Friday, December 28, 2007

New Peace Museum in Tehran

Here is an article by Scott Peterson for the Christian Science Monitor on the new Peace Museum that is set to open in City Park in Tehran. It is a very moving article about how the idea of the museum came about and a reminder of the devastation of war. Museum director Shahriar Khateri also discusses Iraqi use of chemical weapons against Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war, a subject that has been given very little attention in the West.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Administration Policy Objectives on Iran

I noted in a blog post last week that in reviewing the conference report of the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill, I discovered that House and Senate conferees agreed to drop a provision in the Senate version of the bill that would have prohibited not more than 75 percent of the amount authorized from being obligated until the President submitted a report on policy objectives and United States Strategy regarding Iran. According to the Conference Report, the President submitted the report to Congress. I also noted that I have not seen a public version, so I decided to inquire about it with a senior congressional aide.

According to my source, the Bush administration did submit the report over the summer after they had seen the provision in the Senate version of the Defense Authorization bill. The senior congressional aide also said that the report, presumably drafted by the State Department, had an early 2007 date on it but seemed to have been sitting collecting dust until they decided to send it to Congress this summer. The senior congressional aide said it was possible that after the State Department drafted the report, the Office of the Vice President or perhaps someone else refused to clear it because of language about a commitment to diplomacy.

I was also told there is only a classified version and Congress has not pursued insisting on an unclassified version because the whole exercise was "frustrating and the report was not particularly long or substantive, and we got pulled on to other things."

I personally believe that Congressional oversight of the Bush administration's policy on Iran is vitally important to keep the Administration accountable. Members of Congress should absolutely be pushing for an unclassified version of the Administration's policy objectives on Iran. The more people can weigh in with Congressional offices on this one, the better.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Congress Passes Omnibus Spending Bill with Funding for Controversial Iran Program

Yesterday, the House and Senate passed an omnibus appropriations bill that included $60 million for so-called “democracy” funds in Iran. As one congressional aide speaking on condition of anonymity to the Washington Post noted, “There is a lot of uneasiness about the whole Iran democracy program. It is potentially a way of providing an excuse for cracking down on dissidents.” President Bush, whose signature on the bill is required before it can become law, sent the bill to his budget director for review.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New Jersey Passes Iran Divestment Legislation, Joining the '50 Foreign Policies' Movement

On Monday, December 17, the New Jersey state Senate voted 34-0 to pass divestment legislation that prohibits state pension money from being invested in companies doing business in Iran. The Assembly voted 78-1 in June to approve the measure. The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine for his signature. Both Florida and California passed similar legislation earlier this year and New Jersey is now the third state to pass such legislation.

New Jersey's state pension fund is the ninth largest in the U.S. and is thought to be worth about $80 billion, though it is unclear how much is invested in companies doing business in Iran. The legislation requires the state to hire an independent research firm specializing in global securities to identify such investments.

I like to call this the “50 Foreign Policies Movement.” Several other states are being pressed by lobbies to take up similar legislation. I’ve been told by folks who work closely with State legislators that even the Human Rights Campaign is on board with Iran state divestment now and their reasoning is that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is homophobic.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry asked the state's pension funds to divest, though they didn't meet his deadline and legislation involving divestment from Iran died in the Legislature. Meanwhile, Michigan's House has approved divestiture legislation and the Senate announced separate measures, though none have advanced to the governor's desk.

On July 31, 2007, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2347, The Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, by a vote of 408-6, despite opposition from the Secretaries of State and Treasury. The bill will establish a federal list of companies that have direct investments in Iran’s energy sector and remove specific legal barriers to enable mutual fund and corporate pension fund managers to cut ties with these listed companies if they choose to do so. The bill also provides federal authority for state and local governments that choose to divest their public pension funds and calls on the U.S. government to list companies with more than $20 million invested in Iran's energy sector. Senator Barack Obama introduced the bill in the Senate where it is awaiting approval.

Even the Bush administration opposes State divestment. Click here for arguments against divestment and quotes from Bush administration officials.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Congress Set to Vote on Controversial So-Called 'Democracy Promotion' Funding

Despite opposition from prominent organizations and individuals, including key Iranian dissidents such as Akbar Ganji and Shirin Ebadi, Congress is pressing forward with funding for a controversial program that undermines U.S.-Iran relations. Later today, the House will vote on a consolidated State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2008. Following the reconciliation of the House and Senate versions in conference, Section 693 of the bill provides for $60 million to be made available for “programs to promote democracy, the rule of law and governance in Iran.”

There are several reasons why this funding is a bad idea. For starters, Iranian reformists believe that democracy can't be imported. It must be indigenous. They believe that the best the US can do for democracy in Iran is to leave them alone. The fact is, no truly nationalist and democratic group will accept such funds.

The secrecy surrounding the distribution of these funds has created immense problems for Iranian reformers and human rights activists. Aware of their own deep unpopularity, the hardliners in Iran are terrified by the prospect of a “velvet revolution” and have become obsessed with preventing contacts between Iranian scholars, artists, journalists and political activists and their American counterparts.

Noninterference in Iran's domestic affairs is a legal obligations of the United States. This was stipulated in the Algiers Accord that the United States signed with Iran in 1981 to end the hostage crisis.

For all of these reasons, 25 organizations signed a letter to House and Senate Conferees in September. The letter made the case for reprogramming the funds to better support Iranian democratic activists. According to the organizations:

“We believe this program, intended to aid the cause of democracy in Iran, has failed and instead invigorated a campaign by conservative regime elements to harass and intimidate those seeking reform and greater openness in Iran. As segments of the U.S. Administration tout regime change, secret State Department “democracy promotion” funding has enabled Iranian authorities to label those supporting reforms or engagement with the West as foreign agents and traitors. Recent detentions of Iranian-American scholars, journalists, union leaders, student activists and others are widely viewed as responses to threats posed by U.S.- funded efforts.

“Iranian reformers believe democracy cannot be imported and must be based on indigenous institutions and values. Intended beneficiaries of the funding, -- human rights advocates, civil society activists and others -- uniformly denounce the program. “Washington’s policy of ‘helping’ the cause of democracy has backfired,” wrote Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi in the International Herald Tribune recently. “The Bush Administration should put an end to its misguided policy.” Others respected human rights activists, including Akbar Ganji and Emad Baghi, voice similar sentiments. The fact is, given the current dynamic of conflict between the U.S. and Iranian governments, no organization inside Iran can openly accept funding from the U.S. Government.

“The inability of the State Department to expend funds in this account from previous years and its failure to respond to Congressional inquiries for information about the program, further justify its elimination. The program’s fundamental flaw is reflected in the State Department’s inability to generate realistic proposals for activities inside Iran. Less than half of funds allocated in previous years for “democracy programs” in Iran have been expended -- on activities unknown.

“As supporters of the values of democracy, we believe any such funding would be better spent on activities outside Iran which could facilitate openness and still promote civil society. We urge Congress to mandate that the Department of State take into account the views of democracy advocates living in Iran -- the intended beneficiaries of the funding. As people-to-people exchanges involving scholars, artists, athletes, groups of professionals and others are proven to foster understanding and cooperation, we urge you to include language in the bill to ease restrictions which make it extremely difficult for NGOs to implement exchanges. Iranian civil society advocates welcome access to information technologies that help expand their access to internet and other media. Finally, while funding for radio and television broadcasting to Iran is extremely important and useful, given the large expansion of Voice of America’s Farsi service last year, we believe further funding should be contingent upon a thorough evaluation of current programming.

“Congress can and should play a constructive role in promoting democracy in Iran and elsewhere. Eliminating so-called democracy promotion programs in Iran, and reprogramming such funds for activities that Iranian democratic activists want, are good first steps.”

