Tag: negotiations

IRANIAN NUCLEAR: U.S. WEAKNESS EMBOLDENS TEHERAN, DESPITE ITS INTERNAL DIVISIONS—NORTH KOREAN BOMB AS MODEL

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(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

 

Iran Can’t Agree to a Damn Thing: Patrick Clawson, Foreign Policy, Feb. 20, 2013During the chaotic days of Iran's Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the country's emerging "supreme leader," assured Iranians that their supposed oppressor, the United States, would not be able to put the hated shah back on his throne.

 

The US and Iran: Pre-Negotiation Maneuvering: Prof. Eytan Gilboa, BESA Center, Feb. 19, 2013The United States and Iran are exchanging tough messages on possible negotiations towards a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear weapons crisis. Both sides are presenting conditions for direct negotiations, which would be the first of their kind.

U.S. Weakness Provokes N. Korea and Iran: Max Boot, Commentary, Feb.12, 2013So much for the exaggerated hopes of those that believed Kim Jong-un would turn out to be a different kind of dictator. Following a long-range rocket test in December, North Korea has now apparently tested a nuclear weapon bigger than any it has tested before.

On Topic Links

 

 

Spy Fail: Why Iran is Losing Its Covert War with Israel: Karl Vick, Time World, Feb. 13, 2013
The Collapse of Iran's RialSteven Plaut, Gatestone Institute, Feb. 21, 2013
North Korea Shows Dangers of Half-Deal with Iran: Gary Milhollin, Bloomberg, Feb 24, 2013

Iran's Shrewd Move: Michael Makovsky and Blaise Misztal: Weekly Standard, Feb 22, 2013

Are Iran Sanctions Working?: Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations, Feb. 21, 2013

 

 

 

 

IRAN CAN’T AGREE TO A DAMN THING

Patrick Clawson

Foreign Policy, Feb. 20, 2013

 

During the chaotic days of Iran's Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the country's emerging "supreme leader," assured Iranians that their supposed oppressor, the United States, would not be able to put the hated shah back on his throne. "America can't do a damn thing against us," he inveighed, a winning line that became the uprising's unofficial slogan. It's a catchphrase Iran has deployed time and again since….

 

Khomeini's slogan was true enough at the time: There wasn't much U.S. President Jimmy Carter could do to intervene in one of the most stunning uprisings in history. But today, when it comes to Iran's endless nuclear impasse with the West, one might turn the phrase back on the Iranians: The problem, in a nutshell, is that Iran can't agree to a damn thing.

 

Indeed, the slow pace of nuclear negotiations with Iran are only the beginning of the reasons to be discouraged about resolution of the standoff. More worrying is that political infighting in Tehran is so bad that Iran might not be able to bring itself to accept unilateral U.S. unconditional surrender were it to be offered. To be sure, eight months between negotiating sessions — June 18-19, 2012 in Moscow, followed by the upcoming session slated for Feb. 26 in Almaty, Kazakhstan — is bad news enough. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hit the nail on the head when he warned last week, "We should not give much more time to the Iranians, and we should not waste time. We have seen what happened with [North Korea]. It ended up that they [were] secretly, quietly, without any obligations, without any pressure, making progress" on nuclear weapons.

 

But the pace of talks is only the beginning of the problem. More important is the political meltdown among the Islamic Republic's leaders. Their problems should help put ours in perspective. Many Americans think Washington faces gridlock from hyper-partisan politics, though in fact Iran is an exception to that rule. Bills about Iran's nuclear program typically enjoy stunning levels of support — 100 to 0 in the Senate in the December 2011 round of sanctions. In the November 2012 vote on another sanctions round, several senators were absent, so the vote was a cliffhanger 94 to 0.

 

By contrast, Iranian leaders fight about everything, even where vital national security interests are at stake. In many respects, a divided Iran is nothing new. The Islamic Republic has from its beginning been characterized by sharp internal divisions. And that has long influenced debate about policy toward the United States. For at least 20 years, the rule in Iran has been: Whoever is out of power wants talks with the United States, which they know would be popular, while whoever is in power moves haltingly if at all toward talks. Several times, those on the outs became the ins and then quickly shifted position on relations with Washington. When Mohammad Khatami was running for president in 1997, he was all in favor of talks with the Great Satan, but then once in power, he did little if anything and refused to speak clearly on the issue. And so too with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: When he was riding high, he only had disdain for the United States, but as he got into trouble at home, he called for talks with Washington.
 

