Inter Press Service » P5+1 http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 19 Dec 2014 15:02:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Pro-Israel Hawks Take Wing over Extension of Iran Nuclear Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:08:39 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137932 E3/EU+3 nuclear talks, Vienna - July 2014. Credit: EEAS/cc by 2.0

E3/EU+3 nuclear talks, Vienna - July 2014. Credit: EEAS/cc by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Buoyed by the failure of the U.S. and five other powers to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme after a week of intensive talks, pro-Israel and Republican hawks are calling for Washington to ramp up economic pressure on Tehran even while talks continue, and to give Congress a veto on any final accord.

“We have supported the economic sanctions, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, in addition to sanctions placed on Iran by the international community,” Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, three of the Republican’s leading hawks, said in a statement released shortly after the announcement in Vienna that the one-year-old interim accord between the so-called P5+1 and Iran will be extended until Jul. 1 while negotiations continue.Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran.

“These sanctions have had a negative impact on the Iranian economy and are one of the chief reasons the Iranians are now at the negotiating table,” the three senators went on.

“However, we believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval. Every Member of Congress should have the opportunity to review the final deal and vote on this major foreign policy decision.”

Their statement was echoed in part by at least one of the likely Republican candidates for president in 2016.

“From the outcome of this latest round, it also appears that Iran’s leadership remains unwilling to give up their nuclear ambitions,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a favourite of pro-Israel neo-conservatives.

“None of this will change in the coming months unless we return to the pressure track that originally brought Iran to the table.”

At the same time, however, senior Democrats expressed disappointment that a more comprehensive agreement had not been reached but defended the decision to extend the Nov. 24, 2013 Joint Programme of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany – and Iran – an additional seven months, until Jul. 1.

Echoing remarks made earlier by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has held eight meetings with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, over the past week, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein noted that “Iran has lived up to its obligations under the interim agreement and its nuclear programme has not only been frozen, it has been reversed. Today, Iran is further away from acquiring a nuclear weapon than before negotiations began.

“I urge my colleagues in Washington to be patient, carefully evaluate the progress achieved thus far and provide U.S. negotiators the time and space they need to succeed. A collapse of the talks is counter to U.S. interests and would further destabilise an already-volatile region,” she said in a statement.

The back and forth in Washington came in the wake of Kerry’s statement at the conclusion of intensive talks in Vienna. Hopes for a permanent accord that would limit Iran’s nuclear activities for a period of some years in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran rose substantially in the course of the week only to fall sharply Sunday when Western negotiators, in particular, spoke for the first time of extending the JPOA instead of concluding a larger agreement.

Neither Kerry nor the parties, who have been exceptionally tight-lipped about the specifics of the negotiations, disclosed what had occurred to change the optimistic tenor of the talks.

Kerry insisted Monday that this latest round had made “real and substantial progress” but that “significant points of disagreement” remain unresolved.

Most analysts believe the gaps involved include the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme – specifically, the number of centrifuges it will be permitted to operate — and the number of years the programme will be subject to extraordinary curbs and international inspections.

Kerry appealed to Congress to not to act in a way that could sabotage the extension of the JPOA – under which Iran agreed to partially roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of some sanctions – or prospects for a successful negotiation.

“I hope they will come to see the wisdom of leaving us the equilibrium for a few months to be able to proceed without sending messages that might be misinterpreted and cause miscalculation,” he said. “We would be fools to walk away.”

The aim, he said, was to reach a broad framework accord by March and then work out the details by the Jul. 1 deadline. The JPOA was agreed last Nov. 24 but the specific details of its implementation were not worked out until the latter half of January.

Whether his appeal for patience will work in the coming months remains to be seen. Republicans, who, with a few exceptions, favoured new sanctions against Iran even after the JPOA was signed, gained nine seats in the Senate and will control both houses in the new Congress when it convenes in January.

If Congress approves new sanctions legislation, as favoured by McCain, Rubio, and other hawks, President Barack Obama could veto it. To sustain the veto, however, he have to keep at least two thirds of the 40-some Democrats in the upper chamber in line.

That could pose a problem given the continuing influence of the Israel lobby within the Democratic Party.

Indeed, the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Robert Menendez, who reluctantly tabled a sanctions effort earlier this year, asserted Monday that the administration’s efforts “had not succeeded” and suggested that he would support a “two-track approach of diplomacy and pressure” in the coming period.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading Israel lobby group, also called Monday for “new bipartisan sanctions legislation to let Tehran know that it will face much more severe pressure if it does not clearly abandon its nuclear weapons program.”

Its message echoed that of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had reportedly personally lobbied each of the P5+1’s leaders over the weekend, and who, even before the extension was officially announced, expressed relief at the failure to reach a comprehensive accord against which he has been campaigning non-stop over the past year.

“The agreement that Iran was aiming for was very bad indeed,” he told BBC, adding that “the fact that there’s no deal now gives [world powers] the opportunity to continue …to toughen [economic pressures] against Iran.”

The Iran task force of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), co-chaired by Dennis Ross, who held the Iran portfolio at the White House during part of Obama’s first term, said, in addition to increasing economic pressure, Washington should provide weaponry to Israel that would make its threats to attack Iran more credible.

The hard-line neo-conservative Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) said Congress should not only pass new sanctions legislation, but strip Obama’s authority to waive sanctions.

“There’s no point waiting seven months for either another failure or a truly terrible deal,” ECI, which helped fund several Republican Senate campaigns this fall, said.

“Congress should act now to reimpose sanctions and re-establish U.S. red lines that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. To that end, such legislation must limit the president’s authority to waive sanctions, an authority the president has already signaled a willingness to abuse in his desperate quest for a deal with the mullahs.”

Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran, strengthen hard-liners in Tehran who oppose accommodation and favour accelerating the nuclear programme.

“The worst scenario for U.S. interests is one in which Congress overwhelmingly passes new sanctions, Iran resumes its nuclear activities, and international unity unravels,” wrote Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on the Wall Street Journal website Monday.

“Such an outcome would force the United States to revisit the possibility of another military conflict in the Middle East.”

Such arguments, which the administration is also expected to deploy, could not only keep most Democratic senators in line, but may also persuade some Republicans worried about any new military commitment in the Middle East.

Sen. Bob Corker, who will likely chair the Foreign Relations Committee in the new Congress, issued a cautious statement Monday, suggesting that he was willing to give the administration more time. Tougher sanctions, he said, could be prepared “should negotiations fail.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. He can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Iranians Keep Hope Alive for Final Nuclear Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/iranians-keep-hope-alive-for-final-nuclear-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iranians-keep-hope-alive-for-final-nuclear-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/iranians-keep-hope-alive-for-final-nuclear-deal/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 11:06:19 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137807 With both countries' flags placed side by side, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits across from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, Austria, on Jul. 13, 2014, before beginning a bilateral meeting focused on Iran's nuclear programme. Credit: State Department

With both countries' flags placed side by side, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits across from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, Austria, on Jul. 13, 2014, before beginning a bilateral meeting focused on Iran's nuclear programme. Credit: State Department

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

In the United States, the negotiations aimed at a final deal between world powers and Iran over its nuclear programme—in a crucial phase this week—are far from the minds of average people. But for many Iranians, the talks hold the promise of a better future.

“I really hope for a fair agreement,” Ahoora Rostamian, a 30-year-old financial engineer living in the Iranian city of Isfahan, told IPS in a telephone interview.“I have seen broad support and trust for [lead Iranian negotiator] Javad Zarif among the people…he may well be the most popular politician in Iran.” -- Adnan Tabatabai

“It is very important both economically and politically…(A)lmost all sectors of industry are affected by the sanctions, and only the people, not the government, are paying the price,” he said.

From the capital city of Tehran, Mohammad Shirkavand, who expects a final deal to be signed by the Nov. 24 deadline, said it would “alleviate tensions and allow Westerners to get to know the real Iran.”

“Iran has been developing even under a massive sanctions regime, but when there is a final nuclear deal, the situation will be much better,” said the mechanical engineer and tour guide.

“People are indeed very hopeful,” Adnan Tabatabai, a Berlin-based analyst who regularly travels to Iran, told IPS. “I have seen broad support and trust for [lead Iranian negotiator] Javad Zarif among the people…he may well be the most popular politician in Iran.”

Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China, plus Germany) began a marathon round of meetings Nov. 18 in Vienna aimed at achieving a final deal by next Monday.

That would mark the one-year anniversary of the signing in Geneva of the interim Joint Plan of Action, which halted Iran’s nuclear programme from further expansion in exchange for moderate sanctions relief.

All of the officials involved in the negotiation have insisted that a comprehensive agreement remains possible by the self-imposed deadline.

But three days of talks last week in Oman—which hosted initially the secret U.S.-Iran meetings in March 2013 that paved the way for unprecedented levels of bilateral exchanges—concluded without a breakthrough.

“The Iranian team went back to Tehran with new ideas from Oman and will have a chance to respond to them in Vienna,” Kelsey Davenport, the director for nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, told IPS.

“There’s still a week left, and that’s a lot of time on the diplomatic clock,” said Davenport, who closely monitors Iran’s nuclear programme. “The negotiators are committed to reaching a deal by the deadline, and it’s still possible.”

The details of the negotiations remain secret, but leaked comments to the press suggest that while the negotiators are close to a deal, they remain stuck on the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme as well as the terms of the sanctions relief that would result from a final deal.

Iran wants to maintain enough centrifuges and other nuclear infrastructure to be self-reliant and reach industrial-scale production for what they insist is a civil nuclear programme by 2021. But the U.S. and its allies want Iran to significantly scale back its current operations.

The failure to sign a deal so far has left some in Iran feeling hopeless—though not about their negotiating team’s ability to push for the best deal.

“I am not very optimistic about a final deal because if the P5+1 were seriously determined to reach a deal they could have achieved that by now,” said Sadeghi, a 29-year-old student also from Isfahan. “They have previously proven that what they’re seeking is halting Iran’s peaceful nuclear activity, not a genuine deal.”

Back in Tehran, Sobhan Hassanvand, a journalist who closely monitors the talks for Shargh, a reformist newspaper, told IPS he expects at least a partial deal by the end of the month.

“On both sides there are rational people who want the deal… Both sides have shown some flexibility, and tried to fight hardliners,” he said.

“They have gotten this far, and the final steps can be breathtaking…I am hopeful and optimistic,” added Hassanvand.

The negotiating teams from both the U.S. and Iran, led by Acting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, respectively, face tough domestic opposition, with powerful adversaries working hard to get their demands onto the negotiating table.

Before the end of this week, committees in the U.S. House and Senate—both of which will be controlled by Republicans as of January—will hold a series of hearings focused on the alleged dangers of a “bad deal”.

Activist groups—both for and against diplomacy with Iran—have also scheduled briefings for Congressional staffers and reporters in the run-up to Nov. 24.

“There are some members of Congress who oppose a diplomatic solution with Iran,” Davenport told IPS. “Many of them are pushing for more stringent sanctions, but that will only drive Iran away from table and lead both sides down the path of escalation.

“But the majority of Congress needs to consider the alternative to a diplomatic resolution…if we don’t achieve a deal we could easily go down the path of another war in the Middle East,” she said.

U.S. President Barack Obama has also received strong criticism for allegedly sending a secret letter last month to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, that “appeared aimed at buttressing the campaign against the Islamic State and nudging Iran’s religious leader closer to a nuclear deal,” according to a Nov. 6 report in the Wall Street Journal.

Though the content of the reported letter has not been officially revealed, some U.S. Republican and hawkish Democratic politicians, as well as Israeli officials, described it as evidence of Obama’s desperation for a deal, particularly in light of the need for Iran’s cooperation in Washington’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile in Iran, the country’s ultimate decision-maker, Ayatollah Khamenei, once again expressed support last week for the country’s negotiating team through speeches and his Twitter account.

But he has also consistently expressed doubt about the Obama administration’s sincerity and its ability to negotiate for a fair deal, insisting that Washington is ruled by the Israeli government, which has made no secret of its opposition to Obama’s approach.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has also been the target of political grumblings by domestic powerbrokers for his handling of the nuclear issue. But last week saw many of his critics directing their distrust at the United States.

“In the nuclear debate, our key point is that we have complete trust with respect to the negotiating team, but this point must not be missed, that our opposing side is a fraud and a liar,” said Mohammad Hossein Nejatand, a commander of the revolutionary guards, on Nov. 14.

“Instead of writing letters, Obama should demonstrate his goodwill,” said Ayatollah Movahedi-Kermani during Friday prayers in Tehran.

Iranians meanwhile appear generally confident about their negotiating team’s strategy.

“They are doing a good job…The problem is (that) the other side is not looking for a “deal,” but for Iran to give up,” said Sadeghi.

Tabatabai said Iranians were more likely to blame the U.S. than their own government if no deal is concluded.

“In that case people may conclude that whether Iran’s foreign policy is provocative or reconciliatory, the isolation and demonisation of their country will prevail,” he said.

“This is exactly the main argument of opponents of a deal in Tehran,” he added. “In their view, hostility towards Iran is a given—and if it’s not channeled through the nuclear file, another issue will be used to maintain enmity with Iran.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Resolving Key Nuclear Issue Turns on Iran-Russia Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/resolving-key-nuclear-issue-turns-on-iran-russia-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=resolving-key-nuclear-issue-turns-on-iran-russia-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/resolving-key-nuclear-issue-turns-on-iran-russia-deal/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 17:24:57 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137422 By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

U.S. and Iranian negotiators are working on a compromise approach to the issue of Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities, which the Barack Obama administration has said in the past Iran was refusing to make concessions on.

The compromise now being seriously discussed would meet the Obama administration’s original requirement for limiting Iran’s “breakout capability” by a combination of limits on centrifuge numbers and reduction of Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium, rather than by cutting centrifuges alone.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif prior the talks between the E3+3 (France, Germany, UK, China, Russia and U.S.) and Iran, Jul. 3, 2014 in Vienna, Austria. Credit: cc by 2.0

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif prior the talks between the E3+3 (France, Germany, UK, China, Russia and U.S.) and Iran, Jul. 3, 2014 in Vienna, Austria. Credit: cc by 2.0

That approach might permit Iran to maintain something close to its present level of operational centrifuges.

The key to the new approach is Iran’s willingness to send both its existing stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU) as well as newly enriched uranium to Russia for conversion into fuel for power plants for an agreed period of years.

In the first official indication of the new turn in the negotiations, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marzieh Afkham acknowledged in a briefing for the Iranian press Oct. 22 that new proposals combining a limit on centrifuges and the transfer of Iran’s LEU stockpile to Russia were under discussion in the nuclear negotiations.

The briefing was translated by BBC’s monitoring service but not reported in the Western press.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who heads the U.S. delegation to the talks, has not referred publicly to the compromise approach, but she appeared to be hinting at it when she said on Oct. 25 that the two sides had “made impressive progress on issues that originally seemed intractable.”

Despite the new opening to a resolution of what had been cited for months as the main obstacle to a comprehensive agreement, the negotiations could nevertheless stall in the final weeks over the timing of sanctions removal.

