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
Al Jazeera reports: Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister who is currently on a tour of the Gulf states, has appealed to Saudi Arabia to work with Iran towards achieving regional stability.
He said on Monday in Doha, Qatar, after visits to Kuwait and Oman for meetings on its recent nuclear deal with world powers that his goal was to assure Gulf Arab states that the deal was in their best interests.
“We believe that Iran and Saudi Arabia should work together in order to promote peace and stability in the region,” Zarif told AFP news agency.
Zarif suggested the deal should not be seen as a threat.
“This agreement cannot be at the expense of any country in the region,” he said on Sunday. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: In a room in which journalists were outnumbered by security agents and paramilitary fighters, the tall Iranian commander stood and issued his judgment.
“Our ideology will not be undermined by some negotiations,” Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the hard-line head of the paramilitary Basij force, told the selected group of reporters in a gathering days before Iran signed an interim nuclear agreement with the United States and other world powers.
That pact, in which Iran’s moderate government agreed to freeze parts of its nuclear program for six months in exchange for limited relief from crippling economic sanctions, was greeted with wild enthusiasm in most quarters here. A conspicuous exception, however, were Iran’s hard-liners, who mostly maintained a studied silence, unwilling to risk a public confrontation with their patron over the years — the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has cautiously welcomed the deal.
But that silence may not last, experts say. At the slightest signal from the supreme leader, they say, the hard-liners could unleash protests by hundreds of thousands on the streets along with an outpouring of criticism from state-run news media.
“They are biding their time,” watching from the sidelines, eager to pounce on any perceived signs of backtracking, weakness or capitulation, said Farshad Ghorbanpour, an Iranian journalist close to the government of President Hassan Rouhani. “When the opportunity arises they will strike back, searching for pretexts and playing into possible snags during the negotiations,” he said. “This is in no way a done deal.” [Continue reading...]
Peter Oborne writes: It was one of those coincidences that a novelist might hesitate to invent. One of William Hague’s first tasks after signing a historic nuclear agreement with Iran was to address the grandest and most important gathering of Britain’s pro-Israel lobby.
Having flown back into London from Geneva on the Sunday, the Foreign Secretary then turned up the next day at the Park Plaza hotel at Westminster for the annual lunch of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). More than 100 Tory MPs, as well as hundreds more CFI supporters, were present to hear Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador, chide Mr Hague over Iran. One reporter present wrote that Mr Hague was “humiliated”, adding that when he rose to speak he was greeted with “light applause” and “heard in obvious silence”.
Some close to Mr Hague insist, by contrast, that it was a cheerful event. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was by no means as warm and easy as it was last year, when David Cameron was the guest of honour. At some tables, I am told, there was palpable resentment. Each guest had been given a briefing pack that included a caustic summary of the deal that Mr Hague had signed the previous day. A longer version of this document was then dispatched to Conservative MPs, ahead of the Foreign Secretary’s afternoon statement to the House of Commons on Iran.
I have obtained this briefing, which parroted the overblown rhetoric with which Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, responded to the deal in Geneva. The CFI warned Tory MPs that “the world’s most dangerous regime has taken a significant step towards obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapon” – echoing Mr Netanyahu almost verbatim.
This was not merely propaganda. It was ignorant and poorly informed. [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...]
Zachary Keck writes: Although not a member of the P5+1 itself, Israel has always loomed large over the negotiations concerning Iran’s nuclear program. For example, in explaining French opposition to a possible nuclear deal earlier this month, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated: “The security concerns of Israel and all the countries of the region have to be taken into account.”
Part of Fabius’ concern derives from the long-held fear that Israel will launch a preventive strike against Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons. For some, this possibility remains all too real despite the important interim agreement the P5+1 and Iran reached this weekend. For example, when asked on ABC’s This Week whether Israel would attack Iran while the interim deal is in place, William Kristol responded: “I don’t think the prime minister will think he is constrained by the U.S. deciding to have a six-month deal. […] six months, one year, I mean, if they’re going to break out, they’re going to break out.”
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done little to dispel this notion. Besides blasting the deal as a “historic mistake,” Netanyahu said Israel “is not obliged to the agreement” and warned “the regime in Iran is dedicated to destroying Israel and Israel has the right and obligation to defend itself with its own forces against every threat.”
Many dismiss this talk as bluster, however. Over at Bloomberg View, for instance, Jeffrey Goldberg argues that the nuclear deal has “boxed-in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so comprehensively that it’s unimaginable Israel will strike Iran in the foreseeable future.” Eurasia Group’s Cliff Kupchan similarly argued: “The chance of Israeli strikes during the period of the interim agreement drops to virtually zero.”
Although the interim deal does further reduce Israel’s propensity to attack, the truth is that the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities has always been greatly exaggerated. There are at least five reasons why Israel isn’t likely to attack Iran. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Five days after Iran struck a landmark accord with world powers on its nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced on Thursday that Tehran had invited its inspectors to visit a heavy water production plant linked to the deal — the first tangible step since the agreement was concluded.
In a speech in Vienna, the director general of the agency, Yukiya Amano, said the invitation was for inspectors to travel to the plant in Arak, in central Iran, on Dec. 8. Mr. Amano told reporters that it was “for sure” that inspectors would accept the offer.
The invitation was limited to the heavy water production facility on the same site as a reactor under construction to which international inspectors have had some access, Mr. Amano said. The facility producing heavy water, used in some types of reactors to control nuclear activity, has been off limits to inspectors for more than two years.