But now, the situation is much worse than before. It used to be that once Khomeini's successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spoke, that ended the debate, but no longer. Khamenei no longer enjoys the respect nor commands the power to stop the infighting. No matter how often or bluntly he rejects the idea of negotiations with the United States, other important officials — most loudly and frequently, Ahmadinejad — call for such talks.

 

Khamenei couches his call for obedience as a need for unity and vigilance in the face of the enemy. A typical speech on January 29 warned, "Today the world of Islam is faced with the plot of enemies… We should not fuel the fire of discord by arousing shallow and vulgar feelings. This will burn the fate of nations. It will completely destroy them. It will help the enemies of Islam." Consistent with his longstanding reluctance to publicly weigh in directly on political disputes, Khamenei has usually confined himself to elliptical criticisms, such as his warning in a Feb. 7 speech to Air Force commanders, "The improper conduct which is witnessed in certain areas from certain government officials — they should end this." He concluded with another strong call for unity.

 

Admonished by the supreme leader to close ranks, Iranian leaders promptly put on a full display of their bitter enmity. The Majlis, Iran's legislature, called in for questioning Labor Minister Reza Shaikholsislami, a close ally of Ahmadinejad. In response, the Iranian president went to the Majlis for the Feb. 3 debate and insisted on accusing Speaker Ali Larijani and his family (including his brother Sadegh Larijani, head of the judiciary) of corruption, playing a recording he claimed supported the charge. Ruled out of order, Ahmadinejad stormed out. The Majlis then voted Shaikholislami dismissed by a vote of 192 to 56; Ahmadinejad promptly added him to his official delegation leaving for Egypt. Five days after the Majlis brawl, 100 Ahmadinejad supporters pelted Ali Larijani with shoes, disrupting a speech he was trying to give in Qom.

 

Khamenei was clearly appalled that neither his public admonitions nor his reported firm private orders had been enough to stop the feuding. So he lit into the two sides in a Feb. 16 address, saying, "What is the reason behind impeaching a minister a few months before the end of the life of the government, for a reason that had nothing to do with that minister? … The head of one branch of power [Ahmadinejad] accused the two other branches of power based on a charge that was not raised or proved in a court…Such acts are against the sharia as well as the law and ethics." Turning to the disputes about corruption, he added, "I expect the officials to enhance their friendship at this time that enemies have intensified their [hostile] behavior. Be together more than before. Control your wild sentiments." He warned that if they did not follow his counsel, there would be grave consequences.

 

Khamenei was ignored again. Two days after this speech, the Supreme Court — largely controlled by Sadeq Larijani — upheld four death sentences against close Ahmadinejad allies in a high-profile corruption case. Neither the president nor his equally conservative, hard-line opponents seem to fear Khamenei or much respect his authority anymore.

 

By their actions, Iranian leaders are giving the strong impression that they are so preoccupied by their internal differences that they cannot agree on, well, a damn thing. Disunity helps the enemy, Khamenei frequently says. But the world powers negotiating with Iran would be glad to see more unity in Tehran, because a more unified Iranian government would be better able to reach a deal and then implement it. That seems less and less likely. The time is rapidly approaching when the big powers, or at least the United States, need to set out a stark choice for Iran's leaders: Either accept a generous offer to resolve the nuclear impasse or be prepared for the consequences.

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THE US AND IRAN: PRE-NEGOTIATION MANEUVERING

Prof. Eytan Gilboa

BESA Center, Feb. 19, 2013
 

The United States and Iran are exchanging tough messages on possible negotiations towards a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear weapons crisis. Both sides are presenting conditions for direct negotiations, which would be the first of their kind. In international relations theory this phenomenon is called “pre-negotiation.” During this phase the sides calculate the benefits and drawbacks of the negotiating process itself and of a possible agreement.

They present tough opening positions which they know the other side can’t accept, and they attempt to obtain concessions from the other side just for agreeing to negotiate. This has been the negotiating style of both the Palestinians and the Iranians. It seems that the West in general and the United States in particular don’t know how to effectively handle this style.

