The Iran-Israeli War

There is an article in this morning’s Washington Post by Ishaan Tharoor entitled, “Is regime change in Iran part of Trump’s agenda?” The answer offered is an assertive “yes.” The following evidence is offered:

  • Rudy (Rudolph) Giuliani, The Donald’s newly-appointed personal lawyer, just said so in an unexpected speech (both in timing and given his role as Trump’s personal attorney with no role in the White House) on Saturday to the Iran Freedom Convention for Democracy and Human Rights (IFCDHR) a front for the MEK, Mujahidin e-Khalq, stating that Trump was “committed to regime change” in Iran
  • Giuliani also said that, “We have a president who is tough… a president who is as committed to regime change as we are” and that confronting Iran is “more important than an Israeli-Palestinian deal.”
  • Giuliani has been a lobbyist for over a decade for the MEK (see Jonathan Vankin in the INQUISITR)
  • In 2012, Giuliani was widely credited with getting the MEK delisted from its fifteen-year-old U.S. State Department designation as a “terrorist organization” under a court-imposed deadline for a decision (cf. Spencer Ackerman in Share 12/09/2012)
  • The MEK as a proxy for the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq had been held responsible for the deaths of three American military officers and three military contractors
  • The MEK, following a 2004 NYT Magazine report, is widely regarded as a husband-and-wife cult led by Massoud and Maryam Rajavi given its controls over the sex lives and reading of its members, though it now presents itself as a pro-democracy organization and implacable enemy of the Islamic Tehran regime that provides intelligence (usually fake) on Iran’s nuclear program
  • In 2012, the MEK, in spite of the support it had gained among some American politicians and policy buffs, was still largely considered a fringe cult with limited appeal to Iranians
  • However, currently both John Bolton, Trump’s newly-named National Security Adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the newly-minted Secretary of State, are known supporters of the MEK
  • Trump in his campaign to be the Republican nominee, in his presidential campaign and as president, has repeatedly denounced the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a “bad one,” the “worst deal ever”
  • This week it is widely believed that he will renounce the nuclear deal and re-impose economic sanctions contrary to the dire warnings against such a move by world political leaders such as Emmanuel Macron, President of France, and UN Secretary General António Guterres because of the imminent prospect of war (Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary, arrived in Washington yesterday to continue Macron’s lobbying campaign)
  • May 12 is the deadline for making a decision about renewing sanctions by the U.S.
  • Trump is highly unlikely to go to war against Tehran given his dedication to pulling troops out of the Middle East and Far East (“We are going to stop spending US$7 trillion abroad and start focusing on infrastructure at home.”) in spite of the propensities and preferences of the hawks among his reborn foreign policy personnel

By all reputable accounts and inspection reports, Iran has kept the terms of the nuclear deal, but it has not curbed, and likely enhanced, its missile program as well as its troubling interventions in Syria, not just to back the Assad regime, but to establish long term military and missile bases in Syria. If the U.S. re-authorizes economic sanctions, thereby renouncing its commitment to the nuclear deal, a deep schism will result between the U.S. and its European allies who are intent on continuing their support for the nuclear deal.

The likely result will be that the U.S. will give, and has already probably committed itself to giving, Israel permission to act as its surrogate in attacking Iranian targets in Syria. Note the following:

  • Retired Israeli military generals and intelligence officers have become very vocal and have openly warned that withdrawal from the nuclear deal will make matters worse
  • In The Guardian on the weekend, Mark Townsend and Julian Borger reported that an Israeli intelligence firm had been employed by the Trump campaign to discredit those in the Obama regime (Kerry, Rhodes, Kahl, Biden) that had been active in forging the deal by means of “dirty ops” thereby helping to discredit the deal
  • Netanyahu in the week before presented an elaborate show-and-tell with an impressive array of detail captured by the Mossad on the well-known pre-deal record of lying and cheating by the Iranian regime on the Iranian nuclear program
  • Netanyahu almost explicitly claimed that Iran was continuing its past practices of lying and cheating in the post 2015 nuclear deal period but provided absolutely no evidence to that effect
  • Most ominously, Netanyahu insisted that Iran had to be stopped and it was better to do that now rather than later
  • Israel insists on continuing its policy of absolute control over the skies concerning any threats emanating from Syria as evidenced when Israel shot down an Iranian drone in February
  • In the past several weeks, Israel has upped the ante in attacking Iranian facilities in Syria; in the most significant action, Israeli F-15 fighter jets destroyed a cache of Iranian missiles and, in the process, reportedly killed dozens of Iranian military personnel
  • On 30 April, the Knesset voted to give Netanyahu authorization, if the Defense Minister agreed, to “declare war under extreme circumstances,” thereby amending the Israel’s Basic Law Clause 40A that states that the “state shall not start a war save by force of a government decision” and that such a decision will be conveyed to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee ASAP; the revised procedure would sideline the traditional pattern that the IDF, the intelligence institutions and the Foreign Affairs Ministry would all be consulted before such a decision
  • Netanyahu has repeatedly drawn a red line in the sand insisting that Israel will not permit Iran to establish military bases in Syria; in fact, there are three red lines: 1) no Iranian or Iranian proxies (e.g. Hezbollah) on Israeli borders; 2) no Iranian precision-guided missiles in Syria; 3) no expanded Iranian military entrenchment in Syria
  • Putin’s meeting this week with Netanyahu is unlikely to dissuade Israel from any further military action in Lebanon but will seek reassurances and mechanisms that Russian facilities will not be targeted
  • Hawkish Israeli cabinet members have insisted that Israel’s security will remain in dire jeopardy unless Assad is removed, an unlikely prospect, but holding that goal up will make Netanyahu’s military initiative against the Iranian presence in Syria appear as a more modest effort, even if quite disproportionate to the provocation, and will put further pressure on Assad to accede to Israeli demands that Iran be required to remove its military bases from Syria
  • A distraction from the eruptions expected from Palestinian quarters to the imminent U.S. embassy opening in Jerusalem in a week adds fuel to the increased prospect of a much higher military engagement of Israel against Iran in Syria
  • The disproportionate Israeli response to the Hamas efforts against the fence received relatively muted international criticism and Hamas has now been reduced effectively to pleading for a long-term military truce

Iran has become both very circumspect at the same time as it has been more vocal in warning the U.S. not to cancel the nuclear deal. More specifically,

