Jeffrey LewisGoldschmidt on Iran

Pierre Goldschmidt imagines a fictional conversation with a senior Iranian official that presents in lively way the arguments in his excellent talk, The Iranian Nuclear Issue: Achieving a Win-Win Diplomatic Solution.

Click on the jump for the full text.

February 22, 2012

Negotiating with Iran

A hypothetical dialogue with a peace-loving nationalist Iranian decision maker

Pierre Goldschmidt

During my time as Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and head of its Department of Safeguards (from 1999 to 2005) I had many contacts with high and medium ranking Iranian officials when discussing the country’s previously undeclared nuclear activities. From those negotiations I have greatly valued the human contacts with some of these officials, and hopefully better understood their views of the role Iran should play in the world and their frustration over past treatment.

Iran is a great nation with immense natural and human resources and potential. Unfortunately, due to the violations of its Safeguards Agreement and because of its uncompromising behaviour, Iran is today considered by the UN Security Council (UNSC) to be a threat to international peace and security. Consequently, its people are suffering from crippling economic sanctions.

I am no longer in charge of negotiating with Iran about their nuclear program but I dream that a diplomatic solution to the present crisis can be found that is in everyone’s best interest. What follows is an imaginary dialogue between a high ranking Iranian decision maker whom I will call “His Excellency” (EXC) and me (PG). It is an attempt to find a compromise on the nuclear matter that would be acceptable to all parties.

PG. Excellency, I have no doubt that your objective is to contribute to the wellbeing of the Iranian people now and in the future.
You know I have no official position and no hidden agenda, and I have long admired the Iranian nation and its people. It is no secret that I have been critical of the lack of cooperation provided by your government to the IAEA as reported so many times by the IAEA Director General to the Board of Governors.
That being said, could we try, in good faith, to find any measure that would minimize the negative consequences of the present nuclear crisis for Iran and all other states in the region and beyond?

EXC. You should know that I did not always like what you wrote on our nuclear program, but I accept your claim that it was in good faith in order to put all the facts on the table. I still contend that it reflects a very Western point of view and I could dispute the validity of some of your statements.
But I am ready to brainstorm with you to see how we could possibly break the deadlock about our nuclear program and avoid increasing sanctions, ineffective as they may be. But frankly I have doubts that we will succeed where so many have tried and failed in the past.

PG. Fine. Don’t you think we should first agree on the positions that we will not try to change for the time being, not because we are happy with them but because it would be hopeless in the present circumstances and the political environment?

EXC. That seems reasonable. I can immediately say, as has been said repeatedly by President Ahmadinejad and many others, that we will never give up our inalienable right to the nuclear fuel-cycle and in particular uranium enrichment.

PG. With all due respect, your Excellency, I think what you just said doesn’t accurately reflect what the UNSC has requested of Iran. The UNSC has never demanded that Iran give up its right to enrich uranium. It has required that Iran temporarily suspend its enrichment-related activities until the IAEA has been able to conclude that Iran’s declarations about its nuclear program (past, present and future) are correct and complete.

EXC. We consider that request for suspension as illegal.

PG. I know, and I disagree with you, but let’s not discuss this. I understand that although Chapter VII UNSC requirements are legally binding, for internal political reasons, Iran will not suspend its enrichment activities. Do you accept that as long as Iran does not verifiably suspend all enrichment-related activities there is no hope that the UNSC will suspend existing sanctions under its resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1973?

EXC. Yes, so where does that lead us?

PG. The international community needs to be reassured that Iran’s nuclear activities are not developed with the objective of Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state.

EXC. This is ridiculous. Under this pretext Western technology holders are trying to deprive Iran of the benefits of nuclear energy and technology. What’s the difference between the nuclear program of Iran and that of Brazil which has not signed the Additional Protocol (AP) , has enrichment facilities and gets the full support of France in developing its nuclear propulsion submarines?

PG. This is a good point, and personally I am very critical of the fact that Brazil has refused so far to sign and ratify the Additional Protocol. But among the main differences between Iran and Brazil is that the latter has not been found by the IAEA to be in non-compliance with its safeguards agreement, has ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and is a party to the Tlatelolco Treaty that established a zone free of nuclear weapons in Latin America. What is wrong is to pretend that the West wishes to deprive Iran of the benefits of nuclear energy even if it is true that in the past the USA has tried to block the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant. As you know, the P5+1 offered in June 2008 a comprehensive proposal for possible areas of cooperation with Iran, which inter alia “recognize[s] Iran’s right to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in conformity with its NPT obligation”, and this proposal was annexed to UNSC resolution 1929.

EXC. What you forget to mention is that this proposal was made on the condition that “Iran verifiably suspends its enrichment-related and reprocessing activities” which is a non-starter. We are proud of our technical achievements, and our people are fed-up with the Western policy of a double standard that unfairly discriminates against Iran because the West does not like our Islamic regime. Look at how the Western powers close their eyes to Israel’s nuclear arsenal and cooperate with India without any commitment by India to freeze its nuclear weapons program or to sign and ratify the CTBT!

PG. I share your frustration about the US-Indian deal and publicly criticized the so-called “Indian exception” long before it was endorsed by the NSG.
Israel is another matter and it will not be helpful for our purpose to discuss it nor to analyse why the alleged Israeli nuclear arsenal is a greater problem than the established Pakistani nuclear weapons arsenal which Iran never criticizes.
So let’s focus on our objective which is to unlock the present stalemate and find a way to reassure the P5+1 (even partially) that your nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes and not bringing you too close to a nuclear weapons capability while simultaneously allowing Iran some enrichment activities and avoiding additional economic sanctions.

