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Iran War Weekly - April 15, 2012

By Frank Brodhead - Posted on 15 April 2012

IranWar Weekly

April 15, 2012

Hello All – This weekend’s meeting in Istanbul significantly – but temporarily? – lowered tensions in the diplomatic standoff between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program.  While few details are so far available, the conference was deemed successful enough to schedule a second and more substantive meeting in Baghdad on May 23rd.

As noted below, perhaps a major question is why the United States put forward as negotiating “pre-conditions” demands that would be clearly unacceptable to Iran, and why these pre-conditions were apparently withdrawn (or ignored) by the time the meeting got underway  Saturday. A perhaps overly simplistic explanation is that the Obama administration views the Iran negotiations primarily in relation to the November presidential elections.  Thus drawn out negotiations – as opposed to an immediate failure – might be seen as good for the Obama re-election campaign, while bellicose “demands” defend the President’s right flank from Republican and Democratic hawks and from the Israelis.

As Syria is one of Iran’s closest allies, the internationalization of Syria’s popular uprising and incipient civil war is linked to the US objective of regime change in Iran.  Thus the US/Arab League truce plan has implications for the prospects of a war against Iran; and the relative success of the truce (so far!) is more good news for our peace movements.


Best wishes,

Frank Brodhead

Concerned Families of Westchester (NY)



Why Washington’s Iran Policy Could Lead to Global Disaster
By Juan Cole TomDispatch [April 12, 2012]

---- It’s a policy fierce enough to cause great suffering among Iranians -- and possibly in the long run among Americans, too.  It might, in the end, even deeply harm the global economy and yet, history tells us, it will fail on its own.  Economic war led by Washington (and encouraged by Israel) will not take down the Iranian government or bring it to the bargaining table on its knees ready to surrender its nuclear program.  It might, however, lead to actual armed conflict with incalculable consequences.   Historical memory has never been an American strong point and so few today remember that a global embargo on Iranian petroleum is hardly a new tactic in Western geopolitics; nor do many recall that the last time it was applied with such stringency, in the 1950s, it led to the overthrow of the government with disastrous long-term blowback on the United States.  The tactic is just as dangerous today.


Iran's Nuclear Programme: Legal Debate Stirs over Basis for US or Israeli Attack

By Chris McGreal, The Guardian [April 12, 2012]

---- Amid the saber-rattling and bluster over Iran, a furious if little-noticed debate is boiling over the legal basis for a US or Israeli attack on Tehran's nuclear programme.  While intelligence agencies grapple to assess whether Tehran is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon and militaries on both sides of the Atlantic consider the logistics of bombing Iran, legal authorities are confronting the challenge of constructing a legal case for attack, if it comes. And already there is considerable dispute over the issue. … Sceptics counter that international law only permits military action in response to an imminent attack, or if one is under way. They say there is no immediate threat because, as the White House has said, there is no evidence Tehran is building a nuclear weapon.


The “Negotiations” Fraud: U.S. Propaganda, Iran & the Politics of Nuclear War

By Anthony Dimaggio, ZNet [April 13, 2012]

---- We are moving toward a repeat of the entire Iraq fiasco, replete with a manufactured WMD threat driving us toward war. As of March 2012, an ABC-Washington Post poll finds that 84 percent of Americans believe – in line with U.S. political propaganda – that Iran “is trying to develop nuclear weapons.” A disturbing 56 percent – according to a March 2012Reuters poll, “support taking military action against Iran if there is evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons,” compared to just 39 percent who oppose such action. According to the same poll, 62 percent support Israel taking military action with the backing of the United States.


Uranium Double-Standard: The U.S., Kazakhstan and Iran

By Allen Ruff and Steve Horn, Nation of Change [April 12, 2012]

---- Double standards have long reigned supreme in U.S. foreign policy. Few examples illustrate that better than the contrast between Washington’s stance toward the nuclear ambitions of Iran and Kazakhstan. The alleged Iranian "threat" was a central concern at the Nuclear Security Summit, which occurred in Seoul, South Korea between March 26-27. One notable uranium-developing powerhouse in no way viewed as a "threat" by the 53 world leaders assembled at Seoul was Kazakhstan, the resource-rich former Soviet republic strategically located at the center of the Asian heartland.




