Moisés Naím writes: Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, has more cabinet members with Ph.D. degrees from U.S. universities than Barack Obama does. In fact, Iran has more holders of American Ph.D.s in its presidential cabinet than France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, or Spain — combined.
Take, for example, Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mohammad Nahavandian. He spent many years in the United States and has a Ph.D. in economics from George Washington University. Or Javad Zarif, the foreign affairs minister and chief negotiator in the recent nuclear deal between Iran and six global powers. He studied at the University of San Francisco and completed his doctorate at the University of Denver. For five years, he lived in New York and was Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, has a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from MIT. Mahmoud Vaezi, the communication minister, studied electrical engineering at Sacramento and San Jose State Universities and was enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Louisiana State University (he ultimately earned a doctorate in international relations at Warsaw University). Other cabinet members have advanced degrees from universities in Europe and Iran. Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi, the transportation minister, has a Ph.D. from the University of London, while President Rouhani got his from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. The new government in Tehran, in other words, might well be one of the most technocratic in the world.
Does this matter? On the surface, perhaps not much. We all know how often the governments of the “best and the brightest” disappoint. And it’s important to keep in mind that many of these highly credentialed cabinet members were also active participants in former Iranian administrations and backed policies that earned Iran’s theocracy its bad name. [Continue reading...]
The best and the brightest: More members with PhDs from U.S. universities in Rouhani’s cabinet than in Obama’s
Graham Allison writes: Amidst the weeping and gnashing of teeth from the Prime Minister’s office after the interim agreement on Iran reached in Geneva, it is appropriate to pause to ask how President Obama’s interim agreement actually measures up on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s chosen yardstick.
Who can forget Netanyahu’s UN presentation last year where he made his best case to the world about the threat Iran’s nuclear program poses to international security. To vivify this danger, Bibi unveiled a graphic sketch of a bomb on which he demonstrably drew a red line.
As he explained in his UN speech then: “In the case of Iran’s nuclear plans to build a bomb, this bomb has to be filled with enough enriched uranium. And Iran has to go through three stages. The first stage: they have to enrich enough of low enriched uranium. The second stage: they have to enrich enough medium enriched uranium. And the third stage and final stage: They have to enrich enough high enriched uranium for the first bomb.”
Having set the stage, he then asked, “Where’s Iran?” As he answered: “Iran’s completed the first stage. It took them many years, but they completed it and they’re 70% of the way there. Now they are well into the second stage.” He then vowed that Iran would never be allowed to cross his red line to the third stage. “The red line must be drawn on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program,” he argued, “because these enrichment facilities are the only nuclear installations that we can definitely see and credibly target. I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down.” [Continue reading...]
What lessons do the success of Camp David and the failure of Oslo hold for America’s nuclear deal with Iran?
Marc Lynch writes: The Geneva P5+1 interim agreement with Iran is already the most important Middle Eastern diplomatic gambit since the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel and the Oslo Accords between the PLO and Israel. The “Joint Plan of Action” produced a monumental, symbolic breakthrough after years of frustrating diplomatic gridlock, and laid out a tantalizing glimpse of a very different Middle East. It has rapidly normalized relationships and practices which had very recently seemed unthinkable. A successful final status agreement on the Iranian nuclear program would be a monumental diplomatic accomplishment. But like Camp David and Oslo, Geneva is only an interim agreement which leaves a vast array of core issues unresolved — and offers a million opportunities for failure.
Camp David is the best-case analogy for Geneva, Oslo the worst-case analogy (and Munich is, of course, the black hole of analogies, a billion bad ideas gone supernova and sucking in everything that comes within its malevolent gravitational pull). Camp David suggests that implementation can be achieved against considerable odds, and in doing so galvanize radical strategic change in unpredictable directions. But Oslo suggests how easily Geneva can fail, given the opportunities it creates for spoilers to intervene and for implementation problems to sap its transformative power. That’s especially troubling since Geneva’s bargaining framework resembles Oslo’s more than anything else.
