Goals and Significance of the Iran Deal

Goals and Significance of the Iran Deal

by

Howard Adelman

This past summer, John Robson wrote an op-ed in the National Post (17 July 2015) claiming that, “those most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear are most unhappy with the deal.” He went from that assumption to its presumed opposite, asserting that those most committed to the deal then must have a very different agenda than stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He speculated that it might mean a desire to promote regime change provided that this happens before Iran goes nuclear in ten years. Or perhaps the real motive is a soft-headed rather than hard-hearted intent simply to delay Iran going nuclear for just ten years. (He did not write soft-hearted versus hard-headed, but if he so deliberately turns what is written on its head, he perhaps deserves the same treatment, even if only for a weak attempt at humour.)

However, ignoring the extreme misrepresentation for the moment, just look at the bad logic. To repeat, he insists that, “those most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear are most unhappy with the deal.” But is it not more valid to assert that those most unhappy with the deal are more determined to continue economically crippling Iran so it is less able to pursue its hegemonic program in the Middle East and enhance its extreme antagonism towards Israel than they are determined to stop Iran from going nuclear? The presumption that Netanyahu and his ilk are the ones most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear is a presumption, not a fact, and I would argue a false one. Further, even if it was accepted that the extreme opponents of the deal are the ones most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear – a very questionable assumption indeed – it does not follow that this is the reason that they are unhappy with the deal.

The false assumptions and illogic in reasoning is also to be found in the characterization of the proponents of the deal. While those proponents, as I indicated in my last blog, have a modest agenda focused only on making sure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons and that they have no agenda beyond that, the argument that they must have another hidden agenda, such as an illusionary expectation of regime change, does not follow from the argument that the opponents of the deal are most determined to stop Iran from becoming nuclear. It is both logically and empirically possible that the proponents and opponents are equally, or almost equally opposed to Iran not acquiring nuclear arms, but either side may have additional, and often very understandable and even commendable goals separate from that one, such as the fairly obvious one, that Netanyahu also has the goal of keeping Iran crippled economically.

Now I wish that John Robson were just an extreme example of a critic who is both illogical and misrepresents reality, but, unfortunately, this is not the case. He may teach history in Ottawa and be a journalist and documentary filmmaker, but he also may be one of the stupidest critics of the accord. He, however, has lots of company, though many do not defend that opposition on the basis of sheer partisanship that is immune to wrestling with facts and rational argument.

Take another critic of the accord, Shimon Kofler Fogel, CEO for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the Canadian counterpart to America’s AIPAC. At least in his op-ed alongside John Robson’s, he says what he believes is wrong in his view of the deal, that it fails to leverage the diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran to reign in its hegemonic foreign policy goals and its extreme antipathy to Israel. He is absolutely correct. It does not do that. Further, all parties negotiating with Iran did not believe that was a feasible goal. But Fogel, though accurate about the non-achievement of the accord, is also guilty of false reasoning. If the weight of sanctions coerced the Iranian regime to come to the negotiating table, then, he argues, it follows that those conditions can and ought to have been used to modify Iranian foreign policy. But that does not follow at all, not only not for Iran, but for virtually all of the other representatives of the six nations negotiating with Iran.

The fact that Iran is the leading sponsor of terror in the Middle East (I personally think ISIS is, but Iran is horrible enough, and the point is not worth debating here), that it is a brutal regime with an enormous number of executions per year and extreme repression of its minorities, mainly Bahá’is, does not invalidate the value of the agreement. Fogel’s recommendation that relief from the sanctions should be tied to Iranian tangible progress on reducing Iran’s role as a state-sponsor of terror is disingenuous. For, to repeat, it was neither the goal of the negotiations nor one that any reasonably-knowledgeable person argues could be achieved by negotiations at this time. The agreement already allows for his other recommendations – continuing to define Iran as a state-sponsor of terrorism, continuing the criticism of Iran for its horrendous human rights record and the continuing use of sanctions for these reasons – quite separate from the provisions of the Special Economic Measures Act.

The goal of the negotiations with Iran was clearly spelled out in Obama’s first election platform, but particularly in the Prague Agenda articulated in an Obama speech in Hradčany Square of the Czech capital on 5 April 2009, which focused on Iran, not as a rogue state, not as a promoter of terrorism, not as a human-rights abuser and, most of all, not as an intractable enemy of Israel. The focus was on promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy and reinforcing mechanisms in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Obama was intent on reducing the risks posed by nuclear weapons while simultaneously supporting and promoting nuclear energy as an alternative for peaceful purposes.

The Prague Agenda included a broad swath of goals, many since achieved:

  • Negotiating a new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) with Russia to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals by 30%;
  • Cancellation of the Bush plan to deploy ground-based strategic missile interceptors in Europe;
  • Restricting the strategic use of America’s nuclear arsenal to deterrence only;
  • Banning nuclear testing for the future.

The Prague Agenda included further restrictions on North Korea and Pakistan, but these have notably not been achieved. However, one goal concerning Iran, rallying international support and engaging Iran to resolve the crisis over its military nuclear program, has now finally been achieved after over five years of work. “My administration will seek engagement with Iran based on mutual interests and mutual respect. We believe in dialogue. But in that dialogue we will present a clear choice. We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community.” (my italics) Israel wanted no such result for this regime.

Making the world safer from nuclear terror and reigning in Iran did not supplant the need for deterrence and a strong regional strategy. (As we shall see, it may have had an inadvertent impact on it.) Further, the achievement of such a goal of eliminating the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power had to meet a number of criteria:

  1. The strongest inspection and verification system ever;
  2. Elimination of advanced centrifuges and a significant reduction of older models;
  3. A virtual elimination of Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium
  4. Sanctions relief as a quid pro quo;
  5. Spelling out repercussions in case of violations.

A further word is needed on the prospect of regime change in Iran and transformation of its confrontational ideology. Paul Berman in The Tablet on 15 July 2015 focused on a single paragraph in Obama’s speech about the conclusion of the Iran deal. Obama stated in reference to U.S./Iran relations, “Our differences are real, and the difficult history between our nations cannot be ignored. But it is possible to change. The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel—that’s a dead end. A different path, one of tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflict, leads to more integration into the global economy, more engagement with the international community, and the ability of the Iranian people to prosper and thrive.”

Paul Berman insisted that this one paragraph was crucial because, “if a change among the Iranians is not, in fact, possible, then Obama’s critics are right. The deal will turn out to be a disaster because, in the short run, it will strengthen the Islamic Republic conventionally and, in the long run, will strengthen the Islamic Republic unconventionally—and, all the while, the Islamic Republic will go on treading the dead-end path of violence and rigid ideology and the dream of eradicating demonic enemies. It is hard to imagine how, under those circumstances, the deal will reduce the chances of war. On the contrary, Iran’s endangered neighbors will contemplate their own prospective eradication and will certainly notice that time is against them, and they would be foolish not to act.”

It is one thing to argue that regime transformation may take place as a result of the deal and the insistence that it must take place or else the deal is more than worthless for it will enhance the prospect of war in the region. Obama made the former claim. Berman extracted from that slim possibility and transformed it magically into an absolute necessity. In that case, then the nuclear containment deal to peaceful uses is only as good as the strength of the possibility of transformation of the Iranian regime. That is clearly not Obama’s position.

It is and was certainly not the goal of the Iranians who stood steadfast in the opposition to the “arrogant” U.S., “the policies of which they viewed to be at 180 degrees to their own. The U.S. remained as the “Great Satan” ever after 18 months of negotiations. Israel remained its implacable enemy. Though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insisted that the deal was only about guaranteeing that Iran could continue its peaceful program of developing nuclear energy and had no wider goals, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani insisted there was another aim: opening a new chapter of cooperation with the outside world after years of sanctions. He predicted that the “win-win” result would gradually eliminate mutual mistrust. Similarly, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also saw the deal as going beyond the nuclear arrangements and hopefully could lead to greater regional and international cooperation.

What have Benjamin Netanyahu’s goals been in rejecting and criticizing the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program? Let me go back to his address to a joint session of Congress, not the one earlier this year, but the one he delivered on 24 May 2011 before the negotiations got underway and when the Arab Spring remained a gleam in many eyes, including Netanyahu’s. Though most of his address focused on the negotiations with the Palestinians, a small portion of his remarks addressed the question of Iran. Iran was depicted as the most powerful force in the Middle East opposed to modernity, opposed to democracy and opposed to peace. Here are Netanyahu’s words verbatim:

The tyranny in Tehran brutalizes its own people. It supports attacks against Americans troops in Afghanistan and in Iraq. It subjugates Lebanon and Gaza. It sponsors terror worldwide.

When I last stood here, I spoke of the consequences of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Now time is running out. The hinge of history may soon turn, for the greatest danger of all could soon be upon U.S.: a militant Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons. (my italics) Militant Islam threatens the world. It threatens Islam. A nuclear-armed Iran would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It would give terrorists a nuclear umbrella. It would make the nightmare of nuclear terrorism a clear and present danger throughout the world.

These were not Obama’s words, but those of Netanyahu. Then he came across as the most vocal champion of ensuring that a militant Iran did not possess nuclear weapons. Just over seven months later, in the 2012 new year, when the U.S. led the successful charge to impose new and tough sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking industry as the “only” diplomatic measure that could force Iran to the negotiating table, after President Obama signed legislation………..imposing sanctions against Iran’s central bank to impede Iranian oil sales and the EU put plans in place for an oil embargo, this goal was no longer sufficient for Netanyahu. The consequent weakening of the Iranian rial led Iran to state that it was willing to permit a visit by a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which, independently of the world powers, had suggested that Iran was working towards acquiring the ability to make nuclear weapons. As the goal of dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons came nearer, Netanyahu’s pitch shifted.

There was one discordant note at the time. Israel wanted the US.. to warn Iran that if the sanctions and diplomacy failed to get Iran to abandon its nuclear program, the U.S. should warn Iran that the U.S. would resort to military means to stop Iran. While not ruling out such a possibility, the U.S. refused to threaten Iran if negotiations failed. In contrast, Netanyahu, while applauding the new economic sanctions aimed at stopping Iran’s military nuclear program, insisted that only if the sanctions were combined with the threat of military action would the effort succeed. Netanyahu was proven wrong. It succeeded beyond most expectations. No threat of military action was necessary.

That note threatening military action grew far more shrill when Netanyahu, during the period in which he was struggling to put together a new coalition government, addressed an AIPAC Policy Conference in March 2013. After the usual praise for the President and Vice-President of the US, after the accolades to the government of the United States as Israel’s best and most steadfast ally, Netanyahu now insisted far more vociferously that sanctions were insufficient and that Iran needed to be militarily threatened.

Iran has made it clear that it will continue to defy the will of the international community. Time after time, the world powers have tabled diplomatic proposals to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully. But diplomacy has not worked. (my italics) Iran ignores these offers. It is running out the clock. It has USed negotiations to buy time to press ahead with its nuclear program. Thus far, the sanctions have not stopped the nuclear program either. The sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard. But Iran’s leaders grit their teeth and move forward. Iran enriches more and more uranium.  It installs faster and faster centrifuges Iran has still not crossed the red line I drew at the United Nations last September. But they are getting closer and closer to that line. And they are putting themselves in a position to cross that line very quickly once they decide to do so. Ladies and Gentlemen, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we cannot allow Iran to cross that line. We must stop its nuclear enrichment program before it will be too late.  Words alone will not stop Iran.  Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. (my italics) Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail.

From March 2013 until November 2013 when the negotiators were on the verge of a tentative deal with Iran, and with the U.S. Senate poised to authorize new sanctions, and after Obama phoned Netanyahu to ask him not to oppose the deal, Netanyahu did just that, openly opposed the deal by phoning all the other leaders asking them to block it. French President François Hollande agreed. The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, carried the message to his colleagues in the negotiations which bought time for Israel to take further steps to try to stop the deal after Netanyahu had failed to persuade John Kerry at Ben Gurion Airport not to loosen sanctions without the Iranians agreeing to halt the nuclear project altogether. The sticking points then were Iran’s stock of enriched uranium and the heavy water reactor at Arak that could produce plutonium from spent fuel.

The delay turned out to be temporary only. On 24 November 2013, an interim agreement, called the Joint Plan of Action, was agreed upon in Geneva that provided for a short-term freeze on much of Iran’s nuclear program in return for a decrease in the economic sanctions against Iran, the agreement to commence on 20 January 2014. Iran agreed not to commission or fuel the Arak heavy-water reactor or build a reprocessing plant to convert spent fuel into plutonium, agreed not to commission the Bushehr Nuclear Plant, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plan, the Isafahn uranium-conversion plant, the Natanz uranium-conversion plant and the Parchin military research and development complex. Iran also agreed to stop enriching uranium above 5% reactor-grade, and to dilute its stock of 20%-enriched uranium. As well, Iran agreed not to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and to leave half its 16,000 centrifuges inoperable, all this to be verified by more extensive and frequent inspections.

That is when Netanyahu first labelled the deal a historic mistake and became an implacable foe to the negotiations. But not because it left Iran as an implacable foe of Israel. Not because of Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region. Those reasons would come later. At that point the deal was opposed because it did not dismantle Iran’s nuclear capacity altogether. In other words, Netanyahu now opposed Iran even having the ability to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Netanyahu had upped the ante and produced a deep gulf between Israel and the P5+1, for the premise of the negotiations from the get-go was that Iran would be allowed to use its nuclear knowhow and facilities for peaceful purpose. In his speech to the Knesset on the Plan of Action, Netanyahu admitted that sanctions without a military threat had, in fact, produced significant and successful results, but the deal was still bad because the results were not tangible. Effectively shutting down Iran’s nuclear military production was insufficient.

