Iran nuclear talks: Clearing the final hurdles

Reza Marashi writes: As officials from Iran and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) negotiate around the clock in Vienna, the self-imposed June 30 deadline steadily approaches to seal a comprehensive nuclear deal. The Obama and Rouhani administrations should be commended: The amount of progress made in the past eighteen months is greater than the preceding decade combined. The two sides are now on the cusp of a historic deal that will be one of the greatest foreign policy achievements in recent memory.

Standing in the way of victory are two key issues, both of which are resolvable: Sanctions relief, and inspections and verification.

Finding the right formula for sanctions relief will likely be the most challenging issue in Vienna. If Washington offers sanctions relief that does not provide practical value for Tehran, it will correspondingly diminish the practical value for Iranian decision-makers to uphold their end of the bargain. Iran gave more than it received in the interim nuclear deal, and is looking to collect on that investment. The P5+1 believes it must maintain the architecture of sanctions to ensure Iranian compliance. Splitting the difference will require compromise on two fronts: Multilateral sanctions and unilateral sanctions. [Continue reading…]

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Scott Ritter explains why Iran shouldn’t accept ‘no notice’ inspections of its nuclear sites

Scott Ritter writes: Nuclear negotiations between Iran and what’s known as the P-5 + 1 group of nations (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany) are scheduled to conclude on 30 June. A ‘framework agreement’ was set out in April, but still at issue is what kind of access inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency will have. Iran has agreed to inspections of all the sites it has declared are being used to develop its nuclear power programme. The US insists that any agreement must also address what it calls ‘possible military dimensions’ – that is, allegations that Iran has pursued an undeclared nuclear weapons capability – and is demanding the right to conduct ‘no notice’ inspections of nuclear sites, and to interview Iranian nuclear scientists. ‘It’s critical for us to know going forward,’ the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said in June, that ‘those activities have been stopped, and that we can account for that in a legitimate way.’ France has said that any agreement that doesn’t include inspections of military sites would be ‘useless’. Iran has been adamant that it won’t allow them and that its nuclear scientists are off-limits. These positions seem irreconcilable and unless something changes a nuclear accord is unlikely.

My first experience as a weapons inspector was in implementing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the US and the former Soviet Union, and I’m a firm believer that on-site inspections should be part of any arms control agreement. As a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, I worked closely with the IAEA to investigate Iraq’s past nuclear weapons programme, and I have confidence in the IAEA’s ability to implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The provisions of the NPT are at the heart of the framework agreement with Iran, and the measures contained in it – which include sophisticated remote monitoring, and environmental sampling at undeclared facilities – should be more than adequate to establish whether or not it has diverted any nuclear material to a weapons programme. The framework agreement also calls for a range of verification measures beyond those required by the NPT. These cover centrifuge production and aspects of the uranium fuel cycle such as mining and processing, and are needed to verify that Iran isn’t engaged in covert uranium enrichment using a secret cache of centrifuges and unaccounted-for stocks of uranium ore. No notice inspections to investigate ‘possible military dimensions’, however, go far beyond anything required by the NPT. The question is whether such an intrusive measure is warranted or whether, as Iran argues, the inspections would infringe its legitimate security interests.

The facts appear to support Iran’s position. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. could lift sanctions before Iran accounting

The New York Times reports: Secretary of State John Kerry signaled for the first time on Tuesday that the United States was prepared to ease economic sanctions on Iran without fully resolving evidence suggesting that Iran’s scientists have been involved in secret work on nuclear weapons.

In his first State Department news conference since breaking his leg last month in a bicycling accident, Mr. Kerry suggested major sanctions might be lifted long before international inspectors get definitive answers to their longstanding questions about Iranian experiments and nuclear design work that appeared aimed at developing a bomb. The sanctions block oil sales and financial transfers.

