"We have reached an agreement"

At about 4 in the morning in Geneva, the Foreign Ministers the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Counci [the worlds only recognized nuclear powers], plus Germany, plus the European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, stood before the press in the Palais des Nations in Geneva to affirm the earlier Tweet by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announcing that they had agreed on a deal.
@JZarif 24 Nov — “We have reached an agreement”.

The deal is a six-month first phase in a process that is expected to last about a year…

Continue reading “"We have reached an agreement"”

Geneva talks about Iran's nuclear program end without agreement but on an up-note, will resume 20 November

Talks on Iran’s nuclear program that technically entered a fourth day in Geneva ended just after midnight on Sunday morning,  on an up-note.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told exhausted journalists that in fact the talks had been very productive and positive.  “We do have our differences”, Zarif said, “but that’s why we’re here…because of our differences”.  But, Zarif indicated, he thought there could be agreement on a resolution at the next meeting, now set for 20 November [also in Geneva].

“What we were looking for was political will and determination, in order to end this phase and move to an end game’, Zarif said at the press conference. “I think we are all on the same wavelength”.

Analysts have said that the failure to agree on a deal tonight, however, will open the way for a campaign with renewed strength by its opponents, including inside Iran, inside the US, and also in Israel — where Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has vowed to go it alone against the perceived Iranian threat — and even to do “whatever is necessary” to defend the security of the state of Israel.

Iran has been subject to an increasingly tough sanctions regime imposed by the UN Security Council since 2006, and also bilaterally by the US + the EU for refusing to stop its uranium enrichment.   When Iran did not stop its enrichment, the U.S, pushed for several sets of increasingly restrictive and punitive sanctions.  They have  had a biting sting, but Iran has only increased it’s efforts. One of Iran’s main arguments against the sanctions is not about the suffering they’ve caused, but is rather to say that they haven’t worked — and that Iran has despite — and to spite — the sanctions, their scientists and technicians have been able to increase their enriched-uranium production capacity from a couple of hundred enrichment centrifuges, to something like 14,000 now.

Iranian elections earlier this year saw confrontational and “defiant” President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who’d served the maximum two terms, replaced with “reformist” Hassan Rouhani. [Rouhani is a former nuclear negotiator who had previously tried, but failed — due to the opposition of the US under George W. Bush — to reach a deal with major powers that disapproved of Iran’s Islamic revolutionary tendencies].

The election and inauguration of Rouhani raised hopes of a possibility of accomodation — even as Israel raised heightened alarms about the advance in Iran’s nuclear prowess which Israel Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu argues mean inevitable weaponization, and a severe threat to Israel.

Netanyahu’s warnings have become increasingly strident in recent weeks, as the negotiations with Iran appeared to move forward. Netanyahu is opposed to any deal other than the complete dismantling of Iran’s uranium enrichment program and shutting down some of its nuclears installations [which, yes, does conform with what UN Security Council has demanded].

Haaretz wrote in an editorial that “Netanyahu continues to view the very diplomatic move itself as an existential threat, because it will leave Iran with a nuclear capability that could be transformed within a short period into bomb-making capability. ‘Israel is not obliged by this agreement’, Netanyahu said, nudging Israel toward the status of a country that is threatening the international consensus…Netanyahu can disagree with the American conception of how to best thwart Iran’s aspirations, but boasting of Israel’s ability to thumb its nose at the international diplomatic process is a dangerous threat in itself”.  This is published here.

There was apparently a very difficult meeting between Netanyahu and Secretary of State Kerry at Ben Gurion Airport on Friday, just before Kerry headed off to attend the talks in Geneva.  A joint press conference was cancelled, and Netanyahu came before the cameras to say dramatically and vehemently that the deal being considered in the Geneva talks was “a Very.Bad.Deal.”

Continue reading “Geneva talks about Iran's nuclear program end without agreement but on an up-note, will resume 20 November”

Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 1 [Jan 2012 to 21 Aug 2013]

A Chronology of Reports of
Chemical Weapons use in Syria

[UPDATED] Working Draft Part 1 [January 2012 to 21 August 2013]

This is an account of all the reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including warnings of imminent use. The Chronology is ordered according to the dates on which the events happened
[rather than the dates on which they were reported]

Read Part 2 of this Chronology here

Read Part 3 of this Chronology here

January 2012 to August 21 2013

January 2012: The UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills granted export licences to an unnamed UK chemical company on 17 and 18 January 2012 to send dual-use chemicals [that are used in production of sarin] to Syria — for “use in industrial processes”. The Business Department said “it had accepted assurances from the exporting company that the chemicals would be used in the manufacture of metal window frames and shower enclosures”. A Department spokesperson said these chemicals were requested “for metal finishing of aluminium profiles used in making aluminium showers and aluminium window frames”.