  • Until 12 May, Iran has put further military initiatives in Syria on “pause”
  • On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani not only threatened the U.S. if it reneged on the nuclear deal, but also announced that, “We have plans to resist any decision by Trump on the nuclear accord…Orders have been issued to our atomic energy organization … and to the economic sector to confront America’s plots against our country”
  • American and/or Israeli diplomatic and/or military initiatives will weaken Rouhani and strengthen his rival hard line Revolutionary Guard Corps leader, Qassem Soleimani and solidify support for him by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
  • Soleimani is almost surely planning a quid pro quo attack on an Israeli military operation after 12 May even though it will almost surely result in a much larger retaliation against the Iranian military presence in Syria
  • In the May 6th elections in Lebanon, Hezbollah has run candidates, even more hawkish than before and in all constituencies for the first time in an effort to extend its control over Lebanese political and military policies and put Lebanon even further into Iran’s back pocket
  • The prospect of war with Israel and the imminent likely cancellation of the nuclear deal has led to a further precipitous decline in the value of the Iranian currency, putting more pressure on the regime to find a distraction and a nationalist rallying cry
  • The radical forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, especially the Al Quds division, is highly unlikely to retreat from its efforts to provide the point of attack for Iran to project power in the region even though in the past it moved into vacuums created by others; Soleimani likely views himself at a point of no return or retreat, but this is the critical breaking point on which Israel is forging its new activist agenda against Iran (cf. the recent piece by Jonathan Paris in the Fathom Forum)

I have been a strong supporter of the Iran nuclear deal. I have also warned that the debates over the Iran nuclear were really over differences in how to respond to the increasing threat of a more conventionally militant Iran. Both issues are now merging once again and the most likely prospect is an Israeli enhanced military involvement in Syria targeting Iran and with an implicit backing of the U.S. I believe that such an enhanced response would be more effective if it was de-linked from the Iranian nuclear deal but the Netanyahu government seems to believe otherwise and that now is the time to take action in the interest of long-term as well as immediate strategic goals.

Expect war unless Soleimani backs away temporarily (unlikely) to increase his forces fighting in Yemen and with Turkish forces against the Kurds.

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The Iran Nuclear Deal and Iranian Radicals

The Iran Nuclear Deal and Iranian Radicals

by

Howard Adelman

On 5 May 2016 at noon at Massey College at the University of Toronto, Professor Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, a Professor of History and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the university, gave a talk entitled, “The Iran Deal and the End of the Iranian Revolutionary Radicalism.” The talk was not about the terms of the deal itself, upon which I have written a great deal, but rather on the far more important topic, the significance of the deal as an indicator of the current stage of the Iranian revolution and the implications on both domestic policy within Iran and on international relations.

Mohamad’s most important book has been Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism and Historiography (2001). In it, he described the unique historical cultural and religious heritage of Iran, in contrast to the imposition of Western imperialist influences. In the journal, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (23:1&2, 2003, Nasrin Rahimieh described the scholarship in the book as “a remarkable work of historiography and an original analysis of Iranian cultural history” by challenging the Euro-centred concept of modernity and the widespread intellectual conviction that the spirit of inquiry, rationalism and scientific discovery can be traced exclusively to the European Enlightenment. In Mohamad’s thesis, the Enlightenment itself was influenced in its development by a dialectical relationship with the East, in particular, the Middle East, which facilitated the refashioning of the cultural revolution underway in Europe and the emergence of a new conception of self epitomized by the Enlightenment.

True to that spirit of exploring the interaction of East and West, Mohamad began his lecture with the depiction of the confluence of two streams, the final stage of the Iranian revolution and America’s historical withdrawal from its self-defined role as spreading democracy to the rest of the world. On the latter, it is noteworthy that former Vice-President Dick Cheney, a prime author of the military intervention in Iraq, on Friday endorsed Donald Trump as the standard bearer of the Republican Party, the very same Trump who has repeatedly denounced that intervention as America’s biggest foreign policy mistake and who has championed an America First policy that requires America to surrender its role as policeman of the world. This is also the same presidential candidate who repeatedly knocks the Iran nuclear deal as the “worst deal ever” while revealing he knows very little about its terms.

Three months ago, as Trump campaigned in the New Hampshire primary, he was interviewed by Anderson Cooper for CNN where he put on full display his total ignorance about the contents of that agreement and his absolute lack of credentials to be the leader of the free world. Trump boasted as usual that he is “the best deal-maker ever,” “the best negotiator ever,” while revealing gross misrepresentations of the deal and the process that lead to it. As Trump mis-described the terms, he claimed that America was paying Iran $150 billion to sign the deal. In reality, the UN was lifting the sanctions that blocked Iran from using $50 billion (not $150 billion) of its own money. America had been the main initiator and the most important enforcer of the sanctions, but in no rational world could the release of Iran’s own money be described as the U.S. giving Iran that money to sign the deal. Yet this blustering braggart went on to win, or is on the verge of winning, the Republican nomination to run for President on the absolutely unique campaign of presenting himself as a victim of the “establishment” and a heroic one person saviour – victim and victor at one and the same time.

Mohamad’s thesis was precisely the opposite of Trump’s. Though Mohamad did not spell it out in his lecture, the implicit assumption of the talk (confirmed in my discussions with him afterwards) was that the deal was the best one possible for both sides, and, more importantly, was a significant step in the advancement of peace in international relations. Further, in the major thrust of his talk, the deal was critical both as a signal of and an instrument for the advance towards moderation of the Iranian regime. While I have agreed with the former conclusion, I have been sceptical about the latter claim. Mohamad’s talk forced me to reconsider that position.

In the talk, Mohamad presumed he was addressing an educated audience and took for granted that we were all familiar with the variation of theories of the stages through which revolutions pass. When I was an undergraduate, I read Crane Brinton’s 1952 revised edition of The Anatomy of a Revolution and believe it is still among my collection of books now mostly shelved in my garage. As a medical student at the time, I recall that my predominant reaction was that the book should have been called The Physiology of Revolution for it was far more of a dynamic account of stages revolutions pass through than of its structural elements. Further, it was more of a disease account, a portrait of an abnormality that societies have to go through in order to develop an immunity to political domestic violence. Mohamad referred to, but did not explicate, the fact that the dominant conception of the Iranian revolution by Iranians was an engineering rather than a medical model, implying a constructive rather than abnormal political pattern through which societies pass.

Since he did not elaborate on how the stages of a revolution conceived in engineering terms differed from those stages conceived in a medical framework, I had to fall back on the disease model as a means of understanding the intellectual foundation for his talk and when I asked two questions afterwards, I chose not to raise the question because any answer would require another lecture. In the disease model, revolutions are abnormalities in social development, but usually necessary abnormalities that societies in the process of maturation need to go through, to acquire the necessary institutions that will immunize that society from the destructive forces as inherent propensities in domestic politics.

Revolutions begin with failures of the old regime, more specifically, the increasing costs of maintaining the regime and carrying out its perceived responsibilities, and the decreasing ability to access the funds necessary for that task. As the regime grows more ineffectual and less able to enforce its rules, defectors come forth from the regime and an opposition arises in significant part from elements outside the normal power structure. When a regime can no longer hold the centre, when it can no longer enforce the values underpinning the regime and the order established by it, a revolt or a disaster instigating a revolt breaks out. Moderates step in to try to mollify the rebels and reassert control. They fail. The reforms they initiate are half-assed. And they are caught in a vice between reactionaries who condemn them for their weakness and selling out, and by the militants who denounce the wishy-washy half-hearted efforts. After the regime has lost its immunity to change, after the incubation period, then the revolution proper begins and the disease soon appears at fever pitch.

