Sunday, July 29, 2007

Double Whammy on House Suspension Calendar

I have been posting for the last two weeks that we should be expecting these bills to come up any time and now they are set on the House Suspension Calendar for Monday, July 30.

H.R. 957 - To amend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 to expand and clarify the entities against which sanctions may be imposed (Rep. Ros-Lehtinen – Foreign Affairs)

H.R. 2347 – Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007 (Rep. Frank – Financial Services)

It seems highly unlikely that either of these bills will fail to pass in the House. Most Members of Congress seem to think that rhetorically beating up on Iran scores them political points. Most have failed to grasp that concept that ramping up rhetoric and sanctions threats against Tehran only undermines US diplomatic efforts and strengthens the case being made by the hardliners inside of Iran.

Rather than ramping up threats, Congress should press for more sustained direct talks with Iran. Iranian expert Professor William Beeman published an excellent article about how the US should negotiate with Iran entitled "How to Talk the Talk with Iran." It can be read here, below the first article.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Congress Could Consider Iran Divestment Bill Next Week

On July 26, H.R. 2347, which would enable state divestment from companies doing business in Iran, passed out of the House Financial Services Committee and could be placed on the Suspension Calendar as early as next Monday, a.k.a, the full House could vote on the bill as early as next week.

H.R. 2347 was introduced in May by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and currently has 43 co-sponsors. Also called the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007, the bill includes the following provisions:

Directs the Secretary of the Treasury to: (1) publish biannually in the Federal Register a list of each person, whether within or outside of the United States, that has an investment of more than $20 million in the energy sector in Iran; and (2) maintain on the website of the Department of the Treasury the names of the persons on such list.

States it is the policy of the United States to support the decision of state and local governments and educational institutions to divest from, and to prohibit the investment of assets they control in, persons that have investments of more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector.

Authorizes a state or local government to adopt and enforce measures to divest its assets from, or prohibit investment of assets in, persons included on the most recent list.

Amends the Investment Company Act of 1940 to shield any registered investment company from civil, criminal, or administrative action based upon its divesting from, or avoiding investing in, securities issued by companies included on such most recent list.

Amends the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to shield from treatment as breaching a fiduciary duty any person divesting plan assets from, or avoiding investing plan assets in, persons included on such most recent list.

Expresses the sense of Congress that the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board should initiate efforts to provide a terror-free international investment option among the funds of the Thrift Savings Fund.

According to the National Foreign Trade Council, H.R. 2347 poses potentially serious consequences for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy and will set a precedent of injecting social or political criteria into investment decisions that could lead to more attempts by State legislatures to divest from future hot-button social issues of the day. NFTC also argues that H.R. 2347 threatens to create a complex web of restrictions and regulations that interfere with the Constitutional right given to the President to conduct foreign policy.

Ironically, a measure in H.R. 180, the “Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act,” which also passed out of Financial Services and could be considered as early as next week, undercuts arguments in favor of H.R. 2347. According to H.R. 180: “Congress acknowledges that divestment should be used sparingly and under extraordinary circumstances,” and H.R. 180 “is based on unique circumstances, specifically, the reprehensible and abhorrent genocide occurring in Sudan.”

Israel Project

The Israel Project has collected statements on Iran from Key Presidential Candidates and Current and Former U.S. Legislators. Statements so far include:

Carol Giacomo also wrote this article about the statements for Reuters.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New Nuclear Weapons Strategy Delivered to Congress

On July 24, 2007, the National Nuclear Security Administration announced that it is delivering the Bush Administration's nuclear weapons strategy to Congress. According to the NNSA press release, the document reiterates that the US will maintain a nuclear weapons stockpile into the future. It also describes the proposed Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) as the best means for ensuring the future nuclear deterrent.

The summary statement delivered by the Secretaries of Energy, Defense and State says that both North Korea and Iran's nuclear weapons program underscore the need for US security guarantees to key allies around the world. It also says that a credible U.S. nuclear capabilities "remain an indispensable part of deterrence and an inmportant element in our effort to limit proliferation." (Hopefully there is a longer version as this one is only three pages. I will post it if I get my hands on it.)

