BEHIND THE SCENES OF FAILED IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS
Haaretz, June 21, 2012
Iranian stalling tactics, veiled threats from the six powers, an odd PowerPoint presentation about religious rulings by Iranian spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, and nary a word about Israel: That is some of what happened behind closed doors at Moscow’s Golden Ring Hotel, where a third round of nuclear talks with Iran took place [June 18-19].
The intensive talks…between Iran and the six powers—the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany—ended in failure. The six powers were unable to bridge their major gaps with Iran.
A Western diplomat who asked to remain anonymous in light of the sensitivity of the talks said that one major obstacle revealed by the Moscow talks relates to the underground facility for uranium enrichment in Fordo, near the city of Qum. According to the diplomat, the Iranians responded only in a broad, vague fashion to demands that it limit its enrichment of uranium to a level of 20 percent and move such uranium outside the country, and they refused to discuss the Fordo plant at all.… “We learned that Fordo is a taboo subject for the Iranians, and that it is the flagship of their nuclear project,” the diplomat said.
After ending the second round of talks in Baghdad with the feeling that the six powers were desperate to forge an agreement, the Iranian delegates arrived in Moscow feeling confident. But Western diplomats, who realized that expectations had been raised too high in Baghdad, came to Moscow skeptical and cautious. The message they broadcast was that the powers want an agreement, but not at any price.…
The six powers presented tough terms to the Iranians, and they rejected Iran’s request to conduct a fourth round of talks with higher-level representatives.… They did agree to arrange a meeting of jurists and nuclear experts to conduct a detailed review of the positions presented by both sides during the Moscow discussions. But the powers made it clear to the Iranians that they “want concrete actions, not just talks.…”
THE OBAMA RETREAT
Jamie Fly & William Kristol
Weekly Standard, Jul 2, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 40
Recently, we wrote…that given the Obama administration’s lack of leadership on Iran in this “period of consequences,” Congress should step in to fill the void. As our editorial went to press, a bipartisan group of 44 senators began to do just that. In a letter organized by Senators Robert Menendez and Roy Blunt, the group outlined a series of steps Iran would have needed to take at the June 18-19 Moscow talks to justify further negotiations. These included shutting its previously covert enrichment facility near Qom, freezing enrichment above 5 percent, and shipping its stockpile of uranium enriched above that point out of the country.
The letter noted, “Absent these steps, we must conclude that Tehran is using the talks as a cover to buy time as it advances toward nuclear weapons capability.” And the senators called on the president to “reevaluate the utility of further talks at this time and instead focus on significantly increasing the pressure on the Iranian government through sanctions and making clear that a credible military option exists.”
With the subsequent failure of the Moscow talks, President Obama should heed this sensible advice from nearly half the Senate. At this point, the futility of further talks is pretty clear to any honest observer. The United States and our allies have made proposal after proposal, imposed sanction upon sanction, and even apparently deployed covert tools which we learn about on an almost daily basis as administration officials desperate to burnish the president’s image leak sensitive national security information. Despite all of this, the centrifuges continue to spin, the stockpile of enriched uranium grows, and Iran gets closer and closer to a nuclear weapons capability.
As “technical experts” meet in the coming weeks, and the Obama administration clings to a “process” that is going nowhere, Iran will undoubtedly use the intervening period to create additional facts on the ground, install more centrifuges, enrich more uranium, and continue to wreak havoc in Syria and plot attacks against U.S. interests and those of our allies. Iran’s strategic calculus remains unaffected.
Stephen Rademaker, one of the witnesses at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on June 20, testified that Iran has not been “sufficiently persuaded that military force really is in prospect should they fail to come to an acceptable agreement to the problem.”
The key to changing that is a serious debate about the military option. But even in the wake of the collapse of the talks, far too many otherwise serious people continue to hold out hope for a negotiated settlement brought about by increased economic pressure. All additional sanctions should be explored and enacted as soon as possible, but what the track record of more than a decade of negotiations with Iran tells us is that this is not a country about to concede. This is not a regime on the ropes or on the cusp of compromise, as many would have us believe.
This is a regime committed to developing nuclear weapons, despite the cost to the Iranian economy and the toll on the Iranian people. Time is running out and the consequences of inaction for the United States, Israel, and the free world will only increase in the weeks and months ahead. It’s time for Congress to seriously explore an Authorization of Military Force to halt Iran’s nuclear program.
J STREET UNDERCUTS U.S./ISRAELI POLICY ON IRAN
Alan M. Dershowitz
Jerusalem Post, June 14, 2012
…It is clear that sanctions and diplomacy alone will not convince the Iranian mullahs to halt their progress toward their goal of an Iran with nuclear weapons. The only realistic possibility of persuading the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions is for them to believe that there is a credible threat of an American military attack on their nuclear facilities. Unless this threat is credible, the Iranians will persist. And if the Iranians persist, and the Israelis do not believe that the American threat is credible, the Israelis will undertake a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. It is crucial, therefore, for America’s military threat to be credible and to be perceived as credible by both the Israelis and the Iranians.
