Iran War Weekly
June 17, 2012
Hello All – The third round of negotiations re: Iran’s nuclear program begins tomorrow in Moscow. They are scheduled to last two days. Though the initial round in Istanbul produced lots of optimism, the second round in Baghdad was viewed by all parties as a failure. While “the West” maintained that the negotiations failed because of Iran’s intransigence, most analysts not associated with “Western” governments thought that the inflexible and ungenerous bargaining position of the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) was the reason for failure.
What can we expect in the third round in Moscow? Not much, according to most analysts. While Iran has hinted that it is willing to make important concessions (David Ignatius, below), there is no sign that the P5+1 has altered its positions or strategy. Why is this? Analysts offer several explanations.
The first is that the next round of harsh economic sanctions against Iran – which will come into effect in the United States on June 28 and in Europe on July 1 – will soon bring Iran around and force them to accept what the P5+1 has on offer. The strategy of “the West,” therefore, will be to let Iran stew in its economic chaos for a few months; there is no need to offer concessions just now.
A second explanation focuses on US domestic politics. Whether it focuses on “the Jewish vote” or more broadly on the congressional/media support for the far rightwing government in Israel, this explanation argues that Obama will not risk re-election by appearing to make concessions to Iran, even if they were to produce an outcome that provided strong safeguards against Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon. Two good essays linked below – by Trita Parsi and Robert Wright – show that the “Jewish vote” is very small, strongly pro-Obama anyway, and unlikely to swing to the Republicans on the basis of complex negotiations nobody understands. So what is going on re: the US election and the Obama administration’s refusal to want negotiations to succeed?
A third possible explanation returns to the “deal” that appears to have taken place when Israel’s President Netanyahu met with President Obama at the White House late last winter. At that time, it looked like Netanyahu agreed not to launch a military attack on Iran before the US election if President Obama conformed to Israeli “red lines” in the Iran negotiations. One of these red lines is that Iran must not be allowed to enrich uranium; and the United States adhered to this position in Baghdad and has stated that it will be on the table again in Moscow. While President Obama and high level US officials have stated from time to time that Iran has the right to enrich uranium under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the negotiating prohibition on enrichment (even up to the level needed for nuclear power – 5%) suggests that Obama is pursuing a “rejectionist” approach in order to keep Israel from starting a war during his re-election campaign.
For this reason, I thought the article by Dennis Ross (linked below) interesting. Ross, under both Presidents Clinton and Obama, has served as Israel’s strong advocate in the US government (though he is now with a pro-Israeli think tank). In his article, Ross argues against the Obama/EU’s self-proclaimed “step-by-step” negotiating strategy, and urges instead that a “grand bargain” be offered, forcing Iran either to accept a peaceful nuclear program or stand exposed as pursuing nuclear weapons. Of course the devil is in the details, and Ross has no intention of proposing a “grand bargain” that could be acceptable to Iran. But it seems to me the gist of his proposal – and by inference, of Israeli preferences – is that negotiations should end in failure as soon as possible, so that Israel can then use it’s supposed “free hand” to coerce the United States into supporting military action against Iran, even before the US election.
Finally on Iran, I think the main question in Moscow will be whether or not the parties agree to meet again, or whether one or both parties believe that nothing more can be gained until “facts on the ground” change – whether that be Obama’s re-election or defeat, or the impact of sanctions on Iran’s economy, or further advances in Iran’s nuclear program, with Iran apparently withstanding the effects of the economic sanctions.
Turning briefly to Syria, for the umpteenth consecutive week, the violence intensified and the possibility for a peaceful resolution of the conflict seems further away than ever. The very success of the armed rebels in taking and (briefly) holding territory guarantees that the civil war (which it is now) is not likely to be settled quickly. I’ve linked some good/useful reading below on subjects that seem to me especially important: the internationalization of the conflict and the resulting arms race; the heightened rhetoric between the United States and Russia; the exclusion (by the United States) of Iran from the group of interested governments forming to try mediation; and the re-statement by the Obama administration that they are prepared to intervene militarily.
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. Previous “issues” of the IWW can be read 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)
Respect is Crucial in Nuclear Talks with Iran
By Hossein Mousavian and Mohammad Ali Shabani, The Guardian [UK] [June 15, 2012]
---- After a decade, we are nearing an endgame on Iran's nuclear file. The initial positive atmosphere during Tehran's talks with the P5+1 (the five members of the UN security council plus Germany) in Istanbul in April had been lost by the next round of talks in Baghdad, in May.