July 2012: The permits were eventually revoked in July, in response to tightened European Union sanctions — before these chemicals were exported. Critics said “it appeared the substances had only stayed out of Syria by chance”…. “Although the export deal, first reported by The Sunday Mail in Scotland, was outlawed by the EU on 17 June last year in a package of sanctions against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the licences were not revoked until 30 July. Chemical weapons experts said that although the two substances have a variety of uses such as the fluoridation of drinking water, sodium and potassium fluoride are also key to producing the chemical effect which makes a nerve agent such as sarin so toxic”.  Source: “Revealed: UK Government let British company export nerve gas chemicals to Syria: UK accused of ‘breath-taking laxity’ over export licence for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride”, by Cahal Milmo, Andy McSmith , Nikhil Kumar, published by The Independent on 2 September 2013, posted here.

But, The Daily Mail reported on 7 September that: “Between July 2004 and May 2010 the Government issued five export licences to two companies, allowing them to sell Syria sodium fluoride, which is used to make sarin. The Government last night admitted for the first time that the chemical was delivered to Syria – a clear breach of international protocol on the trade of dangerous substances that has been condemned as ‘grossly irresponsible’… The sales were made at a time when President Bashar Assad was strongly suspected to be stockpiling the chemical weapons that have caused an international crisis. The UK firms delivered sodium fluoride to a Syrian cosmetics company for what they claim were legitimate purposes”.
Thomas Docherty MP, a member of the Commons Arms Export Controls Committee, said: ‘Previously we thought that while export licences had been granted, no chemicals were actually delivered. Now we know that in the build-up to the Syrian civil war, UK companies – with the backing of our Government – were supplying this potentially lethal substance. While the last export licence was issued in May 2010, these licences are obtained prior to manufacture and the industry standard is for four to five months to pass before the chemicals are delivered. So we are looking at late 2010 for the British supplies of sodium fluoride reaching Syria’…”
Source: “Britain sent poison gas chemicals to Assad: Proof that the UK delivered Sarin agent to Syrian regime for SIX years”, Mark Nicol, The Daily Mail, 7 September 2013 – updated 8 September 2013, posted here.

It appears that the news of these sales + export licenses was leaked in the immediate aftermath of the parliamentary defeat of the UK Government motion, at the end of August 2013, to join in proposed military strikes on Syria in the aftermath of the 21 August 2013 #CW attacks on Ghoutha which killed hundreds, possibly over 1500, of civilian casualties.

*****************************

13 July 13 2012: News reports indicated that the Syrian government was moving its #CW stockpile to one or more undisclosed location[s].
“Red Line” remarks:

13 July 13 2012: Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters at the Pentagon later that same day, however, that “The Syrian regime has control of its chemical weapons stockpiles”. He added: “We believe that the Syrian government has a very serious responsibility to protect its stockpiles of chemical weapons…We would, of course, caution them strongly against any intention to use those weapons. That would cross a serious red line”. And, he said, if any Syrian officials choose to utilize chemical weapons they will be held accountable for their actions. Little added that “We are watching very closely — not just the United States, but the international community — to make sure that they maintain control over those stockpiles, and of course, to ensure that they don’t use them”… Posted here.
20 August 2012 – US President Barak Obama: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus…That would change my equation…We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans”.   Source: James Ball, the Washington Post, posted here.

18 July 2012: First Iranian letter [or “warning”] sent through Swiss Embassy in Tehran to Washington warning of preparations [by “rebels”] for #CW use in Syria.

Scott Peterson reported recently in the Christian Science Monitor that “Iran says that it warned the United States directly, in mid- and late- 2012, and at least once after that, about the risks of chemical weapons among the rebels…The [Iranian] letter acquired by the Monitor references messages from July 18 and Dec. 1, 2012″. Posted here.