 

During a February 2013 international security conference in Munich, American Vice President Joe Biden said that there “is still time…[and] space for diplomacy backed by pressure to succeed. The ball is in the government of Iran’s court.” He added that the discussions would be held on condition of a “real and tangible” Iranian offer. Biden hinted that the atmosphere surrounding previous negotiations was not serious, because Iran was not ready to make a single compromise; its sole purpose was to buy time and advance its drive to the nuclear bomb in the interim.

His message was clear: the United States will not agree to such negotiations, and will not remove sanctions merely in exchange for Iran’s entrance into deliberations. In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama called upon Iranian leaders to “recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations.” He concluded that the United States “will do what is necessary to prevent [Iran] from getting a nuclear weapon.”

 

The Iranian reply was immediate. The two Iranian leaders – the spiritual and more significant leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; and the political leader, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – responded negatively and conditionally to Biden’s invitation. We are ready for negotiations, they said, but only if the United Sates and the West announce support for Iran’s right to a nuclear program, and on condition that the heavy sanctions against Iran are removed. It is obvious that the United States can’t accept these demands, because the sanctions’ removal would eliminate any chance, remote as they are, to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The sanctions and the heavy damage they have inflicted on the Iranian economy pushed the Iranian leaders to seek negotiations, and suspending them now will eliminate any incentive they may have to compromise.

 

It is very possible that the tough stance of the Iranian leadership stems from its perception of the new senior appointments of the Obama Administration in foreign and national security affairs: John Kerry as Secretary of State and Chuck Hagel as the nominated Secretary of Defense. Both men are veterans of the Vietnam War and are almost fundamentally opposed to using any type of force to bring results. In the past, Hagel even opposed sanctions and claimed that it is impossible to halt the Iranian nuclear program. In his Senate testimony he also made an embarrassing statement by characterizing the Iranian regime as “legitimate.”

 

The Iranian leaders interpreted these appointments, as well as Obama’s and Biden’s invitation to open talks, as signs of weakness to be exploited for advancing their nuclear weapons program and for setting tough conditions for negotiations. The Iranian leaders have also closely observed the North Korean defiance of the United States and the Western pressure to stop the testing of nuclear weapons and long range missiles, and could have concluded that the US warnings and intimidations are not credible….

 

The current stalemate threatens to cripple Obama’s Iranian strategy. He planned heavy sanctions that he hoped would soften the Iranian position and bring them to negotiations and direct discussions with a good chance to stop the bomb. It is apparent that the goals of the two sides contradict each other: America wants Iran to stop enriching its uranium, while Iran wants to end the sanctions. The Iranians know how to conduct negotiations much better than the Americans; they have thousands of years of experience in bazaar-like bargaining. Thus, if the United States and Iran reach an agreement to begin direct negotiations, the ultimate results may be favourable to the Iranians. The American desire to avoid the military option almost at any cost may produce a vague agreement which will still enable Iran to clandestinely continue developing nuclear weapons. If no direct negotiations are held, or if they are held but fail to stop Iran from continuing to develop nuclear weapons, and if Obama stands by his commitments to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb – the Administration may have no choice but to use military force…..

 

Prof. Eytan Gilboa is Director of the School of Communication and Director of the Center for International Communication, both at Bar-Ilan University, and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

 

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U.S. WEAKNESS PROVOKES N. KOREA AND IRAN
Max Boot

Commentary, Feb.12, 2013
 

So much for the exaggerated hopes of those that believed Kim Jong-un would turn out to be a different kind of dictator. Following a long-range rocket test in December, North Korea has now apparently tested a nuclear weapon bigger than any it has tested before. This, despite warnings not only from South Korea, Japan, and the United States, but also from China, not to test. Far from being the reformer as many naively imagined, Kim is showing himself a chip off the old dynastic bloc, once again using North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction to posture before the world and no doubt to shake concessions out of the U.S., South Korea, and other states.

 

What makes this test truly disturbing is the close cooperation that is known to exist between Iran and North Korea in the development of ever-more destructive weaponry. The two countries have worked closely together on missiles and may well be working together on nuclear weapons. If so, the North Korean test is an indication of growing danger not only in Northeast Asia but also in the Middle East.

 

And what is the American response to this latest provocation? To his credit, President Obama has not repeated the pattern of his predecessors in trying to shower North Korea with aid to get it to desist from its dangerous behavior—a pattern that only subsidized North Korean malfeasance. Rather than trying to relaunch stalled six-party talks, he has actually pushed for the toughest sanctions yet on North Korea although their ability to actually coerce Pyongyang is limited as long as China refuses to cut off economic aid.