In Istanbul all the players seemed to understand that the most important issue was trust – not the number of centrifuges in the Islamic republic's possession. This was displayed through the announcement of EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, that negotiations would be held on the basis of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT, which recognises Iran's right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes). Such mutual respect must be the basis of any dialogue, and future agreement. Yet in Baghdad it became obvious there was a long road ahead when the P5+1 went in demanding the maximum concessions from Iran, in return for making minimal concessions themselves. This trade-off was considered an insult by the Iranians. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/15/respect-nuclear-talks-iran-p5 
We can’t crush Iran: Three new reports conclude a U.S. or Israeli strike on Tehran's nuclear sites would have disastrous results
By Jordan Michael Smith, Salon.com [June 15, 2012]
---- This month’s Vanity Fair has a feature on Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. “An Israeli strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities gone awry may pose the single greatest peril to his political future, which may be the biggest guarantee — more than American opposition to any move or the effectiveness of sanctions — that it won’t happen,” the article reads. Indeed, gradually and without fanfare, the possibility of a military strike against Iran, which only a few months ago seemed imminent, has lately receded from view. It seems that perhaps the U.S. and Israel came to their senses and realized that an attack on Iran would be disastrous. The turning tide against a military strike is underscored by three new reports on the problems of an attack. http://www.salon.com/2012/06/15/we_cant_crush_iran/singleton/ 
The P5+1, Iran and the Perils of Nuclear Brinkmanship
By the International Crisis Group [A “policy briefing” of 16 pages]
---- The nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West have had their share of dashed expectations, but even by this peculiar standard, the recent diplomatic roller coaster stands out. Brimming with hope in Istanbul, negotiators crashed to earth in Baghdad, a few weeks later. That was not unexpected, given inflated hopes, mismatched expectations and – most hurtful – conviction on both sides that they had the upper hand. But if negotiations collapse now, it is hard to know what comes next. Washington and Brussels seem to count on sanctions taking their toll and forcing Iran to compromise. Tehran appears to bank on a re-elected President Obama displaying more flexibility and an economically incapacitated Europe balking at sanctions that could boomerang. Neither is likely; instead, with prospects for a deal fading, Israeli pressure for a military option may intensify. Rather than more brinkmanship, Iran and the P5+1 (UN Security Council permanent members and Germany) should agree on intensive, continuous, technical level negotiations to achieve a limited agreement on Iran’s 20 per cent enrichment.
Iran’s High Card at the Nuclear Table
By William J. Broad, New York Times [June 14, 2012]
---- The rising hostilities against Iran and its atomic complex — assassinations and cyberattacks, trade bans and oil embargoes, frozen assets and banking prohibitions, among other acts open and covert — have clearly done much to bring Tehran back to negotiations, which are to resume Monday. But the drama has also tended to overshadow a central fact: the Iranians have managed to steadily increase their enrichment of uranium and are now raising their production of a concentrated form close to bomb grade. …. Dr. Mousavian, who was once chairman of the foreign relations committee of Iran’s National Security Council before running afoul of the government, said he, too, saw the potential for peace. His new book, “The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir,” offers a detailed plan. He said that Tehran was willing to come to an agreement but that he feared the Obama administration would be stymied by a desire, in an election year, to avoid Republican charges that the United States had backed down. “The deal is very much possible,” he said. “Iran is ready. But if you want to keep the sanctions forever, want to keep playing games, there will be consequences.” His book ends with a stark warning: Absent a compromise, Dr. Mousavian writes, “we can expect a real confrontation.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/sunday-review/irans-high-card-at-the-nuclear-negotiation-table.html?hp&pagewanted=print 
Iranian Nuclear Progress … [Graphic]
THE MOSCOW NEGOTIATIONS – JUNE 18 & 19
Powers Want "Diamonds for Peanuts:" Iran Ex-official
By Fredrik Dahl, Reuters [June 15, 2012]