Thursday, December 13, 2007

House Passes Defense Authorization Bill

Yesterday, the House passed H.R. 1585, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, by a margin of 370-49. The bill is expected to pass the Senate by the end of this week. I posted analysis of Iran policy in the bill earlier this week:

House Recedes to Kyl-Lieberman Language on Revolutionary Guards
Iranian Ballistic Missile Threat Reinforced in Def Auth Bill
Def Auth Report: President Submitted Policy Objectives on Iran
Defense Authorization Bill Will Require Reports Assessing Iran’s Role in Iraq
Defense Authorization Conferees Refuse to Blacklist Iran-Syria Nonproliferation Act Violators

More analysis is also available on the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation's website. For further analysis of the conference agreement of the FY '08 Defense Authorization bill by Chris Hellman and Travis Sharp, click here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How to Defuse Iran

In this excellent opinion editorial published by the New York Times yesterday, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett argue that "Since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei’s death in 1989, United States policy toward Iran has not served American interests. Neither continuing to disregard legitimate Iranian interests nor timid incrementalism will improve the situation. In the long run, the real lesson of the new National Intelligence Estimate is that we need a comprehensive overhaul of American policy toward Iran." They also outline exactly what a new approach in U.S. policy toward Iran would look like.

The U.S. should:

  • Address Iran’s security by clarifying that Washington is not seeking regime change in Tehran, but rather changes in the Iranian government’s behavior
  • Promise that it would not use force to change Iran’s borders or form of government.
  • Assuming that American concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities, provision of military equipment and training to terrorist organizations, and opposition to a negotiated Arab-Israeli settlement were satisfactorily addressed, Washington would also pledge to end unilateral sanctions against Iran, re-establish diplomatic relations and terminate Tehran’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Iran should:
  • Carry out measures — negotiated with the United States, other major powers and the International Atomic Energy Agency — definitively addressing the proliferation risks posed by its nuclear activities, include disclosing all information relating to its atomic program, past and present, now being sought by the atomic energy agency, and agreeing to an intrusive inspections regime of any fuel cycle activities on Iranian soil.
  • Issue a statement supporting a just and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on current United Nations Security Council resolutions.
  • Pledge to stop providing military supplies and training to terrorist organizations and to support the transformation of Hamas and Hezbollah into exclusively political and social-welfare organizations.
The authors conclude:
"Even if both sides agreed to such bilateral steps, a lasting rapprochement could be achieved only if Washington and Tehran worked out a more cooperative approach to regional security. The obvious first step would be collaborating on a plan to stabilize Iraq, acting in concert with that country’s other neighbors...The goal of such cooperation would be a multilateral body analogous to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe."

Council for a Livable World Video on National Intelligence Estimate

Here is a new video from the Council for a Livable World on the National Intelligence Estimate that highlights the Bush administration's rhetoric on Iran.

New Poll Reveals Jewish Neocon Groups Are not Representative of Jewish Community

A new poll of American Jewish opinions conducted for the American Jewish Community finds that American Jews overwhelmingly oppose core neoconservative foreign policy principles. The poll also finds that a large majority (57-35%) oppose the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, even though a majority is very concerned about the prospect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons (59-33%). Glenn Greenwald has an opinion editorial on regarding the poll that is very much worth reading.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Americans for Peace Now Urge Unconditional Diplomacy with Iran

On December 11, Americans for Peace Now (APN) urged President Bush to embark on a course of serious, determined, and unconditional diplomacy with Iran. APN is a Jewish, Zionist organization committed to peace and security for Israel. In a letter to Bush, APN Chair Franklin M. Fisher and President and CEO Debra DeLee note that "The recent publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran…bolsters our conviction that the best interests of both the U.S. and Israel require direct, sustained, and unconditional U.S.-led diplomacy and engagement with Iran to resolve issues surrounding Iran's nuclear program.” Copies of the letter will be sent to all members of Congress and major presidential campaigns. The letter reflects APN's longstanding position that a U.S. policy toward Iran consisting almost solely of sanctions and saber-rattling is insufficient and potentially harmful to the interests of both the U.S. and Israel.

Iranian Ballistic Missile Threat Reinforced in Def Auth Bill

During the conference of the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization Act, the House receded to the Senate provision stating it is the policy of the United States to develop and deploy in conjunction with its allies and other nations an effective defense against Iranian ballistic missiles. The provision was added to the Senate version on July 12, when the Senate voted 90 to 5 to pass Amendment No. 2024 introduced by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL). It should be noted, however, that Congress cut out $85 million in construction funding for the new missile defense sites in Europe from the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Appropriations bill.

As I noted in “War Is Peace, Sanctions Are Diplomacy”:
“Iran’s ballistic missile program remains largely in its nascent stages, however. The US intelligence community has consistently estimated since 1999 that Iran will not have mastered the science of intercontinental ballistic missiles until 2015. At that point, Iran would still have to manufacture an arsenal of missiles and weapons to fit the missiles, putting the actual deployment date even further into the future. (Also, though the International Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation and the Missile Technology Control Regime are voluntary mechanisms intended to discourage states from proliferating missile technology, there is no binding international treaty that prohibits Iran from developing its ballistic missile capability.)

“Since Iran lacks the ability to reach the United States, the Bush administration has tried to focus attention on the “threat” of its shorter-range missiles. Just two days before the sanctions rollout, Bush delivered a speech at the National Defense University in which he spoke of Iranian “ballistic missiles capable of striking Israel and Turkey, as well as American troops based in the Persian Gulf.” He further cited the Iranian ballistic missile program as a justification for a heavier US military presence in Eastern Europe: ‘Today, we have no way to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat, so we must deploy a missile defense system there that can.’”

Here is the Conference Report language on Iranian ballistic missile “threat”:

Policy of the United States on protection of the United States and its allies against Iranian ballistic missiles (sec. 229)

The Senate amendment contained a provision (sec. 1218) that would state the policy of the United States to develop and deploy, in conjunction with its allies and other nations whenever possible, an effective defense against Iranian ballistic missiles that threaten forward-deployed forces of the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in Europe, and which could eventually pose a threat to the United States homeland. The provision would also make it the policy of the United States to proceed with the development of such defenses so that any missile defenses fielded by the United States in Europe are integrated with or complementary to missile defense capabilities fielded by NATO.

The House bill contained no similar provision.

The House recedes with an amendment that would add a policy statement to encourage NATO to accelerate its efforts to acquire missile defense capabilities to defend NATO territory against the existing threat of Iranian short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, including wide-area defense. It also includes references to other allies and friendly nations in the region.

House Recedes to Kyl-Lieberman Language on Revolutionary Guards

During the conference of the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization Act, the House receded to the Senate provision (inserted into the Defense Authorization bill following the passage of the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment) which states that it is the “Sense of Congress” that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be designated as a foreign terrorist organization and placed on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists established by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. However, in the Conference Report, the conferees also strongly endorsed “the administration’s pursuit of a diplomatic approach to address this Iranian threat.”

Sense of Congress on Iran (sec. 1258)
The Senate amendment contained a provision (sec. 1538) that would state the sense of the Senate that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization and placed on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists established by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The House bill contained no similar provision.

The House recedes with an amendment that would clarify that it is in the U.S. national interest that the Government of Iran not use extremists in Iraq to subvert or co-opt the institutions of the legitimate Government of Iraq.

The conferees are concerned by reports, including the testimony to Congress in September 2007 of General David Petraeus, Commander, Multi-National Forces, Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, regarding Iranian activity in Iraq that is harmful to the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq. The conferees strongly endorse the administration’s pursuit of a diplomatic approach to address this Iranian threat. The conferees note that on October 25, 2007, the Department of State announced that it designated the IRGC an entity of proliferation concern under Executive Order 13382, and the Department of the Treasury designated the IRGC’s Qods Force under Executive Order 13224 for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.

Def Auth Report: President Submitted Policy Objectives on Iran

House and Senate Conferees of the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization Bill agreed to drop a provision in the Senate version of the bill that would have prohibited not more than 75 percent of the amount authorized from being obligated until the President submitted a report on policy objectives and United States Strategy regarding Iran. Of particular note, the Conference Report of the FY ’08 Defense Authorization bill notes that the report was submitted. I have not seen a public version.

