Iran War Weekly
March 18, 2013
Hello All – As readers may/will recall, we are between negotiating sessions about Iran’s nuclear program. After an eight-month hiatus, restarting negotiations between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) and Iran was significant. Even more significant, and also surprising, was that the negotiations in Kazakhstan in February generated cautious optimism among diplomats, and a second round of negotiations is now scheduled for early April, again in Kazakhstan.
The scheduling of a second meeting in April is significant not just because it holds out the hope of “progress,” long absent in these talks, but also because it indicates that Iran considers its nuclear positions to be based on interests that will not be derailed by their presidential election in June. This is in contrast to what happened during the US presidential election last fall, when nuclear talks with Iran were suspended for the lengthy campaign season.
This week representatives of Iran and the P5+1 are meeting in Istanbul for “technical talks.” The contents of these talks (as well as their location) are secret; but the general understanding is that policy wonks will work out some details and timetables for the implementation of the P5+1 negotiating proposals that were presented to Iran in February in Kazakhstan. As several of the “Overview” articles linked below indicate, these proposals are still far from what Iran might be expected to accept; but as Farideh Farhi suggests, probably the best outcome possible within diplomatic reality would be if the US and Iran agreed to trade small amounts of sanctions relief for small curbs on Iran’s enrichment program. Even these baby steps, however, may be too much to hope for.
In Washington, meanwhile, President Obama prepares to visit Israel; and on the eve of his trip he made a speech in which he claimed that Iran is at least a year away from producing a nuclear weapon. This is vintage Obama, splitting the difference between the Israeli position that Iran is much closer to a bomb, and the Iranian position that Iran does not want a bomb. It is also inaccurate, in sense that the US intelligence czar testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that there is still no evidence that Iran is seeking a bomb. Moreover, expert opinion generally holds that it would take Iran years, not months, to produce an arsenal of nuclear weapons if it decided to do so.
While the President’s PR team is low-balling expectations for significant policy developments during his trip to Israel, it appears the Prime Minister Netanyahu will press him for greater military support, and perhaps military action, in Syria. In the Syria section below I’ve linked several articles outlining the growing militarization of the US strategy toward Syria, where the conflict just passed its second anniversary. With today’s Syrian airstrikes in Lebanon, we now have armed conflicts on all of Syria’s international borders. The disaster seems unstoppable.
Once again I would like to thank those who you who have forwarded this newsletter or linked it on your sites. Previous “issues” of the Iran War Weekly are posted at http://warisacrime.org/blog/46383 . If you would like to receive the IWW mailings, please send me an email at email@example.com .
OVERVIEWS AND PERSPECTIVES
Too Soon for a Breakthrough but Progress Possible for Iran Nuclear Talks
An Interview with Farideh Farhi, Lobe Log [March 2013]
Q):Considering the cautious optimism that was expressed by the Iranians after the Almaty talks (February 26-27), is there a better chance for a breakthrough during the March/April meetings?
---- Farideh Farhi: It is too soon to think of breakthrough at this point. But the decision on the part of Iran’s negotiating team to portray the slight move on the part of the United States [to offer slight sanctions relief] as a turning point, has given the leadership in Tehran room to sell an initial confidence-building measure in the next couple of months as a “win-win situation,” something the Iranians have always claimed to be interested in. Having room to maneuver domestically, however, does not necessarily mean that it will happen. In the next couple of months we just have to wait and see the extent to which opponents of any kind of deal in both Tehran and Washington will be able to prevent the optimism that’s been expressed from turning into a process of give and take. http://www.lobelog.com/farideh-farhi-too-soon-for-a-breakthrough-but-progress-possible-for-iran-nuclear-talks/ 
Why Iran May Be Ready to Deal
By Vali Nasr, New YorkTimes [March 17, 2013]
---- For the first time since 2009, there may be signs of a break in the deadlock over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran entered the latest talks with a slightly softened position. That is good news, but the United States will have to change its negotiating strategy to take advantage of it. Economic sanctions are biting hard in Iran. Meanwhile, its strategic position is crumbling because of the turmoil in its ally Syria and the rise of militant Sunni Islamism throughout the Arab Middle East. Together, these forces seem to have forced Iran to reconsider its own bargaining position. So rather than strengthen sanctions another notch, America should give Iran a little tit for tat: begin negotiating directly, and put on the table the prospect of lifting sanctions, one by one, as bargaining chips. The United States should shift from trying to further intimidate Iran to trying to clinch an agreement. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/18/opinion/why-iran-may-be-ready-to-deal.html?hp 
(Video) Room For Diplomacy?
