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.