Presidential report on policy objectives and United States strategy regarding Iran
The Senate amendment contained a provision (sec. 1216) that would prohibit not more than 75 percent of the amount authorized for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from being obligated until the report required by section 1213(b) of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (Public Law 109–364) is submitted to Congress. The House bill contained no similar Provision. The Senate recedes. The conferees note that the report was submitted.

Defense Authorization Bill Will Require Reports Assessing Iran’s Role in Iraq

The Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill, which is likely to be passed before Congress adjourns on December 21, requires that the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence, submit to the Congressional Defense Committees a report describing and assessing in detail Iran’s role in Iraq. The report must be submitted within 60 days after the date of the enactment and every 180 days thereafter. The original Senate version of the bill would have required a report within 60 days of enactment and then every 60 days thereafter. The House receded to the Senate version with an amendment that follow-up reports be submitted every 180 days instead of 60. The amendment also provides that the reporting requirement would terminate when the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence, certifies to the congressional defense committees that Iran has ceased to provide military support to anti-coalition forces in Iraq.


(a) REPORT REQUIRED.—Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and every 180 days thereafter, the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence, shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report describing and assessing in detail—

(1) any support or direction provided to anti-coalition forces in Iraq by the Government of Iran or its agents;
(2) the strategy and ambitions in Iraq of the Government of Iran; and
(3) any strategy or efforts by the United States Government to counter the activities of agents of the Government of Iran in Iraq.

(b) FORM.—Each report required under subsection (a) shall be submitted in unclassified form, to the maximum extent practicable, but may contain a classified annex, if necessary.

(c) TERMINATION.—The requirement to submit reports under subsection (a) shall terminate on the date on which the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence, submits to the congressional defense committees a certification in writing that the Government of Iran has ceased to provide military support to anti-coalition forces that conduct attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.

(d) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize or otherwise speak to the use of the Armed Forces against Iran.

Defense Authorization Conferees Refuse to Blacklist Iran-Syria Nonproliferation Act Violators

Special thanks to my colleague Travis Sharp for sending this information he dug up in the Conference Report of the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization Act.

On December 7, House and Senate conferees agreed on the conference report for the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill. The bill is likely to pass before Congress is scheduled to adjourn for the year on December 21.

The House version of the FY ‘08 Defense Authorization contained a provision which would have prohibited the Department of Defense from procuring goods or services from companies in violation of the Iran-Syria Nonproliferation Act (Public Law 106–178; 50 U.S.C. 1701).

However, the FY ’08 Defense Authorization Act conference report refused to blacklist violators of the Iran-Syria Nonproliferation. According to the Conference report:

Prohibition on procurement from companies in violation of the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act (pp. 966)

The House bill contained a provision (sec. 805) that would prohibit the use of funds for the procurement of goods or services at a prime contract or subcontract level from any source that is owned or controlled by an entity that is subject to sanctions for violations of the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act (Public Law 106–178). The Senate amendment contained no similar provision. The House recedes.

The text of the original House version of the FY ’08 bill that was stripped from the Conference Report reads:


(a) PROHIBITION.—Except as provided in subsection (c), funds appropriated or otherwise available to the Department of Defense may not be used for the procurement of goods or services from a source subject to sanctions for violations of the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act (Public Law 106–178; 50 U.S.C. 1701 note) or from any source that is owned or controlled by a sanctioned entity.

(b) CONTRACTS COVERED.—This section applies to prime contracts and subcontracts at any tier under such contracts.


(1) IN GENERAL.—Subsection (a) does not apply in any case in which the Secretary of Defense determines that there is a compelling reason to solicit an offer from, award a contract or subcontract to, or extend a contract or subcontract with a source described in that subsection. The exception in the preceding sentence may not be used if the same or reasonably equivalent products or services are available from a non-sanctioned source.

(2) NOTICE TO CONGRESS.—The Secretary shall transmit to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives a notice of any determination made under paragraph (1) at the time of the determination.

Friday, December 07, 2007

What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?

Serious questions have arisen about what the Bush administration knew about the key findings of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate and when they knew it. In a press conference on December 4, President Bush told reporters that he had learned only a week before the report was published that the intelligence community now believed Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. However, the following day, the White House acknowledged to reporters in press briefing that Bush was told in August that the illicit weapons program "may be suspended."

I touched on this subject in "War Is Peace, Sanctions Are Diplomacy," but the new NIE sheds more light about the reason why the designation on October 25 as "proliferators of weapons of mass destruction" for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were based primarily on the ballistic missile program, and only secondarily on the nuclear program.

According to the State Department fact sheet:

The IRGC has been outspoken about its willingness to proliferate ballistic missiles capable of carrying WMD. The IRGC’s ballistic missile inventory includes missiles, which could be modified to deliver WMD. The IRGC is one of the primary regime organizations tied to developing and testing the Shahab-3. The IRGC attempted, as recently as 2006, to procure sophisticated and costly equipment that could be used to support Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

Although the designations were announced on October 25, it's important to remember that it was leaked to the media in August that the Departments of State and Treasury were considering designating the IRGC a terrorist organization. It begs the question about what intelligence they had during their deliberations of the designations and why the final justification for the IRGC designation focused more on the ballistic missile program.

Why Should We Believe the Intelligence Community This Time?

Council for a Livable World board member Jim Walsh has an Op-Ed in today's Boston Globe that outlines why the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran is on target. According to Walsh:

"First, the idea that Iran suspended nuclear weapons activities in fall 2003 is consistent with how countries typically behave. Throughout the nuclear age, governments have been reluctant to carry on clandestine nuclear programs when inspectors are on the ground. Saddam Hussein, for example, shut down his WMD programs in the early 1990s, because he feared inspectors might uncover his efforts. In fall 2003, Iran was under intense scrutiny regarding its nuclear program. As a consequence, Tehran agreed to join an upgraded inspections regime called the Additional Protocol. From an Iranian perspective, it would have been foolhardy to invite inspectors in only to get caught with an active program.

"Second, it is consistent with what we know about Iran. This new intelligence estimate reverses a 2005 conclusion that Tehran was determined to get the bomb no matter what. That earlier conclusion always seemed at odds with the history of Iran's nuclear efforts, which could be called inconsistent at best. Though Tehran showed an interest in nuclear technology under the shah and again beginning in the mid-1980s, the program was slow to make progress, even though it was receiving help from Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan's secret nuclear network. For a country that was "determined" to become a nuclear weapons state, Iran was taking its time.

"Third, the fact that this intelligence estimate contradicts a previous report is itself a healthy development. When graduate students at MIT present their research, I often ask if they were surprised by anything. I always worry about the ones who say they found exactly what they expected. A good intelligence process is one that is open to being wrong and not afraid to report it.

"Finally, this intelligence estimate offers its new conclusions despite the political consequences. The vice president and those of like mind are probably pretty upset right now. And the president, who can still make a case against enrichment in Iran, nevertheless finds himself on the defensive about his past statements. As for policy, the intelligence estimate makes it less likely that the United States will use military force, which is good, but that it may also have the effect of taking the pressure off or even emboldening Iran, which is bad."

Now the question remains whether or not U.S. policy towards Iran can be changed to incorporate this new evidence.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Will the Call to Arms Prevail?

[Note: This post was written by Katie Mounts]

The "War is Peace, Sanctions are Diplomacy" approach of the Bush administration received a rhetorical round of support last Wednesday in an editorial published by the Washington Times. Though printed before the release of the National Intelligence Estimate, in light of the Bush administration's refusal to alter its policy of diplomatic isolation, sanctions, and threats of military action in response to the new intelligence findings, this appeal for military action is still extremely relevant to the Iran policy debate. If the administration's seemingly solidified position is an accurate indication of the neo-conservative reaction in general, authors Paul E. Vallely and Fred Gedri would likely still advocate their call to arms.

Vallely and Gedrich state that the IRGC and the Iranian regime "have been engaged in a one-sided 'Death to America' campaign for 28 years." Rather than acknowledge the true negative impact of the recent designation of the Quds force of the IRGC as a terrorist organization, they argue that it is a step in the right direction, just not big enough. Rather, "If the United States truly seeks to achieve greater Middle East peace and stability it should incorporate military measures into the current Iranian policy."

