The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part II

The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part II


Howard Adelman


The Significance of the Agreement

Was this the “the most significant and tangible progress that we’ve made with Iran” since Obama took office? Without question since there had been no previous progress. Or was the agreement an “historic mistake”, a loss of momentum towards capitulation by Iran or the readiness to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities by the allies?

Canada took a position somewhere between Netanyahu and Obama by emphasizing scepticism and withholding its support of the agreement until such time as Iran grants “unfettered access” to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities and, further, the verification that the terms of the deal have been fulfilled. Unfortunately, although the Harper government says it is moving economic self-interest to the front in its foreign policy, in the case of Iran, it has closed its embassy and delayed the gold rush of opportunities as western companies seek to establish a foothold in the opening with Iran. At the same time, Canada abandoned its political lockstep link to Israeli policy, hence losing any advantage by the delay.


Why then did Avi Benlolo of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center support the Canadian position since Canada supported the interim agreement if there is full transparency and verification. Benolo was far more critical of the agreement and accused the P5 + 1 of being suckered by Iran’s new smiling diplomacy while Iran retained its deep antipathy to the west and remained determined to develop nuclear weapons while it bought the necessary time to progress towards that goal. The Iranian retreat for Benolo had to be the surrender not just of the nuclear program but of the support for terrorism. Canada had stipulated no such conditions.

Certainly the agreement does nothing substantive to curb Iran’s rogue status in the international community. However, the interim agreement opens wide such a possibility. The real substantive dispute is whether the interim agreement denies Iran the right to enrich uranium or whether it reified Iran’s right to enrich uranium as  President Rouhani declared? Uranium enrichment can produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium for fissile material for nuclear weapons. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, claimed that Iran was not given any inherent and unfettered right to enrich uranium but concedes that Iran will likely be given a limited, completely verifiable right to have a very constrained program of enrichment for peaceful (medical) purposes.

This was not a zone of creative ambiguity because Iran retains the right to enrich uranium to 5% purity for peaceful purposes, but is explicitly denied the right to enrich uranium to 20% purity to enable Iran, with banks of centrifuges, then to increase that uranium readily to 90% purity for weapon’s grade purposes.  The agreement does NOT enshrine an apparent promise that at the end of the process, Iran would be entitled to enrich uranium as it wants, when it wants and as much as it wants. Such a charge makes nonsense of the plain text of the agreement.

In a more modest but very severe criticism, did the agreement shred six United Nations Security Council resolutions that required the Islamic Republic of Islam to abandon its enrichment program and reprocessing facilities? Not as I read the intent of the agreement to follow the interim one. Further, the UN resolutions demanded only that Iran “suspend” its nuclear enrichment program, embark on a course of confidence building measures, suspend the construction of heavy water plant at Arak for producing plutonium and ratify the IAEA additional protocol – a step which the interim agreement does not seem to require Iran to do, possibly because Iran already ratified the Protocol. The only problem is that the Iranian Congress refused to endorse it.

The first three points seem to be contained in the interim agreement. The UNSC nonbinding resolutions required a suspension of Iran’s enrichment, a reconsideration of its decision to build a heavy-water nuclear reactor, and Tehran’s implementation of “transparency measures” providing inspectors with access to non-nuclear facilities, procurement documents, and the opportunity to interview certain Iranian officials. This is precisely what the interim agreement achieved. Perhaps, these successes may be inadequate, may cover up for a long term malevolent intent, but they seem to clearly fulfil both the letter and spirit of the UNSC resolutions. Previously, Iran had accelerated work on its uranium enrichment program (it had stopped in November 2004) and stopped voluntarily adhering to the Additional Protocol. The interim agreement seems to fulfil the aims of the UNSC resolutions in accordance with the goals of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006. 

Countering the Critics

This interim agreement is seen as a golden opportunity to improve relations with the West, strengthen the regime and improves its support by Iranians. That is the real threat, not the fear that the negotiations will fail. The success of the agreement for Israel and Saudi Arabia means failure.

When Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, says on CNN that, “Of course, we want to see diplomacy succeed. Of course, we’d like to see a peaceful solution. Israel, more than any other country, has an interest in a successful diplomatic outcome ultimately. We’re the first people on the firing line,” he is being somewhat disingenuous. Yes, Israel does want a proper deal, but not only to stop but dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. More importantly, and understandably, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, want a weaker Iran. Parts of the domestic population who have been persecuted for years – the Baha’is for example – concur.

The reality is that without Israel’s screams as well as threats, it is questionable whether the rest of the world would have been nearly as sensitive to the developments in Iran. Did Netanyahu build on this diplomatic success in making the world keenly alert to the Iran nuclear threat not only to Israel but to all of the Middle East and the rest of the world?  The world answered Israel’s call to impose severe sanctions. Chalk two up for Israel’s diplomatic success. However, its current belligerency, its current full frontal assault by all its ministers using inflammatory rhetoric against the agreement rather than reasoned debate may not be seen just as Israel serving as bad cop, but as Israel preparing to perform a spoiler role.

This criticism of Israel does not mean that I am no longer sceptical about Iran’s intentions. They have been clear. Iran wants to retain the ability to maintain a short gap between a break out point and their existing facilities and their negotiating stance will attempt to keep that time line as short as possible while the P5 + 1 strive to lengthen it enormously – perhaps they would be satisfied with six months or a year. The issue is not over the actual production of nuclear weapons, but the capacity to move to a break out point in short order.

Since the Iranians have now achieved that status, it is an optimum time for Iran to negotiate an ending, if possible, to their economic straightjacket. Israel and Saudi criticism is that relief from sanctions, though amounting to only six billion spread over six months, not the hundreds of billions at the end of the rainbow of a full agreement, nevertheless offers Iran wiggle room to hold out for a tough deal and minimum time to restart their program when needed and be able to produce a weapon in very short order. That is why the Saudis and Israel dub the agreement as a capitulation to a charm offensive and fraud by Iran (Minister of Defence for Israel, Moshe Ya’alon) and characterize the interim agreement as a cosmetic rather than a substantial agreement.

After all, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, continues to call Israelis rabid dogs, expresses the desire to see not only Israel disappear, but for Iran to be the agent for that event as he reiterates his desire to wipe Israel, which he repeatedly describes as a cancer, off the map. Israel and the Saudis want a total dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program. The Israelis and Saudis understandably fear that P5 + 1 would be satisfied with sufficient dismantling to lengthen the time between a resumption of its program and the ability to make a nuclear weapon only a year. For Israel and Saudi Arabia, this is insufficient. They want enough dismantling of the production capability to make it unviable. The intelligence services of the US advises the President that such a goal itself is not viable.

The Implications

So the devil will be in the details of a final agreement – the number of centrifuges permitted – perhaps only 5,000, making enrichment past 5% both prohibited but a trigger for an immediate resumption of sanctions, the dismantling or conversion of the Arak facility to a light-water reactor rather than one capable of producing plutonium.

Israel has lost in a second sense. Few believe Israel would now cross not only the Americans but every one of the world’s great economic and military powers and bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. But Israeli leaders continue to bellow and blow exhibiting petulance instead of considered criticisms, sound bites linked to insults, accusations and aspersions rather than a policy alternative. A more careful course of diplomatic discourse would have been welcome. At the same time, Israel used the back door to offer comments to improve the interim deal. Do those complaints advance or harm the country’s national interests? Is perpetual petulance and in-your-face bellyaching really a constructive form of diplomacy? Israel is performing its role as the bad cop like an amateur stage performer.