 

But these tough responses are undermined to a large extent by the symbolism of Obama proposing steep cuts in the American nuclear arsenal—from 1,700 to 1,000 warheads—in the State of the Union address on the very day when North Korea is testing a nuke and Iran is drawing closer to acquiring its own nukes. It is hard to know why the president imagines unilateral American cuts will encourage more responsible behavior from the likes of Iran and North Korea. The more likely consequence is to call into question America’s deterrent capacity, an especially pressing issue if, as Bret Stephens argues in this Wall Street Journal column, China’s nuclear arsenal is actually larger than commonly supposed.

 

With the danger growing from both Iran and North Korea it is all the more incumbent on the US to reassure regional allies—from Saudi Arabia to South Korea–that they will be sheltered securely underneath the American nuclear umbrella. If we cut our own nuclear forces drastically, the credibility of our guarantees diminishes and the likelihood goes up that our allies will seek nuclear weapons of their own, potentially setting off two nuclear arms races.

 

Of course it is not just in the nuclear realm that the US is undertaking defense cuts. Our overall military budget is to undergo drastic cuts within weeks assuming that the Congress and White House do not reach an agreement to turn off the sequester. Already the military services are cutting back on readiness and training. The Navy, for one, has announced that the Persian Gulf area will for the time being have only one aircraft carrier battle group on station, rather than two.

 

It is hard to think of a more threatening prospect than unilateral American military reductions at a time when our enemies our growing stronger. Weakness, it is often said, is provocative. By that measure we are provoking two of the most dangerous rogue states in the world.

 

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Spy Fail: Why Iran is Losing Its Covert War with Israel: Karl Vick, Time World, Feb. 13, 2013Slumped in a Nairobi courtroom, suit coats rumpled and reading glasses dangling from librarian chains, the defendants made a poor showing for the notorious Quds Force of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

 

The Collapse of Iran's RialSteven Plaut, Gatestone Institute, Feb. 21, 2013The Iranian economy has been imploding, at times even nudging news of Iran's nuclear program off of the front pages. In the first ten months of 2012, the Iranian currency, the rial, lost more than 80% of its exchange value. In a single day, on October 1, 2012, it dropped by 15%, and, after a brief reprieve, resumed its trend downwards in early 2013. At least one commentator has compared Iran's economic meltdown with that in Zimbabwe.

 

North Korea Shows Dangers of Half-Deal with Iran: Gary Milhollin, Bloomberg, Feb 24, 2013Negotiators from the world’s major powers sit down with Iran this week for more talks on its nuclear program, just weeks after North Korea tested another nuclear weapon. If the connection between these two events isn’t obvious, it should be: North Korea’s nuclear saga is a cautionary tale for anyone attempting to bargain with the Islamic Republic.

Iran's Shrewd Move: Michael Makovsky and Blaise Misztal: Weekly Standard, Feb 22, 2013With the next round of international talks on Iran’s nuclear program scheduled for February 26, the United States needs to understand Iran’s negotiating strategy. Recent Iranian tactics suggest a seemingly contradictory approach: simultaneously slowing down and speeding up their nuclear program. But by buying time now, Iran is shrewdly seeking to evade international pressure while hastening its advance to nuclear weapons capability.

 

Are Iran Sanctions Working?: Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations, Feb. 21, 2013It’s a commonplace to say that sanctions against Iran are tighter than ever and are working. Here’s an example from White House spokesman Jay Carney last Fall: ”We have diplomatic isolation and international isolation that’s unprecedented in history and it’s having a profound impact on both the Iranian economy and the Iranian regime’s internal political structure.”

 

 

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WHITHER IRAN—MORE NEGOTIATIONS, ANOTHER OFFER, ECONOMIC BLOCKADE, MILITARY ACTION—TO BE DECIDED IN 2013

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Time for an Economic Blockade on Iran: Mark Wallace, Real Clear World, Dec. 13, 2012—The recent demonstrations and protests in Iran over the increasingly perilous state of its economy are the latest and most powerful sign that the economic war is having a tangible impact. There is no doubt that punitive financial and economic sanctions have contributed greatly to the collapse of Iran's currency, the rial.