If Iran is unresponsive to their list of recommended demands, their policy recommendations range from "limited and selective military air strikes" to "obtain[ing] approval from Congress to use military force in Iran or, if circumstances demand, use existing constitutional war power authorities to neutralize the security threat."

Ironically, they use a quote from Henry Kissinger to support their position. "Diplomacy not backed by the potential use of force equates to impotency." The glaring discrepancy, however, between this statement and their policy recommendation is the absence of diplomacy in their proposal. Note to Vallely and Gedrich: covert efforts at regime change, sanctions, and threats of military action, hardly equate to any sort of serious diplomatic effort.

Giuliani's New Iran Ad

Republican Presidential Candidate Rudy Giuliani has a new Iran ad about how he remembers the Iranian hostage crisis. I wonder if remembers the 1953 overthrow of the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh that was orchestrated by Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA? Probably not.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Diplomacy with Iran: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Don’t be diverted by the Bush administration and the Iran hawks who are now on the defensive with their “neck-snapping spin” over the newly-released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. Responses from Congress and around the world indicate that direct U.S. diplomacy with Iran is an idea whose time has come.

Numerous members of Congress are calling for a change in the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran. Following the release of the report, republican Senator Chuck Hagel responded: “The United States must employ a comprehensive strategy that uses all elements of its foreign policy arsenal, in particular offering ‘direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks’ with Iran – where all issues, ours and Iran’s, are on the table, including offering Iran a credible way back from the fringes of the international community, security guarantees, and other incentives. Our strategy must be one focused on direct and comprehensive engagement and diplomacy…backed by the leverage of international pressure, military options, isolation and containment. Now is the time for America to act in light of the NIE report and the momentum generated by the Annapolis Middle East meeting last week.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today: “In light of yesterday’s remarkable new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, I urge the President at his press conference today to announce a top-to-bottom review of his Iran policy and a diplomatic surge to advance U.S. interests with regard to Iran. He should announce that his Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense are prepared to meet anytime, anywhere with their Iranian counterparts to conduct vigorous diplomacy to advance U.S. interests and address the challenges of Iran.”

European allies expressed relief at the release of NIE and say it strengthens their arguments for negotiations with Tehran. Francois Gere, an Iran specialist and head of the French Institute of Strategic Analysis, noted that “Europeans were, and remain, in a logic of diplomacy.” However, European officials are also arguing that pressure must be maintained on Iran and they are supporting the US drive for a further round of sanctions at the United Nations. "We must maintain pressure on Iran," said French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani. According to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman Michael Allam, "The report confirms we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. It also shows that the sanctions program and international pressure has had some effect."

While the United States and European allies are still pressing ahead with a third round of sanctions against Iran at the Security Council, China says that the new intelligence estimate raises questions about the new punitive measures. China’s response follows a meeting in Paris last weekend, where, according to U.S. Undersecretary of State Nick Burns, progress was made on a comprised text for sanctions that could be circulated as early as Friday. South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said he doesn’t see how the new NIE means there should be a new sanctions resolution at the Security Council: “What would be the justification now because of what is now being said? So let's leave it to the IAEA.”

While there has been no official response to the public release of the key judgments of the NIE, Russia maintains that it does not see any evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. The day following the release of the NIE, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in the outskirts of Moscow. Putin told Jalili, "We welcome the extension of your cooperation with the IAEA. We expect that your programs in the nuclear sphere will be open, transparent and be conducted under control of the authoritative international organization.” Jalili pledged that Iran would quickly answer all outstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency and following the meeting told reporters that the NIE created "a good atmosphere for resolving many other questions concerning cooperation between Iran and the IAEA."

International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohammed ElBaradei said the new intelligence report “tallies with the agency's consistent statements over the last few years that, although Iran still needs to clarify some important aspects of its past and present nuclear activities, the agency has no concrete evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons program or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran.” He added that the report “should help to defuse the current crisis. At the same time, it should prompt Iran to work actively with the IAEA to clarify specific aspects of its past and present nuclear programme.” ElBaradei called on “Iran to accelerate its cooperation with the agency” and urged immediate negotiations, saying these were needed “to build confidence about the future direction of Iran's nuclear programme” and “to bring about a comprehensive and durable solution that would normalise the relationship between Iran and the international community.”

Congressional Responses to the NIE

Here are some selected quotes from Members of Congress to the National Intelligence Estimate and President Bush's response to the NIE.

“In October, President Bush raised the specter of World War III with Iran because of its pursuit of a nuclear weapon months after he had been told by our own intelligence community it was likely Iran had halted its weapons program in 2003.

“After all that Americans have been through, for this President to knowingly disregard or misrepresent intelligence about an issue of war and peace, is outrageous. It’s exactly what he did in the run up to the war in Iraq in consistently exaggerating intelligence suggesting that Iraq had WMD, while failing to tell the American people about intelligence concluding that it did not. It further undermines America’s credibility around the world – and the government’s credibility here at home – at a time when that credibility is at an all-time low. And it injects more tension and instability into the Middle East at a time when we should be doing everything in our power to prevent that region from spiraling out of control.”
Senator Joseph Biden (Delaware)
December 4, 2007

“At first blush, this looks like a good news story. Good because the intelligence community was willing to reconsider an important intelligence judgment. More importantly, it's good news that Iran doesn't appear to be currently working on a bomb.”
Senator Kit Bond (Missouri)
December 3, 2007

"I vehemently disagree with the president that nothing has changed and therefore nothing in American policy has to change. He should seize this opportunity and engage in serious diplomacy using both carrots and sticks.”
Senator Hilary Clinton (New York)
December 4, 2007

“On Iran and the NIE report, I think we've got a couple of things that I think are very important and worth noting. One, is we no longer have to have a policy that's either based by hype and fear, but can now be clear-eyed and hardheaded as it approaches the Iranians. We do not have to operate from fear or weakness. We have strength here. And I think the NIE report shows that.”
Representative Rahm Emanuel (Illinois-5)
December 4, 2007

"Iran's nuclear program remains a serious concern but it is clear from the [intelligence estimate] that vigorous and coordinated diplomacy is the right way to approach it.”
Senator Russ Feingold (Wisconsin)
December 3, 2007

“The United States must employ a comprehensive strategy that uses all elements of its foreign policy arsenal, in particular offering ‘direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks’ with Iran – where all issues, ours and Iran’s, are on the table, including offering Iran a credible way back from the fringes of the international community, security guarantees, and other incentives. Our strategy must be one focused on direct and comprehensive engagement and diplomacy…backed by the leverage of international pressure, military options, isolation and containment. Now is the time for America to act in light of the NIE report and the momentum generated by the Annapolis Middle East meeting last week.”
Senator Chuck Hagel (Nebraska)
December 3, 2007

“This newest information supports what I have said all along: We need to give diplomacy with Iran more of a chance. I continue to favor dialogue between our two countries, in contrast to the Administration’s belligerent and stiff-necked refusal to talk with Tehran. And I believe we need to use every means at our disposal – economic, political and diplomatic – to persuade Iranians that peaceful development of energy options, free of any hint of military use, is well within reach.