So the focus will be on Israeli and Saudi pressure to make the toughest deal possible, and, especially for Saudi Arabia, even risking no deal at all, and the P5 + 1 to make as acceptable a deal as possible without Iran walking away from the table, an outcome which the Israelis and Saudis would prefer. For the Saudi’s greatest fear is a realignment of the US and Iran. By contrast, no pun intended, there is a gulf between the Saudis and the UAE and Bahrain. The United Arab Emirates concluded that the interim agreement reinforced “the stability of the region” while Bahrain welcomed the removal of fear. Further, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif insisted that Iran was prepared for quick follow-up negotiations to keep the deal on track.

The interim agreement will NOT be the final agreement. However, if the final agreement does not go a significant distance beyond the interim one in dismantling Iran’s capacity, then it will have been better not to have had an interim deal at all. So the future will be the test of the past. And the negotiations are going to be very tough making the interim agreement look like a cakewalk. Further, the fears of the Gulf states will somehow have to be assuaged. After all, look at how well Iran has leveraged its nuclear program without acquiring the ability to make a single bomb. It can take on the most powerful nations of the world in eye-to-eye negotiations. The current regime is now regarded as irreversible and it is recognized for its rationality and prudence though it remains the spoiler in the region. 

What a transformation!


The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part I

The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part I


Howard Adelman


The Obama Announcement and the Effectiveness of Financial Sanctions

To set the tone of the debate, at the unusual hour for a Presidential address, just after 10:30 p.m. on Saturday evening, President Barack Obama appeared on television. He announced an agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5 +1 (the USA and its partners Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China + Germany) on Iran’s nuclear program. The agreement, itself based on phased and reciprocal steps, was depicted as a first initial tentative step. Obama reiterated his unwavering policy of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, not the capacity to make them. Further, Obama had always stated his preference for a diplomatic agreement rather than resorting to bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities and recognized that a new opening for diplomacy emerged with the election of President Hassan Rouhani who ran on a program of opening Iran to the world. 

In 2011, after overcoming an initial strong resistance to proposals by Senator Mark Kirk, a former highly decorated naval intelligence officer, to target the Iranian Central Bank and Iranian financial institutions, America had become the leading agent in organizing the much more comprehensive sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. Soon after Obama’s TV announcement, Kirk, a Republican, partnered with Democratic Senator, Bob Menendez, to craft legislation  to reinstate the full force of sanctions and impose new ones should Iran fail to roll back its nuclear program in accordance with the agreement. Further, the bill not only requires a certificate of compliance by the Administration every 30 days, but insists that Iran not be guilty of sponsoring terrorism.


Retaining the architecture of the existing sanctions, as provided in the Agreement, retains that effectiveness, Any fear of sanctions erosion is greatly exaggerated. In targeting Iranian financial institutions and the Central Bank, traders are forced to choose between America and Iran since firms were subject to substantial fines. Those firms will not resume investment and substantial trade just for a six month interim deal. Iran has a foreign debt of over US$70 billion and a much larger domestic debt. Iranian workers wait for weeks for their pay and the number of unemployed grew as the value of the rial fell.  (After announcing the interim agreement, the value of the rial rose 2% in one day.) Even the  Iranian Revolutionary Guards support the agreement because they can enhance their profits from the 30% plus segment of the economy they control.

The Contents of the Agreement

Obama was equivocal about the results. He did not say that the agreement allowed the world to verify that Iran’s nuclear program is dedicated to peaceful uses and that it prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but only that this agreement “opens a new path” for such a result. The agreement itself does not deliver that result. Does this first step achieve anything?

Remember my past blogs depicting Iran’s current capabilities. Even though many of Iran’s centrifuge cascades are not operational, even though Iran’s enrichment program is already to a large degree on hold, even though the Arak facility is some distance from completion, Iran has achieved the goal where the time between its existing capacities and the construction of several nuclear weapons has been reduced to 4-6 weeks. The break out point had been reached; Iran has remained at this stage for the last two months. The interim agreement only extends the delay period about 50%, insignificant except symbolically in the scheme of things. Further, those modest results in freezing Iran’s progress may in part have been the consequence of the secret talks in which Iran and the US have been engaged over the last year in Oman and elsewhere.

Obama insisted that the interim agreement achieved something further. First, the progress of Iran’s nuclear program was halted (no enriching more uranium past 3.5%, etc.). Second, key parts of the program are rolled back and there would be no reprocessing or  construction for reprocessing. Third, Iran committed itself to halting certain levels of enrichment, not beginning a new line for enrichment and desisting from re-enrichment. Fourth, part of its stockpile would be neutralized; of the existing stock of enriched uranium at 20% purity, half would be retained as oxide and half diluted to no more than 5%; this is one of the most significant terms of the interim agreement. Fifth, Iran would not be permitted to use its next-generation centrifuges, important since the new centrifuges are three to five times more efficient than the older ones.

Sixth, Iran agreed to stop work on its Arak plutonium reactor; nuclear inspectors, who have not visited the Arak reactor since August 2011, have already been invited to come on 8 December to examine the state of the facility. Seventh, transparency will be built into this first step since new inspections will allow extensive (not comprehensive) access to Iran’s nuclear facilities, but sufficient access to ensure that the previous commitments can be verified. Specifically, Iran would provide an updated DIQ for the Arak reactor with an agreed safeguards approach and permit IAEA inspector access when inspectors are not present for design information verification, interim inventory verification, physical inventory verification, and unannounced inspections at Fordow and Natanz with additional access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities; and uranium mines and mills.

Do these limitations – sometimes called “interim” and at others characterized as “substantial” – help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapons? Obama insisted that these containment steps would probably prevent Iran from using the cover of negotiations to continue to advance its program. But it will not, and does not even claim to prevent or really set back significantly Iran’s ability to reach a break out point within several months if Iran decides to stop inspections after which it could produce several nuclear weapons. Further, the interim agreement does not address the Parchin facility, the military production complex south east of Teheran. The Iranian refusal to allow IAEA inspectors access to this site is a key missing link. In other words, Iran, in terms of distance from a break out point, would not be much further back than it is now.  

On the other side, the P5 +1 have agreed to provide what Obama dubbed “modest” relief from the sanctions while leaving the toughest sanctions in place which, when you read the list, does not appear so modest. They include stopping efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales, enabling Iran’s current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil, enable the repatriation of an agreed amount of revenue held abroad, suspend the EU and U.S. sanctions on associated insurance and transportation services, suspend U.S. and EU sanctions on both Iran’s petrochemical exports and associated services as well as on gold and precious metals and associated services. The US sanctions on Iran’s auto industry and associated services would be suspended. Licensing the supply and installation in Iran of spare parts for flight safety for Iranian civil aviation and associated services would be permitted.

Second, as mentioned in the first section, there would be no new nuclear-related UN Security Council sanctions or EU nuclear-related sanctions and the U.S. Administration would refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions but not threatening to impose new sanctions if Iran fails in its compliance. Third, Iran will be allowed access to a portion of the revenues to which the country had been denied as a result of the sanctions. A financial channel would be established to facilitate humanitarian trade involving food and agricultural products, medicine, medical devices, and medical expenses incurred abroad as well as used for Iran’s domestic needs employing Iranian oil revenues held abroad using specified foreign banks and non-designated Iranian banks. Relatively quickly, the immediate result would be the payment by Indian refiners of US$5.3 billion owed to Iran, payments that had been blocked by the sanctions. The same channel would enable Iran to pay its UN obligations, direct tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students studying abroad, up to an agreed amount for the six month period and, finally, increase the EU authorisation thresholds for transactions for non-sanctioned trade to an agreed amount.