Peterson’s report followed up on remarks by the new Foreign Minister of Iran, on 1 September 2013, that Iran had informed the US 9 months earlier that “extremist elements” are transferring chemical weapons to Syria. In an interview with the Iranian weekly, Aseman, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the country had sent an official memo to the Swiss embassy in Tehran which represents the US interests section in Iran and informed US that ‘Hand-made chemical weapon Sarin is being transferring to Syria’… “In that memo we warned that extremist groups may use the chemical agents,” Zarif said — although the “Americans never replied to the memo.” This is published here.

===========================

23 July 2013:  The French Government report issued on 2 September reported this: “Syria has long been equipped with a a massive chemical arsenal, together with many related delivery systems. The Syrian regime acknowledged as much on July 23, 2012 through its Foreign Affairs spokesperson, who confirmed that: ‘these different weapons [chemical and non-conventional] are stockpiled and secured under the supervision of the armed forces’…”

Source: ‘National executive summary of declassified intelligence: Assessment of Syria’s chemical warfare programme’, French Government report dated 2 September 2013, posted here.

===========================

September 2012: US + Russian officials began work, bilaterally, without public announcement, on the issue of Syria’s #CW, as we learned a year later, on 14 September 2013:

Paul Adams @BBCPaulAdams 14 Sep 2013 — US officials in Geneva say Americans and Russians have been discussing how to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons for a year.

Marian Houk @Marianhouk 15 Sep 2013 — Transcript of background briefing by State Dept officials at US Mission in Geneva yesterday mentions 1 year of US-Russian contacts on #Syria

US State Dept official[s] briefing on background in Geneva on 14 September: “We had groups that have been meeting for a year between our national security councils to talk about the elimination + destruction of #CW…in Syria, because the entire world understood that if we got to a peace, we were going to have to deal with the chemical weapons… There’ve been, I think, 5 meetings of that group over the past yr, so we already had experience working w/ each other + sharing expert info…But we did not come to this meeting with a full-fledged plan”. This is posted here.

17 September 2012: Der Spiegel reports that Syria’s military had conducted #CW tests:
“The Syrian army is believed to have tested missile systems for poison gas shells at the end of August, statements from various witnesses indicate. The tests took place near a chemical weapons research center at Safira east of Aleppo, witnesses told SPIEGEL. A total of five or six empty shells devised for delivering chemical agents were fired by tanks and aircraft, at a site called Diraiham in the desert near the village of Khanasir. Iranian officers believed to be members of the Revolutionary Guards were flown in by helicopter for the testing, according to the statements…In recent months, the guards have been replaced and reinforced by more than 100 elite troops from the 4th Tank Division. In addition, power generators and large supplies of diesel have recently been brought to the plant to safeguard the supply of electricity in the event of an attack by rebels, reports say.  This is published here.

1 December 2012: Second Iranian letter, or “message”, sent through Swiss Embassy in Tehran to Washington warning of preparations [by “rebels”] for #CW use in Syria.

Scott Peterson reported recently in the Christian Science Monitor that “Iran says that it warned the United States directly, in mid- and late- 2012, and at least once after that, about the risks of chemical weapons among the rebels…The [Iranian] letter acquired by the Monitor references messages from July 18 and Dec. 1, 2012″. This is posted here.

 

3 December 2012: Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman wrote for Wired.com’s Danger Room: “Engineers working for the Assad regime in Syria have begun combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas [ isopropanol, popularly known as rubbing alcohol, and methylphosphonyl difluoride], an American official with knowledge of the situation tells Danger Room.  The U.S. doesn’t know why the Syrian military made the move, which began in the middle of last week and is taking place in central Syria…[Last week] the Syrian military began combining some of the binaries. ‘They didn’t do it on the whole arsenal, just a modest quantity’, the official says … Back in July, the Assad regime publicly warned that it might use its chemical weapons to stop ‘external’ forces from interfering in Syria’s bloody civil war. The announcement sparked a panic in the intelligence services of the U.S. and its allies, which stepped up their efforts to block shipments of precursors for those weapons from entering the country … Fighting around the Syrian capital of Damascus has intensified, as rebel troops captured a half-dozen bases around the city”.

Source: ‘Exclusive: U.S. Sees Syria Prepping Chemical Weapons for Possible Attack’, Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman, Wired.com’s Danger Room, 3 December 2012, posted  http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/12/syria-chemical-weapons-3/

 

14 December 2012: “With Syrian rebel forces gaining in strength, elite units loyal to Bashar Assad received a frightening order a few weeks ago: begin preparations that could lead to the use of chemical weapons…Danger Room first reported last week that U.S. officials recently saw indications that at least some Syrian military forces mixed precursor chemicals for sarin gas, which got the weaponized stocks to the point where they could be loaded onto planes and dropped.

