Thursday, December 28, 2006

Majlis Passes Bill in Response to UN Sanctions

The Majlis (Iran’s Parliament) passed a bill on December 27, 2006* by an overwhelming vote that could limit the country’s cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The bill appears to be a response to the United Nations Security Council resolution passed on December 23, 2006 which imposes trade sanctions on goods and technology related to Iran’s uranium enrichment and ballistic missile programs.

The bill, approved 161 to 15 with 15 abstentions, asserts that the Iranian government should “revise its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency based on the interests of Iran and its people.”

It is still unclear exactly what “revise its cooperation” means, but the version that passed was significantly watered down from the version initially drafted by hard-line conservatives.

Reformist lawmaker Nouredin Pirmoazen said during the debate on the bill that, “The best solution is to establish a bridge with other countries to reduce the tension.”

The Guardian Council of Islamic clerics immediately approved the bill, a step that is required for any bill to become law. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now expected to sign the bill.

*Blogger's note: original published version said December 27, 2007 until the mistake was pointed out by Glenn Marcus.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

New Draft Sanctions Resolution + Increased Military Posturing in Persian Gulf

Today’s International Herald Tribune is reporting that the Europeans have “bended” to Russia on the United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran. According to the IHT, the latest revision of the sanctions resolution demanding that Iran immediately end all uranium enrichment activities eases a travel ban on people involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. “Instead of directing countries to prevent entry of such people into their territory, it now ‘calls upon’ states to ‘exercise vigilance’ over those who cross their borders.”

The new resolution also “gives greater leeway to a monitoring committee that would be set up under the resolution; earlier drafts had more limits on how to determine what people and entities should be listed as suspected participants in nuclear activities and therefore subject to a freeze of their assets.” In addition, the new version of the resolution gives countries 60 days (previously it was 30) to report to the monitoring committee on how they are complying with the demands of the resolution.

The Europeans are calling for a vote on the new version of the resolution on Friday, December 23.

Meanwhile, according to newest reports in the New York Times, the US and Britain are moving additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf to signal to Iran that while they are tied down in Iraq, both countries are still capable of military oversight of Iran. Pentagon and military officials said on December 20 that “Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was expected this week to approve a request by commanders for a second aircraft carrier and its supporting ships to be stationed within quick sailing distance of Iran by early next year.”

The US military officials said that increase of naval power in the Persian Gulf should not be viewed as preparations for any offensive strike against Iran, but they also acknowledged that the increased presence and ability to strike Iran is provocative.

According to the New York Times, “The aircraft carrier Eisenhower and its strike group — including three escort ships, an attack submarine and 6,500 sailors in all — entered the Persian Gulf on December 11, 2006 after a naval exercise to practice halting vessels suspected of smuggling nuclear materials in waters across the region. A carrier had not been inside the gulf since the Enterprise left in July, according to Pentagon officials. The next carrier scheduled to sail toward the Middle East is the Stennis, already set to depart Bremerton, Washington, for the region in late January.”

Meanwhile, the British Royal Navy plans to add two mine-hunting vessels to its ships that already are part of the international coalition patrolling waters in the Persian Gulf.

Monday, December 18, 2006

White House Censors Op-Ed Critical of Administration's Iran Policy

This is from today's edition of the Daily Progress:

INTELLIGENCE -- WHITE HOUSE CENSORS OP-ED CRITICAL OF ADMINISTRATION'S IRAN POLICY: Middle East analyst Flynt Leverett, who served under President Bush on the National Security Council and is now a fellow at the New America Foundation, revealed last week that the White House has been blocking the publication of an op-ed he wrote for the New York Times. The column is critical of the administration's refusal to engage Iran. (For more, see Leverett's new policy brief, "Dealing with Tehran: Assessing US Diplomatic Options Toward Iran.") The CIA had confirmed that the op-ed contained no classified information, but the White House intervened. Leverett explained, "I've been doing this for three and a half years since leaving government, and I've never had to go to the White House to get clearance for something that I was publishing as long as the CIA said, 'Yeah, you're not putting classified information.'" According to Leverett, the op-ed was "all based on stuff that Secretary Powell, Secretary Rice, Deputy Secretary Armitage have talked about publicly. It's been extensively reported in the media." Leverett believes the White House is trying to "silence an established critic of the administration's foreign policy incompetence," and says the incident shows "just how low people like Elliot Abrams at the NSC [National Security Council] will stoop to try and limit the dissemination of arguments critical of the administration's policy." "Their conduct in this matter is despicable and un-American in the profoundest sense of that term," Leverett said in a statement.

Partial Iranian Election Results Showing Victory for Moderate Conservatives

Partial results for Iran’s elections on December 15, 2006 are showing that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the hardline conservatives are facing a setback. In the end, if the reformists and conservative moderates do very well in the Council elections on December 15, it will signal to Supreme Leader Khamanei that their message of engagement with the US is acceptable.

The elections were held for both local councils and for the Assembly of Experts, the powerful clerical body which supervises and can dismiss the Supreme Leader. There were 46.5 million eligible voters, with more than 250,000 candidates running for around 100,000 local council seats nationwide.

On a turnout of 60%, the big winners seem to be moderate conservatives, while reformists have made a comeback after three poor election showings.

Moderate former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani sealed a landslide win for a seat on the Assembly of Experts.

With most of the results for local elections announced throughout the country, the President Ahmadinejad’s allies have failed to win control of any council. Ahmadinejad’s supporters have also failed to main significant gains on the Assembly of Experts.

A political analyst, Mostafa Mirzaeian, said Iran's political lineup was changing in favor of moderate voices within the ruling Islamic establishment. According to Mirzaeian, “The elections have united reformers. Results also show that a new coalition has developed between reformers and moderate conservatives at the expense of hard-line extremists who support Ahmadinejad.”

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Secret to How the US Comes Up with Names for UN Sanctions

Here’s a great story from the Washington Post and the Times of India. What does the State Department do when the CIA turns down its request for information? It asks a junior foreign service officer to do a Google Search.

The US state department recently asked the CIA for names of Iranians suspected to be involved in the Islamic Republic's nuclear program so that they could be sanctioned.The agency forthrightly refused to comply with the request citing workload and desire to protect its sources.

Left with no option, the state department assigned a junior foreign service officer to locate suspects by doing a Google search. Those with the most hits under search terms such as "Iran and nuclear", three officials said, became targets for international rebuke on Friday when a sanctions resolution was circulated at the United Nations.

Ironically, none of the 12 Iranians listed to be banned for international travel and business for their involvement in the country's nuclear activities are believed by the CIA to be associated with the project. Policymakers and intelligence officials have always struggled when it comes to deciding how and when to disclose secret information, such as names of Iranians with suspected ties to nuclear weapons.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Iranian Students Denounce Holocaust Denial

Iranian students protested a conference of prominent Holocaust deniers who were gathering to examine whether the World War II genocide of Jews took place. The conference was initiated by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

During the protest, dozens of Iranian students burnt pictures of President Ahmadinejad and chanted “death to the dictator” as he gave a speech at a university in Tehran on the eve of the conference.

One student activist said that the protest was against the “shameful” Holocaust conference and the “fact that many activists have not been allowed to attend university.” The conference “has brought to our country Nazis and racists from around the world”, he added.

Mr. Ahmadinejad responded by saying: “Everyone should know that Ahmadinejad is prepared to be burnt in the path of true freedom, independence and justice,” according to an Iranian students’ news agency. He accused the protesters of being “Americanised.”

The conference has also dismayed Iran’s 25,000-strong Jewish community. Moris Motamed, Iran’s sole Jewish MP, said that denying the Holocaust was “a huge insult.”

Meanwhile, before adjourning for the remainder of the year, the 109th Congress passed H.Res. 1091, “Condemning in the strongest terms Iran's commitment to hold an international Holocaust denial conference on December 11-12, 2006.”