“We’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another,” said Mr. Kerry, who appeared by video from Boston. Instead, he said: “It’s critical to us to know that going forward, those activities have been stopped, and that we can account for that in a legitimate way. That clearly is one of the requirements in our judgment for what has to be achieved in order to have a legitimate agreement.” [Continue reading…]

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Spy virus linked to Israel targeted hotels used for Iran nuclear talks

The Wall Street Journal reports: When a cybersecurity firm discovered it had been hacked last year by a virus widely believed to be used by Israeli spies, it wanted to know who else was on the hit list.

The Moscow-based firm, Kaspersky Lab ZAO, checked millions of computers world-wide and three luxury European hotels popped up. The other hotels tested—thousands in all—were clean. Researchers at the firm weren’t sure what to make of the results. Then they realized what the three hotels had in common.

Each was infiltrated by the virus before hosting high-stakes negotiations between Iran and world powers over curtailing Tehran’s nuclear program.

The spyware, the firm has now concluded, was an improved version of Duqu, a virus first identified by cybersecurity experts in 2011, according to a Kaspersky report and outside security experts. Current and former U.S. officials and many cybersecurity experts say they believe Duqu was designed to carry out Israel’s most sensitive intelligence collection. [Continue reading…]

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Israel thought to be behind new malware found by Kaspersky

Der Spiegel reports: For the employees of the Russian firm Kaspersky Lab, tracking down computer viruses, worms and Trojans and rendering them harmless is all in a day’s work. But they recently discovered a particularly sophisticated cyber attack on several of the company’s own networks. The infection had gone undetected for months.

Company officials believe the attack began when a Kaspersky employee in one of the company’s offices in the Asia-Pacific region was sent a targeted, seemingly innocuous email with malware hidden in the attachment, which then became lodged in the firm’s systems and expanded from there. The malware was apparently only discovered during internal security tests “this spring.”

The attack on Kaspersky Lab shows “how quickly the arms race with cyber weapons is escalating,” states a 45-page report on the incident by the company, which was made available to SPIEGEL in advance of its release. The exact reason for the attack is “not yet clear” to Kaspersky analysts, but the intruders were apparently interested mainly in subjects like future technologies, secure operating systems and the latest Kaspersky studies on so-called “advanced persistent threats,” or APTs. The Kaspersky employees also classified the spy software used against the company as an APT.

Analysts at Kaspersky’s Moscow headquarters had already been familiar with important features of the malware that was being used against them. They believe it is a modernized and redeveloped version of the Duqu cyber weapon, which made international headlines in 2011. The cyber weapons system that has now been discovered has a modular structure and seems to build on the earlier Duqu platform.

In fact, says Vitaly Kamluk, Kaspersky’s principal security researcher and a key member of the team that analyzed the new virus, some of the software passages and methods are “very similar or almost identical” to Duqu. The company is now referring to the electronic intruder as “Duqu 2.0.” “We have concluded that it is the same attacker,” says Kamluk. [Continue reading…]

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Interview with Iranian foreign minister: ‘We will have differences with U.S. no matter what’

Der Spiegel reports: Mohammad Javad Zarif, 55, is relaxed and cheerful during an interview that takes place in his office in Tehran, telling jokes in perfect English. He studied political science in the United States before becoming Tehran’s ambassador to the United Nations. Since 2013, he has served as foreign minister under President Hassan Rouhani. He recently negotiated the preliminary agreement in the country’s nuclear dispute with the international community. He is well-liked by his Western negotiating partners and a star in his home country, where his autobiography is a best-seller. Some see a future president in the making, but he smiles and shrugs off the suggestion. “Domestic policy is not for me,” he says.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Minister, you literally had people dancing in the streets when you announced on April 2 that a solution to the nuclear conflict was in sight. At the same time, neither side was able to agree on a joint fact sheet. Did people party prematurely?

Zarif: It is the right of the people to be happy and it is the responsibility of the government to make people happy. What happened in Lausanne was an important milestone, but it wasn’t a deal. I believe that a deal is not only possible, but probable. We reached a conceptual understanding on a number of parameters for the resolution. We need to put that in writing in terms of an agreement, and that’s exactly what my colleagues are doing now in Vienna.

SPIEGEL: The United States released its fact sheet of the key points of the negotiations in order to show that it didn’t make major concessions. We assume you weren’t thrilled about this, right?