Iran’s willingness to negotiate such arrangements with the U.S. delegation will depend on Russia’s agreement to take the Iranian enriched uranium.

The beginning of discussions on the new approach was reported in September – just days after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin had met to discuss key issues in Iranian-Russian cooperation on the building of two nuclear power plants and fuel supply for Bushehr.

The proposed reduction of Iran’s accumulation of LEU by shipping it to Russia could achieve the Obama administration’s original minimum objective for an acceptable agreement, which was defined by a minimum number of months it would take Iran to enrich enough uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

Secretary of State John Kerry presented the administration’s requirement for that period last April as being six to 12 months. The six to 12-month requirement has been translated into a demand in the negotiations for a draconian cut to a few thousand centrifuges.

However, that demand is not justified on technical calculations of a “breakout timeline”.The problem of shipping LEU to Russia for conversion to nuclear fuel was linked to a larger set of difficult issues in Iran’s nuclear cooperation with Russia.

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, who supported the demand for a cut to a few thousand centrifuges, acknowledged in an analysis published in June that the reduction of the Iranian LEU stockpile to 1,000 kilogrammes would increase the breakout time for the present level of 10,000 Iranian operational centrifuges to six months, and a reduction to zero would increase it to nearly a year.

A deal that would reduce Iran’s stockpile to a minimum would be consistent with the proposal Iran had presented to the P5+1 early in the negotiations.

As Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif outlined the proposal to this writer in June, Iran proposed to guarantee immediate conversion of each batch of low-enriched uranium to oxide powder to be used to make fuel assemblies for the Bushehr reactor.

But the plan did not explicitly address how Iran would dispose of the existing stockpile of LEU, and the United States has dismissed any plan in which Iran maintained large quantities of oxide powder, on the ground that it could be reversed. Iran could not negotiate such arrangement with the P5+1 without first reaching agreement with the Russians.

But the problem of shipping LEU to Russia for conversion to nuclear fuel was linked to a larger set of difficult issues in Iran’s nuclear cooperation with Russia. Iran and Russia already have a commercial agreement for Russian provision of fuel for Iran’s Bushehr reactor until 2021.

But Iran and Russia have been negotiating on the construction of two new nuclear reactors by Russia, and Iran wanted Russia to agree to Iranian participation in enrichment for the fuel as well as in making the fuel assemblies for the reactors.

A “preliminary agreement” on a contract for building the two new reactors was announced Mar. 12, but negotiations on key points involving the additional Iranian demands were still pending.

Anton Khlopkov, director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies in Moscow, told IPS that the Russian acceptance of Iranian LEU would pose serious commercial issues for Russia.

It would lose significant profits it expected from doing the enrichment itself by agreeing to use Iranian LEU for conversion into fuel assemblies rather than uranium available in Russia. Iranian uranium is much more expensive than the uranium to which Russia has access, Khlopkov said.

Iran also wants to do at least some of the enrichment for the new reactors to be built, which would increase the compensation required for the deal.

Explaining the rationale for the Iranian enrichment demand, Ali Akbar Salehi, the director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said in early July that Iran had no desire to “carry out all the enrichment inside Iran” but added that “the other parties must know that if some day they don’t give us the fuel for power plants, Iran has the ability to produce it.”

The second major commercial issue in the negotiations with Russia is Iran’s desire to take over the fabrication of fuel assemblies for Bushehr and other power plants from the Russians after 2021.

In a Sep. 29 interview with this writer, Salehi said that the negotiations with Russia “include a wide spectrum of issues,” which include Iran’s desire to “share in the technology of the power plants”.

Iran is years away from having the capacity to do that, however, and it would need technical assistance from Russia. The United States, meanwhile, has made it clear it believes Iran could and should continue to rely on Russia to provide the fuel for the Bushehr reactor, even after the current contract for the fuel expires in 2021.

Khlopkov did not rule out the possibility of “some kind of partnership for fuel production,” but only if Iran is ready to compensate for Russia for its commercial losses. Fuel fabrication is a “big business, which nobody wants to lose,” Khlopkov said.

On Jun. 24, the spokesman for AEOI, Behrooz Kamalvandi, announced that the contract for the two nuclear power plants would be signed within weeks during a visit by Salehi to Moscow, but he acknowledged “some elements” in the agreement remained unresolved.

In a sign that Russia and Iran were close to agreement on the unresolved issues connected with the reactor deal, the heads of government were brought into talks. On Sep. 12, Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said the two presidents would meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and that both bilateral cooperation on nuclear power and the Iran-P5+1 talks would be among the topics to be discussed.

On Sep. 19, one week after the Rouhani-Putin meeting, the Associated Press reported that a new U.S. proposal involving a trade-off between reducing the LEU stockpile and the size of the cut in centrifuges had been discussed in bilateral talks between the United States and Iran. Iran was reported to have been “cautiously receptive”.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at porter.gareth50@gmail.com

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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ISIS Complicates Iran’s Nuclear Focus at UNGAhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 22:05:24 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136811 Iranian FM Javad Zarif smiles during a bilateral meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 21, 2014 in New York. Photo courtesy of ISNA

Iranian FM Javad Zarif smiles during a bilateral meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 21, 2014 in New York. Photo courtesy of ISNA

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Iran’s foreign minister arrived in New York last week with his sights set on a final deal on Iran’s nuclear programme. But a pressing regional conflict is hanging heavily over the already strained negotiations as Iran and world powers resume talks on the sidelines of this week’s U.N. General Assembly.

A Sep. 21 report by Reuters that Iran was seeking a “give and take” strategy in the talks by using the support it could provide in battling the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) as leverage challenged prior U.S. and Iranian insistence that the talks are solely nuclear-focused.

But a senior Iranian official involved in the negotiations told IPS that Iran was not discussing Iraq during talks with the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany).“People in Iran can survive with suspension, but they can’t survive with dismantlement.” -- Nuclear security expert Arianne Tabatabai

“We have enough on our plate with the nuclear issue,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity via a Sep. 21 email.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius supported the Iranian official’s comment to IPS during a televised conference held in New York today by the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR).

“The Iranians did not ask us to have a melange [bring ISIS into the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme]…these were different questions,” he said.

Mixed Signals

Whether or not the crisis posed by ISIS has become an issue in the nuclear negotiations, Iran appears to be exploring various avenues to combat the Sunni extremist group’s advance through parts of Syria and Iraq.

Although Iran and Saudi Arabia have traditionally maintained cold relations—the Shia and Sunni countries both seek regional dominance—the threat posed by ISIS could bring them closer together.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called a Sep. 21 hour-long meeting with his Saudi counterpart in New York a “new chapter in relations,” according to the state news agency, IRNA.

“We can reach agreement on ways for countering this very sensitive crisis,” he said.

But Iranian and U.S. officials have publicly oscillated over the extent to which Iran could work with other powers in battling ISIS.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei strongly denied a Sep. 5 BBC Persian report that he had approved military cooperation with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.

For its part, the United States excluded Iran from an U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition meeting in Paris.

Four days later, Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran had a “role” to play in “decimating and discrediting” the group at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Iraq.

All the while, Iranian officials have discussed ISIS with their U.S. counterparts on the sidelines of the nuclear talks—though both deny military coordination—and provided material and logistical support to some of the same parties battling ISIS in Iraq.

While Zarif ridiculed the U.S.-led group during a Sep. 17 CFR conference as a “coalition of repenters” for allegedly aiding and abetting ISIS’s rise, he also said Iran would continue supporting the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIS.

“We don’t hesitate in providing support to our friends, to deal with this menace,” he said.

“The U.S. is not desperate for Iran’s help” and cooperating with Tehran could “complicate the nuclear negotiations and be a political headache for the Obama administration,” Alireza Nader, a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation’s U.S. headquarters, told IPS.

“While some level of tacit U.S.-Iran understanding in Iraq cannot be entirely ruled out, the Iranian government should not over-estimate its leverage on the nuclear issue,” said Nader.

Dismantlement vs. Suspension

While both sides have said a final deal by the Nov. 24 deadline for the negotiations is possible, the talks appear stymied by certain sticking points, especially the future of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme.

Iran wants to maintain enough centrifuges and other nuclear infrastructure to be self-reliant and reach an industrial scale by 2021, but the U.S. wants Iran to scale back its current programme.

“The status quo is not doable for any of us,” said a senior U.S. official during on the condition of anonymity Sep. 18.

But Zarif argued last week that instead of achieving policy goals, U.S.-led sanctions on Iran have resulted in a “net outcome” of more Iranian centrifuges.

“If at the time of the imposition of sanctions, we had less than a couple of hundred centrifuges, now we have about 20,000,” said Zarif on Sep. 17.

While the U.S. has agreed to some enrichment in Iran, the Israeli government has been pushing for complete dismantlement, which Iran says is impossible.

Iran has invested too much in its nuclear programme to dismantle it, according to nuclear security expert Arianne Tabatabai.

“Iran will have to give up certain things to reach a deal, and already has under [last year’s interim deal the Joint Plan of Action], but when you start talking about dismantlement, people react,” she said. “It’s a bit of a red line.”

Until now, the negotiating parties have been surprisingly tight-lipped about the details of their talks, which helped stave off domestic criticism. But that trend appears to have been broken.

A “face-saving” proposal reported Sep. 19 by the New York Times would allow Iran to suspend rather than dismantle its centrifugal operations, but has been publicly opposed by U.S. and Iranian politicians not involved in the talks.

A group of 31 Republican senators warned against the U.S. “offering troubling nuclear concessions to Iran” to rapidly reach a deal in a Sep. 19 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Back in Tehran several members of the Iranian parliament rejected the proposal, according to a report Monday in the hard-line Fars News Agency.

“If such a proposal is formally presented by American officials, it indicates their childish outlook on the negotiations or stupid assumptions of the Iranian side,” said Hossein Sheikholeslam, a deputy to the speaker of parliament.

A group of conservative MPs also held a conference today in Tehran against U.S.-Iran rapproachment. The participants said a potential meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama in New York would be an “inappropriate act.”

Rouhani met with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who wished Rouhani success in his diplomatic initiatives, before the president departed for New York last night.

Rouhani will address the U.N. General Assembly on Sep. 25.

Tabatabai told IPS that while Iran may not be desperate for a deal, both sides want a final agreement and reports of creative solutions to the standoff demonstrate “the political will is there.”

“People in Iran can survive with suspension, but they can’t survive with dismantlement,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Nuclear Deal with Iran Likely to Enhance U.S. Regional Leveragehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 00:05:48 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136706 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

A successful agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme could significantly enhance U.S. leverage and influence throughout the Greater Middle East, according to a new report signed by 31 former senior U.S. foreign-policy officials and regional experts and released here Wednesday.

The 115-page report, “Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for U.S. Policy of a Nuclear Agreement,” argues that a nuclear accord would open the way towards co-operation between the two countries on key areas of mutual concern, including stabilising both Iraq and Afghanistan and even facilitating a political settlement to the bloody civil war in Syria.The study comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL).

“A comprehensive nuclear agreement would enable the United States to perceive [regional] priorities without every lens being colored by that single issue,” according to the report, the latest in a series published the last several years by the New York-based Iran Project, which has sponsored high-level informal exchanges with Iran since it was founded in 2002.

“If the leaders of the United States and Iran are prepared to take on their domestic political opponents’ opposition to the agreement now taking shape, then their governments can turn to the broader agenda of regional issues,” concluded the report, whose signatories included former U.S. National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, as well as more than a dozen former top-ranking diplomats,

Conversely, failure to reach an accord between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) could result in “Iran’s eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapons, a greatly reduced chance of defeating major threats elsewhere in the region, and even war,” the study warned.

The report comes as negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 are set to formally resume in New York Thursday, as diplomats from around the world gather for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, which will be addressed by both Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, among other world leaders, next week.

The parties have set a Nov. 24 deadline, exactly one year after they signed a Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) in Geneva that eased some economic sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its freezing or rolling back key elements of its nuclear programme.

While the two sides have reportedly agreed in principle on a number of important issues, there remain large gaps between them, particularly with respect to proposed limits on the size of Iran’s uranium-enrichment programme and their duration.

The study also comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL), a development that has been greeted by virtually all of the region’s regimes, as well as the U.S. — which is trying to patch together an international coalition against the Sunni extremist group — as a major threat.

“The rise of ISIS has reinforced Iran’s role in support of the government in Iraq and raises the possibility of U.S.-Iran cooperation in stabilizing Iraq even before a nuclear agreement is signed,” according to the report which nonetheless stressed that any agreement should impose “severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities… [to reduce] the risks that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons.”

Still, the thrust of the report, which includes individual essays by recognised experts on Iran’s relations with seven of its neighbours, focuses on how Washington’s interests in the region could be enhanced by “parallel and even joint U.S. and Iran actions” after an agreement is reached.

Such co-operation would most probably begin in dealing with ISIL in Iraq whose government is supported by both Washington and Tehran.

Indeed, as noted by Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst, both countries have recently taken a number of parallel steps in Iraq, notably by encouraging the removal of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and by taking separate military actions – U.S. airstrikes and Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisers — to help break ISIL’s months-long siege of the town of Amerli.

“There’s ample potential here for more communication on a source of very high concern to both of us,” Pillar said at the report’s release at the Wilson Center here. “[The Iranians] see the sources of instability in Iraq; they see it is not in their interest to have unending instability [there].”

A second area of mutual interest is Afghanistan, from which U.S. and NATO troops are steadily withdrawing amidst growing concerns about the ability of government’s security forces to hold the Taliban at bay.

While it is no secret that the U.S. and Iran worked closely together in forging the government and constitution that were adopted after coalition forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, noted Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert who after the 9/11 attacks served in senior positions at the State Department and later the U.N., “what’s not as well known is that the IRGC worked closely on the ground with the CIA and U.S. Special Forces” during that campaign.

With political tensions over recent election results between the two main presidential candidates and their supporters on the rise, according to Rubin, some co-operation between Iran and the U.S. is likely to be “very important” to ensure political stability.

“A nuclear agreement would open the way for a diplomatic and political process that would make it possible to retain some of the important gains we have made in Afghanistan over the past 13 years,” he said.

As for Syria, Iran, as one of President Bashar Al-Assad’s two main foreign backers, must be included in any efforts to achieve a political settlement, according to the report. Until now, it has been invited to participate only as an observer, largely due to U.S. and Saudi opposition.

“The Iranians are not wedded to …the continuation of the Baathist regime,” said Frank Wisner, who served as ambassador to Egypt and India, among other senior posts in his career. In talks with Iranian officials he said he had been struck by “the degree to which they feel themselves over-stretched,” particularly now that they are more involved in Iraq.

The report anticipates considerable resistance by key U.S. regional allies to any rapprochement with Iran that could follow a nuclear agreement, particularly from Israel, which has been outspoken in its opposition to any accord that would permit Iran to continue enriching uranium.

“It goes without saying that this is of primordial importance to Israel,” noted Thomas Pickering, who has co-chaired the Iran Project and served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and the U.N., among other top diplomatic posts.