From HuffPost Live [March 2013]– 30 minutes
---- Iran's ambassador to the UN says they are open to direct talks with the U.S., so what is our next move? How would a restructuring of our relationship to Iran play out? With Flynt Leverett and 3 others. http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/iran-is-ready-to-open/513416e32b8c2a535b000284 
THIS WEEK’S NUCLEAR TALKS IN ISTANBUL
Can Iran, world powers build on recent progress in nuclear talks?
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor [March 17, 2013]
---- Experts of Iran and six world powers will meet behind closed doors in Istanbul, Turkey, tomorrow for “technical-level” nuclear talks aimed at turning recent diplomatic progress into concrete measures. Diplomats on both sides say the low-profile technical meeting can be ideal for thrashing out details and a timeline for the first steps to limit Iran’s most sensitive nuclear work, ahead of a fifth round of top-level nuclear talks in early April. Beyond the glare of the spotlight that accompanies each full round of nuclear talks, the technical meeting can yield real results. After the last such Istanbul technical meeting in July, for example – despite three failed previous rounds of political talks in Istanbul, Baghdad, and Moscow last spring – Iran for the first time formally said its 20 percent enrichment was up for negotiation. This time, the P5+1 will be looking for signs that Iran is willing to begin to physically curb that level of enrichment, in exchange for a specified timetable to ease some of the sanctions that have choked Iran’s economy. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0317/Can-Iran-world-powers-build-on-recent-progress-in-nuclear-talks?nav=87-frontpage-entryNineItem 
Also on Istanbul – Laura Rozen, “US, Iran nuclear teams to Istanbul for technical talks,” Al Monitor [March 15, 2013] http://backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2013/03/4760/iran-p51-nuclear-experts-head-to-istanbul-technical-talks/ ; and from Agence France Presse, “Experts meet in Istanbul over Iran’s nuclear programme,” [March 18, 2013] http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gD4lELza0YxwZ_QQ-xmXMgM5HnNw?docId=CNG.0b38e62e96bb21dec758a567d8327bca.421 
US POLICIES AND PERSPECTIVES
Twisting the Intel to Fit the Politics: The New Generation of Hypocrisy on Iran
By Ted Snider, Counterpunch [March 15, 2013]
---- Though the recent nuclear talks with Iran ended with an apparent whiff of progress, and though the two sides have agreed to meet for further technical negotiations this month and then for political level talks next month, the U.S. continues to approach Iran with a hostility that can barely contain its hypocrisy. The current generation of hypocrisy has three faces: Iran as a terror threat, Iran as a nuclear threat, and Iran’s need to be monitored. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/03/15/the-new-generation-of-hypocrisy-on-iran/ 
Congress Guns for Iran, While the Administration Focuses on Engagement
By Jay Newton-Small, Time [March 12, 2013]
---- In a Washington these days characterized by hyper partisanship, the last four years of near unanimous votes on sanctioning Iran  has been striking. They have also been a thorn in the Administration’s side. As State Department diplomats try yet again for a breakthrough at talks in Istanbul at the end of the month, two more bills further tightening the restrictions against Iran are in the works on the Hill. At best, Congress plays bad cop to the Administration’s good cop. Negotiators can say their hands are tied, that unless Iran changes its tune there’s little President Obama can to do to stop Congress. At worst, the bills complicate delicate negotiations and goad an already angry regime. While sanctions legislation has been a successful stick, pushing Iran’s economy to the brink, the Administration has reached a point where its focus is on reaching a diplomatic solution and avoiding a war. http://swampland.time.com/2013/03/12/congress-guns-for-iran-while-the-administration-focuses-on-engagement/ 
Obama’s Speech on Iran
Iran Nuclear Weapon to Take Year or More, Obama Says
By Michael D. Shear and David E. Sanger, New YorkTimes [March 14, 2013]
---- President Obama told an Israeli television station on Thursday that his administration believed it would take Iran “over a year or so” to develop a nuclear weapon, and he vowed that the United States would do whatever was necessary to prevent that from happening. Less than a week before his first visit as president to Israel, Mr. Obama pledged to continue diplomatic efforts, but he promised that the United States would keep all options on the table to ensure that Iran did not become a nuclear threat to its neighbors. Mr. Obama’s estimated timeline contrasts with Mr. Netanyahu’s stated belief that Israel and its Western allies are likely to have to intervene by the spring or summer, when, he says, Iran’s scientists will have enriched enough uranium to become a nuclear threat. Iran denies that its nuclear program  has any military aim. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/15/world/middleeast/iran-nuclear-weapon-to-take-year-or-more-obama-says.html?hp&_r=0 
Also on the speech - Kaveh L Afrasiabi, “Obama's dangerous Iran nuclear gambit,” Asia Times [March 18, 2013] http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-01-180313.html 
US Intelligence on Iran’s Nuclear Program
U.S. Intel Chief Says Iran Isn't Building Nukes:Is Anybody Listening?
