Shadi Hamid writes: John Kerry felt more threatened by his own administration’s partial aid “cut” to Egypt than Egypt’s generals did. Or so it seemed. In a visit to Cairo on November 3, America’s top diplomat insisted that the “aid issue is a very small issue,” as if to tell Egyptians not to worry—that it was something the U.S. had to do against its will, and that this slap on the wrist, like all the previous ones, too, would pass.
What was more concerning, however, was that Kerry felt the need to heap an inordinate amount of praise on Egypt’s military rulers, suggesting either a great deal of cynicism or the possibility that he hadn’t been briefed on Egyptian politics for weeks on end. “The roadmap is being carried out to the best of our perception,” Kerry said, referring to the military’s timetable for drafting a constitution and holding elections. “The roadmap [is moving] in the direction that everybody has been hoping for,” he added. In reality, Egypt, on almost any conceivable political indicator, is more repressive today than it was under the Mubarak regime. The sheer ferocity of the post-coup crackdown continues, with a slate of repressive laws recently announced in the guise of Egypt’s “war on terrorism.”
Presumably, this is why U.S. officials — recognizing the dangerous path Egypt was traveling down — felt compelled to announce some sort of change in the aid relationship. But, even then, the aid “cut”—which is itself a misnomer since the aid was always likely to resume — was largely symbolic, with little meaningful impact on the military. An aid cut, to be effective, needs to change the calculus of Egypt’s generals. But, in this case, there was little at stake: all essential aid would continue to flow (and one of the army’s biggest perks—”cashflow financing” — would be unaffected).
In case there was any doubt, senior U.S. officials went out of their way to belittle the aid cut during the policy rollout, admitting it would have little impact, and perhaps wasn’t even designed to have an impact in the first place. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: A meeting in a Geneva hotel room between the US secretary of state and his French counterpart led to an 11th-hour toughening of the west’s position on Iran’s nuclear programme that proved unacceptable to Iranian negotiators, say western officials.
John Kerry’s Saturday-night meeting with Laurent Fabius was a late turning point in three days of intense talks among foreign ministers that resulted only in a decision to resume negotiations at a lower level in Geneva next week.
In the discussion in the US secretary of state’s room at the Geneva InterContinental, Fabius insisted on two key points in the drafting of an interim agreement with Iran: there should be no guarantees in the preamble about the country’s right to enrich uranium; and work would have to stop on a heavy-water nuclear reactor. Iran is building the Arak reactor, capable of producing plutonium, about 130 miles south-west of Tehran.
In the words of one French official: “Kerry was confident enough to accept what Fabius had to say.” The two points were included in a three-page draft proposal put together by the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, who acts as a convenor for a six-nation group involved in the talks.
The draft agreement also imposed limits on Iran’s enrichment capacity and its stockpiles of enriched uranium in return for limited sanction relief.
At 9.20pm on Saturday the agreement was put before foreign ministers from the UK, Germany, Russia and the deputy foreign minister of China, who make up the rest of the “P5+1″ group, which has been negotiating with Iran for seven years.
“Kerry was even more forceful in presenting this draft than Fabius. He got behind it,” the French official said. The P5+1 ministers approved it, and at 10.50pm it was put to the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had joined the meeting in a conference room in the hotel.
However, in the preamble of a joint statement, Zarif had been seeking language that would at least implicitly recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium. He had also insisted on construction continuing at Arak, and suggested that international concerns could be assuaged if the work stopped short of putting uranium fuel in the reactor and turning it on.
But at 10 minutes past midnight on Sunday morning, it was agreed that all parties would consult their capitals and try again at a meeting of foreign ministry political directors on 20 November. Ministers would not attend but could be on hand if needed.
Arriving in Abu Dhabi after the meeting, Kerry singled out Iran for the failure to agree. “The French signed off on it; we signed off on it,” he said. “There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it.”