 

US and Partners Prepare Modest Offer to Iran: Barbara Slavin, Al- Monitor, Dec 19, 2012—Weeks of deliberations among the United States and its fellow negotiators have produced an offer to Iran very similar to the package Iran rejected last summer, casting doubt on chances for breaking the long stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program.

 

2013: The year of Iran: David Horovitz, Times of Israel, Dec. 19, 2012—We’ve been saying it for years: This coming year represents the moment of truth on Iran.Except that this year, it’s for real: 2013 represents the moment of truth on Iran. The year the Iranians pass the point of no return in their drive to the bomb. Or the year, one way or another, they are dissuaded.

 

Changes to Canada’s Terror List a Shot Across Iran’s Bow: Campbell Clark, The Globe and Mail, Dec. 20, 2012—The Canadian government has listed the clandestine branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization and, at the same time, removed a controversial Iranian opposition organization, the People’s Mujahedin, from the terror list.

 

On Topic Links

 

Congress Approves New Iran Sanctions, Missile Defense Funding: JTA, Dec. 24, 2012

'Hamas preparing for West Bank takeover': Jerusalem Post, Dec. 23, 2012

Iran's Conservatives Push for a Deal: Ray Takeyh, National Interest, Dec. 21, 2012

Feeling the Pain in Tehran: Nazila Fathi, Foreign Policy, Dec. 21, 2012

Christianity 'close to extinction' in Middle East: Edward Malnick, The Telegraph, Dec. 23, 2012

 

 

TIME FOR AN ECONOMIC BLOCKADE ON IRAN

Mark Wallace

Real Clear World, Dec. 13, 2012

 

The recent demonstrations and protests in Iran over the increasingly perilous state of its economy are the latest and most powerful sign that the economic war is having a tangible impact. There is no doubt that punitive financial and economic sanctions have contributed greatly to the collapse of Iran's currency, the rial. Iran now suffers from hyperinflation and the rial has fallen by 80 percent in the past year. As history has shown, durable hyperinflation such as this can result in public unrest and, occasionally, regime change.

 

The conventional wisdom of the past was that sanctions against Iran would have little impact because of Iran's vast oil wealth. That was, in retrospect, flawed thinking. In the past year, Iran's acceleration of its nuclear program and defiance of the IAEA, its sponsorship of terrorism and its destabilizing behavior in countries like Syria finally prompted the international community to act. The loss of Iranian oil has had little effect on the market so far, as countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya have made up for the loss.

 

The sanctions now in place are beginning to have a dramatic impact, as Iran's currency is collapsing. As a result of hyperinflation, we have seen Iran's currency exchange market become paralyzed. Licensed exchange bureaus refused in recent days to do business at the officially imposed rate of 28,500 rials to the dollar, while black market dealers were offering the dollar at a rate of 35,500 rials, sparking protests and a violent crackdown. Significantly, the ire of the protesters was primarily directed at the regime for its mismanagement, and for actions that led to sanctions in the first place.

 

If history is any guide, the leaders of Iran have reason to worry, as there is a correlation between hyperinflation and regime change. In Indonesia, hyperinflation and the collapse of the rupiah from 2,700 to the dollar to nearly 16,000 over the course of a year was one of the principal sources of discontent, which brought people out to the streets to overthrow the Suharto regime. In the case of Yugoslavia, hyperinflation was the motivating force that led Slobodan Milosevic to start a war to divert attention from the monetary crisis facing the country — a war that led to his ultimate defeat.

 

Regardless of the precipitating event, hyperinflation can signal the death knell of a regime. We often forget that a "Persian Spring" preceded the Arab Spring, and that Iran has not only restive minorities, but a restive middle class frustrated with a corrupt theocratic regime, culminating in protests over the 2009 election. If the regime faces increased and durable hyperinflation, Iran's demographics suggest that the mullahs' brutal hold on power could face serious challenges.

 

At this critical stage, it is time for U.S. and EU policymakers to do all they can to build upon and ensure the durability of Iran's hyperinflation. The best way to do so is by implementing a total economic blockade that would pit the vast purchasing power of the world's two largest economies against that of Iran. Such an economic blockade would bar any business, firm or entity that does work in Iran from receiving U.S. and EU government contracts, accessing U.S. and EU capital markets, entering into commercial partnerships in the U.S. and EU or otherwise doing business in the U.S. and EU. The result would be an immense economic barrier to entry into Iran's marketplace, and would place unprecedented pressure on the rial.