---- A former Iranian negotiator dismissed on Friday as "diamonds for peanuts" a proposal by world powers that Tehran halts higher-grade uranium enrichment and closes an underground nuclear site in exchange for reactor fuel and civil aviation parts. Hossein Mousavian, now a visiting scholar at Princeton University in the United States, said he did not believe Iran would accept the offer when the two sides hold a new round of talks in Moscow next week. Mousavian said Iran was ready for a "big deal" on the decade-old nuclear dispute but political constraints in the United States ahead of November's presidential election and other factors meant the other side was not. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/15/us-nuclear-iran-demands-idUSBRE85E0UT20120615 
A step forward in Iranian nuclear talks: Europe's Unique Opportunity to Act
By Trita Parsi & Reza Marashi, Huffington Post [June 12, 2012]
---- The nuclear talks in Baghdad between Iran and the Permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) failed to produce a breakthrough. The bad news is that time is running out. By July 1, the West will escalate with an embargo on oil and sanctions on Iran's Central Bank. Iran will respond in kind and the situation may get out of control. The good news is that the ball is in Europe's court and -- unlike America -- the EU has the ability to make diplomacy succeed in the short term. By delaying -- not lifting -- its impending embargo on Iranian oil for six months, Europe will give decisive breathing space to an otherwise constricted negotiation process. The Iranians should, in turn, freeze the enrichment of 20 percent uranium for that same period. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/trita-parsi/post_3496_b_1589756.html 
Calling Iran's Bluff: It's Time to Offer Tehran a Civilian Nuclear Program
By Dennis Ross The New Republic June 15, 2012
---- But the first step for the 5+1 will be to move away from the step-by-step approach and to begin focusing on outcomes rather than interim steps. The current incrementalism is a trap that could either force us to walk away from talks prematurely, or continue them in a way that will leave the Israelis believing the 5+1 is dragging out talks to pre-empt the Israeli use of force -- a perception that will make it more likely Israel will feel compelled to act, not less. http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/calling-irans-bluff-its-time-to-offer-tehran-a-civilian-nuclear-program 
Also useful– Scott Peterson, “Iran nuclear talks are on, but both sides frustrated, say diplomats,” Christian Science Monitor [June 11, 2012] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2012/0611/Iran-nuclear-talks-are-on-but-both-sides-frustrated-say-diplomats ; John Tirman and Abbas Maleki, “Iran Nuclear Talks: What to Do in Moscow,” Huffington Post [June 11, 2012] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-tirman/iran-nuclear-talks_b_1587329.html ; and David Ignatius, “A step forward in Iranian nuclear talks,” Washington Post [June 11, 2012] http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-step-forward-in-iranian-nuclear-talks/2012/06/11/gJQAAptvVV_story.html?hpid=z3 
US POLITICS AND THE IRAN NEGOTIATIONS
Give Obama Elbow Room on Iran
By Trita Parsi, New YorkTimes [June 14, 2012]
---- The last round of nuclear negotiations with Iran ended in stalemate, and prospects appear dim for a breakthrough at next week’s meeting in Moscow. Two central factors are driving Washington’s negotiation strategy at this point. The first is Congressional obstructionism and President Obama’s limited room to maneuver in an election year. The second is outsize expectations about what the current sanctions against Iran can achieve. Both must be abandoned if talks are to succeed. Mr. Obama needs a continuing diplomatic process to calm the oil markets because of the coming election. Yet, precisely because of the election, he has limited ability to offer the Iranians relief from sanctions in return for nuclear concessions. Congress is actively seeking to make a deal on the nuclear issue impossible by imposing unfeasible red lines, setting unachievable objectives — and depriving the executive branch of the freedom to bargain. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/opinion/give-obama-elbow-room-on-iran.html 
Obama's Drift Toward War With Iran
By Robert Wright, The Atlantic [June 14, 2012]
---- The most undercovered story in Washington is how President Obama, under the influence of election-year politics, is letting America drift toward war with Iran. This story is the unseen but ominous backdrop to next week's Moscow round of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. The basic story line, pretty well known inside the beltway, is simple: There are things Obama could do to greatly increase the chances of a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear problem, but he seems to have decided that doing them would bring political blowback that would reduce his chances of re-election. The good news is that Obama's calculation may be wrong. The blowback he fears--largely from Bibi Netanyahu, AIPAC, and other "pro-Israel" voices--is probably less forbidding than he assumes. And the political upside of successful statesmanship may be greater than he realizes. But suppose Obama's right about the politics. It's still a little scandalous that he's imperiling peace and America's security in order to increase his chances of re-election by 1.5 percent, or whatever the imagined number is. And it's even more scandalous how unscandalous this is, how people throughout the Washington establishment--in government, in NGOs, in journalism--are so inured to the corruption of policy by politics that almost nobody bothers to complain about it even when it could lead to war. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/obamas-drift-toward-war-with-iran/258433/ 