Zarif took to Twitter to rebut that claim. “Mr Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of US draft Thursday night? And publicly commented against it Friday morning?” Zarif said in a pointed reference to Fabius’s role. “No amount of spinning can change what happened in 5+1 in Geneva from 6PM Thurs. to 5.45 PM Sat. But it can further erode confidence”
Western officials conceded that unity had been achieved only on the last night of the negotiations, leaving little time for the Iranians to respond; much of the preceding 60 hours of talks had been among the P5+1 group seeking a common position. [Continue reading...]
Robert Mackey writes: As my colleague Mark Landler reports, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted on Monday that it was unfair to blame last-minute objections from his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, for scuttling a potential deal with Iran over its nuclear energy program last weekend in Geneva. “The French signed off on it, we signed off on it,” Mr. Kerry said of the final proposal presented to Iran’s negotiating team. “There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it.”
Shortly after these remarks were reported, Iran’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, pushed back on Twitter, claiming that the draft proposal from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, known as the P5+1, changed drastically after the French intervention on Saturday, as the Guardian diplomatic correspondent Julian Borger reported.
No amount of spinning can change what happened within 5+1 in Geneva from 6PM Thursday to 545 PM Saturday.But it can further erode confidence
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) November 11, 2013
Since Mr. Zarif did not mention Mr. Kerry’s name or Twitter handle in that message, it fell into a category of gibe known as a subtweet on the social network, which is the rough equivalent of talking behind someone’s back, but doing so in such a loud stage whisper that you expect them to hear the criticism.
Just to make sure that his message was heard, however, Mr. Zarif addressed the secretary of state by title in a follow-up missive, in which he also appeared to complain about public comments from Mr. Fabius disparaging an early draft of the deal as “a fool’s bargain.”
We are committed to constructive engagement. Interaction on equal footing key to achieve shared objectives.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) November 11, 2013
The minister, who says that he enjoys reading comments posted on his Persian-language Facebook page, ended his brief flurry of Twitter diplomacy on Monday on a more positive note.
The Washington Post reports: A growing number of Afghan interpreters who worked alongside American troops are being denied U.S. visas allotted by Congress because the State Department says there is no serious threat against their lives.
But the interpreters, many of whom served in Taliban havens for years, say U.S. officials are drastically underestimating the danger they face. Immigration attorneys and Afghan interpreters say the denials are occurring just as concerns about Taliban retribution are mounting due to the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
“There are tons of Talibs in my village, and they all know that I worked with the Americans,” said one interpreter, Mohammad, who asked that his last name not be published for security reasons. “If I can’t go to the States, my life is over. I swear to God, one day the Taliban will catch me.”
Mohammad received a U.S. form letter saying he had failed to establish that there was a “serious threat” against his life. He had explained in his application that the Taliban had spotted him on the job and spread word in his village that he was a wanted man. [Continue reading...]
When America’s obsequious Secretary of State John Kerry met Egypt’s ruling generals yesterday, he claimed they appear to be following a “road map” back to democracy — even though they have not pledged to lift emergency rule. Neither did he raise the issue of Morsi’s trial.
The New York Times reports: As Egypt’s new military-led government consolidates its power, Mohamed Morsi, the deposed president, went on trial on Monday, facing charges of inciting the murder of protesters, but he rejected the court’s authority and proclaimed himself to be the country’s legitimate ruler.
The trial got off to a late start, and the case was soon adjourned until Jan. 8.
The trial’s brief opening was Mr. Morsi’s first public appearance since his removal from office on July 3 and, in a dizzying turn for Egypt, the second criminal trial of a former head of state in less than three years. Former President Hosni Mubarak, ousted in February 2011 and now under house arrest in a military hospital, is facing a retrial at the same site, the auditorium of a police academy.
According to the website of Al Ahram, Egypt’s flagship state newspaper, the trial got under way as Mr. Morsi and 14 other Islamist defendants appeared in a caged dock and court officials called out their names. But news reports said the hearing was first delayed and then suspended after Mr. Morsi refused to dress in prison clothing and chants by his co-defendants drowned out the proceedings.
Journalists who were allowed into the courtroom were not permitted to take telephones or other communications devices, limiting the flow of information. But witnesses in the courtroom said that Mr. Morsi declared, “This trial is illegitimate,” and said he was still Egypt’s lawful president.