Arlen Specter: US Should Negotiate with Iran

Writing in the current issue of the Washington Quarterly, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) states:

“Facing serious dangers from nuclear weapons from Iran and North Korea, the United States should be willing to negotiate bilaterally with those two nations. Success in diffusing these threats will require multilateral assistance from other world powers, but our willingness to treat Iran and North Korea with dignity and respect could go a long way in disarming those nations militarily and diplomatically.”

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

US Businesses Want Engagement with Iran

Today, Jake Colvin, Director of USA*Engage said: “Isolation has rarely proved to be effective in changing the behavior of other governments. The Iraq Study Group report is further evidence that dialogue with the Iranian regime, however limited, is vitally important to U.S. national and security interests. Not talking simply limits your options. Dialogue is not going to be a silver bullet, but it’s a more constructive approach to a country like Iran.”

The Iraq Study Group is the latest in a series of important commissions and study groups to endorse dialogue with Iran. Others include:

A 2004 report published by the Council on Foreign Relations, which was co-chaired by incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Among other things, the report recommended that: “The United States should work with Tehran to capitalize on Iran’s influence to advance the stability and consolidation of its neighbors.” It went on to say that, “Small steps, such as the authorization of trade between U.S. entities and Iran’s relatively small private sector, should be contemplated as confidence-building measures that would create new constituencies within Iran for a government that is fully integrated into the international community.”

A 2001 Atlantic Council of the United States Working Group, co-chaired by Lee H. Hamilton, James Schlesinger and Brent Scowcroft, in which NFTC’s Daniel O’Flaherty also participated. That report, which advocated for unilaterally “relaxing the economic sanctions currently in place against Iran,” also said that “The development of a U.S.-Iranian relationship characterized by all of the strands of normal interaction between nations would enable the United States to further its broader national interests.”

The World Is Talking: Are YOU Listening?

I want to point out this excellent project called "Global Voices." It was co-founded by Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon as a non-profit global citizens’ media project, sponsored by and launched from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School.

Global Voices highlights “bridge bloggers” (people who are talking about their country or region to a global audience) and the most interesting conversations, information, and ideas appearing around the world on various forms of participatory media such as blogs, podcasts, photo sharing sites, and videoblogs.

Check out the Iran section.

Iraq Study Group: U.S. Should Constructively Engage Iran

Today, the Iraq Study Group released its new report recommending a change of course in Iraq and calling on political leaders to bring a responsible conclusion to a lengthy and costly war. The report warns that the situation in Iraq is "grave and deteriorating." In the letter introducing the Iraq Study Group Report, co-chairs James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton acknowledge there is no magic formula to solve the problems of Iraq. They write: In this consensus report, the ten members of the Iraq Study Group present a new approach because we believe there is a better way forward. All options have not been exhausted. We believe it is still possible to pursue different policies that can give Iraq an opportunity for a better future, combat terrorism, stabilize a critical region of the world, and protect America’s credibility, interests, and values. Our report makes it clear that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people also must act to achieve a stable and hopeful future."

The report makes 79 recommendations, including recommending Iraqi actions. Here are excerpts from portions of the Iraq Study Group report related to Iran:

3. Dealing with Iran and Syria
Dealing with Iran and Syria is controversial. Nevertheless, it is our view that in diplomacy, a nation can and should engage its adversaries and enemies to try to resolve conflicts and differences consistent with its own interests. Accordingly, the Support Group should actively engage Iran and Syria in its diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions.

The Study Group recognizes that U.S. relationships with Iran and Syria involve difficult issues that must be resolved. Diplomatic talks should be extensive and substantive, and they will require a balancing of interests. The United States has diplomatic, economic, and military disincentives available in approaches to both Iran and Syria. However, the United States should also consider incentives to try to engage them constructively, much as it did successfully with Libya.

Some of the possible incentives to Iran, Syria, or both include:

i. An Iraq that does not disintegrate and destabilize its neighbors and the region.
ii. The continuing role of the United States in preventing the Taliban from destabilizing Afghanistan.
iii. Accession to international organizations, including the World Trade Organization.
iv. Prospects for enhanced diplomatic relations with the United States.
v. The prospect of a U.S. policy that emphasizes political and economic reforms instead of (as Iran now perceives it) advocating regime change.
vi. Prospects for a real, complete, and secure peace to be negotiated between Israel and Syria, with U.S. involvement as part of a broader initiative on Arab-Israeli peace as outlined below.

RECOMMENDATION 9: Under the aegis of the New Diplomatic Offensive and the Support Group, the United States should engage directly with Iran and Syria in order to try to obtain their commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues. In engaging Syria and Iran, the United States should consider incentives, as well as disincentives, in seeking constructive results.


Engaging Iran is problematic, especially given the state of the U.S.-Iranian relationship. Yet the United States and Iran cooperated in Afghanistan, and both sides should explore whether this model can be replicated in the case of Iraq. Although Iran sees it in its interest to have the United States bogged down in Iraq, Iran’s interests would not be served by a failure of U.S. policy in Iraq that led to chaos and the territorial disintegration of the Iraqi state. Iran’s population is slightly more than 50 percent Persian, but it has a large Azeri minority (24 percent of the population) as well as Kurdish and Arab minorities. Worst-case scenarios in Iraq could inflame sectarian tensions within Iran, with serious consequences for Iranian national security interests.

Our limited contacts with Iran’s government lead us to believe that its leaders are likely to say they will not participate in diplomatic efforts to support stability in Iraq. They attribute this reluctance to their belief that the United States seeks regime change in Iran.

Nevertheless, as one of Iraq’s neighbors Iran should be asked to assume its responsibility to participate in the Support Group. An Iranian refusal to do so would demonstrate to Iraq and the rest of the world Iran’s rejectionist attitude and approach, which could lead to its isolation. Further, Iran’s refusal to cooperate on this matter would diminish its prospects of engaging with the United States in the broader dialogue it seeks.

RECOMMENDATION 10: The issue of Iran’s nuclear programs should continue to be dealt with by the United Nations Security Council and its five permanent members (i.e., the
United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) plus Germany.

RECOMMENDATION 11: Diplomatic efforts within the Support Group should seek to persuade Iran that it should take specific steps to improve the situation in Iraq.

Among steps Iran could usefully take are the following:
• Iran should stem the flow of equipment, technology, and training to any group resorting to violence in Iraq.
• Iran should make clear its support for the territorial integrity of Iraq as a unified state, as well as its respect for the sovereignty of Iraq and its government.
• Iran can use its influence, especially over Shi’a groups in Iraq, to encourage national reconciliation.
• Iran can also, in the right circumstances, help in the economic reconstruction of Iraq.

Other excerpts include:

"The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved."

"Our most important recommendations call for new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region, and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly. We believe that these two recommendations are equally important and reinforce one another. If they are effectively implemented, and if the Iraqi government moves forward with national reconciliation, Iraqis will have an opportunity for a better future, terrorism will be dealt a blow, stability will be enhanced in an important part of the world, and America's credibility, interests and values will be protected."

"The United States should immediately launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region. This diplomatic effort should include every country that has an interest in avoiding a chaotic Iraq, including all of Iraq's neighbors. Iraq's neighbors and key states in and outside the region should form a support group to reinforce security and national reconciliation within Iraq, neither of which Iraq can achieve on its own.""Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them constructively. In seeking to influence the behavior of both countries, the United States has disincentives and incentives available. Iran should stem the flow of arms and training to Iraq, respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and use its influence over Iraqi Shia groups to encourage national reconciliation. The issue of Iran's nuclear programs should continue to be dealt with by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Syria should control its border with Iraq to stem the flow of funding, insurgents and terrorists in and out of Iraq...

"The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria and President Bush's June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment must include direct talks with, by and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians - those who accept Israel's right to exist - and Syria...