Fourth, as stated above, the overall architecture of the sanctions will remain in place and enforcement of those sanctions will continue with vigour. As a corollary, the relief from these economic pressures can be turned off and the full weight and even more of the sanctions regime can be quickly reinstated. Then the targets of the six months of negotiations are listed. First, Iran will retain its right to the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Second, at the end of the six months, it must be made impossible for Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Third, the burden of proof rests on Iran to prove and permit verifiable steps that Iran will not and cannot develop nuclear weapons.

There are wider goals for this agreement which neither the interim agreement nor the longer term agreement, addresses. Supposedly, but not necessarily, by the end of six months, the role of Iran as a sponsor of terrorism, the role of Iran as a threat to Israel, the role of Iran in the Syrian civil war and its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, may or may not be addressed. But the hope, and I stress ‘hope’, is that the agreement will lead Iran along a path towards a less hostile attitude and establish Iran as a reliable partner  in promoting peace. I remain very sceptical that this goal can be achieved.

At the end of the speech, Obama certainly overreached when he insisted that “only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution to the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program” when it was not diplomacy but sanctions that brought Iran to the nuclear negotiations table just as Iran faced the real possibility of a military attack.  Perhaps this was a sop in the speech targeting Russia and China for the two always opposed any inclusion of a threat of military action in a UNSC resolution, hence the reference to “only diplomacy”. If that is indeed the case, then diplomacy was but the third part of the necessary triangle to complement the military threat and the actual economic sanctions. Given the Russian and Chinese positions, diplomacy was the only mechanism endorsed by the UN. 

Further, on rereading Obama’s speech, he qualified the assertion that only diplomacy could achieve the goal with the term “ultimately”. But the truth is that ultimately, only the complete destruction of Iran’s nuclear program could terminate such a possibility.

[Continued in Part II]

Fumbles and Stumbles in Academe: Hate Speech and Hate Conduct

Fumbles and Stumbles in Academe: Hate Speech and Hate Conduct




Howard Adelman


The day before yesterday when I returned from the hospital in the evening after having my pacemaker implanted (it went well), I found in my email a note from Professor Louis Greenspan asking whether Brandeis had overreacted in its response to the events at Al Quds University on 5 November 2013, more particularly, to the response of Sari Nusseibeh, President of Al Quds University for the last twenty years, to the request of President Fred Lawrence of Brandeis that Sari denounce the events on his campus on 5 November 2013. Though a very minor incident in the scheme of things, the question deserves a considered and perhaps too long reply in order to provide some perspective.


Before I respond, let me state on the record that I consider Sari Nusseibeh a friend, that we got to know each other when he was a professor of Philosophy and then chair of the philosophy department at BirZeitUniversity where I have spoken at his invitation. I met Sari most recently at Al Quds University at a conference a few years back. I got to know Sari best when we were both involved in the eighties in Track II diplomacy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the other hand, I do not know and have never met Fred Lawrence who is President of Brandeis University though I have read some of his writings.


Further, though I have many intellectual and political disagreements with Sari, I consider him to be sincerely devoted to peace between Israel and Palestine. My differences with Sari are similar to those levelled by Shlomo Avineri. Sari Nusseibeh, though a thorough peacenik, is NOT a Zionist. He is a Palestinian nationalist, but one who accepts Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority and a Palestinian minority (see his 2008 biography, Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life). He is made in the mould of Arabs who once supported the positions of that tiny minority of Zionists in favour of a bi-national state led by Judah Magnes and Martin Buber. He published a long article two years ago (“Why Israel Can’t Be A Jewish State”) in Al Jazeera. While recognizing Sari as a moderate and acknowledging his opposition to terrorism for which Sari was beaten badly, the well-known Israeli political scientist and former Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Shlomo Avineri, took Sari to task for opposing any official designation of Israel as a Jewish state. (“We are a people: a response to Sari Nusseibeh,” 12 October 2011) 


Avineri criticized Nusseibeh for failing to recognize the original historical version of a Jewish state or the Jews as a people and not just a religion, that the UN 1947 partition resolution called for a Jewish and Arab state. Sari’s denial complements his cosmopolitan rejection of ethnicity or religion as the basis of a state which also denies the reality of most states in the world. Defining Israel as a Jewish state does not make it a theocracy, deny equal political and civil rights for secular Jews or non-Jews, or privilege the Jewish religion any more than Christianity or Islam is privileged in the way the way the work-week is organized where Christianity or Islam is the predominant religion of a country. Most basically, Avineri criticizes Sari for his failure to recognize Jews as a nation. Holding my or Shlomo’s position does not mean that either of us would make recognition of Israel as a Jewish state a condition of peace with Palestine. With that background, let me recapitulate the incident that set off the firestorm for readers who have not followed the controversy.


On 5 November 2013, Al Quds or Jerusalem Day for Palestinians, a demonstration took place on the main Jerusalem campus of Al Quds University, the leading university in Palestine, in which demonstrators purportedly marched in black military-style uniforms, offered the traditional stiff-armed Nazi salute, carried banners glorifying suicide bombers and portrayed dead Israeli soldiers. Al Quds Day is a creation of the anti-Israel Iran regime in 1979 on the last day of Ramadan to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in opposition to both Israel and Zionism. This style of demonstration is fairly typical around the world. For example, in the demonstration in Toronto, largely ignored, demonstrators carried fake coffins, cried out “Death to America and Israel”, called for the end of the Jewish state, called Israelis Nazis while imitating Nazi behaviour. Elias Hazineh, a former head of Palestine House, according to Honest Reporting, said the following from the podium of the rally: “We have to give them an ultimatum. You have to leave Jerusalem. You have to leave Palestine… When somebody tries to rob a bank the police get in, they don’t negotiate and we have been negotiating with them for 65 years. We say get out or you are dead. We give them two minutes and then we start shooting and that’s the only way they’ll understand.” The demonstrations wherever they are held are equally repugnant.


Al Quds University is not a hotbed of Palestinian nationalism; Bir Zeit is closer to that characterization. Nevertheless, many offensive demonstrations, incidents and faculty actions have been consistent with supporting extremism, such as a poster I saw when I was there. The poster honoured Sami Salim Hammad, a former Al-Quds student, who killed eleven people in Tel Aviv when he blew himself up. As Lori Lowenthal Marcus wrote, “Al-Quds offered a ‘human rights and democracy’ course named in honor of Wafa Idriss, the first Arab Palestinian female homicide bomber. And Al-Quds is home to the AbuJihadMuseum. The museum is named for Khalil Al-Wazir, whose ‘nom de guerre’, abu Jihad, means ‘father of the holy war’. Abu Jihad is linked to several of the most horrific incidents of Jewish terror in modern memory, including the Munich Olympics (11 murdered) and the Coastal Road Massacre (38 dead, including 13 children).” At the same time, at the conference I attended, the head of the Al Fatah student group and a third year law student, argued for allowing any Jewish settlers to remain in a Palestinian state if that settler chose to continue living in peace. This is a position not generally advocated even by Israeli peaceniks..

However, the issue was not the rally itself at Al Quds University, but Sari Nusseibeh’s response to Fred Lawrence’s request for a clear and unequivocal condemnation in both English and Arabic. Lawrence considered Nusseibeh’s response to be inadequate and suspended the academic links between Brandeis and Al Quds (as did SyracuseUniversity but not BardCollege). President Botstein of Bard wrote: “Suggestions that the university administration condoned the actions of a very small group of students within a university of 12,000 are simply inaccurate,” noting that, “the incident and the ensuing controversy demonstrate that it is more important than ever to maintain our educational partnership with Al-Quds.”