EXC. Don’t you think that Japan and Brazil are de facto nuclear threshold states? They have reached that stage without breaching any international agreement or treaty. Why what is acceptable in their case is not acceptable in the case of Iran? Isn’t that again a Western double standard just because you don’t like our regime?

PG. One of the main differences is that the IAEA has not reported evidence that Japan and Brazil were working on the development of nuclear weapons components while such evidence has been reported with respect to Iran. Neither Japan nor Brazil has been found in non-compliance with their safeguards agreements, neither has ever threatened, as Iran has more than once, to withdraw from the NPT, and contrary to Iran both have signed and ratified the CTBT.

EXC. So what do you suggest? That we again implement the AP as we did before? We have been told that this would not be enough to restore trust! Hoping to have the AP ratified by the Majlis in the present circumstances is simply unrealistic.

PG. Implementing the AP (and Iran’s commitment to provide early design information) would certainly be a significant step forward, but as you say, it would not be sufficient to restore confidence. If the Majlis cannot presently ratify the AP could it possibly ratify the CTBT? This would be another important confidence building measure.

EXC. Iran will not be the last country to ratify the CTBT for it’s entry into force.

PG. You realize that such a statement doesn’t help us in the short term. Could the Majlis ratify the CTBT subject only to the US, Israel and Egypt’s ratification of the treaty?

EXC. I don’t know. It would be difficult but maybe not impossible. What else?

PG. How could you reassure the world (not only the West but also Arab countries) that Iran is not one day going to use its stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU) as feed material to produce high enriched uranium (HEU) , or to recover the weapons grade plutonium contained in the spent fuel of the Arak heavy water research reactor?

EXC. I see where you want to lead me. You want Iran to commit not to enrich uranium beyond 20% or even 5% U-235 and not to reprocess its spent fuel. This is again asking Iran to give up its inalienable rights under the NPT. It would be a discriminatory measure and therefore unacceptable.

PG. No, Iran would not be requested to renounce any of its rights under the NPT once the IAEA has determined that Iran’s declarations are correct and complete and that its nuclear activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes.

What I am suggesting is that Iran concludes an agreement with the P5+1 voluntarily limiting to the present level the number of centrifuges installed at Natanz, not installing centrifuges at Fordow or any other site, and every six months sending all LEU produced domestically to Russia to be used for the fabrication of fuel assemblies for the Bushehr NPP and possibly for the Tehran Research Reactor so long as there is no disruption in the delivery of these fuel assemblies for political reasons. Also Iran would conclude an Infcirc/66-type safeguards agreement for each of its fuel-cycle facilities in order to guarantee that these plants would remain under IAEA safeguards even if Iran were to withdraw from the NPT.

Exc. This merits consideration, but what would be the benefit for Iran?

PG. First of all the US and the EU would commit not to endorse any new sanction against Iran as long as Iran implements the agreement and fully and proactively cooperates with the IAEA to resolve all outstanding issues. The P5+1 would also provide a grace period of say six months during which Iran would not be blamed or sanctioned if it were to acknowledge any failure to declare nuclear material and activities or breaches of its safeguards agreement.
As a result, and although this would not meet UNSC demands, Iran could continue enrichment activities to 5 % U-235 without incurring additional sanctions except if additional breaches are discovered after the grace period.

Once the IAEA has confirmed the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, Iran would no longer be required to export its stockpile of LEU but would agree to maintain its commitment not to produce HEU nor reprocess spent nuclear fuel. To help the IAEA reach this conclusion rapidly, Iran should agree to voluntarily implement a Temporary Complementary Protocol providing the Agency with better access rights than those foreseen in the Model Additional Protocol.
In parallel the P5+1 would negotiate with Iran over how best to further define, expand and implement the long-term cooperation agreement specified in Annex IV of UNSC Resolution 1929.

I hope you can agree that such a deal would constitute a win-win solution for all the parties.

EXC. This might look attractive on paper, but it would give us no guarantee that Israel will not attack our nuclear facilities.

PG. Quite the contrary. The best chance to reduce this threat is for the negotiations due to restart soon between Iran and the P5+1 to produce tangible and credible results. The framework we just discussed has the potential to both mitigate the present crisis and resolve the long term impasse over Iran’s nuclear program.


  1. Dan Joyner (History)

    I think this is an extremely useful and productive piece of thought work by Pierre Goldschmidt. And I think that the essentials of this idea are one of the possible solutions to the crisis that will save everyone’s face and produce an acceptable result.

    On the specific terms that Goldschmidt lays out here, if I were Iran I would be skeptical that te IAEA BOG would ever “confirm[] the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program” by vote. I think that the suspicions of some board members are just too set, and intertwined with politics, and would be further aggravated by inevitable additional “revelations” by national intelligence agencies, for the IAEA BOG to ever actually vote to confirm this. As I and others have long said, the IAEA’s approach to the Iran case has been flawed from the beginning. It has essentially asked Iran to prove a negative, i.e. that it has no nuclear weapons capacity related programs, and has cast that net very broadly, to capture technological abilities that many states have and that can be used for nuclear weapons but can also be used for other things. And with all of the suspicion and politics related to Iran’s nuclear program in the West, much of it surrounding and involving Israel, is it realistic to think that the IAEA BOG would ever be so satisfied with Iran’s realistic steps to cooperate with the IAEA, that the BOG would take such a vote to “confirm[] the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program”? Would the U.S. ever vote for this? I just dont see it happening.