From then on, the line of attack grew more shrill, more definitive, and the grounds expanded until the bulk of the weight was not on the efficacy of inspections or the length of time Iran’s military nuclear program would be in place, though these were always there and were almost always deformed with less and less resemblance to the actual terms of the agreement. It soon became obvious and clear that Netanyahu was not really after an agreement that halted the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons, but that he opposed the deal because Iran without nuclear arms would be an even more dangeroUS foe of Israel. However, preventing Iran from using its facilities for peaceful purposes had never been a premise of the negotiations or there never would have been any negotiations. Further, that goal of dismantling Iran’s nuclear facilities altogether had not been Netanyahu’s goal eighteen months earlier.

Netanyahu was now engaged in gross exaggeration if not an outright lie. “Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world .” (my italics) This is a bad agreement; this is a historic mistake. This became his mantra. Both were evaluations of a very dubious nature as more and more information emerged about both the Action Plan and the terms of the ongoing negotiations. Netanyahu’s efforts to weave his new critique and reconcile it with his old support for simply a ban on Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons was skating on thinner and thinner ice. The release of the final agreement in July allowed him to fall through the ice, but the freezing water has not reduced the pitch of his hysteria one iota. Netanyahu had established to any objective observer, as distinct from his horde of cheerleaders, that he was not the one most opposed to Iran developing nuclear weapons; he wanted to keep Iran impoverished for very understandable reasons given Iran’s irrational and extreme antipathy towards Israel.

The Deep Foundation for the Iran Nuclear Deal

The Deep Foundation for the Iran Nuclear Deal

by

Howard Adelman

Instead of waiting until the end, let me sum up the main conclusions I arrived at from studying the history of the Iran and P5+1 negotiations leading up to the 2013 Framework and Joint Plan of Action deals. That way the reader can keep them in mind as he or she reads this potted history and sees if they would draw the same conclusions, most of which are not controversial. Or else they may also not want to bother reading the rest at all.

  1. A deal between parties needs willing parties on both sides. Between 2000-2008, the allied side lacked a committed U.S. partner. Between 2005-2012, Iran was an unwilling partner. The deal came together (and rather quickly) in 2013 because both sides were ready to make a deal.
  2. The allies could have obtained better terms that included non-nuclear items, such as ending Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, if they had negotiated in 2003.
  3. Once Iran went full speed ahead on its nuclear program and invested so much in it, the only deal available was a restriction on Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons.
  4. The total elimination of Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear enrichment program was never on the table.
  5. Netanyahu was opposed to making a deal with Iran no matter what the terms of the deal were.

Professor Toope in his discussion of the Iran nuclear deal on Yom Kippur did not have time to spell out the background to the deal; he concentrated on the analysis of the terms. In my last blog, I referred only to one item in that background, the 11 November 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) with IAEA and the 24 November 2013 Joint Plan of Action Agreement (JPAA) with the P5+1 that put in place the foundations for the detailed negotiations.

The deeper foundation was that Iran under the Shah had signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970 making any Iranian nuclear program subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection. In 1987, Iran began to use the black market to acquire the capacity to enrich uranium by purchasing the technical details on how to build a P-1 centrifuge from the Pakistani nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the atomic bomb in Pakistan and the greatest scourge ever in the business of nuclear proliferation.

Back in December 1975, after three years on the job, Khan left his position with the Physical Dynamic Research Laboratory (FDO) in The Netherlands, a subcontractor in the uranium enrichment consortium, with copied blueprints for centrifuges and the list of suppliers needed to build one for Pakistan, a goal achieved by 1978. However, because of the USSR’s war in Afghanistan, no sanctions were imposed on Pakistan lest Pakistan be pushed into the Soviet embrace. By the 1980s, Pakistan was able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

Soon after, Khan began supplying the Iranian Ruhollah Khomeini regime. (Khomeini was the founder of the Iranian revolution who ruled from 1979-1989 as distinct from the current Ali Khamenei Supreme Leader who succeeded him.) Iran received both blueprints and a list of suppliers. Khan’s clandestine activities spread to North Korea, Syria and Libya through the nineties. The Pakistan authorities, if not aware of his nefarious activities before the turn of the millennium, a highly dubious proposition, finally forced Khan into retirement in 2001 and put him under arrest in 2004. He was convicted but pardoned the very next day by President Pervez Musharraf and only held under “house arrest” until 2009.

The whole surreptitious trade in nuclear materials, centrifuges and centrifuge components came into the open when Libya renounced production of nuclear weapons in 2003 and Colonel Qaddafi turned all of this valuable intelligence over to the CIA, ending once and for all any credible claim that Iran, and of course Pakistan, were not involved in illegal transfers of nuclear technology. George W. Bush had gone after the one country, Iraq, that for one reason or another had declined Khan’s offers to provide nuclear technology to it. The result of the huge American mistake: the effective destruction of Iraq and eventual turning of most parts, except for the Kurdish area, either into a satrap of Iran or control by ISIS.

The 2003-2004 revelations set off an international effort to rein Iran in, possibly less from the fear of Iran as a nuclear power than the fear that Israel, with U.S. backing given Bush’s record, would bomb Iran and expand the sphere of instability in the Middle East beyond Iraq. (Arab Spring was not yet on the horizon.) The effort was accelerated with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the wild man of Iranian politics, as President in 2005 with 62% of ballots cast. In his previous position as mayor of Tehran and as President, he was both a hardliner and irrational. It was under his watch that the UN became increasingly aggressive with a sanctions regime put in place until the election of a “reformer,” Hassan Rouhani, on 15 June 2013. Within the next six months, on 11 November 2013, the Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) and, on 24 November 2013, the Joint Plan of Action, were both signed. The two will be discussed in subsequent blogs.

This set of blogs is intended to sum up the foundation of the Iran nuclear deal, depict and evaluate its terms and the role and motives of various agents for the part played leading to the agreement on the terms. For example, did Netanyahu really believe the deal was a bad one and, if so, why? Was he justified? Or was he whipping up fear for domestic purposes to ensure he would remain in power? Or was he using Iran’s nuclear enrichment program as a wedge issue to keep Iran, a real conventional threat to Israel, ostracized and isolated? What effect did Netanyahu’s opposition have on the terms of the deal, on Israel’s relationship with the U.S., and on the security of Israel itself?

Before Ahmadinejad assumed office, Iran was the last signatory to the non-proliferation treaty to accept the obligation of providing the IAEA will all plans related to nuclear activities. The then President of Iran, using high level officials in President Mohammad Khatami’s government of Iran (1997-2005), set up a back diplomatic channel that promised not only full transparency into the Iranian nuclear program, but cessation of support for Hezbollah and Hamas. The proposal was purportedly endorsed by Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Bush administration ignored the offer.

Key European governments – France, Germany and the UK – did not. Together with the Iranian government, they along with Iran jointly issued the Tehran Declaration that would be recycled as the foundation for the FCA in 2013, but stripped of its non-nuclear provisions. Iran had agreed to the following:

  • Pledged full cooperation with the IAEA
  • Promised to sign and implement the Additional Protocol on disclosure of any plans as a voluntary, confidence-building measure
  • Agreed to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities during the course of the negotiations.

In return, the EU-3 agreed to:

  • recognize Iran’s rights to develop a nuclear program for peaceful purposes
  • discuss ways Iran could provide “satisfactory assurances” with respect to its nuclear power program
  • provide Iran with easier access to modern nuclear technology as long as Iran was in compliance with its signed obligations.

As a result, Iran signed the Additional Protocol on 18 December 2003 and set out to file the required reports with the IAEA as well as allow access to IAEA inspectors. The backlash within Iran, in part based on wild distortions of the Tehran Declaration, is viewed as one of the catalysts for Ahmadinejad’s resounding victory in the 2005 elections and the subsequent suspension of Iran’s agreement to abide by the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran also reneged on the promise to allow unfettered access to Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, Iran accelerated its nuclear program, though, given Iran’s pattern of deceit as revealed in the IAEA Report of 15 November 2004, many contend this began even before Ahmadinejad took power. But, as will be seen in the next blog, the real acceleration started in the latter half of 2008.

Iran tried to blame its resorting to surreptitious activities on the American obstreperous barricades to Iran developing a nuclear program for peaceful purposes. The IAEA 2004 Report was agnostic on whether Iran was developing its technology for the military use of nuclear weapons, for the IAEA found no evidence that the previous undeclared activities were geared to developing a nuclear weapons program. On the other hand, neither could the IAEA vouch for the exclusively peaceful nature of the program.

In 2004, Iran voluntarily suspended its uranium enrichment program, but refused to agree to a permanent termination. Under pressure from the U.S., the EU could not agree to a partial limitation with the only condition, the enrichment could not be diverted for military purposes. It is not clear whether the failure of the EU to recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes helped elect Ahmadinejad as President in June 2005 in an election largely fought on domestic issues – corruption and renewal. During the first few months of Ahmadinejad assuming the presidency, there was a flurry of events:

  • In August 2005, Iran removed the seals on its uranium enrichment facilities at Isfahan
  • Germany responded and refused to either export any more nuclear equipment to Iran or even refund monies already on deposit
  • The IAEA reported that bomb-grade uranium found on inspected materials in Iran came from imported parts from Pakistan
  • In September 2005, the EU rejected Ahmadinejad’s offer at the UN that Iran’s enrichment program be managed by an international consortium and the Paris Agreement was dead
  • In February 2006, the IAEA in a 27-3 vote reported Iran’s non-compliance to the Security Council
  • In 2006, the Bush administration in Washington insisted that Iran could have no enrichment program whatsoever;
  • After that there were no substantive further negotiations until Ahmadinejad left office.

Even though U.S. intelligence at the end of 2006 declared that there was no evidence that Iran had a military nuclear program, that year was a turning point. It began with the reference of Iran to the Security Council to require Iran to suspend its enrichment program, cease construction of the Arak heavy water reactor (necessary for the production of plutonium) and fully cooperate with the IAEA. Iran signalled a willingness to cooperate but, at the same time, announced its initial success in enriching uranium to 3.5% at Natanz. In June, the first iteration of what would become the 2013 Framework agreement was proposed by some permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.

On 31 July, the UNSC adopted Res. 1696 demanding Iran suspend its enrichment program altogether. Though rejected, Iran responded with an offer to negotiate. At the same time, a new tunnel entrance was constructed at the Estfahan uranium enrichment facility and construction resumed at the Natanz conversion facility. By the end of the year, the UNSC passed Res. 1737 imposing sanctions on Iran for the first time even though American intelligence had concluded there was no evidence Iran had a nuclear weapons program. Countries were prohibited from transferring sensitive and nuclear-related technology to Iran. The assets of ten Iranian organizations and twelve individuals were frozen.

These resolutions were passed under the authority of Article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter permitting the exercise of UNSC authority even though a peace threat had not been determined. However, unlike article 42, which does require a peace threat determination, there was no binding enforcement obligation under article 41. The sanctions only became effective because of the power and positions of the P5+1 and their willingness to impose sanctions. The failure to establish an actual threat to the peace sewed a fatal flaw in the long term effectiveness of the sanctions, especially if the P5+1 lost their united front. In that case, even if the U.S. had the power alone to make the sanctions quite effective, without a solid legal and even moral authority, the sanctions regime was being built on straw.

While emphasizing the importance of political and diplomatic efforts to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme was exclusively for peaceful purposes, three months later in March 2007, Res. 1747 was passed under Article 41 of the Charter. The resolution elaborated on the implementation of the sanctions Res. 1737 and introduced broader sanctions and targets in paragraphs 5 and 7:

Para 5: Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran.

Para 7: Calls upon all States and international financial institutions not to enter into new commitments for grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans, to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, except for humanitarian and developmental purposes.

Under this pressure, Iran agreed on a “work plan” in late August,but there was no substantive progress in the ongoing negotiations. In December, the U.S. publicly declassified and released a summary of the National Intelligence Estimate Report on Iran’s nuclear program, concluding that the intelligence community judged “with high confidence” that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 and, further, declared that the program had not resumed as of mid-2007. Breakout time was then considered to be three years.

In March 2008, UNSC Res. 1803 was passed broadening the sanctions and the targets even further, but also offering to freeze further sanctions in return for Iran halting its enrichment program. In February 2009, Iran announced that it had successfully carried out its first satellite launch. Barack Obama was then President of the U.S. and he agreed that henceforth the U.S. would participate fully in the P5+1 talks with Iran without Iran agreeing to meet demands first. However, this seemed to have no influence on the Iranian election in which incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, even though there was some evidence and many claims that the election had been rigged.  In the period of unrest and protests, diplomatic efforts were suspended. The suspension of back channel talks was reinforced when France, the U.K. and the U.S. jointly revealed that Iran had been constructing a secret, second uranium-enrichment facility at Fordow near the holy city of Qom.

New proposals nevertheless followed – a fuel swap with respect to the enriched uranium. In the interim, in 2010 Iran began enriching uranium to almost 20% instead of trading its 3.5% enriched uranium for 19.5% enriched uranium for Iran’s research program.  However, in May Iran agreed to a specific version of the fuel swap agreement, but that was vetoed by France, Russia and the U.S. Instead, the UNSC adopted UNSC Res. 1929 on 9 June 2010 again expanding the sanctions that now placed an arms embargo on Iran and prohibited ballistic missile testing. Seizure of shipments to Iran was authorized. On 24 June 2010, the U.S. Congress adopted the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISAD) aimed at firms investing in Iran’s energy sector and companies which sell refined petroleum to Iran. The sanctions were not set to expire until 2016. Two days later, the EU imposed even broader sanctions aimed not only at energy and trade, but at financial services and more extensive asset freezes.