Lawrence subsequently dismissed Sari Nusseibeh from his official role at Brandeis as a member of the international advisory board of The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life. Sari had been the first distinguished Visiting Professor at the Center. What was Sari’s response to the original request for a condemnation, why did Lawrence consider it not only inadequate but that it added insult to injury, and was Lawrence’s suspension of the relationship between the two universities and Sari’s role at Brandeis “over the top” and disproportionate to the stimulus? After all, contrast Sari’s response with that of Professor Mohammed Dajan Daoudi who wrote that the demonstration was a sign of, “disappointment, frustration, despair, anger, all combined together in a militaristic march protesting the dire present Palestinian political and economic conditions” and that, “I did not see anything Nazi about that salute.”

First, some background on the Center at Brandeis and then on Fred Lawrence is necessary for context. I got to know the Center at Brandeis when I was myself a research professor for three years at the Centre for Ethics, Justice, Law and Governance at GriffithUniversity in Australia. The two centres had similar mandates, to foster through scholarship, intellectual exchanges and activities projects focused on ethics and justice. Brandeis focused more on coexistence between ethnic groups in conflict, most significantly, Israelis and Palestinians, that is, community-based efforts at coexistence, while the Griffith Centre was more focused on governance issues. Both were interested in the role of the International Court of Justice. We overlapped but very much differed because the chair of the BrandeisCenter was Justice Richard J. Goldstone whose 2009 report on the Gaza invasion of Israel (The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, known as the Goldstone Report) I severely criticized in my writings on just war theory.    


On 1 January 2011, Fred Lawrence succeeded Jehuda Reinharz as President of Brandeis where Reinharz had presided for 17 years. Reinharz, who was born in Israel, was renowned, and acknowledged by Lawrence, for his tremendous work in raising US$1.2 billion over the years, endowing chairs and establishing new research centres, one of which was the BrandeisInternationalCenter for Ethics, Justice and Public Life which Reinharz personally helped establish in 1998. It was that Center that in the 2008-09 academic year sponsored a joint project of Brandeis and Al Quds students in Istanbul as part of the Brandeis-Al-Quds Summer Institute to discuss the presuppositions and practices of a ‘good society’ as expressed through written works, both in literature proper and in popular utility documents such as travel guides. It was that Center that sponsored the infamous debate in 2009 between Dore Gold, a former Israeli diplomat and head of the JerusalemCenter for Public Affairs, and Richard Goldstone. The debate on the Goldstone Report was held on the very day that the UN General Assembly voted 114-18 calling on Israel and the Palestinians both to conduct credible investigations of the allegations in the Goldstone report. Reinharz was a much closer friend of Sari’s than I am and that friendship may have been part of the problem as Lawrence seeks to stamp Brandeis with his own personal brand distinct from the long shadow of Reiharz.


While Reinharz had been a noted historian specializing in Jewish history, Lawrence is a legal scholar who writes on civil rights, free expression and bias crimes. He had been dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law at GeorgeWashingtonUniversityLawSchool prior to moving to Brandeis where his wife is a professor of English literature. One of his famous distinctions was between hate conduct and hate speech and his analysis of the difficulty of distinguishing between the two. Lawrence in his speech earlier this year to the Anti-Defamation League defended allowing a broad swath for free speech in the belief that the only real answer to hate speech is more and better speech. Thus, while personally critical of President Carter on Israel, he criticized the decision of YeshivaUniversity cancelling the invitation to Carter to speak on campus. While condemning Stephen Hawking for joining in on the academic boycott of Israel, an action he called not only immoral but shrouded in anti-Semitism, it is clear that Lawrence would defend Hawking’s right to speak on campus. However, when it comes to actions that instill fear, Lawrence drew a red line. Such actions must be prevented from happening and strongly condemned if they do happen.


The demonstration at Al Quds University on 5 November crossed that red line for Fred Lawrence. The intellectual attitude of Lawrence as well as past and current difficulties with the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, may go some way to explaining why Lawrence greeted Sari Nusseibeh’s response to the demonstration on the Al Quds campus as “unacceptable and inflammatory.” Further, according to Fred Lawrence, Sari refused to take responsibility for the offensive demonstration but he certainly did distance both himself and Al-QudsUniversity from it contrary to Lawrence’s interpretation. What had Sari written in response to Lawrence’s request to unequivocally condemn the 5 November demonstration in both Arabic and English?


From the tone and content of Sari’s response, it would appear that Sari regarded the Brandeis request as condescending and insulting, though nowhere in the response does Sari say this. But if another university in another country with whom your university enjoyed joint projects wrote and demanded a public condemnation for a demonstration on one’s campus, such a request would be deemed unusual at the very least.  Sari wrote back and insisted that that the university had not endorsed the demonstration but also that the demonstration, in particular, trampling on the Israeli flag, was  “inconsistent with the human values we try to teach” at the university and “misrepresented who we are and what we stand for”. Sari personally and unequivocally condemned the Nazi-style demonstration by students (or outsiders) affiliated with Islamic Jihad. The demonstration was “led from people outside the university and this was an unauthorized demonstration”.

Why did Lawrence not consider this sufficient? Was it because the condemnation itself was only made in an interview with David Horovitz of the Times of Israel and not publicly in both English and Arabic? Was it because Sari implicitly did not accept responsibility for allowing the demonstration to take place? “Needless to say, the event on the campus by this small group — trampling on Israeli flags and behaving as though sympathizing with Nazi or fascist ideology — in no way represents our university values, and we are constantly trying to prevent this kind of thing from happening.” Possibly. But Sari went on to write something which seemed to really offend Fred Lawrence. First, Sari blamed “extremist Jews” and “Jewish opportunists”, presumably The Jewish Press who had written to Lawrence requesting a response to the Al Quds demonstration and then, to Sari’s “inadequate” response. Sari accused those extremists and opportunists for using the demonstration to start a vilification campaign against Al Quds University.

More significantly, in Sari’s account, the real evil of the Nazis, even more than the horrific genocide of six million Jews, appeared to be transporting the “Jewish problem” in Europe to the Middle East that logically led to Al Nakba, the disaster that befell Palestinians with the creation of Israel – an historically and ethically unjustified position, but one characterizing many peaceniks. Without Nazism “there would not have been the massacre of the Jewish people in Europe; without the massacre, there would not have been the enduring Palestinian catastrophe.” This logical and causal sequencing was understandably repugnant to Lawrence as well as being historically inaccurate. But many more Jewish historians and Jewish organizations make the mistake of viewing the creation of Israel as a consequence of the Holocaust, though there is little evidence to back such an interpretation. Finally, Sari seemed to remonstrate Lawrence not for making the request in the first place requesting an open denunciation, though that is implied, but in surrendering to the pressures of Jewish extremists who push confrontation rather than reconciliation. Nusseibeh told David Horovitz that, “Hopes for peace rest on people from both sides who try to hold the reins and steer the whole situation toward ultimate reconciliation, and not allow extremist actions on both sides to blow up the whole thing.”