---- Prior to this weekend’s meeting in Istanbul, the United States and Iran put forward preliminary negotiating positions. As the Istanbul meeting’s main outcome is to meet again (on May 23 in Baghdad), these pre-conference declarations are still relevant, and I’ve linked several good overviews or analyses below.  The main puzzle, as several writers note, is why the United States put forward as “pre-conditions” the demands that the Iranians dismantle their nuclear operations at the Fordo site, and that Iran not only cease enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, but that it also ship its entire stock of such uranium out of the country.  As Stephen Walt notes, while it is understandable that the United States and Israel might want this, they certainly realize that Iran will not negotiate on the basis of these demands as preconditions. As Anthony DiMaggio and others suggest, is this because the United States wants the negotiations to fail?  Or as Gareth Porter suggests, did the United States put forward these demands on behalf of Israel, with the intention of compromising on these points later?  And a few days later, as Jason Ditz points out, these “preconditions” seemed to melt away; did this reflect a conflict within US policy making?  Or did it reflect a failure of coordination between Washington and its allies, as suggested in a recent Washington Post article?  These questions may be clarified by the time negotiations resume next month.


Some Pre-Conference Overviews

Irannuclear talks offer opportunity if the US wants it

By Peter Jenkins, Lobelog [April 11, 2012]

---- … White House officials are confident that Iran is not engaged in making nuclear weapons. To those who follow closely the Iranian nuclear controversy this came as no surprise: it’s what the Director of National Intelligence has been saying since late 2007. What struck was that the administration is now spreading this good news. Only a few months ago it was leading the American public to believe that the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) had found proof of an Iranian nuclear weapons program (which it hadn’t). The contrast is stark; and it suggests the administration has understood that negotiating a deal based on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is now the West’s wisest option, and that the upcoming talks in Istanbul offer an opportunity to launch a negotiation. An NPT deal would allow Iran to pursue a peaceful nuclear program unmolested, in return for its offering the best possible guarantees that all its nuclear material will remain in non-military use. So for the first time in more than two years there can be hope that this ongoing conflict will have a peaceful outcome.

--- Peter Jenkins was the UK’s Permanent Representative to the IAEA for 2001-06.


Irannuclear program talks reveal internal divisions between diplomats

By Joby Warrick and Thomas Erdbrink, WashingtonPost [April 12, 2012]

---- The six world powers gathering here for nuclear talks beginning Friday are finding themselves divided over how best to curb Iran’s ambitions while defusing the possibility of a new military confrontation in the volatile Middle East. Officials from the six countries that will bargain with Iran have acknowledged in recent days significant differences over what a nuclear accord should look like and under what conditions Iran could be granted partial relief from international sanctions that have put an unprecedented squeeze on the economy there. While united in insisting on substantial concessions from Iran, the six powers — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — will likely not attempt to craft a joint proposal detailing specific steps Iran must take to assure the world that its nuclear intentions are peaceful, diplomats say. The lack of such a blueprint could allow greater flexibility in negotiations.


Surprise Hints at Compromise in Iran Nuclear Talks

By Jason Ditz, [April 10, 2012]

---- After bellicose comments and over-the-top US demands seemingly put to bed any hope that next weekend’s P5+1 talks on Iran’s nuclear program would accomplish anything, new reports suggest that there is sudden talk of a compromise. Gone is the sudden US demand that Iran abandon the entirety of its civilian program and agree to unconditionally “surrender” all of its nuclear fuel to the West. There are reports that President Obama sent a message, by way of Turkey, that the US might theoretically be able to accept a civilian program under certain conditions. Likewise, while Iran’s politicians were ruling out any change in enrichment, nuclear officials say that they are very close to producing all the 20 percent enriched uranium they’d need for fueling their medical isotopes reactor, and would abandon that level of enrichment at any rate once they got there.


Also useful: Justin Raimondo, “US to Iran: Surrender Dorothy!” [April 9, 2012]; and Robert Naiman, “A Contrarian Optimist View of the Upcoming Iran Nuclear Talks,” CommonDreams [April 11, 2012]


The US “Demands”: Analysis and Responses

Are we serious about talking with Tehran?

By Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy [April 9, 2012]

---- So here's why I'm puzzled. If you're the Obama administration, the last thing you want is a war. But if that's the case, then the obvious course of action is to get the diplomatic track rolling and make a genuine effort to see if an acceptable deal can be had. So why start with an opening demand that Iran was virtually certain to reject? All that does is confirm Iranian suspicions that the United States and its allies aren't really interested in a negotiated settlement and give war hawks another reason to demand the use of force. Maybe there's a tacit U.S.-Israeli deal reflected here, where they've agree not to launch a war and we've agreed to put forward a very tough line that leaves options open for the future. Maybe the demand to close Fordow is just a bargaining chip, and we will in fact get a deal on the 20 percent enriched uranium.


U.S.-Israel Deal to Demand Qom Closure Threatens Nuclear Talks
By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service [April 12, 2012]

---- The Barack Obama administration has adopted a demand in the negotiations with Iran beginning Saturday that its Fordow enrichment facility must be shut down and eventually dismantled based on an understanding with Israel that risks the collapse of the negotiations. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak revealed Apr. 4 that he had held talks with U.S. and European officials in late March with the aim of getting them to accept Israeli demands for the closure of Fordow, transfer of all 20 percent enrichment out of Iran, and transfer of most of the low enrichment uranium out of country as well. Barak did not reveal the results of those talks, but three days later, the New York Times reported U.S. and European officials as saying they would demand the "immediate closure and ultimate dismantling" of the Fordow facility as an "urgent priority", along with the shipment out of the country of its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent.


Also useful: Guy Adams,” Obama demands concessions as crucial talks begin in Istanbul later this week,” The Independent [UK] [April 9, 2012]; and Paul R. Pillar, “Hostages in Iran,” The National Interest [April 8, 2012]


Iranian Views

Iran: We do not want nuclear weapons

By Ali Akbar Salehi, WashingtonPost [April 14, 2012]

---- A key aspect of entering a conversation based on mutual respect is recognizing the other side’s concerns as equal to one’s own. To solve the nuclear issue, the scope of the upcoming talks among Iran and the “P5+1” (the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany) must be comprehensive. The concerns of all sides must be addressed. Complex matters that have been left unaddressed for decades cannot be solved overnight. Another sign of mutual respect is a willingness and readiness to both give and take, without preconditions. This form of reciprocity is distinct from approaches that involve only taking. Most important, and this cannot be stressed enough, is that dialogue must be seen as a process rather than an event. A house can burn to the ground in minutes but takes a long time to build. Similarly, trust can easily and rapidly be broken, but it takes a long time to build.


IranSignals Willingness to Halt 20 Percent Enrichment

By John Glaser, [April 9, 2012]

---- Iran signaled on Monday it would consider halting its most highly enriched uranium while not abandoning its ability to make nuclear fuel, marking the first sign of compromise for the diplomatic negotiations set to begin this week. Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, said that Tehran could stop enriching to 20 percent after they’ve stockpiled enough for use in a research reactor. “The job is being carried out based on need,” he said. “When the need is met, we will decrease production and it is even possible to completely reverse to only 3.5 percent.”


Also useful: “Iranian intellectuals raise alarm over war,” The Guardian [UK] [April 12, 2012]


An Israeli View

Waiting for a meltdown ahead of Iran talks

By Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Haaretz [Israel] [April 14, 2012]

---- Iranis liable to go nuclear during Obama's second term. No U.S. president would want this to happen under his watch. Though the Americans are still a long way from attacking Iran's nuclear facilities themselves (this would appear to be an option only after the election), Obama's new stance is indisputably an achievement for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. If, as some skeptics suspect, it turns out that focusing on Iran is nothing more than a ruse to deflect world attention from the Palestinian issue, then Netanyahu has pulled off one of recent history's most adroit machinations.


Conference Results and “What Next?”

In Iran Nuclear Talks, Powers Agree to Formal Talks in May

By John Glaser, [April 14, 2012]

---- In “constructive and useful” negotiations with world powers, Iran agreed on Saturday to begin formal talks on its nuclear program next month. Lady Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high commissioner for foreign affairs said the next round of negotiations will take place in Baghdad on May 23.  She said the talks are aimed at restoring “full confidence in the exclusively peaceful” nuclear program in Tehran. Iran has shown signs of compromising with the P5+1 – U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany – to calm irrational fears about possible military dimensions to its nuclear enrichment program. The intelligence community in the U.S. and the EU has been that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.


