Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Another Letter to the President on Iran

Today, Steve Clemons obtained and posted a letter on his Washington Note blog sent by Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) on October 17 to President Bush. In the letter, Senator Hagel calls on the President to "offer direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with Iran." Steve notes on his blog that he "learned that the letter somehow made its way to US Central Command Commander William Fallon, perhaps through Defense Secretary Gates or other avenues, and Fallon allegedly communicated with the Senator that serious articulations of American interests and consideration of the options Hagel recommends are much needed in this current political and policy environment." He also writes "that while I am in complete agreement with the content of Senator Hagel's letter and had the privilege of moderating a dinner discussion with him yesterday evening, the content of this letter came via other sources to me -- and I trust the Senator and his staff will respect the fact that I felt it important to bring this letter to public attention and have not violated any trust with any person in his office." Below is the full the text of the letter.

October 17, 2007
The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:

I write to urge you to consider pursuing direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran.

In the last two years, the United States has worked closely with the permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, Japan, and other key states as well as the UN Secretary General and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency to pursue a diplomatic strategy regarding Iran's nuclear program. I have supported your efforts. Maintaining a cohesive and united international front remains one of our most effective levers on Iran.

In the last year, you have also authorized our Ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, to hold bilateral talks with Iranian officials regarding the situation in Iraq. I have also supported this effort. Although Iran has continued dangerous actions in Iraq, this channel for dialogue is important.

I am increasingly concerned, however, that this diplomatic strategy is stalling. There are growing differences with our international partners. Concerns remain that the United States' actual objectives is regime change in Iran, not a change in Iran's behavior.

Prospects for further action in the UN Security Council have grown dim, and we appear increasingly reliant on a single-track effort to expand financial pressure on Iran outside of the UN Security Council. Iran's actions, both on its nuclear program and in Iraq, are unchanged. Iran's leaders appear increasingly confident in their positions vis-a-vis the United States.

Unless there is a strategic shift, I believe we will find ourselves in a dangerous and increasingly isolated position in the coming months. I do not see how the collective actions that we are now taking will produce the results that we seek. If this continues, our ability to sustain a united international front will weaken as countries grow uncertain over our motives and unwilling to risk open confrontation with Iran, and we are left with fewer and fewer policy options.

Now is the time for the United States to active consider when and how to offer direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with Iran. The offer should be made even as we continue to work with our allies on financial pressure, in the UN Security Council on a third sanctions resolution, and in the region to support those Middle East countries who share our concerns with Iran. The November report by IAEA Director General ElBaradei to the IAEA Board of Governors could provide an opportunity to advance the offer of bilateral talks.

An approach such as this would strengthen our ability across the board to deal with Iran. Our friends and allies would be more confident to stand with us if we seek to increase pressure, including tougher sanctions on Iran. It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West. We should be prepared that any dialogue process with Iran will take time, and we should continue all efforts, as you have, to engage Iran from a position of strength.

We should not wait to consider the option of bilateral talks until all other diplomatic options are exhausted. At that point, it could well be too late.

I urge you to consider pursing direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran.

Thank you for considering my views.

Best wishes.


Chuck H.

Chuck Hagel
United States Senator

cc: Condoleezza Rice
Robert M. Gates
Stephen J. Hadley

Senate Letter to President Bush on Iran

Last Friday, October 26, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) began circulating a sign-on letter to prevent an "offensive" military confrontation with Iran for signatures by other Senators that will be delivered President Bush. The Council for a Livable World has led the NGO efforts to help get 29 other Senators to sign the letter. The effort is an interim measure short of passing legislation which allowed Senators to go on record stating that they do not believe the President has the authority for unilateral military action against Iran. Below is the actual letter to President Bush.

"We are writing to express serious concerns with the provocative statements and actions stemming from your administration with respect to possible U.S. military action in Iran. These comments are counterproductive and undermine efforts to resolve tensions with Iran through diplomacy.

"We wish to emphasize that no congressional authority exists for unilateral military action against Iran, including the Senate vote on September 26, 2007 on an amendment to the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. This amendment, expressing the sense of the Senate on Iran and the recent designation of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, should in no way be interpreted as a predicate for the use of military force in Iran.