"As the United States develops its approach toward Iraq and the Middle East, the United States should provide additional political, economic and military support for Afghanistan, including resources that might become available as combat forces are moved out of Iraq."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Robert Gates on Iran

The following is an excerpt of the transcript from today's Senate Armed Services Confirmation Hearing of Robert Gates to be the next Secretary of Defense and include key positions on Iran.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D-WV): Mr. Chairman, I thank you. Dr. Gates, our relationship goes back over a number of years. Do you support -- now we hear all these rumors about the potential for an attack on Iran, due to its nuclear weapons program, or on Syria, due to its support of terrorism. Do you support an attack on Iran?

MR. GATES: Senator Byrd, I think that military action against Iran would be an absolute last resort; that any problems that we have with Iran, our first option should be diplomacy and working with our allies to try and deal with the problems that Iran is posing to us. I think that we have seen in Iraq that once war is unleashed, it becomes unpredictable. And I think that the consequences of a conflict -- a military conflict with Iran could be quite dramatic. And therefore, I would counsel against military action, except as a last resort and if we felt that our vital interests were threatened.

SEN. BYRD: Do you support an attack on Syria?

MR. GATES: No, sir, I do not.

SEN. BYRD: Do you believe the president has the authority, under either the 9/11 war resolution or the Iraq war resolution, to attack Iran or to attack Syria?

MR. GATES: To the best of my knowledge of both of those authorizations, I don't believe so.

SEN. BYRD: Would you briefly describe your view of the likely consequences of a U.S. attack on Iran.

MR. GATES: It's always awkward to talk about hypotheticals in this case. But I think that while Iran cannot attack us directly militarily, I think that their capacity to potentially close off the Persian Gulf to all exports of oil, their potential to unleash asignificant wave of terror both in the -- well, in the Middle East and in Europe and even here in this country is very real. They are certainly not being helpful in Iraq and are doing us -- I think doing damage to our interests there, but I think they could do a lot more to hurt our effort in Iraq. I think that they could provide certain kinds of weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical and biological weapons, to terrorist groups. Their ability to get Hezbollah to further destabilize Lebanon I think is very real. So I think that while their ability to retaliate against us in a conventional military way is quite limited, they have the capacity to do all of the things, and perhaps more, that I just described.

SEN. BYRD: What about an attack on Syria? Could you briefly describe your view of the likely consequences of a U.S. attack on Syria.

MR. GATES: I think the Syrian capacity to do harm to us is far more limited than that in -- of Iran, but I believe that a military attack by the United States on Syria would have dramatic consequences for us throughout the Middle East in terms of our relationships with a wide range of countries in that area. I think that it would give rise to significantly greater anti-Americanism than we have seen to date. I think it would immensely complicate our relationships with virtually every country in the region.

SEN. BYRD: Would you say that an attack on either Iran or Syria would worsen the violence in Iraq and lead to greater American casualties?

MR. GATES: Yes, sir, I think that's very likely.

SEN. BYRD: Your answer is yes on both questions.

MR. GATES: Yes, sir. Very likely.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to add my voice to many others who have praised you for your leadership. I've really enjoyed being on this committee, and you've made it a real pleasure to serve here. Dr. Gates, thank you for your willingness to serve. It looks like we're going to be working together for at least a couple more years. Things are going pretty well for you right now. Iran. Do you believe the Iranians are trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability?

MR. GATES: Yes, sir, I do.

SEN. GRAHAM: Do you believe the president of Iran is lying when he says he's not?

MR. GATES: Yes, sir.

SEN. GRAHAM: Do you believe the Iranians would consider using that nuclear weapons capability against the nation of Israel?

MR. GATES: I don't know that they would do that, Senator. I think that the risks for them obviously are enormously high. I think that they see value --

SEN. GRAHAM: If I may?

MR. GATES: Yes, sir.

SEN. GRAHAM: The president of Iran has publicly disavowed the existence of the Holocaust, he has publicly stated that he would like to wipe Israel off the map. Do you think he's kidding?

MR. GATES: No, I don't think he's kidding. And -- but I think that there are, in fact, higher powers in Iran than he, than the president. And I think that while they are certainly pressing, in my opinion, for a nuclear capability, I think that they would see it in the first instance as a deterrent. They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons -- Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, theIsraelis to the west, and us in the Persian Gulf --

SEN. GRAHAM: Can you assure the Israelis that they will not attackIsrael with a nuclear weapon, if they acquire one?

MR. GATES: No, sir, I don't think that anybody can provide that assurance.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Mullahs and Nukes

The last few weeks have been a bit busy, but the blog is back in full swing beginning now.

I can't help but to share this little treasure reported today on the National Iranian American Council website. At a briefing on November 15 titled “Iran-Iraq Symposium: Prospect of Civil War vs. Independent and Stable Iraq, The Iran Factor,” Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) told an audience of approximately 40 Iranian Americans that “The Mullahs are more likely to use nukes against Isfahan [than Israel]. If they are losing power, they won’t hesitate to use their weapons."

The conference also featured former Congressman Dick Armey, Congressman Nick Lampson (R-TX), Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX), board members of the Iran Policy Committee and supporters of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MKO), all of whom called on the United States to remove the MKO from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Groups (FTO).

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

ElBaradei Confirms Assembly of Second 164-cascade machine

International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed ElBaradei confirmed yesterday what other diplomats were already leaking to the media: Iranian technicians have pieced together a second line, or cascade, of 164 centrifuges and are days away from using the cascade to enrich uranium. "It's in place and ready to go," ElBaradei said in a brief interview yesterday.

European officials suggested that this is another political move by the Iranians to show defiance while the UN Security Council debates sanctions against the country.

It would take many years for Iran to produce any bomb-grade uranium using the one 164-cascade machine it currrently is operating.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Security Council Likely to Debate Iran Sanctions This Week

The UN Security Council is expected to start full deliberations on sanctions later this week.

On Saturday, October 21, 2006, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Manouchehr Mottaki, offered to hold new discussions with the West during which his government would explain its nuclear ambitions. "Dialogue is the best way to reach an understanding. We are ready to hold talks about the reason for enrichment."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini warned Sunday, October 22, 2006 that his country would not remain passive if the West imposes sanctions against it over its disputed nuclear program, but he also did not say how the country would respond. According to Hosseini, "Sanctions will have an impact on both sides and will have regional and international repercussions. If they choose sanctions we will decide accordingly."

But at a press conference on Monday, October 23, 2006, in response to a question about whether the nuclear issue is managed, decided or supervised by other groups in Iran, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani stressed that he is the only one in charge of the nuclear issue of his country. Larijani also commented on the recent round of talks with EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana. According to Larijani, he presented a "proper answer and formula" to assure the west that the country may never divert from its present peaceful nuclear activities. He also said, "We agreed that 5+1 present a definition for Iran's nuclear activities which should include enrichment of uranium and nuclear fuel production. To assure the other side that we may not divert from peaceful to military intentions, we told them that an international consortium could be formed to enrich uranium for Iran."

Meanwhile, a new AP wire article quotes diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity as saying that Iranian nuclear experts have started up a second pilot enrichment facility. While the 164 centrifuges were not producing enriched uranium, even the decision to "dry test" them showed Iran's defiance of the Security Council.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Impending Sanctions Resolution?

On October 18, 2006, Iran warned that a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions against the country would wreck any possibility for a compromise to resolve the standoff over its nuclear program. While Ali Larijani said that continuing talks with EU foreign policy Chief Javier Solana is “still possible,” he warned that “in the case that a new resolution is passed by the Security Council, we will not be in the current point to resume possible talks.” Larijani also said, “Resorting to arm-twisting through the Security Council would be considered a security threat to Iran and will change (Iran's) behavior.”