During this period, Israel had not been sitting still. In 2005, the Jewish state defined the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat. Israel was widely believed to be behind the Stuxnet computer virus that disrupted Iran’s nuclear enrichment program at Nantaz in September 2010.  Israeli decision-makers began to consider whether and when to order a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. As rumours grew that such an attack might be imminent, the P5+1, fearing enormous economic, political regional and global security repercussions, upped the pace and efforts at reaching a deal with Iran. However, between 2010 and 2012 the negotiations with Iran produced no substantive results. In the interim in 2011, Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant began operating and achieved a sustained nuclear reaction. Further, Iran announced its intention to increase the amount of 19.5% enriched uranium it produced. This was all documented in the IAEA 8 November 2011 Report. That document also included further information on Iran’s deceptive practices even before 2004.

Then the final turn of the screw. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress passed legislation allowing the U.S. to sanction foreign banks if they process transactions with the Central Bank of Iran. The EU slapped a ban on the import of Iranian oil and prevented insurance companies from indemnifying tankers carrying Iranian oil. Negotiations, though protracted, began in earnest and at a deeper level through 2012 with more substantive exchanges of proposals and, on another level, crucial technical meetings. However, there was still no substantive movement on key issues.

At the United Nations on 27 September 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew a red-line: if Iran amassed enough (250 kilos) uranium enriched to 20 percent. Without saying so, the red line implied that Israel would then launch an air attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. (See the U.S. Government analysis of that threat: http://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R42443.pdf.) Initially this did not seem to deter Iran as, according to the IAEA November report, more centrifuges were installed at Natanz and Iran completed installation of the 2,800 centrifuges for Fordow. However, Iran kept constant the number of cascades producing 20 percent enriched uranium. The P5+1 talks with Iran still went nowhere until Hassan Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator, was elected president of Iran on 14 June 2013.

With that, especially after Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the UN in September 2013 presented a new proposal to the Americans and President Barack Obama had a telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, talks then moved very rapidly towards the conclusion of the November 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) and the Joint Plan of Action in response to the demonstrably new candor from Iran.

Next: The Terms of the Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA)

Indochinese Refugee Resettlement: Causes of the Exodus Part IV: 1981 – 1989

Indochinese Refugee Resettlement: Causes of the Exodus

Part IV: 1981 – 1989

by

Howard Adelman

Nong Samet Camp in Thailand became home to about 700 Vietnamese refugees who had crossed Cambodia from Vietnam into Thailand on 18 December 1981. Refugees fleeing Vietnam were no longer exclusively Boat People. By September 1982, the numbers had grown to 1,804 who had crossed by land from Vietnam. Initially, Thailand prevented Western Countries from interviewing these refugees lest, in the minds of Thai authorities, Thailand be turned into a magnet for refugees traveling on this new route. International pressure, a commitment by Western states to resettle the Vietnamese refugees and intervention by the ICRC (the International Committee of the Red Cross), led to a reversal of this policy. ICM, the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration, interviewed the refugees as the intermediary for the 15 Western countries offering asylum. By 28 January 1983, 1,713 of the refugees had been offered resettlement, 60% going to the U.S. On 9 February 1983, the processing centre was closed providing a definitive mark for the onset of the final stage in dealing with the Indochinese refugees.

The remaining refugees, by then increased to 122, were transferred to the Khao I Dang near Ban Nong Samet. Given this narrative, one might gain the impression that the refugee crisis was diminishing. The net numbers left were decreasing, but refugees kept flowing into camps in Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and even Indonesia. However, donor fatigue was on the horizon and the kickback against resettlement had begun. Initially it was directed only at Laotian and Cambodian refugees traveling by land with relatively the lowest barriers to flight.

Just before a book appeared by Larry Clinton Thompson entitled Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus, 1975-1982 documenting the role of American mavericks and malcontents from the State Department, military, USAID, CIA, and the Peace Corps who used their commitment and expertise to undertake the actual work on the ground in resettling the refugees, the same work that only 16 formal employees from the Department of Immigration in Canada were doing, a four-member panel headed by Marshall Green, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs, reported in August 1981 directly to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig and poured cold water on Laotian and Cambodian migrants. The report claimed that those currently crossing from Cambodia and Laos into Thailand were almost all economic migrants. Though flows were predicted to continue from Laos and Cambodia and even increase, the panel recommended a policy shift and that, henceforth, Cambodian and Laotian migrants no longer be treated as refugees but as economic migrants.

Initially, only the Vietnamese Boat People were to be exempted from this policy shift. My colleague and later writing partner, the Norwegian scholar Astri Suhrke, published an essay, “Indochinese Refugees: The Law and Politics of First Asylum” in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (vol. 467) in a special issue focused on The Global Refugee Problem: U. S. and World Response (May, 1983, pp. 102-115). When the flow of Indochinese refugees seemed to have become self-perpetuating, she noted that receiving countries were now positioning themselves to both resist taking more refugees and reduce the flow. It would take another six years to complete this task, and it would be applied to Vietnamese as well as Khmer and Laotians in flight. The Orderly Departure Program (ODP) had been initiated the year before in an agreement with the government of Vietnam as the first phase of the shift in policy applied to Vietnam.

Essentially, as Astri pointed out, the mode of exodus rather than the reasons for flight had become the criterion for determining refugee status. The backlash against a system that made the perils of flight, perils played up in media reports, the grounds for determining refugee status, had begun. By negotiating changes in the push factors, by allowing sponsored relatives to emigrate directly from Vietnam, by classifying Laotians and Cambodians now as economic migrants, and, most of all, by closing down selection and processing facilities in countries like Thailand, a process discouraging a further exodus had begun to be put in place.

One of the effects of this new policy was that countries of first asylum, fearing they would be left with residuals, now pushed back as well by preventing Cambodians and Laotians from crossing the border and sending them back when they did, justifying such measures by the decision of the United States, seemingly supported by other Western governments, to classify these people now as irregular migrants rather than refugees. These steps further inhibited the new flows and began to slow down the exodus significantly.

Thus, the predictions of the American State Department special panel mentioned above that the United States must be prepared for continuing and possibly increased flows of refugees from Indochina, particularly Vietnam, turned out to be not so much a prediction as a rationalization and motivation for a policy shift which, when implemented, prevented the prediction from being realized. In foreseeing ”a long-term continuation of the exodus of boat people from Vietnam” and ”the potential for increased land refugee flows from Laos and Cambodia, in view of worsening conditions of life and the threat of widening hostilities,” in effect, these worsening conditions became the rationale for beginning to close the door to Indochinese refugees. The Panel confirmed that the widespread belief that the new refugees were different than those who fled between 1975 and 1980 was accurate. As Senator Walter D. Huddleston (D. Kentucky) charged, ”the great majority of those claiming to be political refugees are, in reality, economic refugees.” He went further and accused State Department employees of actually recruiting refugees to fill quotas set by Congress.

The motivation for these shifts, in addition to the perception that these new flows consisted of economic migrants rather than refugees, included a fear that these new migrants would be more difficult to settle because they lacked any ties with Americans dating back to the war in Indochina and also had no family connections in the U.S., hence the exemption for Vietnam and the introduction of the Orderly Departure Program. There had also been a backlash in North America as the recession of the early eighties enhanced the voices of those who complained that the so-called refugees were putting an additional drag on the welfare system when dollars were in desperate short supply to take care of the increasing numbers thrown out of work and that had been added to the welfare rolls. Further, there was the sense that the United States had fulfilled its obligations connected with the Vietnam War and its citizens felt that it was being left with a disproportionate share of the problem. The complainants about burden sharing cited the fact that the U.S. had resettled about 50% of the Indochinese exodus, eventually 504,000 of the final total of about 1,060,000.

At the time the Panel report was published, Lao, Hmong and Khmer flows of migrants had begun to decline significantly, but Vietnamese refugees continued their exodus at a rate of 8,400 per month. As predicted, as the economic situation became worse in Vietnam, the monthly exodus stopped declining and began to get worse again in 1987. For seven years, resettlement opportunities had more than offset the new flows into the camps. In 1987 this was no longer the case as numbers in camps in Hong Kong and Thailand once again began to increase.  When 18,000 Boat People arrived in Hong Kong by mid-year of 1988, the Hong Kong authorities decided on 15 June that henceforth Indochinese refugees would be placed in closed camps – actually the skeletal structures of high rise buildings – and would no longer be allowed to leave the camps for irregular labour on the job market. Further, the educational and other programs previously offered to the refugees were halted.

An international refugee conference was held in Geneva in 1989 to deal with the new version of the Indochinese exodus that was no longer characterized as a refugee crisis. Henceforth, each so-called refugee was to be subjected to an individual screening to determine whether he or she qualified as a Convention Refugee. The migrants were no longer to be treated as humanitarian refugees. They would have to satisfy the much stricter definition and prove that they had a well-founded fear of persecution because they were members of a group targeted by the government and subjected to human rights abuses. The new Comprehensive Plan of Action entailed a program of “:forcibly” returning refugees to their home country while calling the return voluntary.

In 1989, 70,000 Indochinese had fled their countries of origin, many after the cut-off date of 14 March 1989 when the repatriation program became applicable. By 1992, that number had dropped precipitously to 41. The Indochinese refugee crisis had ended in a whimper, but the program of resettlement continued using the Orderly Departure Program for relatives of those who had been resettled, for mixed-race children whose fathers had been American soldiers and for former inmates of re-education camps. In the post-1989 era, Vietnam promised not to send any of the returned migrants to re-education camps.  Westerners, particularly those deeply suspicious of the government of Vietnam, traveled to that country to observe whether Vietnam was keeping its commitments. They confirmed that Vietnam was indeed being true to its word. When such confirmations were received, the conscience of returning those who still chose to leave, now deemed to be illegal economic migrants, was totally eased.

Between 1975 and 1997, 750,000 Indochinese refugees had been resettled abroad, over half in the U.S., in addition to those who had been resettled in China. Canada took approximately 100,000, a disproportionate share. A further 900,000 had been resettled under the Orderly Departure Program, many of those in Canada. Over 100,000 had been repatriated. As part of a commitment by Norway, Canada and the U.S. to deal with 200 remainders, the arrival in 2015 of a small coterie of 17 Vietnamese refugees in Canada who had been in camps for 18-25 years marked the definitive end of the program.

The story of the Indochinese refugee crisis was, on the one hand, a narrative of desperate people fleeing a mixture of economic desperation, prejudice and persecution. That story continues with the flight of the Rohingya from Myammar, where they are targeted for persecution, and from Bangladesh, where the Rohingya have lost hope given their relegation to the bottom of the economic ladder. The picture of packed and unseaworthy boats, of boats being pushed back out to sea, of boats abandoned by the people smugglers once they have collected their money, fill the newspapers these days. No, that is not accurate. There are stories, but they no longer fill the newspapers. Otherwise, the situation bears very little difference with the Boat People crisis of the late seventies. Except what we hear as a response is the sound of silence.

There is another major difference. Operation Lifeline in Canada was constructed on a model of networking pioneered by the sixties generation in their protests for peace and racial and social justice. That networking, once on the margins of society, has now become a central motif of economic organization as some of the newest and largest economic enterprises specialize only in networking. Whether the company is a new form of providing a taxi service like Uber without any taxis, or social connections like Facebook without any milieus, or connecting consumers with producers or home and hotel owners with travelers, in a new system in which connectivity, rather than productivity and manufacturing, has become the core economic mechanism for the new age, we have still not figured out how to institutionalize and transfer the lesson learned from the connectivity between citizens in one world with humans without a state in another world that was pioneered in the late seventies. In this age of connectivity at the core of the economy, the system should be applicable to the crises of the present. We can accomplish the feat with consumer goods and services in a post-modern world but we are still unable to do so in linking the pre-modern and post-modern worlds.

E. M. Forster in A Passage to India, included one very memorable imperative, “Only connect.” We must learn how to establish and institutionalize connections, not only between providers and users in a new post-modern economy, but between post-modern and pre-modern societies. Perhaps if the state stood aside, new networks for resettlement of refugees could be established. While the state retained its determination to preserve a monopoly on coercive power, it could surrender its monopoly on the controls of entry and egress to a state by sharing that responsibility with its citizens. Real networking connections could be established between citizens of the World of Order and stateless people, and members of the World of Disorder. Perhaps if the selection of new citizens were allowed to be assumed by small groups of existing citizens linking up with those needing and asking and risking to come, subject only to a veto by state authorities, then the modern era of networking could be applied to humanitarianism for a new age.

As Tom Friedman wrote in The New York Times, we need to be able to connect people from the new World of Disorder and those who are privileged and belong to the World of Order. For the New World Order is not a unity but a deeply divided global polity split between Order and Disorder, between good, responsive and responsible governance and bad, unresponsive and irresponsible governments. Only if some form of networking is established will we be able to deal with the current total of 50 million displaced in the world.

