Pre-talk pessimism

As Iran’s enigmatic-by-necessity former nuclear negotiator Hossein Mosavian [now living in the U.S. after being jailed in Iran for his contacts abroad] has written, here [see previous articles,], the six-country talks with Iran about its nuclear program that are scheduled to take place this weekend in Istanbul are the first time in nine years that there may be any chance of breakthrough.

And, as Mousavian also noted, these talks also offer a chance for the US and Iran “to begin a serious dialogue to resolve more than three decades of hostilities, mistrust, and tension”.

But, many are voicing pessimism.

The U.S., Russia, China, France, and the U.K. — the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, who also happen to be, by the terms of the NPT Treaty, the world’s only legitimate nuclear powers — plus Germany, are all to meet this weekend with Iranian negotiators to discuss their high level of concern about Iranian nuclear intentions. The last P5+1 meeting with Iran was also in Istanbul, in January 2011.

Since then, there has been a constant stream of speculation about whether or not Israel will launch a military strike on Iran to stop any possible progress towards a nuclear weapon.

But, in the past week, a high ranking Israeli military official and a noted Iranian member of Parliament have both said that Iran already does have the capability, or the ability, to put together a nuclear warhead.

Cyrus Safdari has written a post on April 9 entitled “Why Iran nuclear talks will fail…again” on his Iran Affairs blog, here, that “There is a pattern here that just can’t be ignored, of the US deliberately raising the bar, moving goalposts, and imposing demandst that it knows will be rejected by Iran. The point, you see, is not to actually engage Iran in any sort of substantive dialog, but to give the US an opportunity to say ‘Hey we tried diplomacy and the Iranians ruined it’. So, as usuall, we have the US imposing demands on Iran even before any negotiations start, with no prospect that the US can ever provide anything in return as a quid-pro-quo. In fact, as I had explained before, the Obama administration is simply not ABLE to give anything back to Iran since US sanctions are imposed mainly by Congress, and Congress isn’t about to lift any sanctions in return for Iranian agreements to give up any part of their nuclear program. So, there will be some dickering in the media as usual but eventually the negotiations will fail and the US/Israeli will naturally blame Iran…So don’t hold your breath, these talks will also ‘fail’. The entire nuclear issue is, after all, just a pretext”.

In his previous post, here, Safdari wrote even if Iran were to agree to, say, a suspension or freeze [or even to a complete capitulation], “any move by Iran which actually reaches a compromise deal with the US as being merely a ‘tactical and temporary’ delay in Iran’s alleged quest for nuclear weapons. This is what the hawks will call any deal that is reached with Iran, if one is ever reached: a plot by the Iranians to ‘sow dissension’ in those opposed to them, so as to ‘buy time’ to make bombs”.

Trita Parsi, in a piece in the Huffington Post that Cyrus Safdari has criticized in his latest [April 9] post, wrote that “there are some indications that the next round of talks may differ little from previous failed discussions. Driven by limited political maneuverability at home, domestic pressure not to compromise, and a perception of strength that lures the parties to believe they can force on the other a fait accompli, the talks have often been about imposing terms of capitulation on the other. It has never succeeded”.

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Pre-talk positioning

After some interesting moves over the past week, the positioning ahead of the 6-nation talks with Iran about its nuclear program is getting tedious.

The “P5+1” talks with Iran [or, as the Europeans prefer to call them, “P3+3”] countries — Germany, Britain, France, China, Russia, and the U.S. — will be held either on the 13th or the 14th, and apparently in Istanbul after all.

Whoever is responsible for the Twitter account of Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu sent out two Tweets this morning with a maximalist position that is a bit off-message, compared to the more nuanced positions that Israeli military and diplomatic sources have been explaining for days. Here are the two Tweets:

    [The PM of Israel] @IsraeliPM: Iran must stop all enrichment of uranium, both 20% and 3% and move all enriched material out of its territory – [1/2]
    [The PM of Israel] @IsraeliPM: It is possible to give Iran alternative material for peaceful purposes. It must also dismantle the illegal facility in Qom– [2/2]

The main Iranian concern, which has never been addressed in the negotiations over its nuclear program, is how it can believe, after thirty years of sanctions due to its Islamic Revolution that have only been increasingly tightened in recent years, it can ever have confidence that an external source of the enriched uranium it will need for its civilian nuclear energy program [and also for the Tehran Research Reactor that will produce domestically-needed medical isotopes to treat cancer, for example] will not be subject at some point to sanctions that will interrupt supplies of enriched uranium.