This statement lies in stark contrast to the language in the Senate Armed Services Committee Report on the FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill. The report also references the difficulty of solving the Iran and North Korea nuclear issues if Congress gives a green light to new US nuclear weapons programs, such the Reliable Replacement Warhead.

Page 626 of the full report (pg. 648 in Adobe Acrobat pdf) reads: “Historically, the United States has sought to prevent the development of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear weapons states by being the world leader for nonproliferation. Many critics and skeptics of the RRW, including former Senator Sam Nunn, are deeply concerned that if Congress gives a green light to this program, such an action will be ‘misunderstood by our allies, exploited by our adversaries, complicate our work to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons . . . and make resolution of the Iran and North Korea challenges all the more difficult.’”

The continued US reliance on nuclear weapons as a cornerstone of its national security policy is contrary to its international obligations to pursue nuclear disaramament. It is also contrary to US interests in nonproliferation. It is hypocritical for the US to tell countries that it can not pursue a nuclear program while it is trying to revitalize its own arsenal.

It also seems a worthwhile exercise to recall that the 2002 National Security Strategy outlined the Bush administration's willingness to engage in preemptive war, including the possibility of using nuclear weapons; and to recall the 2001 US Nuclear Posture Review which outlined contingency plans for use of nuclear weapons against seven named countries, including Iran and other non-nuclear weapons states.

Today's Dose of SSP

In case you are wondering what "SSP" is, it's the acronym for "shameless self-promotion." Today, I was quoted in a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty article on the next round of US-Iran talks regarding stabilizing Iraq. Essentially, the point I was trying to make is that the talks themselves are set-up for failure and there steps that the US and Iran can both take to change this.

While I think it is a good thing that the two countries are at least meeting, there are several hinderances to progress. For starters, pointing fingers at each other in between meetings and during meetings certainly doesn't help matters. Also, the long intervals between meetings should be shortened and lower-level talks should occur to keep the communication flow going. It is my personal opinion that these talks should remain focussed on Iraq and if there is progress made on this topic, it could lay the groundwork for future talks on other outstanding issues between the two countries.

I also believe that the IAEA-Iran talks and the EU-3/Iran talks should of course be pursued in parallel.

Monday, July 23, 2007

North Korean Model

The US State Deparment is touting the North Korean nuclear reactor shut down as a "very important first step." Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill has said that he is very satisfied with how the six-party talks concluded last week and with the vision laid out for moving forward.

The progress with North Korea over its nuclear program demonstrates the value of strong diplomacy in resolving tough situations. The Administration should adopt a similar approach and engage Iran in a sustained dialogue without preconditions in order to find a negotiated solution to its nuclear program.

Here is an article published over the weeked about a group of religious leaders who lauded the administration for pursuing diplomacy with North Korea and urged a similar strategy for dealing with Iran's nuclear program.

Text of H.R. 3119

Here is the text of H.R. 3119, introduced by Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) on July 19, 2007. The legislation is the companion bill to Senator Jim Webb's S. 759.

H.R. 3119 was referred to both House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the House Armed Services Committee.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rep. Udall Introduces Iran Legislation

On Thursday, July 19, Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) legislation to prohibit the use of funds for military operations in Iran without Congressional authorization. The legislation is a companion bill to Sen. Jim Webb's (D-VA) S. 759

Below is the full text of Rep. Udall's introduction of the legislation into the House of Representatives. When the bill is available, I will add it.

of Colorado
in the House of Representatives
Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Madam Speaker, today I am introducing a bill to prevent the Bush Administration from launching war in Iran without prior congressional authorization. It is a companion bill to S. 759, authored by Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.

This is not a unique proposal--several of our colleagues in the House have introduced resolutions expressing the sense of Congress that the President should not initiate military action against Iran without first obtaining authorization from Congress.

This legislation would establish a binding legal limit on the ability of the President to expend funds to commence military action against Iran in the absence of explicit prior congressional authorization.