Washington must make it clear to Israel and its supporters here that an agreement “would certainly improve prospects for tranquillity in the region” and that it would be a “serious mistake” for Israel to attack Iran, as it has threatened to do, while an agreement is in force, he said.

Washington must also take great pains to reassure Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Gulf states that a nuclear agreement will not come at their expense, according to the report.

“Such reassurance might require a period of increased U.S. military support and a defined U.S. presence (such as the maintenance of bases in the smaller Gulf States and of military and intelligence cooperation with the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) states),” the report said.

“Riyadh would be willing to explore a reduction of tensions with Tehran if the Saudis were more confident of their American ally,” the report said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Zarif and Kerry Signal Momentum on Nuclear Pacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zarif-and-kerry-signal-momentum-on-nuclear-pact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zarif-and-kerry-signal-momentum-on-nuclear-pact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zarif-and-kerry-signal-momentum-on-nuclear-pact/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 17:18:48 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135606 By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

As the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme approach the Jul. 20 deadline, both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have signaled through their carefully worded statements that they are now moving toward toward agreement on the two most crucial issues in the talks: the level of Iranian enrichment capability to be allowed and the duration of the agreement.

Their statements after two days of meetings Sunday and Monday suggest that both Kerry and Zarif now see a basis for an agreement that would freeze Iran’s enrichment capacity at somewhere around its present level of 10,000 operational centrifuges for a period of years.Once the difference between the proposed duration of the two sides has been reduced to a very few years, both sides may well conclude that the difference is not important enough to sacrifice the advantages of reaching agreement.

They also indicated that the two sides have not yet agreed on how many years the agreement would last, but that the bargaining on that question has already begun.

The tone and content of Kerry’s statements in particular contrasts sharply with remarks by a senior U.S. official shortly before Kerry’s arrival in Vienna on Jul. 12, which accused Iran of failing to move from “unworkable and inadequate positions that would not in fact assure us that their programme is exclusively peaceful.”

Zarif’s comments to New York Times correspondent David E. Sanger suggested movement toward an accord on the two key issues of the level of enrichment capacity and the duration of the agreement.

“I can try to work out an agreement where we would maintain our current levels,” Zarif was quoted as saying.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a diplomat involved in the talks had said Iran had proposed freezing the number of centrifuges at 9, 400 – roughly the same number that have actually been operating.

Iran has another 9,000 centrifuges that were installed but never hooked up or operated, suggesting that Iran intended to trade them off for concessions from the P5+1 in eventual negotiations even before Hassan Rouhani became president last year.

The Times story reported that Zarif also “signaled that he had some room to negotiate on how long the freeze would last because Iran has an agreement with Russia to provide fuel for its Bushehr nuclear plant for the next seven years.”

“We want to produce only what we need,” Zarif said. “Since our reactor doesn’t need fuel for another seven years we don’t have to kill ourselves for it. We have time.”

John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna on July 15. Credit: U.S. State Department

John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna on July 15. Credit: U.S. State Department

Zarif’s latitude for negotiating on the expiration date may be wider than has been assumed because Iran is pursuing a possible deal with Russia on cooperation in fuel fabrication, according to a document on Iran’s nuclear energy needs recently released by the government.

Such an agreement could eliminate the need to begin replacing Russian fuel immediately after the expiration of the present contract.

In his press conference Tuesday, Kerry refused to address the question of specific numbers of centrifuges discussed with Zariff. Nevertheless, he said, “We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their programme is too many.”

By referring to the 19,000 figure rather than to the 10,000 operative centrifuges, Kerry was leaving the door open to a deal that would cut half of Iran’s total centrifuge capacity.

As recently as June, Obama administration officials were leaking to the press a demand that Iran would have to accept a cut in the number of centrifuges to between 2,000 and 4,000.

The rationale for that demand was that Iran’s existing level of centrifuges would allow it the capability to achieve a “breakout” to sufficient weapons-grade uranium to build a single nuclear weapon in only two to three months, and that Washington was insisting on lengthening that “breakout timeline” to six to 12 months.

But the administration is well aware that another way to achieve that objective is to reduce Iran’s low enriched uranium stockpile to close to zero.

Zarif explained to the Times correspondent the Iranian proposal, which was part of the negotiating draft, to guarantee that no breakout capability would exist even with the current level of Iranian enrichment.

Sanger reported that Zarif had “combined his proposal of a freeze with an offer to take the nuclear fuel produced by its 9,000 or so working centrifuges and convert it to an oxide form, a way station to being made into nuclear fuel rods.”

Zarif reportedly said Iran would “guarantee, during the agreement, not to build the facility needed to convert the oxide back into a gas, the step that would have to precede any effort to enrich it to 90 percent purity, which is what is generally considered bomb-grade.”

The foreign minister claimed that his proposal would lengthen the “breakout timeline” to more than a year, according to Sanger. As described by Zarif to IPS in early June, the plan is designed to assure that no low enriched uranium would be available for weapons-grade enrichment for the duration of the agreement.

Sanger reported that American officials are “doubtful” that it would accomplish that objective but offered no explanation and did not quote any official. That suggests that Sanger was relying on what U.S. officials had said about the “breakout” issue before the Kerry-Zarif negotiations.

Kerry did not address the issue of duration of the agreement in his press conference remarks. But a U.S. official was quoted in a Jul. 12 Reuters story as declining to give a specific number but as saying that the United States wanted it to be “in the double digits”.

In earlier briefings for the news media, U.S. officials had indicated that the United States wanted the agreement to last 20 years.

Before the Kerry-Zarif meetings, the senior U.S official briefing journalists Jul. 12 had criticised Ali Khamenei’s Jul. 7 speech referring to Iran’s need for the equivalent of 190,000 first generation centrifuges. The official had said that the number would be “far beyond their current programme” and that the U.S. had said the existing capacity needed to be cut instead.

That suggested that Iran was insisting on getting approval for that increased capacity in the agreement.

In his news conference, however, Kerry clearly suggested that Khamenei’s citation of the 190,000 figure is not a deal-breaker. “[I]t reflects a long-term perception of what they currently have in their minds with respect to nuclear plants to provide power,” Kerry said. “[I]t was framed what way, I believe, in the speech,” he added.

Kerry was implying that Khamenei’s vision of industrial scale enrichment would not fall within the time frame of the agreement, presumably on the basis of his talks with Zarif.

That answer suggests that Kerry is now considering an Iranian proposal on the duration of the agreement that would put off the beginning of Iran’s buildup to industrial level enrichment to a point close to or within the “double digit” period of years demanded by the United States.

Once the difference between the proposed duration of the two sides has been reduced to a very few years, both sides may well conclude that the difference is not important enough to sacrifice the advantages of reaching agreement.

The Obama administration is still assessing whether to request an extension of the talks beyond Sunday’s deadline, but it may not take long to wrap up an agreement once the decision reach compromise on the two key issues is made.

When Sanger of the Times asked Zarif whether agreement could be reached by the Jul. 20 deadline, the foreign minister replied, “We can do that by this evening.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

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Khamenei Remarks Show Both Sides Maneuvre on Enrichmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/khamenei-remarks-show-both-sides-maneuvre-on-enrichment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=khamenei-remarks-show-both-sides-maneuvre-on-enrichment http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/khamenei-remarks-show-both-sides-maneuvre-on-enrichment/#comments Sat, 12 Jul 2014 15:44:15 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135516 Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Credit: GFDL creative commons

Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Credit: GFDL creative commons

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jul 12 2014 (IPS)

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s comments on the nuclear talks Monday provided an unusual glimpse of diplomatic maneuvering by the U.S.-led coalition of five nuclear powers and Germany on the issue of enrichment capability to be allowed in a comprehensive agreement.

But his remarks also suggested that Iran was responding with its own diplomatic maneuvre on the issue. Both sides appear to have put forward demands that they knew were non-starters with the intention of moderating their demands substantially in return for major concessions from the other side.Khamenei was suggesting that that the U.S. is now ready to accept a 10,000 SWU limit in return for Iran’s agreeing to forsake the further increases that Iran has been insisting will be necessary.

Khamenei described the United States and the P5+1 as demanding initially that Iran’s annual enrichment capability be cut to the equivalent of as few as 500 to 1,000 centrifuges – as little as 2.6 percent percent of its present level of 19,000 centrifuges.

But he also suggested they were now aiming at getting Iran to accept a capability equivalent to the annual production of 10,000 centrifuges on the condition that it would be the final level for the duration of the agreement.

“They seek to make Iran accept 10,000 SWUs, which means the products of 10,000 centrifuges of older type that we already have,” said Khamenei in a speech to an audience that included President Hassan Rouhani. The P5+1 had “started with 500 SWU and 1,000 SWU”, he said, referring to demands advanced by the P5+1 in the negotiations last month.

The Iranian leader’s assertion about the coalition’s position last month is consistent with a statement by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Jun. 14 that “the West wants to slash the number of centrifuges” that Iran would be allowed to maintain to “several hundred”.

Secretary of State John Kerry had said in April that the U.S. intention was to demand very deep cuts in Iran’s enrichment capability, arguing it was necessary to lengthen the time it would take Iran to turn its uranium enriched to 3.5 percent into enough weapons grade uranium for a single bomb to six to 12 months.

What he did not acknowledge publicly, however, is that such cuts were not necessary to achieve such a lengthening of the “breakout” timeline, because it could be also be accomplished by the reduction of Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium and measures to avoid the accumulation of a new stockpile.

Iran pledged as part of the interim agreement to begin the process of converting its UF6, the gaseous form of low enriched uranium, into oxide powder, which would not be available for further enrichment without reversing the process. It is now ready to begun operating a new facility specifically devoted to that conversion, according to Reuters.

Khamenei was suggesting that that the U.S. is now ready to accept a 10,000 SWU limit in return for Iran’s agreeing to forsake the further increases that Iran has been insisting will be necessary.

10,000 SWU would coincide with Iran’s current production capability, based on the 10,000 primitive first generation centrifuges that have been operational. Another 9,000 centrifuges have been installed but have never operated, apparently with the intention of using them as bargaining chips.

In what appears to have been a response to the diplomatic maneuvre by the P5+1, Khamenei announced a new Iranian demand for an increase after 2021 to a level that is nearly twice as high as what independent experts have estimated is necessary to support the Bushehr reactor.

Khamenei identified the level of enrichment capability that Iran’s atomic energy organisation would eventually require as “190,000 SWU”.

A group of Princeton University specialists estimated in a recent article on Iran’s enrichment needs that it would require about 100,000 SWU to produce enough low enriched uranium to provide fuel for the Bushehr reactor – the basis for Iran’s demand for an increase.

Khamenei also made a point of saying that the need was more than five years out, seeming to leave open the possibility that Iran would agree to hold off on adding the additional enrichment capacity he said was needed. “Maybe this need will not be for this year, or two years, or five years, but this is the final need of the country,” Khamenei said.

The head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, who commented on the issue to various news outlets in Iran Wednesday, also employed a formula that avoided closing the door to negotiations on the question of when Iran would have to begin building more centrifuges. He told the Young Journalists’ Club that 190,000 SWU “is our real need, the most basic need, in an eight-year outlook.”

Salehi’s reference to eight years is related to the fact that the contract with Russia to supply nuclear fuel for the Bushehr reactor expires in 2021. Iranian officials have said Iran intends to take over the fabrication of fuel for Bushehr at that time, which would require much higher levels of enrichment capability.

Khamenei’s remarks suggest that Iran has adopted its own maneuvre aimed at positioning Iran to negotiate for a much smaller increase after a period of years in which Iran would hold at roughly the present level of operational enrichment capability.

An unnamed U.S. official who briefed reporters Jul. 3 said that the capability for “industrial scale enrichment” – i.e., the capability to provide fuel for Bushehr — “isn’t anything that’s under consideration.”

But the same official also said, “What choices they make after they get to normalcy — that is after a long duration of an agreement, when they will be treated as any other non-nuclear weapons state under the NPT – will of course be their choice.”

The official’s reference to Iran’s freedom to undertake enrichment once the agreement expires raises the question whether the negotiation of the termination date for the agreement could be the vehicle for reaching a compromise on the issue.

U.S. officials have not said anything publicly about the issue of the duration of the agreement. However, Robert Einhorn, whose long paper for the Brookings Institution published Mar. 31 was widely regarded as reflecting Obama administration thinking, said the United States wanted the comprehensive agreement to last “about twenty years”.

Iranian statements appear to rule out agreeing to any duration of more than five to eight years.

Another way to bridge the large gap between the two sides in the final days of the negotiation, however, may be to agree on a provision for review and adjustment of the level of enrichment capacity allowable under the agreement that would come shortly before the expiration of the Russian contract in 2021. Einhorn suggested such a review process for different provisions of the agreement.

Reviewing the longer-term level of Iranian enrichment after several years would allow Iran to demonstrate that it has not pursued a “breakout” capability by drawing down its existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium and not allowing a new stockpile to accumulate. That is what Iran’s proposal is aimed at doing, as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told IPS in an interview last month.

Especially if the trend toward U.S. and Iran interests in relation to jihadist forces in the Middle East continues to develop during that period, a future administration might be far more willing to ease the present political restrictions on the Iranian nuclear programme in the final years of the agreement.

Whether the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will continue to hold sway over Congress would remain a crucial question governing the politics of the issue, however.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

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U.S. Demand for Deep Centrifuge Cut Is a Diplomatic Ployhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-demand-for-deep-centrifuge-cut-is-a-diplomatic-ploy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-demand-for-deep-centrifuge-cut-is-a-diplomatic-ploy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-demand-for-deep-centrifuge-cut-is-a-diplomatic-ploy/#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 01:24:23 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135302 P5+1 foreign ministers after negotiations about Iran's nuclear capabilities concluded on Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva. Credit: U.S. Dept of State/CC by 2.0

P5+1 foreign ministers after negotiations about Iran's nuclear capabilities concluded on Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva. Credit: U.S. Dept of State/CC by 2.0

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jul 1 2014 (IPS)

With only a few weeks remaining before the Jul. 20 deadline, the Barack Obama administration issued a warning to Iran that it must accept deep cuts in the number of its centrifuges in order to demonstrate that its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes.

U.S. officials have argued that such cuts are necessary to increase the “breakout” time – the time it would take Iran to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade level to build a single bomb – from what is said to be two to three months at present to as long as a year or even more.Given the past record of political interference in fuel agreements, Washington knows it faces a tough sell trying to get Iran to accept the U.S. insistence on reliance on foreign suppliers.

Tehran has made it clear that it will not accept such a demand. Dismantling the vast majority of the centrifuges that Iran had installed is a highly symbolic issue, and the political cost of acceptance would be extremely high.

But a closer examination of the issues under negotiation suggests that the ostensible pressure on Iran is part of a strategy aimed at extracting concessions from Iran on the issue of its longer-term enrichment capability.

The Obama administration has been aware from the beginning of the talks that the “breakout” period could be lengthened to nearly a year without requiring the removal of most of the 10,000 centrifuges that have been used over the past two and a half years.

U.S. officials were well aware that reducing the amount of low enriched uranium and oxide powder now stockpiled by Iran to close to zero and avoiding any future accumulation would have the same effect – and that Iran was willing to accept such restrictions.

