Iran War Weekly - June 10, 2012
June 10, 2012
Hello All – The third round of negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program – between Iran and the “P5+1” (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) – is scheduled to resume in Moscow on June 18-19. The apparent success of the first meeting in Istanbul was followed by the failure of the second meeting (in Baghdad) to produce even the most minimal agreement. While the United States and the EU – and the mainstream media – blamed Iran for the failure of the Baghdad negotiations, many observers felt that the responsibility for failure lay with the inflexible US negotiating position, which failed to offer Iran any incentives for cooperation.
Will the Round Three in Moscow be any different? So far there is no indication that the United States/EU will change its bargaining position. Perhaps they are counting on the implementation of further sanctions – scheduled for June 28 by the United States and July 1 by the EU – to force Iran to make concessions. Iran has given no indication that this will happen.
In parallel with the Baghdad talks, there appeared to be an agreement between the IAEA and Iran over the terms of inspections to be carried out at Iran’s military base at Parchin (near Tehran). On the basis of dubious evidence (see below), the IAEA is claiming that Iran may have conducted nuclear weapons work at Parchin a decade ago, and wants to inspect the site. This complex story appeared to be on the cusp of resolution, but now this seems to be not the case.
In short, the forthcoming negotiations in Moscow are likely to be encumbered by no interim progress in negotiating positions, the breakdown of talks about inspecting Parchin, and of course further revelations last week about the Obama administration’s cyberwarfare against Iran during the last round of negotiations with Iran in 2009-10.
Adding to tension will be the situation in Syria, moving even more clearly toward civil war, and with growing pressure on the Obama administration for some kind of military intervention. As noted below, the demands by the United States and the EU that Iran be excluded from any mediation efforts underscores the connection between the conflict in Syria and the US/Israeli regime-change efforts against Iran.
Finally, I very much appreciate the help that many of you have given in distributing the Iran War Weekly and/or linking it on websites. David Swanson has kindly given me blog space on his site “War Is a Crime,” and so you can read previous “issues” of the IWW at http://warisacrime.org/blog/46383. If you would like to receive the IWW mailings, please send me an email at email@example.com.
Concerned Families of Westchester (NY)
Last week the venerable Arms Control Association’s annual meeting included a very informative panel of experts who reviewed the US/Israel-Iranian standoff re: Iran’s nuclear program. The ACA’s over-riding concern is reflected in the panel’s title,”Prevention of Nuclear Armed Iran.” For a good introduction to the Iran nuclear issue, check out the video of this conference panel at http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/306381-2.
One of the speakers at the ACA panel was Iran’sformer nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian. His proposal for resolving the 20 percent enrichment issue is described in an article from the ACA linked below; further below are two comments on Mousavian’s new memoir of his work on Iran’s nuclear program negotiations, which appears to contain much interesting material.
More voices were raised against military intervention this week. One came from a think-tank close to the Obama administration. Another came in a statement from a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an important regional grouping centered on Russia and China, but increasing incorporating Central Asian nations in an economic (and potentially military) alliance. (The SCO is important re: Iran; check out the basic Wiki info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_Cooperation_Organisation.)
Finally, there is a confusing (at least in the media) despite over the Iran’s request for an “experts” meeting and the US/EU refusal. This may be simply a problem with translation/nomenclature, in that the US/EU wants discussions only at the political level, essentially demanding that Iran make a commitment in principle to the demands the US/EU put on the table in Baghdad, and not delay negotiations with details.