I think several factors require Congress to insist that the President meet that requirement before committing this country to another war. Those factors include this administration's inability or unwillingness to engage with the Iranian regime, the stated interest on the part of many administration officials and political supporters in attacking Iran, and the U.S. deployment of additional aircraft carrier groups to the Persian Gulf.

These have led many--likely including the Iranian regime--to think the U.S. is intent on preparing a military strike against Iran. While that perception could be far from the mark, I think there is no doubt that there are increased risks of confrontation brought on by heightened tensions in the region.

If we've learned nothing else from the war in Iraq, we should have learned that saber rattling doesn't get us far--especially when the tough rhetoric comes from an administration with a history of mismanaging the war in Iraq, a war that is in its fifth year of straining our military and depleting our Nation's blood and treasure.

As I said in 2002--before voting against the resolution authorizing war in Iraq--I am reluctant to vest in the President all discretion about when and where America will go to war. I thought then and I think today that Congress, which has the constitutional responsibility to declare war, must play a more significant role in authorizing the use of our armed forces in what could become a full-scale war.

My purpose in introducing this legislation is to reassert Congress's constitutional responsibility and to remind the Bush Administration of the important role that Congress plays when it comes to matters of war and peace.

I recognize that the President, as commander-in-chief, must have some flexibility in deciding whether to allow U.S. forces to conduct intelligence gathering and to directly respond to attacks or possible attacks from Iran. That's why my legislation makes exceptions for these contingencies.

Madam Speaker, my introduction of this legislation should not be seen as evidence that I deny the reality of the potential danger Iran presents to our country, our allies, and others.

The prospect of an Iran with nuclear weapons is a matter of serious concern for America and the rest of the world. Since the revelation of its nuclear program, Iran has defied the international community by continuing to work to advance it, Iran's president has publicly stated his intention to “wipe Israel off the map,” and there is evidence that Iran is arming insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So it is no surprise that there are also reports--as recently as last month--that the internal debate on Iran among the White House, State Department, and Defense Department is heating up, and that the mood is shifting back toward military action against Iran. My bill responds to those reports by reasserting the basic principle that Congress must consent before the president can take such action.

Sending our troops into harm's way is a decision that affects all Americans, as we've learned the hard way in Iraq. So before this president makes any more rash decisions about going to war, I believe he must come to Congress for authorization to commence military action.

The bill I am introducing today--like its companion in the Senate--is intended to do one thing: to restore the balance between the executive and legislative branches with regard to authorizing large-scale military activities. It is a balance that needs restoring after the mismanagement of the war in Iraq, and it is a balance we should be watching closely as some in the Administration continue to discuss presidential authority to wage war in contravention of the Constitution.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Yesterday, the Iranian government aired the first of a two-part series of "confessions" of Iranian-American academics Haleh Esfandiari, Kian Tajbakhsh and Iranian-Canadian academic Ramin Jahanbaglou on Tehran Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 1 in Persian. All of the academics have been detained under charges of violating the national security of Iran. The reality is that the academics are merely victims of an estranged relationship between the US and Iran and the resulting Cold War-like paranoid atmosphere.

The English transcript of the program attempts to link the work of the academics to network scholars, researchers and journalists representing a wide range of views on Middle Eastern issues, to the Bush administration's agenda for a "velvet revolution" or regime change in Iran. Between "confessions" of the academics, the program cuts back and forth to footage from Georgia and the protests that led to the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze, Ukraine's Orange Revolution and the 2005 protests in Kyrgyzstan, apparently in attempts to make the parallel between the uprisings there.

Below are a few excerpts from the English transcript. There is clearly no evidence of misconduct by the academics. Their confessions mostly demonstrate the Iranian government's fear of being criticized. But the airing of these so-called confessions may also mean that the release of the Haleh, Kian, Ramin and other academics may be near.

"The program cuts to Ramin Jahanbaglou who says that David Cameron introduced him to Democracy magazine and he wrote an article about Iranian intellectuals for the magazine. That is how I met Mark Plattner who is one of the managers of the NED or the National Endowment for Democracy in the US. Mr Plattner contacted me in 2001 and told me that there are some fellowship that are starting this year and if you could come to the US in October. That is where my contact with American political institutions started."