Mr. Morsi’s Islamist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood had called for major protests against the trial, and the Interior Ministry said it had deployed thousands of riot police officers to secure the streets. Shortly before 11 a.m., as the trial began, the streets remained quiet, but the number of demonstrators began to grow from only a few dozen to perhaps 100 in two locations outside the court.
Pro-Morsi demonstrators gathered in larger numbers at the Supreme Constitutional Court in the Maadi district of southern Cairo, witnesses said.
BBC News reports on the changing tactics among Muslim Brotherhood protesters.
Protesters gather in small numbers in many different locations rather than holding mass rallies in one location like that of the Rabaa al-Adawiya or al-Nahda squares.
It’s been a little over two months now since security forces cracked down on those two squares where supporter of former President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood gathered in their thousands.
Since then almost all the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, including its supreme guide, have been arrested.
Many supporters have also been rounded up and thrown in jail. A recent incident in Alexandria saw more than 20 women supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood arrested in clashes with residents of one of the city’s most crowded neighbourhoods.
But all of that doesn’t seem to deter supporters of the ousted president from taking to the streets.
“It’s important to keep the momentum going,” said Yomna, a university student in her final year.
Yomna didn’t want her last name revealed. She said that as a Morsi supporter, she had to be careful not to reveal her identity. That alone shows how different things have become here in Egypt.
Despite what happened in Rabaa or even because of it, many Muslim Brotherhood supporters insist that the only way for them is the street.
“We’re tired but we are not defeated, we’re still in the street because people know that this is where they should be,” Yomna said.
“This trial will be a chance for us to regroup and unite again,” she added.
“Seeing that they have put our president on trial will make us even more determined.”
Despite this determination, Yomna admits that these past few months have been extremely difficult for her and many like her who still want Mohammed Morsi to be returned to office.
“Look what happened to those girls,” she said, referring to the women who were arrested in Alexandria recently.
“As a Morsi supporter I feel vulnerable to arrest at any time now. I’ll keep protesting but I know next time it could be me.
“Sometimes I feel like I no longer live in my own country.”
If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium — the title of a 1969 romantic comedy — could now fit two intertwined phenomena: the madcap global travels of Secretary of State John Kerry and the nonstop journey of the latest revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. In mid-August, there was Kerry in Brazil, lamely defending the NSA’s surveillance program, even as he tried to pacify local ire over reports that the agency was monitoring phone calls and emails on a mass scale there. (And this was before the news even broke that the NSA had hacked into President Dilma Rousseff’s emails and spied on Brazil’s major oil company.) “We’re not surprised and we’re not upset that Brazil would ask questions. Absolutely understandable,” Kerry said at the time. “Brazil is owed answers with respect to those questions and they will get them. And we will work together very positively to make certain that this question — these issues — do not get in the way of all the other things that we talked about.” As it happened, no answers were forthcoming. A month later, Rousseff would cancel a long-planned visit to Washington and denounce the NSA’s spying at the U.N.
Skip two months to late October, and there Kerry was again, this time in France trying to pacify an angry ally over another revelation of a massive NSA eavesdropping operation. (“We will have ongoing bilateral consultations, including with our French partners, to address this question of any reports by the U.S. government gathering information from some of the agencies and those consultations are going to continue.”) Meanwhile, he was still trying to defend that agency’s basic program in similarly foggy language. (“Protecting the security of our citizens in today’s world is a very complicated, very challenging task… because there are lots of people out there seeking to do harm to other people.”) And then, in a no-rest-for-the-weary world, on he went to Italy, whose population had just been outed as the latest victim of NSA spying, and whose foreign minister was demanding “clarity” on the issue. With much of Europe up in arms over America’s expanding global security state, he once again resorted to his rope-a-dope technique, taking the local punches while offering public pabulum about our dearest allies and how much the Obama administration cares for them and how Americans nonetheless have to be protected from the evil doers, etc., etc. Only as October ended, two and a half months after his Brazilian trip, did the secretary of state become the first Obama administration official to admit that “in some cases, some of these actions have reached too far.”
