Mark HibbsWho Wants Diplomacy on Iran?

Given the diplomatic fallout which began raining down with the pre-release of the IAEA board report on Iran to the P-5 at the beginning of November, I surmised then that there might be a chance that Russia would embellish a two-page offer which it floated to Iran this summer, and that the Obama administration might regard that as a potential opportunity to keep things from spiraling out of control in 2012. Something like that could transpire. But the more likely prospect is that we will wait indefinitely and in vain for any action to develop a roadmap to resolve this crisis because it would appear that none of the players–not the United States, not the Euro P-2+1, not Russia and China, not Iran, and not Israel–really wants a negotiated settlement.

The logic for the US letting Russia move forward on its offer to Iran with some background guidance from Washington was this: President Obama through election day 2012 will be under pressure from Congress and Republican foes to be firm on Iran, depriving him of any freedom to lead the way toward a diplomatic resolution which the US has said it favors. The P-5+1 might persuade Iran to seriously take up the Russian-sponsored gambit in light of increasing threats from Israel that it’s patience is running out. Russia and China might  join with the West because the outcome would lift nuclear sanctions and permit their bilateral relations with Iran to return to business as usual.

That scenario assumes that all the parties involved have an interest in negotiating a settlement to the crisis. In fact, none of them may have an interest in reaching such an outcome.

  • The US policy on Iran’s nuclear program is now in effect a one-track policy of  implementing more sanctions and containing Iran; there is no real commitment to being part of a diplomatic solution with the current Iranian regime. Administration officials dedicated to serving the President will make sure that no outside-the-box thinking on Iran will go forward if it puts Obama’s re-election at risk.
  • Russia and China may not accomodate US interests during any negotiation of a deal with Iran because of antagonisms with the US over bigger strategic issues, and they may conclude that cooperation with the US on Iran provides them few benefits.
  • Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has shown a desire to engage with the West, is losing his grip and a truculent Ayatollah Khamenei will rule out Iran making any concessions over its nuclear program, teaching Iranians that Muammar Qaddafi made a fatal mistake by giving his WMD programs up.
  • Israel, contrary to some conventional wisdom, is not bluffing and is prepared to attack nuclear installations in Iran if it concludes that Israel’s nuclear weapons monopoly in the Middle East is in dire jeopardy.What may ultimately hold Israel back is the calculus that doing this would defer any prospect of internally-generated regime change in Iran. A negotiated deal would in its view result in a nuclear weapons capability in the hands of a regime which is hostile to Israel.

 

Let’s look at these points in a little more detail.

An emerging one-track US approach

Officially, the US follows a two-track course of carrots and sticks on Iran. That’s been the case since 2009 when Obama told Iranians–for example on occasion of the Nawruz holiday–that “the administration is committed to diplomacy” and a process that “will not be advanced by threats.” In the meantime, Iran appeared to respond to concern about its enrichment program. Ten months after Obama’s inauguration, Iran took up a uranium swap plan meant to deter Iran from raising its enrichment level. No agreement was reached. This fall, Ahmadinejad on three occasions including at the UN General Assembly offered to reduce Iran’s enrichment level from 20% to 5% U-235. My colleague James Acton in October recommended that the US take up this offer but so far that hasn’t happened.

Why not? There are several fundamental reasons, but the bottom line that, since 2009 the US has lost interest in the diplomatic track. In 2010, the US encouraged Brazil and Turkey to offer to negotiate with Iran on a fuel swap deal to remove 1,200 kg of Iranian-enriched LEU in exchange for supply of 20%-enriched uranium for its safeguarded TRR research reactor. At Carnegie this year, Celso Amorim, who was Brazil’s foreign minister when the Brazil-Turkey-Iran diplomacy was happening, related that after the US had prompted Brazil to make this deal with Iran and Iran agreed, the US then backed out. In Amorim’s words the deal would have been an important confidence-builder with Iran, and Amorim quoted then-IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei as remarking on the occasion in Brazil that “If the agreement was not accepted, its because the countries that proposed it cannot take yes for an answer.” I’ve heard nothing so far to convince me that Amorim’s account is fundamentally incorrect. For his part, ElBaradei has gone on record with a tale of repeated lost diplomatic opportunities in Iran for which he apportions a lot of the blame on the US and its allies in the IAEA board of governors and the UN Security Council.

So is anyone in the US administration seriously interested in negotiation with Iran at the close of 2011 and into next year? The name Bob Einhorn comes up in a some conversations. Perhaps a few others in the State Department may be on a short list and who probably don’t want to be named. But US policy on Iran is in the President’s lap, assisted by an interagency process which, as the 2012 election gets more and more attention, will be overshadowed by the designs of people who serve the President, and that means campaigning and strategizing to ensure his re-election. NSC adviser Tom Donilon will be a player. At Brookings a week ago Donilon gave a speech in which he said that Obama’s handshake offer to Iran had been rejected, and he described Iran as a “great nation”–those were also the President’s words in 2009–which had become a “pariah state.” Donilon enumerated US policy in Iran as amounting to having several components intending to isolate and encircle Iran, impose unprecedented sanctions, build up US allies’ defenses in the region, and, lastly, “leaving the door ajar diplomatically” but at the same time underscoring that “no options are off the table.” I don’t see any real diplomacy in this. But Donilon’s message is one that leaves Obama fairly invulnerable to attacks from his Republican opponents during the coming year that the President is soft on Iran. Leading the field on the Iran issue from the right is one candidate who is openly advocating regime change. Based on what Donilon said last week, there won’t be any significant move away from what looks from here to be a de facto one-track containment policy.

And the other Western P-5+1 states? If anything they are even more determined to tighten the noose around Iran next year. Germany’s diplomatic machinery, which was seen in recent years as resisting a US-led escalation of pressure on Iran, under different management is taking what looks like an unprecedented hard line. France and perhaps the U.K. are more hawkish than the U.S.

Russia and China

The Russian offer to Iran was set forth to Iran this summer and is described in a two-page memo which has been shared with the rest of the P-5+1 group. It isn’t clear how Iran has responded. Its initial responses, including from Ahmadinejad, were not committal and left the matter under consideration. As far as I can tell, Washington and the other P-5+1 states have said nothing definitive, but the internal US reaction at this point ranges from lukewarm interest to outright dismissal.

What’s in the Russian offer? It contains the germ of what could become an agreement by Iran to limit enrichment to 5% U-235 [as Ahmadinejad offered at the UN in August following up from meetings between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iranian counterparts]; an agreement by Iran to limit enrichment activity in Iran to just one [in some versions of what’s on the table two] locations in Iran; and–finally and crucially–an agreement by Iran to afford the IAEA access to sites, personnel, and data to permit it to conclude whether the Iranian nuclear program is in its judgment dedicated to peaceful use only. That means implementation of the Additional Protocol.

When Lavrov announced in August that he had made this offer to Iran, some verification-minded US observers muttered that the Russians were prepared to concede to Iran that the 2007 “work plan”–agreed to by Iran and the IAEA about the scope of outstanding issues that must be resolved pursuant to the IAEA’s mandate from the board of governors and the UN Security Council to investigate Iran’s nuclear activities–could be declared “closed.” For both the IAEA and at least the Western P-5, such an agreement would be a non-starter. In a separate meeting held this summer between the IAEA and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Salehi offered to intensify cooperation with the IAEA provided the IAEA agree that the IAEA take off the table its dossier of information on what the IAEA called a “possible military dimension” (PMD) to the nuclear program and what Iran routinely refers to as “alleged studies.

The Salehi offer to the IAEA and the Russian offer to Iran are not necessarily the same, but in fact, if the Russian gambit is ever fleshed out and something like real negotiations on a de-escalation roadmap were to bear fruit, they would, as I’ve condensed into few words at the tail end of this analysis, result in something which would probably never be acceptable to the US Congress, and maybe to any US administration, relying as it would upon a verdict by the IAEA that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, and that this Iranian regime would thereafter continue to pile up an inventory of enriched uranium and have done at least some of the homework needed to build nuclear bombs.

There are good reasons I’ve enumerated in the above Carnegie analysis why both China and Russia on Iran in the P-5 group are what the Swiss call unsichere Kantonisten. But my Carnegie colleague Dmitri Trenin has taken it one step beyond, accounting for friction in the IAEA board room last month over the IAEA Iran report as a casualty of the failure of both sides to come to grips with US plans for BMD which he describes here. If he’s right, unless Beijing and Moscow change their calculus or reach an agreement on strategic issues with Washington standing in the way, getting the US, Russia, and China to unite over a diplomatic outcome which would lift Washington’s profile in the Persian Gulf would be tantamount to squaring the circle. Russia and China are also smarting over the Western P-5 states’ role in Qaddafi’s ouster. Then there’s Syria. Some US officials likewise see Russia’s offer to Iran as a purely cynical move to buy time.