Zarif: I do not believe that the practice of producing fact sheets is a very useful one. The world has gone through a significant change. You cannot pick and choose your audience anymore. In the past, you could present your version of reality, your narrative to your audience, and the other side could have presented their narrative to their audience. But today in the age of the Internet and social media, narratives become global — and that’s where the problem comes. So you need to be able to present the final, complete package. [Continue reading…]

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The season for rapprochement with Iran

Robin Wright writes: In her title role on the CBS television drama “Madam Secretary,” Téa Leoni has achieved what Secretary of State John Kerry yearns for — a deal with Iran which eases the thirty-six years of tensions that have afflicted six Presidents. Leoni’s character, Elizabeth Faulkner McCord, goes to Tehran as part of the diplomatic process, and a fictional Iranian President visited Washington.

Neither is likely to occur offscreen anytime soon. But the United States and Iran, backed by five other world powers, are scheduled to begin nonstop negotiations this week for a prospective June 30th agreement that will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t get it,” Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told me in New York last week. We spoke at the residence of Iran’s U.N. Ambassador, in the elegant second-floor parlor where Zarif had hosted Kerry two days earlier. That meeting had been a first; technically, Kerry was on Iranian soil.

Other officials involved in the talks have told me that diplomacy is further along than was indicated by the so-called blueprint for a deal, which was announced in Lausanne on April 2nd (and enumerated in a four-page U.S. fact sheet). What is more striking, after eighteen months of negotiations, is the changing climate, whether in popular culture, public opinion, or diplomacy. In the case of “Madam Secretary,” an American TV drama dared to build a whole season around rapprochement with Iran. It began with the Administration uncovering a rogue U.S. coup attempt, along the lines of what the C.I.A. and British intelligence carried out in Iran in 1953. The premise throughout the season was that Washington no longer supports regime change in Iran — which has been true of both the Bush and Obama Administrations but is still anathema to many in Congress. Rotten Tomatoes gives the “Madam Secretary” season an approval rating of eighty per cent among the public, a sign that its Iran plotline is considered realistic or acceptable. Several of the show’s episodes have drawn more than ten million viewers. The season ended last night, with Secretary McCord subpoenaed by a Senate investigation trying to discredit her and sabotage U.S. diplomacy for political gain. (Not in Washington!) But in the end she prevails, and wins a (fictional) poll showing that eighty-two per cent of the public supports her stand. [Continue reading…]

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Why Iran’s foreign minister is bullish on a nuclear pact

Barbara Slavin reports: With the final deadline just two months away, negotiators from Iran and six world powers get back around the table in New York on Thursday to begin drafting a comprehensive nuclear agreement. And as the parameters of that deal come into clearer focus, Iran’s foreign minister sounds confident about getting a deal done — and implementing it within a couple of weeks of signing.

“We have general agreement on the concepts … the parameters of an agreement,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a large crowd at New York University on Wednesday. But he said the current text contains brackets on “almost everything,” and the sides still need to resolve differences — which he declined to specify — on wording.

Still, Zarif asserted that all of those differences are surmountable. “I believe it can be done, I believe it should be done and this is an opportunity that should not be missed,” he said. Drafting the final accord will begin on the sidelines of a U.N. nuclear treaty review conference, and will continue next week in Europe. [Continue reading…]

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Why Russia and China may fear the nuclear deal with Iran

Melik Kaylan writes: Today’s news that Iran’s navy impounded a Western ship illustrates the severe impediments to a nuke deal. With so much going against it, the most powerful argument for completing the agreement still hasn’t been uttered by anyone. Astonishing, you might think. Not really. The central figure on whose shoulders falls the task of selling it to Americans — President Obama — will not tell you. Arguably, he cannot. Meanwhile, his initiative has to survive incessant media barracking about centrifuge numbers, breakout thresholds, regional proliferation, threats to Israel, plausible monitoring and much else.