"The program goes to Haleh Esfandiari who is saying the goal of the Iran programme was that when a speaker comes from Iran and speaks at a centre as important as the Wilson Institute, policymakers come to listen to them speak. In Washington policymakers are people who work for government, people who work for congress, people who work for intelligence agencies, the mass media, foundation people, academics and researchers. In other words, policymaker encompasses a varied group."

"The program cuts to Kian Tajbakhsh who is saying that the first aspect isthe project and overt objective; the second aspect is institution buildingand network building and the third aspect are the long-term goals of theSoros Foundation which is to create open societies."

"The program then cuts back to Haleh Esfandiari who says that universities and foundations work together, foundation give fellowships for example Mr. Sazegarha has research grant this year from Harvard University. The government plays two roles in relation to Iran. One is to make use of the analyses about Iran that are presented at conferences and meet people who come from Iran. Second is the budget that is allocated for Iran that budget goes to research institutions, universities, civil society and foundations. The objective is to bring about change in Iranian decision-making institutions."

"The program cuts back to Kian Tajbakhsh who says the fact that the American government gave permission to Soros to work in Iran shows that inspite of the differences between Soros and the Bush Administration, they have the same agenda where Iran is concerned."

Parting the Veil

"A World of Possibilities," a progressive radio show based in California, has a new show titled "Parting the Veil: the Struggle for Human and Women's Rights in Iran." The show features Shaul Bakhash, Roya Boroumand, Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, Omid Memarian, Fariba Davoodi Mohajer. You can listen to it here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Defense Authorization Bill Put Aside for Now

Today, the Senate cloture vote on the Levin (D-MI) - Reed (D-RI) “bring the troops home from the Iraq war” amendment to the Defense Authorization bill for Fiscal Year 2008 was 52 – 47. (In reality, the vote was 53 - 46; Majority Leader Harry Reid changed his vote at the end so that he could move to reconsider the motion. Special thanks to John Isaacs for his explanation of this process.)

After the cloture vote, the Defense Authorization Bill was removed from the Senate floor. It is now possible that the bill may not be reconsidered until September after General Patraeus and Ambassador Crocker give their next “progress” report on how the administration’s surge plan is going.

So, what does all this have to do with Iran? Well for starters, it means that Sen. Gordon Smith’s amendment to attach his S. 970 Iran sanctions legislation to the Defense Authorization Act won’t come up until the bill is brought back to the Senate floor.

NWI Issues Statement on Haleh

Yesterday, the Nobel Women's Initiative (NWI) issued this statement regarding Haleh Esfandiari's case. Shirin Ebadi, is one of the co-founders of NWI and also Haleh's lawyer.

A portion of the statement reads:

"Dr. Esfandiari’s harassment began even earlier than her arrest on May 8. Dr. Esfandiari went to Tehran in December 2006 to visit her 93 year old mother. On December 30, on her way to the airport to fly back to her home in the United States, she was stopped by three masked, knife-wielding men who took away all her belongings, including her American and Iranian passports.

Prevented from leaving the country, she was subjected to over 50 hours of interrogation by officials of the Ministry of Intelligence, subjected to intimidation and threatened with graver consequences if she did not “cooperate” with the authorities. Such interrogation methods continued after her unjustified incarceration in Evin Prison.

Iranian authorities apparently wish to charge her with actions against national security. Such charges are entirely without foundation.

In her work at the Wilson Center, Dr. Esfandiari has strived to provide a forum for exchanges among scholars, researchers and journalists representing a wide range of views on Middle Eastern issues. She has been a tireless promoter of and believer in dialogue between Iran and the international community. She has devoted a lifetime to the advancement of women’s rights in the Middle East."

Click here and here for more info on how US policy is affecting the arrest of Iranian Americans.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Expect A Lot of Sanctions Talk This Week

On Friday, July 13, H.R.957, to amend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 to expand and clarify the entities against which sanctions may be imposed, was discharged from the Financial Services and Ways and Means Committees and placed on the calendar to receive floor consideration. So far, it has not shown up on the Suspension Calendar for this week, but could at any time.