The radicals lead an uprising to challenge the constituted authority directly and take control of the main centres of power – the railways, the communications centres, the seats of law and of governance – precisely the key source of failure of the Easter Rising in Ireland where the revolution was delayed rather than halted in its tracks by this failure, by a focus on symbols of place rather than power. That was lucky, lucky, because of what also failed to follow – the initial successful seizure of control and The Terror as a way to deal with the domestic opposition and its foreign supporters. Instead, the British ruling regime resorted to terror, retaining power temporarily, but at the cost of its legitimacy.

Normally, terror perpetrated by the militant revolutionaries emerges like a raging fever. While a weak regime tries to extend and consolidate its power and authority, many errors are committed and the revolution is only partially successful. The radicals give rise to an equally powerful reaction as moderates either gradually or suddenly assume power over the instruments controlled by the radicals. But they too cannot regain the trust of the population and a new regime led by a charismatic and populist leader takes charge to exercise control primarily through coercive power rather than through the authority of legislated and judicially adjudicated laws and certainly not through the influence of ideas.

This standard pattern is neither a necessary nor a constant one. For example, though the British Revolution produced a Cromwell, the French a Napoleon and Russia a Stalin, the U.S. exceptionally did not yield to dictatorship. Not all revolutions need devour their children. In the U.S., this may have been because the American Revolution had a release valve – the cleansing of the figures of power of the old regime took place by means of a forced exodus as the elements of the old power structure fled to the mother country or to Canada as self-defined United Empire Loyalists. But whichever path taken, given the context and circumstances, what initially emerges is a regime of dual power – Presbyterians and the military leaders of the new modern army in Britain, Girondins and Jacobins in France, Bolsheviks versus Mensheviks in partnership with liberals in Russia. And that was certainly true in the Iranian Revolution.

Though often viewed as a reactionary regime to restore the power of the Mosque, the Iranian Revolution exemplified the pattern of extremist control in a revolution. In the very significant first phase through which it passed, the so-called men of virtue, those most fanatically dedicated and led by a small and resolute disciplinary leadership gained power in conjunction with the Revolutionary Guards. The exercise of that power was characterized by summary executions at home to expunge the regime of “vice,” and the export of the revolution to the near-abroad. If France had its Committee of Public Safety and Britain its Council of State, Iran had its Council of Experts to centralize power and authority through the use of lethal force to repress any perceived opposition. The domestic repression was combined with missionary adventurism and then went through two other stages, the seeming compromise between the clerics and the militants in a so-called period of apparent moderation and then the supposed reinvigoration of the revolution under the Terror of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian Revolution under the rule of President Hassan Rouhani is now going through the consolidation of its Thermidor, its second substantive moderating phase and convalescence from the fever of its incandescent fervour in the disease version of the stages of revolution

At the height of the feverish period of Puritanism and the revolt against the influence of the Great Satan, during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election and then fraudulent re-election in June of 2003, the third phase of the Terror began. The final evident opponents of the regime were either killed, suppressed into silence or forced into exile, like the Nobel Prize winner for human rights, Shirin Abadi. That is when Ahmadinejad announced the resumption of the Iranian nuclear program and the plans for 10 nuclear plants in total disregard of UN resolutions. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were banned and Iran declared it would no longer be bound by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran had passed through the first stage of the actual revolution in the first decade of the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini who consolidated his power in partnership with the Revolutionary Guard by expunging his communist and liberal secular allies from power in the decade until his death in 1989. He did so under the rule of Islamic law, velayat-e faqih. (Faqih is an Islamic jurist). Khomeini’s death inaugurated the second stage in the dual split between Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Khomeini’s successor as Supreme Leader, and President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the incomparable deal maker who makes Trump look like a wuss. At the same time, Iran exported its anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli fervent orthodoxy and revolutionary spirit in the bombing of the Jewish Community Centre in Argentina in 1994.

A radical dual system of rule had been incorporated into the Council of Guardians to mediate between decisions of the Majlis or parliament and the Council of Experts, charged with selecting the Supreme Leader. This proved inadequate. In 1988, constitutional reform created an Expediency Council, an administrative amalgam of clerics, scholars and intellectuals to resolve disputes between the Majlis and the Council of Guardians and ensure the efficacy of legislated rule. Although its creation seemed initially to be ineffectual as the Iranian Spring was suppressed in the tyrannical rule and consolidation of clerical power, Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi in his talk seemed to suggest, if I interpreted him correctly, that the Expediency Council saved the new revolution from the Terror instituted under Ahmadinejad and his continuation in power via a fraudulent election in 2003. That Council enabled his replacement by the consolidation or power of the moderates under Rafsanjani.

In the terror, the Revolutionary Guards had gained a monopoly and consolidated its corrupt control over entire economic sectors of the economy, arrested critics routinely and permitted prison guards to routinely flout the rule of law in the treatment of prisoners (see Michael Ledeen Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West.) The West’s reaction was primarily stimulated by the resurrection of the nuclear program rather than by the abuse of civil liberties. Utilizing gradually increased smart sanctions while avoiding a direct military confrontation, the attack against Iran’s nuclear program worked. Moderates were elected and the new regime in 2009 launched a process of reconciliation, of which the most momentous outcome was the nuclear deal. But that was made possible when Iran entered the fourth phase of its revolution and the real Shiite scholars began to reassert themselves against the pseudo and unrecognized scholarship of a third rate Khamenei as they tried to distance the clerics from the political misrule of Ahmadinejad, who tried to cover up his corrupt and inept regime with the rationale that his rule exemplified the return of the Shiite messiah. Anti-clericalism had mushroomed and hope for the preservation of the status of the clerics depended on the resumption of a widely recognized clerical scholar becoming the third Supreme Leader.

But political and economic revolutions are relatively superficial and deal with the earth’s crust and not the momentous shifts in the tectonic plates on which that crust rests – such as the Industrial Revolution and the Reproductive Revolution. In the next blog I will discuss that interaction as exemplified by developments in the Iranian Revolution as depicted, to the best of my memory, by Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Iran Redux

Iran Redux

by

Howard Adelman

Senator Chuck Schumer has declared himself. He is sticking to his endorsement of the bill that insists that Congress approve of the Iran nuclear deal. “I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement and I support the Corker [Bob Corker Rep.-Tenn and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee] bill which would allow that to occur.” Up until yesterday he had been equivocal and only seemed to endorse Congressional involvement and not outright approval.

I am all for enhanced democratic review, but what changed? Why now even before he is briefed in detail by the White House? Why before the final agreement is reached on 30 June? Why over the Iranian deal? Why is this deal different from almost all other foreign agreements? And why would a democratic senator push such a bill, and do so strongly, given the Republican adamant stance in opposing virtually anything Obama initiates?