But it is a measure of Camp David’s success that few now recall that Egypt was for decades Israel’s most militarily dangerous foe and the strategic linchpin of a pan-Arab order. Most policy analysts in the mid-1960s (and, most likely, in the mid-1970s) would have considered the idea of an enduring, decades-long Egyptian-Israeli security partnership to be outrageously implausible. Camp David shows that a seemingly unthinkable strategic reorientation of leading rivals is entirely possible, if not likely, and that once achieved can be normalized remarkably quickly. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: Deepening divisions among Libya’s myriad armed groups are increasingly stirring conflict in the North African state. Now the United States and its allies are prepared to add a new force to the toxic mix.
U.S. officials say the hope is that the General Purpose Force — a trained Libyan military organization — will start to fill the country’s festering security vacuum, initially by protecting vital government installations and the individuals struggling to make this country run. The Obama administration hopes the force eventually will form the core of a new national army.
The first steps are small. At the request of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, the United States, Britain and Italy have agreed to train 5,000 to 8,000 troops, many of whom will be drawn from existing militias. The recruits will be taken outside of Libya for military instruction and what a senior U.S. defense official described as an attempt to “shift attitudes and create new allegiances” to the central government.
But it remains unclear whether more men in arms can make a difference in an atmosphere flush with hundreds of powerful armed groups — many of them already on the government payroll — and competing political agendas.
Some in Libya, along with a number of outside experts, worry that the new force — whose recruits will be selected by the Libyan defense minister and vetted by the country that trains them — could ultimately become a tool for competing groups to advance their agendas, or simply one more armed faction in a dangerous sea of firepower. [Continue reading...]
Jonathan Freedland writes: There was no hesitation in pointing out the obvious loser from last weekend’s breakthrough deal between the world’s leading powers and Iran – and it wasn’t the scriptwriters of Homeland. True, the US drama has taken a blow: the current storyline centres on Tehran and its runaway nuclear programme, depicting a regime utterly beyond the reach of conventional diplomacy. Yet while Carrie and Saul plot and scheme, there’s secretary of state John Kerry shaking hands with his Iranian counterpart in Geneva – the actuality once again outdoing the talents of fiction, to paraphrase the great Philip Roth.
No, the obvious loser is Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. His driving mission, the raison d’être of this, his second spell as Israel’s prime minister, has been the total removal of what he sees as Iran’s nuclear threat. To Bibi, Iran is the existential issue to which all other questions – including Israel’s relationship with its neighbours, the Palestinians – are secondary. For two decades he has warned that Tehran is within touching distance of acquiring nuclear weapons – in 1992, he gave it five years, max, before Tehran had the bomb – and he has been bent ever since on the total eradication of that danger, almost certainly by force.
But the Geneva deal does not guarantee total Iranian disarmament. The pact struck last week is interim and incomplete: Iran retains some limited ability to enrich uranium and the like. It is not an Iranian surrender. Which is why Netanyahu denounced the agreement as a “historic mistake”, making him a lone public voice against the international chorus of celebration and relief. (As it happens, the Saudis and the Gulf states also oppose the deal, which they think lets Iran, their great regional rival, off the hook: but only Bibi said so out loud.)
Bibi-watchers are focused now on how the Israeli leader will play the next six months, in which the Geneva agreement will either blossom into a lasting accord or break apart. But it prompts another question: what will be the impact on Israel’s conflict closer to home? Could the breakthrough with Iran somehow presage a breakthrough between Israelis and Palestinians?
The wisest bet would be on no. Peace talks are officially under way, Kerry having pushed both sides to the table in late July. What got Bibi there was, chiefly, Iran: participation in Kerry’s talks was the quid, US support for Israel on Iran the expected quo. But now that leverage has gone. Bibi no longer needs to make nice to Kerry or Barack Obama: as far as he’s concerned, they’ve betrayed him and he owes them nothing. One western diplomat sympathetic to Israel explains that no leader of that country will ever dare move in peace talks unless reassured that “the US president has his back”. Bibi, he says, has lost that confidence.