Issues for Negotiation
US Mulls Seeking Broader Deal In Nuclear Talks With Iran
By Laura Rozen, Al-Monitor [June 7, 2012]
---- The Obama administration is considering putting forward a broader proposal to Iran, rather than the more incremental one presented at a meeting last month in Baghdad. The current Obama administration discussion revives a debate that took place among US officials much of last year about whether to propose a big or more incremental offer to Iran. Senior policy officials at the Defense Department are said to have favored offering a bigger deal to Iran, accompanied by a military threat were it not accepted. They were countered by officials, mostly at the State Department, who argued that there was such a lack of trust or diplomatic contact between the West and Iran that it was more prudent to first propose a smaller confidence-building measure. The group that argued for an incremental approach prevailed as talks resumed in Istanbul in April. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/on-iran-some-in-us-now-argue-for.html
Iran, rebuffed in request for experts meeting, may seek delay in Moscow talks
By Laura Rozen, AI-Monitor [June 7, 2012]
---- Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili on Wednesday wrote European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton complaining that she had rebuffed Iran’s request for an experts meeting ahead of a new round of nuclear talks scheduled for Moscow June 18-19th, Iran’s IRNA news agency reports. The letter is the latest sign of trouble for the diplomatic process and added to signs Iran may be seeking to delay the meeting. Jalili’s letter “said that the EU failure to arrange experts meeting led by deputies of the negotiators to draft agenda of the talks created an atmosphere of doubt and ambiguity for success of the Moscow talks,” IRNA wrote. http://backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2012/06/iran-seeks-possible-delay-in-moscow-talks/
Ex-Iranian Envoy Mousavian Suggests Zero Stockpile of 20% Uranium
By Kelsey Davenport and Greg Thielmann, Arms Control Now [June 6, 2012]
---- With the next round of nuclear talks in danger of bogging down over Iran’s right to continue enriching uranium, Mousavian’s suggestion warrants a closer look as a potential interim compromise for the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany) and Tehran. Speaking on June 4 at the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting, Mousavian put forth a proposal for the June 18-19 Moscow talks that focused on a “zero stockpile” approach for Iran’s uranium enriched to 20 percent. While this proposal falls far short of solving all of the outstanding international concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, it does have some attractive features as an interim step. http://armscontrolnow.org/2012/06/06/ex-iranian-envoy-mousavian-suggests-zero-stockpile-of-20-uranium/
Don’t Attack Iran
Attacking Iran Likely Counter-Productive, Think Tank Warns
By Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service [June 6, 2012]
---- While a nuclear-armed Iran would pose significant new challenges to the United States and Israel, a military attack by either country to prevent Tehran from developing a weapon could well prove counter-productive, according to a major new report released here Wednesday by a think tank close to the administration of President Barack Obama. And while preventive military action should remain on the table, it should only be considered if Iran "has made a clear move toward weaponization", and there is a "reasonable expectation" that such a strike would set back Iran's programme "significantly", among other conditions, according to the 55-page report by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). The CNAS report is only the latest in a series of studies and analyses that have warned against a preventive attack on Iran, particularly by Israel. http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=108063
Also useful– Jeffrey Goldberg, “New Report Finds an Israeli Attack on Iran to be a Comprehensively Bad Idea” The Atlantic [June 6, 2012] http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/new-report-finds-an-israeli-attack-on-iran-to-be-a-comprehensively-bad-idea/258162/
ShanghaiCooperation Organization [SCO] Opposes Use of Force against Iran
By Agence France Presse [June 7, 2012]
---- "Any attempts to solve the Iranian problem with force are unacceptable and could lead to unpredictable circumstances that threaten stability and security in the region and the entire world," said the statement signed at the end of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit that was attended by Iran's leader. The statement expressed "serious concern about the situation around Iran", which is an observer nation to the security organisation that groups together China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. http://www.thenews.com.pk/article-53083-Use-of-force-to-solve-Iran-problem-unacceptable:-SCO
THE PARCHIN “INSPECTION” PUZZLE
The beauty of the “Parchin Issue” is that it is very complex and essentially bogus. It is an example of what Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky called “flak” in the analysis of the US mainstream media (Manufacturing Consent). “Flak” serves to divert attention from the main issue to a complex, preferably very scary non-issue. In this case, allegations that nuclear-weapons-related tests were conducted at an Iranian military base, Parchin, in 2000 are basically sourced to “documents” on a look-what-I-found laptop computer. Skeptics about the Parchin story claim that the laptop “documents” were created by Israeli intelligence and brought to US attention via the Iranian exile (and terrorist) organization MEK. Be that as it may, the main point is that the United States refuses to show these “documents” to Iran, which claims that they are fabrications. Thus the IAEA demand that Iran “come clean” on Parchin is fundamentally flawed. During the tenure of IAEA director El Baradei, the Parchin claim was viewed skeptically; but under the present director Amano (shown in the WikiLeaks cables to be anxious to serve US interests), the Parchin laptop documents are treated as genuine.