Schumer is expected to become the Democratic leader in the Senate in 2017 now that Robert Menendez has been eclipsed because of the investigation of his affairs and allegations of corruption. Schumer’s support indicates that twelve additional Democratic senators are likely to follow. That would mean that the Senate is on the cusp of achieving a veto-proof majority. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the new ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, might add his support if he can obtain concessions ensuring that the bill could not derail the agreement ­– an unlikely prospect.

The proposed bill freezes sanctions relief for 60 days while Congress reviews the agreement, a seemingly relatively innocuous and eminently democratic requirement. But the bill as written also allows Congress to veto the agreement, an unprecedented development with respect to these types of foreign agreements. Democrats have until today to file proposed amendments to soften the legislation. Corker and his supporters argue that they are playing the role of a tag team to allow and permit Obama to remain tough in the negotiations between now and 30 June. However, that is misleading since there are many alternative ways of accomplishing the same goal that would not also possibly undermine the negotiations.

Everyone is aware – the Americans from all camps, the Iranians, the remainder of the P5+1, virtually all experts on the negotiations – that the sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table and that the removal of the sanctions is Iran’s foremost foreign policy objective. Netanyahu and the Republicans believe that the Obama administration has not squeezed the Iranians sufficiently and that more can be gained in terms of foreign policy goals. The negotiators, on the other hand – not just the Americans but the Europeans as well – believe that they have squeezed Iranians as much as they could.

Like the Americans, the Iranians are also divided into two camps. President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are the doves. They are agreeable to severe limits on Iran’s nuclear program under two major provisos – sanctions are definitely lifted and Iran retains the right of any nation to use its nuclear program for peaceful purposes. The American negotiators are willing to lift the sanctions if reasonable guarantees via transparency, inspections and deconstruction of that portion of Iran’s nuclear program are sufficient to ensure that Iran cannot reconstruct its nuclear weapons program quickly.

The doves in each country face off with hawks. Most American hawks have a vested interest in retaining sanctions to use, not so much to confine Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful purposes, but to use the sanction pressures to extract other non-nuclear concessions from Iran on its missile program, on its support for Hamas and Hezbollah as well as the rebels in Yemen, on its hegemonic ambitions in the Gulf and, most importantly to them, to minimize Iran as a threat to Israel.

Some American hawks, like John Bolton, go further. They do not believe sanctions will modify Iranian policy in any significant ways and believe the only real option is war against Iran. “The only credible option for significantly delaying the Iranian nuclear program would be a bombing campaign,” wrote Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations. Billy Kristol agreed. “It’s long since been time for the United States to speak to this regime in the language it understands—force.” It is not clear whether other hawks believe this as well but focus on the attacking the deal with Iran as both flawed and inadequate because they do not believe that a policy objective of war with Iran is salable to the American public.

Rouhani’s and Zarif’s hard line opponents also have a vested interest in retaining sanctions. They benefit economically through their controls on smuggling and their ability to earn inflated profits on scarce goods through the businesses they inherited and developed. They also benefit politically in reinforcing the image of America as a bogeyman for the Iranian people. Like the extreme hawks in the U.S., no deal that is possible would be acceptable to them but they will go along with any deal approved by the Supreme Leader.

Are there moderate Iranian hawks who simply believe Iran could get a better deal? Undoubtedly, but I believe the Iranians are desperate enough that virtually any deal that does not cross their red lines would be acceptable. They have clearly enunciated those red lines – lifting all the nuclear sanctions and conceding that Iran has the right to retain and use its nuclear infrastructure for peaceful purposes.

This red line enjoys widespread support. Even Mir-Hossein Mousavi, leader of the Green Movement, insisted that, “we will not abandon the great achievements of Iranian scientists. I too will not suspend uranium enrichment.” Even a hawk such as the Commander of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, Mohammad Ali Jafari, has insisted, an immediate lifting of sanctions is a red line for Iran. Thus, although the Iranian hawks oppose the deal, but have acceded to it because it is now supported by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, they hope Congress will push America into a position of refusing to lift all sanctions related to nuclear weapons when and if Iran carries out its part of the bargain. Thus do American hawks strengthen Iranian hawks.

On the other hand, the doves on each side have also become interdependent. It seems clear from both statements from the White House and from the current Iranian political leadership that both sides hope that the nuclear deal will have wider ramifications, including with respect to Iran-U.S. relations, even though those prospects are not part of the agreement. Rouhani stated that, “Some think that we must either fight the world or surrender to world powers. We say it is neither of those, there is a third way. We can have cooperation with the world…With those countries with which we have a cold relationship, we would like a better relationship. And if we have tension or hostility with any countries, we want an end to tension and hostility with those countries.” Rouhani will not be the first leader of a repressive country to initiate domestic pressures for reform by engagement with the rest of the world.

Netanyahu has correctly insisted that, “we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing.” But the agreement is not dependent on such a change. Nor is it conditional upon the regime changing as a result of the agreement. That is a hoped-for plus. As Netanyahu has also said, if the regime changed, there would be no need for an agreement. One of those hoped for consequences is that ]ran will give up on its objective of exterminating Israel. But to make that a necessary condition of the deal is both unfeasible and will more likely ensure that intractable hostility will remain. “Israel will not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons, period.”

Netanyahu’s assertion is totally understandable. But to make the goal regime change or even, now that the rest of the world has accepted it, that the sanctions regime  ensure that Iran’s capability of eventually making nuclear weapons is totally destroyed, is to desire perfection and, unfortunately, as has been said many times, perfection is the enemy of the possible. Making a deal conditional upon Iran recognizing Israel’s right to exist is a total non-starter. As Obama said, “The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognising Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal.”

If the American hawks undermine the deal, especially now that the rest of the world has endorsed it, if Iran keeps to the deal without American participation, the international nuclear sanctions regime will collapse on their own. America would find itself to be internationally isolated on the issue with dramatic negative effects on the rest of its foreign policy objectives. Once the deal has been agreed to and once the details are filled in by 30 June to the satisfaction of both sides, America will be not only the only loser, but a huge loser if the hawks win the day.

Further, Iran would be the real winner because it could, and might be forced to by internal pressures, to resist many of the concessions it has already made. Iran would be unwilling to craft any deal on such unfavourable terms to itself as has been the case under American leadership. The European Council on Foreign Relations warned that American hawks, “could endanger the international consensus backing sanctions against Iran” with the prospective result that Europe would unilaterally ease easing its oil embargo against Iran.

China and Russia would seize “the opportunity to further advance their own interests at the expense of the U.S.” Igor Korotchenko, head of Moscow’s Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade suggested that Russia sell S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran. Enhanced sanctions against Iran without the cooperation of the rest of the world would make the whole sanctions regime irrelevant. America would have shot itself in the foot. On the other hand, if the agreement holds, the revival of Iran’s energy sector will undermine Russia’s ability to blackmail Europe because of its role as a major supplier of oil and gas. Further, American companies can be in the front row with other competitors in the lucrative prospective business of rehabilitating Iran’s oil sector.