Iran: U.S.-Israeli Relations

Iran Again – CONTINUED: Final Part: U.S.-Israeli Relations

by

Howard Adelman

Several weeks ago, Samantha Power in her testimony before the Senate Foreign Operations Committee insisted that the U.S. would continue to work closely with Israel at the UN but could no longer be counted on to prevent resolutions targeting Israel to be defeated. In fact, she went further. The U.S. could not be counted on NOT to help advance such resolutions. Essentially, the U.S. might support a resolution on the Palestine-Israel peace process that would set deadlines and establish markers in working towards a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to get the negotiations back on track.  As U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman warned: if the new Israeli government does not demonstrate its commitment to the two-state solution, the U.S. will have a difficult time halting international initiatives on the Palestinian issue at the United Nations. Since then, tit for tat followed. Netanyahu rejected Kerry’s request to visit Israel to discuss the negotiations with the Palestinians immediately after the Israeli national Elections took place.

Netanyahu’s statements leading up to election day suggesting the two-state solution was dead, and his formation of the most right-wing government Israel has ever had, put in doubt his support of a two-state solution and, hence, America’s unquestioning support for Israel in the international arena. Bibi had renounced his intentions to establish a Palestinian state as no longer relevant given recent events in the Middle East and in light of the security reality in the region. Even more unequivocally, in the dying days of the election he said that that if he becomes prime minister once again, a Palestinian state would not be created.

Hence the American reaction. U.S. support would continue, but it would henceforth be questioned. As Wendy Sherman said, “If the new Israeli government is seen to be stepping back from its commitment to a two-state solution that will make our job in the international arena much tougher… it will be harder for us to prevent internationalizing the conflict.” After the election, Netanyahu attempted to backtrack on those statements when he said once again that he supported a two-state solution, but only if circumstances changed. However, he did not go nearly far enough in moving the U.S. away from signalling its reformulated policy.

France, which had been relatively hawkish on the Iran nuclear negotiations, was leading the initiative to internationalize the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and to prepare and pass a new Security Council resolution that would both delineate the principles of determining borders (1967 borders modified by territorial exchanges) and recognize the Palestinian authority as the governing body over those territories. Israel would no longer be able to declare the territories are in dispute. Thus, Bibi’s efforts to push regime change in Tehran de facto when linked with his withdrawal of efforts to end the status quo in the West Bank became mutually reinforcing positions that triggered the shift in policy underway in the White House, especially when matched by a corresponding effort of Iran to tone down its radical rhetoric. Iran wearing a moderate face mask combined with the resurrection of Bibi’s ostensible support for the continuation of the occupation and effective support for a Greater Israel worked in tandem to undermine America’s previous position.

After all, in Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech, he had pledged not to turn America’s back “on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own,” a pledge that could not be honoured if the new Bibi government remained true to its pre-election pledges and shunted sideward the pursuit of a two-state solution. Bibi might claim that he was ending the settlement freeze because his pledge on the freeze was made in tandem with the American pledge to work to increase pressure on Iran through the use of increased sanctions; when America lifted the sanctions, the new Israeli government felt free to end the settlement freeze. So the Israeli government and Washington were sending signals across each other’s bows that changes in policy were underway.

Other moves in America by Netanyahu’s allies in Congress can be viewed in terms of American Executive Power and the Israeli government traveling in ships going in opposite directions. They pause briefly to wave, professing to be mutually supportive, and follow with threats. At the same time, Bibi’s allies in Congress launched their own attacks on the White House from the rear.

The American Senate in mid-April amended the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015. The bill was the most ambitious effort ever in continuing efforts to open trade. U.S. negotiations with the Asia-Pacific and the EU were advertised as an opportunity to set high standards and open markets with nearly 1 billion consumers, covering nearly two-thirds of global GDP, and 65% of global trade. Services negotiations cover about 50% of global GDP, as well, and over 70% of global services trade. But the Act included a sneaker. As an example, Section 2(b) 9 reads:

Localization Barriers to Trade: The principal negotiating objective regarding localization barriers to trade, set out in subparagraph 2(b)(9), is to eliminate and prevent measures that require U.S. producers and service providers to locate facilities, intellectual property, or other assets in a country as a market access or investment condition, including indigenous innovation measures.

These and other clauses counter the efforts of BDS to boycott goods made in the settlements; the Act de facto defined the West Bank and Israel as part of the same legal territory, thereby setting in motion the U.S. recognizing a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In another sign of a radical shift by the new extreme right-wing government in Israel, Yinon Migal has acted as the flag waver. He is a newly minted member of the Knesset in Bennett’s Jewish Home Party. He accused a former director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Alon Liel, of being guilty of treason for advocating the two-state solution.  For in doing so, Liel was accused of ceding territory to a prospective sovereign state that does not now exist. Violating section 97 (d) of the penal code provides that any action to remove any area from the sovereignty of the State or to place it under the sovereignty of a foreign state with the intention to bring that about is liable to the death penalty or to life imprisonment. This is but another sign of the new extremism in Israel in contention with a more aggressive dovish approach from the White House.

Netanyahu’s partisanship and heightened rhetoric on the Iran nuclear prospective agreement combined with his backpedalling on the two-state solution have not brought about a collision between Washington and Tel Aviv. It has brought about a situation in which both countries are beginning to work at odds pursuing radically opposite agendas. The framework deal, if confirmed by a completed deal – very far from certain itself – has altered both the balance of power in the region and the previously balanced relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv. Such a divergence will limit America’s ability to ensure that Israel can retain its nuclear deterrent without international supervision. It may also modify America’s willingness, indeed eagerness, to fund advances in Israeli missile technology and defensive capabilities.

The rhetoric from both sides insists that nothing fundamental has changed in Israeli-American relations. This is but smoke and mirrors to hide fundamental shifts already underway. For, in the view of the current American administration, the best response to Iran’s efforts is to make the deal because, if a military solution is eventually required, America will be in a better position to deliver a response than without a deal. As Netanyahu becomes more and more irrelevant on the terms of the deal to be made by the target date of 30 June and, in his impotence, becoming increasingly hysterical rather than rational, he loses even more credibility with the White House.

Bibi’s only hope to salvaging the Israeli-American tight bond is if the framework agreement falls apart over the issue of the timing of the lifting of sanctions and/or over veto proof anti-deal legislation passed in Congress. For what Netanyahu most fears is not simply that a final deal will come to fruition in spite of the difficulties still faced, but that the deal will hold and Iran will stick to its terms. Then Bibi will be truly in deep sh…  with America and with the Israeli voters as well for he will be unable to cry wolf when dealing with Iran or avoid dealing with the serious economic disparities within Israel unless saved by Kahlon.

The reality is that the P5+1 and Iran have struck a reasonably good deal, one that is far from perfect and which still faces many hurdles before and if it is finalized. But, as CIA Director John Brennan concluded, “I, for one, am pleasantly surprised that the Iranians have agreed to so much here.” I too was equally surprised. The framework agreement was both far more detailed than expected and provided more concessions by the Iranians than most observers expected. Natanz will – again if the deal comes to fruition – be the only nuclear enrichment facility. Its degree of enrichment will be strictly restricted and monitored. Fordow will be converted to a research facility. Arak will not be able to produce plutonium. The high speed centrifuges will be mothballed and even the number of slow centrifuges will be kept to 5,000 in operation, not quite the 3,000 that Israel wanted, but far better than the 19,000 available. The stock of highly enriched uranium will be gone and even the stockpile of low enriched uranium will be dramatically reduced.

The real problem for Netanyahu is that Israel will now face a much strengthened conventional foe but without any longer having the almost unquestioning support of its patron. The scenario that Netanyahu most feared is about to descend on Israel unless the deal with Iran can be sabotaged before it is completed.

And there is some potential. There are many issues to be resolved. There is not only the problem of defining when sanctions will be lifted. There is, for example, the issue of the form in which the minimally enriched uranium is to be stored. Most of the uranium enriched to almost 20% has been reduced to well below 5% and no longer exists in hexafluoride form. However, a residue (228 kg.) of enriched uranium to almost 20% continues to exit: 43 kg in oxide powder; 60 kg, that has not been irradiated slated to be used for the Tehran Research Reactor and, therefore, still available for easy conversion and further enrichment to nuclear level fuel; the remainder of the 228 kg remaining as scrap, waste or is in the process of being decommissioned.

How will the P5+1 and Iran deal with this issue since Iran is only to retain very limited amounts of uranium enriched above 3.67% sufficient for research purposes? The devil is indeed in the details. And these details are being negotiated as I write. Some will inevitably become crisis points in the discussions. Past track records suggest that solutions will be found. But perhaps not. Perhaps events will intervene and alter the tone of the negotiations. Perhaps personal animosities or spoilers will disrupt the discussions. These types of negotiations are perilous at the best of times. The Perils of Pauline look tame beside them. There will be no cakewalk to 30 June for everyone knows that if Iran retains even 50 kg. of medium enriched uranium to almost 20%, enough highly enriched uranium could be available in 8 rather than 12 months to make a nuclear weapon.

The most hawkish government in Israeli history will be trumpeting such obstacles as efforts of Iran to undercut a bad deal and make it even worse. Further, on the Palestinian front, Obama will be berated for handing over to the Palestinian Authority the internationalized right of Palestinians to govern themselves while the same authority allegedly refuses to grant Jews that right, while that authority works at delegitimizing Israel in an effort to kill the state of Israel by a thousand slices. It will not matter that these charges bear only a slight resemblance to reality. Yet those same extreme hawkish Israeli voices will agree with Bibi’s left critics that Israel will have to develop new strategies “to cope with our deteriorating relations with the U.S.” (Caroline Glick), a matter made urgent by the excellent possibility that Hilary Clinton may be the next president in a world far more volatile and lethal than when her husband was president.

What is the advice on how to cope? Not abandoning Israeli policies and strategies but reducing dependence of the U.S. Further, Bibi’s efforts to bypass the President and go directly to the American people must be enhanced. In other words, more of the same tactics, even accelerating such tactics, though it was precisely these tactics that led to the debacle in the first place.

But that will not be how Bibi’s supporters of his undiplomatic diplomacy will portray Israeli actions. Rather than pinning the tail on Israel, they will try to pin responsibility for the deterioration on Obama for ensuring that Iran becomes a member of the nuclear club. The accusation will be tossed about as if it were an established truth rather than a piece of ugly propaganda with little basis in fact or analysis. Instead, the accusers will insist that Obama administration officials in a rogue regime have led the U.S. to abandon its policy of denying Iran the right or ability to acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, the White House will be portrayed as accommodating Iran’s quest to become a nuclear power, a charge so discrepant with actual facts as to make one wonder if such hysterics are real or simply the mouthings of a mad person, mad in the opposite way to the idealistic Madwoman of Chaillot, but both nevertheless totally detached from reality.

Instead, Israel will be urged to ignore the deal and go its own way militarily and strike Iran. This is the self-destructive logical conclusion of the folly of hyping Masada as a historic noble action instead of what actually happened as can best be determined by the historical record. When myth becomes the foundation of policy, self-destructive strategies are advocated. Israel will also be urged to abandon the Oslo agreement and once more take full control over the West Bank or, as the imperial Israeli hawks insist on calling the territory, Judea and Samaria. Hamas and the Israeli right will be united in their pursuit of a single-state solution, differing only on which party will control that state.

Do not expect these hysterical voices to die down. Rather they will now be propagated through megaphones while on the ground Israeli-U.S. relations will be further weakened and while Israel will be egged on to supersede one self-destructive policy with another one even more self-destructive.

This is the result of trading whispers for rants, analysis for inflammatory rhetoric and informed deliberation with deformed and virtually surrealistic portraits of the world that are figments of nightmares rather than bearing any significant correspondence with reality.

..

Netanyahu’s Address to Congress

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Address to Congress

by

Howard Adelman

I have now heard Bibi’s 3 March speech once and read it three times. It is a brilliant speech, superbly crafted and delivered with the right balance of concision and pauses, but fundamentally flawed in its logic and selective use of evidence. Since when did logic convince anyone of anything? But perhaps facts will. Besides, convincing is beside the point. The speech was not intended to persuade anyone of anything. This was grandstanding in the grand manner with conviction, passion and organized superbly. And the speech builds to a marvelous crescendo.

The speech is organized in seven parts:

Part I:    A reaffirmation of the firm and eternal ties between the U.S. and Israel

Part II:   A depiction of Iran as run by an unwavering Satan

Part III:  A Prolegomena to Nuclear Negotiations

Part IV:  An Analysis of those Negotiations

Part V:   A Summary of the Bottom Line

Part VI:  A Proposed Alternative

Part VII: An Emotional Postscript.

This blog will analyze the first three parts.

Part I – Israel and the U.S.

Bibi began by insisting his speech was above politics. Though it gave him unprecedented exposure two weeks before Israelis go the polls, I believe him. I do not think he came to Washington to boost his electoral chances at home. First, if that was his motive, the anticipated repercussions of his visible breech with Obama would play negatively back home among middle road voters whom he needed to woo at the same time as his standing up to the White House would swell the chests of his own ardent supporters. The risk was a mug’s game.

At the same time, he did not come to Washington to sew divisions within the Democratic Party and went out of his way, not only to celebrate the links between Israel and U.S., but to laud Obama’s consistent support for Israel, overt support, such as strengthening security cooperation and intelligence sharing and opposing anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N., less widely known support such as Obama’s response to Bibi’s request for urgent aid in the face of the 2010 raging Carmel forest fire, vital assistance in 2011 when Israel’s embassy in Cairo was under siege, and in 2014 when Obama supported more missile interceptors during the Gaza summer operation in the conflict with Hamas. Bibi also alluded to much more covert cooperation which might never be known because those efforts touch on some of the most sensitive and strategic issues that arise between an American president and an Israeli prime minister. Bibi recognized, however, that such praise could never overcome the deep schisms his speech to Congress and open challenge to the White House Iranian policy had brought about.