Further, Sari suggested that Lawrence’s response only fed those on the Palestinian side who denigrated dialogue and called for boycotts of Israeli universities. Lawrence’s position “only strengthens those on the other side who call for boycotts of Israeli universities. It will be picked up by the people who say there is no future in these cooperations. We have been trying to say it is possible. Yes, there are obstacles but we try to overcome them. We can only overcome them by working together.” Further, “these opportunists are quick to describe the Palestinians as a people undeserving of freedom and independence, and as a people who must be kept under coercive control and occupation. They cite these events as evidence justifying their efforts to muster broad Jewish and western opinion to support their position. This public opinion, in turn, sustains the occupation, the extension of settlements and the confiscation of land, and prevents Palestinians from achieving our freedom.” In other words, Lawrence in giving into the pressures of zealots was undermining the whole prospect of reconciliation and reinforcing the settler movement and those in Israel and abroad who would deny Palestinians an independent state.

So, what do I think?

1. President Fred Lawrence was wrong writing Sari requesting he publicly denounce the demonstration in both English and Arabic. It was insulting, failed to recognize Sari’s strenuous efforts against militarism and terrorism and was hypocritical since Fred Lawrence never wrote the heads of universities with which Brandeis enjoys partnerships to request they condemn Al Quds demonstrations on their campuses;

2.. Quite aside from my own view that Sari is incorrect on his political and historical interpretations and may be wrong or insightful about why Fred Lawrence wrote to him making the request in the first place, Sari was impolitic in bringing into play his own political views and virtually asserting that Lawrence had given into the pressures of Zionist expansionists;

3. Lawrence might have recommended an academic reconsideration of the relationship between Al Quds and Brandeis but I would consider that he set aside academic procedures and prerogatives in suspending the relationship without academic due process even though he wrote that the decision “was taken deliberatively and with broad input” Dan Terris, the Director of the Center, was on the spot at Al Quds as it happens, and fed back information to Lawrence on the demonstration, but neither requested nor endorsed and implicitly criticized both Lawrence’s process and decision — “nothing that we have learned during this period has changed our conviction – built over many years of experience – that Sari Nusseibeh and the Al-Quds University leadership are genuinely committed to peace and mutual respect”;

4. This is even truer of Lawrence’s cancellation of Sari’s membership on the advisory board of the Centre.

Though this dust-up in a puddle in the whole sea of Israeli-Palestinian relationships, it is an indicator that even institutions dedicated to learning and objective analysis, and, more particularly, to enhancing dialogue between Jews and Palestinians, should so fumble a simple occasion such as the response to extremist Al Quds demonstrations.


Possible Explanations for the Genesis of Operation Lifeline

On the Genesis of Operation Lifeline:

PART II – Possible Explanations




Howard Adelman


for delivery at the conference

Indochinese Refugee Movement and the Private Sponsorship Program 1975-80″

22 November 2013.


II Possible Explanations for the Canadian Response

The media coverage around the world of Vietnamese refugees suffering was credited with generating an unprecedented level of compassion and creating a desire to help those refugees. Empathy, in this interpretation, was the impetus behind the resettlement of the Indochinese refugees on an unprecedented scale. However, bleeding hearts do not automatically produce practical programs of assistance.

In a second, but complementary theory, credit is given not to the compassion itself but to an additional factor, the translation of that compassion into a willingness to act and sacrifice time and money by private citizens in civil society: “private sponsorships for the refugees indicated the existence also of a pro-refugee public response, which may have encouraged the Canadian government to raise its quota in June 1979 to 8,000.” (Felicity Somerset (1982) “Indochinese refugees in Canada: Government policy and public response,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 10.1: 106-114, p. 110.) Public support was evidently a factor in the expansion of the intake from 5,000 to 8,000 with 4,000 more anticipated as coming from private sponsorships when the Canadian government first expanded the program in late June of 1989. However, as depicted above, at the time of the Hai Hong initiative, widespread public sector support was not evident until and after the Canadian government upped its intake from 200 to 600.

Further, in July 1979, when the government upped its intake from 8,000 government supported refugees and 4,000 sponsored by the private sector to 29,000 government refugees and 21,000 from the private sector based on a 1:1 matching formula for the increase over and above 12,000, a majority of Canadians opposed the increase and less than 40% supported it. Further, even when the original commitment to 5,000 was announced at the beginning of the year, a February 1979 Gallup Poll at that time showed that 52% of Canadians thought the figure of 5,000 was too high. In July,only 37% supported an intake of 50,000. Even in June when support went up and exceeded those who opposed, the number supporting an intake of 8,000 with 4,000 sponsored by the private sector never exceeded 50% and was neck and neck with those opposed. The opposition returned to a majority when the target of both government and private sponsorships went to 50,000. Further, in the end though 7900 sponsorships involving perhaps up to 100,000 persons may seem to be a great deal, at that time, these only involved about 3% of the population. How could support by such a relatively small number be credited with pressuring the government to bring about the target of 50,000 refugees?

Undoubtedly, public support, not the same as public pressure, played a part, as did compassion, but given the low overall figure of private supporters, support from the private sector can hardly be considered the decisive factor. Even if one counts the whole of a religious congregation and not just the active donors and time givers as supporters, we still do not approach even a majority of Canadians. Compassion and active self-sacrifice and involvement undoubtedly enabled the generosity of the policy but not its formulation. Which, if any, of the factors thus far cited was decisive?


Pat Marshall, who has written material for the Bulletin of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society (CIHS), one the two prime co-sponsors of this conference, credits media coverage of the Hai Hong for turning the tide of public opinion leading to the new and expanded program. “Constant media coverage brought the faces of the refugees into all our homes…By June, 1979…refugee sponsorships by private groups had been made possible.” (Pat Marshall  (2009) “From Friends to Hosts to Friends: Memories of the origin of the host

program,” CIHS Bulletin. The Canadian Immigration Historical Society, 55.) Compassion was not sufficient. Nor was civil society active involvement or public support let alone pressure. There had to be the stimulant for that compassion and involvement and that credit was given to the media. Pat Marshall’s thesis was supported by Felicity Somerset: “(E)xtensive media coverage of the plight of the ‘boat people’… may have helped to awaken a humanitarian response in the general public.” (Pat Marshall  (2009) “From Friends to Hosts to Friends: Memories of the origin of the host program,” CIHS Bulletin. The Canadian Immigration Historical Society, 55.)


Compassion, active self-sacrifice, public pressure, media stimulation – each was credited in turn as the decisive factor. In all these cases, the emphasis was placed on different elements in civil society. But other analyses give credit to individuals – Bud Cullen for one on the occasion of the Hai Hong. “The impetus provided by the Hai Hong resulted in Canada taking the largest number of Indochinese refugees per capita in the world.” (Dara Marcus (2013) 16.) But the liberals were defeated in June of 1959 and the Tories under the leadership of Joe Clark came to power. The Tories increased the intake form 5,000 to 8,000 government sponsored refugees and 4,000 from the private sector and Ron Atkey made his senior staff read a academic article by Irving Abella and Harold Troper that would become a chapter in their subsequent book, None Is Too Many that depicted the cold shoulder the Canadian government gave to Jewish refugees from Europe fleeing the Nazi regime. Atkey told his senior staff that he did not want to go down in history as the Frederick Blairs of forty years later.


Then in July, the Tory government upped that total to 29,000 government sponsored refugees and 21,000 from the private sector. Was Flora McDonald and/or Ron Atkey to be given the credit? Or were historical factors to be given primacy of place – such as the memories of being a refugee or inability to assist refugees in an earlier time (See Howard Adelman (ed.) (1980)  The Indochinese Refugee Movement: The Canadian Experience, Toronto: Operation Lifeline; (1982) Canada and the Indochinese Refugees, Regina: L.A. Weigl Education Associates Ltd.) – or ideological factors such as the state of the Cold War at the time, or, demographic pressures such as shifts in the Canadian population and the decline in the birth rate, particularly among French-Canadians (Somerset 111), or, looking more into the future than the past, evolving ideas about global responsibilities and obligations that resulted in the Canadian-initiated doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) by the end of the century. Or was the response simply a catalytic reaction to a unique combination of circumstances at the time?


