet use of chemical weapons at Haij Umran had resulted in 100 casualtis.) In 1984, Iran introduced a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council condemning Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons on the battlefield. In response, the United States instructed its delegate at the UN to lobby friendly representatives in support of a motion to take "no decision" on the use of chemical munitions by Iraq. If backing to obstruct the resolution could be won, then the U.S. delegation was to proceed and vote in favour of taking zero action; if support were not forthcoming, the U.S. delegate were to refrain from voting altogether.
From then on, Iranians and Iraqis suffered thousands of casualties from Saddam's chemical weapons, while at the same time, Iraq was removed from the US State Dept list of terrorist nations so as to ease the process of sending weapons to Saddam, a process that National Security Council adviser Howard Teicher explained in a court affidavit (which was later sealed) was intended to ensure Saddam's grip on power in the face of Iranian battlefield victories. There were also two trips to Baghdad in 1983 and 1984 by Donald Rumsfeld, then serving as a special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in which Rumsfeld was famously shown shaking hands with Saddam.
Lets remember now, the United States had a key role in the development of the Iraqi chemical weapons program, which included arranging forthe sale of cluster munitions, sharing intelligence, and facilitating Iraq's acquisition of chemical and biological weapons components. Leaked portions of Iraq's "Full, Final and Complete" dislosure of the sources for its weapons programs lists many American companies which provided the chemical precursors to Iraq's weapons program, even though the US tried to suppress the disclosure. These reportedly include thiodiglycol, a substance needed to manufacture deadly mustard gas, which made its way to Iraq via Alcolac International, Inc., a Maryland company, since dissolved and reformed as Alcolac Inc., and Phillips, once a subsidiary of Phillips Petroleum and now part of ConocoPhillips, an American oil and energy company. The US was fully aware of the use of these chemicals - in fact, the Reagan administration had to first remove Iraq from the State Department list of terrorist nations in order to ease the transfer of the technology and material to Iraq.
Imagine my surprise when I see an editorial in the NY Times that I can actually agree with! The NY Times editors typically have the most misleading and inaccurate claims about Iran, even repeatedly referring to a non-existent "Iranian nuclear weapons program" but today they have an editorial entitled "Congress gets in the way on Iran" in which they complain that fresh Congressional sanctions on Iran harm the nuclear negotiations. More significantly, it indirectly cites AIPAC, Israel and Netanyahu as the motivation behind the measures.
Way back in Jan 2012, I asked a simple question: even assuming for the mere sake of argument that the Obama administration is serious about wanting a deal with Iran and isn't just playing "rope-a-dope" wth Iran in the hopes of eventually achieving regime-change there (which I think it is totally the case, a policy continued and adopted by Obama from the Bush admin, which is why Dennis Ross was initially brough aboard from the Bush administration), since any sort of viable nuclear deal with Iran is going to require the lifting of sanctions, and since most of the US sanctions on Iran are imposed by Congress and not the President, then is the Obama administration actually capable of delivering on any such deal with Iran?
The answer, of course, is a big fat "No." The US Congress is bought-and-paid for by Israel. Obama can barely get his Def Sec nominee Hagel past Congress, and the fellow had to literally debase himself and practically swear never-ending fealty to Israel before he sqeaked by the nomination committee. (Apparently Israel was mentioned during the Hagel hearings more often than Afghanistan, where US troops are still fighting an actual war.)
Why? The Israelis and AIPAC haven't suddenly disappeared, folks. They're still running the show in DC, and will be doing so for the forseeable future, as long as US election laws allow money to talk louder than votes and as long as most American voters can barely find their own country (let alone Iran) on a map. Like I said before, the US-Iran standoff is a sympton of a much greater pathology: the dysfunctional relation between Israel and the US, in which the "tail wags the dog."
At some point, maybe, the burden of this albatross around the US's neck may become so great that people will wake up and throw it off. There are even encouraging signs. After all not so long ago AIPAC lobbyists boasted of their ability to operate in the dark, comparing themselves to night-blooming flowers, but today the excess and malign influence of Israel on US foreign policy (especially over Iran) is part of the mainstream discussion. No longer is mentioning the phrase "pro-Israel lobby" cause to have the utterer classified with various lunatics and genuine or accused anti-Semites as in the past. And like I said before, the more Israel pushes Iran into the spotlight, the more it exposes itself too.
But they still own Congress, so don't hold your breath about any real deal coming out of these nuclear negotiations yet. Won't happen. Rest assured.
There's a rather interesting Associated Press piece published in the Washington Post today that has several interesting points. The article is about the comments of Joseph Macmanus, the chief U.S. delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, accusing Iran of various things, but that's not the main interest to me.