By now, Kerry’s act had all the charm of a clown fireman putting out a blaze at a circus only to set himself on fire. If this repetitive scene, in which the Snowden revelations stay just ahead of the eternally globetrotting secretary of state, doesn’t quite add up to a real life version of Batman and Robin, the dynamic duo, it still has to be the spectacle of 2013. Given the recent Guardian report that the NSA has listened in on at least 35 heads of state (and that’s only phone calls, not emails), Kerry could be an even busier man in the months to come. As TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren, former State Department whistleblower and author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, points out, Kerry’s already legendary global travels are matched by a legendary cluelessness that reflects a particularly twenty-first-century Washington state of mind. Tom Engelhardt
John Kerry is a figure of his times (and that’s not a good thing)
By Peter Van Buren
In the 1960s, John Kerry was distinctly a man of his times. Kennedy-esque, he went from Yale to Vietnam to fight in a lost war. When popular sentiments on that war shifted, he became one of the more poignant voices raised in protest by antiwar veterans. Now, skip past his time as a congressman, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, senator, and presidential candidate (Swift Boated out of the race by the Republican right). Four decades after his Vietnam experience, he has achieved what will undoubtedly be the highest post of his lifetime: secretary of state. And he’s looked like a bumbler first class. Has he also been — once again — a true man of his time, of a moment in which American foreign policy, as well as its claim to global moral and diplomatic leadership, is in remarkable disarray?
In his nine months in office, Kerry’s State Department has one striking accomplishment to its name. It has achieved a new level of media savvy in promoting itself and plugging its highest official as a rock star, a world leader in his own right (complete with photo-ops and sophisticated image-making). In the meantime, the secretary of state has been stumbling and bloviating from one crisis to the next, one debacle to another, surrounded by the well-crafted imagery of diplomatic effectiveness. He and his errant statements have become global punch lines, but is he truly to blame for his performance?
Reuters reports: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that there are indications Egypt’s generals intend to restore democracy, after an army takeover that prompted Washington to freeze some aid to its long-standing ally.
Kerry, the most senior U.S. official to visit Egypt since the overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July, said Cairo was a vital partner, apparently trying to repair ties strained by the partial freeze in U.S. aid, pending progress on democracy.
“Thus far there are indications that this is what they are intending to do,” Kerry said after a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, referring to his recent remarks in Pakistan that Egypt’s military was “restoring democracy”.
The Guardian reports: The director of the National Security Agency has blamed US diplomats for requests to place foreign leaders under surveillance, in a surprising intervention that risks a confrontation with the State Department.
General Keith Alexander made the remarks during a pointed exchange with a former US ambassador to Romania, lending more evidence to suggestions of a rift over surveillance between the intelligence community and Barack Obama’s administration.
The NSA chief was challenged by James Carew Rosapepe, who served as an ambassador under the Clinton administration, over the monitoring of the German chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone.
Rosapepe, now a Democratic state senator in Maryland, pressed Alexander to give “a national security justification” for the agency’s use of surveillance tools intended for combating terrorism against “democratically elected leaders and private businesses”.
“We all joke that everyone is spying on everyone,” he said. “But that is not a national security justification.”
Alexander replied: “That is a great question, in fact as an ambassador you have part of the answer. Because we the intelligence agencies don’t come up with the requirements. The policymakers come up with the requirements.”
He went on: “One of those groups would have been, let me think, hold on, oh: ambassadors.”
Alexander said the NSA collected information when it was asked by policy officials to discover the “leadership intentions” of foreign countries. “If you want to know leadership intentions, these are the issues,” the NSA director said.
The exchange on Thursday night drew laughs from the audience at the Baltimore Council on Foreign Relations, but did not seem to impress the former ambassador, who replied: “We generally don’t do that in democratic societies.” [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: John Kerry, the US secretary of state, conceded on Thursday that some of the country’s surveillance activities had gone too far, saying that certain practices had occurred “on autopilot” without the knowledge of senior officials in the Obama administration.