The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick adds detail to that account. Some elite troops received “specific orders” to prep the weapons. At least one Syrian army unit was caught on surveillance photos loading “special military vehicles” that could be used to transport the weapons…  Warrick writes that there were fears throughout the U.S. intelligence community that ‘a single commander could unleash the deadly poisons without orders from higher up the chain of command’… Assad’s motivations remain unclear to U.S. officials, but according to Warrick, someone in the Syrian chain of command provided instructions to prep sarin for potential battlefield use about two weeks ago. Assad’s intentions are unknowable, but using sarin will most foreclose on the life-saving option of finding a foreign country willing to accept Assad for exile”.
Source: ‘U.S. Surveillance Caught Syria’s Chemical Weapons Prep’, Spencer Ackerman, The Danger Room on Wired.com, 14 December 2012. This is posted here.

 

Continue reading “Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – UPDATED Working Draft Part 1 [Jan 2012 to 21 Aug 2013]”

Egypt's President Morsi backs independent, sovereign Palestinian state

Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi put Palestine first in his speech about Egypt’s view of world affairs at the UN General Assembly in New York today: “I call for immediate movement, serious movement, as of now, to put an end to colonization and occupation activities and the denial of self-determination and the alteration of the identity of occupied Jerusalem. I call for a peace that would establish an independent Palestinian state, a sovereign Palestinian state, a peace that will achieve the security and stability long sught by the peoples of the region”.

Is it significant that he called for peace before the establishment of the independent + sovereign Palestinian state? Probably, yes… That would be consistent with the approach Egypt has taken since 1979, which Morsi did not repudiate before the UN General Assembly today.

Morsi said in his speech on Wednesday that “from the premise of defending truth, dignity and freedom, I place the international community before its responsibility which requires the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace, and the putting an and to all forms of occupation of Arab lands…”

He pledged Egypt’s full support for any step the Palestinians planned to take in the UN.

And, he urged other UN members to join him in supporting the Palestinian move: “I call upon you all, just as you supported the Arab revolutions, to lend your support to the Palestinians in their endeavor to regain full independent rights, and to support a people to gain its freedom and establish its independent state, an independent state of Palestine, based on the inalienable rights of the Palestinians”.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama, who is running for re-election in about six weeks’ time, was one of the opening speakers at the opening session of the UN General Assembly’s high-level General Debate. Iran’s President Ahmadinejad spoke this morning. And Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is due to speak to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, apparently to modify the stalled “UN bid” he made with great fanfare a year ago, asking for full membership in the UN for the State of Palestine, which Israel opposed and the U.S. said it would veto.

Morsi said Egypt “will continue to work next to the Palestinian people, supporting them, until they get all their rights, until there is a free world for all the Palestinians and every constituent of the Palestinian people”.

He said “it is shameful that the free world accepts, regardless of justifications provided, that a member of the international community continues to deny the rights of a nation that has been longing for decades for independence”.

Continue reading “Egypt's President Morsi backs independent, sovereign Palestinian state”

Mousavian: Iranian officials hid things from Iranian nuclear negotiators

It’s in a book review that AL-Monitor correspondent Barbara Slavin reports that Sayed Hussein Mousavian claims that Iranian officials hid certain things from Iranian nuclear negotiators.

Mousavian’s account is almost too easy an excuse — “we didn’t know”.

Mousavian appears to blame Iranian officials for hiding these significant developments from Iranian negotiators. But, even after Iranian nuclear negotiators [such as himself] became aware of these hidden facts, they appeared to continue to exhibit an excess of trust, and did not seem to press any demands for full disclosure.

And, the question naturally arises: why didn’t Mousavian say so earlier? He was under suspicion in Iran, he was imprisoned and once faced trial. But he was later able to leave for the U.S., and has been there for several years, teaching [and writing his book] at Princeton — during which time he could have mentioned this — he could have even simply given hints.

It has been assumed, at least until now, that despite the mutual disaffection between Mousavian and the current regime, that he was somehow serving as a conduit for discrete U.S.-Iranian contacts.