First, the article is uncharacteristically fair, albeit based on my standards which have been worn down quite low due to the otherwise lamentable and pathetic standards of journalism (and ethics) displayed by most of the media when it comes to their Iran coverage.
For example, the author (whose name I was not able to find in the piece as published right now) writes:
"Macmanus concentrated on expressing the U.S. view of Iran’s alleged failure to meet its international obligations and diminish concerns that it wants nuclear weapons."
Yes, he actually said that the Iranian violations are merely "alleged." Based on my very, very, very lowered expectations of the media, that's a victory. He or she also writes that the main source of the allegations about Iran's alleged past nuclear activities are from the US and Israel, which is nice to see acknowledged.
Of course, the article is not accurate when it claims that Iran "hid its enrichment program for years" as I've demonstrated before. And why not mention that Iran had allowed the IAEA to visit "Parcin" (sic) twice already, and furthermore that legally Iran isn't required to allow any inspections of "Parcin" (sic) at all? Or why not mention what Iran's actual objections to another visit to Parchin which are actually quite reasonable?
And I am pretty sure the article is downright wrong at the end, when it characterizes the previous offer made to Iran thusly:
"Diplomats say the proposal made to Iran late last month... would obligate Iran to decommission its centrifuge plant at Fordo...and ship out the approximately 165 kilograms... as well as allowing increased U.N. oversight....In return, the six are offering to help supply and run Iran’s research reactor which is fueled by plates made from higher enriched uranium, coupled with what Iran wants most — relief from sanctions meant to penalize Iran for refusing to heed U.N. Security Council demands"
No, sorry, this is contrary to other reports of what was actually offered to Iran. Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor wrote about what was offered Iran back then thus:
"On the P5+1 side, the "offer" put on the table earlier this year – which US and European diplomats say privately they would never accept for themselves, if they were in Iran's position – was widely deemed to have been a necessity of the White House before the Nov. 6, presidential election, so that Obama would not be open to accusations that he was "soft" on Iran by offering concessions"
And Barbara Slavin wrote in Al-Monitor:
"The “refreshed” proposal includes spare parts for Iran’s aging Western jetliners — a perennial carrot — and assistance with Iran’s civilian nuclear infrastructure but no specific promise of sanctions relief, Al-Monitor has learned...Iran will be expected to agree to concessions before knowing exactly what it would get in return."
This is altogether a very different version of what was offered Iran than what the unnamed diplomats told the reporter.
There are other issues of fairness and accuracy too but I won't go into all of them now. (For example, when citing Iran's representative who said that Amano had politicized the issue, why not mention the Wikileaks exposure of Amano swearing loyalty to the US on the Iran issue?)
Second, the article mentions the issue of "special inspections" at Parchin. This is the first time that I've seen the media mention Special Inspections. Basically, if there's enough evidence that a country has not declared all of the nuclear material/work it should have declared to the IAEA so the sites can be inspected, the IAEA Board can require "special inspections" of the sites in that country. These inspections are conducted on an ad hoc basis, and are separate from the "normal" and routine IAEA inspections. "Special Inspections" are supposed to be conducted only on "rare occasions", and there's supposed to be a very high evidentiary bar imposed on requests for Special Inspections.
The IAEA Board has approved of requests for Special Inspections twice before: Once for North Korea (but the NKoreans withdrew from the NonProliferation Treaty before the inspections could be carried out, and reached a separate agreement with the US) and in Romania, after the fall of the Soviet Union (the inspections were requested by the Romanians themselves because they wanted to see what the Soviets had been up to, nuclear-wise, in their newly-independent state.)
But this bit is rather ominous-sounding:
"Asked about possible requests for a special inspection or an IAEA board resolution in the future, [Joseph Macmanus, US representative to the IAEA] later told reporters that “some adjustment might have to be made” in ways to address concerns about Iran, adding that will be taken up by the board “over the next several months.”
Hmm...what sorts of "adjustments" have to be made, I wonder? I think it is obvious that they're going to try to get special inspections without having to come up with the necessary evidence, and IAEA boardmember votes. Lets remember that thus far, the US has failed to actually release the full "Laptop of Death" documentation of the "Alleged Studies" and "Possible Military Dimensions" claims asserted against Iran. Of the documentation that was provided, the US has prevented the IAEA from sharing them with Iran (requiring Iran to disprove allegations that it is not allowed to see) and in some instances the US has refused to even share the documentation with the IAEA itself. Other leaked documents that supposedly incriminated Iran turned out to be laughably obvious fakes -- such as the infamous "AP graph" or the "neutron initiator" document promoted by Oliver Kamm in Rupert Murdoch's London Times. So how will the US provide the necessary evidence to get Special Inspections on Iran to the IAEA Board -- or will it instead just politicize the issue to get what it wants out of the IAEA as before?