“In its unclassified report, the intelligence community has judged that Iran makes its decisions about a nuclear weapons program based on a cost-benefit analysis. This suggests that Tehran may be open to a combination of pressure and incentives to keep it from returning to developing a nuclear arsenal. And the latest publicly-available intelligence indicates that it will take longer for Iran to produce sufficient materials for a nuclear weapon than previously thought. So we have more time – beyond the end of the current Administration – to continue to push for this mixture of pressure and incentives."
Representative Tom Lantos (CA-12)
December 4, 2007

"It is absolutely clear that this administration and President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology. They need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front. They should have stopped the rattling -- should never have started it.”
Senator Barack Obama (Illinois)
December 4, 2007

"While we should harbor no illusions about the intentions of some Iranian leaders, the new Iran NIE suggests there is time for a new policy toward Iran that deters it from restarting its nuclear program while also improving relations overall."
Representative Nancy Pelosi (CA-8)
December 3, 2007

“President Bush’s heated rhetoric on Iran – including comments about a potential World War III – is even more outrageous now that we know the intelligence community had informed him that it believes Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program four years ago. This is the latest in a long line of inaccurate and misleading comments that got us into the Iraq war to begin with. They further diminish the credibility of a President with a dangerous record of overstating threats.“In light of yesterday’s remarkable new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, I urge the President at his press conference today to announce a top-to-bottom review of his Iran policy and a diplomatic surge to advance U.S. interests with regard to Iran. He should announce that his Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense are prepared to meet anytime, anywhere with their Iranian counterparts to conduct vigorous diplomacy to advance U.S. interests and address the challenges of Iran.”
Senator Harry Reid (Nevada)
December 4, 2007

“The key judgments show that the intelligence community has learned its lessons from the Iraq debacle. It has issued judgments that break sharply with its own previous assessments, and they reflect a real difference from the views espoused by top administration officials.”
Senator Jay Rockefeller (West Virginia)
December 3, 2007

Neocons Never Have to Say Sorry

Bill Hartung has a great blog post at the Talking Points Memo Cafe today on reactions from Iran hawks to the new National Intelligence Estimate. Hartung writes: "Not only did they change their assessment, but the 16 intelligence agencies involved in the NIE had the decency to admit they had made a mistake. Not so for members of the 'get Iran' crowd like Michael Ledeen and John Bolton, who have reacted to the new findings with a combination of denial and outright fantasy."

Hartung notes that all of the spin from "get Iran" crowd would be entertaining if President Bush wasn't echoing some of the same points. "He has claimed that since Iran once had a nuclear weapons program, everything his administration has been doing thus far is just right. In fact, the new NIE should open the door to genuine negotations aimed at capping Tehran's enrichment program, even if it takes a while to get them on track. An approach that offers more pressure and more sanctions without offering Tehran a reasonable way forward -- along with threats that "all options are on the table" in dealing with its nuclear program -- may represent one of the few policies that could actually spur Iran to resume a nuclear weapons program."

Congress Mandated Declassification of NIE Key Judgements

Congress mandated that the key judgements of the National Intelligence Estimate released yesterday by Directorate of National Intelligence be made public. Under Section 1213 of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act of 2007 (Public Law 109-364), the Director of National Intelligence was required to submit, "consistent with the protection of intelligence sources and methods, an unclassified summary of the key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate should be submitted." Full text is below.

(a) Submittal to Congress of Updated National Intelligence Estimate on Iran-

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

(2) NOTICE REGARDING SUBMITTAL- If before the end of the 90-day period specified in paragraph (1) the Director determines that the National Intelligence Estimate required by that paragraph cannot be submitted by the end of that period as required by that paragraph, the Director shall (before the end of that period) submit to Congress a report setting forth--
(A) the reasons why the National Intelligence Estimate cannot be submitted by the end of such 90-day period; and
(B) an estimated date for the submittal of the National Intelligence Estimate.

(3) FORM- The National Intelligence Estimate under paragraph (1) shall be submitted in classified form. Consistent with the protection of intelligence sources and methods, an unclassified summary of the key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate should be submitted.

(b) Presidential Report on Policy Objectives and United States Strategy Regarding Iran-

(1) REPORT REQUIRED- As soon as is practicable, but not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall submit to Congress a report 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 be submitted in unclassified form with a classified annex, as appropriate.

(3) ELEMENTS- The report submitted under paragraph (1) shall--
(A) address the role of diplomacy, incentives, sanctions, other punitive measures and incentives, and other programs and activities relating to Iran for which funds are provided by Congress; and
(B) summarize United States contingency planning regarding the range of possible United States military actions in support of United States policy objectives with respect to Iran.

Monday, December 03, 2007

New Intelligence Estimate Calls for Credible Diplomatic Option to Extend Iran's Nuclear Weapons Halt

On October 31, the long-awaited and much delayed National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran was published after more than a year of Congressional and public demands for its release. The new findings presented in the NIE are significant and it is clear that the intelligence community is working to ensure that the same intelligence mistakes that were made in the lead up to the Iraq war are not repeated again. At a minimum, the findings place the onus squarely on Iran hawks within the Bush administration if the intelligence is manipulated in a rush to war.

Key findings of the NIE were released on December 3 to the public, a departure from previous cases where the assessments were kept classified and only portions released during Congressional hearings or leaked to the media. Deputy Director of National Intelligence Donald M. Kerr said that given the new conclusions, it was important to release the report publicly. In a letter that accompanied the release of the NIE, Kerr wrote: "The decision to release an unclassified version of the Key Judgments of this NIE was made when it was determined that doing so was in the interest of our nation’s security. The Intelligence Community is on the record publicly with numerous statements based on our 2005 assessment on Iran. Since our understanding of Iran’s capabilities has changed, we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available."

The new assessment, which represents the consensus view of all 16 American intelligence agencies, says that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains on hold. This new report contradicts the 2005 NIE, which assessed with "high confidence" that Iran was determined to have a nuclear weapon and was working inexorably towards this end. The intelligence community is concerned that the same mistakes that were made in the lead up to the Iraq war may be repeated. This NIE represents an attempt to both set the record straight and put the onus squarely on Iran hawks in the Bush administration if an attack against Iran were to occur in the near future.

The assessment states: "Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously." The newly-released NIE also states that Iran's ultimate intentions about gaining a nuclear weapon remain unclear, but it's “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.”

Another key conclusion of the National Intelligence Estimate is that “Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might — if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible — prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” Thus, the NIE could be a face-saving report for the Bush administration by stating that Iran did have a nuclear weapons program until the Fall of 2003, but has since halted this work because of international pressure. This, combined with a credible offer for negotiations could pave the way for resolving the standoff diplomatically.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley's response on December 3 to the public release of the NIE findings demonstrates the Administration could be seeking a way out of the hype it has created over Iran's nuclear program and the corner it has put the U.S. in where we could eventually be left with nothing but the false choice of military confrontation or capitulation to resolve the challenge of Iran's nuclear program. According to Hadley: "Today's National Intelligence Estimate offers some positive news. It confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. It tells us that we have made progress in trying to ensure that this does not happen. But the intelligence also tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem. The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically - without the use of force - as the Administration has been trying to do. And it suggests that the President has the right strategy: intensified international pressure along with a willingness to negotiate a solution that serves Iranian interests while ensuring that the world will never have to face a nuclear armed Iran. The bottom line is this: for that strategy to succeed, the international community has to turn up the pressure on Iran - with diplomatic isolation, United Nations sanctions, and with other financial pressure - and Iran has to decide it wants to negotiate a solution. "

The NIE notes that when referring to the nuclear weapons program, "we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment."

Also of note, because the National Intelligence Estimate was released on October 31, it does not include any findings from the November 2007 report of International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohammed ElBaradei. The reason for this is unclear as there may have been pressure to get the NIE published as soon as possible, particularly given mounting pressure from Congress for its release.

Congressional Pressure

Congress mandated the new National Intelligence Estimate in Section 1213 of the Fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization bill. It required 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. When the NIE was not produced in that timeframe, the Senate included a clause in the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization Bill which said Congress would withhold authorization of funding under the Defense Authorization bill until the NIE was produced:

"SEC. 1216. PRESIDENTIAL REPORT ON POLICY OBJECTIVES AND UNITED STATES STRATEGY REGARDING IRAN. Not more than 75 percent of the amount authorized to be appropriated by this Act and available for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy may be obligated or expended for that purpose until the President submits to Congress the report required by section 1213(b) of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (Public Law 109–364; 120 Stat. 2422)."