Given all of these factors, why have some influential congressman seemingly joined the efforts to undermine the deal? My conviction is that it has nothing to do with foreign policy and everything to do with both domestic policy and Congressional politics. I will have to expand on this at another time.

Sanctions and Relief Implementation

Sanctions and Relief Implementation

by

Howard Adelman

Note that the EU3+3 (Britain, France, Germany + China, Russia and the U.S.) is the same as the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia and U.S., permanent members of the UN Security Council + Germany).

To understand the current conflict over sanctions against Iran, it is helpful if we provide a brief history.

  • 1979 (November) President Carter’s Executive Order 12170 freezing Iranian assets (estimated value $10-12 billion) in response to Iranian hostage-taking of American embassy personnel by radicals protesting allowing entry to the Shah of Iran for medical treatment into the U.S.
  • 1980 embargo on U.S. trade with Iran imposed and travel ban to Iran issued
  • 1981 sanctions lifted after hostage crisis resolved
  • 1984 U.S. prohibits weapons sales, loans or assistance to Iran following Iraq invasion of Iran and belief that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program
  • 1987 (October) President Ronald Reagan issues Executive Order 12613 prohibiting all imports from or exports into U.S. by Iran
  • 1995 (March) President Clinton issues Executive Order 12957 prohibiting all manner of trade between the U.S. and Iran in support of the Iranian petroleum industry
  • 1995 (May) President Clinton issues Executive Order 12959 prohibiting any trade with Iran
  • 1996 (August) under President Clinton, Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) (H.R. 3107, P.L. 104-172) signed into law but Libya deleted from name of law when sanctions against Libya lifted in 2006
  • 1997 (August) Mohammad Khatami, considered a reformer, elected President of Iran and president Clinton eases some sanctions
  • 2000 sanctions reduced for pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, caviar and Persian rugs
  • 2001 (August) Iran (and Libya) Sanctions Act renewed under President George W. Bush
  • 2004 U.S. Courts overrule a Treasury Department application of sanctions to intellectual exchanges and reciprocal publication arrangements
  • 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad elected President of Iran and lifts suspension of uranium enrichment program agreed to with Britain, France and Germany (EU3) and sanctions in place now vigorously reinforced
  • 2006 UNSC Resolution 1696 passed against the renewal of Iranian uranium enrichment program
  • 2006 UNSC Resolution 1696
  • 2006 UNSC Resolution 1737
  • 2007 UNSC Resolution 1747
  • 2008 UNSC Resolution 1803
  • 2008 UNSC Resolution 1835
  • 2010 (June) UNSC Resolution 1929
  • 2010 (July) EU expands its sanctions beyond those required by the UNSC
  • 2012 (October) EU significantly expands and details more specifically its bans on the provision of services and equipment for the petrochemical industry, including oil tankers, the supply of services upon which Iranian production was so dependent, especially the ban in the export of certain specific metals, including graphite, that would be critical to Iran’s ability to fabricate its own machinery related to Iran’s ballistic missile development as well as its petrochemical industry
  • 2013 (March) EU imposition of sanctions against judges, media officials and a special police monitoring unit linked to the death of a dissident held in custody
  • 2013 (June) election of Hassan Rouhani government in Iran
  • 2013 (July) almost five months before Joint Plan of Action agreement signed and after Rouhani elected on a pledge to enter negotiations with the UN, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 400:20 in favour of increased sanctions against Iran
  • In contrast, following Rouhani’s election, the EU took a pro-active stand to invite Iran to join negotiations and a step-by-step approach that would restore normal economic relations while ensuring Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes
  • Sanctions begin to be lifted for an initial six-month period by the EU in January 2014 after the JPA came into effect beginning with suspension of the ban on the import of petrochemical products and the banking and insurance related thereto.

While George W. Bush was renewing the sanctions regime against Iran, since 1998, Iran and the EU had been seeking to formalize its commercial and political cooperation arrangements and, in 2001, sought to negotiate a comprehensive trade and co-operation as well as political dialogue agreement. Negotiations started in 2002 but paused when Iran declined to engage in any further human rights dialogue after 2004. Once Iran’s clandestine nuclear development program was revealed in 2005 and Iran refused to co-operate with IAEA, all dialogue between the EU and Iran stopped.

The increasing severity of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions between 2006 and 2010 were in direct response to Iran’s refusal to abide by the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the requirements set down by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). IAEA was determined to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue to ensure the NPT was not breached. At the same time, the IAEA recognized Iran’s rights to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The biggest change came because of independent EU action in July 2010 since the EU was then Iran’s largest trading partner. Further, London is a global financial centre; UK financial restrictions made it much more difficult for Iranian banks to use the international financial system to support its oil and gas business and Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. In addition to an embargo on nearly all dual-use goods and technology which could contribute to uranium enrichment, reprocessing of nuclear fuel, heavy water or to the development of nuclear weapons delivery systems, the EU introduced bans on the export of telecommunications, monitoring and transport equipment as well as arms, followed by more sanctions on instruments that could be used for internal repression. Perhaps the bans on investments, services and technology for the oil and gas industry were the most crippling since Iran’s oil production systems were based on European technology. European banking restrictions related to investments, grants, financial assistance, especially transfer of funds to and from Iran, and the ban on the provision of insurance services, were also enormously effective. But perhaps the sanctions that most hit home to persons of influence in Iran were the restrictions on the admission of specific persons (a long list to which more names were continuously added), freezing of their funds and economic resources and their inability to satisfy any claims.

By the time the JPA was put in place in November 2013, oil imports from Iran had fallen to zero and EU exports fell again by 26% in the 2012-2013 period. EU sanctions against Iran are based not only on the failure of Iran to be compliant with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) but also because of Iran’s human rights record, support for terrorism, and its destructive approach to Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. Given the close economic ties between the EU and Iran, the targeted sanctions against specified individuals and organizations were even more significant because they entailed freezing of funds and economic resources of persons responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran and persons, entities and bodies associated with them. The list of people and organizations affected was long.

It was in the context of the UN sanctions against Iran for its breach of NPT that the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) has to be understood rather than the 35 years of U.S. up-and-down sanctions against Iran. In return for Iran taking steps to halt and roll back its nuclear enrichment program, the E3/EU+3 agreed to:

  • Pause efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales to enable Iran’s current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil
  • Enable the repatriation of an agreed amount of revenue held abroad and, for such oil sales, suspend the EU and U.S. sanctions on associated insurance and transportation services
  • Suspend U.S. sanctions on Iran’s auto industry and associated services
  • Suspend U.S. and EU sanctions on:
    • Iran’s petrochemical exports, as well as sanctions on associated services
    • Gold and precious metals, as well as sanctions on associated services
  • License the supply and installation in Iran of spare parts for safety of Iranian civil aviation and associated services. License safety related inspections and repairs in Iran as well as associated services
  • No new nuclear-related UN Security Council or EU sanctions
  • U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions
  • Establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade (transactions involving food and agricultural products, medicine, medical devices, and medical expenses incurred abroad) for Iran’s domestic needs using Iranian oil revenues held abroad involving specified foreign banks and non-designated Iranian banks yet to be defined
  • This channel could also enable: transactions required to pay Iran’s UN obligations; and, direct tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students studying abroad, up to an agreed amount for the six-month period
  • Increase the EU authorization thresholds for transactions for non-sanctioned trade to an agreed amount.