 

Other steps to pressure the rial could be taken as well. As the rial devalues, Iranians seek the safe haven of dollars and gold in the currency markets of Afghanistan and Iraq and the gold markets in Turkey. Stemming the ease of accessibility to dollars and gold would further pressure the rial. Other creative ideas include impeding the flow of sophisticated currency printing technology and other products that have been previously provided to Iran's central bank by European vendors. In fact, recently the German currency printer Koenig & Bauer AG announced the cessation of its provision of bank note printing equipment and services in Iran under pressure from United Against Nuclear Iran, seriously impeding Iran's ability to manipulate its money supply and maintain the integrity of the rial.

 

It is time to present the mullahs in Iran with a clear choice — they can forego a nuclear weapon or they can have a functioning economy. To be sure, there is no guarantee that even a total economic blockade will prevent Iran from changing its strategic calculus to develop a nuclear weapons capability. But as the prospects of war over the next months increase, does the international community not owe it to itself to say it has exhausted all other options? It surely makes sense to try, particularly since we have seen the impact current sanctions are having on the regime. And the human cost of hyperinflation, though at times great, is far less than those of a nuclear-armed Iran or a preemptive military conflict.

 

Ambassador Mark D. Wallace is CEO of United Against Nuclear Iran. He served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Representative for U.N. Management and Reform.

 

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US AND PARTNERS PREPARE MODEST OFFER TO IRAN

Barbara Slavin

Al- Monitor, Dec 19, 2012

                 

Weeks of deliberations among the United States and its fellow negotiators have produced an offer to Iran very similar to the package Iran rejected last summer, casting doubt on chances for breaking the long stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program.

 

The “refreshed” proposal includes spare parts for Iran’s aging Western jetliners — a perennial carrot — and assistance with Iran’s civilian nuclear infrastructure but no specific promise of sanctions relief, Al-Monitor has learned. Perhaps as a result, Iranian officials appear to be in no hurry to agree to a date to meet again with the so-called P5 +1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

 

Following US presidential elections, US officials began mulling a more generous proposal but have settled for a conservative position. Iran will be expected to agree to concessions before knowing exactly what it would get in return. Iran has been sending mixed signals in advance of new talks. Foreign Minister Ali Akhbar Salehi said Monday [Dec. 17]: “Both sides … have concluded that they have to exit the current impasse,” and that “Iran wants its legitimate and legal right and no more.” But Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said Tuesday [Dec. 18] that Iran would not stop enriching uranium to 20% U-235, a key international demand.

 

Another factor reducing expectations for upcoming negotiations is Iran’s reluctance so far to agree to a one-on-one meeting with the United States at which the Obama administration might be more forthcoming than in a multilateral setting.  Both sides appear to be unwilling to undertake major risks, diminishing the chances for a breakthrough or a breakdown of negotiations. The US and its partners appear to feel that time is on their side as economic sanctions bite deeper into the Iranian economy. Iran, meanwhile, is amassing larger quantities of low-enriched uranium that could improve its bargaining position down the road.

 

There is also the question of transition in both countries. Although Barack Obama was re-elected president, he will be naming new secretaries of state and defense soon and there may be a new US negotiating team. Iran is beginning to gear up for its own presidential elections next year and jostling has already begun within the conservative elite over who will replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains the ultimate decision maker.

 

Patrick Clawson, an Iran specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he has been told that the Obama administration has “a firm determination not to let the [US] transition slow down the process.” While some members of the US negotiating team are departing, the head negotiator, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, is likely to stay on for at least a while and has a good relationship with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the probable nominee to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

 

A bold offer to Iran would require President Obama to spend political capital that he may prefer to use for other purposes including avoiding the so-called “fiscal cliff,” getting his nominees for a new Cabinet approved and now in the wake of mass shootings at a school in Connecticut, gun control.

 

Barbara Slavin is Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, where she focuses on Iran. 

 

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2013: THE YEAR OF IRAN

David Horovitz

Times of Israel, December 19, 2012

 

We’ve been saying it for years: This coming year represents the moment of truth on Iran.