"We stand ready to work with your administration to address the challenges presented by Iran in a manner that safeguards our security interests and promotes a regional diplomatic solution. At the same time, we wish to emphasize that no offensive military action would be justified against Iran without the express consent of Congress."

1. Webb
2. Akaka
3. Baucus
4. Boxer
5. Brown
6. Byrd
7. Cantwell
8. Carper
9. Casey
10. Clinton
11. Dodd
12. Dorgan
13. Durbin
14. Feinstein
15. Harkin
16. Johnson
17. Kerry
18. Klobuchar
19. Kohl
20. Leahy
21. McCaskill
22. Mikulski
23. Murray
24. Reed
25. Rockefeller
26. Sanders
27. Stabenow
28. Tester
29. Whitehouse
30. Wyden

Monday, October 29, 2007

New Bi-Partisan Resolution on Congressional War-Making Powers

On October 25, 2007 Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), Reps Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) and Ron Paul (R-TX) and Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA) held a press conference last week to announce H. J. Res. 53 introduced on September 25, 2007 to restore the constitutional checks and balances over declaring war.

Although the bill does not specifically mention Iran, it is clearly meant to reassert the Congressional war-making power to prevent such a conflict.

Rep. Jones said, “The framers of our Constitution sought to decentralize the war powers of the United States and construct a balance between the political branches. Throughout American history, this balance too often has been ignored. Since U.S. involvement in Korea, presidents of both parties have used military force abroad without the consent of Congress. Our Constitution states that – while the Commander in Chief has the power to conduct wars – only Congress has the power to declare war. Too many times this Congress has not met its constitutional duty of oversight & has abdicated its constitutional authorities to the executive branch. It is for this reason that I have introduced H. J. Res. 53 – the Constitutional War Powers Resolution. As threats to international peace and security continue to evolve, the Constitutional War Powers Resolution rededicates Congress to its primary constitutional role of deciding when to use force abroad.”

According to the resolution’s sponsors, H. J. Res 53 would:

>Prohibit presidential entry into hostilities without Congressional action except: to repel and retaliate for an attack on the United States, to repel an attack on U.S. troops or to protect and evacuate U.S. citizens;
>Provide a more robust presidential reporting requirement so that Congress may be more informed and able to exercise improved oversight;
>Provide for judicial review to enforce compliance by giving automatic standing to members of Congress; and
>Only permit the use of federal funds for military actions taken pursuant to the resolution.

H.J.Res. 53 is also co-sponsored by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) and Rep. Robert A. Brady (D-PA).

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also reasserted the role of Congress under the War Powers Act during an interview on ABC's "This Week" program on October 14, "We don't believe that any authorities that the president has would give him the ability to go in without an act of Congress. Any president, if we are attacked, if our country is attacked has -- even under the War Powers Act -- very strong powers to go after that country. But short of that, he must come to the Congress."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Durbin Introduces Iran Resolution

Yesterday, I posted about Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) making a speech during the debate on the AMTRAK bill about his concern with the administration's assertions on Iran. In the end, Senator Durbin did not offer his new resolution as an amendment, but he, along with Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), did introduce it as a stand alone bill, S. Res. 356. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, but the Senators will look for other opportunities to introduce it.

From the October 25, 2007 Congressional Record:

Mr. DURBIN (for himself and Mr. SANDERS) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations:

S. RES. 356

Whereas Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States vests in Congress all power to declare war: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly approved by Congress before such action may be initiated.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Radio Interview on Implications of Iran Sanctions

This afternoon, I did an hour-long segment (in addition to shorter interviews all day) on "At Issue with Ben Merens" on Wisconsin Public Radio discussing the administration's new sanctions on Iran and the implications for US-Iran relations. Click here to listen to the program.

Senator Durbin Introduces Iran Amendment to AMTRAK bill

What do Iran and AMTRAK have in common? Well, nothing until today. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) went to floor during the debate of the AMTRAK bill and said he was upset about the administration's assertions regarding Iran. He said he wanted to be clear that Congress has not in any way authorized the use of military force against Iran. Durbin then offered a nonbinding Resolution "Affirming that any offensive military action taken against Iran must be explicitly approved by Congress before such action may be initiated." He assumed it wouldn't be allowed to be voted on the AMTRAK bill, so his intention is to offer as a seperate resolution. I'll post more information when it is available in the Congressional Record tomorrow.