Enter J Street.
J Street is a lobby in Washington that advertises itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace.” But its policy with regard to Iran is neither pro-Israel nor pro-peace. It is categorically opposed to any “military strike against Iran.” It is also opposed to maintaining any credible military threat against Iran, through “legislation, authorizing, encouraging or in other ways laying the ground work for the use of military force against Iran.” This is according to its official policy statement.…
By advocating this path…it is sending a message to both Iran and Israel that there is no credible military threat, and that if Iran is prepared to withstand sanctions and diplomacy, it will have nothing further to worry about if it moves forward with its nuclear weapons program.
The Obama administration has tried very hard to persuade Israel that there is no space between the American position and the Israeli position on Iran. Whether or not this is true, there is a hole the size of a nuclear crater between Israel’s position, reflecting a widespread consensus within that country, and J Street’s position. Virtually every Israeli wants the United States to keep the military option on the table. This includes “doves” such as President Shimon Peres.…
J Street can no longer pretend to be pro-Israel, since it is actively seeking to undercut a joint Israeli and American policy designed to protect Israel and the world from a nuclear armed Iran. Nor can J Street claim to be pro-peace, since its policy will likely encourage Iran to take actions that will inevitably result in an attack either by Israel, the United States or both.…
The Obama White House sometimes seems to be embracing J Street and its followers. This public embrace sends a message to Iran that the Obama administration may not mean it when it says that it will use military force if necessary to prevent a nuclear armed Iran. This may be a false message, but it is a dangerous one nevertheless.
Absolutely no good has come from J Street’s soft policy on Iran. Either J Street must change its policy, or truth in advertising requires that it no longer proclaim itself a friend of Israel.…
The following is excerpted from Alan M. Dershowitz’s June 28, 2012
FrontPage article, titled, “Iran Declares War Against The Jewish People”
The Iranian government, long known for its Holocaust denial and anti-Zionism, has now declared war against the Jewish people. In a speech delivered [Tuesday] in Tehran, [Iranian] Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi accused the Jewish people of spreading illegal drugs around the world, killing black babies, starting the Bolshevik Revolution and causing many of the world’s other ills.
His “proof”: “The Islamic Republic of Iran will pay for anyone who can research and find one single Zionist who is an addict. They do not exist. This is the proof of their involvement in drugs trade.…” He also cited “proof” that the Jews caused the Bolshevik Revolution: not a single Jew was killed during that Revolution. Of course, thousands of Jews were murdered during the Bolshevik Revolution as well as during Stalin’s purges in the decades following the establishment of the Soviet Union.…
Vice President Rahimi cited the Talmud as the source of his claptrap and in support of his claim that Jews believe that they are racially superior and that “God has created the world so that all other nations can serve them.”
These bigoted claims would be laughable if they did not have such a long and disturbing history. Virtually everything stated by Vice President Rahimi came directly out of Hitler’s playbook of the 1930s and Stalin’s playbook of the 1940s and 50s. They must be taken seriously in light of the fact that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and has already called for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map. Moreover, Iran’s surrogate, Hezbollah, has invited all the Jews of the world to move to Israel so that it will be easier to destroy them in one fell swoop.
Taken together, these statements and actions constitute a clear incitement to genocide, which is explicitly prohibited by international law and by the rules governing the International Criminal Court. Professor Irwin Cotler, the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, has drafted a brilliant brief making the case for indicting the Iranian leaders for inciting genocide against the Jewish people. Vice President Rahimi’s speech constitutes additional evidence of that crime, if any were needed.…
I am asking people of good will to condemn all anti-Jewish bigotry…and to take action against the danger posed by the noxious combination of radioactive words and radioactive weapons.
THE VOICE OF IRAN
Council on Foreign Relations, June 27, 2012
Why is it significant that the vice president of Iran has used a United Nations forum to deliver an appalling anti-Semitic speech?… Because it reminds us that the assumptions behind the nuclear negotiations with Iran are questionable at best. Those assumptions include mirror-imaging, the belief that Iran’s regime will make the sorts of “rational” calculations the governments of the EU and United States would make in their place. Impose sanctions on Iran, reduce its income from oil sales, harm its economy, and surely the Supreme Leader and his advisers will react as we would, weighing almost mathematically the costs and benefits of the nuclear program.
Then comes Mr. Rahimi, teaching us that math may not be the best way to predict Iranian policy decisions. How do we factor in irrational hatred of Jews? How do we weigh a deep desire to destroy the Jewish state? How do we calculate the effect of beliefs that seem to us in the West to be preposterous, ludicrous, impossible? Or a better question: how do Israelis make those judgments?
