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”.

Continue reading Pre-talk pessimism

Swimming against the tide

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board will be considering yet another resolution, on Monday, castigating Iran for questions about its past, present and future nuclear programs, as the Associated Press’s veteran writer in Vienna, George Jahn, reported in a dispatch filed earlier today.

Jahn writes that the growing pressure is aimed at wresting concessions from Tehran — but that “it may be too late for that”, and that — surprise — Iran remains “defiant” and “continues to refuse to compromise on the key demand that it stop uranium enrichment”.

Jahn suggests, unfortunately, that Iran has “exploited international indecision and expanded and improved its enrichment capability”. This is like accusing a baby of being manipulative — not that I am comparing Iran to a baby. But the crying of babies is not manpulative — and Iran not been exploiting i”international indecision”. Iran is simply determined, as it has stated clearly from the beginning, to have its own indigenous uranium enrichment capacity.

Anyway, as Jahn writes: “An agency report Monday to the UN Security Council and the IAEA board suggested that Tehran was stonewalling investigators and possibly withholding information crucial to the UN nuclear monitor’s probe of allegations it did nuclear arms research. A senior UN official — who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the report — told the AP its tone was unusually tough … Briefing board members three days after the report’s release, Olli Heinonen — the IAEA’s deputy director general in charge of the agency’s Iran file — said Iran’s possession of nuclear warhead diagrams was ‘alarming’. And diplomats at the closed meeting said Heinonen also left little doubt that in his view, much of the intelligence it had from the U.S. and other board members tended to increase concerns”.

Jahn added, “Still, Iran may have less reason now than a year ago to compromise, now that its technicians appear to have eliminated most bugs keeping them from full-scale enrichment expansion. ‘In the past, Iran has experienced significant problems’ with breakdowns and other technical mishaps keeping it from running its enriching centrifuges smoothly, said David Albright, a former IAEA nuclear inspector. But the newest IAEA findings show ‘that Iran is overcoming these problems’, he added”.

Five years ago, as Jahn reports, it was revealed that Iran “had assembled the nuts and bolts of a uranium enrichment program”. Iran did not report the program — and argued that it was not required to do so at the early stages. The revelation about the Iranian program came from the Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK), a deadly armed opposition group that operated from Iraq in Saddam Hussein’s later years, and that is now under U.S. military protection in Iraq.

Last year, a laptop computer surfaced that is supposed to contain evidence about Iran’s alleged intentions — denied by the Iranian leadershiop — to develop a nuclear weapons program, and this evidence is the basis of renewed concerns. The laptop may have also come from the MEK.

Jahn writes “Based on its own information and intelligence from the U.S. and other board members, [the IAEA] has asked — in vain — for substantive explanations for what seem to be draft plans to refit missiles with nuclear warheads; explosives tests that could be used for a nuclear detonation; military and civilian nuclear links and a drawing showing how to mold uranium metal into the shape of warheads”. Jahn’s AP report filed today can be read in full here .

However, the Iran Affairs blog takes issue with much of the media representation of the “unusually tough” new IAEA report, that discusses how Iran has responded to questions about the “new” evidence allegedly contained on the laptop.

On 27 May, in a posting entitled “NY Times again misrepresents IAEA report on Iran”, Cyrus Safdari (corrected) writes: “I finally got the May 2008 IAEA report on Iran [n.b. it is dated a day earlier 26 May] and just as I guessed, the media have totally mischaracterized it, as usual”…

Safdari (corrected) helpfully posts a link to the confidential report here .