Update: A colleague just emailed me a very clever response to this. He said: "Quite appropriate as Iran is a train wreck waiting to happen, just like AMTRAK." I couldn't agree more.

State Department Press Release on Sanctions and Designations

This morning I obtained a copy of the State Department Press Release with comments from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Treasury Henry M. Paulson on the increased US unilateral sanctions against Iran and the designations of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Quds. (Click here to download the full statement.)

According to Secretary Rice's statement:
"Many of the Iranian regimes' most destabilizing policies are carried out by two of its agencies: the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or the IRGC, and the Quds Force, an arm of the IRGC. Because of the Revolutionary Guard's support for proliferation and because of the Quds Force support for terrorism, acting under U.S. law and consistent with our international obligations, the United States today is designating both of these groups. We are similarly designating three Iranian state-owned banks: Bank Melli and Mellat, for their involvement in proliferation activities, and Bank Saderat as a terrorist financier. We are also designating several additional Iranian individuals and organizations.

"What this means is that no U.S. citizen or private organization will be allowed to engage in financial transactions with these persons and entities. In addition, any assets that these designees have under U.S. jurisdiction will be immediately frozen. These actions will help to protect the international financial system from the illicit activities of the Iranian Government and they will provide a powerful deterrent to every international bank and company that thinks of doing business with the Iranian Government."

Secretary Paulson said:
"The UN Security Council has required member states to freeze the assets of, and prohibit persons from doing business with, a number of entities and individuals supporting Iran's nuclear or ballistic missile activities, including Iran's state-owned Bank Sepah.

"Today, as Condi said, we are designating Iran's Bank Melli, Bank Mellat, and Bank Saderat. These are three of Iran's largest banks. They all have facilitated Iran's proliferation activities for its support of terrorism. We are also designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for proliferation activities and its Quds Force for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.

"The IRGC is so deeply entrenched in Iran's economy and commercial enterprises, it is increasingly likely that if you are doing business with Iran, you are doing business with the IRGC. We call on responsible banks and companies around the world to terminate any business with Bank Melli, Bank Mellat, Bank Saderat, and all companies and entities of the IRGC."

The IRGC is being labeled a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction under Executive Order 13382 signed by President Bush on July 28, 2005. Ballistic missiles themselves certainly do not reach the level of weapons of mass destruction. However, Executive Order 13382 covers both “proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.”

The Quds force is being labeled a supporter of terrorism under Executive Order 13224, signed by President Bush on September 23, 2001. Executive Order 13224 provides the Secretaries of State and Treasury, in consultation with each other and the Attorney General, the authority to "designate foreign individuals or entities that he determines have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the U.S."

US Imposes Unprecedented Sanctions on Iran and Its Military

Today, the Bush administration is officially rolling out an unprecedented package of unilateral sanctions against Iran, including designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and labeling its elite Quds force as a supporter of terrorism. The move is extremely significant and will most certainly have negative ramifications for US-Iran relations (or the lack thereof) and make it even more difficult to move towards resolving tensions between the two countries through diplomacy and engagement.

According to a Washington Post article by Robin Wright:

"The administration will designate the entire Revolutionary Guard under Executive Order 13382, signed by President Bush in June 2005, which allows the United States to freeze the assets of any proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and its supporters. Iran is being designated for its ballistic missile program. The United States will announce a list of Iranians involved in that program -- civilians as well as military officials -- who will also be designated, U.S. officials said.

"Under the same executive order, the administration also intends to designate Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, which controls Iran's defense industries, as well as companies owned or controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, U.S. officials said.

"The overall impact, according to U.S. officials, will be to make a pariah of the most critical parts of Iran's military and its defense and commercial industries.

"The Quds Force, the foreign operations branch of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, will be designated separately as a supporter of terrorism under Executive Order 13224, which Bush signed two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to obstruct terrorist funding, U.S. officials said. It authorizes the United States to identify individuals, businesses, charities and extremist groups engaged in terrorism."

One thing that is particularly troubling about this move is that the administration is viewing it as part of its diplomatic effort. A senior administration official who was quoted in the Washington Post article on the condition of anonymity said, "This is a very powerful set of measures designed to send a message to Iran that there will be a cost to what they do. We decided on them because we have seen no change in Iranian behavior. Our diplomacy needs to be stronger and more effective." Let's be clear, these designations, as well as increased unilateral sanctions, are punitive measures. The Bush administration has not and is not engaged in any sustained or strategic diplomatic initiative with Iran.