Israel’s calculus

Wouldn’t a negotiated resolution of the Iran nuclear crisis be in Israel’s interest? Probably not, the way some strategists there see it. Under the Shah, Israel enjoyed fairly good relations with Iran especially vis-a-vis Arab states in the region. Another Carnegie colleague, Karim Sadjadpour, has explained at length that were Israel to attack Iran, doing that would artificially prolong the life of the current Iranian regime. That’s important because at a time when Israel is bracing for a coming wave of democratic anti-Israeli sentiment from its newly-freed Arab neighbors, Israel will want to invest in a future Iran which–as in the past–was willing to live with Israel in peace.

That logic also would imply that Israel would not be interested in a negotiated solution to the nuclear crisis that would legitimate Iran’s current rulers. Indeed, given the fact that US-Israeli ties will be to a large extent driving Washington’s moves on Iran in 2012, the same goes for the US: If as Donilon says the President has now concluded that Iran is a “pariah state,” then the US won’t be interested in negotiating a nuclear deal that would help assure its survival.

Khamenei’s ultimate logic

And, finally, Iran: The Israeli threats we heard about last month in the run-up to the IAEA report, I was assured, would be leveraged by the P-5+1 to try to convince Iran to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the nuclear conflict. Whether they make any headway is a different matter. Ahmadinejad, the key figure in the P-5’s efforts to engage Iran since 2009, is in deep trouble. When the post-revolutionary regime dusted off the Shah’s nuclear program beginning in the 1980s, after the Iran-Iraq war and under President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani it acquired a potentially strategic dimension which it has retained. With more sanctions underway, Khamenei’s lesson to Iranians will be that the West’s recent experience with North Korea and Libya teaches that Iran’s nuclear assets are not bargaining chips but are ultimate guarantors of the survival of the nation.

Comments

  1. Pirouz (History)

    So Mark, judging by your inputs:

    You’re saying the latest NIE is incorrect and the Iranians do have a current nuclear weapons program that Khamenei wishes to keep?

    Or are you saying the Iranians should yield to coercion and surrender their right to the nuclear fuel cycle?

    One thing I need to point out is in 2007 the Iranians were convinced of an imminent attack by the U.S. military. They continued to stand their ground. So it shouldn’t be expected that a far less capable adversary like Israel would somehow induce a surrender, either.

  2. mark (History)

    Mark,

    Nope, I am not saying the NIE is incorrect. I used the term “nuclear assets”. Khamenei and his co-rulers know whether they are exclusively for peaceful use–or not.

    • hass (History)

      That’s kind of an evasive answer, isn’t it? The NPT and Iran’s safeguards set certain requirements on Iran, specifically to show that there has been no diversion of nuclear material to non-peaceful uses, and Iran has complied. Two NIEs have said that there’s no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. The IAEA (under Elbaradei) has specifically said that they have no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran “ever” existing. And yet we’re treated to innuendo about the secret desires of Khamenei?

      IAEA: “With respect to a recent media report, the IAEA reiterates that it has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon programme in Iran.”

      Elbaradei: “The IAEA is not making any judgment at all whether Iran even had weaponisation studies before because there is a major question of authenticity of the documents.”

  3. Cyrus (History)

    Does anyone really believe that the US or Israel want to see the nuclear dispute with Iran resolved whilst leaving the regime in power? One reason why the Iranians are cool towards the Russian proposal is probably because they’ve already offered those concessions and more, only to see them ignored, and so have logically come to the conclusion that the entire nuclear issue is just a pretext for regime change, just as “WMDs in Iraq” was pretextual, and thus no amount of concessions or compromises by Iran will ever suffice. There is a long line of Iranian concession offers which have been simply ignored – including Iran’s 2003 peace offer which included a potential recognition of Israel.

    http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Iran_Nuclear_Proposals

  4. Anon (History)

    Mark,

    you say “increasing threats from Israel that it’s patience is running out.” — these threats of military action i.e. aggression are in direct contravention of the UN Charter and may make Israel subject to UN sanctions for a “threat to the peace” under Art 39 of Ch 7. See UNSCR 487:

    http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/un/un487.htm

    Why is the UNSC not going forward with sanctioning Israel for Art 39 violation?

    Also, you say:

    “Celso Amorim, who was Brazil’s foreign minister when the Brazil-Turkey-Iran diplomacy was happening, related that after the US had prompted Brazil to make this deal with Iran and Iran agreed, the US then backed out. In Amorim’s words the deal would have been an important confidence-builder with Iran, and Amorim quoted then-IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei as remarking on the occasion in Brazil that “If the agreement was not accepted, its because the countries that proposed it cannot take yes for an answer.” I’ve heard nothing so far to convince me that Amorim’s account is fundamentally incorrect. For his part, ElBaradei has gone on record with a tale of repeated lost diplomatic opportunities in Iran for which he apportions a lot of the blame on the US and its allies in the IAEA board of governors and the UN Security Council.”

    That is correct.

    Lastly, what is aim of “diplomacy”? What do we want from Iran? “To give more transparency” is not a viable answer — Iran is providing the degree of transparency required for a nation without an AP, and in any case “transparency” is a slippery and subjective word: my transparency is not the same as yours.

    Dr. Yousef Butt in a recent Politico peace suggested lifting UN sanctions in exchange for Iran ratifying the AP. That seems like a good bargain.

    What is Bargain that the West is seeking with Iran?

    • Anon (History)

      fyi, Here is Politco piece for your reference, advocating A.P. in Iran for lifting of sanctions:

      http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1111/68794.html

    • Hass (History)

      Anon,

      Iran has already offered to ratify the AP, and did so many years ago. And the US has already ignored this and many other Iranian compromise proposals. So Yousef Butts doesn’t seem to get it: this conflict is not about nuclear weapons proliferation. That’s just a cover for a US desire to impose regime change on Iran. It doesn’t matter how much transparency Iran shows – the US doesn’t want to see this issue resolved. It wants instead to topple the regime in Iran.

    • John Schilling (History)

      I suspect the bargain the West is seeking with Iran is a repeat of the 2003/2004 bargain with Libya – no more nuclear activity (weapons or otherwise), full disclosure of past activity, and no more support of international terrorism, in exchange for no more sanctions and normalization of relations. For obvious reasons, that deal isn’t going to be as appealing to the Iranians as it might have been in the past, and it wasn’t appealing enough in the past for the Iranians to have offered it themselves in 2004.

      The more important question is, what range of bargains will the West settle for? I think there might be something acceptable to both sides in the trade space, but as Mark points out there is little interest in the West for the lesser bargains that don’t resolve the issue but might build confidence going forward.

    • mark (History)

      John, Anon, Masoud et. al.,

      What I believe were seeing is a lot of people who are pretending to engage. Donilon says the US is keeping the diplomatic door “ajar.” As opposed to what? Formally closing it? They’re not going to say that. Russia and China keep saying in Vienna they want a “diplomatic solution”–as my colleague Dmitri says, Russia and China in Vienna together looks like a “coalition of no” which isn’t really contributing. Iran in Vienna I’m told by nearly everybody–from Euros to Russians to a bunch of NAM states–is trying to “appear to cooperate” with the IAEA and P-5+1. Whatever Iran’s intentions are, Iran in any event isn’t prepared to negotiate I hear because there is a power struggle going on there involving Ahmadinejad, Khamenei and other personalities and forces.

      So there’s no diplomacy in the sense of people trying to negotiate a peaceful solution to a problem dividing a number of nation states.

      I am not saying that the problem is a division between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. But I have no reason to believe that these two are on the same wavelength on this issue.

      I attended a meeting on Iran a year ago with people who were trying to find a way to have a non-official dialogue with Iran. The people in the room couldn’t agree whether or not US policy was to get regime change in Iran.

      When I re-read my blog post, it occured to me that “regime change” is the elephant in the room in this entire discussion. It would appear that the US administration has shifted its view on Iran to the point where it is not willing to really negotiate an outcome with this Iranian regime on terms that would permit Iran to keep its nuclear assets. So as Anon intimates in his comments, what in fact is the bargain or the offer which Obama beginning in 2009 was offering Iran? Was it something like the Russians or the Chinese might have in mind including a limitation of Iranian enrichment activities and lifting of sanctions on the basis of AP implementation and a judgment by the IAEA that it is confident that all of Iran’s nuclear activities are peaceful and there is no weapons program? Or, as John suggests, is what the US had in mind in 2009 a negotiation which would result in Iran giving up its nuclear assets, as Libya did? Iran would never agree to that. Certainly if I were Iran, I would never agree to that.

      So perhaps the problem I point out–no real interest in diplomacy by any of these parties–is in the final analysis a total fatal disconnect about what a negotiation is supposed to achieve.