Different national narratives emphasized different factors – in Australia, foreign policy and the antagonism of the Australian government to the Vietnamese communist government. (Nancy Viviani (1982) Australian Government Policies on the Entry of Vietnamese: Record and Responsibility, Griffith University: Centre for the Study of Australian – Asian Relations; (1984) The long journey: Vietnamese migration and settlement in Australia, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press.) In the case of New Zealand, racism was used to explain that country’s initial late and eventual relatively tepid and ambivalent response at the time (Robin Galienne (1988) The Whole Thing Was Orchestrated, PhD Thesis, University of Auckland.) that was more akin to the response of Hong Kong rather than Canada. (Chan Kwok Bun (1990) “Hong Kong’s Response to the Vietnamese Refugees: A Study in Humanitarianism, Ambivalence and Hostility,” Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science 18:1, 94-110)  Yet the outstanding performance of Canada called for some explanation since between 1978 and 1981, Indochinese refugees constituted a quarter of the immigrants to Canada compared to a usual figure of 10% of a worldwide response and 10% of the domestic gross intake of immigrants.



Operation Lifeline – Part I: The Backstory

On the Genesis of Operation Lifeline 

[Part 1: The Backstory}


Howard Adelman


for delivery at the conference

Indochinese Refugee Movement and the Private Sponsorship Program 1975-80″

22 November 2013.


After two initial sections outlining the back story of the Indochinese refugee movement and exploring the alternative explanations for Canada’s exceptional response, the paper will cover the origins of Operation Lifeline, its timing and organizational structure; I will knit into my discussion the role of the media in both the formation of Operation Lifeline and the encouragement of private sponsorship dealt with in the previous panel. I will then zero in on two crises that emerged in the development of Operation Lifeline with respect to two major policy issues: a) Operation Intellectual Kneecapping dealing with pre-empting a backlash, and b) the so-called reneging on the matching formula. I will then tie both into revisiting which, if any, of the various explanations outlined earlier best account for the generosity exhibited by civil society. I will then draw some general conclusions.


The private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees into Canada in partnership with government initiatives is correctly viewed as the pinnacle of a humanitarian response to refugees into Canada unequalled before or since. So a question naturally arises: why did that moment in history create in Canada the culmination of any effort before or since to develop an outstanding humanitarian agenda on behalf of refugees in need, a moment that subsequently earned for Canada the award of the Nansen Medal by the UNHCR?  Since the national outpouring was complemented by significant actions and initiatives by other western countries, the explanation for what happened should integrate both local and transnational factors.


I The Back Story

The back story in the creation of Operation Lifeline is easily told. In 1967, Canada broke through its legislative racist-based immigration policies when the Immigration Act was revised to be based on an abstract point system rather than favouring specific countries of origin. This was the beginning of the large scale arrival of so-called “visible minorities” to Canada. The first major influx was that of the Ugandan Asians when Idi Amin, then President of Uganda, on 4 August 1972 ordered the expulsion of the Indian and Pakistani populations of Uganda within 90 days. Of the up to 70,000 ethnically cleansed Ugandan Asians, Canada took in 7,000, the highest number for resettlement anywhere except Britain which took in almost 30,000 who were formally “British protected persons”. (Cf. M. Mamdani (1976). Politics and Class Formation in Uganda, New York: Monthly Review Press and C. Pereira, B. Adams, and M. Bristow (1978) Canadian beliefs and policy regarding the admission of Uganda Asians to Canada. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 1,(3), 354-366.)

In 1975, after the termination of the Vietnam War, dubbed by the Vietnamese as the “American War”, as the In Memoriam short video demonstrated, Americans felt a special obligation to assist Vietnamese who had been associated with the American side in the conflict. The USA put pressure on its allies to assist in the humanitarian endeavour, including Canada which, unlike Australia, had remained aloof for any military involvement in Vietnam. Canada offered a token response and took in 5,608 Vietnamese humanitarian immigrants in 1975 (3100) and 1976 (2500). Prior to that, there were only 1500 Vietnamese living in Canada, the vast majority in Quebec, usually students and graduates (and, in some case, their children and families) at Canadian French-speaking universities. The numbers taken in were only token in comparison to the huge numbers the United States admitted following the immediate termination of the Vietnam War. Given that the general Canadian attitude was an assignation of blame to the United States for the responsibility for both the war and the refugees resulting from that war, this number was considered more than sufficient to demonstrate Canada’s humanitarianism without identifying the problem as a Canadian one.

The situation changed in 1978. The Hoa or Chinese Vietnamese, like the Indo and Pakistani Asians in Uganda, disproportionately dominated the South Vietnamese business and economic sector as well as its educated and upper class; they controlled an estimated 75% of the South Vietnam economy before the fall of Saigon in 1975. Once before in 1956, the Diem government had tried to break the dominant ethnic Chinese control of the Vietnamese economy but failed. (The Ngo Dinh Diem regime in 1955 decreed that all Chinese born in Vietnam would automatically become Vietnamese citizens and in 1956 issued a decree nationalizing all categories of trade. Further, non-ethnic Vietnamese were excluded as butchers and fish mongers, rice or grain traders, in the trade of fuel (coal, charcoal, fuel oil), and from the textile industry at both the wholesale and retail levels. However, the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam circumvented these decrees most frequently by taking on Vietnamese “partners” rather than becoming citizens.) Further, by 1961, in spite of Diem’s “forced nationalization” program, only 2,000 of approximately one million ethnic Chinese in South Vietnam had become Vietnamese citizens. Nevertheless, in 1976 Hanoi demanded that the ethnic Chinese register for the elections of the National Assembly. At the time, business for the ethnic Chinese seemed to flourish as usual in spite of Hanoi’s introduction of currency reforms to break the control of the Hoa on the economy as the businessmen managed to use bribes on the Vietnamese communist cadres to allow their businesses to continue. The maintenance of the status quo was also helped by the utility of these businessmen to the Vietnam government in fostering regional trade. The Hanoi government efforts initially seemed to follow Diem’s failed footsteps.

The crucial turning point was political rather than economic, though the economic crisis of 1977 as a result of crop failures that year and general economic mismanagement did not help. Hanoi’s initiatives were pushed by relations with both the Khmer Rouge Cambodian regime on one side and China on the other. Between 1975 and 1978, there had been occasional clashes along the border between the two communist regimes, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Democratic Kampuchea, punctuated in 1975 by the Cambodian attack on the Vietnamese island of Phú Quȭc and a second major attack in April of 1977against the Vietnamese provinces of An Gang and Chāu Dȭc, killing over one hundred Vietnamese civilians. This coincided with a Communist Party of Kampuchea Central Committee directive instructing local officials to arrest all ethnic Vietnamese, all Khmer who spoke Vietnamese and even Khmer who had Vietnamese friends. The Pol Pot genocide began with the mass murder of the vast majority of those who had been arrested in the effort to purify Kampuchea of Vietnamese influences and to reclaim lost Khmer lands in Vietnam, primarily in the Mekong Delta. (Cf. Kanika Mak (2004) “Genocide Irredentism under Democratic Kampuchea (1975-79), Yale Center for International and Area Studies, Working Paper 23.) China, given its traditional rivalry with Vietnam over influence on Kampuchea, seemed to side with Cambodia. Hanoi began to fear the emergence of a fifth column and pressure was exerted on the ethnic Chinese in what had been North Vietnam. In February 1978, China accused Hanoi of forcing an exodus of ethnic Chinese, especially in the border area as tens of thousands streamed into China. 