The designations of Quds Force and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will only undermine US security interests, including in Iraq by putting US troops and personnel at risk of retaliation and hampering talks with Iran over Iraq security. The IRGC is both a political and military force in Iran and its members are deeply embedded in the country’s political and economic structure. It is not clear who controls the force, though they are under the nominal control of the Supreme Leader. They act as self-appointed guardians of the revolution and they operate as a vast and nebulous network that usually does not act in unison or take a single position. The IRGC is it is very much a reflection of the disparities in Iran now. There are those who want increased engagement and openness and those who do not.

The US designations will likely undermine any proponents of reform and moderation inside Iran. The designation is also likely to undermine proponents of engagement with the US and the West. The designations could also bring a backlash against Iranian citizens working for democracy and reform.

The members of the IRGC who are responsible for their expansion into the economic arena, espcially the oil and gas sector are badly affected by the economic isolation and sanctions because they need external expertise and support. On the other hand, members of the IRGC who are involved in nefarious activities, including oil smuggling and other clandestine activities have no interest in increased engagement. For them the isolation is a boon.

US policies that encourage isolation will only play directly into the hands of those who want isolation in Iran and undermine the moderates and middle ground.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bush Administration Seeks Funds for Bunker Busters

CQ Today reported today, “Buried in the $196.4 billion supplemental war spending proposal that Bush submitted to Congress on Oct. 22 is a request for $88 million to modify B-2 bombers so they can drop a Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, a conventional bomb still in development that is the most powerful weapon designed to destroy targets deep underground. A White House summary accompanying the supplemental spending proposal said the request for money to modify ­B-2s to carry the bombs came in response to ‘an urgent operational need from theater commanders.’ The summary provided no further details. The White House and the Air Force, in response to queries, did not provide additional clarification.”

According to defense contractors developing the weapon and its delivery system (Boeing Co. and Northrup Grumman, respectively), it is meant for use against the kinds of hard and deeply buried targets found in Iran and North Korea. The article goes on to state concerns expressed by some members of Congress such as Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) that this funding request could signify preparations for a military strike on Iran.

To put this in perspective, though, the US already has both nuclear and conventional “bunker busting” capability in its vast arsenal, including the B61 Mod 11 "earth-penetrator" that was deployed in the mid-1990s and the Guided Bomb Unit 28 that was used by the US against at least two targets in Dessert Storm, to name two. The US also sold 100 GBU-28 to Israel in April 2005 and transferred in July 2006, the Israeli military has identified Iran and Syria as targets of this “bunker-busting” conventional technology.

Iran to Buy Fighters Based on Israeli Technology

Ha’aretz is running article today regarding a new deal between Iran and China under which Iran will buy two squadrons of J-10 fighter planes that are based on Israeli technology. According to the article, “The 24 aircraft are based on technology and components provided to China by Israel following the cancellation of the Lavi project in the mid-1980s. The engines of the J-10 are Russian-made. The total cost of the planes is estimated at $1 billion, and deliveries are expected between 2008 and 2010. The estimated operational range of the aircraft, with external fuel tanks, is 3,000 kilometers, which means Israel falls within their radius of operation.”

The transaction would provide an expansion to Iran’s current aging fleet ofpredominantly US equipment (F-14s and F-5s).

Iran also announced in August this year that it is developing a "new" Azarakhsh (Lightning) close-air-support fighter. The Azarakhsh “is simply an enlarged F-5 with a second vertical stabilizer and marginally better avionics. Various intel assessments indicate that Iran has about 50 F-5s left in its inventory; there are no indications as to how many of those airframes may be re-built as 'Lightnings.'"

"Democracy Promotion" Coordinator Resigns

Yesterday, David Denehy, who has been coordinating the Iran "democracy promotion" account at the U.S. Department of State resigned. In an email Denehy writes:

"October 26, 2007 will be my last day with the U.S. Department of State; my decision to leave the administration is due, in part, to my belief that I am better able to serve the goals of the President’s Freedom Agenda from outside of government. While there have been many challenges to the work we have done together, the rewards have been equally as great. I leave the Department proud that I was able to work with you to support those seeking to expand personal freedom and democracy in Iran. I urge you that no matter how strenuous the debate of our work that you continue to support those in Iran who cannot speak for themselves."