    • Andy (History)


      “It has essentially asked Iran to prove a negative”

      When a state submits false declarations for two decades, does that state not have an obligation to prove that it’s secret activities were not weapons-related and were exclusively peaceful? We can argue about whether or not Iran has provided sufficient proof, but it seems to me “proving a negative” is the whole point of verifying previously undeclared activities.

      With respect to the BOG, you might be right, but I think if the P5+1 agree to the deal then it would pass the BOG. Obviously, there’s one way to find out.

    • Dan Joyner (History)

      Hi Andy,
      Iran did submit false declarations which were in violation of its CSA. When the truth came out, they were required to submit full information about the clandestine facilities. They did so. That is the only standard that the IAEA has a mandate for – to account for all fissile materials and all nuclear facilities within a state.

      What the IAEA has tasked Iran with proving is that it doesnt have any nuclear related activities in addition to those it has declared, and, by implication of its most recent report, that it carries on no research that could potentially be used in a nuclear weapons program.

      Proving the negative on those two points is additional to anything the IAEA has ever required any other state to do, and it is simply not the mandate of the IAEA to require a state to meet such a burden of proof. It also begs the question of what amount of cooperation would satisfy the evidentiary standard of proving these two negative points? Couldnt the IAEA BOG simply impose their own subjective standard of when Iran has satisfied them that they have proven these two negatives, and thereby keep Iran in noncompliance indefinitely? There is no such objective standard given in the IAEA Statute or elsewhere.

    • hass (History)

      I think it would be unfortunate if we set a precedent whereby nations are coerced into signing the AP or any other safeguards agreement by threats of bombings and sanctions. Why should Iran receive anything less that the full benefits of the NPT when it has abided by the obligations of the NPT by not diverting nuclear material to nonpeaceful uses?

      BRazil has not been found to have breached safeguards? Well, gee how do you know since the IAEA has not been given a free reign there as is demanded of Iran? And whatever safeguards breaches Iran committed in the past (which consisted of merely a failure to report otherwise legal activities, that according to the IAEA had no relations to a weapons program) were resolved to Iran’s favor, and resulted from the US’s illegal inteference from Iran’s early attempts to acquire the enrichment technlogy that it was entitled to have in the first place.

      Goldschmidtt is trying to significantly expand and revise the NPT as well as the authority of the IAEA, at the expense of Iran and other NPT signatory states, without going through the necessary procedures. This is bare naked coercion, and they’re using Iran to set a precedent.

    • Andy (History)


      Thanks for the reply.

      “That is the only standard that the IAEA has a mandate for – to account for all fissile materials and all nuclear facilities within a state.”

      I’d be interested in how you interpret/reconcile your minimalist view of the IAEA’s mandate (“minimalist” being my interpretation of your view, obviously. Please correct me if I’ve got it wrong) with the Agency’s language that the purpose of safeguards is to verify not only the “correctness” of a state’s declaration, but also the “completeness.”

    • Johnboy (History)

      Andy, you appear to be equally guilty of demanding that Dan prove a negative,

      Dan says that there is nothing in the mandate of the IAEA that gives it the authority to make these demands of Iran.

      You, obviously, believe that the IAEA has just such a mandate.

      The onus of proof is clearly on you i.e. you are required to quote the text – or at least point to the document – wherein it states clearly and unambiguousl that the IAEA is mandated to demand that member states “prove” that it has no nuclear program other than that already declared to the IAEA.

      Can you point to such a document, Andy, or can’t you?

    • Andy (History)


      Quite the contrary. My position is shared by the IAEA and its legal interpretation of its obligations and responsibilities.

      Obviously, there is no single interpretation, legal opinions vary, and there is no “supreme court” for international law to settle interpretive disputes one way or the other. So the “proof” of a unitary legal interpretation that you seem to demand of me does not exist. You are free to do your own research and make up your own mind – as for me, I take the Agency’s position and for that, I would suggest you begin with Ms. Laura Rockwood, the IAEA’s top lawyer and principle author of the additional protocol. Note especially section I.

    • Johnboy (History)

      “Quite the contrary. My position is shared by the IAEA and its legal interpretation of its obligations and responsibilities. ”

      I didn’t ask how p.o.p.u.l.a.r. your argument is, Andy, either with the public at large or within the confines of Amano’s organization.

      My point was this: if Dan says that the IAEA can not point to a legal mandate, and you say that it can, then the onus is on you to provide the text that m.a.n.d.a.t.e.s. the IAEA to look beyond the (non)diversion of fissile material into other areas such as weapons-related research at military bases.

      “Note especially section I.”

      I will, because I note that it begins with:
      “Because a safeguards agreement is a treaty,”…..

      That is certainly a step in the right direction i.e. that line tells us that the IAEA derives its mandate from the text of the safeguards agreement that it has signed with Iran.

      Now, Andy, your job is to point to the sentence in that safeguards agreement wherein the Iranian government agrees that the IAEA can do such things as, say, poke its nose into Parchim military base EVEN THOUGH the IAEA does not even pretend that this base may contain fissile material.

      If you can’t then, so sorry, you have no grounds for claiming that the IAEA has any legal mandate to make any such demand and (on the basis of her “Section I”) Laura Lockwood would have to agree with me, and not with you.