As for what Joseph Macmanus actually had to say in this article: who cares? He accused Iran of engaging in deceit etc etc. The usual blah blah blah. But this, as the article points out, is contrary to the noises we've been hearing thus far about the last Iran/P5+1 meeting which supposedly ended in a hopeful note. Add to that, the recent assertions by Kerry, Biden and General Mattis and other sabre-rattling which followed the end of the last round of negotiations a few days ago.
I attribute this inconsistency to several factors:
First, there was an exaggeration of the "success" of the last Iran/P5+1 meeting. I personally don't think the US side is willing to compromise over the issue so naturally they're now pouring cold water on the happy reporting about the meeting.
Second, since Obama is scheduled to visit Israel and AIPAC is holding its conference in DC, the politicians are keen to burnish their pro-Israeli credentials. Oh and Kerry is visiting Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis are just as keen as the Israelis to prevent a US-Iran rapprochement of any sort.
However a third possibility -- however unlikely it seems to me -- exists and that is the US is taking a tough stance in public because it is actually interested in making compromises with Iran in the talks. So this is just posturing and a cover. I seriously discount this explanation and think it is actually more wishful thinking than analysis based on facts.
Laura Secor has written a NY Times book review of the Leverett's book, "Going to Tehran," which amounts to a lot of bullshit.
The Leveretts argue that the Islamic Republic faces no significant democratic opposition. They scoff at the notion that Iran’s 2009 presidential election suffered from gross irregularities. In their view, it was President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi, who tried to steal the election by inciting protests that they claim turned violent and that the country’s security forces rightly put down. They assert (without evidence) that virtually all the Iranians who took to the streets in 2009 came from one rich, irrelevant area of Tehran.
First of all, the burden of providing evidence is on the party making the assertion that the elections were fraudulent in the first place. And the Leveretts pointed out that NO ONE -- not Mousavi, and certainly not Laura Secor -- has been able to provide such evidence. And the fact that the so-called "Green Movement" was based largely on the rich areas of Iran is observable from the election turnout statistics, amongst other things.
For example, in Shemiranat – the affluent and westernized Northern section of the greater Tehran area, abounding with shopping malls and luxury cars (and where the Green movement is strongest) – Mousavi beat Ahmadinejad by almost a 2 to 1 margin, winning 200,931 votes to
And while we're on the subject of election turnout statistics, lets take a look at the figures:
Oh and as regrettable as the post-election violence was, if there was no election fraud, that puts a whole different meaning to what happened as well as to the legitimacy of the so-called "Green Movement."
UPDATE: It seems to me an interesting question of just how much proof is required in the discussion of international affairs to consider a point to have been established. The proponents of regime change and "Green Movements" in Iran have no problem making excess and unsourced claims about the popularity of their movement -- providing NO objective evidence at all and relying entirely on emotional appeals and "blood shirt waving" (literally) -- a and yet they pooh pooh multiple, independent polls of Iranian public opinion conducted by reputable and experienced organizations and demand a degree of certainty about the evidence that is far far beyond what they've provided themselves or what is generally the standard in international affairs. We're supposed to take it for granted that there was election fraud, with no evidence of any quality deemed necessary, but if anyone challenges that presumption, they have to meet a standard of evidence far beyond what is generally accepted in interntional debates, beyond even a scientific standard of proof.
I don't know much about the science of polling beyond my undergraduate statistics course, but I do know that while there are many reasons that a poll can be legitimately criticized, the fact that you simply don't like the outcome is not one of these reasons. Polls in general amount to scientific evidence of a fact, which is a standard of proof far higher than what is even generally accepted in international affairs debates.
In citing these polls, as the Leveretts or I do, we are not saying that they represent Iranian public opinion with absolute certainty, we only point out that the polls amount to very high quality and objective evidence of Iranian opinion. And this objective evidence says the people do generally support the regime. That by itself is more than enough to shift the burden of proof onto the Laura's of the world, who are now obligated to counter that view with their own objective evidence, something which the proponents of the "stolen election" myth have thus far absolutely failed to do.
So in short, are the polls perfect? No. Are they the best evidence we have? Yes. Have the critics of the polls provided any evidence of their own? No. (But don't worry, I'm sure they're cooking up a few polls of their own.)