Congress has also introduced and debated other measures demanding the release of an updated intelligence estimate on Iran. When the Defense Authorization bill was being debated in the Senate over the Summer, a modified version of the Lieberman (I-CT), McCain, Kly, Graham, Coleman, Collins, Sessions, Levin, Salazar and Craig amendment No. 2073 (which passed 97-0 on July 11) to the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, expressed the Sense of Congress that: "(3) It is imperative for the executive and legislative branches of the federal government to have accurate intelligence on Iran and therefore the intelligence community should produce the NIE on Iran without further delay."

In addition, the Iran Counterproliferation Act of 2007 includes a provision calling for the release of the updated National Intelligence Estimate on Iran as required under Section 1213 of the Fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization bill. The House version, H.R. 3390, was introduced by Rep. Daryl Issa on August 3, 2007 and the Senate version, S. 970, was introduced by Sen. Gordon Smith on March 22, 2007. However, both bills, which are meant to employ further unilateral punitive sanctions on Iran, are still being considered in the committees to which they were referred.

Time for Diplomacy Is Now

The National Intelligence Estimate finds that Iran “probably would be technically capable of producing enough [highly enriched uranium] for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame.” The report states that the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this goal before 2013 “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.” The NIE goes on to state that all of the intelligence agencies agree that it could take until after 2015 for Iran to attain a nuclear capability.

Iran hawks argue that attacking Iran yesterday might be too late. The NIE’s 3 to 8 year best-case-scenario timeline, grounded in technical expertise, clearly articulates there is no imminent threat from Iran and demonstrates that the time for diplomacy is now. It is now clear why the Iran hawks in the Bush administration spent a year trying to stop this report from seeing the light of day. It blows a devastating hole in any argument for military action.

With the right mixture of diplomatic tools, the National Intelligence Estimate presents an opportunity to break the deadlock without reducing the U.S. to the false choice of war or capitulation. The Bush administration should seize upon this opportunity and engage in direct, unconditional negotiations with Iran to resolve all outstanding issues regarding its nuclear program.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A New Round of Security Council Resolutions Against Iran?

The Financial Times is reporting that China will back a new round of Security Council sanctions against Iran, a departure from its stance since the release of the most recent International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran's nuclear program. If true, this means that Russia is the only country that now opposes the third round of multilateral sanctions agains Iran.

The U.S. and western allied countries are pushing for a new sanctions resolution to pass the Security Council by the end of the year. The resolution would likely "extend lists of Iranians prohibited from traveling freely and of Iranian companies and banks prohibited from doing business with the international community."

In response to the Financial Times article, China's Xinhua state news agency on Sunday gave no hint of a change of heart on stronger sanctions.

ElBaradei Calls for Diplomacy with Iran

Juan Cole published the following document on his Informed Comment blog on Friday, November 30. I have excerpted the relevant Iran quotes below.

'Argentina: IAEA Head Warns Against Using Force Against Iran"Exclusive" interview with Mohamed ElBaradei, International Atomic Energy Agency head, by Nestor Restivo in Buenos Aires on 28 November: "To use force against Iran could lead it to having atomic weapons." First paragraph is Clarin's introduction. Passages within slantlines are published in boldfaceClarin (Internet Version-WWW)
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Document Type: OSC Translated Text

(Nestor Restivo) /Washington was highly critical of you and of UN inspector Hans Blix when you both denied that Saddam Husayn had weapons of mass destruction. Then the United States invaded Iraq. Is this is a similar scenario?/

(Mohamed ElBaradei) In both cases it is our duty to work with objectivity. I hope that there is no parallel (between these two cases) and that we have all learned a lesson. Despite all of our differences, I do believe that everyone sees a single solution for Iran: diplomacy.

(Restivo) /But you know that the military option is on the table.../

(ElBaradei) That would not solve anything. On the contrary, it would delay the Iranian plan but in the end it would not produce a lasting solution and would generate more problems in a region that is already a huge mess, the Middle East. There is no 100 percent guarantee, but we also do not have data indicating to us that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. But we do need an additional protocol about its new facilities.

(Restivo) /Is it helpful for the United States or Israel to be talking about a military option? Why would Iran allow more inspections if they (the facilities inspected) might eventually become military targets?/

(ElBaradei) Diplomacy has more to do with pressures, sanctions, and incentives for good behavior than with force. It used to be said that diplomacy was war waged by other means, but that ended with the UN Charter, which only allows war for self-defense, in the case of an imminent threat, or if the Security Council approves it. The use of force would put pressure on Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons, while right now it does not have large industrial facilities in operation. What Iran has is a nascent and small nuclear enrichment plan. But when a country is threatened it generally ends up with a military system.

(Restivo) /Will there be more in-depth inspections in Iran?/

(ElBaradei) Yes, of course. Iran is a very complex case. For 20 years it developed a secret program and that made the IAEA's work very difficult, as we said in our report. I have insisted that they act with the utmost transparency and cooperation as there has been a loss of confidence in the nature of the program. And that is the key: the crisis of confidence. The most sensitive issue is uranium enrichment, for with enriched uranium it is possible to produce nuclear materials.

(Restivo) /Is Mahmud Ahmadinezhad's government on that course?/

(ElBaradei) We have not found that to be so, but we do not have a 100 percent guarantee. The fact that Iran is working actively on enrichment shows that they do have a program, but they do not have an urgent need as they still do not have a nuclear product. Of course the Iranians say that they should be self-sufficient and independent, that this is a scientific and civilian issue, a matter of technological development, and that this is for exports that could benefit them in the future. But if the IAEA cannot conduct inspections of Iran and prove that all of this is intended for peaceful uses, the crisis of confidence will continue. Nobody is questioning Iran's right. The problem is the timing (previous word in English) for exercising that right.

(Restivo) /What role is the Security Council playing in this? Neither China nor Russia will agree to new sanctions against Iran.../

(ElBaradei) The Security Council has asked Iran to suspend its enrichment program until confidence has been restored. And I have done the same. The more they cooperate and allow us access to documentation and other things, the more we will be able to rebuild confidence. We need what is known as the Additional Protocol, which would give us additional information and access to new sites. This is essential so that we can not only look at the past but also say that "we are now in a position to provide guarantees about the current projects." The Security Council should ask and apply pressure on Iran in order to get it to agree to negotiate and to make it realize that a permanent solution will only come through negotiations.

(Restivo) /Do you have confidence that this will happen?/

(ElBaradei) Yes, tomorrow negotiators from Iran and the European Union are meeting and I am optimistic. The nuclear issue has been a troublesome matter between the West and Iran for 50 years, since the fall of the elected government in Iran in 1953 until now. And not only the West and Iran should be involved in this dialogue, but other countries as well, countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. The sooner some agreement is reached, the sooner we will see prospects for an ideal solution.

(Restivo) /Some US officials like Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice have taken a very tough stance toward you. How do you handle those pressures?/

(ElBaradei) The IAEA's function and its reports are highly technical. But we are also a multinational agency. And diplomacy and multilateralism are two sides of the same coin, so in addition to technical matters I also make use of diplomacy, I try to convince, argue, apply pressure, and use persuasion. Of course, my diplomacy is limited to dialogue, as there is no army behind it. I am indeed the target of pressures, but as long as you know that you have your feet on the ground and are sure of what you are doing, pressures are like Teflon; they do not stick. Moreover, I have gotten used to this, as we have been criticized by Saddam, by Korea, and now by Israel. We deal with extremely sensitive issues and we have to be very careful that we are not pushed in any direction. Everyone listens to us with great attention. This does seem rather schizophrenic, doesn't it? Governments hire us, but at times we make a judgment about them and it is difficult for them to accept the fact that, even though they are paying us, we can still judge them.

China: A Partner for Dealing with Iran?

In an opinion editorial for the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, argues that China could be a formidable partner for the U.S. in negotiating with Iran. Utilizing China as a strategic partner would build from the shared experience in negotiating with North Korea over its nuclear program, a process that may be successful yet.