Javier Solana said he spoke to Larijani on Monday but “the situation hasn't changed,” meaning Iran will not agree to suspending its nuclear enrichment program as a precondition for talks on its nuclear program with the US, EU, Russia and China. European Union foreign ministers said after a meeting on Tuesday that they have no choice but to back diplomatic talks at the United Nations about sanctions on Iran.

France said that a sanctions resolution will likely be circulated at the Security Council by the end of this week. Support for sanctions is growing among leading members after weeks of talks between the European Union and Iran failed to persuade Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment and start broader negotiations over its nuclear ambitions. The U.N. Security Council resolution will likely include limited sanctions and try to keep the door open to future talks. It remains unclear, however, whether any sanctions resolution will have the backing of Russia and China, and, even if they do back the resolution, whether they will adhere to it.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was in Moscow on Wednesday, October 18, 2006 to appeal to Russia to use its clout to end the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, but he received no public reassurance from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Baker Report May Call for Talks with Iran

Rumors abound today that the new report to be released by the Iraq Study Group weeks after the November 7 election will include a recommendation for the US to talk directly both to Iran and Syria. The notion of “talking” to “evil” will definitely seem like a far-fetched idea to the Bush administration, but clearly existing policies are not working on a number of issues that relate to Iran – from Iran’s support for sectarian violence in Iraq, to its nuclear program to its support for terrorist organizations such as .

The Iraq Study Group is being chaired by long-time Bush family friend and former Secretary of State James Baker and co-chaired by former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton. Hamilton stressed though that the recommendations have not yet been written.

Baker, who has a long history of trying to help the Bush family out of tight spots, has signaled that he believes a change in course is necessary in Iraq. If that is true, then this is the perfect face-saving opportunity for the Administration to not only change course in Iraq, but also in regards to its policies toward Iran.

CACNP Briefing on U.S. Policy Options Towards Iran

On Tuesday, October 17, 2006, the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation sponsored a Senate briefing on US Policy Options for Iran featuring Dr. Ted Galen Carpenter of Cato Institute and Dr. Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council. The following is a summary of the presentations and the question and answer period.

Dr. Carpenter began his presentation questioning why Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons? After all, weaponization is dangerous, contributes to the security dilemma, could trigger a regional arms race, and will put Iran on the United States’ bad side.

He offered that one reason Iran is pursuing a nuclear program is for prestige. Countries that go nuclear are more respected. India and Pakistan have gained far more international respect since their 1998 nuclear weapon tests. Iran is a proud civilization with a rich cultural heritage and they believe they have a natural right to nuclear power.

A second reason is possibly because of regional security concerns. Iran seeks to deter potential opponents, especially those that already have nuclear weapons like India, Pakistan, Russia, and Israel. Iran resides in what even Israel has dubbed a “rough neighborhood” and wants to protect itself. Iran aspires to be a regional hegemon and bully surrounding states. Nuclear weapons will help them do this.

The most salient reason is Iran’s concerns about the U.S. Nuclear weapons are desired to deter American attempts at regime change. The lesson Iran takes from the American invasion of Iraq is that nuclear weapons are the only way to prevent an American invasion. North Korea further illustrates this precedent.

How can the international community prevent a nuclear Iran? What are the options? Dr. Carpenter outlined six options, which are detailed in his new policy analysis, "Iran’s Nuclear Program: America’s Policy Options."

1. Negotiations by the EU3

A report was released on October 17, 2006 announcing that the EU3 had completed its work. In other words, this approach has completely failed.

2. UN Security Council Sanctions

Any sanctions will be relatively mild at first. They will undoubtedly be weaker than the sanctions imposed on North Korea for their nuclear test. And, China and Russia oppose strict sanctions on Iran.

Dr. Carpenter doesn’t expect multilateral sanctions to be effective. The reason is that multilateral sanctions are historically plagued by defections. Potential defectors include Russia, China, India, and Japan. The only time multilateral sanctions worked historically was against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Sanctions typically sound better than they actually work.

3. Regime change through subversion

The favored approach of American Neoconservatives, regime change through subversion is the same policy they endorsed against Iraq 6-7 years ago. Many Iranians would resent regime change. They have good memories and remember the American coup against Mohammed Mosaddegh in 1953 which led to the re-installment of the Shah Reza Pahlavi.

4. American aerial strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities

This is the second favorite approach of American Neoconservatives. Many mistakenly believe that the U.S. is too tied down in Iraq to carry out a successful military strike against Iran. While our ground forces may be overextended, our Navy and Air Force would have no problem carrying out this operation.

Dr. Carpenter believes this would be a terrible mistake because: 1) we don’t know where all the Iranian nuclear facilities are; 2) collateral damage would be huge because many of the facilities are located near population centers; and 3) we will only delay Iran’s nuclear weapons program, not eliminate it.

5. Deterrence

Dr. Carpenter believes this should always be the U.S. default option when it comes to nascent nuclear states.

Some mistakenly suggest that the Iranian mullahs are suicidal and undeterrable, but people used to same the same thing about Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. The Johnson and Nixon administrations actually contemplated preventive military strikes against Chinese nuclear facilities in the 1960’s but ultimately decided against them. There is no evidence indicating that Iranian political leaders are undeterrable. After all, how many of them are going out on suicide missions?

6. “The Grand Bargain”

This is Dr. Carpenter’s favored approach and would be a drastic change in policy of both governments.

The U.S. should offer Iran: 1) a security guarantee and 2) to normalize relations. Iran, in exchange, should agree to immediate, unobstructed, rigorous, on-demand inspections of all of its nuclear facilities.

Dr. Carpenter believes this plan has no downside. It would smoke out the Iranian regime once and for all to discover if they really do just want peaceful nuclear power or if their goal is indeed nuclear weapons. If the Iranians reject this offer, they clearly are only interested in nuclear weapons. If they accept, they simply want nuclear power.

Dr. Trita Parsi began his remarks by noting that the U.S. lacks a coherent strategy towards Iran. All we have is a set of tactics. We lack a geopolitical approach and instead favor an ideological approach. Furthermore, U.S. policy over the past 15 years has pushed Iran into the sphere of influence of Russia and China, both countries that will undoubtedly be the next strategic great power competitors of the U.S.

Iran wants a global ally and most importantly, it wants to be allied with the U.S. This is due in large part because the other options (the EU, Russia and China) are less attractive global allies.

We should keep in mind that many of Iran’s political elites today were educated in the U.S. and they are still sending their children to the U.S. to be educated when they can. Because of U.S. sanctions and stricter restrictions since 9/11, more Iranian students are going to Russia and China to be educated. This means that future Iranian leaders are being influenced by these countries.

Iran has tried to mend fences with the U.S. in the past. Iran doesn’t have any friendly neighbors. Russia has historically been unfriendly and has captured Iranian territory in the past. Europe is suffering through a cultural crisis and has proven itself incompatible with Middle Eastern immigrants.

The U.S. approach towards China has been to not contain it. Since it’s so big, we must work with it and especially cooperate economically. What American policymakers fail to realize is that Iran is the China of the Middle East. Iran has 70 million people while its neighbors have 10-20 million.

Under President Clinton, we envisioned a “New Middle East.” The weakest link of this vision was the Middle East Peace Process. A main component of U.S. strategy during the Clinton administration was to contain Iran through isolation and confrontation. President Clinton intensified the conflict with Iran, namely through the Iran Libya Sanctions Act of 1996. But even when the U.S. was at its military peak in the 1990’s, we still couldn’t contain Iran. Secretary Rice going to the Middle East and telling the Arab countries that Iran is a threat resembles the isolation policy pursued by Clinton.

The war in Iraq has weakened the U.S. but strengthened Iran. Meanwhile, Iran has increased its relations with the EU, Russia and China.

Democratization in Iran is more likely to take place when tensions between the U.S. and Iran are not as high.