According to Slavin, Mousavian says in his newly-published book that “Iranian negotiators did not know that Iran had obtained from Pakistan drawings for advanced centrifuges knowns as P2s, along with less sensitive technology. ‘Once again, Iran was acknowledging facts after they had been discovered by others’, Mousavian writes of what happened after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed the P2 drawings. ‘I more than once heard important news for the first time from IAEA officials or from foreign media and then had to work on reformulating plans to manage the crises that the news gave rise to’.” This is reported in Slavin’s review of Mousavian’s book [Iranian Nuclear Crisis: a Memoir], published on AL-Monitor, here.

Slavin writes that Mousavian says in his book that he only learned of the deep-underground uranium enrichment facility at Ferdow, near Qum, when President Obama mentioned it at a news conference in 2009 [though I think this revelation was in Obama’s speech before the UN General Assembly — not during a news conference].

Six-nation talks with Iran about its nuclear program have begun in Istanbul

Six-nations talks with Iran about its nuclear program have started in Istanbul.

The last such talks, also held in Istanbul, ended without progress in January 2011.

    UPDATE: After two sessions, it was agreed that further talks will be held on May 23 — in Baghdad. [For those of us with memories of the Iran-Iraq war, this is very wierd.]

Now, these talks are being held under the threat of a possible Israeli military attack to stop Iran before it develops nuclear weapons. Israeli officials have recently suggested, however, that a strike may not be needed before 2013.

The six nations facing Iran are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council [the U.S., Russia, China, France, and Britain, who are the only countries in the world with the veto power to stop any resolution at the UN Security Council, and who also just so happen to be the world’s only officially recognized and “legitimate” nuclear powers, according to the NPT Treaty] — plus Germany. For this reason, the talks are often called “P5+1” talks with Iran.

The EU’s Catherine Ashton [white jacket] talking with Turkey’s FM Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul on Saturday morning as talks with Iran about its nuclear program got underway

EU Photo of High Rep Catherine Ashton talking with Turkey's FM Ahmed Davutoglu as the talks began in Istanbul on Saturday morning 13 April 2012

Germany is included because of the great interest it showed for this process in the early 2000s, when one of Iran’s chief nuclear negotiators, Hossein Mousavian, was also Ambassador to Berlin.

European officials prefer to refer to these “P5+1” talks instead as “E3+3” talks — meaning three European powers [Germany, France, and Britain] plus three others [U.S., Russia, China].

U.S. President Obama has also made Israeli officials happy recently by saying that he will not tolerate Iranian nuclear weaponization.

Over two years ago, Israeli analysts at the Tel Aviv-based INSS [Institute for National Security Studies] said that Iran would not pose an “existential threat” to Israel when it was on the threshold of being able to put a nuclear weapon together — as it apparently is now. Nor would Iran not be an “existential threat” when it had one nuclear weapon, or when it tested a nuclear weapon. Iran would need 4 to 8 nuclear weapons assembled and ready-to-use, the experts said, to be an “existential threat” — because it would need a second-strike capability. That means, if Iran fires first, and Israel retaliates, Iran would need to be able to hit back. Nuclear-weapon-armed submarines, capable of sailing far from their home bases, are one of the factors that show a second-strike capability”.

Iranian officials have said they have no intention of making or ever using nuclear weapons — which one senior cleric has called “satanic”.

The Iranian delegation that arrived in Istanbul yesterday said they hoped both sides would be prepared to present “new intitiatives”.

A U.S. Defense Official testified to the International Court of Justice in the mid-1990s, in a case brought against nuclear weapons, that contrary to the argument that nuclear weapons are too dangerous to use, America in fact uses its nuclear weapons every day, on a daily basis — as a deterrent to attack.

Though Iran has argued that it is developing its nuclear energy and medical capacity out of national necessity as well as its national, sovereign right to do so. However, having the capability to assemble a nuclear weapon, if it wanted, elevates Iran to the status of major regional power — and it also acts as a powerful deterrent to attacks.

Robert Nariman wrote in Huffington Post, here, that “There are four reasons for Iran to have a nuclear program, srtated and not-so-stated: [1] energy, [2] medical isotopes, [3] national prestige, and [4] deterring a U.S. or Israeli attack … In particular, a perverse benefit of all the warmongering against Iran is that every time U.S. officials counter the warmongering by saying that a military strike against Iran would be counterproductive because it would drive the Iranians towards nuclear weaponization, it underscores the fact that Iran derives important national security benefits from enrichment without ever needing to crack a textbook on weaponization, nor enrich to 20 percent, nor build a deeper tunnel. If I’m an official in Iran’s enrichment program, every time a U.S. official says that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program would be counterproductive to U.S. interests, I get a little bit more convinced that I’m never going to need to try to build a nuclear weapon to protect my country from military attack”.