Even George W. Bush came out of obscurity this weekend to lend his threadbare authority to the naysaying chorus. He added, for good measure, that withdrawing from Iraq was a strategic mistake. It didn’t take long for the Twitterverse to respond that invading in the first place was the greater mistake. We won’t get into that here. Suffice to say that on George W.’s watch, Putin invaded Georgia, China became a global superpower, and Venezuela’s Chavez got a guarantee of security from the US in exchange for uninterrupted oil supplies. Obama’s soft approach to world affairs hasn’t righted things. But the proposed nuclear framework agreement with Iran may be his first big venture to do just that.

The clue — overwhelmingly conspicuous yet everyone ignores it — comes in the form of Russia and China’s reaction. I know something about this having published a book in September entitled “The Russia-China Axis.” When the preliminary stage of talks concluded positively, Moscow immediately announced an agreement to build 50 more nuclear power stations for Iran. This time around, they announced the sale of S-300 missiles.

As for China, here’s a statement by Iran’s official news agency about Beijing ramping up massive investments in Iranian oilfield development and the like. Subtract the propaganda and hyperbole and you still get a clear enough picture. China never abided by the sanctions, becoming Teheran’s main trading partner in recent years. In essence, the sanctions gave China exclusive access to cheap Iranian oil. Iran was among the first nations to join the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. And now as a possible lifting of sanctions looms, the Chinese are piling it on. [Continue reading…]

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Top U.S. negotiator warns of dangers of failing to lock down Iran deal

Foreign Policy reports: America’s top negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks offered a surprisingly detailed assessment of Tehran’s existing nuclear capabilities on Monday as she warned that failing to secure a final deal with the longtime adversary would seriously threaten American national security.

The remarks by Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department, come at a pivotal juncture in U.S. politics as Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill wrangle over provisions in a new bill allowing Congress to review a final agreement.

Sherman, speaking at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, said that failing to reach an agreement would leave Tehran closer than ever to acquiring a bomb.

Without a deal, Sherman said, Iran would expand its nuclear enrichment program to 100,000 centrifuges in the next few years instead of shrinking that figure to 5,000 as agreed in the framework agreement brokered in Lausanne, Switzerland on April 2.

She also said Iran could produce enough weapons grade plutonium to produce two bombs each year. And in terms of uranium enrichment, the country could expand its already significant stockpile of 10 tons of enriched uranium.

In dealing with both of the emerging pathways to a bomb, she said an agreement would result in Iran having “zero weapons grade plutonium” and a stockpile of enriched uranium that is reduced by 98 percent. She added that if the U.S. backs out of a deal widely viewed as fair, international support for sanctions will whither away. [Continue reading…]

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Mohammad Javad Zarif: A message from Iran

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, writes: We made important progress in Switzerland earlier this month. With the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, we agreed on parameters to remove any doubt about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program and to lift international sanctions against Iran.

But to seal the anticipated nuclear deal, more political will is required. The Iranian people have shown their resolve by choosing to engage with dignity. It is time for the United States and its Western allies to make the choice between cooperation and confrontation, between negotiations and grandstanding, and between agreement and coercion.

With courageous leadership and the audacity to make the right decisions, we can and should put this manufactured crisis to rest and move on to much more important work. The wider Persian Gulf region is in turmoil. It is not a question of governments rising and falling: the social, cultural and religious fabrics of entire countries are being torn to shreds. [Continue reading…]

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Nuclear deal may open door to detente with Iran

Adm. Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, writes: Powerful factions in the leadership remain deeply suspicious of the West and even of this agreement, believing that the international community is only interested in regime change, and that only through geopolitical adventurism and the projection of power can the regime be sustained. Failure of the negotiating process will only reinforce their hand.

Iranian reformists, on the other hand, support a nuclear deal because it would be a first step in the evolution they would like to see. But its successful enactment would just be the opening salvo in a struggle between these two visions of Iran. Much will depend on President Rouhani’s ability to continue satisfying the electorate’s demand for change. The next showdown will come when a group of elders charged with selecting the next Supreme Leader get elected next winter. The third showdown comes with Parliamentary balloting in the spring of 2016, with the final showdown being the Presidential election in 2017.