Additionally, Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) filed his bill S. 970 as amendment No. 2166 to the National Defense Authorization Act to expand and strengthen sanctions on Iran and countries that deal with Iran. This is the exact move made by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) last year and defeated 53-46 despite the fact that his sanctions bill had 56 co-sponsors at the time.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Senate Passes Amendment on Iranian Missile Threat

For a bill that was going to focus on the Iraq issue, a fair amount of debate has focused on Iran and Iran bashing.

On July 12, the Senate voted 90 to 5 to pass a modified version of Sen. Sessions (R-AL) amendment No. 2024 to the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization Act. The amendment states that it should be the policy of the United States to develop and deploy, as soon as technologically possible, an effective defense against “the threat from Iran,” and that any U.S. missile defense system in Europe should be complementary to any missile defense system fielded by NATO.

Click here to view the modified version of the amendment.

Ms. Feinstein, Mr. Leahy, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Tester and Mr. Webb were the only Senators to vote “no” on the amendment.

Mr. Biden, Mr. Dodd, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Obama and Mr. Vitter didn't vote.

New Round of IAEA and Iran Talks Ends with Modality

Two days of talks between the International Atomic Energy Agency led by Olli Heinonen and Iranian nuclear negotiators led by Javad Vaeedi ended today with an agreement on what they are calling a “modality” for moving forward on negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. The “modality” includes four to five steps in the next two to three weeks to resolve outstanding issues. Jeffrey Lewis posted on what he prefers to call the "action plan" here.

The Other Lieberman

Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman said on July 10 that he received the tacit blessing of Europe and the United States for an Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. According to Lieberman: "If we start military operations against Iran alone, then Europe and the US will support us."

Both European and US officials should be probed about this claim immediately.

Modified Lieberman Amendment

Here is the modified version of the Lieberman (I-CT), McCain, Kly, Graham, Coleman, Collins, Sessions, Levin, Salazar and Craig amendment No. 2073 to the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed 97-0 on July 11. As noted before, the amendment accuses Iran of assisting forces in Iraq that are contributing to the destabilization of Iraq and the murders of Americans, demanding that Iran cease those activities and requiring the Administration to report to Congress concerning Iran's activities there and responses to those activities. Most notably, the changed version closed with the sentence: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize or otherwise speak to the use of Armed Forces against Iran.”

Other modifications include requiring input of the Director of National Intelligence in producing reports; issuing the overdue National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (there hasn’t been one for more than 18 months, but rumor has it, one may be produced before the August recess); and supporting diplomacy to stop threats against the US.

Senator Levin insisted on striking the words “of hostility” from the following “Sense of Congress passage”: “the murder of members of the United States armed forces by a foreign government or its agents is an intolerable and unacceptable act of hostility against the United States.”

The amendment had the full support of the Senate and not a single Senator challenged any of the allegations presented in the resolution.

Click here for the original version of the amendment. Click here for the Bush administration’s Statement of Policy on amendments to the Defense Authorization Bill.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Senate Passes Lieberman's Iran Amendment

This afternoon, the Senate voted 97 to 0 to pass Senator Lieberman’s amendment on Iran (Amendment 2073) to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (H.R. 1585).
Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-MI) called for unanimous consent on the amendment and became a co-sponsor himself, after Mr. Lieberman agreed to modifications that supposedly will include language to ensure that the amendment will not have appearances to authorize military force against Iran.

You can find the original amendment here. When the modified amendment is available, I will post it. You can also find the Bush administration’s Statement of Policy on Iran in the Defense Authorization bill here.

Mr. Lieberman's amendment essentially calls for regular reporting on the Iranian role in Iraq, but it includes of a lot rhetoric without evidence that has been rigorously substantiated. The issue of Iran's role in Iraq is very muddied.

The reality is that if the US wants to leave Iraq successfully, it is going to need a lot of help from the Iranians. Rather than tit-for-tat escalation, a wiser approach would be for the US to directly engage Iran in dialogue and solutions for a stable Iraq.