Also useful - Trita Parsi, “Obama, Iran, and the ‘Jewish vote’,” The Daily Beast [June 12, 2012] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/06/12/obama-iran-and-the-jewish-vote.html 
Senate Draft Letter Presses Administration To Offer Few Concessions For Confidence-Building Deal With Iran
By Ali Gharib, Think Progress [June 12, 2012]
---- With negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program moving to Moscow next week, a draft letter to be circulated among Senators for signature calls on the Obama administration to not offer Iran major concessions without a comprehensive deal on its nuclear program. The draft letter, obtained by ThinkProgress, says that, should the Iranians not take certain steps demanded by the Senators, the U.S. should “reevaluate the utility of further talks.” Authored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), the draft letter outlines the “absolute minimum steps” Iran must take in Moscow: shutting down its Fordow enrichment facility, ending enrichment of uranium to high levels, and shipping out its stockpile of high-enriched uranium. http://thinkprogress.org/security/2012/06/12/498162/senate-draft-letter-presses-administration-to-offer-few-concessions-for-confidence-building-deal-with-iran/ 
Also useful– Josh Rogin, “44 Senators urge Obama to cut off Iran negotiations unless progress made,” Foreign Policy [June 15, 2012] http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/06/15/44_senators_urge_obama_to_cut_off_iran_negotiations_unless_progress_made 
GOP Group's Ad: Bomb Iran
---- The Emergency Committee for Israel, the hawkishly pro-Israel conservative group, has released a new ad targeting the Obama administration's Iran policies, calling for immediate action to put an end to the country's nuclear program. The "significant" ad buy will air in New York and Washington DC beginning today, on Sunday political shows, and during weekend sporting events, with additional markets to follow next week, according to the group. ECI was founded by The Weekly Standard founder and editor William Kristol. Evangelical leader and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer serves on its board, along with Rachel Abrams, the wife of George W. Bush Middle East adviser Elliott Abrams. http://www.buzzfeed.com/zekejmiller/gop-groups-ad-bomb-iran . For the ad, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kf0fDoPp49s&feature=player_embedded 
THE POLITICS OF SANCTIONS
US Exempts Seven States from Sanctions over Iran Oil
From the BBC [June 11, 2012]
---- The US has exempted seven countries from economic sanctions in return for cutting imports of Iranian oil. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said waivers were granted to India, South Korea, Malaysia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Turkey. Under a US law signed in December, countries have until 28 June to greatly reduce oil imports from Iran or be cut off from the US financial system. In March the US granted exceptions to Japan and 10 EU countries for cutting their imports of Iranian petroleum. Correspondents say the latest move puts pressure on China, which is Iran's biggest oil customer, to also cut its imports. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18405298 
China is Secondary Target of Sanctions on Iran
By John Glaser, Antiwar.com [June 12, 2012]
The Obama administration has agreed to let numerous countries be exempt from penalties under a harsh new set of economic sanctions on Iran’s oil sector, but has refused to grant China – a major importer of Iranian oil – such exemptions. The Obama administration has been ramping up the pressure on China with an increasingly antagonistic foreign policy. The so-called ‘Asia pivot’ is an aggressive policy that involves surging American military presence throughout the region – in the Philippines, Japan, Australia, Guam, South Korea, Singapore, etc. – in an unprovoked scheme to contain rising Chinese economic and military influence. This bellicose posture has increased tensions between the U.S. and China and between China and its weaker neighbors, like the Philippines. A recent report from the Center for Strategic International Studies predicted that next year “could see a shift in Chinese foreign policy based on the new leadership’s judgment that it must respond to a U.S. strategy that seeks to prevent China’s reemergence as a great power.” http://news.antiwar.com/2012/06/12/china-is-secondary-target-of-sanctions-on-iran/ 
SYRIA: CIVIL WAR? MILITARY INTERVENTION?