According to Brzezinski:

"Once it is more active in the negotiating process with Iran, China could help break the stalemate. It has a relatively cordial relationship with Tehran, whose rulers are not united but are increasingly isolated. Beijing and Tehran do not want their economic relationships disrupted; Iran supplies much-needed oil to China, and China supplies equally needed weapons and industrial products to Iran. But China's willingness to play a constructive role requires that the United States be guided by strategic patience. The Chinese fear that U.S. impatience to ratchet up sanctions may be somewhat motivated by the conviction that before long the sanctions will be proved ineffective and "other options on the table" might come into play."

Brzezinski also writes about Russia's uncertain role:

"Russia's uncertain role should be noted. Russia has been in talks with Iran and professes strongly that it desires a peaceful solution. These affirmations should not be dismissed out of hand. A conflict in the Persian Gulf might adversely affect Russia's interests, but its negative effects on Russia are inherently speculative. Any serious conflict will have international ripple effects, and Russian leaders have to assess that eventuality with prudence.

"Nonetheless, Russia is an increasingly revisionist state, more and more openly positioning itself to attempt at least a partial reversal of the geopolitical losses it suffered in the early 1990s. Cutting off direct U.S. access to Caspian and Central Asian oil is high on the Kremlin's list. Moreover, longer-term geopolitical threats are seen by Moscow's elite as involving potential Chinese encroachments on Russia's empty but mineral-rich eastern areas and American political encroachments on the populated western areas of Russia's recently lost imperial domain.

"In that context, the outbreak of a political conflict in the Persian Gulf may not be viewed by all Moscow strategists as a one-sided evil. The dramatic spike in oil prices would harm China and America while unleashing a further wave of anti-American hostility. In that context, Europe might distance itself from America while both Europe and China would become more dependent on Russia's energy supplies. Russia would clearly be the financial and geopolitical beneficiary."

Brezinski concludes: "The stakes of a serious crisis in the Persian Gulf are thus far-reaching. They could cause a more dramatic shift in the global distribution of power than even the one that occurred after the Cold War ended. Given this, a comprehensive, strategic dialogue between the United States and China regarding the relevance of their shared experience dealing with North Korea to the potential crisis with Iran could be timely and historically expedient."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Center For Arms Control Launches Online Ad Campaign

The Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation launched an online ad campaign this week to prevent a military confrontation with Iran. The ad began running yesterday and will run through Sunday on the following blogs:

The goal of the ad is to raise awareness about the dangers of a military attack on Iran and urge people to sign the Center's petition calling on Congress to press the administration to pursue direct, unconditional talks with Iran.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Upcoming Iran Briefings in DC

Here are a couple of upcoming briefings on Iran in Washington DC that may be of interest to Iran Nuclear Watch readers:

December 4
Noon-1:00 p.m., Ray Takeyh, Council on Foreign Relations, "United States Versus Iran: Another Cold War." Wilson Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, Webcast on the Wilson Center website.

December 6
Noon-1:30 p.m., Gary Sick, Columbia University, and Michael Jacobson, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, "Iran: In the Crosshairs?" Center for National Policy, One Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Suite 333, Washington. RSVP online.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

War Is Peace, Sanctions Are Diplomacy

With much gratitutude to Chris Toensing, the Middle East Report Online and the Middle East Researchand Information Project (MERIP), I have a published a new essay entitled "War Is Peace, Sanctions Are Diplomacy."

The White House is pressing ahead with its stated goal of persuading theUN Security Council to pass far-reaching sanctions to punish Iran forrefusing to suspend its nuclear research program. Sanctions are whatPresident George W. Bush is referring to when he pledges to nervous US allies that he intends to "continue to work together to solve this problem diplomatically." The non-diplomatic solution in this framing of the"problem," presumably, would be airstrikes on nuclear facilities in the Islamic Republic. The essay details the dangers of this framing, and suggests a pathway out of it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

AEI Scholar Says Iranian Bomb Is 'Intolerable'

In an Op-Ed in USA Today, Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute and a member of the State Department's Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion, toes the line of the Bush administration and hypes the threat of Iran's nuclear program. Muravchik writes: "Our choice is stark. Accept Iran with an atom bomb or cripple its nuclear program by force. Nothing else will stop Tehran."

Muravchik is in favor of military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities and argues that the President alone is positioned to carry out such strikes. He states: "Only strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities can forestall these terrible scenarios. This would not require a 'declaration of war,' an antiquated concept that has not been employed since World War II and rarely before. We would send no troops, conquer no land. Rather, we would act in pre-emptive self-defense...Congress can block presidential action, but in this case, most members will be satisfied to stand clear and let the president do what must be done."

Once again, the issue of resolving Iran's nuclear program is being framed as war or capitulation, but this is a false choice. It is also false to suggest that Iran's nuclear program poses an imminent threat to the United States. Yes, this is a challenging situation and its resolution has serious implications for the global nonproliferation regime. However, the reality is, there is time, albeit limited, for the U.S. to engage in direct talks with Iran without preconditions to resolve all outstanding issues. There is no reason to rush towards military confrontation. And, let's be clear, Muravchik is making the case for another preventive attack, not a pre-emptive one.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Amazing Slides of Iran

With all of the spin in the mainstream media about Iran, it can become so easy to buy into the demonization of the entire country. A colleague forwarded me a link to Jadid Online. It has some amazing slide shows of life in Iran and it covers a wide range of issues from the Iranian perspective. My favorite so far is "The Heart and Soul of Isfahan." These slide shows really put a human face on what we, by and large, do not see here in the mainstream media - a complex and nuanced picture of a 7,000-year civilization.

New Resource Outlining Presidential Candidate Positions on Iran

The New York Times has compiled the positions of all the presidential candidates on Iran in an easily accessible format. And speaking of candidates positions on Iran, here is an excellent article by John Isaacs on the subject.

Will Sanctions on Iran Work?

Professor emeritus of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia Ruhi Ramazani published a new opinion editorial yesterday entitled "Sanctions on Iran: Will They Work?" It is one of the few articles in the media that addresses why, in fact, U.S. unilateral sanctions are likely to fail.

The Bush administration is couching unilateral sanctions as part of the its diplomatic efforts. Because of the intensified rhetoric against Iran emanating from the administration, sanctions are more palatable to Congress and the public when they are faced with the false choice of war or capitulation. To make matters more complicated, unfortunately, many foreign policy heavy weights are lining up behind the sanctions option because they do not understand Iranian behavior and they believe this is somehow the best approach. Professor Ramazani argues that while much of U.S. policy has focused on economic considerations, it has failed to take into account the psychological and political factors inside Iran, factors that are far more important.

Ramazani writes: "Historically, Iranian national sentiment soars in the face of foreign pressure. Like the leaders of the past, the current regime can benefit internally from resisting coercion by foreign powers such as the United States." He then succinctly articulates the history of interventions in Iran's political structure from the 19th century to present that have contributed to the "profound Iranian cultural, psychological and political realities" of today that make "America's newly expanded unilateral sanctions likely to fail, as have all previous sanctions since the United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980."

Ramazani concludes:
"Diplomacy, rather than pressure or military action, remains the most realistic option. American and Iranian ambassadors in Baghdad will soon renew discussions on Iraqi security. Yet to resolve the nuclear standoff between the US and Iran, unconditional and direct negotiations at higher levels are essential to avoid a military collision."

[Special thanks to Scott Harrop for sending along the article.]

Thursday, November 15, 2007

IAEA Releases Report on Iran

The Institute for Science and International Security has posted the new International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran on its website. Keep in mind the United Nations Security Council has been waiting for this report to determine how to proceed on a new round of sanctions on Iran. When I have a chance to review more closely, I'll post more analysis.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A New Sanctions Bill, Surprise, Surprise

On November 13, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) introduced HCR 257, a concurrent resolution expressing concern regarding arms transfers to Iran and Syria by the Russian Federation andentities in the Russian Federation and urging the President of theUnited States to implement sanctions against such entities found to be in violation of United States law prohibiting arms transfers to Iran and Syria. It was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) are all original co-sponsors on the bill. The text of the legislation is not yet available in Thomas, but I'll post when it is.