Denehy did not state where he is going or what he will be doing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Iran Threat Excuse

The justification for the missile defense has evolved over the years. In its nascent years, it was conceived to protect the US from an attack by the former Soviet Union. During President Clinton’s presidency, the system was touted as a means to protect the US from “states of concern” as they were known then, primarily from an emerging North Korea threat (remember the DPRK’s missile test which flew over Japan in 1998?). Though the Bush administration also carries the line that the system can protect from a launch by North Korea, Iran has taken center stage as the justification for deploying a system in Europe. Today, President Bush gave a speech at the National Defense University in which he cited the Iranian threat as a justification for deploying missile defenses in Eastern Europe.

In his speech, President Bush said:

“The need for missile defense in Europe is real and I believe it's urgent. Iran is pursuing the technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles of increasing range that could deliver them. Last November, Iran conducted military exercises in which it launched ballistic missiles capable of striking Israel and Turkey, as well as American troops based in the Persian Gulf. Iranian officials have declared that they are developing missiles with a range of 1,200 miles, which would give them the capability to strike many of our NATO allies, including Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and possibly Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. Our intelligence community assesses that, with continued foreign assistance, Iran could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States and all of Europe before 2015. If it chooses to do so, and the international community does not take steps to prevent it, it is possible Iran could have this capability. And we need to take it seriously -- now.
“Today, we have no way to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat, so we must deploy a missile defense system there that can.”

The Iranian threat is largely fabricated. In contradictory remarks during a press conference today in Prague, Czech Republic, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the United States might delay activating its planned East European missile defense sites. According to Gates, the missile defense system might not be activated until Iran takes some concrete action, such as testing its own missiles.

Even Congress is buying into the Iranian threat as a justification for the system. 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 bill. 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.” It also says that any US missile defense system in Europe should be complementary to any missile defense system fielded by NATO.

Missile defenses provoke rather than prevent the proliferation of ballistic missiles and they could contribute to regional conflicts and arms races. In addition, the US has spent more than $120 billion on missile defenses since Ronald Reagan’s presidency and yet missile defenses have not proven effective.

Instead of manufacturing threats to justify spending billions of dollars on a system that does not work, the US should focus its efforts on bringing countries into the Missile Technology Control Regime, bolstering the regime and controlling, limiting and dismantling ballistic missiles globally.

Center Board Member on Hardball

Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation Board Member and MIT Security Studies Program Professor Jim Walsh was on Hardball with Chris Matthews last night to debate whether or not the US should bomb Iran. He repeated his clever line "If you like war in Iraq, you'll love war on Iran." The Center has been using Jim's line as a centerpiece for an ad campaign across the country to prevent a military strike on Iran.

Monday, October 22, 2007

New House Resolution on Iran World Bank Disbursements

On October 16, 2007, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced H.Con.Res. 235, a resolution which “urges the Board of Directors of the World Bank to request a policy review of current disbursements to the Islamic Republic of Iran and to end these disbursements until the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies the compliance of Iran with resolutions 1696 and 1747 of the United Nations Security Council and the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” The resolution also urges “the United Nations Security Council to order the World Bank to end disbursements to Iran if the Board of Directors of the World Bank fails to take action on its own.”

The resolution has 23 co-sponsors and was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Financial Services.

Monday, October 15, 2007

How Promoting Democracy in Iran Can Backfire

In a must-read October 19, 2007 article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Confronting Iran: How Promoting Democracy Can Backfire," Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program Director Haleh Esfandiari and International Security Studies Director Robert Litwak write about the unintended consequences of U.S. "democracy promotion" policies.

According to Esfandiari and Litwak:

"Current U.S. policy precludes broad government-to-government talks with Iran and seems to permit only episodic ambassadorial discussions in Baghdad on Iraqi issues -- meetings that serve as a forum for dueling talking points. U.S. law places formidable restrictions on the ability of American NGO's to operate in Iran. Meanwhile, while eschewing official contact, the United States attempts to financially support Iran's own nascent NGO's so that they can become agents of change within the society. Yet this program of democracy promotion has had the unintended consequence of further reducing the political space for open debate in Iran. In this new climate of intimidation, NGO's and journalists are subject to censorship and are defensively engaging in self-censorship. Prominent Iranian activists, such as the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, declared their opposition to the U.S. program because of continued sensitivity about foreign, particularly American, intrusion in Iran's domestic politics. The fact that the identity of Iranian recipients of U.S. aid is regarded as classified information by the U.S. government feeds the regime's paranoia and casts suspicion on all Iranian NGO's."