      But here’s a hint to help you out: Iran signed a Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, but it has never signed any Additional Protocol.

    • anon (History)

      Iran’s safeguards agreement obligates it to accept safeguards on all nuclear material in the country. The agreement obligates the IAEA to apply safeguards to all that material. The notion that the IAEA must verify completeness is the direct consequence of the word “all” in these obligations.

    • kme (History)

      Are there any serious allegations that there is undeclared nuclear material in Iran?

    • Johnboy (History)

      “Iran’s safeguards agreement obligates it to accept safeguards on all nuclear material in the country.”

      That statement is simply untrue.

      Iran has signed a safeguards agreement with the IAEA that obligates it to accept safeguards on all DECLARED fissible materials at all DECLARED nuclear sites.

      That has certain consequences, and neither side can evade them:

      In particular….
      1) Iran is under no obligation under that safeguards agreement to accept inspections on any research facilities if fissible materials are not present, and that is true No Matter What that research might be about.

      That precludes Parchim, because although the IAEA is “concerned” about the military research that go on there, the IAEA has never so much as hinted that those experiments involve the use of any fissible materials whatsoever.

      2) Iran is also under no obligation to allow the IAEA to poke around anywhere simply because Amano is “concerned” that there may be fissible material that has not been declared to the IAEA.

      Now, don’t get me wrong: there *are* safeguards agreements where both of those obligations would be mandated, and they are called the Additional Protocols.

      But Iran hasn’t signed those, and it can not be coerced into signing them by threats or sanction.

      “The notion that the IAEA must verify completeness is the direct consequence of the word “all” in these obligations.”

      Again, you are simply declaring that the IAEA has the “right” to pull a rabbit out of a hat i.e. that it has a “right” to decide that it must be allowed to verify anything that “concern” it, even when the IAEA can not point to any signature wherein Iran has agreed that those things are the rightful concern of the IAEA.

      Iran – quite rightly – is telling Mr. Amano that he is “concerning” himself with issue that are not his business.

    • Andy (History)


      “Iran has signed a safeguards agreement with the IAEA that obligates it to accept safeguards on all DECLARED fissible materials at all DECLARED nuclear sites.

      Well, no. The authority of all material, declared or not, comes directly from the NPT itself (article III):

      “The safeguards required by this Article shall be applied on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of such State, under its jurisdiction, or carried out under its control anywhere.”

      Note there is no restriction at all with regard to “declared” materials.

      “The onus of proof is clearly on you i.e. you are required to quote the text – or at least point to the document – wherein it states clearly and unambiguousl that the IAEA is mandated to demand that member states “prove” that it has no nuclear program other than that already declared to the IAEA.”

      So tell me then, where did the IAEA get the authority to poke around Kaleye Electric, Natanz, etc. back in 2003? None of those sites were “declared” so by your logic the Agency was powerless to do anything, including “demanding” access.

      The truth is Agency always has the authority to ask and it is, in fact, obligated to make inquiries when it has information that would call into question the correctness and/or completeness of a state’s declaration. Iran granted access in 2003 thinking it had “cleaned up” the watch factory. It’s pretty clear Iran isn’t going to make that mistake again. At the end of the day we can agree or disagree on whether the Agency’s pursuit of certain lines of inquiry (ie. Parchim) is smart or justified, but I don’t think you can deny the Agency has the authority to do so.

      Now, this doesn’t mean that Iran (or any other state) has to comply with the IAEA’s investigations or its every whim. It could refuse to grant access to Parchim or any other facility just as it initially did with with Kaleye Electric. Whether there are consequences for such refusals is circumstantial (though in the case of Iran, there is not only the CSA, but also BOG and UNSC resolutions).

    • Johnboy (History)

      Andy, I mentioned the text of the safeguards agreement, and you point me to a single sentence from Section III of the NPT.

      Now, this is a fact: Section III begins with this: “Each Non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes to accept safeguards, as set forth in an agreement to be negotiated and concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency”…

      What that says is that the obligations agreed to between Iran and the IAEA will be found in that safeguards agreement, and I’ll repeat: the safeguards agreement does not require Iran to prove a negative, nor does it require Iran to do anything other than to DECLARE where its nuclear facilities are and to DECLARE what fissible material it possesses and then to allow the IAEA to inspect both to ensure that those fissible materials are not diverted Somewhere Else.

      “So tell me then, where did the IAEA get the authority to poke around Kaleye Electric, Natanz, etc. back in 2003?”

      They asked, and the Iranians said “Sure, go ahead”.

      But the point to bear in mind is that the Iranians were under no OBLIGATION to do so, and having done so they did not “create” an obligation where none existed before.

      Look, I rather uncertain what you are arguing here.

      If you want to argue that the IAEA can ask to visit these places then you will get no argument from me.

      Amano can attempt to invite himself whereever he likes, just as you can ask to visit Natanz and I can ask to visit Fordo and all three of us can try and get past the bouncers in a Terhan strip club, if such a thing exists.

      1) We can’t demand entry and
      2) We can’t complain when our request is turned down.

      “It could refuse to grant access to Parchim or any other facility just as it initially did with with Kaleye Electric. Whether there are consequences for such refusals is circumstantial”

      Nothing stops the UN Security Council from being “seized of the matter” if it determines that any country’s behaviour is a threat to the peace. It has a legal mandate to do that.

      Nothing stops the IAEA from referring Iran to the UNSC if Iran violates its safeguards agreement. The IAEA has a legal mandate to do that.