Statement of Bush Administration Policy on Iran in the Defense Authorization Bill

On July 10, the Bush administration released its Statement of Policy on S. 1547, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. Regarding Iran, the Statement of Policy states:

"Amendments on Iran: The Administration strongly opposes amendments to the bill to restrict the ability of the United States to deal effectively with the threats to regional security posed by the conduct of Iran, including Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The Administration also notes that provisions of law that purport to direct or prohibit international negotiations, covert action, or use of the armed forces are inconsistent with the Constitution’s commitment exclusively to the presidency of the executive power, the function of Commander-in-Chief, and the authority to conduct the Nation’s foreign policy. If the bill were presented to the President with provisions that would prevent the President from protecting America and allied and cooperating nations from threats posed by Iran, the President’ senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."

Iranian Attitudes Redux

Yesterday, I posted on the new Iran survey conducted for Terror Free Tomorrow. Here is the actual survey, which is far more informative than the Washington Post article would have us believe. Key Findings are below.

Polling Iranian Public Opinion: An Unprecedented Nationwide Survey of Iran

Discontent with the current system of government, the state of Iran's economy, and isolation from the West is widespread throughout Iran. In this context, nuclear weapons are the lowest priority for the Iranian people.

Iranians even overwhelmingly support their government providing full inspections and a guarantee not to develop nuclear weapons in return for trade and assistance from other countries. The popular will to live in a democracy open to the West and the United States, with greater economic opportunity, comes from every region and segment of Iranian society.

These are among the significant findings of the first nationwide public opinion survey of Iran on these issues since President Ahmadinejad took office in August 2005. The survey was conducted by telephone from June 5th to June 18th, 2007, with 1,000 interviews proportionally distributed according to the population covering all 30 provinces of Iran, with a margin of error of +/- 3.1%. The last poll to ask similar controversial questions was conducted in September 2003 by Abbas Abdi inside Iran, who was imprisoned as a result.

Developing nuclear weapons was seen as a very important priority for the Iranian government by only 29% of Iranians. By contrast, 88% of Iranians considered improving the Iranian economy as a very important priority for their government.

Rather, 80% of Iranians favor Iran providing full inspections and a guarantee not to develop or possess nuclear weapons in return for outside aid. A majority of Iranians (52%) also favor the development of nuclear weapons and believe that the people of Iran would live in a safer world if Iran possessed nuclear weapons. However, support for nuclear weapons drops to below 17% if Iran were to receive outside assistance in return for full inspections and a guarantee not to have nuclear weapons.

68% of Iranians also favor normal relations and trade with the United States. In return for normal relations, a majority of Iranians favor recognizing Israel and Palestine as independent states, ending Iranian support for any armed groups inside Iraq, and full transparency by Iran to the United States to ensure there are no Iranian endeavors to develop nuclear weapons.Yet the most significant finding of our survey for Iran's present rulers may be the Iranian people's opposition to their current system of government.

61% of Iranians were willing to tell our pollsters over the phone that they oppose the current Iranian system of government, where the Supreme Leader rules according to religious principles and cannot be chosen or replaced by direct vote of the people.

Even more telling, however, more than 79% of Iranians support a democratic system instead, where the Supreme Leader, along with all leaders, can be chosen and replaced by a free and direct vote of the people.

Only 11% of Iranians said that they would strongly oppose having a political system where all of their leaders, including the Supreme Leader, are chosen by popular election. 80% of Iranians also oppose a return to monarchy.

Iranians across all demographic groups oppose the unelected rule of the Supreme Leader in favor of electing all their leaders. While these views run stronger in Tehran, they are also held across all provinces of Iran, and in both urban and rural areas.

The survey also leaves no doubt that the Iranian economy is the number one issue of concern for Iranians from every age, region, education level and class. 80% think the present economic situation in Iran is fair or poor, and 9 out of every 10 Iranians believe that creating new jobs and curbing inflation should be very important priorities for their government.

Indeed, three-quarters favor Western investment to create more jobs, as well as medical, education and humanitarian assistance from Western countries to Iranian people in need. Trade and political relations with the West were the second highest priority Iranians chose for their government, after improving the Iranian economy. Support for Western relations in general was also much stronger than support for the United States alone.