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security and Olli Heinonen, the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deputy director general for Safeguards, warned in a Jun. 3 article against a deal that would allow Iran to have more than 4,000 centrifuges in return for reducing its stocks of UF6 and oxide powder (UO2).

But they acknowledged that, if the Iranian LEU stockpile were reduced from the present level of 8,475 kg to 1,000 kilogrammes, the breakout time for 10,000 IR-1 centrifuges would be six months. And if the stockpile were reduced to zero, the breakout time would increase to close to a year, according to one of the graphs accompanying the article.

Experts from the Department of Energy as well as from the intelligence community certainly briefed policymakers on the fact that lengthening the breakout timeline to between six and 12 months could be achieved through reducing either centrifuges or the stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU), according to Steve Fetter, who was assistant director at large for the White House Office of Science and Technology from 2009-12.

Eliminating the existing LEU stockpile and avoiding any further accumulation is the intent of an Iranian proposal formally handed over to EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Istanbul last month. Under that proposal, which Zarif revealed in an interview with IPS in Tehran Jun. 3, Iran would convert all UF6 to Uranium oxide powder (U02) and then convert the U02 to fuel plates for Bushehr.

Iran has expressed the desire to fabricate fuel plates for Bushehr itself, but has not yet mastered the technology. The proposal would therefore involve shipping either UF6 enriched to 3.5 percent or the U02 to Russia for conversion into fuel plates until the expiration of the contract with Russia for fuel fabrication for Bushehr expires in 2021.

In the interim agreement, Iran committed to begin converting UF6 enriched to 3.5 percent to oxide powder as soon as its line for such conversion became operational. The Enriched U02 Powder Plant began operating in May, but the time required to reduce the existing stockpile to zero will depend on the capacity of the plant, which has not been announced.

Zarif told IPS he had unveiled the basic idea underlying the Iranian proposal in his PowerPoint presentation to European officials in Geneva in mid-October.

When Secretary of State John Kerry declared in April that he would demand a major increase in the existing “breakout” period to somewhere between to six and 12 months, therefore, he had good reason to believe that Washington could achieve that objective without cutting Iran’s centrifuges to a few thousand.

An agreement to freeze the existing level of 10,000 operating centrifuges while reducing the LEU stockpile to zero could place the 9,000 centrifuges that have never been operated in storage under IAEA seal. Those used centrifuges include 1,000 advanced IR-2 centrifuges that are estimated to be three to five times more efficient than the IR-1 model.

Iran’s policy of introducing thousands of centrifuges into the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities that were never used was aimed at accumulating negotiating chips for eventual negotiations on its nuclear programme.

In late August 2012, a senior U.S. official told the New York Times that Iran was being “very strategic” by “creating tremendous [enrichment] capacity,” but “not using it.” In doing so, the official said, Iran was acquiring “leverage” – obviously referring to future negotiations.

During the round of negotiations in Vienna in June, however, the draft tabled by the P5+1 apparently called for cuts going well beyond what U.S. officials knew would be acceptable to Iran. U.S. officials told the New York Times that the objective was now to lengthen the “breakout period” to more than a year – thus going beyond what Kerry had suggested in April.

The draft may have included an even more extreme demand from the French government. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared in mid-June that the West wants to cut the number of centrifuges to “several hundred”.

After the June round of negotiations, Zarif denounced the draft as containing “excessive demands” which Iran would not accept.

But those demands appear to be a negotiating ploy in which the U.S. would give up the demand for deep short-term reductions centrifuges in the coming years in return for Iranian concessions on the level of enrichment capability to be allowed in the later stage of the agreement.

The November 2013 Joint Plan of Action provided that the future enrichment programme would depend on Iran’s “practical needs”. Iran interprets that term to include the need to be self-reliant in providing reactor fuel for Bushehr, whereas the Obama administration argues that Iran can and should rely on Russia or other foreign suppliers.

Given the past record of political interference in fuel agreements Iran had negotiated with French and German firms in the 1980s and with Russia in 2005, however, Washington knows it faces a tough sell trying to get Iran to accept the U.S. insistence on reliance on foreign suppliers.

The “practical need” criterion suggests that Iran would have to provide concrete evidence of its need and ability to provide the fuel rods for the Bushehr reactor when the current contract with Russia expires in 2021.

Postponing the negotiations over that issue until a date much closer to 2021 would offer a period of a few years to negotiate an agreement on a regional fuel consortium for the Middle East that would be acceptable to both sides, as has been proposed by a group of Princeton University scientists and scholars.

Perhaps even more important, such a postponement would allow for increasing trust through the successful implementation of the agreement covering the next few years.

Explaining the Princeton group’s plan at a briefing in Washington, D.C. last week, nuclear scientist Frank N. von Hippel, who was assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology in the Bill Clinton administration, said, “We would have five years to cool down this impasse.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

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U.S. “Political” Breakout Demand Could Derail Nuclear Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/u-s-political-breakout-demand-derail-nuclear-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-political-breakout-demand-derail-nuclear-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/u-s-political-breakout-demand-derail-nuclear-talks/#comments Thu, 15 May 2014 17:12:50 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134329 By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, May 15 2014 (IPS)

As diplomats began drafting a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme and Western sanctions in Vienna Tuesday, U.S. officials were poised to demand a drastic cut in Iran’s enrichment capabilities that is widely expected to deadlock the negotiations.

Iran is almost certain to reject the basic concept that it should reduce the number of its centrifuges to a fraction of its present total, and the resulting collapse of the talks could lead to a much higher level of tensions between the United States and Iran.The Obama administration’s highly risky diplomatic gambit rests on the concept of “breakout time”, defined as the number of months it would take Iran to accumulate enough weapons grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

The Barack Obama administration’s highly risky diplomatic gambit rests on the concept of “breakout time”, defined as the number of months it would take Iran to accumulate enough weapons grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

Both Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. proliferation official Robert Einhorn have explained the demand that Iran give up the vast majority of its centrifuges as necessary to increase Iran’s “breakout time” to at least six months, and perhaps even much longer.

Einhorn, the State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control until June 2013, wrote in a report for the Brookings Institution that the number and type of centrifuges “will be limited to ensure that breakout times are…a minimum of 6 to 12 months at all times.”

In a separate article in The National Interest, Einhorn wrote that such a “breakout time” would entail a reduction from Iran’s present total of 19,000 centrifuges to “a few thousand first-generation centrifuges”.

Kerry suggested in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Apr. 8 that the administration would try to get a breakout time of more than one year but might settle for six to 12 months. He compared that with the two months he said was the current estimate of Iran’s breakout capabilities.

“Breakout” has been touted by hardline think tanks as a non-political technical measure of the threat to obtain the high-enriched uranium necessary for a bomb, but it is actually arbitrary and highly political.

Even proliferation specialists who support the demand to limit Iranian enrichment capabilities severely, however, including both Einhorn and Gary Samore, Obama’s former special assistant on weapons of mass destruction, believe that “breakout” is more about the politics surrounding the issue than the reality of the Iranian nuclear programme.

In an interview with IPS, Samore said the breakout concept can only measure the capability to obtain the necessary amount of high-enriched uranium from acknowledged facilities – those that are under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It does not deal with a scenario involving secret facilities, he said, because it is only possible to estimate rates of enrichment in facilities with known quantities and types of centrifuges.

The use of the breakout concept is based on the premise that Iran would make a political decision to begin enriching uranium to weapons grade levels in its Natanz and Fordow plants as rapidly as possible. That would mean that Iran would have to expel the IAEA inspectors and announce to the world, in effect, its intention to obtain a nuclear weapon.

Samore, who left the Obama administration in January 2013 and is now the executive director for research at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Security, told IPS, “It’s extremely unlikely that Iran would actually take the risk for single bomb,” calling it “an implausible scenario.”

Samore is no dove on Iran’s nuclear issue. He is also president of United Against Nuclear Iran, an organisation that puts out hardline propaganda aimed at convincing the world that Iran is a threat trying to get nuclear weapons.

Another problem with the spectre of “breakout” is that, even if it took the risk of enriching the necessary weapons-grade uranium, Iran would still have to go through a series of steps to actually have a bomb that it could threaten to use.

A report released last week by the International Crisis Group (ICG) noted that calculations of breakout capability “are rough and purely theoretical estimates” and that they “omit inevitable technical hitches” and “an unpredictable and time-consuming weaponisation process.”

According to the testimony by director of the Defence Intelligence Agency. Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2010, that process, including integrating the weapon into a ballistic missile, would take three or four years.

The ICG report quoted a senior Iranian official as saying, “Serious people know that, even if Iran sought nuclear weapons, it will take years to manufacture one. What’s more, no state has ever invited opprobrium or a military strike just to produce a few kilograms of highly enriched uranium.”

In an interview, Jim Walsh of MIT’s Security Studies Programme was scathing about the “breakout” scenario the administration is using to justify its diplomatic stance. “The idea of Iran kicking out inspectors to rush to get one bomb is silly,” he told IPS.

Samore believed that Iran would be far more likely to try what he calls a “sneakout” – the use of secret facilities to enrich uranium to weapons grade — than a “breakout”.

But as is generally acknowledged by proliferation specialists, such a covert route to a nuclear weapons capability would take much longer than trying to do so openly. Furthermore, it is almost certain to be detected, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified in April 2013.

Despite his conviction that the breakout concept makes no sense as the basis for negotiations with Iran, Samore believes it will be “the test for any deal”, because it is the only way to measure it. “It’s a political fact of life,” Samore said. “It all gets boiled down to breakout time.”

The dominance that the breakout advocates have achieved in the lopsided Iran political discourse has given opponents of an agreement a new form of pressure on the Obama administration to make unrealistic demands in the negotiations.

Einhorn admitted at a panel at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington D.C. Tuesday that the decision on the length of breakout time and the level of centrifuges to be demanded “will come down to a political judgment”.

He clearly suggested, however, that the decision is primarily a response to political pressures from various unnamed parties and not a matter of finding a political compromise with Iran.

“Some say six months or less,” he said. “Others say you need a year. Some say a year and a half or two years.”

The former senior State Department official on proliferation issues insisted, moreover, that there was no possibility of accepting Iran’s explicit demand to be permitted to increase its enrichment capacity to as many as 30,000 centrifuges in order to support a nuclear power programme.

“That amount would bring breakout time down to weeks or days,” he said. “That’s breakout.”

He did not discuss the possibility of agreement on gradually phasing in additional centrifuges as the practical need for them is demonstrated by progress on a new nuclear reactor.

The tough talk by Einhorn, who has clearly been given the green light to describe administration thinking publicly, makes it much less likely that the administration will back away from a breakout demand in the face of firm Iranian resistance.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

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Tough Road in Vienna to Iran Nuclear Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/tough-road-in-vienna-to-iran-nuclear-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tough-road-in-vienna-to-iran-nuclear-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/tough-road-in-vienna-to-iran-nuclear-deal/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 22:27:30 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134258 The Iranian team under President Hassan Rouhani, which is headed by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (right), has also heard domestic criticism of their negotiating strategy ratcheted up in recent weeks. Credit: cc by 2.0

The Iranian team under President Hassan Rouhani, which is headed by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (right), has also heard domestic criticism of their negotiating strategy ratcheted up in recent weeks. Credit: cc by 2.0

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, May 12 2014 (IPS)

Iran and world powers will resume negotiating a final deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme Tuesday in Vienna while experts warn the hardest work is about to begin.

Representatives from Iran and the U.S. indicated last month that the drafting of a final deal would begin during this round of talks scheduled for five days – the longest session since the extended talks that led to the interim “Joint Plan of Action” (JPOA) reached Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva.“The U.S. and its partners in the P5+1 need to understand that Iran, too, needs to come out of these negotiations with its principles intact and something positive to show for the concessions it is being asked to make." -- Shaul Bakhash

“So far Iran has adhered to its undertaking, and it does seem that both sides are determined to see the negotiations through to success,” Shaul Bakhash, a leading scholar on Iran, told IPS.

“However, very tough negotiations lie ahead; and the fact remains that Iran will have to limit its nuclear programme in substantial and painful ways to satisfy the P5+1 [the U.S., U.K, France, China and Russia plus Germany] and to get sanctions lifted,” said the George Mason University professor.

While media reports have emphasised the Jul. 20 deadline for reaching a final deal under the terms of the JPOA, the agreement also allows for the negotiations to be extended by “mutual consent.”

“This is not a development that is landing in the laps of the negotiators,” said Mark Hibbs, a nuclear policy expert at the Washington DC-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“These negotiations began in a confidence-building mode by addressing low-hanging fruit and [the negotiators] did that because they know their biggest challenge is a lack of confidence and lack of trust,” he said.

“That means that as time moves along and the negotiations make more progress, the issues they address will become incrementally more difficult, and they’ve been prepared for that,” said Hibbs.

Since the JPOA went into effect on Jan.20, Iran has been scaling back and limiting parts of its nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief. 

An Apr. 17 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran was complying with the JPOA, but Iran has complained that the lingering effects of the sanctions regime have prevented it from accessing the funds allotted to it under the accord.

Increasing domestic pressure

Attempts by members of the U.S. Congress to impose conditions that some experts likened to “sabotage” and “illusions” for a final deal following the Nov. 24 accord ultimately failed to produce binding legislation.

Those conditions included demands that Iran cease all uranium enrichment and dismantle its entire nuclear programme, two things Iran is allowed to have for purely peaceful purposes according to readings of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which Iran is a signatory.

But a successful attempt by the House to attach a “sense of congress” amendment onto the U.S. Annual Defence Bill on May 8 suggests that calls for more conditions for a final deal from Congress could increase as the talks intensify.

“You’ve seen Obama administration officials working very hard behind the scenes to disabuse Congress of any plans to impose additional sanctions that would get in the way of moving forward with Iran,” Hibbs told IPS.

“The real question is whether hardliners in the U.S. who are absolutely determined to prevent President Obama from having a success in this area would throw the baby out with the bathwater and jeopardise a substantial negotiated compromise because they oppose the president for political reasons,” he said.

“So there is pressure, but it’s pressure from the outside, not the inside,” added Hibbs, referring to determination on the part of Iran and the P5+1 to reach a final deal.

The Iranian team under President Hassan Rouhani, which is headed by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, has also heard domestic criticism of their negotiating strategy ratcheted up in recent weeks.

“There has been criticism of the negotiating team from some members of parliament, commanders of the Revolutionary Guard, prominent members of the clergy and some right-wing newspapers,” noted Bakhash.

“These hard-liners suggest the negotiating team is giving too much away, and is not being tough enough,” he said.

On May 3, several hard-line Iranian politicians, clerics and commentators gathered at the former U.S. embassy in Tehran for a conference focusing on the talks entitled, “We’re concerned”.

The keynote speakers issued a joint statement arguing that a final deal should guarantee Iran’s rights as a NPT member to a peaceful nuclear programme, sanctions should be lifted according to a clear-cut timeline, and a final deal should be shown to the Iranian public and ratified by the Parliament before it’s finalised.