By Nima Shirazi, Wide Asleep in America [March 15, 2013]
----In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday March 12, 2013, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reaffirmed what the U.S. intelligence community has been saying for years: Iran has no nuclear weapons program, is not building a nuclear weapon and has not even made a decision to do so. The annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” which compiles the collective conclusions of all American intelligence agencies, has long held that Iran maintains defensive capabilities and has a military doctrine of deterrence and retaliation, but is not an aggressive state actor and has no intention of beginning a conflict, let alone triggering a nuclear apocalypse. http://www.wideasleepinamerica.com/2013/03/us-intel-chief-says-iran-isnt-building-nukes.html 
Also on the Senate hearing – John Glaser, “Intel Chief: Iran Cannot Secretly Divert Nuclear Material for a Bomb,” Antiwar.com [March 12, 2013] http://news.antiwar.com/2013/03/12/intel-chief-iran-cannot-secretly-divert-nuclear-material-for-a-bomb/ 
Obama Visits Israel
Obama in the Middle East
By Michael Brenner, Counterpunch [March 18, 2013]
---- American actions in the greater Middle East over the past decade pose a unique challenge to the analyst. Understanding the thinking that goes into a particular policy decision or the calculations that lie behind a diplomatic strategy is always hard in Washington where the process normally is prolix and the cast of characters exceeds that of a Russian novel. Still, we presume that a certain logic is at work – whether or not the outside observer agrees with its aims or premises. That reasonable surmise is of doubtful validity when it comes to the Obama administration. Under the President’s predecessor, concealment and duplicity were routine. But the Bush people did know want they wanted and thought they had figured out how to get it. Today, ends are obscure, means ad hoc and the ends-means connections indecipherable. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/03/18/obama-in-the-middle-east/ 
Israel to ask Obama to use air strikes in case of Syrian missile transfer
By Julian Borger, The Guardian [UK] [March 17, 2013]
---- Israel will use President Obama's visit on Wednesday to try to persuade the US to carry out air strikes on Syria if there is evidence that Syrian missiles are to be handed over to Hezbollah in Lebanon, or at least to give full support to Israeli military action to prevent the transfer. On this week's trip to Israel and the West Bank, Obama will also come under Israeli pressure to lower the US threshold for military action against Iran , while the US president will try for an Israeli commitment to a peace process with the Palestinians. Neither side is likely to be successful, leaving Syria as the most promising arena for agreement. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/17/obama-visit-israel-syrian-missiles-transfer 
Also on Obama’s trip – Robert Hunter, “Obama Muddles Through the Middle East,” Deutsche Welle [March 14, 2013] http://www.dw.de/obama-muddles-through-the-middle-east/a-16671939 ; and Rashid Khalidi, “Is Any Hope Left for Mideast Peace?” New YorkTimes [March 13, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/opinion/obama-in-jerusalem.html?hp&_r=0 .