The IAEA demand to inspect the Parchin site is now met with two counter-demands from Iran: that it be shown the documents that underlie the IAEA belief that nuclear tests were conducted at Parchin; and that the IAEA present a structured plan of inspection, so that that the Parch issue can be terminated as an issue in the negotiations. It is clear that Amano has so far refused to meet these two conditions; I am puzzled as to how he could construe earlier discussions with Iran so as to assure the world three weeks ago that a deal was in hand; was this a misunderstanding, a willful misstatement, being very devious, etc.?
An outstanding exception to the media flak about the Parchin issue has been the work of Gareth Porter. In a series of articles, Porter has proposed that Iran is using the West’s self-induced obsession with Parchin to promise access to the military base in exchange for concessions on the more fundamental elements of Iran’s nuclear program, e.g. sanctions. Porter’s latest contribution to this line of thought is very interesting, and linked below.
But first, the mainstream media story of IAEA demands and Iran’s mostly negative reply.
U.N. Nuclear Chief Announces New Talks With Iran
By Rick Gladstone, New York Times [June 4, 2012]
---- The top United Nations nuclear official announced new talks with Iran on Monday aimed at gaining access to restricted sites, and he expressed concern about satellite images taken last month that showed the Iranians had demolished buildings at one site that inspectors have been especially pressing to visit.
The remarks, by Yukiya Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna, suggested that his announcement less than two weeks ago that Iran had basically agreed to allow access to agency inspectors may have been premature. The Iranians have pointed out that evidence of nuclear weapons testing is practically impossible to hide from inspectors, who have data collecting techniques that can find traces of suspect radioactive particles dating back many years. Iran has also suggested that before allowing any inspection at Parchin, it wants to see the documents used by the atomic agency as the basis for its suspicions. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/05/world/middleeast/nuclear-monitor-announces-new-talks-with-iran.html?_r=1&ref=worl
Also useful – Jason Ditz, “IAEA Chief: Iran Might Be Cleaning Up From Rumored 2003 Nuclear Tests,” Antiwar.com [June 4, 2012] http://news.antiwar.com/2012/06/04/iaea-chief-iran-might-be-cleaning-up-from-rumored-2003-nuclear-tests/print/; Fredrik Dahl, “U.N. watchdog to press Iran for access in atom probe,” Reuters [June 7, 2012] http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/07/us-nuclear-iran-iaea-idUSBRE8561G620120607; and Joby Warrick, “Nuclear Watchdog: Talks with Iranon Nuclear Access Have Stalled,” Washington Post [June 8, 2012] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nuclear-watchdog-talks-with-iran-on-nuclear-access-have-stalled/2012/06/08/gJQALdf7NV_story.html
Changes at Parchin Suggest an Iranian Bargaining Ploy
By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service [June 9, 2012]
---- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Western governments acted this week to escalate their accusations that Iran has "sanitized" a site at its Parchin military complex to hide evidence of nuclear weapons work, showing satellite images of physical changes at the site to IAEA member delegations. The nature of the changes depicted in the images and the circumstances surrounding them suggest, however, that Iran made them to gain leverage in its negotiations with the IAEA rather than to hide past nuclear experiments. http://original.antiwar.com/porter/2012/06/08/changes-at-parchin-suggest-an-iranian-bargaining-ploy/
More U.S. waivers to Iran sanctions likely next week
By Simon Webb and Timothy Gardner, Reuters [June 7, 2012]