Also useful:From Haaretz, “EU: Talks on Iran’s Nuclear Program are Proceeding ‘Constructively,’” [April 15, 2012]; Zvi Bar’el, “Iran demands U.S., Europe hold off attack as long as nuclear talks continue, sources say,” Haaretz [April 15, 2012]; and Steven Erlanger, “At Nuclear Talks, Iran and 6 Nations Agree to Meet Again, New York Times [April 14, 2012]


How to Tell if the Iran Talks Are Working

By Mark Hibbs, Ariel Levite, and George Perkovich, New York Times [April 12, 2012]

---- After a hiatus of more than a year, negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program are set to resume in Turkey on Friday between Iran and France, Germany, Britain, Russia, China and the United States. Though the participants foresee several rounds of discussions, all will be acutely aware that time to reach agreement peacefully may be running out. So it is important to ask, at the start, how we will be able to tell whether the talks are moving forward. Though talks that have taken place since 2004 have produced no real progress, recent developments suggest some grounds for cautious optimism. … Given these complexities, it won’t be easy to assess the progress of the coming talks. But we can suggest benchmarks.



Obama Threatens More Iran Sanctions

By Jason Ditz, [April 12, 2012]

---- With the P5+1 talks set to begin this weekend, the Obama Administration is already looking to their inevitable failure, and threatening more sanctions against Iran as soon as the talks end. White House officials confirmed that Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy discussed new sanctions in their conversation today. The comments are the latest in a series of mostly negative signals from the US about the Istanbul talks.


Obama threatens more Iran sanctions if talks fail

By Yoni Dayan, JerusalemPost [April 12, 2012]


Preemptive Move Ahead of Talks: Iran Stops Oil Exports to Germany

From Der Spiegel [Germany] [April 11, 2012]

---- Iran has halted oil exports to Germany, according to Iranian television, in an apparent effort to strengthen its position ahead of a fresh round of nuclear talks with Western powers in Istanbul on Saturday. It stopped crude exports to Spain and Greece on Tuesday to preempt the EU's embargo on oil imports, which come into force in July.Iran halted oil exports to Germany on Wednesday, a day after it stopped crude exports to Spain and Greece, according to Iran's official Press TV news network.,1518,826964,00.html




---- One of the darker forces behind the US/Israel/Iran stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program is the shadowy MEK – the “People’s Mujahidin.”  The MEK began as an opposition group in the days of the Shah (pre-1979), but over the decades has gone through several incarnations, and is now a US/Israeli anti-Iranian asset, while still being listed by the US State Department as a “foreign terrorist organization.”  The MEK is believed to have been the conduit through which Israeli intelligence services introduced “laptop documents” (now held by the United States) claiming that Iran had developed and tested items that are part of a nuclear weapons program (documents that Iran claims are forgeries).  The MEK is also suspected by many to be involved in the assassinations of scientists working on Iran’s nuclear programs. Meanwhile, many high-ranking US politicians of both parties week were subpoenaed by the US Treasury Department this week for receiving money for speaking and lobbying on behalf of the MEK, part of the organization’s attempted makeover to get it removed from the State Department terrorist list.  The MEK re-surfaced in the US media two weeks ago with an article by the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh ( Linked below is Hersh’s appearance on Democracy Now!, as well as a useful clip from the Real News Network in which a former RAND analyst gives a good overview of the MEK.


(Video)Training Terrorists in Nevada: Seymour Hersh on U.S. Aid to Iranian Group Tied to Scientist Killings

From Democracy Now! [April 10, 2012]

---- Journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed that the Bush administration secretly trained an Iranian opposition group on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorists. Hersh reports the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command trained operatives from Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK, at a secret site in Nevada beginning in 2005. According to Hersh, MEK members were trained in intercepting communications, cryptography, weaponry and small unit tactics at the Nevada site up until President Obama took office.


(Video)Former U.S. officials investigated for receiving payments to promote terror group

From The Real News Network [April 13, 2012]

---- An interview with Jeremiah Goulka, formerly of the RAND Corporation. – 20 minutes.