In the most stark comments yet by a senior administration official, Kerry promised that a previously announced review of surveillance practices would be thorough and that some activities would end altogether.
“The president and I have learned of some things that have been happening in many ways on an automatic pilot, because the technology is there and the ability is there,” he told a conference in London via video link.
“In some cases, some of these actions have reached too far and we are going to try to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.” [Continue reading...]
Stephen Kinzer writes: In some parts of the world, especially in the volatile region that stretches from the Persian Gulf to Central Asia, [newly confirmed Secretary of State, John] Kerry is already a familiar figure in the corridors of power. He has also established an evidently strong working relationship with Obama. Even the fact that his friends in the Senate brutally crushed his main rival for the job, Susan Rice, who is one of Obama’s close and trusted advisers, was not enough to sour the president on his nomination.
One fundamental aspect of American foreign policy making will not change as Kerry takes over the job Hillary Clinton has held for the last four years. Major policy decisions will be made in the White House, not at the State Department – and the secretary of state may not even be in the room when they are made.
Nonetheless, Kerry will be a key figure as the United States confronts the crises of the moment. His most encouraging credential is that he truly believes diplomacy is preferable to war – hardly a unanimous view in Washington. Whether this will result in a serious change in America’s approach to the world, however, is far from certain.
The first test will be Iran. Kerry is less prone than some others in Washington to throw around threats about war being an option that is “on the table”, and it is hard to imagine him blithely reminding Iranians, as Clinton did, that the United States has the power “to totally obliterate them”. Yet, the essence of American policy toward Iran – shaped around threats, sanctions, and demands that Iran submit to western power without expecting much in return – is unlikely to change.
Kerry will also be unable, and quite possibly unwilling, to rein in the ever-expanding US drone war, which is not run by the State Department but feeds the anti-Americanism that will make his job ever more difficult. Nor is there much prospect that he will be able to calm the fundamentalist radicalism that is surging through Egypt, Syria, and Israel.
The area in which Kerry may be able to have the greatest impact is redefining the meaning of national security for Americans. He recognizes that the main threats to the United States no longer come from foreign armies or what George W Bush liked to call “evil-doers”. His most encouraging statements are those that suggest he recognizes the enormous security challenges posed by climate change, global energy politics, and economic troubles at home. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: In the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed — and may jettison entirely by the end of the year — a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission here.
What was originally envisioned as a training cadre of about 350 American law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100. The latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but most experts and even some State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn by the end of this year.
The training effort, which began in October and has already cost $500 million, was conceived of as the largest component of a mission billed as the most ambitious American aid effort since the Marshall Plan. Instead, it has emerged as the latest high-profile example of the waning American influence here following the military withdrawal, and it reflects a costly miscalculation on the part of American officials, who did not count on the Iraqi government to assert its sovereignty so aggressively.
“I think that with the departure of the military, the Iraqis decided to say, ‘O.K., how large is the American presence here?’ ” said James F. Jeffrey, the American ambassador to Iraq, in an interview. “How large should it be? How does this equate with our sovereignty? In various areas they obviously expressed some concerns.”
Last year the State Department embarked on $343 million worth of construction projects around the country to upgrade facilities to accommodate the police training program, which was to have comprised hundreds of trainers and more than 1,000 support staff members working in three cities — Baghdad, Erbil and Basra — for five years. But like so much else in the nine years of war, occupation and reconstruction here, it has not gone as planned.
A lesson given by an American police instructor to a class of Iraqi trainees neatly encapsulated the program’s failings. There are two clues that could indicate someone is planning a suicide attack, the instructor said: a large bank withdrawal and heavy drinking.
The problem with that advice, which was recounted by Ginger Cruz, the former deputy inspector general at the American Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, was that few Iraqis have bank accounts and an extremist Sunni Muslim bent on carrying out a suicide attack is likely to consider drinking a cardinal sin.
The New York Times reports: As arguments flare in Israel and the United States about a possible military strike to set back Iran’s nuclear program, an accelerating covert campaign of assassinations, bombings, cyberattacks and defections appears intended to make that debate irrelevant, according to current and former American officials and specialists on Iran.