“The hardliners also seek to undermine Rouhani because they oppose much of his broader policy agenda: integration with the international community abroad; political liberalisation at home; greater freedom for the press; a decrease in the role of the state and an increase in the role of the private sector in the economy; and some curbs on the role of the security agencies and the Revolutionary Guards,” said Bakhash.

“However, it is also noteworthy that these criticisms have been kept relatively muted; or, at least, they have not been allowed to derail the negotiations. This is probably due to guarded support the Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has given Iran’s negotiating team,” he added.

“Despite his own publicly expressed reservations and misgivings, he has allowed the negotiations to continue and to make progress,” he said.

“This suggests that he too wants a deal although his final terms may turn out to be unrealistic,” said Bakhash.

The make or break issues

According to Hibbs, the key issues that must be resolved for a final deal include:

  • how many centrifuges, which Iran uses to enrich uranium, can be operational;
  • the extent to which Iran will be able to do advanced research and development in sensitive technologies including centrifuges and lasers;
  • whether or not the powers and the IAEA can be satisfied that Iran’s programme is completely peaceful;
  • the terms of sanctions relief to Iran;
  • how long Iran must comply with the final agreement.

Hibbs said the length of an final agreement could be a major issue: “Some people in Iran have suggested a couple of years and those close to the administration have said 20 years.”

Another major sticking issue will be sanctions relief.

“The U.S and its partners in the P5+1 need to understand that Iran, too, needs to come out of these negotiations with its principles intact and something positive to show for the concessions it is being asked to make,” said Bakhash.

“Otherwise, the hardliners in Iran will jump on Rouhani and his negotiators for selling out Iran’s interests and gravely undermine the president,” he said.

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OP-ED: Toward a Final-Phase Deal with Iranhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-toward-final-phase-deal-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-toward-final-phase-deal-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-toward-final-phase-deal-iran/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 11:32:01 +0000 Daryl G. Kimball http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132384 By Daryl G. Kimball
WASHINGTON, Mar 4 2014 (IPS)

Last month, negotiators from the United States, its P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom), and Iran agreed to a framework for talks on a “comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful.”

The road ahead will be difficult. Many differences must be bridged, and hard-liners in Washington, Tehran, and Jerusalem will throw up obstacles along the way. An effective, multiyear deal can only be achieved if each side is ready to compromise and pursue realistic solutions that meet the other sides’ core requirements.A deal that would require Iran to dismantle major facilities would be politically unsustainable in Iran.

A successful agreement will verifiably roll back Iran’s overall enrichment capacity, block the plutonium path to the bomb, put in place even tougher international inspections, resolve outstanding questions about the purpose of Iran’s programme, and lead to the removal of nuclear-related sanctions. But first, negotiators must resolve several tough issues in the next few months.

Uranium enrichment. The two sides have agreed to negotiate “practical” limits on the scope of Iran’s enrichment activities in order to reduce Tehran’s ability to build nuclear weapons.

Today, Iran has a very limited need for enriched uranium fuel for energy production. Iran has one research reactor, for which it has an ample supply of fuel, and a power reactor that uses fuel to be supplied by Russia for the next 10 years or more.

Tehran says it has plans for up to 16 more reactors, which would require a sizable enrichment capacity, but these plans are many years away from reality.

Consequently, the P5+1 can and should seek a significant reduction in Iran’s current enrichment capacity – from 10,000 operating, first-generation centrifuges at two sites to approximately half that number or less for a period of at least 10 years.

Even with 4,000 or fewer first-generation centrifuges at one site, Iran would have more than sufficient capacity for its foreseeable needs. Along with a cap on the enrichment of uranium to no more than five percent, a reduction in the number of centrifuges would increase the time necessary to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb to six months or more.

Enhanced inspection rights would ensure that any such activity would be readily detected within days.

If Iran tried to build a nuclear arsenal, it would take considerably more than a year to amass enough material for additional weapons, assemble a nuclear device, and develop an effective means of delivery.

So far, Iran has insisted that it wants to be able to develop new, more efficient centrifuges. Consequently, the two sides will likely set limits on the overall capacity of Iran’s enrichment programme rather than the total number of centrifuges.

The P5+1 wants Iran to close its underground enrichment facility at Fordow, which is less vulnerable to air attacks, while Iran opposes dismantling its facilities. The two sides might compromise by agreeing that Iran will effectively halt any significant enrichment at Fordow and convert it to a “research-only” facility.

The Arak reactor. The P5+1 has argued that Iran should abandon its unfinished 40-megawatt heavy-water reactor near Arak, which is well suited for the production of plutonium. One compromise would be to convert Arak into a more proliferation-resistant light-water reactor or, as Iranian officials have suggested, make design and operational changes to reduce its plutonium potential.

These changes could include reducing the power level at least to five megawatts and using uranium fuel enriched to 3.5 percent. Iran is not known to have a reprocessing plant, which would be needed to extract plutonium from spent fuel, but Iran could be required to send Arak’s spent fuel to a third country to further reduce the proliferation risk.

Tougher international inspections. If Iran were to pursue nuclear weapons development, it most likely would try to do so in secret at undisclosed facilities. Consequently, Iran must allow international inspectors access to all sites, including undeclared sites, under the terms of the additional protocol to its existing safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Once approved by the Iranian parliament, the protocol would be permanent. Further monitoring measures of Iran’s nuclear industry could help detect and deter any secret weapons programme.

Concerns about potential weapons experiments. Iran also will need to accelerate its cooperation with the IAEA to allow the agency to determine with confidence that Tehran is no longer engaged in research with potentially military dimensions. Given that the investigation will continue for some time, the agreement between Iran and the P5+1 should specify that Iran shall not conduct any experiments with nuclear weapons applications.

These step-for-step actions will require a new U.N. Security Council resolution to replace earlier resolutions on Iran’s nuclear programme; positive, prompt follow-up actions by the EU states; and approval by Congress of revised legislation that unwinds nuclear-related sanctions.

It is important that Congress, which has an important role in implementing any final phase deal, supports the P5+1 effort on the basis of a clear understanding and realistic expectation for what the negotiations can deliver.

Unfortunately, some members of Congress say they hope “negotiations succeed in preventing Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapons capability.” Others say they are “hopeful a permanent diplomatic agreement will require the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear weapons-related infrastructure ….”

According to the U.S. intelligence community Iran has had, at least since 2007, the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it were to choose to do so. That capacity can be reduced but not entirely eliminated, even Iran were required to dismantle its uranium enrichment machines and facilities — and a deal that would require Iran to dismantle major facilities would be politically unsustainable in Iran.

Negotiating a realistic final phase agreement with Iran will be difficult, but a sustainable arrangement is achievable. It is the best and perhaps only alternative to an unconstrained Iranian nuclear programme, the risk of war over the issue, and potentially a nuclear-armed Iran.

Daryl Kimball is executive director of the independent, non-partisan Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C. He has been engaged in research and policy work on nuclear nonproliferation and arms control matters since 1989. This essay is based on an earlier version published in Arms Control Today.

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U.S. Adopts Israeli Demand to Bring Iran’s Missiles into Nuclear Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/u-s-adopts-israeli-demand-bring-irans-missiles-nuclear-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-adopts-israeli-demand-bring-irans-missiles-nuclear-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/u-s-adopts-israeli-demand-bring-irans-missiles-nuclear-talks/#comments Sat, 22 Feb 2014 00:56:38 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131921 By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Feb 22 2014 (IPS)

The Barack Obama administration’s insistence that Iran discuss its ballistic missile programme in the negotiations for a comprehensive nuclear agreement brings its position into line with that of Israel and senators who introduced legislation drafted by the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC aimed at torpedoing the negotiations.

But the history of the issue suggests that the Obama administration knows that Iran will not accept the demand and that it is not necessary to a final agreement guaranteeing that Iran’s nuclear programme is not used for a weapon.The demand for negotiations on Iran’s missile programme originated with Israel, both directly and through Senate Foreign Relations Committee members committed to AIPAC’s agenda.

White House spokesman Jay Carney highlighted the new U.S. demand in a statement Wednesday that the Iranians “have to deal with matters related to their ballistic missile program.”

Carney cited United Nations Security Council resolution 1929, approved in 2010, which prohibited any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including missile launches. “So that’s completely agreed by Iran in the Joint Plan of Action,” he added.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif not only explicitly contradicted Carney’s claim that Iran had agreed to discuss ballistic missiles but warned that a U.S. demand for discussion of its missile programme would violate a red line for Iran.

“Nothing except Iran’s nuclear activities will be discussed in the talks with the [six powers known as the P5+1], and we have agreed on it,” he said, according to Iran’s IRNA.

The pushback by Zarif implies that the U.S. position would seriously risk the breakdown of the negotiations if the Obama administration were to persist in making the demand.

Contrary to Carney’s statement, the topic of ballistic missiles is not part of the interim accord reached last November. The Joint Plan of Action refers only to “addressing the UN Security Council resolutions, with a view toward bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the UN Security Council’s consideration of this matter” and the formation of a “Joint Commission” which would “work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present issues of concern”.

It is not even clear that the U.S. side took the position in the talks last fall that Iran’s missile programme had to be on the table in order to complete a final agreement. But in any event it was not part of the Joint Plan of Action agreed on Nov. 24.

Past U.S. statements on the problem of the Security Council resolutions indicate that the administration had previously acknowledged that no agreement had been reached to negotiate on ballistic missiles and that it had not originally intended to press for discussions on the issue.

The “senior administration officials” who briefed journalists on the Joint Plan of Action last November made no reference to ballistic missiles at all. They referred only to “possible military dimensions” of the Iranian nuclear programme and to “Iranian activities at Parchin”.

The demand for negotiations on Iran’s missile programme originated with Israel, both directly and through Senate Foreign Relations Committee members committed to AIPAC’s agenda.

Citing an unnamed senior Israeli official, Ha’aretz reported Thursday that Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz had met with Sherman and senior French and British foreign ministry officials before the start of the February talks and had emphasised that Iran’s missile programme “must be part of the agenda” for negotiation of a final agreement.

By early December, however, Israel was engaged in an even more direct effort to pressure the administration to make that demand, drafting a bill that explicitly included among its provisions one that would have required new sanctions unless the president certified that “Iran has not conducted any tests for ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 500 kilometers.”

Since Iran had obviously tested missiles beyond that limit long ago, it would have made it impossible for Obama to make such a certification.

Although the bill was stopped, at least temporarily, in the Senate when enough Democratic members refused to support it, Republicans continued to attack the administration’s negotiating position, and began singling out the administration’s tolerance of Iranian missiles in particular.

At a Feb. 4 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, the ranking Republican on the Committee, Sen. Robert Corker, ranking Republican on the Committee, ripped into Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, the chief U.S. negotiator in the nuclear talks with Iran.

After a highly distorted picture of Iran’s readiness to build a nuclear weapon, Corker asked, “Why did you all not in this agreement in any way address the delivery mechanisms, the militarizing of nuclear arms? Why was that left off since they breached a threshold everyone acknowledges?”

But instead of correcting Corker’s highly distorted characterisation of the situation, Sherman immediately reassured him that the administration would do just what he wanted them to do.

Sherman admitted that the November agreement covering the next months had not “shut down all the production of any ballistic missile that could have anything to do with delivery of a nuclear weapon.” Then she added, “But that is indeed something that has to be addressed as part of a comprehensive agreement.”

Sherman also suggested at one point that there would be no real need to prohibit any Iranian missile if the negotiations on the nuclear programme were successful. “Not having a nuclear weapon,” she said, “makes delivery systems almost — not wholly, but almost — irrelevant.”

That admission underlined the wholly political purpose of the administration’s apparent embrace of the Israeli demand that Iran negotiate limits on its ballistic missiles.

The Obama administration may be seeking to take political credit for a hard line on Iranian missiles in the knowledge that it will not be able to get a consensus for that negotiating position among the group of six powers negotiating with Iran.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov clearly implied that Moscow would not support such a demand in a statement Thursday that Russia “considers that a comprehensive agreement must concern only and exclusively the restoration of trust in a purely peaceful intention of Iran’s nuclear program.”

Although U.S., European and Israeli officials have asserted consistently over the years that Iran’s medium-range ballistic missiles are designed to carry nuclear weapons, Israel’s foremost expert on the Iranian nuclear programme, Uzi Rubin, who managed Israel’s missile defence programme throughout the 1990s, has argued that the conventional analysis was wrong.

In an interview with the hardline anti-Iran Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control in September 2009, Rubin said, “The Iranians believe in conventional missiles. Not just for saturation but also to take out specific targets…. Remember, they have practically no air force to do it. Their main striking power is based on missiles.”

Since 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency has accused Iran of working on integrating a nuclear weapon into the Shahab-3 missile reentry vehicle in 2002-2003, based on a set of drawings in a set of purported Iranian documents. The documents were said by the George W. Bush administration to have come from the purloined laptop of a participant in an alleged Iranian nuclear weapons research programme.

But that account turned to be a falsehood, as were other variants on the origins of the document. The documents actually came from the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, the anti-regime organisation then listed as a terrorist organisation by the U.S. State Department, according to two German sources.

Karsten Voigt, who was the German foreign office coordinator, publicly warned about the MEK provenance of the papers in a November 2004 interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Voigt, who retired from the foreign office in 2010, recounted the story of how an MEK member delivered the papers to German intelligence in 2004 in an interview last year for a newly-published book by this writer.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

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Rouhani Reaches Out at Davoshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/rouhani-reaches-davos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rouhani-reaches-davos http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/rouhani-reaches-davos/#comments Thu, 30 Jan 2014 19:27:59 +0000 Djavad Salehi-Isfahani http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130990 By Djavad Salehi-Isfahani
WASHINGTON, Jan 30 2014 (IPS)

Last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Hassan Rouhani tried to persuade world business leaders to invest in Iran, especially in its hydrocarbon and automobile sectors. 

Hassan Rouhani. Credit: Mojtaba Salimi/CC-BY-SA-3.0

Hassan Rouhani. Credit: Mojtaba Salimi/CC-BY-SA-3.0

His appeal is not likely to set off a gold rush; investors will wait to see if the nuclear agreement with the P5+1 is successfully concluded sometime this summer.

But broadening his call for engagement with the rest of the world beyond the nuclear deal indicates that his initiative is more than a charm offensive; it represents deeper social and economic change in Iran.

The implicit assumption behind the “charm offensive” discourse is that the Iranian leadership is only engaging in talks because it needs to gain some respite from sanctions to buy time to reach nuclear weapon capability.

But luring foreign investors into Iran does not fit well with that strategy because any gains would only become apparent after the nuclear deal is concluded and would be reversed as soon as the deal falls apart and sanctions are once again implemented.

From Rouhani’s perspective, an open invitation to foreign investors risks expanding the ranks of his domestic foes beyond the growing opposition to the nuclear deal. Why add Islamists and leftists opposed to the penetration of Western culture and capital unless he really believes he can turn Iran into a hospitable place for outside investment?

Mark Landler of the New York Times played down Rouhani’s appeal by noting its “eerie echo” to a similar pitch by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami in 2004, which was followed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ascendance a year later and a decade of hostility.