Fighting continues and intensifies in Syria, as the UN pulls out its 300 monitors, and as the conflict becomes increasingly militarized and internationalized. Hillary Clinton’s attacks on Russia this week seem to reconfigure the familiar outlines of the Cold War. While the Obama team’s official position is that no US military intervention will be taken without UN Security Council approval, congressional voices, media punditry, and election-year pressures to appear tough on Official Enemies are pushing hard for some display of US military force. The essays linked below scrutinize these topics.
Syria becoming wider global, regional proxy war
By Peter Apps, Reuters [June 13, 2012]
---- With the United States accusing Russia of providing attack helicopters and ethnic violence spiraling out of control, Syria's conflict is pulling world and regional powers into a mounting proxy confrontation. While Washington, Moscow and Beijing as well as European and Middle Eastern capitals have all endorsed Kofi Annan's peace plan, analysts say it has become increasingly obvious that they have also been taking sides. In some ways, the face-off already has more than a flavor of Cold War era confrontations, in which Western and communist states fought, manipulated and almost certainly prolonged a host of conflicts in the developing world. With communal militia increasingly blamed for bloody massacres within Syria itself, it may also feed a Middle East-wide growing ethnic confrontation between Saudi-backed Sunni and sometimes Iranian-backed Shi'ite forces. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/13/us-syria-global-proxy-idUSBRE85C13720120613 
New Weapons Push Syrian Crisis Toward Civil War
By Mark Landler and Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times [June 14, 2012]
---- With evidence that powerful new weapons are flowing to both the Syrian government and opposition fighters, the bloody uprising in Syria has thrust the Obama administration into an increasingly difficult position as the conflict shows signs of mutating into a full-fledged civil war. The fierce government assaults from the air are partly a response to improved tactics and weaponry among the opposition forces, which have recently received more powerful antitank missiles from Turkey, with the financial support of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, according to members of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, and other activists. The United States, these activists said, was consulted about these weapons transfers. The increased ferocity of the attacks and the more lethal weapons on both sides threatened to overwhelm diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/world/middleeast/new-weapons-push-syrian-crisis-toward-civil-war.html?_r=1&hp 
US Military Planning ‘Completed’ for Syria Attack
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [June 15, 2012]
---- After weeks of conflicting reports on whether or not they were planning in the first place, the Pentagon is now confirming that not only did they conduct planning for an attack on Syria, but that the planning is now completed for such an attack. Officials commenting on the situation to CNN say that the military has a “full understanding” of the types and number of troops and units needed for different potential attacks on Syria, and were ready to present those options as soon as President Obama asks. The Obama Administration has said they would only attack Syria after the United Nations Security Council authorized it, which seems a virtual impossibility given both Russian and Chinese opposition to a NATO attack, but seems likely to take any pretext they are given by the UN as a full-scale imprimatur for war. According to today’s CNN report, much of the planning has centered around Jordan, and US special forces are already on the ground “advising” Jordan on their possible options to take against Syria. Officials added that Syria’s chemical weapons sites were “getting a fair amount of attention” in the talks with Jordan. http://news.antiwar.com/2012/06/15/us-military-planning-completed-for-syria-attack/ 
The Syrian opposition is fighting the enemy within the mind of every citizen
By Nadim Shehadi, The Guardian [June 12, 2012]
---- The appointment of Abdulbaset Sieda to head the Syrian National Council (SNC) opposition comes at a time when the SNC is undergoing what was euphemistically called a restructuring and opening up to other opposition groups. The SNC has had problems since its inception. It was created in the summer of 2011 initially from a coalition of the Damascus Declaration, the Muslim Brotherhood and several organisations that represent religious and ethnic groups like Kurds and Assyrians. To these were added delegates of local coordination committees who represent the protesters on the ground. From its inception the SNC was heavily criticised for not being inclusive enough, for being created by Turkey and Qatar, for being unrepresentative of the forces inside the country and for being dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. It was also inevitably compared to the Libyan National Transitional Council and hence suspected of preparing the ground for a western military intervention or invasion of the country. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/12/syrian-opposition-enemy-within 
(Audio) In Syria's Sectarian Battle, Who Are The Alawites?
An interview with Joshua Landis of Syria Comment [June 13, 2012]– 5 minutes
---- Renee Montagne talks with Professor Joshua Landis about the Alawite sect in Syria. The minority group is the power base for President Bashar Assad's government. Landis is director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.