      Masoud, thanks for your info on the chronology. I have made changes in the post to reflect them.

    • hass (History)

      John Schilling – what kind of a “bargain” is it when one side gives up everything (“no more nuclear activity”) in return for obtaining things which it already has a right to have (not to be threatened with bombings and sanctions?) In fact, on what basis do you assume that the US will give up on regime change even if Iran totally gives up its nuclear program?

    • Anon (History)

      John — the West may want that but that is an infringement on national sovereignty. They can want it but they cannot insist on it, and they cannot say Iran is doing anything wrong if it does not comply.

      I think the lesson Iran learns from Libya is the exact opposite: do NOT — EVER — stop short of a nuclear weapons *capability* otherwise prepare to be treated like Ghadaffi was recently.

      See how nice they treat NK?

      Furthermore, the NAM will be rightly concerned if NPT member states cannot do what they were told they could.

      That’s a bargain that is not going to happen.

      Next idea?

    • mark (History)

      Anon,

      I was told last week by some people that Khamenei had given a speech recently where he said in fact, Gaddafi gave into the West, he gave up his nuclear stuff to the US and the UK, and the result was that they attacked and ousted him. There is a very brief reference here to a speech by Khamenei warning Iranians not to concede anything to the West, but it doesn’t explicitly mention nuclear.

      http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/fc0e6682-1aaa-11e1-ae14-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1fPKMaSps

    • mark (History)

      Anon,

      Here’s a brief on Israel and UNSC Resolution 487:
      http://www.cjpme.ca/documents/42%20En%20Israel%20Right%20to%20Self-Defense%20v.2.pdf

      “US UNSC Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick averred that Israel violated the UN Charter because Israel had not sought peaceful alternatives before attacking.”

      I assume that might even imply that if you don’t negotiate with the country whose nuclear installation you bomb, you are in violation of the UN Charter?

  5. Hass (History)

    Mark, your analysis gets a little confused and muddy when it comes to Iran: How is Ahmadinejad “losing power” and what relevance does that have to the nuclear issue? Do you assume that AHmadinejad and Khamenei are somehow opposed to each other on making nuclear concessions? Because that’s not in fact true – Ahmadinejad’s position corresponds to (and is subject to approval by) Khamenei. In fact pretty much everyone in Iran is united on that point: they’re willing to make concessions but won’t give up enrichment as the US demands. Iran has already offered to ratify the AP, implemented it for close to 3 years, and even entirely suspended enrichment for that time period. The US position has however consistently been that Iran cannot have a nuclear program no matter how well-monitored or inspected. The US has deliberately created this crisis, for ulterior reasons (regime change)

  6. FSB (History)

    If the West says they want more transparency from Iran, then, as Anon points out the technical term for that in the lexicon is indeed the “Additional Protocol”

    What will the West give Iran in return for this?

    • hass (History)

      Especially when we now see Iranian sites being bombed…

  7. Pedro (History)

    Does anyone here know what the IAEA report actually says ??

    It seems to be hidden from the public but that doesn’t seem to stop the TV and newspaper pundits drawing conclusions.

    I’m speculating that its a rehash of the Uranium Duteride revelations . How wrong am I ?

  8. V.G. (History)

    I do not understand why do you imply that Russia is good-hearted in its offers. Russia will use Iran as a bargaining chip and a counterweight to Turkey for as long as it can. Russia is really scared by the dynamics in Central Asia, too, so it would attempt to keep the Chinese at bay. So it really makes sense for Russia to manage very actively its relationship with Iran, while keeping cards close to its chest.

  9. Nick (History)

    AP = AT

    Additional Protocol implies Additional Targets.

    More transparency means more targets. The language of all options on the table has to be removed from the discussion, even if it is a hidden policy. Once the war mongering subsides, AP can be a goal to reach when diplomacy takes over.

    As for the White House, it should be obvious from the vicious attacks and lies by the GOP candidates (except for Paul) that nothing short of cessation of enrichment activity would be satisfactory before the Nov 2012 election, if Obama wants to secure the votes in some key states (Florida, Arizona, and New York). All the proposals that do not address this issue are DOA.

    The only uncertainty is the uptick of covert actions, which may get out of hand, as we have seen with recent explosions and terror of scientists, not to mention soft targets such as refineries and rail roads. If IRI retaliates in kind, then it can quickly get out of hand, as we have seen with the British Embassy crisis in Tehran. Therefore, Obama’s team have to play a balancing role to come across tough to win the election, but taking it too far may result in major isolation of IRI that can have unintended consequences.

  10. Anon (History)

    We really don’t know what Iran is doing. The NIE is dated (old) intelligence. The recent IAEA report just doesn’t know.

    Iran _may_ be going full speed to stock pile 20% Enriched feed stock enough for several bombs while building off line (standby) centrifuge cascades. Simultaneously, they may be completing the engineering and manufacture of missile mounted warheads without the HEU pits.

    When sufficient stock, in ready UF6 form is available, they bypass the safeguards either overtly or covertly, enrich the Uranium to explosive concentration, cast and machine the pits, and insert them into ready made explosive lenses, finally mounting them on 3 or 4 missiles.

    At this point, Iran is in the drivers seat and can do essentially anything that they want. Whether this be continued “terrorist” attacks against the Israeli, or overt build up of their nuclear arsenal from 3 to 4 to 30 to 40 warheads. The warheads themselves can be targeted anywhere, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Western Europe. It doesn’t matter which hostage is used — all are just as effective.

    The demonstration detonation of a warhead is optional — the simple photography of the assembled warheads mounted on missile will accomplish the same strategic goal.

    This may all be within the “written” rights of Iran under the NPT treaty. Doesn’t matter. The treaty is just a bunch of words. The net effect is the current and future governments of Iran will be deciding what they want to do independently, and nothing short of a nuclear exchange will stop them.

    Is Iran doing this now? No one knows outside of Iran. Certainly not the 2007 NIE. Not the IAEA.

    But conditional on Iran following this course of action, the outcome is clear. Conditional on this course of action, Iran will be making its own independent decisions without expectation of reprisals short of a full nuclear exchange. As the threshold for a counterparty initiating a full exchange is very high, most likely they will be able to do anything that they want militarily or on the terrorist (supply) front.

    • FSB (History)

      Anon (another Anon?) — yes, sadly a nuclear weapons capability is part of the NPT bargain.

      The most inflammatory ***accusations*** in the recent IAEA report were pre-2004.

      The 2011 NIE also has a high confidence that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons research program (such as it was) in 2003.

      IAEA confirms no diversion of fissionable material.

      YAWN.

    • hass (History)

      The NIE is NOT old. The 2007 NIE conclusions were adopted in the 2011 NIE too.

  11. masoud (History)

    Hi Mark,

    A couple of points:

    1. The Iranian nuclear program was ‘re-constituted’ in the mid-eighties. I think Mousavi was the likely sitting prime-minister, and Rafsanjani was still speaker of the house.

    2. Iran started enriching to twenty percent, only after Obama refused to sell or swap with Iran for Uranium, in February, 2010, this was just over a year after Obama was elected, so I don’t understand, how Ahmadinejad could have offered to end 20% enrichment just ten months after Obama was elected.

    3. In reality, the offer to limit enrichment, like the many other Iranian proposals, has ‘always’ been on the table. These are not just one-off missed opportunities, they are the undeniable, ever-living embodiments of America’s rejectionist approach towards Iran.

    4. Though Iranians did not initially jump on Lavrov’s proposal, about three weeks after it was initially offered publicly, and supposedly fleshed out behind the scenes, Iranian officials warmed up to it, eg:
    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gCBetlDGmK0MNzUX-0etnDQBgyRw?docId=CNG.e705925e4a4e88c3c22ac21854c3df82.861

    5. Of course Russia and China are going to strive to play the US-Iran conflict to their own advantage, but you can’t jump from that point to a blunt declaration that they somehow ‘want’ this conflict to continue. China wants a reliable supply of energy, and Russia wants a strong partner that can help bring security to their southern flank. They have a much stronger interest in stability in Persian Gulf region than most European countries, although it seems to be out of fashion in the Western press to questions the purity of their intentions.

    6. How are we concluding that Iran doesn’t have a stake in a ‘negotiated solution’ over here? I thought Ahmadinejad was the supper baddy who had staged a military coup in order to plunge Iran into the depths of fascism. Or is that analysis so last week? Look Iran has a lively, competitive, and highly entertaining political system, but the common trope that these internal differences make it difficult to negotiate with is just not based in reality. Iran has time and again gone the extra mile and offered not only concessions but highly creative solutions out of the current impasse. America has uniformly rejected all these proposals not because it is opposed to a ‘Negotiated Solution’ on this particular problem, but because it is opposed to any solution to any problem, imagined or real, that it has with Iran. For the US, all of these problems are nothing more than symbolic proxies for it’s real problem: Iran refuses take orders. And there’s only one way the US wants to see that problem resolved.