They suggest several fundamental shifts in U.S. policy including:

  • "Governments should talk to governments, while Iranian and American NGO's should be permitted to interact in a transparent fashion without the intrusion of governments. If the United States is to have any chance of enlisting Iranian cooperation on issues of major concern -- stabilizing Iraq and resolving the nuclear impasse -- it must make clear that its objective is a change in Iranian behavior, not a change of regime...Although such a U.S. assurance is no guarantee of success, it is the prerequisite for a change in Iranian foreign-policy behavior, as well as for positioning the United States to win multilateral support for meaningful action at the United Nations if Iranian intransigence continues."
  • "In tandem with a shift on the government-to-government level, the counterproductive democracy-promotion program aimed at Iranian NGO's should be scrapped in favor of a more permissive U.S. stance toward the operation of U.S. nonprofit organizations in Iran. "
  • "Another element of this revamped approach would be a new program of privately financed scholarships for Iranian students to study at American institutions of higher learning...The United States has a long-term interest in providing educational opportunities to Iran's successor generation of scholars, as well as in promoting the development of a new cadre of U.S. experts on Iran, a country that now commands so much of our attention."

The article concludes with a sobering admonition: "U.S. policy should be guided by a recognition that the ability of outside actors to influence that potentially long-term process is severely limited."

Both the Adminitration and Congress should heed these policy recommendations, particularly as it is offered by Prof. Esfandiari who recently returned from Iran after eight months of detention, four months of which were spent in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, on accusations of conspiring against the Iranian regime.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week

Azadeh Ensha has new article on her blog at the Huffington Post about Iran as the new poster child for Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. In case you haven't heard of this yet, David Horowitz writes about it in Front Page magazine. Beginning on October 22, student groups across the nation will hold events on their campuses including speeches by Michael Ledeen, Rick Santorum, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter as well as Horowitz himself. What a line-up of Iran experts!

I like what Azadeh has to say about it:
"The official poster of Islamo-Fascism week shows a photo of a teenage girl being stoned to death in Iran (disclosure: my country of birth) and will also feature speeches from Iranians who were victims of persecution. As an Iranian-American, I appreciate that they're spreading the word about human rights abuses in my native country. Unfortunately, I think their goal has less to do with spreading awareness than it does with fostering fear, suspicion and bigotry."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

WP Story on Iran Democracy Funding

The Washington Post has a great article today by Robin Wright on our joint efforts to cut Iran democracy funding.

An excerpt from the article:
"'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,' according to an open letter organized by the National Iranian American Council, the American Conservative Defense Alliance and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. The letter was signed by 23 other liberal and conservative pro-democracy groups."

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

New Round of IAEA-Iran Talks Begin

A new round of talks between the Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency began on October 9 in Tehran and are expected to last for two or three days. The IAEA is seeking details on how Iran obtained components for its P1 type centrifuges, of which more than 2,000 are in operation at its nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz, and on its research with the more efficient P2 model. The new talks follow an agreement reached in August for Iran to provide answers to outstanding questions over its nuclear program, including plutonium experiments.

In a somewhat related note, here is the most recent statement from the P5+2 on Iran’s Nuclear Program. It was issued on September 28, following a meeting in New York, the foreign ministers of the five permanent member states of the United Nations Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia, and the US – and Germany with the support of the High Representative of the European Union issued a joint statement on September 28 regarding Iran’s nuclear activities.

Iranian Expatriates Urge Diplomacy

Several Iranian American organizations, spearheaded by the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII) and the National Iranian American Council, have launched a letter to the leaders of Iran, the UK and the US urging these countries to give diplomacy a chance. A broad range of organizations, representing "vastly different views" have signed the letter, because they "feel a connection with both our homes in the West and the finest core values of the societies in which we are living, and with the country of Iran and its cultural traditions."

The letter states that in order to prevent military confrontation, "the way forward must be through serious and genuine dialogue. The rhetoric of mutual demonization, reckless threats and brinksmanship must be left out of that dialogue. Negotiations must be based on the recognition of the legitimate concerns of all parties for physical security, economic security (including energy security) and national sovereignty."