The campaign, which experts believe is being carried out mainly by Israel, apparently claimed its latest victim on Wednesday when a bomb killed a 32-year-old nuclear scientist in Tehran’s morning rush hour.
The scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, was a department supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, a participant in what Western leaders believe is Iran’s halting but determined progress toward a nuclear weapon. He was at least the fifth scientist with nuclear connections to be killed since 2007; a sixth scientist, Fereydoon Abbasi, survived a 2010 attack and was put in charge of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.
Iranian officials immediately blamed both Israel and the United States for the latest death, which came less than two months after a suspicious explosion at an Iranian missile base that killed a top general and 16 other people. While American officials deny a role in lethal activities, the United States is believed to engage in other covert efforts against the Iranian nuclear program.
The assassination drew an unusually strong condemnation from the White House and the State Department, which disavowed any American complicity. The statements by the United States appeared to reflect serious concern about the growing number of lethal attacks, which some experts believe could backfire by undercutting future negotiations and prompting Iran to redouble what the West suspects is a quest for a nuclear capacity.
“The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to expand the denial beyond Wednesday’s killing, “categorically” denying “any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran.”
The New York Times reports: At a time of partisan gridlock in the capital, one obscure cause has drawn a stellar list of supporters from both parties and the last two administrations, including a dozen former top national security officials.
That alone would be unusual. What makes it astonishing is the object of their attention: a fringe Iranian opposition group, long an ally of Saddam Hussein, that is designated as a terrorist organization under United States law and described by State Department officials as a repressive cult despised by most Iranians and Iraqis.
The extraordinary lobbying effort to reverse the terrorist designation of the group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People’s Mujahedeen, has won the support of two former C.I.A. directors, R. James Woolsey and Porter J. Goss; a former F.B.I. director, Louis J. Freeh; a former attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey; President George W. Bush’s first homeland security chief, Tom Ridge; President Obama’s first national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones; big-name Republicans like the former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Democrats like the former Vermont governor Howard Dean; and even the former top counterterrorism official of the State Department, Dell L. Dailey, who argued unsuccessfully for ending the terrorist label while in office.
The American advocates have been well paid, hired through their speaking agencies and collecting fees of $10,000 to $50,000 for speeches on behalf of the Iranian group. Some have been flown to Paris, Berlin and Brussels for appearances.
Tom Ridge expresses the sentiment and rationale shared by most of the MEK’s Washington supporters: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. No doubt the MEK itself used the same reasoning when aligning itself with Saddam Hussein (as did the U.S.). For the MEK’s current allies in Washington it apparently matters little that the organization actually has a long history of befriending America’s enemies and opposing America’s friends — but maybe that says more about the capricious nature of American friendship than it says about the MEK.
Maybe the solution is not the removal of the MEK from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Instead, the U.S. government can simply start designating countries and organizations as “Enemies” and “Friends” and then at the beginning of the springtime awards season, before the Oscars, there can be a televised event where the president hands out awards and opprobrium to this year’s winners in each category.
As far as what might be the implications for Iran (apart from continuation of the current campaign of terrorism targeting Iranian scientists), there is one curious dimension to the support the MEK now enjoys in Washington: the defining event in modern US-Iranian relations — the 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran — turns out not to have been so unforgivable as it is generally portrayed.
“MEK members participated in and supported the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and … the MEK later argued against the early release the American hostages,” says the State Department. But let’s not dwell on the past, says Woolsey, Ridge et al.