Nine months ago as the first deadline for the Joint Plan of Action approached, the negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear agreement hit a snag over the issue of sanctions, though, as became a pattern over the last nine months, the Iranians continued to voice optimism about the results of the negotiations. Thus, on 21 May 2014, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “Today, the nuclear negotiation is progressing and is on the threshold of reaching a conclusion.” The very next day, this was the same message coming from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Saeed Jalili, the former lead negotiator, a conservative very close to Khamenei, said, “We should permit the (Iranian) nuclear negotiation team to proceed with its programs in the framework of (the Supreme Leader’s proposed) ‘heroic lenience’ and we should all assist them in their bid to materialize the nation’s rights.”

There could be two reasons for the articulation of this optimism: 1) domestically to dampen down the ultra-conservative voices critical of the negotiations; 2) to send a message to the P5+1 that the Iranians are fully committed to the success of the negotiations. But there were two sets of issues which this optimism masked. There were disagreements about Iranian compliance that would persist for the next nine months and that I will deal with in tomorrow’s blog. Second, there were rising voices within Iran that the pace of lifting sanctions had been far too languid given the enormous concessions (in their minds) that the Iranians had made thus far in their nuclear program. Just as there were continuing concerns within the U.S about the Iranian commitments to a successful outcome of the negotiations., within Iran there were an increasing number of queries from many quarters about whether the U.S. was truly committed to lifting sanctions or whether the whole process was just a ruse to stop, set back and eventually derail Iran’s development of its nuclear program.

As reported from the Tasnin News Agency in Al-Monitor, Seyed Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, spokesperson for the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, noted “intense disagreements” over a variety of issues during the Vienna talks, including an alleged P5+1 proposal for a 10-year rollout for sanctions relief. The Iranians were afraid of a Republican backlash that could re-impose sanctions, since they already anticipated that American sanctions relief would only take place under U.S. President Barack Obama’s executive authority to waive many of the sanctions on Iran. Waivers can be easily rescinded. Iran might accept waivers, but only in an initial phase in a process leading to complete sanctions relief.

Hosseini called for lifting of all sanctions rather than segmentation and a phased-in approach, a comment directed not only at the then current snag in negotiations about sanctions, but an explicit critique of the JPA provision for the implementation of the agreement of “specified long tern duration” usually bandied about as ten years. The issue was a divide between ending or suspending sanctions.

If the U.S. insisted upon a 10-year rollout period for sanctions relief, then the Iranian rollback in its nuclear program should also be phased over ten years, Iran insisted. Yet the other side insists on Iranian compliance with IAEA requirements as a prerequisite to sanctions relief, consistent, not with the preamble of the JPA, but with the position that Iran is the outlier in its failure to comply with its international treaty obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPA). The sanctions were imposed for Iran’s failure in compliance. Making relief implementation proportionate to Iranian compliance is akin to requiring the justice system to reduce a fine in proportion to a felon desisting in the future from recommitting the felony.

The JPA calls for a “comprehensive solution.” Comprehensive entails lifting all trade, technology, banking, energy and aeronautical sanctions – including UN Security Council, EU multilateral and national sanctions – with the implication that these even included non-nuclear sanctions by the U.S. (hence the importance of having the historical background). But U.S. oil and financial sanctions are subject to the Iran Sanctions Act described above. To waive sanctions, the President must certify to Congress, not only that Iran will not be able to build nuclear weapons within a one year breakout period, but that Iran no longer seeks to build weapons of mass destruction ever. Further, the President must certify that Iran no longer sponsors terrorism (Hamas and Hezbollah, both clients of Tehran, though Hamas had a fallout with Iran over Syria). Both Hamas and Hezbollah are listed by the U.S. as terrorist organizations. Finally, the President must certify that Iran no longer represented a security threat to U.S. Interests. Given the U.S. commitment to Israel and Saudi Arabia, how could this be possible given Iran’s continuing foreign policy?

Who said that sanctions are easy to lift but hard to impose? This analysis suggests that the opposite may be truer.

All these issues end up being tied into the negotiations. And I have not even delved into the Syrian part of the equation. It is a truism that Lebanese issues and conflicts over Hezbollah cannot be resolved without reference to Syria. So bringing all of these into the negotiations would definitely kibosh them. Where do you draw the line? As we shall see tomorrow, IAEA restricts the negotiations to nuclear issues, but then includes military developments (e.g. missiles) related to nuclear militarization, but excludes other foreign policy issues.

However, with the U.S. as the lead negotiator on the side of the UNSC, the matter becomes complicated in a totally other way – not over what is included and what is excluded, but over who is included and who is excluded. Many members of Congress insist they must have a say since an act of the U.S. Congress is involved. And the Iranians, as well as everyone else, know the position of the Republicans. Senator Bob Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, insists that what is at stake is a good deal, not knee-jerk opposition to Iran. “If it’s a good deal, I’m going to vote for it. I want a good outcome… We haven’t been in the camp of wanting to add sanctions right now. We’ve been in the camp of wanting to find what a good deal is. So if we get a good deal, I’ll be glad to vote for it.” However, for the Republicans, merely extending the breakout period from three months to one year does not represent a good deal.

So the sanctions issue is bound to be a spoiler for both sides if politicians and the domestic constituencies behind them become convinced that Iran is not sincere in its quest to pursue a strictly peaceful use of nuclear energy. Hence, as we shall see tomorrow, the repeated reassurances that Iran is complying with almost all the requirements of the JPA. Hence, also the IAEA’s insistence of stretching beyond a narrow interpretation of nuclear negotiations to include other nuclear-related security issues (missile delivery systems) as well as assurances of full transparency.

Monitoring and Verifying the JPA in a Duplicitous Environment

Monitoring and Verifying the JPA in a Duplicitous Environment

by

Howard Adelman

I have lost track of the number of times that I have been asked why I tied Argentina into the “discussions” between Israel and the U.S. and the negotiations between Iran and the U.S. over the nuclear issue. The parallelism in the roots of anti-Semitism in both Argentina and Iran seemed a stretch. The evidence for Iran bombing the Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aries in 1994 seemed a long time ago and, further, did not appear to have any connection with nuclear materials, even if the bombing constituted an argument for Iran’s determined, venomous and lethal manner of conducting foreign policy. Though the possibility that Iran was planning a similar attack last year in Montevideo, Uruguay certainly raised a red flag, it seemed to reflect on Iran’s overseas intelligence agency that would target civilians and not its nuclear policy. Two days ago, the diplomatic connection was made. Argentina formally asked the U.S. to include the issue of the 1994 bombing within the nuclear negotiations. I could say that I anticipated this connection, but I did not.