---- The United States will announce a new list of countries that will receive exceptions to financial sanctions on oil trade with Iran as soon as early next week, a government official said on Thursday. Not all of Iran's oil buyers are likely to get the waivers, said the source, who declined to elaborate. Around two thirds of Iran's crude exports flow to Asia, where the biggest buyers are China, Japan, India and South Korea. The United States granted Japan an exception in March and has signaled it has had good talks with South Korea about reducing oil purchases. Refiners in South Korea will switch to other sources on July 1, industry sources have said. But the U.S. may withhold waivers for China and Singapore, according to an advocate of tougher sanctions on Iran, stepping up pressure on Iran's biggest crude oil buyer and a major destination for its fuel oil exports. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/07/us-iran-sanctions-idUSBRE8560V720120607
Threats and Sanctions: The Achilles' Heel of a Potential Atom Accord
By Reza Nasri, PBS [June 4, 2012]
---- Constant threats of military action, paired with harsh economic sanctions, are admittedly meant to coerce Iran into concluding an agreement with the P5+1 on its nuclear program. Covert operations, such as the assassination of top Iranian scientists and the spate of massive cyberattacks that have targeted the country's civilian energy sector, also seem to be part of a broader policy whose aim is to diminish Iran's position at the negotiation table. But sadly, it seems that public opinion has been so deeply affected by the sensationalism and the false sense of urgency that surround this "policy" that even attentive observers often fail to see its serious legal and moral defects. Pundits and politicians have been speaking of these "plausible" threats and "crippling" measures so often and so unscrupulously that one tends to forget that employing such coercive tactics against a negotiating party is not only ethically questionable but has also its own legal ramifications. Indeed, from the lens of modern international law, an agreement that is obtained through coercion is generally considered invalid. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2012/06/comment-threats-and-sanctions-the-achilles-heel-of-a-potential-atom-accord.html#ixzz1xNrMc4l0
NEW BOOK ABOUT IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Simultaneous with his appearance at the Arms Control Association conference (above), Iran’s Seyed Hossein Mousavian’s new book was published. Mousavian led Iran’s nuclear negotiating team in 2004-2005, during the Bush administration; he was dismissed from office after the election of Ahmadinejad in 2005, and has for several years been a “scholar in residence” at Princeton. A long-time associate of Iran’s “pragmatic” former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mousavian is a frequent commentator on Aljazeera, etc. about the current nuclear negotiations. He is obviously still in the loop about what’s going on, though I do not know whether his policy suggestions (such as at the Arms Control conference) reflect policy possibilities from within the current Iranian government. Both of the essays below, commenting on his new book, give us insight into the longer-term issues and context of Iran’s nuclear program.
U.S. Rejected 2005 Iranian Offer Ensuring No Nuclear Weapons
By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service [June 5, 2012]
---- France and Germany were prepared in spring 2005 to negotiate on an Iranian proposal to convert all of its enriched uranium to fuel rods, making it impossible to use it for nuclear weapons, but Britain vetoed the deal at the insistence of the United States, according to a new account by a former top Iranian nuclear negotiator. Seyed Hossein Mousavian, who had led Iran's nuclear negotiating team in 2004 and 2005, makes it clear that the reason that offer was rejected was that the George W. Bush administration refused to countenance any Iranian enrichment capability, regardless of the circumstances. The British and U.S. refusal to pursue the Iranian offer, which might have headed off the political diplomatic crisis over the Iranian nuclear programme since then, is confirmed by a former British diplomat who participated in the talks and former European ambassadors to Iran. http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=108043
Also useful – Barbara Slavin, “Former Iranian Negotiator Faults His Nation's Nuclear Diplomacy,” Al-Monitor [June 6, 2012] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/moussavian-faults-ahmadinejad-se.html
SYRIA: CIVIL WAR/INTERVENTION?