However, expectations are said to be low all around. Sanctions against Iran, imposed bilaterally in addition to three rounds agreed by the UN Security Council, will not be lifted anytime soon — unless Iran completely stops its uranium enrichment, which Iran has said it is unwilling to do.

The stated aim of the six-nations, as determined by leaks from American and European officals to major American media last weekend, might possibly be some temporary suspension of Iran’s 20% uranium enrichment program that produces nuclear fuel rods of the degree needed to run the Tehran Research Reactor in order to produce domestic medical isotopes for medical treatment including against cancer. Iran succeeded in successfully managing this 20%-enrichment technology in 2010. The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Program has suggested that this production could be suspended — but only once Iran’s “needs” are met.

But, Iranian officials have made it clear, for years, that they could nave no faith in international promises to supply enriched uranium for its nuclear reactors, in light of the 30-year history of freezing of assets, confiscation of aircraft and civilian aircraft parts, and other sanctions that have been imposed non-stop ever since Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

Continue reading “Six-nation talks with Iran about its nuclear program have begun in Istanbul”

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, http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/274770], 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”.

Continue reading “Pre-talk pessimism”

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”

Israeli military officials signal they are fully briefed on upcoming talks with Iran about its nuclear program

In advance of important talks with Iran about its nuclear program on 13 [or 14?] April [apparently in Istanbul, after all] Israeli Maj-Gen (res) Amos Gilad said in a briefing in Jerusalem this week that Iran, today, has ability to put together a nuclear weapon [but probably won’t].

Iran does “have the know-how to assemble a nuclear warhead, if they want to do it … it depends on their decision”, he said.

Gilad spoke on Tuesday 2 April to diplomats, military attaches, ranking UNTSO “blue beret” military observers, and journalists at a briefing at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs [JCPA].

He suggested in his talk that he is enjoying some sort of retirement [at least, from direct responsibility for intelligence, he implied] — but he is still described as the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs.

“I agree there’s no existential threat to Israel [now], but if Iran develops nuclear weapons, that could change. It [the threat to Israel from Iran] becomes serious”, Gilad said.

About Iran’s leadership, Gilad said, “We need to be humble. They are not stupid… Consider your enemy as more intelligent than you. If Israel tells them something, they will ignore it — unless they come to the same conclusion themselves. And [Iran knows] there is a consensus now”.

He said, “the moment they feel immune, they will [might] cross the Rubicon”. But, he noted, even if they do the opposite, and pull back from the brink, “they will keep the capability”.

Gilad spoke on Tuesday.

By Friday [allowing time for translations, reaction, and reportage], there appeared to be confirmation of this from Iran itself.

The Associated Press published a headline-making story, datelined Tehran, picked up by media from around the world, reporting that prominent Iranian parliamentarian Gholamreza Mesbahi Moghadam “said Iran can easily produce the highly enriched uranium that is used to build atomic bombs but it is not Tehran’s policy to go that route”. According to AP, Moghadam told icana.ir that “There is a possibility for Iran to easily achieve more than 90 (percent) enrichment”. One place this report was published was here.

But, the Iranian politician said more than that. He said that Iran can also actually produce a nuclear weapon — and that takes more than just highly-enriched uranium: “‘Iran has the scientific and technological capability to produce (a) nuclear weapon, but will never choose this path’, Moghadam told the parliament’s news website, icana.ir, late Friday”.

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius [@IgnatiusPost on Twitter] reported that Obama sent message to Iran via Turkey last week [but “delicate issue” of enrichment not clear]. Ignatius’ WPost story [see below] is posted here.

Amos Gilad [IDF Maj-Gen res] said Iran has 5,5 tons of Lightly Enriched Uranium and is “dealing with” 20% enrichment [warheads need higher, over 90% enrichment].

Iran’s stock of Lightly Enriched Uranium at 3-4% is the degree used to run civilian nuclear power plants, as Iran says it’s preparing to do.

It seems that this Iranian claim now being accepted … or, at least, it is not considered as alarming as it previously was, in recent years.