Iran Revisited

Iran Revisited


Howard Adelman

Last night I went to hear Elliott Abrams (MA, LSE and DJ, Harvard Law), now a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. He delivered the Joseph and Gertie Schwartz Memorial Lecture entitled, “Inside the Middle East”. Abrams is the illustrious son-in-law of Midge Decter who is married to another neo-con icon, Norman Podhoretz. Abrams began his diplomatic career with democrats (Senators Scoop Jackson and Daniel Moynihan) but ended up in the Reagan administration, becoming intimately involved with Oliver North in the Iran-Contra Affair where he was left with the scar of a misdemeanour charge for unlawfully withholding information from Congress. Under Bush, Abrams served as  Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the National Security Council for Near East and North African Affairs in Bush’s first term and Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy in Bush’s second term.

Abrams continues the latter work with his current book on the mistreatment of the Baha’is in Iran. His last two previous major publications were a book, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2013) and an essay contributed to Robert Blackwill’s 2012 edited volume, Iran: the Nuclear Challenge. I will refer to the former book in another blog when I write an update on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which Abrams dismissed as going nowhere and highly unlikely to go anywhere because the bottom lines of the positions of the two negotiating parties never cross. Those negotiations are, for Abrams, a waste of both time and American prestige.

I want to follow up on yesterday’s blog because Abrams has such a different view. Abrams contrasted the Israeli position on Iran in contradistinction with the American perspective by reiterating his five T’s:

1. Threat perception – significantly different for Israel because of Israel’s proximity to Iran and Iran’s repeated statement of determination to eliminate Israel;

2. Trauma – the exacerbation of the current threats by Iran because of the trauma of the Holocaust;

3. Timing – Israel cannot afford to be continually looking over its shoulder because of a nuclear-armed Iran;

4; Trigger – Israel is determined to ensure that Iran does not have a capability of producing a bomb while America is only determined that Iran not acquire a nuclear bomb;

5. Trust – Israel, and the Gulf states as well, have lost trust is the willingness of America to follow through and ensure its commitments and red lines mean something.

In a nutshell, Abrams buys the Netanyahu line that the Iranians are just playing at jaw, jaw in order to buy time, get relief from even harsher sanctions and, hopefully, ease up on the existing sanctions while, also hopefully, dividing the P5 + 1. To some degree, in Abrams’ view, Iran seems to have achieved that delay and division by the end of the last round of talks, Hassan Rohani, the current President of Iran, has long served the Ayatolah and has boasted about his ability to stall the previous negotiations. Rohani, who was Iran’s nuclear negotiator from 2002-2005, admitted that Iran’s nuclear work was never supposed to be exposed and did boat about the success of Iran’s efforts to conceal that program. For Abrams, no deal acceptable to the Iranians would or should be acceptable to the P5 + 1. Afterwards, Cliff Orwin asked Abrams about regime change related to the Arab Spring rather than to Iran, the subject Abrams had addressed in the chapter in the edited volume on Iran mentioned above. Abram’s position is that eventually the mullahcracy will collapse in on itself and, in the meanwhile, they cannot be trusted. He did not address the issue of what measures may best nudge Iran in that direction.

Though clever in allowing the points to be easily recalled, are his five T’s an accurate depiction of reality quite aside from describing Israel’s purported fears? For Abrams easily slips from a fear to simply assuming that the fear is totally based in objective reality. What is known about each of these T’s contrasts to some degree with Abram’s depiction. First, as depicted yesterday, or last month by the Israeli military intelligence chief, Major General Aviv Kochavi, Iran has sought (and, in my observations, has achieved) the ability to manufacture a nuclear weapon fairly quickly, if, by fairly quickly we mean 4-6 weeks.

However, Kochavi acknowledges that Iran in the last few months since the elections has gone through “significant” and “strategic” changes (Kochavi’s words) that should not be ignored.  For example, Abrams omitted to say that Rohani won with a 51% majority and was the least preferred of the candidates by the Ayatollah. Further, Ayatollah Khamenei himself has said since the election that, “Heroic flexibility is very useful and necessary sometimes.” Netanyahu in his UN address this year refused to see any fundamental difference. “Presidents of Iran have come and gone. Some presidents were considered moderates, other hard-liners. But they’ve all served that same unforgiving creed, that same unforgiving regime, that creed that is espoused and enforced by the real power in Iran, the dictator known as the supreme leader, first Ayatollah Khomeini and now Ayatollah Khamenei.”

Abrams, like Netanyahu, either ignores those changes depicted by Kochavi or simply dismisses them as either rhetorical gestures in a shell game or heuristic posturing to slip free of the sanctions regime. As Netanyahu put it in his UN speech, “Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Rohani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the eyes — the wool over the eyes of the international community.”

Iranians are heavily invested in Syria. Iranians do threaten the Saudis and other Gulf states. The Iranian leader may no longer deny the Holocaust, but Iran remains an implacable enemy of Israel.  Rohani has also explicitly lied when Rohani said that Iran has never chosen deceit and secrecy when Iran was caught in 2002 building the underground centrifuge facility in Natanz and in 2009 was discovered to have built the newer deeply underground nuclear enrichment facility.

So if the Iranians have a record of lying, have virtual nuclear capability now but have not crossed Netanyahu’s red line of actually being in possession of 240-250 kgms of 20% enriched uranium, and is willing now to back off for strategic, economic, domestic and other reasons, then the threat, whatever it actually is, has changed. The signing of the agreement with the IAEA is proof that Rohani is willing to at least concede (mostly, though still not sufficiently) on the transparency front probably, in part, because Iran is so close to nuclear capability.

The issue then is No. 4, the trigger. Abrams was correct last night that, whatever the benefits and outcomes of the chemical weapons talks on Syria, virtually the whole world concluded that the Syrian crisis has shown how reluctant the US, and certainly the rest of the world is, to resort to a military solution once a red line has been crossed, in the case of Iran, the fear of a future expulsion of the nuclear inspectors and an attempt at a very quick breakout in the production of nuclear weapons. I personally believe that it is because the Iranians are on the threshold of having a significant nuclear capability that they are willing to be flexible. As Khamenei said to his Revolutionary Guards, a wrestler needs to know when to be flexible while not forgetting the nature of his enemy.

So the issue is whether Iran has shown enough flexibility and has conceded enough to warrant an initial easing of the sanctions. As I indicated yesterday, Iran is also on that threshold but has not crossed it yet to the satisfaction of the P5+1, but that possibility is very close and may be just around the corner. The fact with respect to the threat is that there are four lines in the sand:

a) Iran having a capability to make nuclear weapons within8-12 weeks after a breakout;

b) Iran having a capability of breaking out to make nuclear weapons in 4-6 weeks;

c) Iran having a current capability of making nuclear weapons;

d) Iran having nuclear weapons.

The consensus is that Iran has not achieved d) or even c), but has achieved a). So the issue is how best to stop Iran from getting to b) given the recognition that there has been a change in Iran and that the economic sanctions have bitten deeply. Israel and the USA are NOT divided on this issue of the threat, contrary to Abrams presentation, for Obama’s goal is also to prevent Iran from actually having a nuclear capability and not just preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons as Abrams asserted last night. Further, the issue is how to develop an agreement that ensures that Iran cannot “breakout” when it decides to do so and use its current capabilities and centrifuge capacity to very quickly become a nuclear power before the world becomes educated about the immanent threat and develops the willingness to take military action. Testing America’s willingness to take action on Syria’s chemical weapons used against its own people is one thing, but Iran recognizes and seems reluctant to test American willpower to use the military option to protect Israel, especially given the widespread consensus in Congress on this red line.