 

Except that this year, it’s for real: 2013 represents the moment of truth on Iran. The year the Iranians pass the point of no return in their drive to the bomb. Or the year, one way or another, they are dissuaded.

 

It’s the now or never year. But will it be now or never? Speak to some of those who claim to know Barack Obama best of all, and the response is definitive. The president is not bluffing. He means it when he says he will thwart a nuclear Iran by whatever means necessary — up to and most certainly including the use of force. This is not about protecting Israel, or rather not just about protecting Israel. It’s about American credibility. It’s about American interests throughout the Middle East — defending those interests against an Iranian regime that is already ideologically and territorially rapacious and that would be terrifyingly more potent if its ambitions were backed by a nuclear weapons capability. And it’s about the president’s sense of his historic obligation and legacy — Obama as protector, pushing hard now for gun control at home, and determined to reduce, ideally eliminate, the nuclear peril worldwide.

 

Speak to some of the president’s bitter political rivals, and the assessment is withering. An Obama resort to force? Not a snowball’s chance in hell. Forget the fine rhetoric about containment not being an option. This is a president bent on extricating the United States from combat zones, not plunging his forces into new military misadventures. This is a president who knows the electorate shudders at the prospect of confrontation with Iran.

This is a president who wants to appoint Chuck Hagel, firm opponent of a resort to force against Iran, as his next defense secretary. This is a president who had to be dragged into Libya by the French and the British, and who hasn’t lifted a finger as Bashar Assad waged war in Syria for almost two years. This is a president whose commitment to Israel can be gauged by his readiness to pick a major fight with Benjamin Netanyahu over building in an established ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of East Jerusalem (Ramat Shlomo) two years ago, a president who couldn’t spare half an hour for Netanyahu in the US this fall, even as he was insisting Israel hold its fire on Iran and thus entrust its security to him.

 

So which Obama are we betting on? The stakes for Israel could hardly be higher.  The coming months will provide ostensible evidence for both assessments. The US will engage in new efforts at diplomacy, insisting it is seeking a negotiated solution to the standoff.

 

A necessary precursor to a US-led resort to force, some will say. It is typical of Obama, they will argue, that he is both exhausting all other options, and being seen to exhaust all other options, in order to maximize perceived international legitimacy and support for armed intervention when — not if — he gives the order to strike.

 

Far from it, others will counter. Diplomacy and more diplomacy and more diplomacy — that’s the Obama way. And when it’s too late, the president will tell his public that he tried — that he pleaded and cajoled and demanded. That he did everything short of military action. But that Iran would not be budged. And that he opted not to resort to a preemptive military strike, recognizing that the America that just reelected him would have been horrified by such action, and that he is confident the Iranians would not dare target the United States.

 

Where do these absolutely conflicting assessments leave Israel? Worried. Wary. Uncertain.  It’s just possible that the two leaders, despite their frustrations with each other — “you did your best to help my rival”; “you’ve never really understood the challenges my country faces” — have reached a private understanding. If so, it could only be in the form of a pledge by Obama to Netanyahu: If the Iranians haven’t suspended the program by this or that date in 2013, America will strike.

 

That could explain the relative absence of bitter rhetoric emanating from Jerusalem these past few months. No more talk of the need for US-set red lines. No more dismal daily declarations from the prime minister that sanctions haven’t slowed the Iranian program “one iota.” It would explain the cessation of US administration warnings to Jerusalem to hold fire, the cessation of off-record briefings by administration officials warning Israeli journalists that their government is flirting with disaster, bringing the region to the brink of apocalypse.

 

Or it could be that there are no understandings — merely that, their public sparring over, the American and Israeli leaders have retired to their respective corners, a little bruised but far from broken, to plan their next moves.  If so, the dilemma for Netanyahu — who surely wanted to hit Iran last summer, but was derailed by the weight of opposition from the US and from his own security chiefs present and past — is unenviable, indeed. Existentially unenviable.

 

If he heeds the assessments of those Obama confidantes, watchers and friends who believe the president does have the stomach to order in the bombers, then just maybe he dares let Israel’s already much-narrowed window of opportunity to thwart Iran close altogether — even though to do so is to place Israel’s destiny in the hands of others, a breach of every independent Zionist fiber of the prime ministerial being.