    7. The question remains: Why is the US like this? You’ve given a passable answer that this has something to do with the election season, but I’m afraid this obscures as much as it explains.
    Here’s how I would answer it: A narrow band of Zionist Ideologues have seized control the US foreign policy and security apparatus, and they are working with a single minded determination to advance one goal: A regional war so cataclysmic in proportion that it will allow Israel to implement it’s final solution to the Palestinian problem.

    • anon3 (History)

      The only logical conclusion is that the US wants a war and will no be dissuaded no matter what. If we’re on a one track line to conflict it is because our leaders deliberately chose that option over engaging Iran.

  12. Anon (History)

    The real Anon here — A detailed wonky deconstruction and historical analysis of the IAEA report is up on PBS’s FRONTLINE, enjoy:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2011/11/opinion-the-iaea-report-on-irans-nuclear-program-alarming-or-hyped.html

  13. FSB (History)

    Can someone, anyone, tell us what the West wants from Iran?

    The IAEA is confirmed the non diversion of nuclear material.

    What would make the West happy, consistent with the limits of the international instruments that Iran has ratified in this matter?

    (The Libya type deal is out for reasons described above)

    Mark, do you know what the West wants — a list of demands?

    • Cyrus (History)

      Bottom line: They want Iran to become another Jordan. Backward and under the thumb of Israel.

    • Amy (History)

      Diplomacy is mentioned in the title.

      Is STUXNET and killing Iranian scientists considered as part of diplomacy?

    • hass (History)

      “Diplomacy” = do what we demand now or else we will sanction and bomb you!

  14. FSB (History)

    Mark,
    do you think these 6 ambassadors are wrong when they pin the bulk of the blame on how the west has handled the situation?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/09/iran-nuclear-power-un-threat-peace

    “Iran is not in breach of international law

    There is no evidence that the country is building nuclear weapons. The west’s strategy has helped create the standoff….”

  15. Anon (History)

    Mark, many thanks for pointing us to (above):

    http://www.cjpme.ca/documents/42%20En%20Israel%20Right%20to%20Self-Defense%20v.2.pdf

    “US UNSC Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick averred that Israel violated the UN Charter because Israel had not sought peaceful alternatives before attacking.”

    That is correct. But I would say even after peaceful alternatives were explored, such attacks are against Art 39 of Ch 7 of UN Charter.

    There was NOTHING wrong that Iraq was doing in Oisrak!

    Further, the mere threats of aggression are also against the Charter.

    Of course these are the same charters used falsely to impose sanctions on Iran in the totally wrong and harebrained legal interpretation that Iran’s enrichment is a threat to the peace.

    Eric Brill has written on it and Dan Joyner has related legal opinions worth looking into.

  16. Amy (History)
  17. Amy (History)

    Mark — vis a vis your excellent statement:

    “At Brookings a week ago Donilon gave a speech in which he said that Obama’s handshake offer to Iran had been rejected, and he described Iran as a “great nation”–those were also the President’s words in 2009–which had become a “pariah state.” Donilon enumerated US policy in Iran as amounting to having several components intending to isolate and encircle Iran, impose unprecedented sanctions, build up US allies’ defenses in the region, and, lastly, “leaving the door ajar diplomatically” but at the same time underscoring that “no options are off the table.” I don’t see any real diplomacy in this.”

    see also on Tom Donilon:

    http://www.raceforiran.com/tom-donilon-and-the-myth-of-iran%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cisolation%E2%80%9D

  18. Sharif (History)

    The Nuclear Posture Review singled out Iran as a target for US nuclear weapons despite it being a NNWS.

    Is this diplomatic?

    The NPR was the most unequivocal reason for Iran to get a nuclear weapons capability.

    Mark — how do you feel about media coverage of the issue in the US? — e.g. NYTimes and WashPost stories and OpEds

  19. Sharif (History)

    The real reason the US and Israel and the West generally fear a nuclear weapons capability in Iran is that the US, Israel and the West would be deterred in their full spectrum dominance of the mideast — they want no roadblocks to doing WHATEVER they want in the mideast.

    No one who is informed actually fears an Iranian attack:

    http://www.ndu.edu/inss/docUploaded/McNair69.pdf

    • Brian (History)

      Let’s try and quanity “fearing an Iranian attack” because that is key here. Your statement that “No one who is informed actually fears and Iranian attack” is implying we should write off an Iranian nuclear strike as a probability near zero. At a minimum, that is extremely wreckless.

      The Iranian regime, strategically, has shown to be a rational actor. Whatever your moral opinion of their means, they use proxies to exert influence and advance their interests throughout the region and are not looking for wars they cannot win. The regime does not appear suicidal. This adds up to a very high probability of their nuclear weapons staying idle in their silos.

      However, the very nature of nuclear weapons mandates that a wide range of “percentage change of use” should be treated the same. Where do we draw the line? I do not know the answer. But a 30% chance of use should be dealt with with the same as a 5% chance of use because when they are used it is complete destruction, and in the case of Israel, annihilation.

      What would you say the chance of an Iranian weapon being used in the next 20 years is? If it is 1%, 5%, or even 10% do you still feel responsible saying “No one who is informed actually fears an Iranian attack” and implying a complete dismissal of the threat?

    • Sharif (History)

      Nice. Calm down and read the NDU study I linked to. It will answer ALL your questions.

      note: at the moment there is no Iranian nuclear weapons program with “high confidence: according to our DNI.

      The NDU study is from 2005.

  20. FSB (History)

    The latest IAEA report was a YAWNER according to ex-CIA analyst:
    http://nationalinterest.org/node/6144

    Who is fanning the flames??

  21. FSB (History)

    Where is Andy and the rest of the defend-the-blatantly-biased-IAEA brigade?

    Seems like the post and comments confirm no problem with Iran’s nuclear program.

    What does the West want from Iran?

    • Andy (History)

      FSB,

      First of all I’m in the middle of moving my family a couple of thousand miles to a new home, which puts a dent in my blog commenting. Secondly, your editorializing about what you think other commenters believe and your rather lame accusations of bias (as if you are somehow uniquely objective in these matters) are getting kind of old. I would suggest (yet again) that you simply stick to voicing your own opinions and leave it to others to voice theirs.

      On the issue of diplomacy with Iran, my position hasn’t changed. I want to get Iran (and, indeed, all nations) to permanently adopt the AP. As I have written before here, and in several other threads, achieving that will require a quid pro quo – ie. Iran gets something it wants in exchange for permanently adopting the AP. If we can agree on that much, then all that’s left is haggling over price. Unfortunately, there is no agreement on such an end-state and sadly my position is pretty much a fantasy for all the reasons Mark described in this post.

      I would add that the Iran issue is mostly dominated by domestic politics, particularly in the US and, IMO, Iran. I won’t speak for Iranian politics, but in the US there is no domestic political upside to a strategy of rapprochement with Iran. It doesn’t help that the US hasn’t really had a coherent or sustainable grand strategy since the end of the Cold War so the status quo of “Iran is an enemy” continues. Iran, for it’s part, is either unaware of this aspect of domestic US politics, or is actively promoting this view in the US with its bizarre holocaust-denial, “great Satan” rhetoric and events like the recent sacking of the British Embassy (which was, I might say, a particularly dumb thing to allow to happen). Maybe that plays well with the Iranian public, but it tends to provide fodder for the “Iran is an enemy” crowd elsewhere. I suspect the same thing goes on in reverse – it’s a vicious cycle. In short, until there is some issue of importance that both countries share, the status quo is likely to continue. To use an American phrase, there needs to be a reason for “Nixon to go to China,” but there also needs to be a Nixon and a Mao. That’s a pretty tall order.

      Finally, as for the IAEA, yes I am pro IAEA. They are not perfect but they are better than most international institutions (and that’s saying something since I have little regard for most of them). The IAEA is necessary – the alternative is that nations decide for themselves when they are in compliance with their obligations. That won’t end well.

    • kme (History)

      The IAEA is exactly like every other international body – an unrelentingly political forum which all participating nations use only to further their own national interest. This is as true of the IAEA as it is of UNESCO, the ITU or FIFA.

  22. Anon (History)

    Mark, thanks for your reply above — about that Libya angle see also:

    http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2011/0830/A-troubling-lesson-from-Libya-Don-t-give-up-nukes

    A troubling lesson from Libya: Don’t give up nukes

    Qaddafi stopped his nuclear program. Would NATO have bombed if he hadn’t? Now, Iran watches as nonnuclear states are invaded and nuclear ones win favors.