As I am prone to say, FAT CHANCE! Argentine courts may have accused a group of Iranians of planning the attack on the AMIA Jewish community centre that killed 85 people, and Iran’s intelligence service may even have had a hand in the murder of Alberto Nisman, but why would that instigate Argentina’s Foreign Minister, Héctor Timerman, to send a letter to John Kerry to make a request made previously. “I am asking you again that the AMIA issue be included in the negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The answer I think is simple, since Argentina does not really expect the Obama administration, given the importance this administration has placed on the negotiations with Iran, to actually push to have that item on the agenda when no provision was made for adding new agenda items under negotiation in the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) agreed to by Iran. President Cristina Férnandez and Héctor Timerman very badly need to divert the focus on them brought about because they have been accused of conspiring with Iran to whitewash the crime in order to clinch a grains-for-oil deal. This is not about electioneering since Férnandez is constitutionally barred from running in October for a third consecutive term. This is also not just about their historical legacy. Both do not want to be accused let alone tried for a criminal conspiracy.

But why make such an obviously fruitless effort? As Jen Psaki diplomatically replied on behalf of the U.S. State Department, she was unaware of any plans to raise the AMIA issue in the negotiations. Because Férnandez and Timerman believe that Mossad, and, perhaps, even the CIA, are behind the effort to shift the focus of anger for the unresolved AMIA bombing on them by delivering to Alberto Nisman allegedly incriminating evidence that there had been such a deal. I suspect, and I only suspect for I have absolutely no evidence for it, that Férnandez and Timerman both believe that Iran was behind Nisman’s killing. Finding Iran responsible is not the problem for them. But if that investigation leads back to connecting them to a deal with Iran to shift the investigation to the side because of an oil-for-grain deal, that would be a very serious problem subjecting both to being charged for criminal conspiracy to hide a crime, even if they were never proven guilty of that charge.

However, this blog is not intended to be a whodunit. It is more of an inquiry into what is really going on and a whydunit. Shifting now back to the substance of the negotiations is necessary, but I will try to tie all loose ends together, and well before the June deadline for doing this in the nuclear negotiations. Before I undertake the comparison, Machiavellian diplomacy requires that a person talk out of two sides of his/her face at one and the same time. My analysis in my last blog suggested that the pro-Iranian thrust of the preamble of JPA might have been deliberate in order to allow Iran to be boxed in tighter than otherwise might be the case by the substantive clauses. Those specific regulations are about performance rather than intentions, but unless viewed through the lenses of possible malevolent intent, then the only assessment will be of the performance relative to the term of agreement and not to the issue of the test itself which, in the end, is intended to examine intent and ensure behaviour conforms to that intent. But that latter issue must in turn be placed within a more general context.

The current Iran regime has been conducting a pro-Jewish (definitely not pro-Zionist) public relations campaign to offset the widespread image of the Iran power-brokers as uniformly anti-Semitic. Mair Javendafar, a Jew originally from Iran who teaches Contemporary Iranian Politics in Israel, documented that offensive in a recent article in Al-Monitor entitled, “Rouhani accommodates Iran’s Jewish students.”

President Hassan Rouhani as of 4 February made what had been an emerging practice official – Jewish students no longer are required to attend school on Shabat, a decree that resurrected a practice initiated right after the 1979 revolution but did not last. A year ago, Rouhani’s government donated $400,000 to the Jewish charity hospital. In December, he also unveiled a memorial to Jewish soldiers who died in the Iraq-Iran war. As well as attending such memorials, Ali Younesi, Rouhani’s special assistant, visits synagogues and other Jewish institutions. In the meanwhile, a second Holocaust denial cartoon exhibition is being organized in Tehran, so President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s heritage is still alive and well. After all, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also called the Holocaust a hoax. All this is for a population that now numbers less than 9,000. In 1979, when Iran severed relations with Israel, the Jewish population there totaled 80,000, mostly in Tehran. So what is the relationship between these recent pro-Jewish initiatives, Iran’s virulent anti-Israeli stance and the nuclear negotiations?

A similar dual track process is visible in Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu. When Netanyahu addressed the UN in September, Obama had a private discussion with Netanyahu over their differences, but only after Obama went through a barrage of denials that he was snubbing Netanyahu and refusing to meet with him. The Israeli press reported that the White House had turned down a request for a meeting while the White House issued a statement that no request had been made. One brouhaha follows another, and each one ending in an affirmation from the White House that American ties with Israel are deep and abiding.

In one case, the head of Mossad, Tamir Pardo, was reported as even opposing additional sanctions against Iran. However, in a 19 January meeting, Pardo absolutely denied that he had said any such thing. Quite the contrary. He insisted that the sanctions had been very effective and were the key instruments that brought Iran to the negotiating table. Further, Pardo agreed with a carrot and stick approach to negotiating with Iran rather than a confrontational posture based on absolute demands. Pardo’s criticism was about the absence of a sufficiently large stick in pressuring Iran. That stick, he insisted, should include stopping the talks and resuming under better parameters. He reinforced Kissinger’s critique that the parameters of the talks were flawed. What I wanted to emphasize here is the continuing disinformation war surrounding the negotiations. Thus, normally astute reporters, such as David Ignatius of the Washington Post, is used as a conduit to get out the message that the Obama White House had decided to cut out the Israelis from any briefing on the negotiations, and then, subsequently, the White House denies there was any truth to the story. This exercise in simulation diplomatic warfare is part of the fog of diplomatic war.

We know the following. Before negotiations even opened on the basis of the JPA in November 2013, Obama and Netanyahu were at loggerheads over the Iran negotiations. America’s goal was to extend the breakout period for construction of a nuclear weapon to at least one year, not, as many Republican critics contend, that this had been a change in policy from the original goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons altogether – a goal few viewed as achievable without bringing down the regime. Israel’s goal was to end the ability of Iran to produce nuclear weapons ever. Henry Kissinger in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee cited the UNSC resolution “to deny Iran the capability to develop a military option.” True, but hardly revealing since the issue was how best to operationalize that goal, by instituting inspections and oversights and extending Iran’s breakout period for a year or by insisting that Iran’s nuclear program in its entirely be dismantled, a goal which the JPA explicitly rejected as unrealizable. Does one opt for conflict prevention which would require a much higher level of confrontation, or conflict management at a much lower level of engagement?