      But I take great exception to the idea that the IAEA can ask for access to a place which it has no right to enter, and *then* go running to the UNSC when they are refused entry. The IAEA simply has no legal mandate to do that.

    • Johnboy (History)

      Oops, sorry, my mistake.

      Andy asked: “So tell me then, where did the IAEA get the authority to poke around Kaleye Electric, Natanz, etc. back in 2003?”

      I replied: “They asked, and the Iranians said “Sure, go ahead”.”

      In the case of Natanz that is not true i.e. the Iranians declared their intention to introduce fissible materials to that facility, and by way of making that declaration then they were, indeed, legally obligated to allow the IAEA to inspect that site.

      I was thinking about the case of the 2005 visits to Pachim by the IAEA, which went along these lines:
      IAEA: We want to visit Pachim.
      Iran: No.
      IAEA: Pretty-please.
      Iran: OK, pick any five buildings you want and we’ll let you visit them.

    • anon (History)

      Johnboy persists in asserting, falsely, that Iran’s safeguards agreement does not require Iran to declare all of its nuclear material. The basic obligations in Iran’s safeguards agreement ( are:

      PART I


      Article 1

      The Government of Iran undertakes, pursuant to paragraph 1 of Article III of the Treaty, to accept safeguards, in accordance with the terms of this Agreement, on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within its territory, under its jurisdiction or carried out under its control anywhere, for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.


      Article 2

      The Agency shall have the right and the obligation to ensure that safeguards will be applied, in accordance with the terms of this Agreement, on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of Iran, under its jurisdiction or carried out under its control anywhere, for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

      Note the reference to “all source and special fissionable material” in both articles. If you read the safeguards agreement in full, you will see that most of the provisions deal with what has to be declared and how the IAEA is to verify those declarations. But there are provisions (see Articles 18, 19, 69, 73, 77 in particular) that are not limited to what Iran has declared.

      Johnboy is right on some other points. It is very difficult to prove a negative. That is a well-known challenge of safeguards, even with an Additional Protocol. But the fact that it is difficult does not mean that the IAEA should shirk its responsibility to try. Especially where it has reason to believe Iran is not meeting its obligation to declare all nuclear materials, the IAEA has not just the right but the obligation (according to Article 2) to seek to resolve those questions.

      It is worth noting that the Additional Protocol is essentially an amendment to a safeguards agreement. It does not alter the basic obligations of the safeguards agreement, but it does provide additional measures to enable the IAEA to meet those obligations. Iran did sign an Additional Protocol, in 2003, and implemented it on a voluntary basis for several years. But Iran never ratified the Protocol, so it is not in force.

      Johnboy is also correct that the IAEA does not have the power to compel Iran to cooperate (though Iran, in Article 3, has an obligation to do so). The most the IAEA can do is for the IAEA Board of Governors to “call on” Iran to take “essential and urgent” action (Article 18 of Iran’s safeguards agreement) and to report Iran’s non-compliance (Article XII.C of the IAEA Statute) to the UN Security Council, which has the authority to compel Iran to cooperate. The Board has done the latter, but not the former.

    • Johnboy (History)

      “Johnboy persists in asserting, falsely, that Iran’s safeguards agreement does not require Iran to declare all of its nuclear material.”

      No, I said no such thing.

      I said that Iran has no obligation to allow access to any site that it has not declared contains fissible materials.

      That is not at all the same thing, and I take offense at your attempt to verbal me.

  2. joshua (History)

    This was clearly written before Iran created new facts under the ground by starting enrichment operations at Qom/FFEP. Perhaps that’s one reason why the official Iranian response to Ashton was delayed so long.

    • Johnboy (History)

      Joshua, I must confess I don’t understand you point.

      This article discusses this problem:
      1) Iran won’t even think of suspending enrichment without getting some guarantees in return, but
      2) “The west” won’t even think about ending its sanctions unless/until Iran suspends that enrichment.

      Those sanctions are the stick – not the threat of military action – and the possiblilty that Iran can end up with a clean bill of health is the carrot.

      Where and how and when Iran does its uranium enrichment is therefore immaterial, precisely because it makes no difference at all to the efficacy of sanctions.

  3. rashied a (History)

    Interesting reading though I really take dispute with this:

    “as long as Iran implements the agreement and fully and proactively cooperates with the IAEA to resolve all outstanding issues.”

    Trust building is mutual and an issue of “all outstanding issues” can easily become a moving target let alone the gateway to more insolvent negotiations. I think the issue with Parchin is a good enough example: it’s an outstanding issue by is seen from Iran as a significant security concern. Not to make a huge point of Parchin but I can “all outstanding issues” being a showstopper, especially without additional concessions by the West like issuing a moratorium on recent sanctions and embargoes.

    • Johnboy (History)

      Exactly so; as written such an undertaking by Iran would make it hostage to that “clean-bill of health”, and there would be nothing to stop the IAEA constantly pulling new rabbits out of its hat, nor for Amano to simply keep saying “Nup, I’m still ‘concerned’ “.

      After all, isn’t that what happened under the previous IAEA regime when Iran satisfied all the “outstanding concerns” that were presented to it, only to find the Laptop Of Death appear outta’ nowhere and from Places Unknown?