The survey had other important findings as well:

* A significant minority of Iranians still support the current system of rule by the Supreme Leader as well as certain policies of President Ahmadinejad, ranging from 23% to 34%;

* Almost two-thirds of Iranians support financial assistance to Palestinian opposition groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Shia militias;

* However, only a third consider the Iranian government providing financial support to these groups as very important, as opposed to 47% who think that seeking trade and political relations with Western countries is very important. In contrast, 88% of the public want improvement in their economy to be the top priority of the Iranian government, with developing nuclear weapons last at 29%;

* While nearly two-thirds support Hamas and Hezbollah, 55%of Iranians would also endorse recognizing Israel and Palestine each as separate, independent states, as part of achieving normal relations with the United States;

* 78% of Iranians strongly favor the development of nuclear energy, but only 33% strongly favor nuclear weapons;

* 56% of Iranians stated that President Ahmadinejad has failed to keep his campaign promise to "put oil money on the table of the people themselves;"

* France, the European Union and China were preferred by Iranians to the United States;* Iranians chose normal trade with China and France by a nearly 2 to 1 margin over the United States.

* Similarly, 73% of Iranians would favor a medical humanitarian hospital ship to visit Iran, with that percentage holding steady if the ship comes from China or Europe, but dropping to 42% if the ship is American and only 21% if the ship is Israeli.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lieberman Offers Iran Amendment to Defense Authorization Bill

Senator Lieberman (I-CT) will introduce an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Appropriations bill to "require a report on support provided by the government of Iran for attacks against coalition forces in Iraq."

Click here to download and view the amendment in its entirety.

New Poll on Iranian Attitudes

The Washington Post is running an article about a new poll conducted for Terror Free Tomorrow.

According to the WP article, "Small majorities of Iranians say their country should develop nuclear weapons and they would live in a safer world if Tehran possessed such arms."

The Post also reported, "In the survey, 52 percent of Iranians said they favor their country developing nuclear weapons, with the same percent saying their world would be safer if Tehran acquires such arms. Fifty-two percent also said it is important that Iran use its oil and gas revenue to develop nuclear arms. Yet that compared with nine in 10 who supported using the money to create jobs, tame inflation, buttress the oil and gas industry and develop nuclear power."

However, on the Terror Free Tomorrow website, the organization says the following about the poll:

"Discontent with the current system of government, the state of Iran’s economy, and isolation from the West is widespread throughout Iran. In this context, nuclear weapons are the lowest priority for the Iranian people. Iranians even overwhelmingly support their government providing full inspections and a guarantee not to develop nuclear weapons in return for trade and assistance from other countries. The popular will to live in a democracy open to the West and the United States, with greater economic opportunity, comes from every region and segment of Iranian society. "

Ken Ballen, president of Terror Free Tomorrow, is quoted in the WP article as saying, "They want an opening to the West and to the United States. And nuclear weapons, given their other concerns, are their lowest priority."

The Terror Free Tomorrow website says it will post the full findings on its website soon.

The poll involved calls to 1,000 random Iranian adults nationwide. Interviews were conducted in Farsi from June 5 to 18. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Bush, Putin Call for Joint Action on Nuclear Energy

On July 3, Presidents Bush and Putin issued a joint "Declaration on Nuclear Energy and Nonproliferation," following on a similar joint declaration issued in July 2006. The leaders state that they both share a vision to expand nuclear energy, but it "should be conducted in a way that strengthens the nuclear nonproliferation regime." They also state that "energy and nonproliferation challenges we face today are greater than ever before."

The declaration calls for expanding nuclear energy in the following ways:
• Facilitating the supply of a range of modern, safe, and more proliferation resistant nuclear power reactors and research reactors appropriate to meet the varying energy needs of developing and developed countries.

• Arranging for participation in national and multinational programs to develop requirements for nuclear reactors for participating countries.

• Facilitating and supporting financing to aid construction of nuclear power plants through public and private national and multinational mechanisms, including international financial institutions.