Suggesting that Rouhani’s Davos promises might end similarly ignores several important differences between the two presidents and between the Iran of 2014 and that of 2004. Ignoring the obvious — in 2004 Khatami was on his way out while Rouhani is just starting his first term — there are at least two other distinctions.

Philosophically, Khatami and Rouhani share a moderate view of coexistence with the West, but when it comes to economic integration, they read from very different scripts.

Iran’s economy in 2014 bears little resemblance to that of a decade earlier. In 2004, thanks to a massive oil boom, Iran was bursting with economic optimism and feeling prosperous without foreign investment. Since the 1970s, except during the reconstruction period after the war with Iraq, Iran has not sought or depended on foreign investment for its economic growth. 

Higher oil prices nearly tripled the oil revenues in Khatami’s last budget in 2004 compared to his first in 1998. Unemployment had been declining steadily, from 14.3 percent in 2000 to 10.3 percent in 2004, and inflation seemed low by today’s standards — averaging 14 percent per year instead of 35 percent in the last two years.

Today, after several years of harsh sanctions, Iran’s economy is in deep trouble and the government is broke. While inflation is coming down, unemployment is still above 14 percent (above 25 percent for youth). The 4.2 billion dollars that the U.S. is releasing as part of the interim Geneva agreement adds only five percent to this year’s budget. It will not go very far in bringing public investment even close to its historical record of more than 15 percent of the GDP.

Public investment for the Iranian year starting this March is only 15 billion dollars, which is four percent of the GDP. It is not even enough to pay for the repair of — much less build new — public infrastructure or assist the private sector. The government actually owes private contractors about 20 billion dollars for work they have already performed on various public projects.

The private sector is also in a serious bind. In addition to unpaid government bills, the depressed economy has cut demand for its products, leaving many employers short of cash to even pay their workers. The auto industry, which was a focus of Rouhani’s appeal at Davos, is producing at less than half its capacity. The interim agreement restores the auto industry’s access to critical imports, but additional capital is what they need to create new jobs.

While financial necessity may be Rouhani’s reason for inviting foreign businesses to Iran, he also has reasons to be optimistic about the outcome of their engagement. First, he knows that more than three decades of revolutionary rhetoric and eight years of failed populist economic policies under President Ahmadinejad have tired out the general population and caused a major shift in the attitudes of Iran’s intellectual and technocratic classes.

There is now a wider consensus in favour of private enterprise and engagement with the global economy than during the time of the Shah. This is why Rouhani has the most pro-business economic team in Iran’s history.

Second, in the last 10 years, Iran’s workforce has become younger, better educated, and less expensive — all attractive features for foreign capital. The loss of value in Iran’s currency last year has brought labour costs in Iran below that of China. Were it not for their lower productivity, Iranian industrial workers would be able to outcompete East Asian workers. Foreign investment along with its superior technology and management is what Iran needs to raise its workers’ productivity.

The fate of global engagement for the Islamic Republic is not solely determined by these economic calculations. Many in the highest position of political power in Iran view rapprochement with the United States, which Rouhani considers a condition for meaningful global engagement, with deep suspicion.

They fear that hostility toward the Islamic Republic runs deeper than the nuclear issue. They point to new sanctions legislation before the U.S. Senate that requires Iran to make concessions unrelated to the nuclear dispute. A New York Times editorial did much to justify their fears by recommending that “Iran’s full reintegration into the international system” should depend on its “ending the hostility toward Israel.”

For Rouhani, after Davos, the path to global engagement remains uphill.

*Djavad Salehi-Isfahani conducts research on the economics of the Middle East and is currently a professor of economics at Virginia Tech. He is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and is also serving as the Dubai Initiative fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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U.S. “Dismantling” Rhetoric Ignores Iran’s Nuclear Proposalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/u-s-dismantling-rhetoric-ignores-irans-nuclear-proposals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-dismantling-rhetoric-ignores-irans-nuclear-proposals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/u-s-dismantling-rhetoric-ignores-irans-nuclear-proposals/#comments Sat, 25 Jan 2014 21:56:55 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130775 John Kerry's rhetoric of “dismantlement” serves to neutralise the Israel loyalists and secondarily to maximise U.S. leverage in the approaching negotiations.  Credit: US Mission/Eric Bridiers

John Kerry's rhetoric of “dismantlement” serves to neutralise the Israel loyalists and secondarily to maximise U.S. leverage in the approaching negotiations. Credit: US Mission/Eric Bridiers

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jan 25 2014 (IPS)

Iran’s pushback against statements by Secretary of State John Kerry and the White House that Tehran must “dismantle” some of its nuclear programme, and the resulting political uproar over it, indicates that tough U.S. rhetoric may be adding new obstacles to the search for a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto Wednesday, “We are not dismantling any centrifuges, we’re not dismantling any equipment, we’re simply not producing, not enriching over five percent.”

When CNN’s Fareed Zakaria asked President Hassan Rouhani, “So there would be no destruction of centrifuges?” Rouhani responded, “Not under any circumstances. Not under any circumstances.”

Those statements have been interpreted by U.S. news media, unaware of the basic technical issues in the negotiations, as indicating that Iran is refusing to negotiate seriously. In fact, Zarif has put on the table proposals for resolving the remaining enrichment issues that the Barack Obama administration has recognised as serious and realistic.

The Obama administration evidently views the rhetorical demand for “dismantling” as a minimum necessary response to Israel’s position that the Iranian nuclear programme should be shut down. But such rhetoric represents a serious provocation to a Tehran government facing accusations of surrender by its own domestic critics.

Zarif complained that the White House had been portraying the agreement “as basically a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear programme. That is the word they use time and again.” Zarif observed that the actual agreement said nothing about “dismantling” any equipment.

The White House issued a “Fact Sheet” Nov. 23 with the title, “First Step Understandings Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program” that asserted that Iran had agreed to “dismantle the technical connections required to enrich above 5%.”

That wording was not merely a slight overstatement of the text of the “Joint Plan of Action”. At the Fordow facility, which had been used exclusively for enrichment above five percent, Iran had operated four centrifuge cascades to enrich at above five percent alongside 12 cascades that had never been operational because they had never been connected after being installed, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had reported.

The text of the agreement was quite precise about what Iran would do: “At Fordow, no further enrichment over 5% at 4 cascades now enriching uranium, and not increase enrichment capacity. Not feed UF6 into the other 12 cascades, which would remain in a non-operative state. No interconnections between cascades.”

So Iran was not required by the interim agreement to “dismantle” anything. What Zarif and Rouhani were even more upset about, however, is the fact that Kerry and Obama administration spokespersons have repeated that Iran will be required to “dismantle” parts of its nuclear programme in the comprehensive agreement to be negotiated beginning next month.

The use of the word “dismantle” in those statements appears to be largely rhetorical and aimed at fending off attacks by pro-Israel political figures characterising the administration’s negotiating posture as soft. But the consequence is almost certain to be a narrowing of diplomatic flexibility in the coming negotiations.

Kerry appears to have concluded that the administration had to use the “dismantle” language after a Nov. 24 encounter with George Stephanopoulos of NBC News.

Stephanopoulos pushed Kerry hard on the Congressional Israeli loyalist criticisms of the interim agreement. “Lindsey Graham says unless the deal requires dismantling centrifuges, we haven’t gained anything,” he said.

When Kerry boasted, “centrifuges will not be able to be installed in places that could otherwise be installed,” Stephanopoulos interjected, “But not dismantled.” Kerry responded, “That’s the next step.”

A moment later, Kerry declared, “And while we go through these next six months, we will be negotiating the dismantling, we will be negotiating the limitations.”

After that, Kerry made “dismantle” the objective in his prepared statement. In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Dec. 11, Kerry said the U.S. had been imposing sanctions on Iran “because we knew that [the sanctions] would hopefully help Iran dismantle its nuclear programme.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed Zarif’s comment as “spin” on Iran’s commitments under the Joint Plan of Action “for their domestic political purposes”.

He refused to say whether that agreement involved any “dismantling” by Iran, but confirmed that, “as part of that comprehensive agreement, should it be reached, Iran will be required to agree to strict limits and constraints on all aspects of its nuclear programme to include the dismantlement of significant portions of its nuclear infrastructure in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in the future.”

But the State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, was much less categorical in a press briefing Jan. 13: “We’ve said that in a comprehensive agreement, there will likely have to be some dismantling of some things.”

That remark suggests that the Kerry and Carney rhetoric of “dismantlement” serves to neutralise the Israel loyalists and secondarily to maximise U.S. leverage in the approaching negotiations.

Kerry and other U.S. officials involved in the negotiations know that Iran does not need to destroy any centrifuges in order to resolve the problem of “breakout” to weapons grade enrichment once the stockpile of 20- percent enriched uranium disappears under the terms of the interim agreement.

Zarif had proposed in his initial power point presentation in October a scheme under which Iran would convert its entire stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium into an oxide form that could only be used for fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor.

U.S. officials who had previously been insistent that Iran would have to ship the stockpile out of the country were apparently convinced that there was another way to render it “unusable” for the higher-level enrichment necessary for nuclear weapons. That Iranian proposal became the central element in the interim agreement.

But there was another part of Zarif’s power point that is relevant to the remaining problem of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium: Iran’s planned conversion of that stockpile into the same oxide form for fuel rods for nuclear power plants as was used to solve the 20-percent stockpile problem.

And that plan was accepted by the United States as a way of dealing with additional low-enriched uranium that would be produced during the six-month period.

An element included in the Joint Plan of Action which has been ignored thus far states: “Beginning when the line for conversion of UF6 enriched up to 5% to UO2 is ready, Iran has decided to convert to oxide UF6 newly enriched up to 5% during the 6 month period, as provided in the operational schedule of the conversion plant declared to the IAEA.”

The same mechanism – the conversion of all enriched uranium to oxide on an agreed time frame — could also be used to ensure that the entire stockpile of low-enriched uranium could no longer be used for “breakout” to weapons-grade enrichment without the need to destroy a single centrifuge. In fact, it would allow Iran to enrich uranium at a low level for a nuclear power programme.

The Obama administration’s rhetoric of “dismantlement”, however, has created a new political reality: the U.S. news media has accepted the idea that Iran must “dismantle” at least some of its nuclear programme to prove that it is not seeking nuclear weapons.

CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo was shocked by the effrontery of Zarif and Rouhani. “That’s supposed to be the whole underpinning of moving forward from the United States perspective,” Cuomo declared, “is that they scale back, they dismantle, all this stuff we’ve been hearing.”

Yet another CNN anchor, Wolf Blitzer, who was an official of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee before becoming a network journalist, called Zarif’s statements “stunning and truly provocative,” adding that they would “give ammunition” to those in Congress pushing for a new sanctions bill that is clearly aimed at sabotaging the negotiations.

The Obama administration may be planning to exercise more diplomatic flexibility to agree to solutions other than demanding that Iran “dismantle” large parts of its “nuclear infrastructure”.

But using such rhetoric, rather than acknowledging the technical and diplomatic realities surrounding the talks, threatens to create a political dynamic that discourages reaching a reasonable agreement and leaves the conflict unresolved.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, will be published in February 2014.

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Top Israel Lobby Group Loses Battle on Iran, But War Not Overhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/top-israel-lobby-group-loses-major-battle-iran-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=top-israel-lobby-group-loses-major-battle-iran-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/top-israel-lobby-group-loses-major-battle-iran-war/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 01:56:04 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130583 P5+1 foreign ministers after negotiations about Iran's nuclear capabilities concluded on Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva. Credit: U.S. Dept of State/CC by 2.0

P5+1 foreign ministers after negotiations about Iran's nuclear capabilities concluded on Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva. Credit: U.S. Dept of State/CC by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jan 23 2014 (IPS)

Eight years ago, Stephen Rosen, then a top official at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and well-known around Washington for his aggressiveness, hawkish views, and political smarts, was asked by Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker magazine whether some recent negative publicity had harmed the lobby group’s legendary clout in Washington.

“A half smile appeared on his face, and he pushed a napkin across the table,” wrote Goldberg about the interview. “’You see this napkin?’ [the official] said. In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”"The neoconservatives were able to push Bush & Co. to invade Iraq in 2003, but their success required an unusual set of circumstances and the American public learned a lot from that disastrous experience." -- Stephen Walt

Eight years later, the same official, Stephen Rosen, who was forced to resign from AIPAC after his indictment – later dismissed — for allegedly spying for Israel, told a Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) that AIPAC needed to retreat from its confrontation with President Barack Obama after getting only 59 senators – all but 16 of them Republicans – to co-sponsor a new sanctions bill aimed at derailing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany).

“They don’t want to be seen as backing down… I don’t believe this is sustainable, the confrontational posture,” he said.

If AIPAC had succeeded in getting 70 signatures on the bill, which the administration argued would have violated a Nov. 24 interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 that essentially freezes Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for easing some existing sanctions for a renewable six-month period, that would have been three more than needed to overcome a promised Obama veto.

But, after quickly gathering the 59 co-sponsors over the Christmas recess, AIPAC and the bill’s major sponsors, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, appeared to hit a solid wall of resistance led by 10 Democratic Committee chairs and backed by an uncharacteristically determined White House with an uncharacteristically stern message.

“If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.”

Combined with a grassroots lobbying campaign carried out by nearly 70 grassroots religious, anti-war, and civic-action groups that flooded the offices of nervous Democratic senators with thousands of emails, petitions, and phone calls, as well as endorsements of the administration’s position by major national and regional newspapers and virtually all but the neo-conservative faction of the U.S. foreign policy elite, the White House won a clear victory over AIPAC and thus raised anew the question of just how powerful the group really is.

AIPAC’s inability to muster more support among Democrats, in particular, came on top of two other setbacks to its fearsome reputation over the past year.

Although they never took a public position on his nomination a year ago, the group’s leaders were known to have quietly lobbied against former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel for Defence Secretary due his generally critical attitude toward Israel’s influence on U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Several groups and individuals closely aligned with AIPAC, notably the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) – both of which have joined AIPAC in lobbying for the new Iran sanctions bill – questioned or opposed Hagel. Ultimately, however, he won confirmation by a 58-41 margin in which the great majority of Democrats voted for him.

Eight months later, AIPAC and other right-wing Jewish groups lobbied Congress in favour of a resolution to authorise the use of force against Syria – this time, however, at Obama’s request, although clearly also with the approval of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

But the popular groundswell against Washington’s military intervention in yet another Middle Eastern conflict – as well as the reflexive aversion by far-right Republicans to virtually any Obama initiative – doomed the effort.

Neither Hagel nor Syria, however, has approached the importance AIPAC has accorded to Iran and its nuclear programme which have dominated the group’s foreign-policy agenda for more than a decade. During that time, it has become used to marshalling overwhelming  majorities of lawmakers from both parties behind sanctions and other legislation designed to increase tensions – and preclude any rapprochement — between Tehran and Washington.

Last July, for example, the House of Representatives voted by a 400-20 margin in favour of sanctions legislation designed to halt all Iranian oil exports from Iran. The measure was approved just four days before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration.