Then, Safdari (corrected) gives his take on the media misrepresentation: “As usual, the New York Times is the worst. According to the Times, the IAEA has accused Iran of a ‘willful lack of cooperation’ — but the report contains no such accusation whatsoever. That’s the Times’ own editorial commentary, inserted as if it was news and falsely attributed to the IAEA. This is the second time that the NY Times has put words in the IAEA’s mouth – previously the NY TImes falsely claimed that the IAEA had determined Iran’s disclosures were ‘inadequate’ and that Iran had missed a critical deadline — neither assertion was true, as I have discussed before … For example, as evidence of what the NYTimes claims is the IAEA’s supposed ‘frustration with Iran’s lack of openess’, the article points out that IAEA has said that Iran’s installation of new centrifuges were ‘significant, and as such should have been communicated to the agency’. The NY Times implies that Iran was caught doing something secret by the IAEA. Aha, but that’s not what the IAEA report says. In paragraph 11 of the report, the IAEA states that the Iran should have informed the IAEA of the centrifuge installation IF the ‘Subsidiary Arrangements’ (which sets a 60-day notice period) was in force — and paragraph 10 specifically says that this subsidiary arrangement is not in force with respect to Iran. So, Iran did inform the IAEA of the installation of the centrifuges, but just not within the full 60-day notice period specified in the Subsidiary Arrangements. (Iran had at one time voluntarily implemented these subsidiary arrangements when it had temporarily suspended enrichment under the terms of the Paris Agreement, but stopped doing so when it quite legally restarted its enrichment program after the EU-3 tried to cheat on the Paris Agreement by demanding that Iran turn its temporary suspension of enrichment into a permanent halt.) …’ Of course, the NY Times fails to mention that according to paragraph 5 of the same IAEA report, the centrifuges are all operating under IAEA safeguards, ‘continue to be operated as declared’, and have been the subject of 14 surprise visits — and so there’s nothing particularly ‘unexpected’ about Iran’s activities, nor can the centrifuges be used to make bombs since they”re under 24-hour monitoring by the IAEA”.

In addition, Safdari (corrected) writes, “The NY Times claims that the IAEA ‘was denied access to sites where centrifuge components were being manufactured and where research of uranium enrichment was being conducted’. — totally leaving out that according to paragraph 13 the same IAEA report, these were ‘transparency measures’ which is the IAEA’s way of referring to requests for inspections over and above what Iran is obligated to provide to the IAEA. Iran had a policy of allowing such transparency measures in the past but on an ‘ad hoc’ basis, and is under no obligation to allow them at all since they exceed what the IAEA Safeguards Agreement require of Iran … According to the report, the IAEA was in several cases not able to actually provide these same ‘alleged studies’ documents to Iran, because the IAEA didn’t even have the documents itself or was not ‘permitted’ to share them with Iran. So, rather than Iran ‘failing’ to provide documentation, it was the IAEA which failed to provide documentation. Iran was nevertheless expected to disprove allegations supposedly contained in documents that the IAEA itself didn’t have or was not allowed to show to Iran. For example, in paragraph 21, the IAEA report states: ‘Although the Agency had been shown the documents that led it to these conclusions, it was not in possession of the documents and was therefore unfortunately unable to make them available to Iran’. Also, in paragraph 16, the IAEA report states: ‘The Agency received much of this information only in electronic form and was not authorised to provide copies to Iran’.”

Safdari (corrected) continues: “Other significant facts about the IAEA report that the NY Times sees fit not to print: that the IAEA doesn’t have any nuclear weapons information (paragraph 24), Iran has continued to provide access to the IAEA inspectors and allowed inspections required by its safeguards agreement, and the IAEA has still found no diversion of nuclear material for non-peaceful uses … and that all of Iran’s enrichment activities, reprocessing activities, uranium conversion and heavy water reactor construction programs continue to be operated under IAEA safeguards, exactly as they’re supposed to be conducted”. Daftari’s dissection of the NYTimes story on the latest IAEA report on Iran can be read in full here .

On 28 May, Safdari (corrected) reports in his Iran Affairs blog that “both the NY Times and the Washington Post have editorials today repeating the same lies and attacking the IAEA. They both for example claim that Iran has ‘blocked inspections’ without mentioning that according to the IAEA report itself, these were ‘transparency visits’ that Iran was not legally required to permit but Iran had otherwise allowed all the required inspections. The Washington Post claims that Iran installed centrifuges without providing the ‘required notification’ (nevermind that the notificiation was not in fact required, according to the report itself.) The NY Times tries to make a big deal out of alleged involvment of Iranian defense industry involvement (as if defense contractors such as GE or Lockheed in the US aren’t similarly involved in civilian industries too.)” This post can be read in full here .