    • Anon2 (History)

      Anon:

      Libya was a different case of an unelected military dictator who needed nukes or anything else so he could dominate and milk his country for Billions of dollars.

      Iran at least claims to be a fairly elected democratic government under a constitution.

      Would freely and fairly elected official of Iran put down a popular opposition movement with thousands of casualties if they would lose the next election? Hopefully not.

      Or maybe the current Iranian leadership did lose the election if you believe the Green Party.

      And maybe the Iranian leadership need nukes so they can use full military force against their university educated class with the impunity (that Gaddafi did not have)?

      So, Anon, what exactly are you arguing for — nuclear capability to maintain an unpopular government?

      Why exactly are there 8000 spinning centrifuges, 2 weapons worth of 20% enriched uranium, and a nano-diamond dual use explosive lens research program? Is this so there are enough moly-cows (medical isotopes) for the next 100 years?

      No one outside of the Iranian leadership knows.

      I hope the current Iranian leadership is above this use of nuclear weapons capability for internal or external purposes. It is just a hope.

  23. FSB (History)

    Andy,
    missed ya!

    For emphasis, I copy Mark’s comment in the comment section since I know many people don’t go thru everything:

    Mark Hibbs says —

    “it occured to me that “regime change” is the elephant in the room in this entire discussion. It would appear that the US administration has shifted its view on Iran to the point where it is not willing to really negotiate an outcome with this Iranian regime on terms that would permit Iran to keep its nuclear assets. So as Anon intimates in his comments, what in fact is the bargain or the offer which Obama beginning in 2009 was offering Iran? Was it something like the Russians or the Chinese might have in mind including a limitation of Iranian enrichment activities and lifting of sanctions on the basis of AP implementation and a judgment by the IAEA that it is confident that all of Iran’s nuclear activities are peaceful and there is no weapons program? Or, as John suggests, is what the US had in mind in 2009 a negotiation which would result in Iran giving up its nuclear assets, as Libya did? Iran would never agree to that. Certainly if I were Iran, I would never agree to that.”

    Nick makes a good point about AP being a nice way to target Iran.

    • hass (History)

      So Mark is saying that this conflict was never about nuclear weapons at all, but is really about regime change.

      Indeed by now there is a clear impression that the last thing the US wants is to peacefully resolve the nuclear issue whilst leaving the regime in power.

      In 2006, Simon Tisdall quoted anonymous Iranian officials and diplomats as saying:

      “The U.S. is using the nuclear issue as a pretext for regime change,” a senior Iranian official said this week. “The issue is a diversion. The U.S. wants to weaken Iran. Even if the nuclear issue was solved, they would want another thing and another thing.” And, “The Americans are trying to create an environment so the U.S. can hit Iran,” one diplomat said.

      http://www.salon.com/2005/03/18/iran_74/

      Turns out they were right.

  24. Johnboy (History)

    Colour me cynical, but it does appear as if the ultimate goal of US policy is to trick Iran into accepting a false “give ’em up and we promise not to attack you” deal, and then to…. attack.

    If so, then maybe it *wasn’t* such a smart idea to attack Libya.

    Springing your trap on a small-fry isn’t particlarly smart when The Big Fish is watching, precisely because that bigger catch will draw the obvious conclusion: It’s A Trap, Luke!

  25. Brian (History)

    I take issue with your implication in the last paragraph that North Korea’s regime is surviving because it has not given up its WMD and Libya’s didn’t precisely because it did give them up. I keep seeing this assumption made in countless highly credible blogs and publications and it is beyond perturbing.

    The most important distinction between the two here is not WMD but North Korea’s proximity to Seoul and their ability to wipe out hundreds of thousands of South Koreans in a matter of hours with their artillery deployed along the border. This is a CONVENTIONAL threat. The jury is out on whether North Korea has the ability to deploy their nuclear weapons but that consideration would not even be necessary due the destruction their conventional weapons can cause. North Korea doesn’t need nuclear weapons to stave off Western intervention, they already possess a conventional deterrent which is equally as strong.

    Would Qaddafi have been toppled if he had WMD? Probably not, however please do not make the case that North Korea having them and them not being disturbed by us PROVES that Libya should’ve had them. There’s a logical fallacy here the name of which I’m blanking on.

    The more relevant comparison is does Iran have a sufficient deterrent capability without nuclear weapons? That is up for debate but please stop implying that North Korea was safe from foreign intervention as a result of their possession of WMD

    • Otto (History)

      In addition, Gaddafi’s nuclear program was the very definition of nascent. Libya was a long way from the bomb in almost every respect. Two working centrifuges and some Pakistani plans can barely be considered a program. (see http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/LibyaChronology)

      It’s far from clear that 7 more years of lackluster nuclear work (from the above link: “Although the report states that Libya received nuclear weapons design documents from the Khan network, the IAEA cites no evidence that Libya ever undertook steps to build a nuclear weapon.”) would have made any difference to NATO’s decision to implement regime change in Libya, much as Saddam Hussein’s shuttered nuclear program made no difference to the decision to invade Iraq.

      It seems that those who are stating that the Libyan regime made itself vulnerable to attack by voluntarily giving up its WMD programs are assuming that they would have otherwise developed a deployable deterrent capability between 2004 and now. That’s a very big assumption.

    • Johnboy (History)

      “It seems that those who are stating that the Libyan regime made itself vulnerable to attack by voluntarily giving up its WMD programs are assuming that they would have otherwise developed a deployable deterrent capability between 2004 and now.”

      No, I for one made no such assumption.

      I said that Gaddafi publically repudiated his WMD program as part of a deal, the quid pro quo being that “the west” would not use force to depose him.

      They just used force to depose him, Otto, or didn’t you notice?

      Wether or not he would have otherwise got his precious nukes is irrelevent: he cut that deal, and then the other side reneged.

      As a result the “the west” can now kiss off any idea of offering that same deal to Iran (indeed, to anyone) because only an idiot with a death-wish would now accept it.

    • Otto (History)

      I wasn’t replying to your comment, Johnboy, and I don’t think Brian was either. You appear to be making a different point from the one we were talking about. But I’m happy to address it now.

      Personally I think that Gaddafi was naive if he believed that such a deal would ever be guaranteed in perpetuity. Whether or not he actually did so is a matter for speculation at best, but the immediate goal of a thawing of relations and lifting of certain embargoes in exchange for giving up various weapons programs was achieved. In my opinion that was more the point of the bargain, but I could be wrong – as I say, speculation.

      More to the point, the existence of programs without a deployable deterrent result are by definition not a deterrent to forcible attempts at regime change. So there is simply no need for the kind of diplomatic trap that you suggest. I doubt, given the political landscape regarding Iran, that they would be offered such an arrangement, nor that they would have accepted it even prior to the NATO mission in Libya. One major difference is that Iran continues to maintain that it has no such programs to renounce. Cease peaceful enrichment in exchange for a promise of no invasion would be a shocking agreement to make in the context of the terms of the NPT.

  26. yousaf (History)

    I too am unsure what the precise legal demands are that Iran must satisfy to get back in the US and UNSC’s good graces.

    In the POLITICO piece I proposed an “AP-for-sanctions lifting” quid-pro-quo. I, however, much appreciate the comment from Nick that Iran may not sign on to this since the AP may be used as a cover for intelligence gathering and/or generating a targeting list.

    This, indeed, is the problem with politicization of international institutions: lack of trust.

    This would not be unprecedented, of course.

    See:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/unscom/experts/faustian.html

    /Quoting/

    DAVID KAY: He was the chief nuclear weapons inspector for UNSCOM 1991-1992.

    I think it was a Faustian bargain. The intelligence communities of the world had the only expertise that you could use if you were unmasking a clandestine program…

    Once you were dealing in a clandestine, competitive environment, you needed access to satellite photography, access to signals intercept, access to measurements of leakage and contamination from the programs, so you could identify where it is. Access to defectors, who, after all, were not defecting to the U.N. They were defecting to national governments to use them.

    So, from the very beginning, you needed that expertise, but I can say for myself personally — and I’m really only comfortable talking about myself — although a number of us discussed this in the early days — I realize it was always a bargain with the Devil — spies spying. The longer it continued, the more the intelligence agencies would, often for very legitimate reasons, decide that they had to use the access they got through cooperation with UNSCOM to carry out their missions.

    For me, the real change occurred in ’94. I really think that was the period in which, in many governments, the dawning realization, which now the president speaks out–the necessity of getting rid of Saddam. Once that dawned on national policymakers, that maybe the only way out of this dilemma of Iraq with weapons of mass destruction, is the replacement of Saddam.
    /End Quote/

    So regime-change under guise of non-proliferation and spies’ infiltration and/or cooperation with UN agencies is a well-trodden path.