 

And if he heeds the Obama critics, the insiders and the observers who scoff at the notion of a presidential resort to force, he will be preparing for a desperate, immensely risky utilization of Israeli military power, unprecedentedly far away, on targets hardened against precisely such intervention, over the objections of Israel’s greatest ally, with potentially catastrophic repercussions even if everything goes as planned.

 

He will be torn, furthermore, between a certain fealty to his late father’s fierce mindset — confront the threat, take action, use the Jewish nation’s hard-won restored sovereign power to strike down the latest advocates of Jewish genocide — and his own far more cautious inclinations, his tendency to talk the talk (on defying international pressure on settlements, refusing to negotiate with terrorists, ousting Hamas) but not always walk the walk.  He’ll know he could be saving Israel, or he could be dooming it. We’ll all find out, it rather seems, in 2013.

 

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CHANGES TO CANADA’S TERROR LIST
A SHOT ACROSS IRAN’S BOW

Campbell Clark

The Globe and Mail, Dec. 20 2012

 

The Canadian government has listed the clandestine branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization and, at the same time, removed a controversial Iranian opposition organization, the People’s Mujahedin, from the terror list.  The two moves together mark an effort to label, isolate and pressure Iran, with whom Canada broke off ties earlier this year.

 

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced in a statement that the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, a clandestine arm of the elite military unit that exerts powerful influence over Iran’s government and economy, has been added to the list. It was added for providing arms and training to terror organizations including Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, he said.

 

“The listing of terrorist entities sends a strong message that Canada will not tolerate terrorist activities, including terrorist financing, or those who support such activities.” That listing makes it illegal for Canadians to support or finance the organization, although that is likely to be a largely symbolic step in this case. Earlier this year, Ottawa declared Iran a state sponsor of terrorism and it recently imposed sanctions that limit doing business with the Revolutionary Guards.

 

But the Canadian government also took another step aimed at backing opponents of the Tehran regime, by removing the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), or People’s Mujahedin, from the terror list.

 

The MEK, once one of the groups involved in Iran’s 1979 revolution, has long been included on the terror list, but Western nations, considering it an opponent of the regime in Tehran, have started removing it from lists of terror organizations. The European Union stopped listing the MEK as a terror group in 2009, and the U.S. followed suit in September of this year.

 

But the MEK remains controversial, as human-rights groups have accused it of abuses at its camps in Iraq, and some dissidents within Iran dislike the West’s recent willingness to accept the group’s activities.

 

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Congress Approves New Iran Sanctions, Missile Defense Funding: JTA, Dec. 24, 2012—The final version of a defense funding act headed for President Obama’s desk includes enhanced Iran sanctions the president opposed as well as additional funding for Israel’s missile defense.

 

'Hamas Preparing for West Bank Takeover: Jerusalem Post, Dec. 23, 2012—Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal instructed the terror group's sleeper cells in the West Bank to prepare themselves for armed struggle to take control of the Palestinian territory, The Sunday Times reported.

 

Iran's Conservatives Push For A Deal: Ray Takeyh, National Interest, Dec. 21, 2012—As Washington contemplates another round of diplomacy with Iran, an intense debate is gripping the Islamic Republic’s corridors of power. An influential and growing segment of Iran’s body politic is calling for a negotiated settlement of the nuclear issue. Such calls have transcended the circle of reformers and liberals and are increasingly being voiced by conservative oligarchs.

 

Feeling the Pain in Tehran: Nazila Fathi, Foreign Policy, Dec. 21, 2012—Iran's Ministry of Intelligence did something remarkable last month: It used its website to publish a report (link in Farsi) calling for direct talks with the country's foe, the United States. In the report, entitled "The Zionist Regime's Reasons and Obstacles for Attacking Iran," the traditionally hawkish ministry highlighted the benefits of diplomacy and negotiations with the United States: "One way to fend off a possible war is to resort to diplomacy and to use all international capacities."

 

Christianity 'Close to Extinction' in Middle East: Edward Malnick, The Telegraph, Dec. 23, 2012—Christianity faces being wiped out of the “biblical heartlands” in the Middle East because of mounting persecution of worshippers, according to a new report. The most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam, it says, claiming that oppression in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism”. The report, by the think tank Civitas, says: “It is generally accepted that many faith-based groups face discrimination or persecution to some degree. "A far less widely grasped fact is that Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers.”

 

 

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