So why did he come? The content and structure of the speech point to its purpose. The next section on Iran signaled the purpose: it was his obligation to address the issue before the American public, the Israeli public and the world public. There could be no better place than the American Congress.

Part II – Iran

For Bibi, Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, as is well known, poses an existential threat not only to Israel, but to Jews everywhere. This could not be clearer than his link of contemporary Iran with ancient Persia, the link with Purim and the threat of the Jew-hater, Haman. As Bibi said, “Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated.” I have been unable to determine, as some have contended, that these interpretations are based on a twisted translation of what he really said. However, as Abraham H. Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s National Director noted in June 2013, Khamenei in a Facebook posting on the eve of Iran’s 14 June presidential elections, featured a classic anti-Semitic picture portraying Jews, in particular, AIPAC, as controlling the United States government. A year ago on 14 March Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insisted that the historical reality of the Holocaust is “unknown”; he questioned whether it “actually did happen.”

Netanyahu then linked the Iranian leader’s support for anti-Semitism with the views of his terrorist satraps. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader, is quoted as stating, “If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.” Bibi could also have cited other quotes, such as the following two just as often attributed to Nasrallah. “They [Jews] are a cancer which is liable to spread at any moment.” (This was originally on an Israeli government website http://tinyurl.com/99hyz but I have been unable to recover it.) There is another quote from Amal Saad-Ghorayeb’s Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion, “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, we do not say the Israeli.” (fn. 20, ch. 8) Saad-Ghorayeb subsequently admitted the quote was erroneous, though it was also included in her PhD thesis; she admits she should have properly checked it.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your politics, the other two statements also cannot be authentically attributed to Nasrallah as much as I personally disapprove of his politics. The one Bibi cited was traced back to an article by Badih Chayban in Beirut’s English-language Daily Star on 23 October 2002, but the paper’s editor would not vouch for its accuracy or that of his former reporter. He even insisted that Chayban had never interviewed Nasrallah or anyone else. No other news source cited these quotes in their reports on Nasrallah, but Bibi is correct that Israel is surrounded by Iranian satraps in Gaza, Lebanon and the Golan with Syria in the background slaughtering its own citizens. Further, other Iranian proxies are seizing power in Iraq and Yemen.

I believe his assessment that “Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also to the peace of the entire world,” is also accurate and that Iran is run by “religious zealots” through a “dark and brutal dictatorship” dedicated to exporting “the revolution throughout the world.” Though uttered in part as flattery to his hosts, Netanyahu is also correct in contrasting Iran with America and its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Further, Iran has certainly targeted Americans in the past. Since U.S. diplomats were held hostage in Tehran. Iranians were behind the killing of American marines in Beirut and the killing of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In July 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iranians had been arming anti-American militants in both theatres of war, a report confirmed by U.S. State Department officials. Finally, Netanyahu was correct that Iranian officials were behind the plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador, Adel Al-Jubeir, with a bomb in a restaurant in Washington. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that the plan was “conceived, sponsored and was directed from Iran” by a faction of the Iranian government.

With a 90% accuracy rate in his examples unusual for Bibi must we “all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest?” Sure! That is what the P5+1 are doing. Netanyahu’s Israel is the outlier, not America. The question is how one stands against Iran and with what tools? The key question is what has this all to do with the nuclear negotiations? In the next section, Bibi set the stage for the nuclear negotiations.

Part III:  A Prolegomena to Nuclear Negotiations

Netanyahu first had to demonize Iran further. Did he do so by returning to his more normal pattern of hyperbole and distortion lest he suddenly earn a reputation for veracity and be declared a credible witness as a result of the first one-third of his address to Congress? Netanyahu declared that, “two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran.” Who claimed that? Rouhani had run on a platform of moderation. He openly campaigned on re-opening a dialogue with the U.S. The nuclear negotiations were not intended to make Iran moderate, but resulted from Iran’s declared commitment to follow a path of moderation. Netanyahu had deliberately reversed the causal order.

Further, the Obama regime had not seen its objective as making Iran a moderate regime. The White House had three goals. First, to be the first American administration since the end of the Cold War to prevent a new nuclear power from emerging; second, to prevent a nuclear conflict in the Middle East; third, to establish a different relationship between America and Iran.

Was Rouhani sincere in his professed outreach? In his speech immediately after his inauguration he promised a government of righteousness, honesty and trustworthiness and a rejection of extremism and declared, “The people voted for moderation…the people want to live better, to have dignity, and enjoy a stable life. They want to recapture their deserving position among nations.” Rouhani called for better relations with the world and the end of international sanctions. “The only path to interact with Iran is through negotiations on equal grounds, reciprocal trust-building, mutual respect and reducing hostilities.”

The central issue was whether to continue coercive diplomacy by upping the ante and increasing the pressure on an Iran already suffering from accelerating inflation and a weakened currency resulting from the sanctions already in place, or whether to use those pressures to initiate a program of constructive engagement based on Rohani’s offer to improve relations by making the nuclear program more transparent and improve relations with Western nations. Ronald Reagan had tried coercive diplomacy with Pakistan and vowed that country would not acquire nuclear weapons; he failed. Bill Clinton did the same with North Korea that now has probably accumulated one hundred nuclear bombs. Most saw such efforts as futile and incapable of preventing a country from acquiring nuclear weapons. Further, experts on Iran decried America’s failure to offer inducements and encouragement to the previous moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, and pointed to America’s failure to take advantage of a historic, but time-sensitive, opportunity.

But that is not how Netanyahu framed the debate. Instead, the regime of the ayatollahs was and remains a monolithic monstrosity. Rouhani’s insistence on emphasizing “economic priorities, detente with the West, enhanced relations with Iran’s neighbors, new nuclear diplomacy, respect for guilds and syndicates in Iran, an inclusive non-factional government of ‘moderation and consensus’, and political tolerance,” was for Netanyahu a sham. Rouhani was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

How do you find out? Bibi argued that you do so by checking whether Rouhani’s regime had become more moderate in treating its own citizens. How did the new government rate? For Netanyahu, terribly. “Rouhani’s government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists and executes even more prisoners than before.” It is not clear why Bibi left the persecution of Bahá’is off his list. The conclusion was clearly drawn from Benjamin Weinthal’s report for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Rouhani’s first hundred days. The report did point to the prosecution of Christians for drinking communion wine during a religious service, the arrest of “homosexuals and devil worshippers,” the continued persecution of embattled practitioners of the Bahá’i faith, and the uptick in executions in the Islamic Republic since the presidential elections, The report offered no evidence of any moderation by the Rouhani government.

But that report was for the first hundred days. What about later? In January 2014, a UN report stated that Iran continued to imprison Christians for their faith and designated house churches and evangelical Christians as “threats to national security.” At least 49 Christians were among 307 religious minorities being held in Iranian jails as of January 2014. The UN report berated Iran for its hostility to Jews, Bahá’is, Zoroastrians and Dervish Muslims as well, though, as reported in a recent blog of mine, the Iranian government recently launched a charm and money contribution campaign for the remnant of 4,000 Jews remaining in Iran. What the report also said was that Rouhani had not proven capable yet of controlling the hard-liners.

Those hard-liners explicitly reject a deal, as much to protect their positions and their perks as out of extreme ideological positions. A deal once concluded would enable the moderates to consolidate their power.

Is the execution rate in Iran an appropriate measure of moderation? I believe it is a measure of the strength of the deep state in Iran. China is often cited for its high execution rate, but it is not counted for accurate records are unavailable. China probably executes thousands per year, more than the rest of the world put together. Yet Israel is actively seeking to enhance trade with China. In 2013, based on official records, of 778 executions around the world, Iran and Iraq were jointly responsible for 538 of them, 369 in Iran, 55 more than in 2012. Activists insist that the figure is much higher and that the actual number of executions was more than twice that number. In 2014, using both official and unofficial sources, the Iran Human Rights Centre reported that the numbers executed were slightly up again to a total of 721, the vast majority for drug trafficking, but a significant minority for murder and a smaller number for rape and armed robbery. One person was executed for sodomy and a second for kidnapping. Four – Ghalamreza Khosravi, Omid Pin, Imam Galavi and Hashem Shabaninejad – were executed for Moharebeh, “waging war against God and the state.”

In any case, is Iran’s treatment of religious minorities and gays, is its execution rate, the litmus test of Iran’s greater moderation in the effort to produce nuclear weapons? Bibi, as if anticipating such a question, shifted to four foreign policy issues: Iran’s support for terrorism, Iran’s continued anti-American practices, Iranian ideology and Islamic State. With respect to the first, support for terrorism, Bibi pointed to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who had laid a wreath at the grave of Imad Mughniyeh (al-Hajj Radwan), head of Hezbollah military intelligence and a possible successor to Nasrallah as head of Hezbollah. Mughniyeh was behind the Beirut barracks bombing and the two 1983 U.S. embassy bombings. He was also indicted in Argentina for his alleged role in the 1992 Israeli embassy attack in Buenos Aires. U.S. officials accused Mughniyeh of killing more United States citizens than any other militant prior to Osama bin Laden.

Yet Zarif was photographed laying a wreath at the grave of Mughniyeh on 14 January 2014 just days after negotiations based on the Joint Plan of Action commenced to move Iran towards a strictly peaceful use of its nuclear facilities. Netanyahu was wise to choose that incident for it was widely viewed as sending a negative signal of Iranian intentions. Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, condemned the action. “The inhumane violence that Moughniyeh perpetrated – and that Lebanese Hezbollah continues to perpetrate in the region with Iran’s financial and material support – has had profoundly destabilizing and deadly effects for Lebanon and the region.”

Clearly, Bibi had chosen a symbolic support for terrorism that touched Americans rather than a concrete incident illustrating continuing Iranian support for terrorism. For example, Netanyahu could have cited an event that took place two months later when the Israeli navy intercepted a freighter loaded with dozens of Syrian-made M-302 rockets evidently bound for Hamas in Gaza, rockets capable of hitting any target in Israel. They were hidden under bags of concrete. But then Zarif in turn could have cited Reagan’s support for Saddam Hussein’s terrorist regime and its war against Iran, for Reagan had provided Iraq with aerial photographs of Iranian troop movements upon which Iraq blasted shells of mustard gas. There were fifty thousand casualties, including thousands of deaths, many more on balance than the Americans had suffered from state-sponsored terrorism.

While portraying Zarif as a supporter of terrorism, Netanyahu deliberately ignored a number of signs and signals communicated by Zarif of a change in Iranian policy. Robin Wright in his portrait of Zarif in the 26 May 2014 issue of The New Yorker called “The Adversary: Is Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Javad Zarif, for real?” opens with a very revealing story. Zarif, after coming into office and opening a new twitter account, sent out his second tweet. It wished Jews all around the world a “Happy Rosh Hashanah.” What a contrast this was with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had challenged Israel’s right to exist, urged Jews to return to the countries they came from, and questioned the occurrence of the Holocaust. Suspecting something phony, Christine Pelosi, daughter of Democratic Minority House leader, Nancy Pelosi, sent a tweet. “Thanks. The New Year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran’s Holocaust denial, sir.” Christine Pelosi’s husband is Jewish and their daughter attends a Jewish preschool. Zarif responded: “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.” Subsequently in the Iranian parliament, Zarif came close to being censured for insisting that the Holocaust was a “horrifying tragedy.”

Thus commenced the new opening and dialogue between Americans and Iranians, easier since Zarif, like Netanyahu, spent years living in the U.S. and his two children are American citizens based on their place of birth. On 26 September, Zarif met John Kerry at the UN to discuss resuming negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. President Rouhani, in New York for the General Assembly, spoke the next day for fifteen minutes on the phone to President Obama, the first conversation between Iranian and American leaders since the Shah’s ouster in 1979.

Netanyahu’s appeal to American sensibilities was his main reason for emphasizing the references to America as “The Great Satan” and calling for “Death to America.” What was left out is that when Zarif took his walk with Kerry for fifteen minutes in Europe in mid-January, Zarif was hauled before Parliament in Iran to explain why he was becoming intimate with America, “The Great Stan,” and then was interrogated to determine whether or not he was giving in to America’s great demands and endless sabotage of the talks. But citing such facts would detract from Netanhayu’s pitch that the leadership of Iran is a monolith. Further, it might bring attention to the fact that Zarif overtly eschews depicting America in that way.

As Ben Rhodes, Obama’s White House spokesman said, “There is a constituency that now has some degree of power in the Iranian system, that really wants to climb out of this isolation, and is willing to do things that they didn’t previously do…We don’t know how far this can go—both on the nuclear issue and on the broader relationship…They’ve got to decide whether we’re the Great Satan or whether we are their ticket into the community of nations.”

Netanyahu had two more cards to play before he got to the heart of the matter, the nuclear negotiations – ideology and the Islamic State card. He claimed that the Iranian regime was deeply rooted in militant Islam and hence inherently anti-American. Though Iranian ideology is indeed rooted deeply in Islamism, it is also blended in with nationalism, nativism and non-membership in any bloc but its own, especially the American-led Western bloc and the Eastern bloc. Moreover, in spite of George W. Bush’s insistence that Iran was part of the axis of evil, in 2002 74% of Iranians favoured resumption of relations with the U.S. However, ideology did dictate that punishment be meted out to the pollsters. Abbas Abdi and Hossein Ali Qazian were sentenced to jail for eight and nine years respectively for “publishing nonscientific research.” As George W. Bush in a rare case of insight and clarity said, “The people of Iran want the same freedoms, human rights, and opportunities as people around the world. Their government should listen to their hopes. In the last two Iranian presidential elections and in nearly a dozen parliamentary and local elections, the vast majority of the Iranian people voted for political and economic reform. Yet their voices are not being listened to by the unelected people who are the real rulers of Iran.”