    BTW, in a recent article I commented on the decoupling of the sanctions from Iran’s nuclear activities:

    “Conditions for lifting these sanctions go way beyond anything having to do with Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. The West has essentially painted itself into a corner with sanctions that were relatively simple to enact but will prove hard, if not impossible, to lift – no matter what Iran does with its nuclear program. The situation may – intentionally or not – become a prelude to war.

    For instance, the US sanctions can only be lifted after the President certifies to Congress “that the government of Iran has: (1) released all political prisoners and detainees; (2) ceased its practices of violence and abuse of Iranian citizens engaging in peaceful political activity; (3) conducted a transparent investigation into the killings and abuse of peaceful political activists in Iran and prosecuted those responsible; and (4) made progress toward establishing an independent judiciary.”

    And – just in case those conditions were not unrealistically stringent and comprehensive – the President has to further certify that “the government of Iran has ceased supporting acts of international terrorism and no longer satisfies certain requirements for designation as a state sponsor of terrorism; and [that] Iran has ceased the pursuit, acquisition, and development of nuclear, biological, chemical, and ballistic weapons.”

    Many US allies, such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, could not satisfy all these conditions.

    So even if Iran were to stop all uranium enrichment and dump all their centrifuges into the Persian Gulf, shutter their nuclear program entirely, and re-task all their nuclear physicists to work in Chocolate factories, Iran would still be sanctioned by the US Congress. ”

    So like Mark, Anon, FSB and other commentators above, I too am puzzled what *specific* technical things Iran needs to do to have unilateral and UNSC sanctions lifted? The conditions given above for lifting of US sanctions appear to indicate that little short of regime change would suffice.

    • dan (History)

      Yousaf

      I’m not too sure that the Iranians care all that much about the US government, in a huff of “principle”, maintaining domestic sanctions – it’s the extraterritorial aspects that really irk them.

      So, if the US were to concede that it will no longer sanction third parties ( ie non-US entities ) for the “crime” of not sanctioning Iran, that would potentially be satisfactory.

      That said, there is little chance of the US doing this unless energy markets become unsustainable under the present dispensation, or until someone has the gumption to turn the clock back to 1997, when the EU forced the Clinton administration to back down/finesse on applying the extraterritorial provisions of ILSA by threatening to get the WTO to rule on their legality.

    • yousaf (History)

      PS: Paul Pillar, a 28-veteran of the CIA, recently made a similar argument —

      http://nationalinterest.org/blog/paul-pillar/sanctions-are-designed-fail-6177

      “Gerecht and Dubowitz do not clarify which of the possible objectives of sanctions their scheme supposedly would be pursuing. They do speak of “loosening” the Iranian regime’s “hold on power.” But when they say elsewhere that “the objective of sanctions is to cause real economic pain in Tehran,” they say nothing about how that translates into loosening the regime’s hold on power. If they instead are looking to change the regime’s policies—about its nuclear program or anything else—they make no mention of the component that is essential for any sanctions regime to have a chance to work: diplomacy that points to an alternative route involving a change in policy and a lifting of sanctions. Instead, they rely on the repeated falsehood—which Dubowitz has asserted more explicitly and strongly elsewhere—that diplomatic means have been tried, exhausted and failed.

      The most sincere sentence in the piece comes in the final paragraph: “Like President Obama’s failed attempt [sic] at diplomatic engagement, sanctions are an unavoidable and necessary prelude to any more forceful action to stop Ayatollah Khamenei’s nuclear ambitions.” Gerecht and Dubowitz are not pushing for launching a war against Iran now because they know Barack Obama does not favor one. Their task for now is to prepare the propagandistic groundwork for a big push for a war after, they hope, a different president enters office in 2013. Repeating the canard that diplomatic alternatives have been exhausted is part of that preparation. Another part is making the case the sanctions are not sufficient—supplementing the case as necessary with proposals for sanctions that would have no chance for working even if they were adopted. And each phase of the preparation, based on the unproven assumption that the advent of an Iranian nuclear weapon would be a terrible development, further fosters the impression that—as will be argued vociferously when the time for a big push for war comes—such a development really would indeed be terrible and must be prevented at all costs, even if “all costs” means a disastrous war. As usual with similarly minded Iran hawks, Gerecht and Dubowitz make no attempt to prove the assumption, relying instead on sheer repetition of it to inculcate the notion that it is true.

      One has to wonder why anyone who has U.S. interests at heart would campaign for a war that would severely damage those interests. One also has to wonder why anyone still listens to the campaigners, given how much most of the same people discredited themselves by campaigning for an earlier blunder of a war in Iraq. But no wondering is necessary to see their current strategy, which is all too clear.”

    • mark (History)

      Yousaf,

      I realize that what I raised in my blog post in part dovetails with your idea on the AP in Iran. In fact, it was spelled out to me in Vienna last month that, if the Russian offer to Iran were to be moved forward with the support of the Western P-3+1, as I had originally suggested in the Carnegie piece last month
      http://carnegieendowment.org/2011/11/22/waiting-for-russia-s-next-move-on-iran/7nzn
      could transpire under a favorable turn of events, that would have to mean that Iran would implement the AP (they could like I have proposed in Brazil call it something else if that is politically difficult for the implementing country).

      But thinking about this post the last couple days raises the further question of whether the Western P-3+1 would be willing to lift sanctions on Iran on this basis. And I acknowledge I don’t know the answer but I suspect it is no–given what Donilon is saying about, essentially, the NSC’s evolution concerning its assessment of the current Iranian regime over the last couple of years.

      Israeli friends have pointed out to me that, when the veto powers offered to Iran the fuel swap deal in October 2009, they in effect crossed that line or at least put themselves on a slippery slope towards lifting of sanctions on the basis of concessions/actions by Iran.

      But now? The fuel swap offer was during Obama’s first year when he was reiterating his “handshake” mantra. The Donilon text reads like a whole different kettle of fish–containment, encirclement… Donilon says Iran is a “pariah state” (Question: is that different from a “rogue state”? Does the pariah appelation put Iran further down the road of equivalence with North Korea in the US view?)

      That’s why I ask about regime change. A number of key interlocutors I talked to for this blog piece mentioned the caveat that government X or Y would not be willing to accept the AP [for example, among other issues] “with this Iranian regime in power” as a condition for lifting sanctions.

      If I read that correctly, then it means that for Israel, Western P-3+1, the AP won’t be enough. As you imply above, the real issue is trust. Iran would have to trust the IAEA to implement the AP equitably and fairly. The West doesn’t trust Iran, either. It has reservations as it should because of Iran’s legacy of having systematically failed to declare activities for 18 years until 2003, when Iran started cooperating with the IAEA to remedy the deficiencies identified by the Department of Safeguards in 2003.

      And Iran? I don’t see Iran prepared to give up its nuclear assets. Period. ElBaradei’s book tells us what happened after Iran agreed in 2003 to suspend–by 2005 the Iranians were seeking to take advantage of a fortuitous international situation to resume enrichment and as we all know now they did that with the help of the Russians.

      Interesting what you write about US sanctions. But theoretically I could foresee a situation where the UNSC nuclear sanctions could be lifted and the US would be isolated. How the EU governments–particularly Germany–would play this would be significant in that outcome. What has been described to me as something like a minor sea change in how the German Foreign Office sees Iran/nuclear at this time compared to a few years ago is one of the reasons why the Euros are lining up like iron filings behind the US on sanctions against Iran right now.

    • dan (History)

      Mark

      I thhink that it would help to define the “this regime in power” aspect of the formulation.

      Ahmadinejad is term-limited, and there will be a new Iranian president in 2013; Khamenei is aging, and whilst he’ll probably live for a while longer, there’s no telling when he’ll pop his clogs.

      Does regime change encompass the possibility of being applied to a change of personnel, or is it really a structural issue, in which the US and others insist on determining the Iranian political system for them?

  27. jeannick (History)

    .
    I tend to agree with cyrus
    “Iran….have logically come to the conclusion that the entire nuclear issue is just a pretext for regime change, just as “WMDs in Iraq” was pretextual,”

    the whole charade became clear on the 20% comedy

    As for the ultimate motive , little to do with Iran
    I believe an “Iranian threat” fully justifies a missile shield ,
    It soon will give the U.S.A. the option of a “winnable” nuclear first strike against Russia and/or China.
    having such an option would ratchet any negotiations to the level of high politic blackmail

    All the indications point toward this end

  28. Mark Lincoln (History)

    The United States destroyed the NPT in 2008. Australia has confirmed this destruction by it’s own self-serving violation of that treaty announced today.

    Let us be honest if nothing else.

    Iran seems to have been determined to create a break-out capability.

    The USA has been determined to totally destroy the NPT.

    Take your choice which is the worst.