According to the letter: "We urge the leaders of the U.S., the U.K. and Iran to set aside all pre-conditions and resume direct and open negotiations on all issues of dispute, to bring about a lowering of tensions, to create an opening for meaningful progress toward understanding, and to envision a Middle East in which all its residents can coexist and together address the common problems of violence, poverty, illness and environmental degradation."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Senator Byrd Introduces "Iran" Amendments to the Defense Appropriations Bill

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) introduced Amendment No. 3123 and No. 3133 to the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Appropriations bill. The amendments would prohibit funding provided by the bill to be used for military operations or activities against any other country without explicit Congressional authorization. The text of both amendments is identical and I'm unsure why two identical amendments were submitted. The amendments do provide exceptions for certain activities. Though the amendments employ a non-country-specific approach similar to Senator Byrd's S. Res. 39, the enactment of either amendment could prevent a military confrontation with Iran. Below is the text of Amendments 3123 and 3133.

Sec. 8107. (a) None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be obligated or expended for military operations or activities against any other country without the enactment of an Act or the passage of a resolution passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives specifically authorizing such obligation or expenditure.

(b) The prohibition in subsection (a) shall not apply with respect to the following military operations or activities:

(1) Military operations or activities to directly repel an attack against the territory or the Armed Forces of the United States.

(2) Military operations or activities in hot pursuit of hostile forces who are directly engaged in combat operations against the Armed Forces of the United States.

(3) Intelligence collection activities of which Congress has been appropriately notified under applicable law.

(c) Not later than 48 hours after determining to obligate or expend amounts otherwise prohibited from obligation or expenditure under subsection (a) for purposes of a military operation or activity described in subsection (b), the President shall submit to the Committee on Armed Forces and the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate and the Committee on Armed Forces and the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives a report on such determination, including a justification for the determination.

(d) Nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the authority of the President under Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution of the United States.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Senator Clinton Signs Onto Webb Bill

On October 1, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) signed on to Senator Jim Webb's (D-VA) bill, S. 759, barring funding for military action against Iran without approval from Congress. The gesture is seen in large part as a response for her vote to endorse the Kyl-Lieberman amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill. Senator Clinton was the only Democratic presidential candidate to endorse Kyl-Lieberman amendment and she was pressed on her vote during last week's debate in New Hampshire.

"I continue to support and advocate for a policy of entering into talks with Iran, because robust diplomacy is a prerequisite to achieving our aims," Clinton said in a statement. "I also support strong economic sanctions against Iran, including designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, to improve our leverage with the Iranian regime."

Senator Clinton still does not seem to understand that sanctions only undermine diplomacy with Iran and designating the Islamic Revolutionarly Guard Corps a terrorist organization will only undermine US security interests.

Senate Completes Work on Defense Authorization Bill

On October 1, the Senate completed action on the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill. The final vote was 92 – 3 in favor. Over 400 amendments were filed to the bill, and the Senate acted on 214 of them. The House and Senate versions of the bill must now be reconciled in conference.

Iran-related amendments, which passed and are included with the bill
Amendment No. 3017: On September 26, 2007, the Senate voted 76-22 to pass a modified version of Amendment No. 3017 introduced by Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT). Senators Lieberman and Kyl dropped paragraphs 3 and 4 under Section (b), the Sense of Senate section, in attempts to alleviate concerns that the resolution might be taken as an authorization for the use of force against Iran. Here is the modified Kyl-Lieberman Amendment.

Amendment No. 2024: On July 12, the Senate voted 90 to 5 to pass a modified version of Sen. Sessions (R-AL) amendment No. 2024. 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.

Amendment No. 2073: On July 11, the Senate passed the Lieberman (I-CT), McCain, Kly, Graham, Coleman, Collins, Sessions, Levin, Salazar and Craig amendment No. 2073 with a vote of 97-0. 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.” Here is the modified version.