It is for this express reason that Iran says it has embarked on self-sufficiency for its nuclear program.

But, this concern has been consistently brushed aside, or addressed in the most minimal and condescending terms.

Iran’s behavior is regarded with suspicion in the West — and, importantly, by Israel, which is still contemplating possible military action to remove any Iranian nuclear capability that might be used to construct nuclear weapons.

Iran is suspected of trying to hide an intention to covertly develop of nuclear weapons.

An opinion piece in one Israeli newspaper suggested Sunday that it now appears, however, that Iran and Israel are indirectly negotiating… Amir Oren wrote in Haaretz that “Essentially, indirect negotiations are taking place between Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the one hand, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the other. In the absence of a direct channel of dialogue (as far as is known, and perhaps not all is known), the Israeli side’s negotiator is U.S. President Barack Obama … All of this is happening on the eve of elections, with Obama preventing Israel from acting until the negotiations are exhausted”. This is posted here.

According to Oren’s analysis, there are, going into the talks, two weaknesses in the American opening position, as it is known from the media [see our post yesterday]: “First, no side can expect to take away from the negotiations all of the things it sought at the beginning … [and, the related point that] the Iranians will present their own demands”.

Continue reading Pre-talk positioning

Mousavian given two-year suspended jail sentence + five-year ban from policy posts

On Iran’s “National Nuclear Day” or “Day of the Atom”, former nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian was given a two-year suspended jail sentence, and a five-year ban on being named to foreign policy or diplomatic positions, on the grounds that he had harmed national security.

Mousavian was a former Iranian Ambassador to Germany, and to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. He also enjoyed and actively participated in international meetings of academic and security officials, both before and after the election of Iran’s current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mousavian worked as a deputy to Hassan Rowhani, both when he was Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator under former President Khatami, and when he headed a research institute under former President Rafsanjani.

Mousavian was arrested a year ago, and released several weeks later. Ahmadinejad opposed the release.

A court decision later cleared Mousavian of espionage charges, but Ahmadinejad then made statements saying he believed Mousavian had acted as a “spy”, and urging Mousavian’s prosecution and punishment.

The sentence imposed yesterday appears to be only slightly more severe than the original court decision last year, when Mousavian was acquitted of spying for foreign powers, but convicted of “working against the regime”.

After that decision, the Iranian state prosecutor then appealed the judicial exoneration of Mousavian, and ordered a new probe.

AFP reported that “His sentencing appears to have finally brought the case to a close. [Mousavian lawyer] Pour Babaie confirmed that Moussavian had been acquitted of espionage charges and was issued with a legal document confirming that the investigation against him had been concluded…Pour Babaie said that Moussavian could still serve in state bodies for the next five years and was only banned from posts concerning foreign policy or diplomacy”.

Mousavian affair – Is a storm brewing in Iran?

Roozonline is all over the Mousavian story. A big battle is apparently shaping up inside Iran. Roozonline is closely following what Iranian President Ahmadinejad will do next in pursuing the case of Iran’s former nuclear negotiator, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, who was acquitted last week of spying for foreign powers, but convicted of “working against the regime”. For that charge, Mousavian was reportedly then given a suspended sentence — until the hardline prosecutor intervened to reopen the case. Ahmadinejad has vowed to publish the evidence against Mousavian, saying that if “foreigners” have the materials that Ahmadinejad believes Mousavian gave them, then the Iranian public should have it too.