In January, in a phone call between Obama and Netanyahu, Obama had asked Netanyahu to hold his diplomatic firepower while negotiators explored whether Iran would agree to a deal that limited centrifuges and stockpiles in order to extend the breakout period for Iran to at least a year. Netanyahu responded to the American negotiating position that a year wasn’t enough; he repeated Israel’s hardline insistence that Iran should not be allowed any centrifuges or enrichment. There had been two additional differences in the background. As already mentioned, Obama seemed willing to permit Iran to become a regional power and even recently endorsed such a proposition. That possibility made Israel (and Saudi Arabia) apoplectic. Israel wanted to reign in and, hopefully, eliminate Iran’s ability to send missiles to Israel; the JPA made no reference to missiles. In addition, Kissinger criticized the two developments as leading to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East so that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt would be pressured to begin a process of developing a capability for making nuclear weapons.

The implication that this week’s simulated exercise in diplomatic warfare arose because Netanyahu had released information about the American goal of a one-year breakout period, is nonsense. Anyone who did any reading on the matter knew this and has known this for at least a year. (See my previous two blogs on the progress of the negotiations.) One did not need Netanyahu to learn about this. The White House in January had not only asked, but urged Netanyahu to hold his diplomatic firepower when Israeli intelligence had concluded that a deal was now possible and even imminent. Netanyahu determined to scuttle the deal. While the negotiations had been continuing previously and success was not imminent – rather failure seemed in the offing – Netanyahu had held most of his fire. That phase was over. Netanyahu and his Republican allies in Congress were explicitly out to kibosh the agreement before it was too late. The issue was not over the specifics – whether Iran would be allowed to retain 6,500 or 7,000 centrifuges, but over the deal itself.

To repeat. The issue is that the deal now seems not only possible but imminent. For allowing Iran to retain its centrifuges that would allow it in a year to upgrade its uranium to weapons grade, had all along been unacceptable to Netanyahu, let alone the absence of any limits on Iranian missile development. Piled on these old schisms is now a new one. The White House now seems determined to lift sanctions without Congressional approval if it gets the deal it wants rather than face certain defeat by presenting the deal negotiated to the Senate for ratification.

The issue is even larger. The Iranian religious regime is opposed to liberalism and Western values, but has fully embraced its technology, except when the electronic revolution threatens its system of corruption and authoritarianism, its repression of rights and freedoms. Any deal agreed to now will strengthen Iran’s preservation of its Manichean world view which has focused on Zionism as the fundamental source of all evil, the Small Satan for which America, the Great Satan, is its major tool. This stance, if it is the governing one, will, in the end, sabotage the Iranian government’s current genuine efforts in engagement with the outside world even if the intentions of the current Iranian government are really just to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. As the critics of the negotiations chime, if you believe that, then you believe pigs can fly.

There is one final contextual issue – the timing of sanctions. Iran is currently in a terrible position economically and very sensitive to external pressure given both the low price of oil and the internal weaknesses of a kleptocratic economy of rent seekers where many of the large firms are in the hands of Iranian extremists who use those businesses both to fund their political agendas as well as for personal gain. Just this week, Iran’s Central Task Force to Combat the Smuggling of Commodities and Currency pointed to corruption as a key factor behind Iran’s high inflation and high unemployment rate. Smuggling is used not only to get around sanctions, not only to feed personal greed, but to feed a dissident apolitical underground interested in cigarettes, cell phones, cosmetics, music, dance, films, alcohol and drugs. So there is a weird interdependency between the religious puritans and the secular cultural dissidents in the dependency of both on smuggling totaling over $25 billion.

How has Iran behaved since the JPA was agreed to in November 2013? For the process of negotiations, the practices of providing transparency and rules for ensuring that transparency must be assessed in order to weigh one way or another for anyone who sees a rationale in both perspectives to decide which of the alternative strategies to follow.

The JPA provided that Iran would undertake the following voluntary measures:

  • From the existing uranium enriched to 20%, Iran could retain half as working stock of 20% oxide for fabrication of fuel for the TRR while the remaining 20% UF6 had to be diluted to no more than 5%
  • There had to be no reconversion line
  • Iran must confirm that it will not enrich uranium over 5% during the six months
  • Iran must not make any further advances of its activities at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant1, Fordow2, or the Arak reactor3, designated by the IAEA as IR-40
  • When the line for conversion of UF6 enriched up to 5% to UO2 is ready, Iran has to convert that to oxide UF6 newly enriched up to 5% during the 6 month period
  • No new locations for enrichment are to be developed
  • Iran will continue safeguarded R&D practices, including enrichment R&D practices, as provided in the operational schedule of the conversion plant declared to the IAEA
  • No reprocessing or construction of a facility capable of reprocessing
  • There will be enhanced monitoring.

In addition to the above undertakings, provision was made for specified information to be provided to the IAEA, including information on Iran’s plans for nuclear facilities, a description of each building on each nuclear site, a description of the scale of operations for each location engaged in specified nuclear activities, information on uranium mines and mills, and information on source material. This information would be provided within three months of November 2013.

Iran was also required to submit an updated and completed Design Information Questionnaire for the purposes of conducting a building inspection (a DIQ) for the reactor at Arak (IR-40) to the IAEA. Iran had to agree to conform to an IAEA Safeguards Standards for IR-40. When inspectors are not present at a facility, Iran had to allow daily IAEA inspector access for DIQ verification, Interim Inventory Verification (IIV), Physical Inventory Verification (PIV), and unannounced inspections, for the purpose of access to offline surveillance records at Fordow and Natanz. IAEA has to have access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities; and uranium mines and mills.

Five other measures for assessing Iran’s intentions and performance were put in place:

1 During the 6 months, for centrifuges that have been installed but not currently enriching uranium, Iran will not feed UF6 into them.

  1. Any replacements of centrifuges will be of the same type.
  2. At Fordow:
  • there will be no further enrichment over 5% at 4 cascades now enriching uranium
  • enrichment capacity will not be increased
  • Iran will not feed UF6 into the other 12 non-operative state cascades
  • There will be no further interconnections made between cascades
  • Any replacements of existing centrifuges will be of centrifuges of the same type.
    1. At Arak, for 6 months, Iran will not:
  • commission the reactor
  • transfer fuel or heavy water to the reactor site
  • will not test additional fuel
  • will not produce more fuel for the reactor
  • will not install remaining components.
    1. Iran’s centrifuge production during the 6 months will be dedicated to replacing damaged machines.

Without yet assessing whether Iran complied with any or all of these provisions, it is clear that these are about halting a process underway of producing military-grade nuclear fuel whatever the protestations of Iran about its commitment to exclusive peaceful use of nuclear energy. Further, it is also clear that that these were interim steps to assess sincerity by Iran and to provide a foundation for further transparency and monitoring Iranian compliance. Finally, it is also clear that the negotiations are not about eliminating Iran’s nuclear program altogether.

How did Iran perform in the first six months? What quid pro quo in lifting sanctions did the West undertake and put into effect?

Tomorrow: The First Six Months of Compliance with the JPA