As many historians—most recently, Andrew Roberts in The Storm of War, his superb history of the Second World War—have reminded us, lucid calculations are often absent, statesmanship often pushed aside by ideological obsessions, hatred more powerful than rational calculations. Just because we think it irrational for Iranian officials to make such speeches, or wreck their economy to pursue nuclear weapons, or threaten Israel, does not mean that such things are not happening and will not happen. Sitting around conference tables they may appear unlikely or impossible, but the Rahimi speech may be a better guide to Iranian foreign policy than the words spoken at those sessions.
AFTER AN ISRAELI STRIKE ON IRAN
National Review, June 26, 2012
How would Iranians respond to an Israeli strike against their nuclear infrastructure? The answers given to this question matter greatly, as predictions about Iran’s response will affect not only Jerusalem’s decision, but also how much other states will work to impede an Israeli strike.
Analysts generally offer best-case predictions for policies of deterrence and containment (some commentators even go so far as to welcome an Iranian nuclear capability) while forecasting worst-case results from a strike. They foresee Tehran doing everything possible to retaliate, such as kidnapping, terrorism, missile attacks, naval combat, and closing the Strait of Hormuz. These predictions ignore two facts: Neither of Israel’s prior strikes against enemy states building nuclear weapons—Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007—prompted retaliation; and a review of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s history since 1979 points to, in the words of Michael Eisenstadt and Michael Knights, “a more measured and less apocalyptic—if still sobering—assessment of the likely aftermath of a preventive strike.”
Eisenstadt and Knights of the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy provide an excellent guide to possible scenarios in “Beyond Worst-Case Analysis: Iran’s Likely Responses to an Israeli Preventive Strike.” [Click HERE to view the full report—Ed.] Their survey of Iranian behavior over the past three decades leads them to anticipate that three main principles would likely shape and limit Tehran’s response to an Israeli strike: an insistence on reciprocity, a caution not to gratuitously make enemies, and a wish to deter further Israeli (or American) strikes.
The mullahs, in other words, face serious limits on their ability to retaliate, including military weakness and a pressing need not to make yet more external enemies. With these guidelines in place, Eisenstadt and Knights consider eight possible Iranian responses, which must be assessed while keeping in mind the alternative to pre-emptive action—namely, apocalyptic Islamists controlling nuclear weapons:
1. Terrorist attacks on Israeli, Jewish, and U.S. targets. Likely, but causing limited destruction.
2. Kidnapping of U.S. citizens, especially in Iraq. Likely, but limited in impact, as in the 1980s in Lebanon.
3. Attacks on Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very likely, especially via proxies, but causing limited destruction.
4. Missile strikes on Israel. Likely: a few missiles from Iran getting through Israeli defenses, leading to casualties likely in the low hundreds; missiles from Hezbollah limited in number due to domestic Lebanese considerations. Unlikely: Hamas getting involved, having distanced itself from Tehran; the Syrian government interfering, since it is battling for its life against an ever-stronger opposition army and possibly the Turkish armed forces. Overall, missile attacks are unlikely to do devastating damage.
5. Attacks on neighboring states. Likely: especially using terrorist proxies, for the sake of deniability. Unlikely: missile strikes, for Tehran does not want to make more enemies.
6. Clashes with the U.S. Navy. Likely, but, given the balance of power, doing limited damage.
7. Covertly mining the Strait of Hormuz. Likely, causing a run-up in energy prices.
8. Attempted closing of the Strait of Hormuz. Unlikely: difficult to achieve and potentially too damaging to Iranian interests, because the country needs the strait for commerce.
The authors also consider three potential side effects of an Israeli strike. Yes, Iranians might rally to their government in the immediate aftermath of a strike, but in the longer term Tehran “could be criticized for handling the nuclear dossier in a way that led to military confrontation.” The so-called Arab street is perpetually predicted to rise up in response to outside military attack, but it never does; it’s likely that unrest among the Shiite Muslims of the Persian Gulf would be counterbalanced by the many Arabs quietly cheering the Israelis. As for Iran leaving the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and starting an overt, crash nuclear-weapons program, while “a very real possibility,” the more the Iranians retaliated against a strike, the harder they would find it to obtain the parts for such a program.
In all, these dangers are unpleasant but not cataclysmic, manageable not devastating. Eisenstadt and Knights expect a short phase of high-intensity Iranian response, to be followed by a “protracted low-intensity conflict that could last for months or even years”—much as already exists between Iran and Israel. An Israeli preventive strike, they conclude, while a “high-risk endeavor carrying a potential for escalation in the Levant or the Gulf…would not be the apocalyptic event some foresee.”
This analysis makes a convincing case that the danger of nuclear weapons falling into Iranian hands far exceeds the danger of a military strike to prevent this from happening.