Throughout the fall, AIPAC worked hard – but ultimately unsuccessfully – to get the same bill through the Senate.

Now, two months later and unable to muster even a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, AIPAC appears to have shelved the Kirk-Menendez bill, which, among other provisions, would have imposed sanctions if Tehran violated the Nov. 24 agreement or failed to reach a comprehensive accord with the P5+1 on its nuclear programme within a year.

“Clearly, the ground has shifted, dealing a huge defeat to AIPAC and other groups who have been aggressively lobbying for [the new sanctions bill],” wrote Lara Friedman, a lobbyist for Americans for Peace Now in her widely-read weekly Legislative Round-up, while other commentators, including Rosen, warned that overwhelming Republican support for the bill put AIPAC’s carefully cultivated bipartisan image at risk with Democratic lawmakers and key Democratic donors.

“They definitely lost this round and that has cost them a huge amount of political capital with the administration and with a lot of Democrats,” said one veteran Capitol Hill observer who also noted AIPAC faced “an almost perfect storm” of an administration willing to fight for a policy that also enjoyed strong support from the foreign-policy elite and an engaged activist community that could exert grassroots pressure on their elected representatives. “Senate offices were getting a couple of calls in favour [of the bill] and hundreds against. That certainly has to make a difference.”

“AIPAC and other hard-line groups remain a potent force in guaranteeing generous U.S. aid to Israel and hamstringing U.S. efforts to achieve a two-state solution, but their clout declines when they advocate a course of action that could lead to another Middle East war,” Stephen Walt, co-author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” told IPS in an email exchange.

“The neoconservatives were able to push Bush & Co. to invade Iraq in 2003, but their success required an unusual set of circumstances and the American public learned a lot from that disastrous experience,” according to the influential Harvard international relations scholar.

No one, however, believes that AIPAC and its allies have given up. If the P5+1 negotiations should falter, the Kirk-Menendez bill is likely to be quickly re-introduced; indeed, one influential Republican senator said it should be put on the calendar for July, six months from Jan. 20 the date that Nov. 24 interim accord formally went into effect.

“It seems likely that advocates [of the bill] are getting ready to shift to some form of ‘Plan B’ [which], …one can guess, will look a lot like Plan A, but, instead of focusing on derailing negotiations with new sanctions, [it] will likely focus on imposing conditions on any final agreement – conditions that are impossible to meet and will thus kill any possibility of a deal,” according to Friedman.

That could include conditioning the lifting of sanctions on an agreement that includes a ban on any uranium enrichment on Iranian soil – a condition favoured by Netanyahu that Tehran has repeatedly rejected and that most experts believe would be a deal-breaker.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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Iran’s Rouhani Needs a Nuclear Resolutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/irans-rouhani-needs-nuclear-resolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=irans-rouhani-needs-nuclear-resolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/irans-rouhani-needs-nuclear-resolution/#comments Fri, 17 Jan 2014 16:18:55 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130381 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the ministerial-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on Sep. 27, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the ministerial-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on Sep. 27, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jan 17 2014 (IPS)

After 34 years of enmity, Tehran and Washington are heavily invested in the success of a deal over Iran’s nuclear programme achieved through teamwork. Now the political future of Iran’s new moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, depends on this issue.

“Resolving the nuclear impasse is President Rouhani’s signature policy initiative,” Mohsen Milani, a professor of politics at the University of South Florida, told IPS.“The analogy is with President Obama’s affordable health care act - if he doesn’t succeed with that, his legacy will be in big trouble." -- Prof. Mohsen Milani

“If he can’t bring about a nuclear resolution, he will not be able to pursue his other major foreign and domestic policy initiatives, hardliners will have a better chance to gain a majority in the 2016 parliamentary elections and his re-election will be jeopardised,” said the Iran expert.

“The analogy is with President Obama’s affordable health care act – if he doesn’t succeed with that, his legacy will be in big trouble,” he said.

The Joint Plan of Action, a historic first-phase agreement reached in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) on Nov. 24 is scheduled for implementation on Jan. 20.

During the “first step” of the deal, Iran will scale back and limit significant parts of its controversial nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief. The “final step” of a “comprehensive solution” includes the dismantling of the sanctions regime, according to the text.

Since Nov. 24, the Rouhani administration, which inherited an isolated and economically ailing Iran after winning the June presidential election, has been touting its achievement at home and abroad.

“The Geneva accord means the great powers’ surrender to the great Iranian nation,” said Rouhani during a Jan. 14 speech in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran’s oil-producing Khuzestan province.

“The Geneva accord means breaking the dam of sanctions that was unduly imposed on the dear and peace-loving Iranian nation,” declared the centrist cleric to a cheering crowd.

Iran is also expected to repeat its readiness for a new era in international relations when Rouhani attends the World Economic Forum in Davos next week. The last Iranian leader to attend was the reformist President Mohammad Khatami a decade ago.

But while foreign investors may be eager to cash in on Iranian markets that have been heavily restricted due to sanctions, many barriers need to be lifted before they will be confident enough to do so.

Beyond the logistical and technical complexities involved in the implementation of the monumental accord, the deal also faces external challenges.

The Barack Obama administration is trying to prevent Congress from passing new sanctions on Iran, warning they can derail a peaceful solution to the nuclear conflict and even lead to war.

While no vote has been scheduled on the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013,” which would impose sweeping new sanctions against Tehran if it fails to comply with the terms of the Nov. 24 accord or reach a comprehensive deal within one year, Obama is still battling a heavily pro-sanctions Congress.

On Thursday, Obama even targeted Senate fellow Democrats by urging them to resist new sanctions while the deal is being implemented during a meeting about his legislative agenda.

“The president did speak passionately about how we have to seize this opportunity,” Senator Jeff Merkley told the Associated Press. “If Iran isn’t willing in the end to make the decisions that are necessary to make it work, he’ll be ready to sign the bill to tighten those sanctions. But we’ve got to give this six months.”

So sensitive are the negotiations that the Obama administration only released a nine-page text of the implementation details to lawmakers and senior aides with security clearances on Thursday after serious pressure.

Meanwhile, Iranian hardliners who oppose any U.S.-Iran rapprochement would use any failure of the deal, particularly the imposition of new sanctions, as proof that the Rouhani administration is not fit to lead Iran or protect its interests.

“He campaigned on a pledge to lift the sanctions, end Iran’s isolation and resolve in an honourable and peaceful way Iran’s nuclear impasse with the West,” said Milani. “A lot of people voted for him precisely for that pledge.”

Having lost their political upper hand after failing to unite in producing an attractive presidential candidate in June, these hardliners are currently sidelined.

Even Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who issued multiple public messages of support for Iranian diplomats during and after the Geneva talks, has urged domestic critics to support Rouhani’s efforts on the nuclear issue.

But the Ayatollah has also repeatedly said he does not trust the West to keep up its side of the bargain.

“No one should be under the illusion that the enemies of the Islamic revolution have today given up their enmity,” he said during a speech in the holy city of Qom on Jan. 9.

“Of course, it’s possible any enemy might have no choice but to step back, but the enemy and the enemy’s front-line must not be ignored,” he said.

The Rouhani government has warned of repercussions if new sanctions are passed while negotiations are in process.

“U.S. sanctions against Iran have had no positive results,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told a Russian Newspaper on Jan. 16.

“If radical legislators make an effort to increase sanctions, they will not like the results,” said the lead nuclear negotiator, who also recently warned that “the entire deal is dead” if new sanctions are issued.

“I do believe the Iranians when they say they would quit the talks if more sanctions are imposed,” Barbara Slavin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told IPS.

“If Congress passes such legislation but not by a veto-proof margin, I think the impact would be serious – a short walk out – but not necessarily fatal,” said the Iran expert, who last visited Iran for Rouhani’s inauguration in August.

“However, it would undermine Obama’s credibility severely if he is perceived as incapable of controlling even the Democratic-led Senate and that would have negative implications for negotiating a comprehensive deal,” she added.

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Israel Lobby Thwarted in Iran Sanctions Bid For Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/israel-lobby-thwarted-iran-sanctions-bid-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-lobby-thwarted-iran-sanctions-bid-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/israel-lobby-thwarted-iran-sanctions-bid-now/#comments Thu, 16 Jan 2014 01:50:07 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130294 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jan 16 2014 (IPS)

In what looks to be a clear victory – at least for now – for President Barack Obama, a major effort by the Israel lobby and its most powerful constituent, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), to pass a new sanctions bill against Iran has stalled in the U.S. Senate.

While the legislation, the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013,” had gathered 59 co-sponsors in the 100-member upper chambre by last week, opposition to it among Democrats appears to have mounted in recent days.

That opposition apparently prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who controls the floor calendar, to back away from a previous commitment to permit a vote on the measure some time over the next few weeks. As a result, AIPAC is now reportedly hoping to get the bill through the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

Democratic resistance to the bill, which its critics say is designed to scuttle the Nov. 24 Joint Plan of Action (JPA) between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) and any chances for a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, has grown stronger since Sunday’s successful conclusion of an implementation agreement between the two sides and by Obama’s explicit pledge to veto the bill if it comes to his desk.

Even one of the bill’s 16 Democratic co-sponsors, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, said this week that he saw no need for a vote “as long as there is progress” in implementing the Nov. 24 accord.

The accord, which formally takes effect Jan. 20, will ease some economic sanctions that have been imposed against Iran and ban any new ones in exchange for Tehran’s freezing and, in some cases, a rolling back key elements of its nuclear programme pending the negotiation within a year of a comprehensive agreement designed to prevent Tehran from achieving a nuclear “breakout capacity”, or the ability to build a bomb within a short period of time.

That goal is widely considered to be the single-most important – and potentially dangerous, both politically and strategically — foreign policy challenge facing Obama in his second term.

While Obama has pledged to use all means necessary, including taking military action, to prevent Tehran from obtaining a bomb, he has made little secret of his strong desire to avoid becoming engaged in yet another war in the Middle East, a desire that appears widely held both within the foreign policy and military elite, as well as the general public, according to recent opinion polls.

For its part, Iran has long said it has no intention of building a bomb. But it has also insisted that any final agreement must recognise its “right” under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to enrich uranium to levels consistent with the needs of a civil nuclear programme.

While the administration and the other P5+1 powers appear inclined to accept a deal that would, among other things, permit limited enrichment under an enhanced inspection regime, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded that any final accord should effectively dismantle Iran’s nuclear programme, including its enrichment capabilities.

Netanyahu’s demands are largely reflected in the pending Senate bill which is named for its co-sponsors, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, each of whom received more campaign money from AIPAC-related political-action committees than any other senatorial candidates during their runs for office – in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

The bill would impose sweeping new sanctions against Tehran if it fails either to comply with the terms of the Nov. 24 accord or reach a comprehensive accord within one year. Such sanctions would also take effect if Iran conducts a test for ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 500 kms or if it is found to have directly or by proxy supported a terrorist attack against U.S. individuals or property.

While the bill’s supporters insist that those provisions will strengthen the administration’s hand in negotiations over a comprehensive agreement, critics, including administration officials, argue that they violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the Nov. 24 agreement and would, if passed, open up Washington to charges by its P5+1 partners, as well as Iran, of bad faith.

The bill also requires that any final agreement include, among other things, “dismantlement of Iran’s enrichment  …capabilities” – a condition that Tehran has already declared a deal-breaker.

And it calls for Washington to provide military and other support to Israel if its government “is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program” – a provision that was denounced on the Senate floor by Intelligence Committee chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, as “let(ting) Israel determine when and where the U.S. goes to war.” In a detailed speech Tuesday, she also described the bill as facilitating a “march to war.”

All of these provisions have lent credibility to the administration’s charge that the main purpose of the legislation is to sabotage the Nov. 24 deal and the negotiations, rather than support to them.

When first introduced nearly a month ago, the bill was co-sponsored by 26 senators, equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, apparently in order to give it a bipartisan cast. But all but three of the additional 33 co-sponsors are Republicans, thus making it an increasingly partisan issue.

Eleven Democratic committee chairs, including Feinstein and Senate Armed Services Committee chief Carl Levin, have come out against a vote on the bill, as has Reid’s deputy, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who, like Reid, normally defers to AIPAC’s wishes.

In recent days, a number of other influential voices have come out in opposition to the bill. Bill Clinton’s second-term national security adviser, Sandy Berger, warned that a vote on the legislation now raised the “risk of upending the negotiations before they start,” while former Sen. Dick Lugar, until last year the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, told a Yale University audience Wednesday that Congress “ought to give diplomacy a chance.”

Similarly, former Pentagon chief Bob Gates, currently touting his memoir of his years under Obama and President George W. Bush, warned Tuesday that enacting new sanctions would be “a terrible mistake” and a “strategic error.”

Several prominent newspapers, including the New York Times, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, USA Today, the Denver Post, and the strongly pro-Israel Washington Post, have also editorialised against the bill in recent days.

The bill, moreover, appears to have created dissension within the organised Jewish community, which ordinarily rallies behind AIPAC’s legislative agenda.

While progressive Jewish groups, notably J Street and Americans for Peace Now, joined 60 other grassroots religious, humanitarian, anti-war, and civic-action organisations in actively opposing the bill by flooding Democratic senators with emails, petitions and phone calls over the past few days, more conservative Jewish groups and influential opinion-shapers, such as New York Times columnists Tom Friedman and Jeffrey Goldberg, also defended the administration’s opposition.

Rabbi Jack Moline, the director of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), publicly accused AIPAC of using “strong-arm tactics, essentially threatening people that if they didn’t vote a particular way, that somehow that makes them anti-Israel or means the abandonment of the Jewish community.”

“The bill before the U.S. Senate …will not achieve the denuclearization of Iran,” Goldberg, a self-described “Iran hawk,” wrote in his Bloomberg column this week. “What it could do is move the U.S. closer to war with Iran and, crucially, make Iran appear – even to many of the U.S.’s allies – to be the victim of American intransigence, even aggression.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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Iran Sanctions Bill Big Test of Israel Lobby Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/iran-sanctions-bill-big-test-israel-lobby-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iran-sanctions-bill-big-test-israel-lobby-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/iran-sanctions-bill-big-test-israel-lobby-power/#comments Sat, 21 Dec 2013 13:38:50 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129678 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 21 2013 (IPS)

This week’s introduction by a bipartisan group of 26 senators of a new sanctions bill against Iran could result in the biggest test of the political clout of the Israel lobby here in decades.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani has warned repeatedly that the demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear programme entirely is a deal-breaker. Credit: Mojtaba Salimi/cc by 2.0.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani has warned repeatedly that the demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear programme entirely is a deal-breaker. Credit: Mojtaba Salimi/cc by 2.0.

The White House, which says the bill could well derail ongoing negotiations between Iran and the U.S. and five other powers over Tehran’s nuclear programme and destroy the international coalition behind the existing sanctions regime, has already warned that it will veto the bill if it passes Congress in its present form.

The new bill, co-sponsored by two of Congress’s biggest beneficiaries of campaign contributions by political action committees closely linked to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), would impose sweeping new sanctions against Tehran if it fails either to comply with the interim deal it struck last month in Geneva with the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) or reach a comprehensive accord with the great powers within one year.