• Providing assistance to states to develop the necessary infrastructure to support nuclear energy, including development of appropriate regulatory frameworks, safety and security programs to assist states in meeting international standards, and training of personnel.

• Developing solutions to deal with the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste, including options for leasing of fuel, storage of spent fuel, and over time development of technology for recycling spent fuel.

• Ensuring that the IAEA has the resources it needs to meet its safeguards responsibilities as nuclear power expands worldwide.

• Supporting expanded IAEA Technical Cooperation to help states build the necessary infrastructure for safe, secure, and reliable operations of nuclear power plants.

• Assisting development and expansion of regional electricity grids, to permit states without nuclear reactors to share in the benefits of nuclear power.

• Providing nuclear fuel services, including taking steps to ensure that the commercial nuclear fuel market remains stable and that states are assured of reliable access to nuclear fuel and fuel services for the lifetime of reactors, including through establishment of international nuclear fuel cycle centers, to provide nuclear fuel cycle services, including uranium enrichment, under IAEA safeguards.

• Supporting negotiation of long-term contracts for power reactors and research reactors, including assured supply of fuel and arrangements for management of spent fuel."

However, a section in pending US legislation (which I've written about here) essentially threatens Russia to end nuclear and missile cooperation with Iran or the US will not enter into any 123 Agreement with Russia, which would be required to make cooperation between the US and Russia possible.

Monday, July 09, 2007

New Satellite Imagery at Natanz

David Albright and Paul Brannan at the Institute for Science and International Security have released new images showing new tunnel construction near the Natanz enrichment complex. Albright and Brannan postulate that the Iranians could building the facility to safely store nuclear items in order to protect them from an aerial attack, but note that other uses are possible.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Famous Iranians

This is much less substantive than a normal post, but it's Saturday night and I'm on my computer, is a video circulating on YouTube about famous Iranians and famous people of Iranian descent. The goal of video is to put a human face to Iran with which mainstream America can identify.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Senate Foreign Ops Bill

Below is the Senate Foreign Operations Bill Conference Report language on Iran for FY 2008 appropriations. The Committee only appropriated $25,000,000 of the administration request of $75,000,000 for democracy assistance in Iran. It also includes language regarding identifying grantees. This language was not included in the House version of the bill, which appropriated $50,000,000 to democracy assistance.

"Iran – The Committee supports the goals of promoting democracy in Iran, but received a total of only one page of justification material for the request of $75,000,000 for this program. The Department of State has also declined the Congress’ requests to publicly identify grantees under this program. The Committee is particularly concerned that grantees who receive U.S. assistance have been harassed and arrested by the Government of Iran for their pro-democracy programs in Iran, and recommends the administration seek future funding for these activities under a different appropriations function. The Committee also provides $22,287,000 for broadcasting, including Radio Farda, to Iran by VOA and RFE/RL in title I of the act."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

US Escalates Pressure on Iran

Yesterday, the US escalated allegations regarding Iranian involvement in Iraq claiming that its Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (also known as Revolutionary Guards or IRGC) and its covert unit the Qods force played a role in an attack that killed five Americans and was using Lebanese militants to train Iraqi insurgents. Previous allegations have been off the record. Army Brigadier General Kevin Bergner conducted the public briefing.

In response, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) reiterated the need to keep open the possibility of using military force against Iran, but stopped short of advocating an immediate military strike.

For criticism of the New York Times reporting of the press conference with Gen. Bergner, read Greg Mitchell's article in Editor and Publisher entitled "Consider the Source: NYT Reporter Targets Iran."

Global View of US Plummets

A new poll conducted by The Pew Research Center and released on June 27, 2007 find that the image of the US around the world has plummeted, "including sharp drops in favorability among traditional allies in Western Europe, as well as substantial declines in Latin America, the Middle East, and elsewhere."

Of Iran-related interest is the view on US democracy promotion. US democracy promotion is seen as inconsistent (page 5 of the poll). Majorities in 43 of 47 countries surveyed – including 63% in the United States – say that the US promotes democracy mostly where it serves its interests, rather than promoting it wherever it can.