Which of these two visions wins out will become clear over the next several years and will have tremendous repercussions for the future of the Middle East. It might also have tremendous repercussions for American foreign policy, pushing open a door which has remained closed for more than 35 years. Exposure to the Iranian people, and their exposure to us, may yield new opportunities to discourage Iranian support for terrorist groups and other abusive regimes where they exercise influence. It would also more fairly rebalance American influence. We need to re-examine all of the relationships we enjoy in the region, relationships primarily with Sunni-dominated nations. Detente with Iran might better balance our efforts across the sectarian divide. [Continue reading…]

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Congress can’t stop Iran sanctions unraveling

Barbara Slavin writes: For months now, Russia has been a constructive member of the international consortium negotiating with Iran, often proposing creative fixes to technical hurdles.

But this week, just as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was taking up sensitive Iran-related legislation, Russia announced that it was going forward with an old contract to sell Iran an air defense missile system that could make it less vulnerable to foreign attack.

The deal to supply the S-300 is not illegal under UN sanctions, which prohibit selling offensive heavy weaponry to Iran. The message the Kremlin is sending is that Russia is not willing to wait for the conclusion of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program to lock in the benefits of resumed trade with the Islamic Republic.

It is unfortunate that the government of Vladimir Putin didn’t wait a few months longer. Critics of the Iran deal have been quick to pounce on the announcement as proof that the Barack Obama administration was somehow duped by Moscow and that the Iran framework so laboriously negotiated over the past 13 months is a “sucker’s deal.”

A more insightful way to read Russia’s act is to see it as a recognition of reality that the elaborate web of multilateral sanctions imposed on Iran over the past five years is unraveling and only an egregious Iranian effort to break out and build a nuclear weapon could arrest that momentum. [Continue reading…]

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Iranian president: We are in talks with ‘the major powers,’ not the U.S. Congress

The Washington Post reports: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Tehran was negotiating a comprehensive nuclear deal with world powers, not the U.S. Congress, and called a Senate committee’s vote to give Congress the power to review any potential deal a domestic U.S. matter.

The Iranian leader, speaking in a televised speech in the northern Iranian city of Rasht, also repeated earlier statements that his country will not accept any comprehensive nuclear deal with world powers unless all sanctions imposed against it are lifted.

“We are in talks with the major powers and not with the Congress,” Rouhani said, Iranian state television reported. Rouhani said the U.S. Congress’ power to review a nuclear deal with Iran was a domestic U.S. matter, the Reuters news agency reported.

He said Iran wanted to end its isolation from the world by constructing “constructive interaction with the world and not confrontation.”

Rouhani’s comments came one day after a Senate committee voted unanimously to give Congress the power to review a potential Iran nuclear deal after a June 30 negotiating deadline, in a compromise with the White House that allows President Obama to avoid possible legislative disapproval of the pact before it can be completed. [Continue reading…]

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Why has Russia lifted its ban on delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran?

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Kremlin lifted its self-imposed ban on the delivery of a powerful missile air-defense system to Iran on Monday, stoking sharp criticism from the White House and Israel and casting fresh doubt on the international effort to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

U.S. lawmakers seized on Moscow’s announcement Monday to warn Russia was among a host of foreign countries using the prospect of a nuclear deal to begin seeking out lucrative business deals that could bolster Iran’s military and economy.

Any delivery of an air-defense system would complicate airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel or the U.S. should the diplomatic track fail.

Iran thinks that Russia will deliver the missile system this year, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told the Interfax news agency in Moscow on Tuesday.

The U.S. Senate is set to vote this week on legislation that would provide Congress with the power to approve, amend or kill any agreement that seeks to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.

Supporters of the bill, Republican and Democrat, said Russia’s lifting of its ban on the S-300 surface-to-air missile system could be just the beginning of countries testing the sanctions regime and a United Nations arms embargo on Iran.