Ideology does play a harsh repressive role, but there are other competing forces and voices within the Iranian spectrum that percolate to the top. Under President Mohammad Khatemi, errors by both sides sabotaged the efforts for “a dialogue of civilizations” The reality is, in fact, that America has won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iranian people, not the dictatorial ayatollahs and zealots. The issue is how to take advantage of that fact.

What about Netanyahu’s use of the Islamic State card? “The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America [condescending and insulting]. Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire. In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone. So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

Impressive phrasing but false reasoning. If Americans and Iranians can forge an implicit cooperative arrangement to defeat the far more extremist Islamic State, that will have repercussions within Iran. Netanyahu’s reasoning is that, “Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs.” Intercontinental missiles, possibly. But under a negotiated regime, no nuclear bombs. And even without such a regime, Iran, as Mossad reported to the Israeli government, is a lot further from a nuclear bomb than some politicians would lead us to believe. Bibi may indeed be right that, “the greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons.” But the issue is whether coercive diplomacy or constructive engagement is the best route to prevent such an outcome. In the past, coercive diplomacy has had a record of failure. Can constructive engagement succeed?

Thus far I have analyzed the first half of Netanyahu’s address to the U.S. Congress in which Netanyahu set the stage for his critique of the negotiations and the impending agreement. Basically, he insisted that America and Israel were true partners through thick and thin. At the same time he insisted that Iran was an implacable foe of America as well as Israel whether so-called moderates were in power or whether extremists were. In the second half, Netanyahu addressed the negotiations directly.

Part IV The Nuclear Negotiations

Netanyahu began this direct attack on the negotiations with his most general and fundamental criticism. The greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. For Netanyahu, that is exactly what could happen if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran. He did not say “would” or suggest he had even more infallible power than a pope because he had the ability to predict the future. And he is correct. That “could” happen. But what is the likelihood of that result if there is a deal versus if there is no deal (or, as he finally suggested before he ended his speech, if there is a better deal than the one probably on the table). Instead of offering the pros and cons of either scenario or the third one he eventually brought up, Bibi slipped from “could” to “would”.

Netanyahu in his next assertion suggested that an Islamist state possessing nuclear arms would result from the negotiations. As he said, the deal will all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them. What is the basis of this prediction? Perhaps that almost certain outcome is built into the deal. Netanyahu argues that the deal contains two basic provisions. Netanyahu calls them “concessions” even though they are not concessions in terms of the 13 November 2013 Joint Plan of Action which envisioned Iran retaining a capacity to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The question is how many are sufficient for the peaceful use of nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu declared that the major concession would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure. What is a vast infrastructure? Vast is an equivocal adjective. By vast, does Bibi mean great in size, very large in numbers, covering a great expanse of territory or consisting in a great variety and type of centrifuges with different speeds and intensities. Or perhaps he means a combination of some or all of them. The last seems unlikely since there are only three types, basically two older models and one modern high speed type of gas centrifuge though there are new models under development such as Australia’s laser being put into a commercial test in the U.S. Similarly, since, excluding the Tehran research reactor, nuclear production is located at Fordow, Arak and Natanz so Netanyahu could not be referring to a vast expanse of territory. He must have been referring to the central issue, the number of centrifuges.

Netanyahu had been correct in claiming that not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges would continue to be used to enrich uranium. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed. But the question was whether those disconnected and those not yet commissioned would pose a danger. To assert this would was an explicit insult to the IAEA and the P5+1 negotiators and the technical staff.

From 2008 to 2013 when the Joint Plan of Action was signed, Iran roughly tripled the number of centrifuges it had, from 6,000 to 19,000, 9,000 of them operating. In speeches, the ayatollah leadership had articulated an ambition to have 50,000 in operation. Fifty thousand might be considered a vast number for Iran. Nineteen thousand was considered too large a number by P5+1 during the negotiations throughout 2014. The goal, seemingly achieved, was to push Iran back to 6,500 centrifuges. About half would be of the advanced high-speed variety. Was that number considered “vast”? Not according to the IAEA, the international agency monitoring the capacities of various countries to produce enriched uranium under the international non-proliferation treaty.

Netanyahu had now come to one central issue. He was clearly engaged in extraordinary hyperbole. Further, he was late in the game. All along, he had pushed for a zero sum game – NO centrifuges for Iran. In his Congress speech, he seemed to have modified his position to argue that Iran would still be left with too many under the agreement. Making this argument in a politically divisive climate and a context of hyperbolic statements and without any detailed arguments to back up his claim, an argument that might have been put forth as a reasonable position about a year ago, especially if backed up by data and analysis, now came across as desperation by an individual with an inflated vision of himself and backed into a corner.

Though he had been correct in asserting that simply disconnecting a few pipes, as he seemed to suggest, would be an inadequate step, it would be hard to find anyone who disagreed with such an assertion. The real question was whether the de-commissioned and unused centrifuges would be stored in a safe manner and at a location where they could not be easily put back into production.

Though he made his claim, it had virtually no credibility in terms of known facts, but he made the claim as if it were a fact. And he was applauded for it. Why? Because leading Republicans make the same wild assertions that Bibi just echoed. Then he stretched the truth even further and engaged in an outright lie when he claimed that Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact. The program’s goals of 50,000 centrifuges had been stopped in its tracks. The actual number of centrifuges that would be left in an operating capacity would have been rolled back to 6,500.

The conclusion of every single expert, including Israeli ones, was not the one Netanyahu had made that Iran’s break-out time would be very short – even shorter by Israeli calculations – but would be about a year, sufficient time to make enough highly enriched fuel of 90% for one nuclear device. Perhaps one year was too short to allow the reports of inspectors to filter through the capitals of various states and to put measures in place to counteract an Iranian effort. But attend to the issue. Don’t distort accepted conclusions to score invalid points.

Then Netanyahu made a concession. “True, certain restrictions would be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors.” But he made it just to undermine the argument. “But here’s the problem. You see, inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them. Inspectors knew when North Korea broke to the bomb, but that didn’t stop anything. North Korea turned off the cameras, kicked out the inspectors. Within a few years, it got the bomb.”

Unfortunately, any reasonable historical understanding of how North Korea acquired nuclear weapons is precisely the opposite of the one Netanyahu suggested. What was the history of North Korean‘s nuclear program? In 2003, NK opted out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and kicked out international inspectors. By 2006, NK announced that it had conducted its first underground explosion. In 2007, NK confirmed it had nuclear weapons. In 2009, Korea was confirmed as a member of the small club of nations in possession of nuclear weapons. The break-out period between removal of inspectors and acquisition of a nuclear device had been 3-4 years and was six years before NK became a nuclear menace. The separation enrichment process needed to carry out this program was carried out first in 2003 after the inspectors were kicked out and then again in 2005.

To get just a glimpse of what had happened it is necessary to go back another decade before the inspectors were forced to leave. In 1994, NK’s reprocessing had been frozen a year after NK threatened to withdraw from the NPT. Under threat of air strikes against its reactors, and in return for an American promise to supply light water reactors and the requisite fuel, NK stopped its enrichment program. The latter condition was never fulfilled – whether because of NK subversion of the arrangements or an American change of mind under George W. Bush. The result – a tough line, no inspectors and the development of nuclear weapons. It was not inspections conjoined with constructive engagement that led to NK acquiring nuclear weapons. Rather it was the absence of inspections and constructive engagement the produced that result.

When NK and the U.S. agreed to a framework agreement back in 1994 when it was estimated that NK already had a capacity to make one or two bombs per year, The Agreed Framework signed by the United States and North Korea signed on 21 October 1994 in Geneva agreed that:

  • North Korea would freeze its existing nuclear program and agree to enhanced international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
  • Both sides would cooperate to replace the D.P.R.K.’s graphite-moderated reactors for related facilities with light-water (LWR) power plants.
  • Both countries would move toward full normalization of political and economic relations.
  • Both sides will work together for peace and security on a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
  • And that both sides would work to strengthen the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The framework agreement and the inspections worked for nine years. When NK broke out of the agreement, the U.S. was busy with a war in Iraq based on a lie that Iraq had acquired weapons of mass destruction, but George W. Bush did not bomb NK’s facilities when he could and perhaps should have. Netanyahu’s argument was that Iran had followed the North Korean path. “Like North Korea, Iran, too, has defied international inspectors. It’s done that on at least three separate occasions – 2005, 2006, 2010. Like North Korea, Iran broke the locks, shut off the cameras.”  The lesson most observers would take is that coercive diplomacy does not work. Constructive diplomacy does. When it fails, the problem is not inspectors who are being cheated. The problem was that coercive diplomacy when needed was applied to the wrong country.

What about the second major “concession” which so bothered Netanyahu – the expiry of any deal in only ten years? Notice, Netanyahu was no longer insisting that the amount of low enriched uranium that Iran was allowed to retain was the problem. Nor was he insisting any longer that the issue was that the deal had a sunset clause. He now argued that the sunset clause came too fast. But he no sooner mentioned that issue than he totally misconstrued it. “What will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted, Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could result in a more dangerous Iran, a Middle east littered with many, many nuclear bombs?”

However, no one has ever suggested that Iran’s capabilities would be totally unrestricted. They would continue to be restricted by the NPT. Inspections would continue. What was suggested was that if Iran had kept its part of the deal, sanctions would not just be waived but cancelled altogether. Further, Iran would be allowed to acquire and install another 3,500 centrifuges. .Rather than an unrestricted regime following a restricted one, restrictions would continue, but the terms eased to those in conformity with the obligations and rights of any UN member operating according to the NPT.

Further, if Iran, like NK, decided to break the agreement after ten years, the situation would not be that, “When we get down that road, we’ll face a far dangerous Iran, a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs and a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare.” Utter balderdash! Iran in 2015 is far less dangerous vis-a-vis nuclear weapons than in 2013. In 2025 it will be far less dangerous still. If Iran decides to follow the lead of NK and make a break towards a nuclear bomb, Iran would have a harder time then. Deterrence might then fail as it did for NK in 2003 when the U.S. lost its credibility in its commitment to restricting weapons of mass destruction because there were none in Iraq, and then proved incapable of using force against NK when it was fully justified to do so.

John Kerry, whom Netanyahu referred to as his friend – if Netanyahu is a friend of Kerry’s, Kerry needs no enemies – did NOT say that Iran could legitimately possess a massive nuclear capacity at the end of ten years. Iran would be enabled to acquire a larger capacity. Look at Netanyahu’s choice of adjectives: “vast”, “massive”. These are both distortions and fear mongering. They are not accurate attempts to engage in a difficult debate over options. Netanyahu’s “friend,” John Kerry, actually said that he questioned the judgment of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu over his stance on Iran’s nuclear program. The Israeli PM “may not be correct,”, Mr Kerry said after attending the latest Iran nuclear talks in Geneva after reacting to a speech in which Mr Netanyahu had said the U.S. and others were “accepting that Iran will gradually, within a few years, develop capabilities to produce material for many nuclear weapons”. Mr Kerry told senators President Obama had made it clear that the policy was not to let Iran get nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu does not always distort and exaggerate when he comes to the analysis of the negotiations. After all, Iran’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program is indeed not part of the deal, and Iran refuses to even put it on the negotiating table. Iran could indeed in ten years have the means to deliver that nuclear arsenal to reach the far corners of the earth, including to every part of the United States. But Iran’s missiles were never intended to be part of the deal as is clear in the JPA. The issue in dispute is not over missiles, but over the research to produce a warhead that could carry a nuclear weapon. Further, Iran is free to conduct research to improve the rate at which it can produce enriched uranium.

Part V: The Bottom Line

Why would anyone make this deal? Because, according to Bibi, they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse. The latter is certainly true and so is the former for a minority in the Obama administration. Further, I agree with Netanyahu that Iran’s radical regime supporting terrorism, seeking regional power status and continuing its aspiration to have Israel disappear from the Middle East will continue. Whether it grows, decreases or remains the same, it is not the deal that will wet its appetite. Rather, the deal will enhance Iran’s opportunities when it neither has the expense nor the propensity to turn itself into a pariah with a nuclear energy program. The deal will diminish not enhance the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Part VI: A Realistic Alternative

Netanyahu then offered two alternatives. The first was a non-starter – linkage of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to restrictions on Iran’s support for terrorism and constraining Iran’s political ambitions, including becoming a regional power and aspiring to eliminate Israel from the Middle East. This had been his repeated position. The second alternative was one Alan Dershowitz latched onto as the core issue in the deal – extending the sunset clause. I suspect this would be a deal breaker, but I am not sure. In any case, making it a deal breaker depends on accepting Netanyahu’s assessment of the results of not doing so – a runaway Iran seeking to acquire nuclear weapons after the ten years, a proposition based on false logic and little evidence. Put forth in a reasonable way, backed up with facts and analyses and argued one year earlier, then this would have been a reasonable position to take. As a last minute switch, it could only be properly viewed as a parlour trick as much as Dershowitz was entranced by it. But then Dershowitz is a litigation lawyer with an expertise in parlour tricks before a jury.