Mahboubeh Niknahad has written a post published yesterday, “Disagreements in ‘Nuclear Spy’ Case Reach Highest Levels“, reporting that “Just as the Fars news agency and hardliner newspapers had expected, Tehran’s infamous public prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi objected to an earlier court decision to clear former top nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian of charges brought against him in connection with the nuclear spying case … Nevertheless, it is not clear whether Mortazavi’s objection covers all of Mousavian’s three charges, which include ‘spying’, ‘holding confidential documents’, and ‘propagating against the regime or selected items’. Last Tuesday, judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters that Mousavian had been acquitted of spying and keeping confidential documents, but added, ‘He has been found guilty of engaging in propaganda against the state, and has received a suspended sentence for that’. However, in a statement released by the judiciary’s public relations desk, it was announced that Mortazavi ‘had objected to the court’s decision in this case and had ordered for the continuation of the defendant’s trial’ … With Mortazavi’s objection, the case is now expected to be resubmitted to the prosecutor for additional investigations. If Mortazavi continues to object even after the completion of the investigation, Mousavian’s case will then be sent to trial. Mortazavi’s involvement in Mousavian’s case comes at a time when some senior Iranian officials have taken sides in the row over his case. Last week, two of the conservative faction’s most prominent figures, supreme leader’s special representative Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, and Majlis president Haddad Adel, made public comments in support of Mousavian’s acquittal. Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad called for an open trial of the former nuclear negotiator. ‘We continue to insist that the documents that were given to foreigners and others be published so that the public is informed’ … According to many analysts, the row over Mousavian’s trial reflects a deep power struggle that is kicking into a higher gear. Majlis [Parliament] president Hadad Adel told reporters last week, ‘The judiciary’s independence must be preserved. The sentence of the judge must be respected. No pressure must be placed on the judge so that he is able to examine the case with enough time to issue a sentence’.” This Roozonline story, and other Roozonline coverage of developments in the story about the Mousavian case can be found here.

Hossein Mousavian - from Roozonline

On Monday, Roozonline reported, “E’temad daily reported yesterday that Mousavian has been officially cleared of all charges by the judiciary. No official source has yet denied or confirmed the news. Without explicitly naming Mousavian, E’temad daily reported, ‘It has been said that a judge has cleared a defendant in a recent case that has made a lot of news. However, the judge’s ruling will not be published soon. Apparently, charges brought against this defendant were not proven in court. The defendant was charged with nuclear spying” … Roozonline added that “Seyyed Hossein Mousavian is best known for his role as the spokesperson for the nuclear negotiation team under Khatami. He was arrested by Ministry of Intelligence agents last spring and released on bail seven days later. His case is currently awaiting a judgment by the judiciary. Reformist Norooz website, affiliated with the Participation Front (Jebhe Mosharekat), quoted an informed insider and reported that Mousavian had prepared a ‘comprehensive and convincing’ defense brief, ‘the publication of which will reveal important points about the mistakes of the current nuclear team and the baseless accusations brought against Mousavian’. Norooz added that Mousavian has been banned from publishing his defense brief, adding, ‘The judiciary continues to withstand pressure from the Administration by relying on information from this brief’. ” This Roozonline article is posted here.

Ahmadeinejad threatens to reveal Mousavian's conversations with "foreigners"

Just a day after the acquital of Iran’s former nuclear negotiator on charges of spying, the AP has reported from Tehran that “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened Wednesday that his government would expose details of conversations between a former Iranian nuclear negotiator whom the president had labeled a spy and foreigners he was accused of colluding with. The president’s threat came in response to Mousavian’s acquittal Tuesday in a case that has become a centerpiece in the feud between Ahmadinejad and his more liberal political rivals. ‘I insist that the content of remarks conveyed by him (Mousavian) be published, so that the people know about it’, the official IRNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday … Mousavian was accused by the Intelligence Ministry of passing classified information to foreigners, including the British Embassy, and was charged with ‘spying, keeping confidential documents and propagating against the ruling system’. He was found not guilty of the first two charges and guilty of the third charge, and the court also suspended a sentence against him … The secret service allegedly has recorded conversations between Mousavian and unnamed foreigners. ‘Mr. Mousavian had 10-15 meetings with foreigners and said things. If the content of the conversations and the exchange of information is published, the issue will be clear‘, Ahmadinejad said … But there was more dissent against the president Wednesday in comments backing Mousavian. Conservative parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said one should be happy with Mousavian’s acquittal, since only a court was competent to rule on such charges. Mahmoud Mohammadi, a conservative lawmaker, said Mousavian must be praised for his persistent ‘bitter silence’ in the face of high-profile accusations and for his ‘faith in the ruling system’ and a court’s fair verdict, according to Mehr. Mohammadi, alluding to Ahmadinehad, said it was ‘deploring to see some individuals unhappy’ over Mousavian’s acquittal”… The AP report of Ahmadinejad’s threat to reveal details of Mousavian’s conversations with “foreigners” is here.