Part of the deal in Geneva specifically provided for Iran not to produce fuel for the Arak plant, install additional reactor components there or put the plant into operation. If it became fully operational, the reactor would produce plutonium that could be used in a nuclear weapon.
In return for that and other curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program, the powers promised a limited easing of the international economic sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.
The speed with which Tehran offered access to Arak was taken by some analysts as a sign that Iran’s leaders wanted to press ahead with the deal, which is intended as an interim accord lasting six months during which negotiators are to discuss a comprehensive settlement. [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)
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...]
On Monday, Meir Javedanfar wrote: The Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei probably got little sleep last night.
As the man with the final word on Iran’s nuclear program, his decision and blessing would have been needed by Iran’s nuclear negotiation team for every major decision taken during last night’s negotiations with the P5+1.
The agreement was finally signed at 3 A.M. in Geneva — which is 5:30 A.M. in Tehran. This is probably when Iran’s most powerful man could finally get some rest.
The agreement with the West is unlikely to go down well with Iran’s ultra conservatives. For years Ayatollah Khamenei, backed by his conservative supporters, advocated a policy of “resistance” over Iran’s nuclear program. This policy entailed continuing the program without conceding during nuclear negotiations. This was witnessed during the negotiation sessions between the P5+1 and Khamenei’s former top negotiator (and preferred presidential candidate) Saeed Jalili. In line with instructions from his boss the supreme leader, Jalili did not show any compromise. Instead, he emphasized Iran’s rights and how Iran had been wronged in its dealings with the West.
The pressure of sanctions meant that the supreme leader had to go against his former policy of “resistance” and adopt a new policy which was evident in the nuclear negotiations. Khamenei called his new policy “heroic flexibility.” We saw its implementation last night in Geneva. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: Israel should avoid taking any action that would undermine the interim nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers at the weekend, Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday.
Urging world leaders to give the interim deal a chance, Hague said it was important to try to understand those who opposed the agreement. But he urged Israel and others to confine their criticism to rhetoric.
“We would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement and we will make that very clear to all concerned,” Hague told parliament.
Simon Jenkins writes: Good news so far on Iran. Western intervention in the Muslim world at the start of the 21st century has seemed nothing but the orchestration of failure. Yesterday’s Geneva agreement on Iran’s nuclear capacity hints at a chance that the onward march of nuclear armaments might be halted. Coming on top of the Syrian chemical weapons deal, diplomacy appears hesitantly ascendant.
The stumbling blocks remain what they always were: the opposition of Iran’s hardliners, and of their opposite numbers in Israel and the US Congress. Those blocks have always existed. What is exciting about Geneva is that they have, for the moment, been circumvented. Diplomacy’s “confidence-building measures” are to be given their head. One of the world’s great countries, Iran at least might be re-admitted to the community of nations.
There was always too much fantasy posturing in the west’s Iran policy. It was never possible to stop an Iranian nuclear arsenal by confrontation. There are too many arms salesmen around, too much money and too much Iranian pride for that. Only by Iran’s politics opening up to change, freeing its democracy and allowing its people to feel safe, would its leaders dare foreswear these weapons.
The west never had the power to conquer Iran or bomb it into submission. A military strike would merely speed an arms race and drive that country back into the embrace of its fundamentalists. Only soft power was ever going to de-escalate the conflict. [Continue reading...]
Jeffrey Lewis writes: Seven thoughts about the Iran deal, in no particular order.
First, let’s be clear that the package agreed to in Geneva is an interim deal — a six-month slowdown in Iran’s nuclear programs in exchange for a largely temporary easing of sanctions. The Geneva agreement will ultimately be judged on whether the parties can agree to something more comprehensive before it’s all said and done. The document does outline some of the parameters of a final deal, but they are general in nature.
Rouhani wanted some early sanctions relief to show that he could bring home the bacon — I know, that’s a terrible analogy for a Muslim country — to a populace that is economically hurting. The West didn’t want to negotiate with the Iranians while they were installing more centrifuges, new centrifuges, and equipment at the Arak nuclear reactor. The deal largely accomplishes both tasks.
Second, the Iranians gave the West pretty much everything one might have asked for — the Iranians will continue to enrich to less than 5 percent using only existing IR-1 centrifuges and limit manufacturing to replace damaged machines. Iran was never going to make a prostration before the Great Satan like Libya did in 2003, when Qaddafi agreed to give up all his weapons of mass destruction — especially having seen how that worked out for old Muammar. The restrictions on the Iranian program are, frankly, more than could have been hoped for. Thank you, France. If we can’t ease sanctions in exchange for these sorts of concessions, one really must ask what the point of pressuring Iran is.
Third, the usual suspects will complain that we’ve given away too much in terms of sanctions relief, but there are three things to keep in mind. (1) Much of the sanctions relief is temporary. If the Iranians collapse the deal, there will be plenty of takers for imposing tougher sanctions. (2) It isn’t clear to me that the sanctions regime is indefinitely sustainable. The Iranians have had quite a bit of luck challenging sanctions in European courts, and Washington doesn’t have quite the same pull in Moscow and Beijing these days. Sanctions have always been a wasting asset. It makes sense to get something for them now. (3) Moreover, if the Iranian economy starts to recover, that might be a good thing. There is a whole field of research into something called “prospect theory” that more or less boils down to a profound insight into the irrationality of human beings: we tend to fear losses more than we value gains, even if they are numerically the same. This is why your favorite basketball team waits too long to trade that promising draft pick who’ll never be more than a rotation player. If the Iranian economy starts to recover, that will probably increase the pressure on Rouhani to make a deal, not decrease it. [Continue reading...]