IRANIAN POLICIES AND PERSPECTIVES
Iran intensifies debate on US talks
By Laura Rozen, Al-Monitor [March 14, 2013]
---- Iranian leaders have intensified debate on the pros and cons of direct talks with the United States in recent days, suggesting Tehran may be mulling whether to take President Obama up on the offer and under what conditions. The flurry of debate comes as arms control officials from Iran, Washington and five world powers are due to meet in Istanbul next week, to discuss a revised international nuclear proposal that Iranian negotiators greeted favorably in Kazakhstan last month. http://backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2013/03/4731/iran-leaders-intensify-debate-on-direct-us-talks/ 
Investigator from U.N. Gives Iran Harsh Review
By Nick Cumming-Bruce, New YorkTimes [March 12, 2013]
---- With presidential elections approaching in June, Iran has cracked down on journalists, rights activists and lawyers apparently in a bid to stifle dissent, a United Nations investigator said on Tuesday. He also said that the judicial authorities in Iran  had tortured some Iranians for contacting him. Iran rejected the assertions by the investigator, Ahmed Shaheed, calling them unfounded propaganda done under pressure of the West to malign the country. Iranian officials have issued similar rejoinders to the reports of Mr. Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives, since he was appointed to the role after the repression of antigovernment protests over the disputed Iranian presidential elections of 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/world/middleeast/un-rights-investigator-gives-harsh-appraisal-of-iran.html?ref=world 
Also on Iran - From Associated Press, “Iran to try 18 over killing of nuclear scientists,” [March 17, 2013] http://www.salon.com/2013/03/17/iran_to_try_18_over_killing_of_nuclear_scientists_2/singleton/ 
US Drones Over Persian Gulf Now Have Escorts
By Jim White, Empty Wheel [March 15, 2013]
---- The latest incident in the cat and mouse drone games the US and Iran are carrying out has an Iranian jet coming close to a US Predator drone over the Persian Gulf. US reports on the incident all rely on information released by Defense Department spokesman George Little and every report that I have read in the media includes, but does not comment on, the fact that this drone was accompanied by two US escort planes. As recently as the incident back in November when Iranian jets fired on a drone it is clear that drones were not escorted, so the presence of escorts is a new development. http://www.emptywheel.net/2013/03/15/us-drones-over-persian-gulf-now-have-escorts/ 
SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN
‘Iran Sanctions are Immoral and Illegal – and Cowardly’
By Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, TehranTimes [March 14, 2013]
---- No matter how you look at the sanctions, they are immoral and illegal – and cowardly. It would be naive to believe that their goal of these sanctions is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. I believe that there should be no mistake about the reality that sanctions are warfare without the military involvement. They have a multitude of goals. One is to convince the war weary and war wary public that there is diplomacy in place to avoid a ‘military option’. Collective punishment is illegal under international law. http://www.campaigniran.org/casmii/index.php?q=node/13166 
Also on sanctions – Timothy Gardner, “U.S. extends waivers on Iran sanctions to 11 countries,” Reuters [March 13, 2013] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/13/us-usa-iran-sanctions-idUSBRE92C0YQ20130313 ; and from Reuters, “Iran seeks U.S. wheat despite nuclear tension,” [March 13, 2013] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/13/us-grain-iran-idUSBRE92C0DW20130313 
The Saudi Oil War on Iran
By Aby Reza Sanati, National Interest [March 13, 2013]
---- When Prince Turki al-Faisal suggested last year that the House of Saud would join in the U.S.-led sanctions against Iranian oil, by seeking to displace Tehran’s oil exports from the global economy, he was not referring to a novel idea. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has led two prior oil wars against Iran…. An appreciation of the limits and potential consequences of the third Saudi oil war are critical—the former having to do with Saudi Arabia’s current vulnerabilities, while the latter concern Iran’s possible reactions. Though the Saudis, as OPEC’s swing producer, can impact immediate supply fluctuations, their ability to fundamentally reshape market dynamics is now being hampered by new pressures. http://nationalinterest.org/print/commentary/the-saudi-oil-war-iran-8214 
Pak-Iran Pipeline Carries Energy and Defiance
By Richard Javad Heydarian, Inter Press Service [March 14, 2013]
---- After almost two decades of non-stop negotiations, and two years of intense U.S. opposition, the much-delayed and controversial 7.5 billion dollar Iran-Pakistan pipeline is well on its track to full operation in the next 15 months. In a telling sign of Pakistan’s growing energy woes, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari chose to ignore vigorous external opposition and visit Iran (Feb. 27) in order to finalise a fateful energy deal which could potentially elevate Iran-Pakistan relations into a strategic partnership. … The deal is a subtext of a broader trend where Iran – leveraging its sizeable hydrocarbon reserves – has been gradually warming up to energy-hungry U.S. allies such as Turkey, which has been Iran’s major natural gas customer and a vigorous critic of Western ‘secondary sanctions’ on Tehran’s energy partners. Pakistan and Iran (together with Turkey) have been founding members of the regional body, the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO), and have for decades been exploring multiple ways of enhancing bilateral relations and regional economic integration. http://original.antiwar.com/javad-heydarian/2013/03/14/pak-iran-pipeline-carries-energy-and-defiance/ 