On the other hand, for those who retain an interest in the past and the State Department’s description of the MEK’s activities, here it is:
The group’s worldwide campaign against the Iranian government uses propaganda and terrorism to achieve its objectives. During the 1970s, the MEK staged terrorist attacks inside Iran and killed several U.S. military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Tehran. In 1972, the MEK set off bombs in Tehran at the U.S. Information Service office (part of the U.S. Embassy), the Iran-American Society, and the offices of several U.S. companies to protest the visit of President Nixon to Iran. In 1973, the MEK assassinated the deputy chief of the U.S. Military Mission in Tehran and bombed several businesses, including Shell Oil. In 1974, the MEK set off bombs in Tehran at the offices of U.S. companies to protest the visit of then U.S. Secretary of State Kissinger. In 1975, the MEK assassinated two U.S. military officers who were members of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group in Tehran. In 1976, the MEK assassinated two U.S. citizens who were employees of Rockwell International in Tehran. In 1979, the group claimed responsibility for the murder of an American Texaco executive. Though denied by the MEK, analysis based on eyewitness accounts and MEK documents demonstrates that MEK members participated in and supported the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and that the MEK later argued against the early release the American hostages. The MEK also provided personnel to guard and defend the site of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, following the takeover of the Embassy.
In 1981, MEK leadership attempted to overthrow the newly installed Islamic regime; Iranian security forces subsequently initiated a crackdown on the group. The MEK instigated a bombing campaign, including an attack against the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Prime Minister’s office, which killed some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including Chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, and Prime Minister Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. These attacks resulted in an expanded Iranian government crackdown that forced MEK leaders to flee to France. For five years, the MEK continued to wage its terrorist campaign from its Paris headquarters. Expelled by France in 1986, MEK leaders turned to Saddam Hussein’s regime for basing, financial support, and training. Near the end of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, Baghdad armed the MEK with heavy military equipment and deployed thousands of MEK fighters in suicidal, mass wave attacks against Iranian forces.
The MEK’s relationship with the former Iraqi regime continued through the 1990s. In 1991, the group reportedly assisted the Iraqi Republican Guard’s bloody crackdown on Iraqi Shia and Kurds who rose up against Saddam Hussein’s regime. In April 1992, the MEK conducted near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and consular missions in 13 countries, including against the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York, demonstrating the group’s ability to mount large-scale operations overseas. In June 1998, the MEK was implicated in a series of bombing and mortar attacks in Iran that killed at least 15 and injured several others. The MEK also assassinated the former Iranian Minister of Prisons in 1998. In April 1999, the MEK targeted key Iranian military officers and assassinated the deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff, Brigadier General Ali Sayyaad Shirazi.
In April 2000, the MEK attempted to assassinate the commander of the Nasr Headquarters, Tehran’s interagency board responsible for coordinating policies on Iraq. The pace of anti-Iranian operations increased during “Operation Great Bahman” in February 2000, when the group launched a dozen attacks against Iran. One attack included a mortar attack against a major Iranian leadership complex in Tehran that housed the offices of the Supreme Leader and the President. The attack killed one person and injured six other individuals. In March 2000, the MEK launched mortars into a residential district in Tehran, injuring four people and damaging property. In 2000 and 2001, the MEK was involved in regular mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids against Iranian military and law enforcement personnel, as well as government buildings near the Iran-Iraq border. Following an initial Coalition bombardment of the MEK’s facilities in Iraq at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, MEK leadership negotiated a cease-fire with Coalition Forces and surrendered their heavy-arms to Coalition control. Since 2003, roughly 3,400 MEK members have been encamped at Ashraf in Iraq.
In 2003, French authorities arrested 160 MEK members at operational bases they believed the MEK was using to coordinate financing and planning for terrorist attacks. Upon the arrest of MEK leader Maryam Rajavi, MEK members took to Paris’ streets and engaged in self-immolation. French authorities eventually released Rajavi.
Reza Marashi writes: After weeks of hyping intelligence on the military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, the Obama administration’s public statements on the recently released International Atomic Energy Agency report are curiously moderate. Off the record, U.S. officials say that not all of America’s intelligence findings were included in the I.A.E.A. report — which aims to reflect international consensus. This fact speaks to a larger challenge — that the United States faces a credibility problem. Key countries do not share Washington’s assessment of Iran, and thus it’s unlikely that the U.S. will disclose more substantial information.
Some administration officials would like to see harder evidence made public — if for no other reason than supporting calls for more “crippling” sanctions on Iran. But U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly oppose more detailed disclosures for fear of jeopardizing intelligence-gathering and sources. The U.S. is therefore unlikely to secure more robust U.N. sanctions when it makes its case to the Security Council.