  4. Arch (History)

    Pierre’s thought experiment was bothersome at first read, though welcome in the spirit it was proffered. At third read, it started to make more sense, but it speaks more to the frustration of dealing with an unyielding Iranian regime than anything else. As Pierre and many others have noted, Iran’s temporary adherence to the AP was fraught with the difficulty he describes, and was temporary. (Let us please not debate the whys and wherefores here again – it’s water under the bridge.)

    Thanks also to Pierre for elucidating the distinction between Brazil and Iran, which makes perfect sense to Salehi, among others. But it’s fundamentally a legal issue, and Brazil’s performance under safeguards has been anything but exemplary. The Brazil (and Korea and others over time) dispute has been, by and large, private (which is the way things must be between the Agency and Member States). Almost everything regarding Iran is under immediate political and public scrutiny, not least because IRNA doesn’t appear to have absolute editorial control. And it must be frustrating to those whose job it is to get an agreement with the Agency (assuming there are such people) to have to operate under this kaleido-microscope.

    The most important part of this experiment was to imagine what might be possible. The only part lacking is trying to figure out how Iran could possibly untie the knot it has tied.

    One thing I suggest for the West, et. al.: nothing we say can bear any possible reference to Iran’s domestic politics; all that does is raise red flags for the mullahs. The ultimate decision (which I believe with most has not been taken at this point) will have almost nothing to do with non-Persian observations of Iran’s security interests.

  5. Arch (History)

    Don’t mean to bloviate at all, but former Rep. David Obey (D-Wisconsin) was a fine practitioner, and sometime critic when it suited, of what he called “constructive irresposibility.” I can think of no better bumper-sticker description of Iran’s nuclear policy as I try and pretend to understand it.

  6. Amir (History)

    There are several issues:
    1-US and Israel should clearly take out any military action against Iran otherwise Iran should make itself ready for a nuclear breakthrough.
    2-West should assure Iran that they will not kill Iranian scientists or do any kind of sabotages otherwise Iran can not give them full accesses to its nuclear personal.
    3-To show the good will, West should cancel sanctions against Iranian Banks while Iran is sending enriched uranium outside the country.
    4-The base of all negotiations should be a nuclear free middle east which includes Israel, otherwise in the long run Iran can not avoid of having nuclear arsenal and I believe it is the basic reason that Iran start its nuclear research at the first place. If west can not force Israel to leave its nuclear weapons then it might be better for them to learn living with a nuclear Iran too.

    • Brian (History)

      Israel’s nuclear weapons are never going away. You can whine all you want about the hypocrisy, and you’d be right, but it’s worthless to keep bringing it up as a necessary addendum to these negotiations.

      Your 1st point is nonsense. Movings towards a breakout capability is just going to guarantee military action and that the rest of the world comes down against Iran. There could be nothing more counterproductive for Iran unless their goal is war.

      Your 2nd point is quite naive. Ask Israel to stop their assassinations of Iranian scientists but mention nothing of a moratorium on Iranian attacks on Israeli targets abroad or other Iranian terrorist support? Absurd

      I think what shows through in this hypothetical conversation and what I have noticed in the media is that Iran is completely fixated on this childish notion of if they have it why can’t I. Even when presented with distinct differences in situations, the Iranians ignore these differences and shoot back with the suspicions that the catalyst for the West’s harsh action is a disapproval of the Mullahs. They must accept reality to become viable negotiating partners

    • Amir (History)

      As an Iranian, I don’t feel that we can negotiate without those terms. I think the probability of a war is not that much and even in case of an Israeli attack, our nuclear program would not damage much and in fact we gain a lot (being the victim, oil price, captured pilots,…) so we are not desperately looking for negotiations. An US attack is not probable at least for now.
      Allegedly Iranian terrorist attacks are a blow back to Israeli attacks and so in order to end them you should stop Israeli attacks first. As I said if you threatening us by military action it would be foolish to give up the option of building nuclear bomb.
      And finally in order to treat a disease you have to find the source. The reason for a possible Iranian bomb is mostly Israeli’s bomb, in the long run (no matter who is ruling in Tehran) Iran can not close its eyes on this fact, so I guess without considering this fact, you can not expect any long term agreement. This is not a matter of the government, most Iranian support this view and so sanctions and threats is not working.

    • Scott Monje (History)


      I think you’ve misunderstood Amir’s first point. As I see it, he’s saying: Don’t attack us and we won’t go for the breakout. On the second point, sure, a counterproposal to make the restraint mutual would be called for. As for the “childish notion,” they would hardly be the first country to arm themselves just because their enemies did.

    • Andy (History)


      On point #1, which comes first? The US and Israel are considering military action because they believe Iran might be preparing for a nuclear breakthrough. And on the other side of the coin (to use an American phrase) Iran may be preparing for a nuclear breakthrough because it believes it might be subject to military action. It’s a dangerous cycle. The West and Israel would not be considering military action if it believed Iran’s intentions were peaceful. Even so, I think it is plain that military action is off the table for everyone but Israel. The current US administration obviously wants to avoid a war with Iran.

      #2: Agreed with the caveat that we don’t know who is behind the killings even though Israel is the logical suspect. I’m not sure how the West can offer any guarantees that scientists won’t be targeted. If, for example, Israel is the nation behind the killings, such a provision would give them an incentive to kill scientists in order to scuttle any agreement. Any potential agreement should not contain provisions that would give third parties a de facto veto.

      #3: Good idea!