CIVIL WAR/INTERVENTION IN SYRIA
The Free Syrian Army Doesn’t Exist
By Aron Lund, SyriaCommentMarch 16th, 2013
---- Is the FSA losing influence in Syria? How many people are in the FSA? Is the FSA receiving enough guns from the West, or too many? Will the FSA participate in elections after the fall of Bahar el-Assad? What is the ideology of the FSA? What’s the FSA’s view of Israel? Is Jabhat el-Nosra now bigger than the FSA? What does the FSA think about the Kurds? Who is the leader of the FSA? How much control does the central command of the FSA really have over their fighters? All these and similar questions keep popping up in news articles and op-ed chinstrokers in the Western media, and in much of the Arabic media too. They all deal with important issues, but they disregard an important fact: the FSA doesn’t really exist. http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=18104 
(Video) On Uprising’s Anniversary, a Syrian Opposition Voice Says Country is Victim of a Global Proxy War
From Democracy Now! [March 15, 2013]
---- Today marks the second anniversary of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people and created at least one million refugees. We’re joined by Rim Turkmani, an astrophysicist and member of the Syrian Civil Democratic Alliance who’s in New York meeting with Security Council members discussing possible political solutions to the situation in Syria. Turkmani warns that Syrian voices for nonviolence are being ignored as foreign actors on both sides fuel an armed conflict. "There’s systematic efforts to marginalize people like us inside Syria and focus only on the armed rebels. And they are the ones now who are stealing all the headlines," Turkmani says. "Why? Because, yes, there are certain actors, regional and international, who see this as proxy wars, and it’s an opportunity to fight their international opponents. It’s a struggle over Syria, over power, and the Syrians are falling victims to that." http://www.democracynow.org/2013/3/15/on_uprisings_anniversary_a_syrian_opposition 
(Video) Where is the Syrian conflict heading?
From Aljazeera [Inside Syria] [March 17, 2013]
---- An uprising that was inspired by the Arab Spring is now a violent conflict, with no end in sight. Inside Syria discusses with guests: Yaser Tabbara, Joshua Landis and Danny Makki. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidesyria/2013/03/20133177557742685.html 
Intensifying US Intervention
Ambassador: US providing $114 million in aid to Syrian rebels
By Julian Pecquet, The Hill [March 13, 2013]
---- The Obama administration is providing the Syrian opposition with $114 million in aid, more than previously revealed, to help topple Bashar Assad, U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford told Congress on Wednesday. Ford briefed House appropriators in a closed-door hearing following Secretary of State John Kerry's announcement last month that America would provide $60 million in direct food and medicine assistance to the Syrian Opposition Coalition. The aid, Ford said, is in addition to $54 million in communications gear and other aid already offered to “disparate Syrian opposition groups across the country to build a network of ethnically and religiously diverse civilian activists.” http://thehill.com/blogs/global-affairs/middle-east-north-africa/287953-ambassador-us-providing-114-million-in-aid-to-syrian-rebels 
CIA Boosts Support for Iraqi Militias
By John Glaser, Antiwar.com [March 12, 2013]
---- The White House has directed the CIA to increase its cooperation and backing of Iraqi state militias to fight al-Qaeda affiliates there and cut off the flow of fighters pouring into Syria. According to US intelligence, the Islamic militant group al-Qaeda in Iraq has for years been sending fighters over the border into Syria’s civil war in an attempt to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. In Syria, the offshoot goes by the name of Jabhat al-Nusra, a group the State Department designated a terrorist organization last year. To stem the flow of these fighters into Syria, the Obama administration has been employing the CIA to work with Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service, or CTS, a state militia bred and trained by the US prior to the withdrawal and which now answers directly to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The White House directed the CIA to support CTS in a series of secret orders from 2011 to late 2012, according to the Wall Street Journal. http://news.antiwar.com/2013/03/12/via-boosts-support-for-iraqi-militias/ 
Also on the CIA– Ken Dilanian and Brian Bennett, “CIA begins sizing up Islamic extremists in Syria for drone strikes,” Los AngelesTimes March 15, 2013 http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/middleeast/la-fg-cia-syria-20130316,0,3989647.story 
U.S.House Democrat Wants Lethal Aid for Syria Rebels
By Patricia Zengerle, Reuters [March 18, 2013]
---- The senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee is pushing President Barack Obama's administration to train and arm some Syrian rebels, in addition to providing humanitarian assistance. Representative Eliot Engel will introduce a bill on Monday that would authorize Washington to provide assistance "including limited lethal equipment" to carefully vetted members of the Syrian opposition, aides and activists aware of Engel's plans said on Sunday. http://news.yahoo.com/u-house-democrat-wants-lethal-aid-syria-rebels-231126785.html