“Before a final nuclear deal is even reached, [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has started to demolish international sanctions and ignore the U.N. arms embargo,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), who sponsored legislation that seeks to impose new sanctions on Iran if a final deal isn’t reached by June 30.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the defensive systems didn’t come under the U.N. arms embargo, and that Russia implemented the S-300 ban voluntarily. “This was done in the spirit of good will to stimulate progress in the negotiations,” he said, adding that it was no longer necessary.

The State Department also said that the embargo imposed on Iran in 2010 didn’t prevent the delivery of S-300s. But the White House warned that the missile system, while defensive, could enhance Iran’s ability to challenge key U.S. allies in the Middle East, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

It said that Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issue with Mr. Lavrov on Monday.

Still, the Obama administration was measured in its criticism, noting that it didn’t believe the proposed missile sale would jeopardize the nuclear negotiations. [Continue reading…]

Some analysts may interpret Putin’s move as an effort to undermine the nuclear deal with Iran, but one can argue that on the contrary, the planned delivery of S-300 missiles may make the conclusion of the deal a fait accompli.

With an elastic clock, Benjamin Netanyahu has long favored a breathless time is running out narrative when it comes to closing the door on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

If no deal is signed and within a few months Iran’s newly-reinforced defense systems make its nuclear sites extremely difficult to attack, 2015 is probably the last year that Israel could launch or instigate air strikes on Iran. It has never been plausible that it could conduct such attacks on its own, but the timing for it to enlist the support of others has probably never been worse.

The U.S. and Iran are effectively on the same side in a war against ISIS. American forces currently in Iraq would definitely become very vulnerable if the U.S. soon started bombing Iran.

Moreover, as Yemen becomes a quagmire for Saudi Arabia, an attack on Iran would likely become the tipping point for the current matrix of regional conflicts to start hopelessly spinning out of control.

Putin’ intention in approving the delivery of S-300 missiles at this juncture might simply be to push Russia first out of the gate in the race to cash in on the rewards from the inevitable ending the economic embargo on Iran.

Those who currently argue that the framework agreement is not good enough are rapidly being confronted with the reality that either the deal gets struck by the end of June or within a fairly short period Iran will see dwindling incentives for making any deal. Time is on Iran’s side.

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Netanyahu told cabinet: Our biggest fear is that Iran will honor nuclear deal

Haaretz reports: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a recent meeting of the security cabinet that if a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the six world powers is indeed signed by the June 30 deadline, the greatest concern is that Tehran will fully implement it without violations, two senior Israeli officials said.

The meeting of the security cabinet was called on short notice on April 3, a few hours before the Passover seder. The evening before, Iran and the six powers had announced at Lausanne, Switzerland that they had reached a framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and that negotiations over a comprehensive agreement would continue until June 30.

The security cabinet meeting was called after a harsh phone call between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama over the agreement with Tehran.

The two senior Israeli officials, who are familiar with the details of the meeting but asked to remain anonymous, said a good deal of the three-hour meeting was spent on ministers “letting off steam” over the nuclear deal and the way that the U.S. conducted itself in the negotiations with Iran.

According to the two senior officials, Netanyahu said during the meeting that he feared that the “Iranians will keep to every letter in the agreement if indeed one is signed at the end of June.”

One official said: “Netanyahu said at the meeting that it would be impossible to catch the Iranians cheating simply because they will not break the agreement.” [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu’s phony claim that he wants ‘a better deal’ with Iran

Jessica T. Mathews writes: By definition, a negotiated agreement is imperfect. This one in particular entails risks, costs, extended vigilance, and a significant chance of future failure. Judging it begins and ends with clarity about what choices are truly before us. That has a simple answer: there are only two alternatives to a negotiated deal.

One is a return to the situation that prevailed for a decade before negotiations began and before an interim agreement was reached at the end of 2013. In the best case (in which Iran is seen to have been the cause of negotiating failure), punishing multilateral sanctions would continue. Iran’s leaders would respond as they have before, standing up to foreigners’ pressure by continuing their nuclear program—adding more advanced centrifuges, stockpiling enriched uranium, completing a reactor that produces plutonium, and taking Iran to the threshold of a nuclear weapon and perhaps beyond. There might continue to be some international inspectors on the ground, though with far less access than at present.