    When the USA or Israel attacks Iran it will probably not crumble into a cheering mob of happy Persians happy to strew rose petals beneath the boots of their occupying nations.

    If there is to be no occupation of Iran, that attack will ensure that Iran WILL pursue atomic weapons.

    Given the abysmal record of military failure that both the USA and Israel have achieved in recent decades how might any sane person subscribe to a war promoted by losers, using the same kind of lies from the same old guys?

    Regime change in Iran will require occupation.

    Anyone promoting a war without advancing a plan to occupy Iran for a decade or two is insane.

  29. Anon (History)

    Mark L.,
    a break out capability can be consistent with the letter of the NPT — though of course not with its spirit.

    So what Iran is now doing (i.e. not diverting nuclear material) and having no weapons program (cf. statement by DNI) makes Iran in compliance with the letter of its CSA implemented by the IAEA under the NPT.

    The NPT is a voluntary treaty. The IAEA is not a police force. Had Iran ratified the A.P. then the IAEA could be justified in being disappointed. As it is, the IAEA has no legal authority to insist that Iran do anything more than it is already doing.

    It is a witch hunt plain and simple.

    See:

    http://carnegieendowment.org/2011/11/03/looking-beyond-iran-and-north-korea-for-safeguarding-foundations-of-nuclear-nonproliferation/6nz6

    “…the Department of Safeguards doesn’t have the legal authority it needs to fulfill its mandate and to provide the assurances the international community is expecting from its verification activities.”

  30. ian (History)

    Anon;

    While in general terms you are right on, there is an added requirement placed on Iran by the security council to resolve outstanding issues with the IAEA and suspend enrichment. Doesn’t this give the IAEA a slightly broader mandate beyond the letter of safeguards agreements?

    • Anon (History)

      ian, that is correct. however see FSB’s comment below quoting Eric Brill.

      Let us enforce ALL UNSC resolutions, including USCR 487 sans discrimination.

      Is the UNSC ok with that?

      Then let us begin by sanctions on Israel for violating UNSCR 487.

      After that we talk about Iran, k?

    • FSB (History)

      Ian please read what is ACTUALLY needed to kick of sanctions under chapter 7 (Art 39) of the UN Charter.

      After that, please post and let us know your position.

    • hass (History)

      The addes requirements by the UNSC are themselves ultra vires. Their demand that Iran sign the AP is illegal. The AP is a treaty, and as such no country can be forced to sign treaties against its wishes. This is a basic violation of the law of treaties, which requires “voluntariness.” And yet ironically Iran has agreed to ratify the AP, as long as its nuclear rights are also recognized – but to no avail since the US insists on depriving Iran of a sovereign right to enrichment.

  31. FSB (History)

    The UNSC sanctions are extra-judicial and should be reviewed:

    http://brillwebsite.com/writings/irannucleardispute-102010.pdf

    Iran’s enrichment under IAEA safeguards cannot — under any tortured legalistic interpretation — be a an act of aggression or a threat to the peace.

    Contrariwise, Israel’s act on Syria contravened the UN Charter (and UNSCR 487) and should have triggered Art 39 sanctions.

    What is going on is not merely a mockery of the law, it is the exact opposite of legal.

  32. Anon (History)

    Mark,
    you mention above that IAEA harbors some lack of trust due to what happened a decade or so ago.

    If that is the case, they should have kicked off Special Inspections to allay their concerns.

    The UNSC route — as FSB points out in Brill’s article — was extra-judicial.

    Do you know why IAEA did not use Special Inspections when Iran was implementing voluntarily the AP?

    Do people at the IAEA think that people in developing and/or NAM states are stupid and do not see the blatant politicization and hypocrisy?

    Do they want to destroy the NPT?

    Do they hope to ever get NAM cooperation on CTBT ratification and entry into force?

  33. masoud (History)

    Mark,

    The West doesn’t trust Iran, either. It has reservations as it should because of Iran’s legacy of having systematically failed to declare activities for 18 years until 2003, when Iran started cooperating with the IAEA to remedy the deficiencies identified by the Department of Safeguards in 2003.

    And Iran? I don’t see Iran prepared to give up its nuclear assets. Period. ElBaradei’s book tells us what happened after Iran agreed in 2003 to suspend–by 2005 the Iranians were seeking to take advantage of a fortuitous international situation to resume enrichment and as we all know now they did that with the help of the Russians.

    I don’t see the value of citing the USG government line that they don’t trust Iran not to build a Nuclear Weapon. We know from conversations that the USG has had with top foreign Israeli officials, and are recorded in Wikileaks, the US understand that Iran has not taken then political decision to construct a bomb, and that they are doubtful such a decision will ever be taken:
    http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/12/09TELAVIV2757.html
    In addition, the US’s main ‘strategic’ partner in the Middle East accordance with whom the US develops it’s policies does not even pretend anymore that Iran presents it with an existential threat:
    http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2009/09/17/barak-nuclear-iran-no-existential-threat-to-israel/

    Look, we are free to speculate without explanation that the US can’t trust Iran not to build a bomb because it made a decision to delay reporting on some of it’s nuclear activities because when it did declare it’s intentions to do these things, their activities would become the subject of international diplomatic sabotage as well as likely targets of international terrorism and outright aggression, a la Iraq’s Osiriak reactor, while at the same time the US had no trouble embracing the Egyptian, Lybian and South Korean regimes even though they openly admit to conducting weaponisation experiments while having ratified the NPT, and have no trouble ‘trusting’ Brazil even though their political leadership has a historically spoken quite openly about their intent to weaponise, and Brazil does not even meet it’s minimum requirements of allowing inspectors to analyze their centirfuges, and the US has no trouble ‘trusting’ both India and Pakistan enough to subsidize and collaborate directly with the former and indirectly with the latter the outlaw nuclear weapons programs of both countries etc.. But what we aren’t free to do is to DENY the evidence presented in official US government records that it turns out that the US does actually trust that Iran is not building Nuclear Weapons.

    One More Time:
    1. The US has never shown an interest in ‘non-proliferation’.
    2. The US is NOT concerned that Iran will build or use a nuclear weapon.
    3. The US feels free to pursue it’s ongoing campaign of terrorism and aggression against Iran precisely because of it’s belief that Iran, unlike regimes like North Korea, Israel, and Ghadaffi-era Lybia is committed to not use or build WMD’s, or engage in acts of international terror and aggression in retaliation.

  34. Amy (History)

    What will the so-called diplomacy be about?

    What is Iran *currently* doing wrong that needs to be settled — diplomatically or otherwise?

    To all the people calling for diplomacy: talk to the USG who is using sanctions, assassinations (probably involved), STUXNET (probably involved)…it is the West that stands in the way of “diplomacy”.

    Anyway, is there anything that Iran is doing in conflict with its Safeguards agreement? What is it?

  35. yousaf (History)

    Mark,

    I agree with your and Amorim assessment:

    “…the countries that proposed it cannot take yes for an answer.” I’ve heard nothing so far to convince me that Amorim’s account is fundamentally incorrect.”

    Indeed, as I outlined above, the conditions for lifting US sanctions are unrelated to the nuclear issue and actually argue that the only thing that will satisfy the USG — or more accurately, USG’s congree — is regime change. Of course, we are aware of the special interests at work in the halls of congress.

    The problem is that these particular sanctions are a disincentive for Iran to change anything having to do with their nuclear program: even if they changed something about their nuclear program the US sanctions would be in place, so why should they?

    Similarly, the UNSC sanctions are conditional on an enrichment halt — which ain’t gonna happen — so, again, Iran has absolutely no reason to comply with giving “more transparency” (whatever that means) — since, even if it gave more transparency the UNSC sanctions will be in place.

    As you say, it appears that the intent is regime change and nothing to do with nonproliferation. I agree with you when you say:

    “A number of key interlocutors I talked to for this blog piece mentioned the caveat that government X or Y would not be willing to accept the AP [for example, among other issues] “with this Iranian regime in power” as a condition for lifting sanctions.

    If I read that correctly, then it means that for Israel, Western P-3+1, the AP won’t be enough….”

    So, we return to the question of what the US/West/UNSC wants Iran to do exactly? If the answer is transparency then the US/West/UNSC ought to accept the AP — but it appears from what you say that that they do not just want transparency, they want regime change.

    From the behavior I’ve witnessed, I have to say that I agree with you.

    • mark (History)

      Yousaf, Dan, et. al.,

      I confess I have not drilled into the answer as Dan asked: What “regime” are they talking about when they say they don’t like the one that’s there? I guess I assume it would imply some kind of Arab spring-like action where the Islamic (post-)revolutionaries are removed and replaced by some kind of less-oppressive democratic government as we have assumed the “people” in the streets in Egypt, Libya, Syria want to see happen. But maybe not. It might just mean as Dan suggests, that Khamenei is replaced and some others more willing to go the extra mile with the West would come to power. No idea.