We must engage in direct talks with Iran on a variety of issues as soon as possible. We could win important concessions if we don’t demand any preconditions to these talks. While dialogues may not succeed, the absence of any dialogue will guarantee failure. We need to talk to Iran precisely because it is a country that doesn’t have an inherent strategic interest to weaponize. We can influence that decision if we adopt a different approach.

Question and Answer

1. Why would Iran be prepared to accept a grand bargain?

Dr. Carpenter: A grand bargain would be a huge carrot for Iran. We should ignore human rights initially because they are too contentious but everything else should be on the table.

Dr. Parsi: How will we know that Iran won’t accept a grand bargain if we don’t try? We haven’t even tried yet.

2. How have European-Iranian relations developed recently?

Dr. Parsi: Even though they have declined recently over the nuclear issue, they are still better now than they were in the early 1990’s.

3. Why did the “pistachios and carpets” deal fail with Iran previously?

Dr. Parsi: The rejection of this deal was a huge mistake by the Iranians

4. Don’t questions about internal Iranian regime dynamics—the dynamics that torpedoed the “pistachios and carpets” deal—still exist?

Dr. Parsi: Yes, but the dynamics are still more favorable for a grand bargain than they were during previous times.

5. Are we too distracted by North Korea and Iraq? If negotiations drag on, will the U.S. have the patience for it?

Dr. Carpenter: If we have to choose between DPRK and Iran, we must choose Iran. Negotiations with North Korea can be outsourced to Japan, South Korea, and China. With Iran, however, the U.S. must spearhead any diplomatic effort. The longer we wait to engage in direct talks, the closer Iran gets to a nuclear weapons capability. And as North Korea has demonstrated, once a country weaponizes, it is usually too late.

Dr. Parsi: The absence of direct talks has enabled Iran’s nuclear program.

6. What if the grand bargain fails? What then?

Dr. Carpenter: Deterrence will become the only feasible option. We will have to get used to a nuclear Iran. It is very alarming that there are two nascent nuclear states that the U.S. doesn’t have an ongoing relationship with.

Dr. Parsi: A grand bargain implies that everything is on the table, not necessarily that the bargain will be achieved quickly or without prolonged effort.

7. What are the threats Iran faces in the Middle East?

Dr. Carpenter: Iran has a historically rocky relationship with Russia. It also faces nuclear threats from Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel.

Dr. Parsi: Iran actually believes nuclear weapons are useful for deterring the U.S., not other regional actors. They have alternative methods for deterring Israel, primarily through Hezbollah and Hamas. Dr. Parsi believes that Iran actually seeks only to become a latent nuclear power, meaning it can weaponize quickly if confronted with a serious threat. After all, if Iran gets the bomb it will spark a regional arms race (probably including Saudi Arabia and Egypt) that will undermine Iran’s comparative advantage if it remained simply a latent nuclear power.

8. How can Iran not see nuclear weapons as a potential deterrent to Israel?

Dr. Parsi: Iran only became alarmed by Israeli nuclear weapons 4-5 years ago. Prior to that, Iran consider Israel a political threat more than a military threat.

9. What does the acquisition of nuclear weapons by North Korea and Iran mean to the NPT and international nonproliferation regime?

Dr. Carpenter: The NPT isn’t dead, but it’s definitely on life support. It had a good run—four decades—but no policy lasts forever. Japan and South Korea are already calling for nuclear weapons in response to the recent test by North Korea. In ten years, we may have around twelve members of the nuclear club.

Dr. Parsi: This is exactly why talks are so important with Iran. We can’t let Iran go the nuclear route. The nonproliferation regime is likely to collapse if we don’t intervene. We need to talk to Iran precisely because it is a country that doesn’t have an inherent strategic interest to weaponize. We can influence that decision if we adopt a different approach.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ahmadinejad Will Declare 'National Celebration Day' If Sanctions Imposed

On October 11, 2006, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that he would declare "a national celebration day" when the possible sanctions were imposed on the Islamic Republic, the Iranian state-run television reported. "The day when sanctions are imposed on Iran by our enemies would be a national celebration day for the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying in a speech to a large crowd in Tehran's south town of Robat Karim. "We have achieved nuclear technology under sanctions," he stressed, showing a insensibility to the possible sanctions by international community.

In his speech, he also said sanctions placed on Iran for the last 27 years have made the country only progress further. "They have warned us that if we do not suspend enrichment, they will impose sanctions on Iran. But they must know that when they sanctioned us 27 years ago, they actually gifted progress to us. If they hadn't sanctioned us, we wouldn't have grown self-sufficient. And now they must know that if they impose sanctions on us, we will certainly make further progress. Sanctions make us self-reliant," Ahmadinejad said.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

House Report to National Defense Authorization Act Section on Iran

The House Report (H. Rept. 109-452) to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2007 (H.R. 5122) was published on May 5, 2006 and includes a fairly substantive section on Iran requiring a report from the Department of Defense which describes "the range of U.S. military options, including possible scenarios in which the use of U.S. military force may be appropriate and any limits or obstacles to using such force." Below is the full section.


The committee notes that the Islamic Republic of Iran currently poses a serious threat to the security of the United States, as well as to the peace and stability of the international community by continuing dangerous nuclear activities, including development of uranium enrichment capabilities; violating the human rights of the Iranian people; supporting terrorists; calling for the destruction of the State of Israel; creating instability in Iraq; and undermining the spread of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

Given these circumstances, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense to provide to the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the House Committee on Armed Services, by January 31, 2007, a classified report encompassing the present period through 2016, which describes the Department of Defense's (DOD) strategy for addressing current and foreseeable Iranian threats to U.S. security and international security. The report shall describe the range of U.S. military options, including possible scenarios in which the use of U.S. military force may be appropriate and any limits or obstacles to using such force. The report shall also specifically address Iran's nuclear activities; support for terrorists; influence in the Middle East region, particularly Iraq; and any broader destabilizing ambitions of the Iranian regime.

To supplement this report, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense to provide regular, timely briefings to the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the House Committee on Armed Services which include detailed political-military assessments of existing and emerging threats posed by Iran to the security of the United States and the peace and stability of the international community, and DOD plans to address such threats. The briefings shall include, as appropriate, coordination of the Department with the Department of State or other relevant government agencies; alternative intelligence analyses from these agencies; the status of negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear activities and involvement in Iraq; and the impact of Iran's nuclear activities, support for terrorists, and influence in Iraq and the Middle East, on the security of the United States and the peace and stability of the international community.

Finally, in the event the U.S. participates in direct talks with Iran on the subject of Iraq, the committee urges the appropriate U.S. officials to address in any such talks the need for Iran to stop the flow of any Iranian-supplied explosives to Iraq, withdraw any presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iraq, and end Iranian financial support to insurgent groups in Iraq.

Iran Responds to North Korea's Nuclear Weapon Test

In response to North Korea’s announcement of a nuclear weapon test on October 9, 2006, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini was quoted on state-run television as responding:

“Iran’s position is clear and Iran on principle believes in a world free of nuclear weapons. Iran is hopeful that negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear activities can go ahead in the interest of both North Korea and the international community.”

Don't Expect a lot of Transparancy on State Department Iran Grants

Wall Street Journal
Washington Wire
October 6, 2006, p. 4

ANONYMOUS: State Department will award more than 20 grants of as much as $1.5 million for Iran-related democracy and human-rights work, most of it outside Iran. Since U.S. fears Iranian meddling, "don't expect a lot of transparency" on who gets awards, a State official says.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Tehran Responds to the Iran Freedom Support Act

On October 1, Iranian officials and state-run radio dismissed the US Iran Freedom Support Act that was passed by the Senate at about 1:30 am on September 30, 2006 and signed into law by President George W. Bush later that day. The law will impose sanctions on entities that help Iran develop its petroleum resources or provide goods or services for the country’s weapons program. The bill also provides funding for “democracy promotion.” Iranian officials contended the measure threatens US interests, not Iran.