While the lack of a deal might lead to a Middle East nuclear arms race, the presence of a deal will not propel a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The absence of one has a high probability of doing just that. Insisting on depriving Iran of even a peaceful use of a nuclear program is far more likely to set off such a race than the arriving at a restrictive agreement.

Without thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities, Iran can’t make nuclear weapons. True. But Iran already has them. The issue is not total deprivation but managed constraint. False aspirations, not an agreement, will produce a far worse scenario. Unfortunately, the audience applauded Netanyahu’s absurd and illogical claim. But that merely set the stage for the final session of open cheerleading until each sentence uttered elicited standing applause until the members of Congress had been subjected to the enormous strain of standing up and sitting down while they clapped for 27 times in total.

Robert Frost was cited as offering the road less traveled by to applause, even though constructive diplomacy is the road less traveled by, one which tends to be more successful. Elie Wiesel sitting beside Netanyahu’s wife for a photo-op was pointed to as standing for “Never Again” when “Never Again” had nothing to do with the nuclear negotiation. Nevertheless, there was another standing ovation. When Netanyahu played the Zionist as well as Holocaust card, he put forth the oft repeated but false thesis of a revived national state that would and could guarantee a refuge for Jews under threat, ignoring totally that Jews in Israel were most under threat. Again applause. For Netanyahu and his ilk, Israel is not the result of justified self-determination of a people in its historic homeland, but was created in the aftermath of a holocaust and world guilt when there is absolutely no historical evidence that the Holocaust had anything to do with the world community recognizing Jewish collective rights.

Each card played – the Frost one of choices, the anti-appeasement card, the Holocaust and the Zionist cards – each elicited after each part was uttered standing room applause. After those cards were dropped on the platform, Netanyahu returned to the American one identifying America and Israel. This elicited the most applause, even more than the Biblical card when Netanyahu pointed to a portrait of Moses leading his people to the Promised Land.

Netanyahu came to Washington to lead a cheer-leading session, not to weigh evidence and argue logically with empirical backing to critique the negotiations. So he could ignore the position Mohammad Javad Zarif took in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, namely that, “Iran has no interest in nuclear weapons and is convinced that such weapons would not enhance its security. Iran does not have the means to engage in nuclear deterrence—directly or through proxies—against its adversaries. Furthermore, the Iranian government believes that even a perception that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons is detrimental to the country’s security and to its regional role, since attempts by Iran to gain strategic superiority in the Persian Gulf would inevitably provoke responses that would diminish Iran’s conventional military advantage.”

It is too bad. An opportunity to enhance a rational debate on a most fundamental issue was squandered.

The First Six Months of Compliance with the JPA

The First Six Months of Compliance with the JPA

by

Howard Adelman

To reiterate for the umpteenth time, the point of the JPA negotiations from the very start was not to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, but to establish a set of provisions and verification measures to protect American and allied national security interests by limiting (not eliminating) Iran’s nuclear programs. Extensive verification measures were to be put in place intended to eliminate the risk of Iran breaking out with an ability to produce nuclear weapons at its declared and/or covert nuclear sites without being detected in a timely manner. The issue of timeliness was defined as sufficient time to permit U.S. and international responses that would prevent Iran succeeding. As clarified in the last blog, this entailed instituting very intrusive verification procedures to detect the construction and operation of secret gas centrifuge plants in Iran’s nuclear program to ensure that Iran’s actions conform to the agreements it made as interim confidence-building measures before a more comprehensive program can be put in place. For the best summaries of the monitoring of the progress of the negotiations, see the series of reports of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington (ISIS). Better yet, read the IAEA reports themselves. This blog is based on those reports.

Fordow is a nuclear enrichment plant constructed in secret at a time when Iran was obligated to report its construction to the IAEA and not only did not, but repeatedly and blatantly lied about it, absolutely denying such a development. That alone required any verification process to be very robust. The plant is buried deep under a mountain near the Iranian holy city of Qom. The only purpose of the plant is to produce military-grade nuclear materials, though Iran argues the grade of nuclear material is required for its research reactor. In September 2009, its existence was publicly revealed by President Obama. The end goal of the negotiations had to be closing this site. If Iran wanted to continue producing nuclear material for peaceful purposes, it did not need a plant under a mountain resistant even to bunker bomb attacks, though the access tunnels, ventilation equipment and electronic supply would not be immune. The interim goal was to halt Iran’s progress in its tracks and to cut through Iran’s duplicitous and contradictory reporting on its activities to the IAEA between 2009 and 2013.

The truth: at Fordow, Iran had installed almost 2,800 first generation IR-1 centrifuges in two halls each designed to hold 8 cascades of 174 centrifuges per cascade = 1,392 centrifuges x 2 = 2784 centrifuges of which 696 were operational. According to the IAEA, 4 cascades of 174 centrifuges (696) in two tandem sets to produce near 20 percent low enriched uranium the only real purpose of which was nuclear weaponry. In the JPA, 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.

To ensure the above, Iran agreed not only to stop making 20% enriched uranium, not only to install no further advanced centrifuges at Fordow, but also to disconnect the piping of cascades not in operation, maintain those centrifuges in a non-operative state and only enrich uranium up to 5% in the 4 operating cascades. In the end, Iran would have to actually remove about 15,000 of its centrifuges after the JPA was signed according to the Washington Post.

Note that in the JPA interim agreement, Iran could continue enrichment at its R&D Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant and even develop more advanced centrifuges, but these developments would be monitored to ensure conformity with IAEA safeguards. In spite of this provision, by February 2014, even Israel’s senior security officials in the IDF and Mossad had begun to consider whether Iran was sincere in following a new tack and that, possibly, this was not just a new phase in past deceptive practices. At the renewable energy meeting in Abu Dhabi on 18-19 January, Israeli Water and Energy Minister Silvan Shalom listened intently to Iran’s minister of energy. More significantly, at the Munich Security Conference on 2 February, Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon sat in the front row of a panel discussion that included Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

What was happening with Iran’s agreement to convert its existing 20% enriched uranium, 50% as working stock of 20% oxide for fabrication of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) while the other 50% had to be diluted to no more than 5% low enriched uranium (LEU) hexafluoride? If the 20% enriched oxide is reconverted to a fluoride form and then further enriched to weapon-grade level (90% U235), this would be enough to make a 25 kg bomb. Recall that Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima was a 15 kiloton bomb and Far Boy dropped on Nagasaki was a 21 kiloton bomb, not 25 kg. Nevertheless, if Iran is truly committed to the use of nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes, it does not need 20% enriched nuclear material.

Why do I go into all this detail? Why not jump to much more recent reports, or even more, to the latest AIAE Report on Iran’s compliance with the JPA? There are several reasons. First, I want to establish my credibility; I have read all the reports. Second, I want to try to see if there is a pattern in Iran’s compliance and non-compliance, for both are at work. Third, I want to demonstrate that, as far as possible, I have tried to be fair in appraising Iran’s compliance with the terms of the JPA. On the other hand, I do not want to burden readers with a morass of details. So after this initial review of the first six months and my conclusions about a pattern, in Monday’s blog I will jump to the very recent report of the IAEA that I received yesterday to assess whether in fact my perceptions of a pattern are correct.

As a result of last February’s IAEA report, one clear sign of progress was that Iran agreed that it would put on hold any plans to build additional centrifuge plants, more specifically, the plans for the third centrifuge plant that AIAE had revealed. On the other hand, trust was not enhanced in Iran’s intentions when commitments come only after new discoveries by the IAEA. There is a clear perception that there is a continuing failure to provide full disclosure, though certainly a great deal that IAEA did not know previously has been disclosed. Hence, IAEA determined to place a priority on gaining access to a full range of information that it did not have last February and that it would need to assess Iran’s compliance and even perhaps its intentions.

One area of critical importance was Iran’s research and development program mentioned above. Unfortunately, for many observers of this process, the JPA did not adequately address this issue and, by omission, Iran was permitted to undertake research to improve the quality of its centrifuges. This is understandable in a way since better centrifuges are also needed for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Iran may not develop new types of centrifuges using uranium hexafluoride at its Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant, but it can undertake research to improve the performance of existing centrifuges. The dilemma is that, given the goals of the JPA to limit the breakout period to at least a year, significant improvements in the performance of Iran’s existing centrifuges could significantly reduce that timeframe. Yet there is no provision in the JPA to limit the possibility. So the negotiators are working on using the transparency clauses to ensure Iran reveals its improvements.

The issue of a breakthrough with laser enrichment is instructive. In 2010, Iran announced that it had significantly improved performance through a laser enrichment program. The JPA in the technical annexes provided seven practical methods for monitoring this possibility of accelerating the breakout period. Iran was required to implement them by 15 May 2014. As we shall see, Iran did comply with these additional “technical” requirements, including the requirement that Iran provide full relevant information on the Lashkar Ab’ad Laser Research Centre and to allow inspection visits.

Reduction in suspicion of Iran is not helped when, at the time the JPA was signed and immediately thereafter, all work on construction and improvements at the Parchin military site seemed to be at a standstill, but the February satellite photos revealed that new activity was taking place at the site and Iran had not informed IAEA that this was taking place. In the meanwhile, Ira’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, was performing the role of the eternal optimist on the international stage signaling that a comprehensive deal was doable in the next 4-5 months.

What was becoming clear was that two intersecting issues were clear. First, there had to be strict limits on the number of centrifuges Iran could have. Second, as and if their productive capacity improved, those numbers had to be reduced. As the quality of the enrichment program improves, the number of centrifuges in operation had to decrease. Otherwise there was no way of being secure about a breakout period that seemed reasonable at the time of any deal.

The other complementary issue was the amount and quality of nuclear material that Iran had already in hand. The 20 February 2014 IAEA report was promising because IAEA could, by then, provide a reasonably accurate picture of the total volume of 20% enriched uranium that Iran had on hand, especially since the JPA had agreed that 50% of that material could be retained in the form of oxide. The problem, as everyone recognized, was that this process could be reversed for the nuclear material retained in oxide form using its existing technological knowhow and equipment. Only two steps were needed: 1) converting it back into a hexafluoride form, and 2) then enrich it to a grade suitable for nuclear weapons. So the negotiators had to make this process impossible. The question was not only whether, at the end of six months, Iran had converted all or almost all of its stock of 20% enriched uranium equally into the two forms provided in the JPA, but how to ensure 135-175 kg of 20% enriched uranium now in oxide form could and would not be reconverted back into hexafluoride form.

The 20 March 2014 IAEA report was very positive. Iran had made progress on a number of fronts in complying with the terms of the JPA:

  • No new enriched U-235 to 20%
  • No expanded conversion capacity
  • Degraded 74.6 kg of 20% enriched U-235 to no more than 5%
  • 7 kg of 20% enriched U-235 had been converted to the oxide form
  • No efforts had been made to reconvert U-235
  • Iran had provided information on the continued construction of the Enriched Uranium Production Plant (EUPP) that was to be used to degrade 20% enriched U-235, but the work had not completed
  • No processing at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR)
  • Iran had complied with the terms of the Safeguard Agreement
  • Iran had provided information on the uranium mine at Gchine
  • Daily access had been provided to both Natanz and Fordow
  • Inspection via managed access had been allowed to the centrifuge assembly workshop, the centrifuge rotor production workshop and to storage facilities.

Perhaps Zarif had been right to be optimistic. Though Olli Heinonen, the Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also seemed optimistic, he reminded everyone that a great deal of confirmation work remained to be done and the results of inspections still had to be completed. Even the delay in meeting targets for conversion of 20% enriched UF6 to 5% enriched UF6 as uranium oxide was explicable in terms of plant construction delays.

Nevertheless, the negotiations were haunted by a number of unresolved issues. Iran has been suspiciously intransigent about the Parchin facility where Digital Globe imagery dated 25 April 2014 shows signs of renewed external activity there, a critical observation since this is where Iran’s nuclear weapons development program takes place. Iran had promised to clear up crucial questions about its past nuclear military production, but has not yet complied. What, in fact, has Iran done towards producing nuclear weapons?

Nevertheless, the IAEA May 2014 report remained optimistic since enrichment to almost 20% had ceased, 100kg of 20% enriched had been converted to less than 5% and its stock of hexafluoride was approaching zero, no new centrifuges were installed at Natanz and Fordow, and Iran complied with the practical measures insisted on by IAEA. What also becomes clear, the restrictions in examining the military dimension of Iran’s program were a mistake as, without such information, it is impossible to calculate with any degree of accuracy Iran’s break out time frame. Knowing this, IAEA promised to report back on that dimension of the nuclear issue.

Ironically, problems were emerging on the provisions for removing sanctions:

Sunday:           Sanctions and the Implementation of Relief

Monday:          The 20 February 2015 IAEA Report

Tuesday          My Overall Assessment of the Nuclear Negotiations

Wednesday    Libya

The Joint Plan of Action: P5+1 and Iran

  1. The Joint Plan of Action: P5+1 and Iran

Part IV: The Washington-Jerusalem-Buenos Aries-Tehran Quadrangle

by

Howard Adelman

In the ongoing dispute between the White House and the Israeli government over the invitation to Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on the Iran nuclear negotiations, we supposedly learned that Netanyahu would no longer be updated on the progress of those negotiations. The explanation: fear that Netanyahu will use the information for political needs. But that is not all. In addition, Obama’s National Security Advisor was said to be cutting off all contact with the Israeli National Security Council. If true, a brouhaha would now have become an imbroglio, for the dispute now would directly affect the security of Israel. Obama appeared to have declared diplomatic war against Israel, showing, perhaps for the first time since he has been president, that he too can play hardball.