It would appear that Abrams paid little attention to Blackwill’s strictures in the final chapter of the edited volume to which Abrams contributed, for Blackwill warned against jumping to quick and clichéd conclusions, misusing false analogies and comparisons (Syria and Iran), focussing on short term thinking (Abrams) rather than longer term goals, though on this issue, Kerry may not be any further ahead than Abrams, recognizing the various cautions about a pre-emptive attack in spite of America’s much enhanced capabilities in terms of the American fleet’s proximity to targets of opportunity, its possession of deep cluster bombing capability, and its capacity to hit all the relevant targets.  The real underlying timing issue is whether this is the opportune timing both to freeze Iran’s capability development and set Iran to some degree in a reverse direction while, at the same time, reinforcing the forces of moderation within Iranian society that can further weaken the hold of the Ayatollahs on that country and even provide a new prospective link with Iran though that would certainly increase the threat to American relations with the Gulf states.

Last night Abrams also gave a reason why he cannot be trusted. He was asked that very question. How can you be trusted, Mr. Abrams, when you were a vocal voice pushing America to invade Iraq. Abrams replied that everyone, every western military intelligence service, at the time believed that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapons program. But that was not the question. The issue was about the solidity of the evidence for such a belief, the issue of whether Iraq was even close to a nuclear capability, which very few believed, the issue of the immanence of the threat, the issue of considering alternatives to an invasion and the issue of whether, if there was even a threat of developing a nuclear capability, an invasion at that time was warranted. Abram’s refusal to contemplate and consider these finer distinctions simply indicated that continuing distrust of Elliott Abrams’ analysis is warranted even though he does not pose a nuclear or strategic threat to anyone.

Iran and Nuclear Weapons

Iran and Nuclear Weapoms




Howard Adelman


As we examine the fallout from the “paused” negotiations on nuclear production facilities in Iran and the trading blame, by Kerry of Iran and of Iran on divisions among the six (Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China and US) negotiation teams, largely reported as between the US and France, today, I received the report of the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s nuclear program. Recently, I also received David Albright submission in early October to the US Senate Committee  on Foreign Relations. To understand in part both the progress and the pause in the negotiations, it is helpful to read both reports. My own take on the two reports follow. The reports themselves can be accessed as follows:

1. IAEA Safeguards Report on Iran

2. “Reversing Iran’s Nuclear Program: Understanding Iran’s Nuclear Program and Technically Assessing Negotiating Positions”

Three days ago, Iran and the IAEA signed the long awaited Joint Statement Framework for Cooperation; the technical talks over the last two years in Vienna and Tehran have been critical to facilitating or blocking the current political negotiations and the breakthrough on this agreement is a necessary prerequisite to the successful resumption of the political talks. I myself had believed that the pause in the international negotiations was about Iran getting the go-ahead from the ayatollah leaders to make the final compromises. Given this agreement, it seems likely that go ahead had already been received and that the technical agreement was necessary to show a full readiness at transparency.

My own summary of the two reports based on three issues: 1) transparency 2) Iran’s preparations for ready convertibility to enable the production of nuclear weapons; and 3) ability to produce weapon’s grade enriched uranium, concludes:

1) There is no problem with what is NOW taking place at either the underground plants at the Natanz or Fordan sites in terms of transparency and in terms of any further increase in weapons production capability since no additional centrifuges have been installed and the ones there have not been fed uranium hexafluoride, but the capability of those two plants had already been enhanced to enable Iran up until very recently to produce significant quantities of material from its almost 20,000 gas centrifuges and, further, Iran continued its enrichment programs at those facilities even while under IAEA monitoring; nevertheless, the IAEA verified that what Iran disclosed was accurate;

2) Re Esfahan uranium conversion and fuel fabrication, in terms of material, Iran had increased its stockpile of enriched almost 20% uranium hexafluoride to 196kg from its small accumulation previously and has a very large stockpile of both its uranium in hexafluoride and oxide form that can be readily converted into weapons grade uranium and the verification procedures confirmed the accuracy of Iran’s reports; more worrisome, on 5 November Iran resumed its conversion process that it had stopped earlier;

3) the gap between the decision to go ahead and the breakout point is down to 4-6 weeks;

4) the stockpile is coming very close to Israel’s pre-announced red line of a maximum stockpile of 240 kg when such a stockpile could trigger an Israeli military response, and, given the shortening time line, therefore increasing the likelihood of a military response;

5) When the Arak reactor is completed (for example, the control room machinery, the refueling mechanism and the reactor pumps have not yet been installed), all necessary for a heavy water reactor more suited to the production of weapons grade uranium that any material needed for peaceful uses, the goal Iran claims to be pursuing (President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have repeatedly reiterated that Iran’s facilities are only designed for peaceful purposes and Iran has no intention of developing the capability of building a bomb – President Hassan Rouhani NBC Nightly News interview 18 September 2013: “We have never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb. We are not going to do so. We are solely seeking peaceful nuclear technology.”), Iran will be in a position to produce enough weapon’s grade uranium (WGU) to rapidly produce enriched uranium for an as yet modest weapons program probably by the middle of next year, perhaps accounting for Netanyahu’s repeated hysterical protests about the negotiations; further, Iran already has enough heavy water for the operation of the plant;

6) There is a real problem of transparency at the Arak reactor but there is no evidence that the Arak reactor is in production yet.

7) Iran had continued to resist pressure to provide design and facility progress reports to the IAEA on the Arak Heavy Water reactor, a very serious concern since Arak can directly produce plutonium, but in this recently signed agreement, has agreed to verification procedures, including providing full information on the Gehine mine in Bandar Abbas, the new heavy water production plant, any new research reactors, full information on 16 designated sites for possible construction of nuclear production facilities and on enrichment efforts;

8) I have not seen sufficient evidence to draw any conclusions about Iran’s progress in its deliverable capabilities;

9) We do not know what we do not know – whether Iran is secretly building facilities elsewhere;

10) Most bothersome, Iran has as yet refused to sign the additional protocol to the agreement re undeclared nuclear material and activities.

Summary: Iran has not made any decision to produce nuclear weapons but is coming closer to having a capacity to develop such weapons quickly once a decision is made. However, it might be taken that this full transparency agreement indicates that Iran is ready to make another significant at least pause in its momentum towards nuclear capability even further than the decision made in 2003. So both Kerry and and Zarif may be correct that a deal is very near. A lot depends on the few outstanding issues, including the signing of the additional protocol.

My own belief now is that if the negotiations are concluded, Iran will keep to the deal, and is not simply play acting to act behind the backs of the international community at least for the next several years until its economy substantially recovers and during that time, Iran’s pledges can be tested as the sanctions are gradually lifted, namely:

1. FULL transparency, especially re Arak;

2. No further enrichment and subject to inspection;

3. Placing enriched uranium to almost 20% in escrow (How much? when? and where?)

4. Dismantling of some cascades of centrifuges;

But as in any arms agreement, there is clearly a risk, most specifically for Israel. Further, if Iran proves to be continuing on a path of deception and obfuscation, the momentum of the sanctions and the will to take and public moral  authority for military action will have been lost.   

Corrections, comments and feedback very welcome.