Iran-related amendments, which were introduced but were not included with the bill
Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) filed his bill S. 970 as amendment No. 2166 to expand and strengthen sanctions on Iran and countries that deal with Iran. There was never a vote on the amendment. It is unlikely that S. 970 will come up for a vote as a stand alone measure anytime soon given the Congressional schedule. Senator Shelby also has concerns with the bill and it is being held up in the Banking Committee.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, September 25, the House version of the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, H.R. 1400, passed with a vote of 397-16 on suspension of the rules. Four Republicans and 12 Democrats voted against the measure, with 20 Members not voting.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Iranian Parliament Passes Resolution to Name Army and CIA Terrorist Organizations

In a largely symbolic response to the passage of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment on September 26 expressing the Sense of Congress that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps should named a terrorist organization, 215 members of the Majlis signed a resolution to urging Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government to designate the CIA and the US army "terrorist organizations." The vote took place at an open session of the 290-member Iranian parliament on September 29.

This is the precise sort of tit-for-tat escalation US Senators were warned of when considering the Kyl-Lieberman amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization bill.

According an AP article, "The parliament said the Army and the CIA were terrorists because of the atomic bombing of Japan; the use of depleted uranium munitions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq; support of the killings of Palestinians by Israel; the bombing and killing Iraqi civilians and the torture of imprisoned terror suspects." A statement signed by the 215 members who voted for the resolution reads, "The aggressor U.S. Army and the Central Intelligence Agency are terrorists and also nurture terror."

Like all Parliamentary legislation, the resolution must first be reviewed and ratified by the Guardian Council, the country's constitutional watchdog composed of six clerics an six jurists, before it can become law.

Flurry of Iran Legislation Activity in the House

On September 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee agreed to seek consideration under Suspension of the Rules for H.CON.RES.203, which condemns the persecution of labor rights advocates in Iran. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL) and has 34 co-sponsors.

On September 27, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introduced H.RES.690 and the bill was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The resolution expresses the grave concern of the House of Representatives for Iran and Syria's continued and systematic violations of UN Resolutions 1701 and 1559. This bill concerns Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon, particularly in supporting Hezbollah, and calls on Hezbollah to release the Israeli soldiers and for all militias in Lebanon to disband. It expresses "its vigorous support for a democratic Lebanon."

House Resolution Introduced on "Human Rights and Democracy in Iran"

On September 25, H.R.3653, sponsored by Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL), to hold the current regime in Iran accountable for its human rights record and to support a transition to democracy in Iran, was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The bill makes a direct link "between the state of freedom and democracy within Iran and the efforts of the current regime of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and the long-term success of the global war on terror." Senator Brownback (R-KS) introduced the Senate version of the bill, S. 1534, on May 25, 2007 and it was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The bill seeks to amend the Iran Freedom and Support Act (Public Law 109-293; 22 U.S.C. 2151 note) "to make the deplorable human rights record of the Government of Iran a top concern and priority of United States foreign policy" and "to keep the deplorable human rights record of Iran a top priority, irrespective of ongoing nuclear issues."

The bill also calls on the President to appoint a special envoy for human rights in Iran within the State Department. It outlines the dutes of the Special Envoy, who "shall coordinate and promote efforts to improve respect for the fundamental human rights of the people of Iran and work with organizations committed to promoting democracy in Iran." Among other responsibilities, the Special Envoy would "serve as point of contact for opposition groups, diaspora groups, and nongovernmental organizations interested in advocating democracy and human rights in Iran."

The bill concludes with a sense of Congress statement "that the commitment to human rights and democracy of a national of Iran who has applied for a visa to enter the United States should be considered when determining the eligibility of such national for the visa."

Three other Representatives have co-sponsored the bill to date:
Rep McCotter, Thaddeus G. [MI-11] - 9/25/2007
Rep Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana [FL-18] - 9/25/2007
Rep Wolf, Frank R. [VA-10] - 9/25/2007

Barbara Slavin on Ahmadinejad's Visit to New York

Barbara Slavin, senior diplomatic reporter for USA Today and a fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, published an Op-Ed in The National Interest on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York. She sums up the implications of his trip well:

"As easy as it is to demonize and ridicule him, Ahmadinejad is a member of a collective leadership that will make decisions in the next few months that could improve the prospects for peace in a troubled region or lead to another devastating conflict. While there is still time, Iranians and Americans should make use of every opportunity for dialogue, even if sometimes it seems like a dialogue of the deaf. As one religious leader, Drew Christiansen, told Ahmadinejad in New York, quoting Winston Churchill: 'to jaw jaw is always better than to war war.'"