      #4: Iran started it’s clandestine nuclear research during the Iran-Iraq war. At that time, Iran and Israel collaborated a great deal against Iraq and it was Israel that facilitated President Reagan’s Iran-Contra sales to your government. In that environment, it’s hard to see how Israel was the impetus for Iran’s nuclear program given that Iraq was, at that time, a clear and present existential threat to Iran and was likely working on nuclear weapons itself. Israel was an ally, albeit a covert one. Furthermore, why would Iran need nuclear weapons in the 1980’s or even today to defend against or deter Israel? Israel and Iran are far away from each other and both have very limited capabilities to strike the other. Israel, unlike Iran, doesn’t have the equivalent of a Hizballah. Nuclear weapons make sense to deter an existential threat – they don’t make much sense strategically between Iran and Israel. Finally, as noted by Pierre Goldschmidt, we don’t hear much about Pakistan’s arsenal which is right next door to Iran. Why is that? Why must Israel be included but not Pakistan?

    • Amir (History)

      To some extent I agree with your point. Iran’n nuclear program might be started because of Iraq program (At the time Iran was a revolutionary country and without clear strategic thinking.) but after destruction of Iraq by USA goals has completely changed. I agree that Israel is not a long run enemy for Iran and if in the future the regime changes (which is not likely at least for the short/ medium terms) then Iran and Israel can even be friends. And again I agree that Pakistan bombs are a more serious threat for us in the long run. But for now the only countries that openly are threatening Iran are Israel and US and both of them are nuclear countries. Iran has a very bad experiment with Iraq’s WMD. We have faced real chemical attacks and no one in the world cares; many people have been killed. The lesson that we toke was to obtain WMD if the enemy has one. In this case Israel has nukes and it is threatening us, what is a rational decision here? What you do if you face the same thing? Remember that unlike Japan/Germany Iran is not under nuclear umbrella. In the future if Pakistan was still a nuclear country Iran should again start its nuclear program(supposing that it stop it now) because of the same reason. In short, for a long term agreement the whole region should disarm, otherwise sooner or later we have to obtain what our rivals have, otherwise we are fools.

    • Andy (History)


      Thanks for your reply. You make some good points, but I’d like to focus on this:

      “The lesson that we toke was to obtain WMD if the enemy has one. In this case Israel has nukes and it is threatening us, what is a rational decision here? What you do if you face the same thing? Remember that unlike Japan/Germany Iran is not under nuclear umbrella. “

      What can Israel actually do to Iran? At best, Israel could conduct a single air raid, against a limited selection of targets, for marginal benefit, with a high risk for failure. Is that a threat Iran really needs WMD for?

      Also, why does Israel want to attack Iran? It’s because of Iran’s nuclear program which Israel believes to be a WMD program. The US also makes it clear that it will not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. This is a nice way of saying that the US will go to war should Iran try to get one.

      Now, your argument is one I hear a lot in the US – the argument that Iran needs a nuclear/WMD deterrent in the face of the threat posed by the US and Israel. But that argument is backwards. The surest path to war is a path where Iran attempts to gain that deterrent – The act of trying to achieve a nuclear deterrent will precipitate a war, not deter it.

    • Amir (History)

      First of all I am not advocating nuclear weapons, just trying to gave you the reason why Iranian generally thinks they need that.
      The answer to your question is simple: How can we be sure that Israel or fundamental Islamist in Pakistan (or even US : look at Gingrich or Santorum talks) will not use a nuclear bomb against us in case of a conflict? Particularly, in case for Israel I think western countries will not do anything if they attack us with a nuclear bomb.(It could happen by considering Israeli’s racist nature.)
      In short, because of practical reasons that you mentioned Iran is not going to build a bomb now but if the current situation (Israel and Pakistan bombs) does not change in the future Iran need to maintain the option to build the bomb in case of existential threats.

    • Amir (History)
    • Brian (History)


      You are clearly well versed in this subject and that is why it is very disappointing to see the idea that Israel might use it’s nuclear weapons offensively against Iran has found a solid base in your thinking. It gives little hope to my optimism that the Iranian population can see beyond it’s state propaganda. I’m not trying to delve in a tit for tat here, I understand you have your opinion and we can agree to disagree.

    • Amir (History)

      Are you sure that I am the one who is brain washed?
      I use multiple sources and I never let other thinks instead of me. The facts are clear. I can show you as many quote as you want from western sources that prove my point. The above link is just one among thousands.

    • Andy (History)


      Tucker Carlson? He’s a b-list pundit. His opinion doesn’t mean all that much.

  7. Anonymous (History)


    The reason for a hypothetical Iranian nuclear arsenal is to improve the strategic “hand of cards” of the current Iranian leadership. The Iranian strategic position in a geopolitical game is improved by the possession of atomic weapons regardless of the Israeli hypothetical arsenal.

    Further, it weakens the strategic game position of all competing players: the United States, the Saudi’s, Iraq, and certainly Israel.

    The calculus for the current Iranian decision makers is as follows: is the expected cost of completing a nuclear capability or full nuclear weapons higher than strategic game value of the weapons. The West is trying to make the cost of implementation of a nuclear weapon program prohibitively high and the benefits from a negotiated settlement without those weapons even higher.

    Hopefully a negotiated settlement can be completed.

  8. Mark Lincoln (History)

    The recent collapse of talks with Iran exposes a clear rift in it’s national policy.

    It appears that the AEOI is willing to try and satisfy the IAEAs requests for information, interviews, and inspections.

    It seems very clear that the Ayatollah’s are opposed to taking any action which appears to be ‘giving in’ to threats by Israel and the USA.