A similar dynamic could operate in reverse. Obama knows he has angered his Israeli ally and that might make him reluctant to do so a second time. The US president already has a job on his hands winning congressional blessing for the Geneva pact. Given the wide support Bibi enjoys on Capitol Hill, Obama will only make his task harder by demanding Israel concede to the Palestinians.
Add that Kerry’s “bandwidth” for the next six months will be consumed by closing the Iran deal, and that Israeli-Palestinian talks are said to be stalled anyway, and you can see why few expect a Geneva bounce. The safest wager would be on Bibi “managing” whatever pressure comes from Obama, going through the motions with the Palestinians and waiting for the US president to be a certified lame duck. Meanwhile, he’ll do what he can to undermine the accord with Iran.
But there’s another, riskier bet to make. It says that Obama now has momentum in the Middle East, using diplomacy to solve problems previously deemed soluble only through military action. [Continue reading...]
David Ignatius writes: Now that the Obama administration has won its breakthrough first-step nuclear deal with Iran, officials are planning strategy for the decisive second round that, over the next six months, will seek a broader and tougher comprehensive agreement.
This “end state” negotiation, as officials describe it, promises to be more difficult because the United States and its negotiating partners will seek to dismantle parts of the Iranian program, rather than simply freeze them. Another complication is that negotiators will be fending off even more brickbats from hard-liners in Israel, Congress and Tehran.
If the interim deal was reached largely in secret, through a back channel provided by Oman, this one will have to be negotiated in the diplomatic equivalent of a circus ring, with hoots and catcalls from bystanders.
As administration strategists seek a comprehensive deal, they have several priorities. All will be harder to negotiate than was the limited six-month freeze on the Iranian program agreed to last weekend. Given the arduous bargaining ahead, the United States will need the leverage of the sanctions still in place after the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian assets — and the threat of more sanctions if negotiations break down.
The negotiators’ agenda: [Continue reading...]
Cameron Abadi writes: When Secretary of State John Kerry joined the nuclear negotiations at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva last Saturday, he employed the oldest negotiating trick in the book, evoking Congress as the bad cop to the Obama administration’s good cop. Kerry told Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that if they failed to reach an agreement that day, the Obama administration would be unable to prevent Congress from passing additional sanctions against Iran. Less than 24 hours later, Kerry and Zarif walked into the hotel lobby to announce that they had struck a deal to freeze Iran’s nuclear program temporarily.
In the face of criticism from members of Congress and U.S. allies in the Middle East, administration officials have insisted that the Geneva agreement is just the first step toward a more far-reaching disarmament deal. But such a deal will require that the Obama administration promise not just to forestall the imposition of new sanctions, but also to reduce dramatically the sanctions already in place. And that depends on the cooperation of a Congress that has been singularly uninterested in assuming the role of good cop in the showdown with Iran.
The White House has some discretion to rescind the Iran sanctions without Congress’s approval. The method for removing any given set of sanctions depends on how those sanctions were passed in the first place. If they’re the product of an executive order, as many of the existing sanctions against Iran are, removing them requires only that the White House decide to stop enforcing them. That’s exactly how Obama will be making good on its promise to Iran, as part of last week’s interim agreement, to restore access to $7 billion held in foreign bank accounts.
Removing sanctions that have been passed into law by Congress, however, is a much more difficult challenge. Despite the partisan gridlock in Washington over the past several years, bipartisan majorities have managed to cooperate on three separate rounds of sanctions since 2010, including measures targeting Iran’s central bank, which Iran will undoubtedly want rescinded. Removing those laws from the books will force the White House to go through Congress all over again. That will require overcoming the partisanship and procedural hurdles that have consumed Congress in recent years. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press and JTA report: The U.S. said Wednesday that Iran can undertake some construction work at a key nuclear facility as long as fuel isn’t produced and advances aren’t made on a planned heavy water reactor.
The Arak site was among the thorniest issues negotiators sought to resolve in last weekend’s nuclear agreement in Geneva.
The White House said afterward Iran wouldn’t advance its “activities” at Arak or progress toward plutonium production. It spelled out several more constraints.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday while his country was honoring the deal, construction on building projects would continue.