We know where this option leads, for it has been well tested. In 2003, the US rejected an Iranian proposal that would have capped its centrifuges at 3,000. By the time the current negotiations started a decade later, the standoff created by more sanctions and more centrifuges had resulted in costs of nearly $100 billion to Iran from sanctions and its production of 19,000 centrifuges. The lesson of sanctions — from Cuba to Russia and beyond — is that they can impose a cost on wrongdoing, but if the sanctioned country chooses to pay the price, sanctions cannot prevent it from continuing the sanctioned activities.

The second alternative is bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. Even supporters of this option do not believe that it would do more than delay Iran’s progress by more than two to four years. It would certainly unite all Iranians around the absolute necessity of having a nuclear deterrent. It would strengthen Iran’s hard-liners, radicalizing its politics and probably prolonging clerical rule. While the bombed facilities were being rebuilt, with more of them being put securely underground, there would be no inspectors or cameras. Outsiders would know far less than they do now about what is being built and where or how close Iran had come to producing a bomb. Soon another round of bombing would be necessary.

Is there a third alternative, namely a tougher deal that requires no enrichment in Iran and the destruction of its nuclear infrastructure? Prime Minister Netanyahu promised in his appearance before Congress that the US can get such a deal by “call[ing] their bluff.” Simply walk away from the table and “they’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.” If sanctions brought Iran to the table, this argument goes, more sanctions and more pressure will get us everything we want. It sounds reasonable, but it fails on closer inspection.

First, of course, the argument ignores the essence of negotiation — that neither side gets everything it wants. Also, although it is true that sanctions are imposing real pain on the Iranian economy, there are many in Iran’s power elite, especially in the Revolutionary Guard, who profit from the country’s isolation and would welcome continuing sanctions. Others oppose a deal for ideological reasons. The balance in Iranian politics that brought negotiators into serious talks for the first time was long in coming and remains precarious. If the US were to reverse course, abandoning negotiations in hopes of a winner-take-all outcome, Iran would follow suit.

Moreover, if other nations found America’s reasons for rejecting a deal unreasonable, support for multilateral sanctions would quickly erode. Soon we would be back to ineffective, unilateral sanctions.

The question, then, is whether proponents of this approach have diagnosed fundamental weaknesses in the deal that has been reached and genuinely believe that renewed negotiation could strengthen it, or whether they are counting on both sides walking away from the table and not returning. The fact that so many of them — emphatically including Netanyahu — trashed the deal before it existed and make demands they know to be nonnegotiable strongly suggests that the insistence that the US “negotiate a better deal” is phony. [Continue reading…]

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Is Netanyahu responsible for Iran deal?

Akiva Eldar writes: If the joint Lausanne statement becomes a permanent agreement between the superpowers and Iran, we will have to take off our hats to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. No one contributed more than he did to the removal, or at least the postponement, of the danger that power-hungry ayatollahs would have their fingers on a button of an atom bomb. Leaders have won the Nobel Prize for lesser achievements.

For years, Netanyahu forced the international community to put dealing with the Iranian nuclear program at the top of its agenda. If it weren’t for his threat (whether real or not) to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities, it’s not certain that the powers would have united to ensure that Iran would have to make do with nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. If it weren’t for Netanyahu’s success in recruiting members of Congress to the initiative to intensify the sanctions on Iran, it’s quite doubtful that Tehran would have entered open negotiations with “the Great Satan.” Like the idea that only a conservative leader like Richard Nixon could have paved the way to US dialogue with Communist China, it can be said that only a conservative Israeli leader like Netanyahu could have paved the one to US dialogue with Shiite Iran.

Nevertheless, not only does Netanyahu not claim an iota of credit for the important achievement reached April 2 in Lausanne, but even before all the details of the agreement were known, the prime minister rushed to gather his Cabinet to disclaim it. He sent his ministers to radio and television studios with instructions to portray the agreement as a capitulation to a regime that strives to destroy Israel. And thus, Netanyahu admits to the failure of his life’s mission to save Israel from a second Holocaust. [Continue reading…]

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