More important but less understood, however, are two longstanding and increasingly dangerous institutional problems within the U.S. government that this case has brought to the fore: an overreliance on intelligence and under-utilization of diplomatic resources when formulating Iran policy. By treating diplomacy with Iran as a reward to be earned rather than the vital national security tool that it is, American politicians have been administering a self-inflicted wound.
The recent allegations against Iran show the critical role that intelligence can play in helping policymakers gather information and make decisions on the most challenging issues. However, intelligence is not meant to be taken in isolation — and when it comes to America’s Iran policy, it almost always is.
While serving in the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs, I learned the 10 percent rule: intelligence is meant to make up approximately 10 percent of the overall information used to analyze strategic issues. The remaining 90 percent consists of embassy reporting and unclassified, open-source information.
As a whole, this symbiotic process is meant to provide a balanced, broader context to policymakers. Intelligence is supposed to be the missing piece of the puzzle — not the only piece. Overreliance on intelligence to support key policy decisions results in skewed or incomplete analysis that lacks the fuller context needed for sound decision-making. As this information vacuum grows over time, so too does the likelihood of misperceptions, miscalculations and dangerous mistakes.
Intelligence is not a substitute for the critical work of diplomats on the ground — and perhaps no foreign policy issue demonstrates this more forcefully than Iran. Simply put, a vital national security process has been broken for over three decades, and American politicians are exacerbating rather than repairing it.
Manssor Arbabsiar — used-car salesman cum terrorist-mastermind — is in detention and no longer poses a threat to the world, but the State Department wants Americans to take care when traveling overseas: there could be other dumb hustlers out there hatching dastardly plots, so the US government urges all Americans to exercise caution when traveling anywhere or even thinking about it.
The warning contains two anomalies, however:
1. It expires on January 11, 2012, just three months away. Surely the danger will persist right up until November 6, 2012. It seems imprudent to let our guard down before we’ve chosen the next president.
2. Arbabsiar is a US citizen. Don’t we need to be exercising as much if not more caution inside America. After all, who buys a used-car when overseas?
MSNBC reports: The State Department issued a worldwide travel alert late Tuesday for American citizens after the United States accused Iran of backing a plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington.
“The U.S. government assesses that this Iranian-backed plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador may indicate a more aggressive focus by the Iranian government on terrorist activity against diplomats from certain countries, to include possible attacks in the United States,” it said in a statement on its website.
The alert, which expires January 11, 2012, urged Americans living and traveling abroad to be wary.
“U.S. citizens residing and traveling abroad should review the Department’s Worldwide Caution and other travel information when making decisions concerning their travel plans and activities while abroad,” it added.
U.S. authorities said earlier on Tuesday that they had broken up a plot by two men linked to Iran’s security agencies to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. One, a former Texas used-car dealer named Manssor Arbabsiar, was arrested last month while the other was believed to be in Iran.
However a friend and one-time business partner of Arbabsiar, David Tomscha, said Arbabsiar, known as Jack to his friends, made an unlikely secret agent.
Tomscha said Arbabsiar, 56, a naturalized U.S. citizen who holds an Iranian passport, was likeable, a bit lazy and “no mastermind.”
“I can’t imagine him thinking up a plan like that. I mean, he didn’t seem all that political. He was more of a businessman … He was sort of a hustler,” he said.
Meanwhile, following Attorney General Eric Holder’s dramatic announcement about the plot, a US official has provided the New York Times with additional details:
The alleged plot also included plans to pay the cartel, Los Zetas, to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the Saudi and Israeli Embassies in Argentina, according to a law enforcement official.
The plotters also discussed a side deal between the Quds Force, part of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and Los Zetas to funnel tons of opium from the Middle East to Mexico, the official said. The plans never progressed, though, because the two suspects — the Iranian-American and an Iranian Quds Force officer — unwittingly were dealing with an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, officials said.
It’s quite baffling that Arbabsiar and Shakuri’s plans should have been so limited in their scope — but what a stroke of luck that the feds managed to get on to the case and play such a creative role in allowing it to unfold!