Iran opens contacts with major Western oil companies (Financial Times)
Reuters reports: The White House is nearing a decision on splitting up the eavesdropping National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, which conducts cyber warfare, a proposed reform prompted in part by revelations of NSA’s widespread snooping, individuals briefed on the matter said on Wednesday.
As part of the emerging plan, the NSA likely would get a civilian director for the first time in its 61-year history, the individuals said.
Both agencies are now headed by the same person, Army General Keith Alexander, who is retiring in March as NSA’s longest-serving director.
While Alexander is highly regarded in the intelligence community, critics have questioned the current arrangement. They say it concentrates too much power in one individual and that the two agencies have different missions. [Continue reading...]
Mohammed Ayoob writes: The impact of the Iran nuclear deal is unlikely to be limited to the nuclear proliferation arena. While the question whether the deal has prevented Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons capability or has merely postponed the inevitable by a few months or years will continue to be debated, one should not ignore the wider strategic consequences of the agreement for several reasons.
First, it has the potential of introducing a sea change in the relationship of the United States that could unfetter Iranian diplomatic capabilities that can be used in pursuit of its broader regional goals. This is the reason why Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have reacted so harshly and negatively to the agreement. If things proceed down the path of an Iranian-U.S. rapprochement in the context of a war weary American public opinion, Riyadh can no longer automatically depend upon U.S. diplomatic and military support against Iran in its competition for power and influence in the Persian Gulf.
Second, it has demonstrated unequivocally that on vital strategic issues in which U.S. and Israeli interests diverge Washington does possess the residual political will to make hard decisions in the teeth of Israeli opposition, something that analysts of all hues had doubted for a long time. This may signal the beginning of the unraveling of the prevailing myth that U.S. policy toward the Middle East is shaped in Tel Aviv and not in Washington. It also explodes the myth that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is an all-powerful force when it comes to fashioning U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Its consequences, therefore, go beyond the Iranian nuclear issue and are likely to impact public perceptions in the United States and abroad regarding the deadlock over the Palestinian issue and the likely direction of U.S. policy on the unending Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This explains Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s uncompromising hostility toward the Geneva agreement even at the expense of doing grave damage to Israeli-U.S. relations. [Continue reading...]
One of the paradoxes of the practice of railing against power — be that the power of the Israel lobby, or government, or corporations — is that those who persistently issue such warnings can be reluctant to acknowledge that such power has limits.
Thus in the current situation there are those who will insist that sooner or later Congress, on the command of AIPAC, will impose new sanctions and destroy the agreement Iran. Or, that due to pressure from Israel and Saudi Arabia the current agreement will expire without a permanent agreement being reached.
Both of those scenarios are certainly possibilities but my sense is that what this weekend’s agreement reveals is that the opponents of U.S.-Iranian rapprochement are manifestly swimming against the international tide.
The neocon trolls, beguiled by their own apocalyptic rhetoric, are convinced that the evil Islamic republic, hellbent on its pursuit of nuclear weapons, can pursue no other course. Yet what all the evidence makes clear is that Iran’s leaders — like those of any other state — are acting in accordance with what they perceive as their own interests and currently they see those interests best served by improved international relations.
The lesson here is about flexibility. Those with the skill to hold on to power are often more pragmatic than their opponents.
Rami G. Khouri writes: The most striking implication of the agreement signed in Geneva last weekend to ensure that Iran’s nuclear industry does not develop nuclear weapons while gradually removing the sanctions on the country is more about Iran than it is about Iran’s nuclear industry. The important new dynamic that has been set in motion is likely to profoundly impact almost every significant political situation around the Middle East and the world, including both domestic conditions within countries and diplomatic relations among countries.This agreement breaks the long spell of estrangement and hostility between the U.S. and Iran, and signals important new diplomatic behavior by both countries, which augurs well for the entire region. It is also likely to trigger the resumption of the suspended domestic political and cultural evolution of Iran, which also will spur new developments across the Middle East.