The shocking massacres of civilians reported this week are producing a media and pundit climate that makes it difficult for a re-election-year President Obama to resist calls for direct US military intervention in Syria. At the same time, as the essays linked below indicate, it is hard to see how military intervention – whether unilateral or led by the UN Security Council – could do other than make a terrible situation worse.
Among the troubling questions not adequately discussed by the US media this week: 1) Either directly or through the Gulf Arab countries, the United States is supporting weapons deliveries to the internal armed resistance that escalate the conflict toward civil war; 2) Reports in European media have raised questions about the responsibility for some of the civilian massacres and the (sectarian) identity of the victims. We are reminded of the examples of Kosovo, Libya, etc. where rebels had an incentive to create or exaggerate civilian casualties in order to encourage outside military intervention; 3) The prompt rejection by the US/EU of Annan’s proposal to include Iran in mediation or “contact” activities underscores the anti-Iranian elements of US/EU stances on the Syrian conflict (more on this in the essays linked below); and 4) As the essay by Giorgio Cafiero (below) spells out in detail, once again US strategy in the region has as an essential component strengthening the forces of Islamic radicalism, in this case the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.
Syriaand the Rise of the Death Squad
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment [June 7, 2012]
---- The fresh Baath massacre of non-combatants, in Qubair on Wednesday, is being assiduously covered up by the government of dictator Bashar al-Assad, who is preventing UN observers from visiting the scene of the crime. Observers trying to reach it have even been shot at. http://www.juancole.com/2012/06/syria-and-the-rise-of-the-death-squad.html
What About Talking to Iran About Syria?
By Tony Karon, Time [June 4, 2012]
---- None of the foreign powers engaged in Syria’s civil war is acting out of selfless righteousness: Russia is protecting its geopolitical interests in Syria and the wider region. Iran also sees Syria and Lebanon as key to its own security because of the leverage its allies in those countries give Tehran in its confrontation with Israel and the West. Saudi support for the Syrian armed rebellion is not based on some improbable democratic epiphany; instead the authoritarian monarchy in Riyadh backs Syria’s opposition as a way of weakening its long-term regional rival, Iran—and vice versa. Restoring peace to Syria will require some managing of the regional strategic rivalry that threatens to burn out of control. http://world.time.com/2012/06/04/5-sobering-questions-about-the-situation-in-syria/#talking-to-russia-is-important-but-what-about-talking-to-iran-about-syria#ixzz1xKhkWprr
Also useful – Jason Ditz, “West Scorns UN Call to Work With Iran on Syria Crisis,” Antiwar.com [June 8, 2012] http://news.antiwar.com/2012/06/08/west-scorns-un-call-to-work-with-iran-on-syria-crisis/; and Alia Brahimi and George Joffe, “The Dilemma for Syria’s Neighbors,” Aljazeera [February 28, 2012]
In Syria, Foreign Intervention Will Only Shed More Blood
By Seumas Milne, The Guardian [UK] [Jusne 5, 2012]
---- The reality is that intervention in Syria by the US and its allies has already begun. The western powers have backed the fractious opposition Syrian National Council since the early days of last year's uprising. So have the Gulf autocracies led by Saudi Arabia, who have stepped up the flow of weapons and cash to favoured Syrian rebel groups in recent months, while Turkey has provided a cross-border base. That is co-ordinated with the US, which supplies the same groups with "non-lethal assistance" and "communications equipment". In other words, the US and its allies are sponsoring regime change through civil war. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/05/syria-un-intervention-bashar-al-assad
Also useful– Joshua Landis, “Foreign Intervention to Topple Bashar al-Assad's Bloody Regime Risks a Fiasco,” Syria Comment [June 5, 2012] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/06/05/stay_out_of_syria?print=yes&hidecomments=yes&page=full; Tony Karon, “Why the U.S. Won’t Give Up on Kofi Annan’s Syria Plan,” Time [June 7, 2012] http://world.time.com/2012/06/07/why-the-u-s-wont-give-up-on-kofi-annans-syria-plan/#ixzz1xKhUBAPX
Syria: America vs. Israel?