The sanctions will cause the U.S. to become more isolated and “cannot weaken the will of a great nation (Iran), which has achieved its independence and progress by relying on its national and religious values,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

General Barry McCaffrey Calls for US Ambassadors in Iran and Syria

General Barry McCaffrey (U.S. Army-Ret.), infantry division commander in the first Gulf War, and currently adjunct professor at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, was on the Diane Rehm Show on October 4 speaking about Iraq. During his interview, he addressed the need for the US to talk with Iran if we want to address the ongoing quagmire in Iraq.

“We have to go talk to the Iranians, the Syrians. We have to put ambassadors in those countries. We have to take a new look at this right after the election. I personally believe both of them are going in the wrong direction right now, but we can achieve our goals if we come up with a better way of thinking about it.”

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

New National Intelligence Estimate on Iran Underway

Although there is already a new National Intelligence Estimate underway, before leaving for their elections campaigning recess, Congress passed new measures to hold the administration accountable for Iran policy. Section 1213 of the Defense Authorization bill requires the President to provide Congress with a report on his strategy regarding Iran, and the Director of National Intelligence to submit to the Congress an updated and comprehensive national intelligence estimate on Iran no later than 90 days after the enactment of the bill. Section 1213 also requires the President to submit to Congress a report on the administration’s objectives on US policy on Iran and the strategy for achieving those objectives.



(1) SUBMITTAL REQUIRED. The Director of NationalIntelligence shall submit to Congress an updated,comprehensive National Intelligence Estimate on Iran.Such National Intelligence Estimate shall be submittedas soon as practicable, but not later than the end ofthe 90-day period beginning on the date of theenactment of this Act.

(2) NOTICE REGARDING SUBMITTAL. If before the end ofthe 90-day period specified in paragraph (1) theDirector determines that the National IntelligenceEstimate required by that paragraph cannot besubmitted by the end of the period as required by thatparagraph, the Director shall (before the end of thatperiod) submit to the Congress a report settingforth:

(A) the reasons why the National Intelligence Estimatecannot be submitted by the end of such 90-day period; and

(B) an estimated date for the submittal of theNational Intelligence Estimate.

(3) FORM. The National Intelligence Estimate underparagraph (1) shall be submitted in classified form. Consistent with the protection of intelligencemethods, an unclassified summary of the key judgmentsof the National Intelligence Estimate should besubmitted.


As soon as is practicable, butnot later than 90 days after the date of the enactmentof this Act, the President shall submit to Congress areport on:

(A) the objectives of United States policy on Iran; and

(B) the strategy for achieving those objectives.

(2) FORM. The report under paragraph (1) shall besubmitted in unclassified form with a classifiedannex, as appropriate;

(3) ELEMENTS. The report submitted under paragraph(1) shall:

(A) address the role of diplomacy, incentives,sanctions, other punitive measures and incentives, andother programs and activities relating to Iran forwhich funds are provided by Congress; and

(B) summarize United States contingency planningregarding the range of possible United States militaryactions in support of United States policy objectiveswith respect to Iran.

Friday, September 29, 2006

New ISIS Report Outlines Iran's NPT Violations

The Institute for Science and International Security released a new report on September 29, 2006 outlining Iran’s Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) violations and other outstanding issues related to the country’s nuclear program.

Iranian officials continually underplay or deny charges in International Atomic Energy Agency resolutions that have found Iran in violation of the NPT and its related safeguards agreement. In addition to outlining unresolved issues over Iran’s nuclear program, the ISIS report identifies these specific NPT violations:

According to the IAEA, Iran failed to declare the following major activities:

  • Uranium Imports: Iran failed to report that it had purchased natural uranium (1,000 kg of UF6, 400 kg of UF4, and 400 kg of UO2) from China in 1991, and its subsequent transfer for further processing. Iran acknowledged the imports in February 2003.
  • Uranium conversion: Iran did not inform the IAEA of its use of the imported uranium in tests of its uranium conversion processes, including “uranium dissolution, purification using pulse columns, and the production of uranium metal, and the associated production and loss of nuclear material.” Iran acknowledged this failure in February 2003.
  • Uranium enrichment: Iran failed to report that it had used 1.9 kg of the imported UF6 to test P1 centrifuges at the Kalaye Electric Company centrifuge workshop in 1999 and 2002. In its October 2003 declaration to the IAEA, Iran first admitted to introducing UF6 into a centrifuge in 1999, and into as many as 19 centrifuges in 2002. Iran also failed to declare the associated production of enriched and depleted uranium.
  • Hidden Sites: Iran did not declare to the IAEA the existence of a pilot enrichment facility at the Kalaye Electric Company Workshop, and laser enrichment plants at the Tehran Nuclear Research center and at Lashkar Ab’ad. Because experiments at these sites involved the use of nuclear material in equipment, Iran was obligated to report them to the IAEA.
  • Laser Isotope Enrichment Experiments: Iran failed to report that in 1993 it imported 50 kg of natural uranium metal, and that it used 8 kg of this for atomic vapor laser isotope separation (AVLIS) experiments at Tehran Nuclear Research Center between 1999 to 2000, and 22 kg of the metal for AVLIS experiments at Lashkar Ab’ad between 2002 to 2003. These activities were ultimately acknowledged in an October 2003 declaration.
  • Plutonium Experiments: Iran did not report to the IAEA that it had produced uranium dioxide (UO2) targets, irradiated them in the Tehran Research Reactor, and then separated the plutonium from the irradiated targets. Iran also failed to report the production and transfer of waste associated with these activities and that it had stored unprocessed irradiated targets at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center. In later meetings with the IAEA, Iran said that it conducted the plutonium separation experiments between 1988 and 1993 using shielded glove boxes at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

House Passes Iran Freedom Support Act

I reported before that on July 27, 2006, the US House of Representatives approved by voice vote to extend the Iran Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 (ILSA). ILSA was set to expire on August 5, 2006. H.R. 5877, the bill introduced by House International Relations Committee member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-IL), provided a simple extension of ILSA until September 29, 2006. The Senate also approved the short-term extension before they went to summer recess.

During the House floor debate on H.R. 5877, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said an extension of the original ILSA would give the House and Senate “the additional time to finalize the text of the Iran Freedom Support Act.” Well, that time has come.

On September 28, 2006, the US House of Representatives passed by voice vote a watered down version Iran Freedom Support Act by voice vote. The bill, H.R. 6198, is a watered down version of the original Iran Freedom Support Act, H.R. 282.

H.R. 6198 still waits Senate approval and it is expected to come up on September 29, before the Senate leaves for election campaigning in the month of October and before the ILSA extension expires.

During the House floor debate on H.R. 6198, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said, "It would be a critical mistake to allow a regime with a track record as bloody and as dangerous as Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Enough with the carrots. It's time for the stick."

Meanwhile, critics questioned the need for unilateral action when the United States was pushing for a multinational approach to Iran's alleged nuclear program. "It is, if you will, a cruise missile aimed at a difficult diplomatic effort just as they are reaching their most sensitive point," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. "The timing for this legislation could not be worse."

At a minimum, the timing of this legislation would disrupt on-going negotiations to resolve the confrontation with Iran. This week, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani held talks in Berlin. Set to continue next week, these talks could produce substantive results and show promising signs of success, according to both sides. Javier Solana said of the talks “have been progressing,” and Ali Larijani said the two sides came to “some positive conclusions.” Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice also said the US is waiting the outcome of these discussions.

New Reuters/Zogby Poll: Americans Favor Diplomacy on Iran

According to a new Reuters/Zogby poll released on September 28, 2006, a majority of Americans want the United States to increase diplomatic efforts over Iran's nuclear ambitions, while 70 percent oppose the use of US troops to thwart Iran.

Asked the best course of action for the United States in dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions, 45 percent said Washington should join with allies to increase diplomatic efforts and another 17 percent said the United States should step up diplomacy on its own.