In what sense could informing Netanyahu on the status of the talks allow Bibi to use that information for political purposes since he has always used information for political purposes? That was the whole point of promising to keep Jerusalem updated – as a quid pro quo to getting Israel to step down from plans to bomb the Fordow reactor and other nuclear installations in Iran. Was Obama trying to provoke Israel into using the bombing card?

When Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State in charge of the nuclear talks with Iran, was reported as announcing that she ceased briefing and updating Israel on the talks, were there any reports that she offered evidence that Netanyahu was using the material she supplied inappropriately to advance his own political prospects within Israel? When Susan Rice, Obama’s National Security Advisor, purportedly announced that she was cutting off all contacts with the Israeli National Security Council, and its chief, Yossi Cohen, she allegedly claimed that Israel was turning a U.S. national security issue into a political issue within the U.S. to interfere in U.S. domestic politics. But if the White House had responded in this way, Obama’s office would have been responsible for turning a minor diplomatic misstep and, in my mind, inadvisable visit, into a major security issue.

In other words, Netanyahu was being portrayed as having committed a double boo-boo and the revenge by the White House had reportedly come down swiftly and heavily. One reaction: what is Israel supposed to do when it feels the progress of the negotiations is undermining the understandings between the U.S. and Israel on the quid pro quo? Go quietly into the night?

Netanyahu’s office, however, kept its cool about the latest purported revelations as it has over the invitation to address Congress. In the latter case, Israel simply slipped out the information that Netanyahu had indeed followed protocol and informed the White House about the invitation before he accepted. (If the Oval Office only learned about the invitation from Netanyahu, their intelligence on gathering information on what is going on in Congress must be dreadful.) If Obama’s White House had indeed responded to Netanyahu’s plan to speak to a joint sitting of Congress as reported, a really serious breach in protocol would have taken place, now by the White House, for Obama’s office could have let Netanyahu know that if he accepted the invitation from the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the White House would come out with full guns blazing.

Was this only the opening salvo? Something seemed fishy. First, the alleged White House reaction was so disproportionate to the alleged offense. Second, such a response would not have been self-serving as it would have alienated much of the Jewish base who support the Democrats which would then rally on behalf of Israel – not Netanyahu – because such a response would have gone far too far. Third, Netanyahu, who is a street brawler, did not respond and return diplomatic artillery fire. His office only stated that, “The relations between the two nations are deep” and that Yossi Cohen will leave for Washington next week to take part in a conference when he will meet with Sherman and Rice, totally contrary to the report that Rice would no longer meet with Cohen.

I thought the invitation to Netanyahu was only a brouhaha, but if the report had been accurate, the tension between Netanyahu and the White House would certainly no longer be just that. Personal animosity would have risen to fever pitch and threatened the deep relations between the two countries. I had thought the acceptance of the invitation to address Congress was inadvisable, but I did not think that Obama would suddenly raise the stakes and plant a minefield for Israel around the Iran negotiations.

Are the negotiations going so badly that Obama wants to blame Israel for torpedoing them and then justify why the U.S. will not support Israel in seeking increased sanctions or even diplomatically supporting Israel in dealing with the existential threat of a nuclear-armed Iran? Is there time to step back from the breach? Certainly John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, had issued the invitation without keeping the White House in the loop. I suspect that may have been unprecedented, not only in relations between the White House and Congress, but in the war between the Republicans and the Obama administration thus far. And clearly John Boehner has not yet bought into the compromise of a Netanyahu meeting with Congress that is a private briefing. As Boehner said, “It’s an important message that the American people need to hear.”

If the story on the White House cutting off briefings on the progress of the talks and cutting off contacts between Israel’s National Security Agency and Washington’s had been accurate, what was taking place was not only an all-out diplomatic war between Israel and the White House, but an all-out-war between the Republicans and the White House over the most important foreign policy initiative of Obama’s second term. Obama needed that like he needed a hole-in-the-head.

Before the purported huge increase in temperature in the war of words between the White House and Netanyahu, a few House of Representative democrats had tried to cool things down by asking Boehner to postpone Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress. Representatives Keith Ellison, Steve Cohen and Maxine Waters were collecting signatures to that effect when the White House salvo allegedly went off. The petition said that, “as members of Congress who support Israel, we share concern that it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the president.” 13 Democrat representatives indicated that they did not intend to attend the speech in addition to Vice President Joe Biden. Was the White House now undercutting the counter-attack of the Democrats in Congress by alienating a significant portion of their constituency by an unprecedented breach in the relations between the U.S. administration and Netanyahu?

As you have almost certainly learned, the Monday story in the Hebrew press has since been reported as erroneous. If so, some Haaretz reporter will have to pay a high price. The White House and the State Department both categorically denied the report that it had significantly upped the ante well beyond its clearly signaled displeasure at Netanyahu coming to Washington to address Congress in March. In fact, the day before the report appeared, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough explicitly repudiated all reports of a widening rift between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On NBC’s Meet the Press, he repeated the well-worn mantra: “Our relationship with Israel is many-faceted, deep and abiding…focused on a shared series of threats, but also, on a shared series of values that one particular instance is not going to inform overwhelmingly.” Inform overwhelmingly?

So why tell a story about what turns out to be a non-story? Because it may not just be a non-story. It may have been a false leak, a way of warning Netanyahu without actually starting a full-scale diplomatic wary? Because it is important to differentiate between diplomatic artillery fire using live ammunition, artillery fire using simunition (non-lethal ammunition used in target practice and simulated war games) from a fireworks display. This may not have been a lethal salvo in a diplomatic war. But it may not just have been fireworks. Obama may have been using simunition. Further, it is important to learn the Talmudic practice of analysis based on the principle of, “On the one hand…then on the other hand.” For it is too easy to select one of the hands and presume that is the story. All hands must be analyzed and the purpose of each assessed to reveal a larger picture.

The gap between Netanyahu and Obama is deep enough. The rift between the Democrats and the Republicans in contrast to a time when politicians previously sought bipartisan support for foreign policy initiatives need not be expanded into a wide and much deeper chasm. Were the Republicans merely up to their customary obstreperous shenanigans or had Obama made so many compromises in dealing with Iran that both Israeli and U.S. vital security interests had been compromised?

There was a substantive issue that needed to be explicated. According to the Obama administration, the negotiations managed, thus far, to extract enormous concessions from Iran in the first round, a position, incidentally, echoed in Tehran by Iranian domestic critics who insist that Iran gave up too much. On the other hand, the Republican threat to pass new sanctions legislation has accelerated the tortoise-paced style of the negotiations, enough so that the White House is now leaking reports of major progress — that 80% of the differences have been resolved and a positive outcome can be expected by the March deadline. The new Senate de facto deadline had made Obama’s plan for an interim agreement on principles with a follow-up comprehensive agreement by 30 June a chimera.

That plan already had run up against the declared policies of the Iranian government. Iranian leaders have repeatedly insisted that the next stage must not be an interim deal, but must be a comprehensive one. Both sides have insisted that no agreement is better than a bad agreement. But that insistence is totally beside the point and window dressing since any agreement once made will be presented as a win-win for both sides and, hence, a good agreement. The more important procedural difference is that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who will have the final say in Iran, has insisted that he would oppose an interim agreement based on “general principles in one step, then get to specifics.” He had informed Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, his chief negotiator, that he would only endorse a comprehensive agreement based on the corollary to the November interim agreement “to build on a current momentum in order to complete these negotiations within the shortest possible time, up to four months, and if necessary to use the remaining time until the end of June to finalize any possible remaining technical and drafting work.” He would not tolerate the Sword of Damocles and the prospect of renewed sanctions hanging over the government of Iran.

Thus, both sides are now working on concluding a substantive agreement before the end of March that may include some items that still need to be resolved before the end of June. Whatever is agreed, if an agreement is reached, will not be presented as an interim agreement, but as a final one with only a few loose ends left to be tied.

However, before I get into what we know about the essential terms of the deal, it is important to understand the terms of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) and its shortcomings. The JPA set out to provide a negotiating framework to allow Iran and the P5+1 to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear program would be exclusively peaceful. Since few countries trusted Iran to abide by its agreements given its previous behavior, the terms would have to meet two almost irreconcilable goals: putting practices in place that would prevent a nuclear breakout using Iran’s supposedly peaceful nuclear program. Secondly, it would have to satisfy the Ayatollahs that such limitations did not compromise Iran’s supposed plans for the peaceful use of its nuclear technology even if one did not buy into Iran’s protestations all along that “under no circumstances would Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons.” Its very enrichment program of U-235 could have no other purpose than use in nuclear weapons.

The initial framework agreement in itself provoked consternation in both Israel and a significant part of the Washington security establishment. First of all, not only was there no statement that the negotiations were intended to place boundaries on Iran’s quest to become a regional power – a quest which the White House had not only acceded to but has since endorsed – but there was nothing in the statement of purpose to address the problem of Iran’s continuing drive to perfect its international missile delivery system. Instead, the purpose of the negotiations as set forth was to arrive at a comprehensive solution that, “would enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

The two omissions and this positive formulation of goals in terms of protecting Iran’s rights, not ensuring its obligations, were sufficient to produce apoplexy in critics. However, the proposition ensuring Iran’s rights to a peaceful use of nuclear power was followed by a subsequent sentence that read, “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons.” Note the difference. The agreement will ensure that Iran can use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The JPA does not then say that the agreement is intended to ensure that Iran can never use its nuclear capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Only that Iran affirms that intention. But Iran can affirm that it has changed its mind. The opening paragraph of intentions in the JPA could not have been more alarming for Israel, even without citing Iran’s past practices of deceit and even without the issue of Iran as a regional power and its development of missile technology.

There is clearly a Machiavellian way to read Iran’s assurance that, “under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons.” For, as stated above, the statement did not say that the agreement was intended to accomplish that goal, but that Iran affirmed that it had no intention to ever seek or develop such weapons. But Iran had always insisted on that, even as it secretly pursued a program that could only be for the production of nuclear weapons. What did Iran’s avowal mean? Was it not just posturing, lying for the sake of what Iran saw as a greater good – the extermination of Israel, a goal embraced by both so-called moderates and extremists in Tehran? Why would Israel not be frightened by such a formulation?

If in past agreements, the Iranian regime had agreed precisely to such a formulation and had broken every agreement heretofore, why repeat the process? The answer was that this time the deal would be comprehensive with respect at least to nuclear issues, and no piece of the puzzle would be agreed to until the whole puzzle was resolved. Plans for either an interim framework agreement or even a comprehensive agreement with loose ends to be subsequently cleaned up already breached that requirement. Both the transparency requirements and the limitations placed on the program would be practical. That was more than a non sequitur; the wording implied that past agreements had been impractical. In retrospect and in one sense, everyone could agree to that since, because of Iran’s non-compliance, the clauses had not achieved their stated purposes. Nevertheless, the wording clearly implied that the problem was not that Iran deliberately flouted the terms to which it had agreed, but that the terms themselves were flawed.

Anyone critical of Iran’s intentions and the integrity of its promises would be bound to be upset before finishing the first paragraph. Further, if one suspected the Obama administration of naiveté even if you were not among the nutty right who believe that Obama is a stooge to advance Islam in the world, the sensitive antennae had to go off. The opening paragraph was clearly designed only to protect the so-called moderates within Iran and not protect the believers in diplomacy and engagement in Washington from their hawkish critics. What about the agreement on a step-by-step implementation program? That seemed to contradict the need for comprehensive agreement and, presumably, implementation, before sanctions were lifted. What if the whole step-by-step process was only being used by Iran to escape as many of the existing sanctions as possible, let alone any new threatened ones, while pursuing its “peaceful” development of a nuclear capacity?

After all, the core problem was dual use. Once the enrichment capacity was in place, gearing up to produce sufficient military grade nuclear material was only a matter of time, not of capacity or skills or knowledge. Whistles were blowing. Sirens were wailing. Alarm bells were clanging. Critics were being wakened to a call to arms. And we have only read the first paragraph. After all, critics argued, when has anyone ever threatened Iran’s capacity to develop a peaceful use of nuclear energy? This was always a fictional posture of the Iranian regime. And the opening paragraph of the JPA bought into that narrative without mentioning explicitly that the intention of the agreement, not Iran’s testimony, was to ensure that a cluster of practices guarantee that Iran was permanently incapable of developing nuclear weapons. But we already know that the goal had been revised from that. It was now simply to ensure that Iran could not achieve breakout within a year.

One last point needs to be reiterated. As one of my Canadian Foreign Affairs friends assured me bluntly, and undiplomatically, I would never make a diplomat for I did not understand that the goal of diplomacy was not clear and distinct thinking, but obfuscation and equivocation. My scholastic nitpicking of the first paragraph of the JPA, I could hear him say, was beside the point. More precisely, the equivocal manner of surrendering to the other side was the point. The preamble was designed to allow one side to win rhetorical brownie points when the meat of an agreement belonged to the actual practices. What is given away in the general introductory portion of an agreement is retrieved in spades in the very specific substantive clauses.

The JPA required Iran to comply in good faith with all its previous commitments as near-term measures to be monitored by a Joint Commission made up of Britain, France and the U.S. as well as Europe + China, Russia and Germany (E3/EU+3). A key is that IAEA was tasked with verification of actions by Iran. In the first six months after the agreement was signed in November 2013, Iran was required to fulfill a number of specific requirements that IAEA would have to be able to verify.

Was IAEA up to the task? Did Iran comply with those terms?

Tomorrow: Verification of the Substantive Clauses of the JPA