Mousavian rearrested

There has been very little comment on the re-arrest of Hossein Mousavian, the Iranian former nuclear negotiator, who was initially arrested last May. This time, specific charges have been filed against Mousavian, who was also formerly an Iranian Ambassador to Germany.

The Times of London reported that: “Hossein Mousavian, who was the main nuclear negotiator under President Khatami, is accused of passing classified material to the British Embassy in Tehran. ‘He has been informed of the charges that he has given the British Embassy information contrary to the security of the country’, said Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie, Iran’s Intelligence Minister. ‘From the viewpoint of the Intelligence Ministry, he is a criminal’. Mr Mousavian was first arrested in May and spent ten days in prison on unspecified charges of espionage before being released on bail. Diplomats said that the charges brought against Mr Mousavian were the result of domestic politics … One source said: ‘We’re not treating these allegations with any seriousness’. There is no suggestion that Mr Mousavian is accused of being in cahoots with British intelligence officers. Mr Mousavian left the Government when President Ahmadinejad was elected but remained an ally of the Iranian leader’s most powerful rivals, former presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani. Both have accused Mr Ahmadinejad of endangering the Islamic Republic with his confrontational rhetoric on the nuclear issue…”
The TImes of London report on Mousavian’s re-arrest is here.

While these unnamed (British) diplomats were not treating the allegations “with any seriousness”, it is probably very different for Mr. Mousavian.

Mousavian’s arrest and re-arrest have been viewed as part of an internal Iranian power play — just as the stakes have been raised in Iran’s determined pursuit of its own independent and indigenous uranium-enrichment capability. One observer said that what Mousavian had done was probably no more than normal diplomatic activity (communicating with his various counterparts in other embassies and missions). But, the risk to Mousavian is real.

See UN-Truth’s earlier postings about Mousavian, including Shahram Chubin’s take on Mousavian’s arrest in May, here.

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna should be holding an important discussion of the Agency’s latest report on Iran next week — on 22 November.

Shahram Chubin: arrest of Iran's former nuclear negotiator is an "outrageous act" intended "to inhibit discussion"

Iran’s former nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian’s detention Monday evening was most probably intended “to inhibit any discussion of the nuclear issue” inside Iran, said Dr. Shahram Chubin of the Geneva Center for Security Policy.

“It is an outrageous act to take a loyal supporter of the Islamic Republic who disagrees with a position, and put him in jail”, Dr. Chubin added in an interview Thursday with Middle East Times.   “Mousavian is not even a reformer –he is a loyalist”.

Chubin noted that “This just gives a good idea of what is going on inside Iran”.

Mousavian’s participation in a panel discussion on Proliferation Challenges and Security in the Middle East at the Geneva think tank on 21 March was virtually his last public appearance. On the same trip abroad, but just prior to his Geneva appearance, Mousavian had also visited the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and he was headed for discussions in Brussels before returning home. However, Mousavian certainly already felt himself to be under pressure at the time, one of the participants in the Geneva meeting noted.

Another participant in the Geneva discussion was Serguei Batsonov, a former Russian Ambassador for Disarmament in Geneva, who now works with Pugwash. Contacted by phone in Vienna, where he is attending a meeting preparing for the next review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Mr. Batsonov said “We all know very little, but what I can say is that it would be very easy now to jump into erroneous judgement.  The wider political picture must be taken into view”. He cautioned that “Otherwise, it would be so easy to make the situation worse”.
Continue reading Shahram Chubin: arrest of Iran's former nuclear negotiator is an "outrageous act" intended "to inhibit discussion"