One in four respondents, 26 percent, said they supported the use of U.S. ground troops in Iran, while 70 percent opposed it. Nine percent favored air strikes on selected military targets in Iran.

The Reuters/Zogby poll found 42 percent supported a strike on Iranian facilities if carried out by the Israeli military, with 47 percent opposed.

The national poll of 1,000 likely voters, conducted on September 22-25, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

I’ve also blogged other polls here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pentagon’s Iran Directorate: ‘US broadcasts into Iran aren’t tough enough’

The Pentagon’s Iran Directorate, created in March 2006, “has drafted a report charging that US international broadcasts into Iran aren't tough enough on the Islamic regime,” further indication that some in the Bush administration are pushing for a more confrontational policy toward Iran. According to McClatchy Newspapers, which obtained a copy of the report this week, “the report appears to be a gambit by some officials in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's office and elsewhere to gain sway over television and radio broadcasts into Iran, one of the few direct tools the United States has to reach the Iranian people.”

The report was written by Ladan Archin, a regime change proponent who formerly studied with Paul Wolfowitz when he was dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Archin now serves as the Country Director in the Near East and South Asia Department of the Department of Defense responsible for Iran. The report was prepared for an inter-agency committee on policy toward Iran called the Iran Steering Group, which is co-chaired by the National Security Council and the State Department.

But, US broadcasting officials and others who've read the report say its contentions are riddled with errors. The report’s accusations of Radio Farda and Voice of America’s Persian TV include:

  • the stations take a soft line toward Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime and don’t give adequate time to government critics;
  • the stations consistently fail to maintain a balance by inviting informed guests who represent another perspective on the same issue; and
  • "neither station is a primary source of news for Iranians."
In February 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a major initiative to “promote democracy” in Iran, including $50 million to increase Farsi-language television broadcasts. The announcement set off a furious bureaucratic battle for control of the funds and the initiative.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

World Opinion Does Not Favor Military Attacks on Iran

According to a new 25-nation poll, world opinion does not favor aggressive international measures to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The poll was conducted for BBC World Service, including the USA, the UK and Iraq.

On average across the 25 countries polled, only 17 percent believe that “Iran is producing nuclear fuel strictly for energy needs,” while 60 percent assume that “Iran is also trying to develop nuclear weapons.” This view is held by a majority in 19 of the countries and is especially widespread among Americans (83%), South Koreans (76%), Italians (74%), and Brazilians (72%). In just three countries do more than one in three believe that Iran is only pursuing nuclear energy—Iraq (38%), Egypt (38%), and Indonesia (35%). But even among these countries, substantially more believe that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons—Iraq (60%), Egypt (54%), Indonesia (47%).

Majorities in every country polled also say they would be concerned “if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons.” On average 72 percent say they would be concerned and just 17 percent say they would not. In only two countries do the number saying that they are not concerned rise above one in three—Indonesia (40%) and Iraq (34%).

However, overall only 43 percent say they are ‘very concerned’ and in only nine countries does this represent a majority. These include the US (72%, very concerned), Great Britain (67%), Australia (67%), Italy (65%), Israel (64%), Canada (63%), Brazil (57%), Germany (57%), and Poland (52%). Consistent with this lack of intensity in concern, even if Iran continues to produce nuclear fuel, very few people favor the UN Security Council authorizing “a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.” On average only 11 percent favor such strikes and in no country is this more than one in three. The highest levels of support were found in Iraq (34%), Israel (30%), and the US (21%).

Even the idea of imposing economic sanctions garners only modest support – on average it is supported by 30%. The most popular approach is using ‘only diplomatic efforts’ – on average this is supported by 39%. Combining the two assertive forms of dealing with Iran—military strikes and economic sanctions--in only five countries does a majority favor the UN Security Council authorizing either of these. These are the US (military strikes 21%, sanctions 45%), Iraq (military strikes 34%, sanctions 29%), Israel (military strikes 30%, sanctions 32%), Canada (military strikes 13%, sanctions 39%), and Australia (military strikes 8%, sanctions 44%). On average, 41 percent favor either of these assertive approaches.

These previous polls are also interesting:

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pastor Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Preach About Bombing Iran

This goes a little bit out of the realm of my usual posts, but it was just too disturbing not to share. I heard from an office colleague about some pastor going around saying we should bomb Iran and of course, my curiosity was peaked. Ironically, that the same day, John Hagee did an interview with Terry Gross on NPR. Well, here is just a brief background on him I found…there is plenty for fodder. I am worried about what he is saying, particularly because he does have a pretty big following, plus the ear of the White House.

John Hagee is the founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, a non-denominational evangelical church with more than 18,000 active members. He also founder of Christians United for Israel and believes Armageddon is coming soon (and his job is to help usher it in). His most recent book is Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World. While claiming to reach 99 million homes through his television show, he argues that the United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West, which according to him was prophesized in the Book of Esther. An exposé of Pastor Strangelove can be found here.

Hagee was interviewed in March 2006 by Human Events Online, a conservative weekly. When asked whether the US should be an aggressor against Iran, Hagee said it “would be shameful for America, with all its military might, to allow Israel to fight our fight!” He goes on to say, “Iran is a threat to western civilization ... not just to Israel. Iran with nuclear weapons will be the world's worst nightmare. America and Europe will be blackmailed to bow to the Islamofacist agenda. The attack on 9/11 proved Islamics have the will to kill us, they are now searching for the power to kill us ... nuclear power.”

He also believes that the Bible prophesizes that Russia will unite with Islamist nations to destroy Israel. In his Human Events interview he says, “Several years ago, former Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, sat in my office and told me that when he was Prime Minister he gave to America's intelligence community photographic proof that Russian scientist were helping the Iranians develop medium range missiles that had the ability to reach Europe and Jerusalem. Russia has been developing its relationships with the Islamic nations. I believe that relationship will develop in the future into Russia providing military leadership for radical Islamic forces against Israel. Russia's payoff is the oil from the Persian Gulf giving it the ability to become a super-power again. The Islamic payoff is the control of Jerusalem.”

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Administration Supports Reauthorizing the Iran Libya Sanctions Act

Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 19, 2006. Click here to access his prepared testimony. Below are some highlights related to US policy options for sanctions on Iran:

"There was an 'experts' level meeting in London on September 14 to review the technical details of the elements we want to include in a sanctions resolution. Secretary Rice and I will pursue this discussion of sanctions at the UN General assembly in New York this week and next."

"Representative for the European Union Javier Solana is discussing with Iranian officials a last-minute attempt to convince Tehran to accept the conditions of suspension and agree to negotiations. We support his effort but we will push for the imposition of sanctions if these talks do not produce a satisfactory outcome. The international community is waiting for Iran to give an unequivocal reply to our offer to negotiate."

"In confronting the challenges posed by Iran, the Administration supports legislation that would reauthorize the current ILSA [Iran Libya Sanctions Act] statute for an additional five years. A bill to this effect has been introduced in the Senate: S. 2657."

"I would like to say a word about H.R. 282 [Iran Freedom Support Act], which was passed by the House of Representatives and is pending before this Committee, and S. 333, also before this Committee. The provisions that freeze current restrictions, set specific deadlines for decision-making, that restrict certain waiver authorities, and – in HR 282—that call for divestment of assets and prohibitions on assistance, would narrow the President’s flexibility in the implementation of Iran sanctions and strain relations with allies whose cooperation is crucial to our efforts to change Iran’s behavior. These bills would effectively penalize most severely the very allies critical to maintaining our international coalition against Iran."

"Our message to Tehran remains clear: abandon the quest for nuclear weapons, and establish a full and verifiable suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. If you can do so, the U.S. and others will begin negotiations. If you cannot, you will face sanctions."