To be acceptable, however, such an accord, according to the bill, would require Iran to effectively dismantle virtually its entire nuclear programme, including any enrichment of uranium on its own soil, as demanded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani has warned repeatedly that such a demand is a deal-breaker, and even Secretary of State John Kerry has said that a zero-enrichment position is a non-starter.

The bill, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, also calls for Washington to provide military and other support to Israel if its government “is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program.”

The introduction of the bill Thursday by Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez followed unsuccessful efforts by both men to get some sanctions legislation passed since the Geneva accord was signed Nov. 24.

Kirk at first tried to move legislation that would have imposed new sanctions immediately in direct contradiction to a pledge by the P5+1 in the Geneva accord to forgo any new sanctions for the six-month life of the agreement in exchange for, among other things, enhanced international inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities and a freeze on most of its nuclear programme.

Unable to make headway, Kirk then worked with Menendez to draw up the new bill which, because of its prospective application, would not, according to them, violate the agreement. They had initially planned to attach it to a defence bill before the holiday recess. But the Democratic leadership, which controls the calendar, refused to go along.

Their hope now is to pass it – either as a free-standing measure or as an amendment to another must-pass bill after Congress reconvenes Jan. 6.

To highlight its bipartisan support, the two sponsors gathered a dozen other senators from each party to co-sponsor it.

Republicans, many of whom reflexively oppose President Barack Obama’s positions on any issue and whose core constituencies include Christian Zionists, are almost certain to support the bill by an overwhelming margin. If the bill gets to the floor, the main battle will thus take place within the Democratic majority.

The latter find themselves torn between, on the one hand, their loyalty to Obama and their fear that new sanctions will indeed derail negotiations and thus make war more likely, and, on the other, their general antipathy for Iran and the influence exerted by AIPAC and associated groups as a result of the questionable perception that Israel’s security is uppermost in the minds of Jewish voters and campaign contributors (who, by some estimates, provide as much as 40 percent of political donations to Democrats in national campaigns).

The administration clearly hopes the Democratic leadership will prevent the bill from coming to a vote, but, if it does, persuading most of the Democrats who have already endorsed the bill to change their minds will be an uphill fight. If the bill passes, the administration will have to muster 34 senators of the 100 senators to sustain a veto – a difficult but not impossible task, according to Congressional sources.

That battle has already been joined. Against the 13 Democratic senators who signed onto the Kirk-Menendez bill, 10 Democratic Senate committee chairs urged Majority Leader Harry Reid, who controls the upper chamber’s calendar, to forestall any new sanctions legislation.

“As negotiations are ongoing, we believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see negotiations fail,” wrote the 10, who included the chairs of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, respectively. They also noted that a new intelligence community assessment had concluded that “new sanctions would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.”

Their letter was followed by the veto threat by White House spokesman Jay Carney and a strong denunciation of the bill by State Department spokesperson Marie Harf. She accused the sponsors of “directly contradict[ing] the administration work. …If Congress passes this bill, …it would be proactively taking an action that would undermine American diplomacy and make peaceful resolution to this issue less possible.”

But none of that has deterred key Israel lobby institutions. “Far from being a step which will make war more likely, as some claim, enhanced sanctions together with negotiations will sustain the utmost pressure on a regime that poses a threat to America and our closest allies in the Middle East,” the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) argued Thursday.

And, in a slap at both the administration and the Senate chairs,  the Conference of Major American Jewish Organisations complained about criticisms of the bill’s proponents. “Some of the terminology and characterizations used in the latest days, including accusations of warmongering and sabotage, are inappropriate and counterproductive,” it said.

Since it lost a major battle with former President Ronald Reagan over a huge arms sale to Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s, the Israel lobby has generally avoided directly confronting a sitting president, but, at this point, it appears determined to take on Obama over Iran.

For some observers, its opposition is difficult to understand, particularly because key members of the Israeli national security establishment have conspicuously declined to join Netanyahu in denouncing the Geneva deal.

“I’m amazed that they’ve taken it this far,” said Keith Weissman, a former AIPAC specialist on Iran. “Bottom line is that if the Iranians comply with the terms of the deal – which it seems like they are doing so far, despite some internal resistance – they are further from breakout capacity [to produce a nuclear weapon] than they were before the deal.”

But Douglas Bloomfield, a former senior AIPAC executive, suggested the motivation may be of a more practical nature. “It’s good for business,” he told IPS. “AIPAC has spent the last 20 years very, very effectively making a strong case against Iran, and Iran has been a great asset to them.”

“They want to show they’re not going to give up on this; they’ve built a huge financial and political base on it. …Most of the Jewish groups and all of Congress have been on auto-pilot on Iran; nobody ever thought you might actually get a deal… In AIPAC’s case, they’re terrified they’re going to lose their major fund-raising appeal.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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Iran Deal Looks Safe from Lawmakers’ Attack for Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/iran-deal-look-safe-lawmakers-attack-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iran-deal-look-safe-lawmakers-attack-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/iran-deal-look-safe-lawmakers-attack-now/#comments Thu, 05 Dec 2013 03:02:30 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129293 The threat of Congressional action has receded amidst the consolidation of a consensus that the deal negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry is a good one. Credit: US Mission/Eric Bridiers

The threat of Congressional action has receded amidst the consolidation of a consensus that the deal negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry is a good one. Credit: US Mission/Eric Bridiers

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 5 2013 (IPS)

Ten days after the signing in Geneva of a groundbreaking deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, the agreement appears safe from any serious attack by the strongly pro-Israel U.S. Congress, at least for the balance of 2013.

Despite continuing grumblings about the first-phase agreement between Tehran and the so-called P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Britain) by Republicans and a couple of key Democrats, the chances that lawmakers will enact new sanctions against Iran before the year’s end – as had been strongly urged by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters here – seem to have evaporated.

Tehran has made clear that any new sanctions legislation – even if its implementation would take effect only after the expiration of the six-month deal — would not only violate the terms of the agreement, but almost certainly derail the most promising diplomatic efforts in a decade to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme does not result in its acquisition of a weapon.

“If we pass sanctions now, even with a deferred trigger which has been discussed, the Iranians, and likely our international partners, will see us as having negotiated in bad faith,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday.

The threat of Congressional action has receded amidst the consolidation of a virtual consensus among the foreign policy elite that the deal negotiated by, among others, Secretary of State John Kerry, is a good one, as well as its endorsement by several key Democrats, notably the chairs of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein, respectively.

In addition, a series of polls conducted both just before and after the Nov. 24 deal was concluded has shown strong public support for the diplomatic route, particularly if the most likely alternative was military action.

In the run-up to the last negotiation, majorities of 64 and 56 percent of respondents told CNN and Washington Post polls, respectively, that they would support an agreement in which some economic sanctions against Iran would be lifted in exchange for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme that would make it harder to build a bomb. Just after the accord was reached, a Reuters/IPSOS poll found that respondents favoured the deal by a two-to-one margin (44-22 percent).

A far more detailed survey released here Tuesday by Americans United for Change and conducted by a highly regarded political polling firm, Hart Research Associates, also found strong backing (57 percent) among likely voters who had heard at least a little about the deal.

When respondents were informed about the accord’s basic terms – including the neutralisation of Iran’s stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium, curbs on its 3.5 percent stockpile, and enhanced international inspections in exchange for the easing of some sanctions — support rose to 63 percent overall.

Moreover, that support crossed partisan and ideological lines: pluralities approaching 50 percent of self-described Republicans, “conservatives”, and “very strong supporters of Israel” (who constituted nearly a third of the sample), said they favoured the terms as depicted in the survey.

More than two-thirds (68 percent) agreed with the proposition that Congress should not take any action that would block the accord or jeopardise negotiations for a permanent settlement, while only 21 percent favoured additional sanctions legislation now even if it would break the agreement or jeopardise the negotiations.

“Underlying much of this is Americans’ desire to avoid getting involved in another war in the Middle East,” noted Geoffrey Garin, Hart’s president and a top Democratic pollster. “There’s great scepticism about using military force against Iran.”

Despite Netanyahu’s continuing denunciations of the Nov. 24 accord as a “bad agreement” and “historic mistake”, results such as these appear to have persuaded mainstream institutions of the Israel lobby, which have been avidly courted by the White House, not to go all-out for the immediate enactment of new sanctions legislation.

As noted by ‘The Forward’, the nation’s largest-circulation Jewish newspaper that endorsed the deal “as a risk well worth taking,” even the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) appears more focused now on the terms of a final agreement, even as its echoes Netanyahu’s critique and urges Congress to enact “prospective sanctions” as soon as possible..

“AIPAC is now defining its red line as insisting that the United States ‘deny Tehran a nuclear weapons capability’ – a vague term that falls short of Israel’s demand for ‘zero enrichment’ of uranium by Iran for its nuclear production,” according to the newspaper’s well-connected diplomatic correspondent, Nathan Guttman.

Indeed, even as Netanyahu continued to assail the agreement, he quietly sent a delegation headed by his national security adviser here last week for meetings with the Obama administration focused on what specific limits can be placed on Iran’s nuclear programme in upcoming negotiations. Officially, Israel has insisted that virtually the entire programme, including and especially Iran’s uranium enrichment, be completely dismantled – a goal which Washington believes cannot be achieved.

Meanwhile, the elite consensus in favour of the current deal and the negotiation process appears to be consolidating.

An informal poll of more than 100 “National Security Insiders” published by the influential ‘National Journal’ found that more than 75 percent considered it a “good deal”, although only 58 percent expressed confidence that the negotiations would end with a favourable settlement.

On Tuesday, nine former top-ranking foreign-service officers, including six ambassadors to Israel, released a letter sent to members of key national-security committees in Congress praising the Geneva accord.

“More than any other option, a diplomatic breakthrough on this issue will help ensure Israel’s security and remove the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to the region generally and Israel specifically,” the group, which included four former undersecretaries who served in Republican administrations, wrote.

The letter followed another signed by former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski and subsequently endorsed by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright on the eve of the Geneva talks opposing additional sanctions.

Two Republican heavyweights, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, also published an op-ed in the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal this week which, while negative and sceptical in tone, did not urge new sanctions or an end to negotiations. It called instead for the administration to insisting as part of any final accord on “Iran dismantling or mothballing a strategically significant portion of its nuclear infrastructure.”

“We should be open to the possibility of purs(u)ing an agenda of long-term cooperation” with Tehran, it also noted.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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An Embittered Riyadh May Weigh Nuclear Optionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/embittered-riyadh-may-weigh-nuclear-option/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=embittered-riyadh-may-weigh-nuclear-option http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/embittered-riyadh-may-weigh-nuclear-option/#comments Wed, 27 Nov 2013 16:07:20 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129112 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 27 2013 (IPS)

Saudi Arabia’s unyielding opposition to last week’s interim nuclear agreement with Iran has triggered speculation about its own projection of military power in the Middle East.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi ambassador to the United States, warned in 2011 that nuclear threats from Israel and Iran may force Saudi Arabia to follow suit. Credit: cc by 2.0

Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi ambassador to the United States, warned in 2011 that nuclear threats from Israel and Iran may force Saudi Arabia to follow suit. Credit: cc by 2.0

As the Wall Street Journal pointed out early this week, the Saudis may conclude that international acceptance of a nuclear programme of any kind by Iran may compel them “to seek their own nuclear weapons capability through a simple purchase.”

The likely source: Pakistan, whose nuclear programme was partly funded by the Saudis.

But this is viewed as a worst case scenario, particularly if the longstanding political and military relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia continues to deteriorate.

The initial hint of Saudi nuclear ambitions surfaced back in 2011 when Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi ambassador to the United States, warned that nuclear threats from Israel and Iran may force Saudi Arabia to follow suit.

Speaking at a security forum in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, he was quoted as saying, “It is our duty toward our nation and people to consider all possible options, including the possession of these weapons.”

Whether this was a serious or an empty threat will depend in part on the evolving negotiations with Iran to terminate its nuclear weapons capability when the current six-month interim agreement expires.

That agreement was between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, plus Germany (P5+1).

Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, who has been tracking nuclear developments in the Middle East, told IPS Saudi criticism is also based on the assumption that the Geneva agreement is a bad deal.

Yet if it proves to be a building block towards an arrangement for preventing Iran from going nuclear militarily, Riyadh won’t feel the need to obtain its own nuclear counterweight, he added.

In addition, he said, “just as Israel will lobby for the idea that Iranian support for [the Lebanese militant group] Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad be dealt with in the final agreement, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States [predominantly Sunnis] will lobby for American guarantees for their security against Iranian Shiite aspirations in the region.”

Asked if the deal might spur other Middle Eastern states to develop or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons, Shannon N. Kile, senior researcher heading the Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-proliferation at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS, “I think this will depend on the shape of a long-term agreement.”

That long-term agreement is expected to be finalised at the end of the current six-month interim agreement.

At the moment, said Kile, it is unclear to what extent Iran is willing to limit or reduce its sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities in exchange for a lifting of Western sanctions, or whether the U.S. and its European Union (EU) partners will agree to lift sanctions without a near-total dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

Assuming that a deal can be reached that will involve significant technical limitations on Iran’s nuclear programme, accompanied by enhanced verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency – in particular, Iran’s accession to the Additional Protocol – to provide assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in Iran, this should help allay U.S., Israeli, and Arab worries by making it more difficult for Iran to build a nuclear weapon, Kile said.

In doing so, it would actually serve to ease nuclear proliferation incentives and pressures in the Middle East, he said.

Besides Saudi Arabia, there has also been speculation about the nuclear ambitions of another Middle Eastern nation, Egypt, currently in political turmoil.

Schenker told IPS that while the Egyptians may also be unhappy with a possible Iranian-Western rapprochement, and consider themselves in competition with Iran for hegemony in the region, they are currently immersed in their own internal issues.

“If the final agreement is a reasonable one from their point of view, there is no chance that they themselves will decide to go nuclear militarily,” he predicted.

However, both deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the successor military regime announced interest in reviving the dormant Egyptian programme to build a nuclear energy power plant, perhaps as a counterpoint to the Iranian nuclear energy programme.

In addition, a solid final deal with the Iranians will only increase Egyptian determination to promote a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, and a desire to place the Israeli nuclear programme on the table as well, he noted.

“It seems to me that the pessimism about last weekend’s deal between Iran and the P5+1 states coming from Israel, Saudi Arabia and in some quarters of the U.S. Congress is understandable given that the Iranians have been less-than-fully forthcoming, and in some cases actively deceitful, about their nuclear activities in the past,” Kile told IPS.

However, the deal is an important first step toward addressing international concerns about the scope of Iran’s nuclear programme and, as such, should be welcomed by even those who are sceptical of Tehran’s nuclear intentions, he added.

The agreement reached in Geneva imposes technical constraints and verification requirements that make it virtually impossible for Iran to use its nuclear facilities to make progress toward building a nuclear weapon during this period.

He said it also lengthens the amount of time that Iran would need if it were to later decide to build a weapon.

“These are important achievements that should not be overlooked or dismissed,” Kile added.

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