Perhaps we can see the changes starting to occur in Iran as similar to the developments in Poland in the early 1980s, when the bold political thrust of the Solidarity movement that enjoyed popular support broke the Soviet Union’s hold on Polish political life, and a decade later led to the collapse of the entire Soviet Empire. The resumption of political evolution inside Iran will probably move rapidly in the years ahead, as renewed economic growth, more personal freedoms, and more satisfying interactions with the region and the world expand and strengthen the relatively “liberal” forces around Rouhani, Rafsanjani, Khatami and others; this should slowly temper, then redefine and reposition, the Islamic revolutionary autocrats who have controlled the power structure for decades but whose hard-line controls are increasingly alien to the sentiments of ordinary Iranians.
These domestic and regional reconfigurations will occur slowly, comprising the situations in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Gulf Cooperation Council states led by Saudi Arabia. The critical link remains a healthy, normal, nonhostile relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which I suspect will start to come about in the months ahead, as both grasp the exaggerated nature of their competition for influence in the region and learn to behave like normal countries. They will learn to compete on the basis of their soft power among a region of half a billion people who increasingly feel and behave like citizens who have the right to choose how they live, rather than to be dictated to and herded like cattle. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: Americans back a newly brokered nuclear deal with Iran by a 2-to-1 margin and are very wary of the United States resorting to military action against Tehran even if the historic diplomatic effort falls through, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.
The findings were rare good news in the polls for President Barack Obama, whose approval ratings have dropped in recent weeks because of the botched rollout of his signature healthcare reform law.
According to the Reuters/Ipsos survey, 44 percent of Americans support the interim deal reached between Iran and six world powers in Geneva last weekend, and 22 percent oppose it.
McClatchy reports: President Barack Obama has faced withering criticism around the globe for his secret spying programs. How has he responded? With more secrecy.
Obama has been gradually tweaking his vast government surveillance policies. But he is not disclosing those changes to the public. Has he stopped spying on friendly world leaders? He won’t say. Has he stopped eavesdropping on the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund? He won’t say.
Even the report by the group Obama created to review and recommend changes to his surveillance programs has been kept secret.
Critics note that this comes after he famously promised the most open administration in history.
“They seem to have reverted to a much more traditional model of secrecy except when it’s politically advantageous,” said Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, and is an expert on – and prominent critic of – government secrecy. “That’s normal but not consistent with their pledge. [Continue reading...]
Barbara Slavin writes: The ink was not dry on the historic Geneva nuclear accord with Iran before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced it as a “historic mistake” that would allow Iran to cheat and get closer to nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu may have been doing Iran a favor. By criticizing the deal so harshly, he will make it easier for Iranian officials to assert to their hardliners that the agreement, which pauses Iran’s nuclear advances and rolls back some of the program in return for modest sanctions relief, was a victory for the Islamic Republic.
In the zero-sum politics of the Middle East, what’s good for your enemy is invariably considered bad for you. Yet the deal announced early Sunday European time has much that is useful for Iran, the United States, the international community writ large and yes, Israel too. [Continue reading...]
AP & Al-Monitor learned about, but concealed, talks between US and Iran http://t.co/2wHU90Gj88
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) November 25, 2013
AP and Al-Monitor concealed their knowledge of secret talks between the U.S. and Iran.
The mere fact that Glenn Greenwald regards this as Tweet-worthy seems to imply that he sees something nefarious in the Associated Press and Al-Monitor colluding with government officials by failing to disclose what they had learned at the time of discovery.
I guess for a transparency zealot this kind of collusion would have to be problematic, but let’s get real.
Wherein lies the greater public service: making all information public at the earliest opportunity even if that disclosure might sabotage diplomacy? Or, in recognizing that there are times when forging an agreement absolutely depends on confidentiality so that negotiations can proceed without interference from parties that oppose the existence of such negotiations?
All I can say is: thank goodness AP and Al-Monitor kept quiet. They did the right thing.
Moreover, let’s be honest. Greenwald himself has been sitting on stories for months for reasons that I doubt will ever be made public. The process through which the Snowden revelations have trickled out has not been a model of transparency.