US and Israeli Intelligence Claims

In an interview with NPR’s Robert Siegel on September 1, 2006, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte responded to questions regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Most Significantly, Negroponte reaffirmed his estimate from last year that Iran is five to ten years away from having a nuclear weapon. Negroponte also discussed Israel’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear program and why it is that in their estimate Iran is only two years away, even the US and Israel share intelligence.

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s Foreign Minister was on CNN’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer on September 17, 2006 also discussing Iran’s nuclear program. Livni claims that Iran is only a few months away from mastering enrichment. Livni also said he thinks this is the time for sanctions.

Key portions of both these interviews follow. Thanks to Paul Kerr from Arms Control Wonk for pointing them out.

NPR Interview with DNI John Negroponte:

MR. SIEGEL: ...According to U.S. intelligence agencies, how soon will Iran have a nuclear weapon given its present program? Well, Negroponte says the US made its estimate a year ago.

AMB. NEGROPONTE: These are estimates. These are judgments. They’re not hard and cold simple facts. But our best estimate at the time, and it continues to be the judgment of the Intelligence Community, is that sometime beginning in the next decade, perhaps out to the middle of the next decade would be a good time frame, a good estimate of when they might have such a capability.

MR. SIEGEL: Sometime between four and 10 years from now you would assume they could achieve a nuclear weapon.

AMB. NEGROPONTE: Five to 10 years from now.

MR. SIEGEL: The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on its inspections this week. They reported on rather little progress by the Iranians. Does that conform to U.S. intelligence or does it in any way alter your estimate?

AMB. NEGROPONTE: This is a judgment that was formed over a period of time based on all sources of intelligence that we have, and I think those basic pieces remain in place today, both the determination to acquire such a capability, and the efforts that are under way to achieve that. Now mind you . and this was why I was careful to say at the outset that these are estimates and judgments, because you don’t know what you don’t know. And Iran is by definition, from the point of view of the Intelligence Community, a hard target. They engage in denial and deception. They don’t want us to necessarily know everything that they’re doing. So we don’t, for example, know whether there’s a secret military program and to what extent that program has made progress.

On Israel:

MR. SIEGEL: When Americans hear of, or read of, say, an Israeli estimate that the Iranians are two years away from a nuclear weapon, do you think the Israelis are just making different inferences from the same evidence you see.


MR. SIEGEL: or they know differently?

AMB. NEGROPONTE: No, I don’t . I think that we basically operate from the same knowledge base. We also happen to consult with the Israelis quite closely. We have intelligence-sharing arrangements, procedures.

I think that sometimes what the Israelis will do. and I think that perhaps because it’s a more existential issue for them, they will give you the worst-case assessment.

We would agree that perhaps an equally valid assessment would be the same one that we put forward.

MR. SIEGEL: But you’re talking about differences in assessment and analysis of information.


MR. SIEGEL: not differences in information?

AMB. NEGROPONTE: That . I would say that, yes. I think that’s fair.

Blitzer Interview with Israeli FM Tzipi Livni:

BLITZER: How much time do you believe the international community has before Iran crosses into an area of no return, in effect has a nuclear bomb?

LIVNI: The crucial moment is not the day of the bomb. The crucial moment is the day in which Iran will master the enrichment, the knowledge of enrichment.

BLITZER: And how long is that?

LIVNI: A few months from now.

BLITZER: What does that mean, a few months?

LIVNI: A few months, I mean…

BLITZER: Six months?

LIVNI: No, I don’t know for sure, because it takes time and this something that they have to try, in doing so…

BLITZER: Because other Israelis have said that would be the point of no return.

LIVNI: I don’t want to use the words “point of no return,” because the Iranians are using it against the international community. They are trying to send a message that it’s too late; you can stop your attempts because it’s too late.

It’s not too late. They have a few more months. And it is crucial because this is in the interests of the international community. The world cannot afford a nuclear Iran. It’s not only a threat to Israel. The recent understanding, also, of moderate Arab states is that Iran is a threat to the region. And I believe that this is time for sanctions.

BLITZER: Is this the biggest threat facing Israel?

LIVNI: Well, unfortunately, even though Israel was established about 60 years ago, it is still fighting for its existence.

And we just saw what the threats from Hezbollah, which is the long arm, the proxy of Iran in the region, and we have the Hamas and the terrorist organizations, and the global terrorism, and the Palestinians, and Iran.

So should I choose between the threats? I don't think so.

To the People of Iran from President Bush: Sounds like Regime Change in Your Future

Speaking at the opening of the 61st United Nations General Assembly on September 19, 2006, President George W. Bush focused his speech on the war on terrorism and extremism and democracy in the Middle East. Bush countered criticisms that US bringing democracy to the Middle East has destabilized the region. He said this criticism “overlooks the fact that the Middle East was stable to begin with.”

Directing comments to the People of Iran, Bush said:

"To the people of Iran: The United States respects you; we your country. We admire your rich history, your vibrant culture, and your many contributions to civilization. You deserve an opportunity to determine your own future, an economy that rewards your intelligence and your talents, and a society that allows you to fulfill your tremendous potential. The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism, and fuel extremism, and pursue nuclear weapons. The United Nations has passed a clear resolution requiring that the regime in Tehran meet its international obligations. Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. Despite what the regime tells you, we have no objection to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program. We're working toward a diplomatic solution to this crisis. And as we do, we look to the day when you can live in freedom -- and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace."

And to the people of Syria, President Bush says: Don't continue to let your government turn your country into a tool of Iran.

Voices from Iran

The Foreign Policy Centre, based in London, recently published its latest publication, Voices from Iran, in Parliament. Based on a series of interviews with civil society actors in Iran, this publication seeks to showcase the spectrum of opinion amongst Iranians on the direction their country is taking. This new report argues that human rights, democracy and civil liberties in Iran must not be sidelined during the discussions on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The report seeks to flesh out the spectrum of opinion amongst Iranians and draws upon interviews with opinion formers as diverse as a feminist, a government official, a human rights activist and a young entrepreneur. “Like a Persian hall of mirrors, the diplomatic strategies of the neoconservatives in America, are reflected by the neoconservatives in Iran. The risks of engagement are real but a good case can be made that the risks of not engaging with Iran are greater – sanctions and isolation have not brought any positive change; vile human rights abuses continue and the reformist forces in Iran are weak. The US hard line provides Iranian hardliners with a perfect alibi for their own failures.” The report concludes that, whatever the style of debate, and however tense the discussions may be, engagement is the only means to avert a military conflict.

France Not in Favor of Sanctions

In what may be a split from the Bush adminsitration, French President Jacques Chirac said on September 18, 2006 that he is “never in favor of sanctions” and suggested that the United States and other nations could begin talks with Iran on its nuclear program before Iran formally suspends its nuclear activities. In a 45-minute interview on European radio, Chirac appeared to upend the diplomatic drive and signaled a widening breach on Iran between the United States and European partners, reminiscent of the debate over the Iraq invasion four years ago. He also noted in his interview that the difficulties in Iraq showed he had been right to oppose that war in the first place.

In an apparent reference to setting up an agenda for talks with Iran, Chirac said: “I believe that on the one hand that Iran and the six countries must first establish a schedule for negotiation, then must embark on negotiations. And during these negotiations, I suggest that on the one hand the six give up on referring the matter to the Security Council and that Iran should give up the enrichment of uranium for the duration of the negotiations.”

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani have been continuing discussions to find a face-saving solution for all sides that would allow diplomacy to proceed. One of the formulas under discussion would have the European Union countries begin the talks, and then the United States would join them once Iran suspended its programs.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on September 19 that all parties involved in the Iran nuclear issue should maintain diplomatic negotiations and dialogue, and promote a peaceful resolution. He said all sides should make the most of the opportunity provided by the negotiations between the European Union and Iran, which were making progress. Qin also called for all parties to show patience and calm, and maintain the momentum of diplomatic negotiations and dialogues.