But 20% enrichment of uranium [Iran has experimented with at least two different technologies to arrive at this level] is another matter. Iran has explained that its 20% enriched uranium is for medical usage [in a research reactor that will produce medical isotopes to treat cancer, etc.]

Amos Gilad [IDF Maj-Gen res] furrowed his brow and shook his head, when he spoke about Iran’s uranium enrichment program…

Apparently, 20% enrichment is too much — perhaps because once there’s capability to enrich uranium to 20% level, it becomes possible to do more or less the same to arrive at military grade +90%.

Continue reading “Israeli military officials signal they are fully briefed on upcoming talks with Iran about its nuclear program”

IAEA passes "mild" resolution after its toughest report yet on Iran, UNGA denounces assassination plot

The IAEA has passed what appears to be a mild resolution in response to its toughest report yet about Iran’s nuclear program.

The IAEA report suggested that there was no way to understand parts of Iran’s nuclear research other than to believe there was an aim to study how a nuclear weapon might be developed.

The IAEA 35-member Board of Governors adopted the resolution — which expressed “deep and increasing concern about the unresolved issues regarding the Iranian nuclear program, including those which need to be clarified to exclude the existence of possible military dimensions” — on Friday 18 November.

The resolution also expressed the Board’s “continuing support for a diplomatic solution”. It called on Iran to implement an additional IAEA inspection protocol which is purely voluntary for other countries — Iran has been ordered to do so by a series of resolutions in the UN Security Council.

And the IAEA Board resolution also called on Iran “to engage seriously and without preconditions in talks aimed at restoring international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, while respecting the legitimate right to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with the NPT”.

According to a report in the New York Times, “the global powers meeting in Vienna criticized Tehran on Friday over suspicions that it is building a nuclear weapon. The rebuke, however, fell far short of threatening further pressure or actions to curb Iran’s contentious uranium enrichment program”. This was attributed in part to objections from Russia and China. The NYTimes article can be read in full here.

The NYTimes report added that the Iranian representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, “accused the nuclear agency of endangering the lives of Iranian scientists by releasing their names in an annex to last week’s report about the suspicions of nuclear weapons work. ‘The release of the names of the Iranian nuclear scientists by the agency has made them targets for assassination by terrorist groups as well as the Israeli regime and the U.S. intelligence services’, he said in a letter to the body’s director general, Yukiya Amano. Parts of the letter were published by Iran’s state-financed Press TV satellite broadcaster, which noted that several Iranian nuclear scientists had been killed in episodes attributed by Iran to Israeli, British and American intelligence services. Mr. Soltanieh contended that disclosing the names of Iranian experts represented a violation of the agency’s rules and said Tehran reserved the right to seek damages from the agency for any harm to its personnel or property as a result of the report — a possible reference to Tehran’s frequently voiced fears of an Israeli military strike on its nuclear facilities”….

In a separate, but possibly related, matter, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is due to meet Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Canada on the sidelines of a larger meeting.

Apparently, Ambassador Soltanieh said that as a result of today’s vote, Iran had decided not to attend an upcoming IAEA meeting on establishing a nuclear-weapons-free-zone in the Middle East.

The publication of the IAEA report [which was leaked to the press within minutes of its distribution to the Board of Governors] has also been criticized by Seyed Hossein Mousavian, whose remarks are reported in an interview published by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, here. The Bulletin describes Mousavian as “a lecturer and research scholar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, is the highest-ranking member of Iran’s political elite living in the United States”. Here is an excerpt of the Q+A:

    Q [Ali Vaez]:…Back in 2008, Iran addressed most of these allegations in a 117-page response to the IAEA. Wouldn’t publication of this response be a more constructive move than taking umbrage at the IAEA?

    Mousavian: The IAEA has, unfortunately, broken the rules of the game. Iran does not want to commit the same mistake. The issues between the agency and member states should remain confidential. Iran respects the rules and does not disclose its communications with the agency. Yet, the content of the IAEA reports on Iran are leaked to the media ahead of their distribution among the agency’s member states. This is highly unprofessional and against the statute of the agency. Such behavior is highly damaging to the credibility of the IAEA, as an impartial international body. It also clearly demonstrates that the information is dictated to the agency from somewhere else in order to make the case for ratcheting up pressure on Iran. The publication of these allegations was a significant step backward.

    Continue reading “IAEA passes "mild" resolution after its toughest report yet on Iran, UNGA denounces assassination plot”