By Giorgio Cafiero, Foreign Policy in Focus [June 4, 2012]
---- The United States and other powers have used the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood as a proxy to topple the Syrian Ba’athist regime, which has governed for almost half a century. Washington’s two primary interests in Syria are to strengthen the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) vis-à-vis Iran and to undermine Russia’s power and influence in the Middle East and Mediterranean. Israel shares the U.S. interest in cutting off Iran and Russia’s reach into the Levant. However, security considerations surrounding the unknown variables of a post-Assad Syria appear to have created a divide between U.S. and Israeli strategies, as the Netanyahu government has not followed Obama’s course on Syria. The Israeli concerns surrounding the collapse of Syria’s Ba’athist party are legitimate. Washington should also consider the security consequences of Assad’s ouster and avoid intervention in Syria. http://www.fpif.org/articles/syria_america_vs_israel
THE PERSIAN GULF ISLANDS
IranRatchets Up Tensions over Gulf Islands
By Ted Wynne, IranPrimer [June 6, 2012]
---- Longstanding tensions between Iran and its Arab neighbors are intensifying because of rival territorial claims over three strategic islands in the Persian Gulf--Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb. Three high-profile visits since mid-April—by President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Revolutionary Commander Mohammad Jafari, and a parliamentary delegation—provoked anger and anxiety among the six neighboring sheikhdoms in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2012/jun/06/iran-ratchets-tensions-over-gulf-islands
Last week’s New York Times’ “scoop” on the US “cyberwar” attack on Iran (Stuxnet) raises questions of even greater importance than their likely role in further poisoning the negotiating atmosphere in the forthcoming talks in Moscow (and beyond). Ironically, the Republican/media outcry about the Times’ stories is not about the insanity of launching cyberwarfare into the world, but about the self-serving “leaks” from the Obama administration, allegedly putting the President in a good light by showing him to be unafraid to use quasi-military force. As one of the essays linked below notes, the Stuxnet decision may be analogous to the failure of the Acheson-Lilienthal report of 1945, which led to the nuclear weapons arms race.
Cyberweapons: Bold steps in a digital darkness?
By R. Scott Kemp, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists [June 7, 2012]
---- The United States rushed into the nuclear age eager to cement its technical superiority, disregarding warnings of key statesmen and scientists that a decades-long nuclear arms race would ensue. Before they go too far, policymakers should consider the implications -- both intended and unintended -- of cyberweapons. Though Israel and the United States may have vast resources to support sophisticated and creative cyberweapons programs, it is worth remembering that such advantage could be its disadvantage: Each new cyberattack becomes a template for other nations -- or sub-national actors -- looking for ideas. As nations begin to develop cyberwarfare organizations, they run the risk of creating bureaucratic entities, which will protect offensive cyber capabilities that simultaneously subject their own publics to cyber vulnerabilities. Since the United States has the most to lose in this area, the safe approach is to direct cyber research at purely defensive applications. http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/op-eds/cyberweapons-bold-steps-digital-darkness
Stuxnet Unbound: Security for the One Percent
By Bill Blunden, Counterpunch [June 8, 2012]
---- After its initial discovery in 2010 by a little-known antivirus vendor from Belarus, the culprit behind the Stuxnet computer worm has been revealed. Last week, based on information leaked by inside sources, an article in the New York Times reported that the United States and Israel had secretly embarked on a joint project (code-named Olympic Games) which developed the malware we know as Stuxnet. Despite the ruckus that members of the establishment make in public about foreign hackers (e.g. warning that China is a “threat to world order”), the U.S. is admittedly one of the most active players in this field. While coverage in the press may adopt a seemingly congratulatory tone, there are reasons why this is an unsettling state of affairs. http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/06/08/stuxnet-on-the-loose/