Iranians and Americans Take Diplomacy Into Their Own Hands

To facilitate people-to-people diplomacy, Enough Fear designed an action to connect Americans and Iranians who otherwise would never have the opportunity to talk with each other. Yesterday, they launched their first diplomatic hotline in Boston Commons which gave the opportunity to passers-by to speak directly to someone in Iran.

According to the AP article on the action, which was picked up by several papers, WBUR in Boston and NPR, Sarah Shugars, 24, an Emerson College master's student who was the first to take the phone, asked the Iranian on the other end of the line, “May I ask how the U.S. is portrayed in the media?” A 25-year-old artist on the other end in Iran, whose name and hometown could not be identified for fear of Iranian reprisals, responded, “Iranians don't have a problem with the American people, and it's just the president that's problematic and giving them a hard time.”

While the governments of the US and Iran have not engaged in direct diplomacy at official levels for decades, this citizen action allows ordinary citizens in both countries to connect with each other and demonstrate a willingness to resolve tensions through dialogue and diplomacy. Nick Jehlen said that 15 to 20 people took advantage of the opportunity during the hour-long effort yesterday. Nick noted it was a test run for an action that could be repeated in other cities. I’ve announced in my monthly “Iran Update” e-newsletter and Enough Fear is looking for volunteers in other cities.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Iran Nuclear Update

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency held another round of talks on November 8, 2007 in Vienna to resolve questions regarding the country’s nuclear program. The meeting took place just before the IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei is set to deliver a report on November 22 to the IAEA Board of Governors on the status of progress to setting outstanding questions on Iran’s nuclear program. The content of the report is a key factor in the decision to move forward with a third round of sanctions in the United Nations Security Council, as stipulated in a September 28, 2007 Statement from P5+2 (Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. plus Germany in consultation with the High Commissioner of the European Union) and reaffirmed during a meeting of those countries in Britain last week.

Following the last round of talks between the IAEA and Iran last week, Iran said it had provided all information the IAEA needed to remove ambiguities about its development of centrifuge machines. However, the IAEA has withheld comment on the progress of the action plan agreed to with Iran in August to resolve outstanding questions one by one.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to press for further sanctions on Iran within the UN Security Council, but reaffirmed with the European Union, Russia and China that it is offering negotiations conditioned on Iran's suspension of enrichment and reprocessing activities. President Bush recently said that

On November 7, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran's nuclear program was irreversible and insisted that his country had 3,000 centrifuges in its underground Natanz facility. Although he has made this claim before, he seemed to be suggesting the machines were in full operation. While diplomats and analysts agree that Iran now appears to have nearly 3,000 centrifuges installed, they see no evidence that they are being run together or all being fed with uranium for enrichment.

However, the Bush administration continues to hype the threat of the nuclear program. On October 17, President Bush stated in a press conference that he “told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” President Bush also defended his comments in a November 7 television interview. In a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on October 21, Vice President Dick Cheney stated, “The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, chief analyst for Israel's military intelligence, told the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on November 6 that if Iran's nuclear program goes unchecked, it could produce warheads by the end of 2009 or the beginning of 2010. On November 8, 2007 Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz called for International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed ElBaradei to be removed as head of the agency, saying he had turned a blind eye to Iran's nuclear ambitions. ElBaradei raised the ire of many Israeli officials after telling France's Le Monde newspaper that Iran would need "between three and eight years" to develop a nuclear bomb and that there is no immediate threat. ElBaradei said, “I want to get people away from the idea that Iran represents a clear and present danger and that we're now facing the decision whether to bombard Iran or let them have the bomb. We're not in that situation at all.”

Presidential Candidate Statements on Iran

The Friends Committee on National Legislation has compiled the major presidential candidates’ statements and votes on Iran, among other issues. This information is now available in a comprehensive report on their website and can be downloaded as a pdf document.

Oakland Passes Resolution Against Iran War

On Tuesday, November 6, the City Council of Oakland, CA voted unanimously to pass a symbolic resolution calling on Congress to stop the Bush administration from such an attack. Councilmember Jane Brunner said that articles on Iran in newspapers recently reminded her of the Bush administration's justification for war in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq five years ago. Councilmember Nancy Nadel joined Brunner in introducing the resolution. During the debate, about 15 public speakers offered their thoughts on the Iran resolution during the meeting, all of them speaking in favor of it. Nadel said her office did receive one phone call from someone questioning why the council didn't spend its time filling potholes, rather than passing political resolutions. She responded: “All I can say is if we had the billions of dollars that are being wasted on the war, we could fill an awful lot of potholes.” Cities for Progress and Code Pink, along with Iranian, peace and other concerned groups helped organize the campaign for the resolution.

Senator McCaskill Expresses Concern About Backdoor Military Action

Today, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) expressed concern over the Bush Administration’s provocative rhetoric against Iran. In a letter to supporters, she writes:

"My father, a World War II veteran, instilled in me an appreciation of our armed forces, and the young men and women who have done so much to protect the freedoms we cherish. He taught me to appreciate the gravity of warfare, and that war should be pursued only when there are simply no alternatives available.

"The Iraq conflict represents the unfortunate result when these principles are ignored, and I will continue to do everything in my power to force the President to change course. But Congress must be equally vigilant to ensure that new flashpoints in the Middle East do not follow the same failed course as our Iraq policy.

"In particular, I have been concerned with the Bush Administration's provocative rhetoric on Iran, and I am using my seat in the United States Senate to remind the President that military action requires the express consent of Congress. I have resisted efforts to provide what I would call "backdoor" approval for military action in that country. Last month, the Senate considered an amendment that would categorize Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a "foreign terrorist organization". To me, adoption of this amendment could essentially provide approval of military action against Iran, especially by this Administration. I am also concerned that this amendment was debated without the benefit of a single hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which I am a member.

"I voted against the amendment, and this month joined Senator Jim Webb and other Senate Democrats in a letter to President Bush stating, "We wish to emphasize that no congressional authority exists for unilateral military action against Iran."

"If Iraq has taught us anything, it is that we must be aggressive and vigilant in stopping President Bush and Vice President Cheney from dragging us into new military quagmires. I will continue to do everything in my power to prevent this from happening."

Senator Claire McCaskill

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

House Passes Anti-Iran Resolution

On November 5, after only five minutes of debate and not a single member of Congress questioning or speaking in opposition, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted by voice vote H. RES. 435, “Expressing concern relating to the threatening behavior of the Iranian regime and its leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the activities of terrorist organizations sponsored by that regime in Latin America.” The resolution was introduced by Rep. Rob Klein (R-FL) and had 43 co-sponsors when it came up for a vote under the suspension of the rules.

H.RES. 435 expresses concern for collaboration between Iran and Venezuela, and for Iran's growing influence in the Western Hemisphere.

Among other things, the resolution alleges:
“Whereas Iran and Hizbollah were involved in the two deadliest terrorist attacks in Argentina: the March 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed 29 people and the July 1994 attack against the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA), which killed 85 people;

“Whereas the Government of Argentina is currently seeking legal action against the perpetrators of the 1994 AMIA terrorist attack;

However, in an article entitled “Argentina’s Iranian Nuke Connection” published last year, Gareth Porter writes that he did not find any evidence to support the indictments or any charge of Iranian responsibility or Hezbollah involvement:

“Less than three weeks after that Iranian bid for negotiations, on March 17, 2002, a bomb blast destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 26 people. Argentina, the US and Israel have long maintained that Iran was responsible for both that blast and the bombing of the AMIA headquarters in July 1994. ”But it seems unlikely that Iranian leaders would have ordered or knowingly supported any terror bombing in Buenos Aires just when they were concerned with nailing down an agreement to protect their important interests in relations with Argentina.”

He also notes: “The investigation of the 1994 bombing by the Argentine judiciary, which has no political independence from the executive branch, has had little credibility with the public, because of a bribe by the lead judge to a key witness and a pattern of deceptive accounts based on false testimony.”

Gareth is also working on a new critical analysis of this issue regarding the role of the Argentine case against the Iranians and the history of the US role in the case. I will post when it is available.