      If the current Iranian regime were to recognize Israel, would Israel then be willing to see through a negotiated settlement where the endgame is an Iran with its nuclear assets intact and the IAEA expressing confidence after the AP is being implemented for awhile that there’s no detected nuclear weapons program? Dunno. Keep in mind however that in the past Israel has not been too kind on the IAEA in this regard, casting aspersions upon safeguards for having missed Iraq, missed the centrifuge plants in Iran, missed the Syrian reactor.

      My colleague Shahram Chubin in Geneva for us expresses the take that the Iranians don’t think about negotiated settlements so much as they think about tactical next moves in any negotiation. From what I hear from diplos in Vienna there may be something to that. They say–which in part inspired me to do this blog post last week–that the Iranians in Vienna “appear to cooperate, appear to engage,” but they don’t close any deals.

      http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/1204/Why-Iran-lashes-out-at-West

    • yousaf (History)

      Mark,
      indeed this has morphed into an interesting side discussion regarding regime change in Iran.

      The question is why the IAEA/UN/UNSC is involved in any of this?

      The IAEA verified non-diversion of nuclear materials in Iran — and always has. That is as much as we can ask of it in a nation with no (voluntary) AP.

      You mention that Israel has cast aspersions on the safeguards regime re. Iraq. Well:

      #1. The Osirak attack was what gave real impetus to the Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
      #2. The safeguards were never meant to catch any and every possible nuclear-weapons related activity. The developing nations’ diplomats of the mid-60s-70s deliberately did not accede to giving up all their national sovereignty, mainly in view of the fact that they (correctly) thought that NWSs were not in a hurry to let go of their nuclear weapons.

      Dan Joyner has written on what the IAEA is actually tasked and legally authorized with doing — and what it is not authorized with doing:

      http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/forum/2011/11/dan-joyner-iaea-report.php

      See also the article by Pierre Goldschmidt linked above by another poster.

      Perhaps there is a reason that the diplos you quote express the view that the Iranians in Vienna “appear to cooperate, appear to engage,” but they don’t close any deals. Maybe they do not know what is being demanded — aside from stopping enrichment, which won’t happen.

      Secondly, perhaps the Iranian diplos aren’t too keen on closing any deals that agree to regime change in Iran.

      If the West/US/UNSC is not asking for regime change, what is it asking of Iran such that the Iranians may engage and close the deal? Clearly, the conditions set down by the US Congress in removing sanctions has almost nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear program.

      So we return to the question: What would people in Vienna like Iran to do so that sanctions are removed aside from agreeing to regime change or halting enrichment?

      And see my post above on why the sanctions are a direct disincentive for obtaining cooperation in the nuclear realm.

      PS: regarding regime change there was a good piece in HuffPost by Trita Parsi explaining how it was Ahmedinejad’s political competitors who were likely responsible for the UK embassy attack. Perhaps regime change will not be for the better.

    • masoud (History)

      Dear Mark,

      When we’re down to condemning Iran for ‘Tactical Negotiating’, I think it’s safe to say we’re scraping the very bottom of prospective causus belum barrel for the US’s next war.

      Scott Peterson’s credibility and expertise on Iran is about par for the course as far as Western ‘journalists’ are concerned, which is to say he has none. The ‘historical background’ he presents in that article is pure fiction, and the Mousavi quote likely a complete fabrication.

      But regarding Shahram Chubin’s remarks, just what do you suppose he means? What criteria do you think Mr. Chubin, or anyone else can offer us to help distinguish sincere honest to goodness Iranian cooperation from cynical duplicitous Iranian ploys to pretend to cooperate? Would ‘earnest’ permission to the IAEA install 24-hour video surveillance produce higher definition footage than ‘cynical’ permission to do the same?

      As long as the US ruling regime continues it’s policy of blanket rejectionism, it will always be possible to claim that you believe Iran wouldn’t really go through with the numerous and ever-evolving propositions it has put on the table to address any real concerns about Nuclear Proliferation the US could have. The question is, what basis do we have to actually believe those claims, and on what basis are we going to dismiss all evidence to the contrary?
      I know it is customary in the US political sphere to frame all political debate in terms of a kind of a symmetric assignment of blame(and for some odd reason there seem to always be two equally stupid sides to every domestic US issue), but I’m afraid I just don’t find this in any way to be a useful mode of thought.

    • dan (History)

      Mark

      But we’re still faced with a conundrum – the US wasn’t really prepared to negotiate when either Rafsanjani or Khatami held the presidency, who both had the backing of Khamenei to explore the option of improving or restoring relations. So, if there was a return to the less repressive, more democratic dispensation that prevailed from, say, 1997 to 2005, why would the “policy” be any different?

      To be honest, the roadblock appears to be in Washington – largely because there isn’t a coherent, positive, constructive Iran policy. For as long as the mantra remains “all options are on the table”, we can assume that the difficult task of making the choices – which takes options off the table – that are necessary for the construction of a policy remains to be done; this is no longer a sustainable position – Iran is becoming too important economically. I’d agree that the Iranians aren’t helping any at present – but repeatedly banging your head against a wall is bound to induce a headache eventually.

      The reality is, for all the pretence that the current system in Iran is going to change in a revolutionary spasm, everyone knows that this is a delusion which is easily cured by simply visiting the country, and that change will be evolutionary. Irrespective of the nature and extent of internal repression – and having witnessed the death tolls in the Arab Spring, the Red-Yellow spats in Thailand, Kenyan election violence, Ivory Coast elections/civil war, the Iranians are far closer to Western standards than we’re comfortable admitting – Iran is still a systemically important state, that cannot be shut out Nork-style, or be the object of permanent American rejectionism.

    • Andy (History)

      I pretty much agree with Dan here. The main political problem is US policy which “isn’t coherent, positive, [or] constructive.”

    • hass (History)

      Mark – if the Iranians have been led to conclude that the nuclear issue is being used as a pretext by the US for regime change, and so no amount of compromises and concessions by them will alter that (and they have a long history of making such offers which have been ignored, to back up that perception) then how can we fault them of “negotiating tactically”?

      And in fact we already know that the Iranians have reached this conclusion. In 2006, Simon Tisdall quoted anonymous Iranian officials and diplomats as saying:

      “The U.S. “The U.S. is using the nuclear issue as a pretext for regime change,” a senior Iranian official said this week. “The issue is a diversion. The U.S. wants to weaken Iran. Even if the nuclear issue was solved, they would want another thing and another thing.” And, “The Americans are trying to create an environment so the U.S. can hit Iran,” one diplomat said. “And I don’t think the Europeans would ultimately accept this.”
      http://www.salon.com/2005/03/18/iran_74/

      ElBaradei also concluded that the US was not interested in resolving this nuclear standoff whilst leaving the regime in power:

      “They weren’t interested in a compromise with the government in Tehran, but regime change – by any means necessary,”

      http://news.antiwar.com/2011/04/20/elbaradei-us-europe-werent-interested-in-compromise-with-iran/

  36. Amy (History)

    What does Iran need to do to get the dunce cap off of its head and return to its seat? What are the set of demands?

    Clearly, more transparency is not enough as you say the several Western diplomats want nothing to do with the current regime in Iran.

    Also is this diplomacy? —

    http://gsn.nti.rsvp1.com/gsn/nw_20111205_9506.php

  37. Amy (History)

    When do we sanction and put all options on the table on Saudi Arabia?

    http://gsn.nti.rsvp1.com/gsn/nw_20111205_8296.php

    Warm up those B-2s and assassination squads….

  38. hass (History)

    From an AP interview granted by Seyed Hossein Mousavian, former nuclear negotiator on behalf of Iran, after recounting how Iranian compromise offers have been ignored by the US:

    “Given these dynamics, is it realistic to expect that Iranian decision makers should trust the Western countries and their intentions? In reality, the West is pushing Iran to close the door on nuclear diplomacy, in the fear that it is a guise for regime change. This path will, regrettably, lead to confrontation.”
    (More: http://www.thebulletin.org/print/web-edition/features/seyed-hossein-mousavian-the-west-pushing-iran-the-wrong-direction)

    Question: just how dangerous is it to create this impression amongst the Iranians, that the US is intent on confrontation, and no amount of Iranian concessions will deter it?

  39. mark (History)

    All: It is Tuesday night in Amsterdam and I will soon fly to the US. I will thereafter respond to issues raised by Yousaf, Dan, and Hass. But it may be 2 days.

  40. Anon (History)

    Looks like Ron Paul has weighed in on this debate.

    Looks like I will vote for him:

    http://original.antiwar.com/paul/2011/11/29/the-folly-of-sanctions/

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