Also Useful:Sheila Musaji,”The MEK and terrorism double standards,” The American Muslim [April 7, 2012]




---- The UN/Arab League “Peace Plan” led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was to go into effect this week.  Phase One – the pulling back of Syrian army troops and heavy weapons from city centers – seemed to produce little effect.  But Phase Two – the cessation of fighting that was to begin Thursday morning – seems to be largely successful; and on Friday, when the Syrian internal opposition tested the truce with nonviolent demonstrations in many cities and towns, there was little fighting.  The next phase of the truce plan – the sending of 30 unarmed UN monitors – will apparently begin next week.  Depending on what these monitors report, the Annan/Arab League plan then calls for negotiations with the Syrian government for plans to send a 250-member UN observer mission to Syria.  This will require a further Security Council resolution.


Tens of Thousands of Syrians Protest Peacefully after Ceasefire, 6 Killed

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment [April 14, 2012]

---- On the first day since the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad maintained that it had accepted a ceasefire with its opposition, tens of thousands of Syrians came out into the streets to protest. The regime did not, as promised, pull tanks from the streets, so that the crowds were thinner than they might have been. But al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that throughout the country 640 demonstrations were held.


Also Useful:From Reuters, “Cease-Fire in Doubt as Syria Demands New Conditions” [April 8, 2012] [FB – A detailed review of the negotiations in the few days leading up to the cease fire.]


US, Russia Push Competing Syria Observer Deals at UN

By Jason Ditz, [April 13, 2012]

---- With Syria’s ceasefire holding, the next step in Kofi Annan’s peace plan is the deployment of a UN monitor team. This is a subject of major discussion at the UN Security Council, with the US and Russia advancing two alternative resolutions. The US draft calls for the deployment of the initial wave of observers, but also included a number of demands on the Assad regime, and a broad condemnation of “widespread violations of human rights.” Russia objected to the inclusion of the condemnations and demands, and has pushed an alternative “single issue” resolution that approves the observers. They insisted that the deployment was too urgent to be bogged down in other issues. The next round of talks is early Saturday.


Militarizing the Conflict in Syria

By Evan Taylor, Z Magazine [April 2012]

---- It appears that Syria has become a crucial fulcrum for the White House, with the option of overt military intervention, on one side, and a continuation of diplomacy and covert action on the other. But Obama seems to be slipping closer towards militarization.


Always Making Fresh Enemies: Syrian Cease-Fire Looks like a Long Shot

By Patrick Cockburn, Counterpunch [April 10, 2012]

---- In Northern Ireland it used to be called “the politics of the last atrocity”, when the latest act of violence and the retaliation it provoked dictated the direction of day-to-day politics. Syria has travelled far in this direction, its towns convulsed by mini-civil wars too bitter and bloodstained to end by mediation. It is this which is making it so difficult for Kofi Annan, joint envoy for the UN and Arab League, to succeed in his mission. The Syrian government has demanded guarantees from the militiamen it is fighting that they will abide by a ceasefire. This is unlikely to happen given the total distrust between the two sides and with the insurgents fearful of risking torture and execution.


Syria's key to real change

By Rami Khouri, The Guardian [UK] [April 9, 2012]

---- Of the several different but linked issues at play here, three will determine its fate: the capacity of the Security Council to intervene in a sovereign state's affairs; the Syrian government's sense of its own durability; and the capacity of the opposition to challenge and change the Damascus ruling elite. And my impression is that the ability of the opposition groups to form a more coherent movement will be the crucial factor, drawing on the substantial support they have generated in the Middle East and around the world. …Only the determination, efficacy and sacrifice of authentic indigenous movements for freedom and citizens' rights, teamed with global political support, can topple governments and usher in more democratic rule.


NATO Sees Flaws in Air Campaign Against Qaddafi

By Eric Schmitt, New York Times [April 14, 2012]

---- Despite widespread praise in Western capitals for NATO’s leadership of the air campaign in Libya, a confidential NATO assessment paints a sobering portrait of the alliance’s ability to carry out such campaigns without significant support from the United States. The report concluded that the allies struggled to share crucial target information, lacked specialized planners and analysts, and overly relied on the United States for reconnaissance and refueling aircraft. The findings undercut the idea that the intervention was a model operation and that NATO could effectively carry out a more complicated campaign in Syria without relying disproportionately on the United States military.



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