    Returning Iran to full compliance with the NPT AND the Additional Protocols is the goal of the IAEA and most of the world.

    Other nations who have the goal of regime change may well be as guilty of preventing that from happening as the worst hard-line elements in Iran.

    The worst possible outcome is anything that causes Iran to withdraw from the NPT and end IAEA safeguards and inspections of declared facilities.

    That might well serve the interest of the extremists on both sides.

    • hass (History)

      Actually many nations have flatly refused to sign the Additional Protocol (Brazil, Egypt, Argentina) and they cannot be legally coerced into signing it through UNSC sanctions (which would in fact be illegal.)

      Iran has however already offered to ratify the AP if its nuclear rights are also recognized but the US insists that Iran should be deprived of enrichment.

  9. Miles Pomper (History)

    I think there’s some good food for thought in there. But what’s not clear to me is how much of a benefit the proposed “suspension of new sanctions” would be to Iran.

    Given the # of sanctions already on Iran, is that enough a carrot to incentivize a change in behavior? I’m skeptical and I think the Iranians have watched the Pakistanis and others and are ultimately convinced that we will blink and that other alternatives (an Israeli attack for example) may not be so bad for regime survival.

  10. kafantaris (History)

    Iran faces a delicate issue. On the one hand it wants to show the world all it’s got and put it at ease, while on the other hand it fears that such show ‘n tell will give its enemies a roadmap to bomb it.
    Saddam Hussein faced a similar dilemma ten years ago. Though he wanted the world to know he had nothing to hide, he also wanted to bluff his archenemy Iran into believing Iraq still had WMD.
    Bluffing did not go well for Saddam, and it might not go well for Ahmadinejad.
    But since the price tag for ridding Saddam proved high, maybe we ought to reflect what we are asking of Iran now. On the eve of a threatened attack, we are asking it to take us to the depths of its arsenal and show us all it’s got.
    Such great expectations are a sign we have been talking to our friends too long and are in need of a broader perspective. Exactly when was the last time we asked Pakistan, India, China or Russia to show us their arsenal?
    “But those countries are not advocating the destruction of Israel.”
    True, but Israel is not a thorn on their side either.
    Surely, however, we can see beyond the hyperboles and figure out their underlying purpose. Or have we forgotten that not all Iranians are thrilled with Ahmadinejad?
    He sure hasn’t forgotten.
    Nor has he forgotten that that his countrymen hate Israel even more. So he tells them that Israel will be wiped from the face of the earth. Expectantly, this nonsense unites them against a common enemy. It is even a diversion from the misery and isolation brought on by his theocratic regime.
    Quite clever work by Ahmadinejad — and not a rial spent or a bullet fired.
    So why are we letting the crazy talk about destroying Israel get us all worked-up — to the point of turning the world topsy-turvy again.
    Can we not see the desperate attempts of an unpopular regime simply trying to hold on?

    • John Schilling (History)

      Iran’s arsenal does not include nuclear weapons. Iran claims that Iran’s arsenal will never include nuclear weapons on account of nuclear weapons are an abomination unto God. So in what sense are we asking the Iranians to “show us their arsenal?”

      Iran’s arsenal includes rifles, machine guns, mortars, tanks, artillery, fighter planes, missiles of just about every sort, a few submarines, armed speedboats, mines, proxy terrorists, assassins, and the like. These things are almost certainly sufficient to prevent a successful invasion of Iran, and to raise bloody hell if anyone thinks a quick series of airstrikes will do them any good.

      Or maybe they are not, and maybe some nefarious plot of Iran’s most dedicated enemies will lead to the destruction of the Islamic Republic in spite of these formidable defenses. But one way or another, these things *are* Iran’s arsenal, all of it, and nobody is asking them to reveal any of it.

      Iran’s present ability to deter or defend against outside attack, would not be the least bit inconvenienced by full compliance with every request ever made by the IAEA, or for that matter by the governments of the US and Israel. Iran’s future defensive capabilities, would be inconvenienced only to the extent that those capabilities are expected to depend on nuclear deterrence.

      There are other reasons for Iran to balk at intrusive inspections, etc. Some of them are legitimate reasons. But to say, “This will weaken our defenses” is to say, “Yeah, we were lying all along about that whole no-nuclear-weapons thing”.

    • Scott Monje (History)

      By the way, the Americans and the Russians show each other their arsenals quite a bit.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      kafantaris point is valid. The more information that is available to the US and Israel about the details of Iranian facilities, and the more certainty they can have that significant assets are not hidden, the better they can plan strikes to destroy these facilities and the more confidence they can have in those plans and in post-strike damage assessments. Thus it is understandable that Iran would be especially reluctant to open up at a moment when the threat of an attack is being made so openly.

    • John Schilling (History)

      “Facilities” and “Arsenal” are two different words with two different meanings. If we take Iran at its word, Iran is being asked to reveal detailed information about some of its proposed future civilian electric power generation facilities. This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Iran’s arsenal.

      There are reasons Iran might want to do this even if they are only interested in electricity. But when Iran’s apologists denounce this as military espionage that will weaken Iran’s defenses by exposing its arsenal, they are admitting that the nuclear facilities aren’t for making electricity, they for making bombs.

      They will probably get away with this in the short term. It’s still worth calling them out on it.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      John, you are still missing the point, which is not kafantaris wording but something that I’m sure the Iranians understand. Allowing inspections now risks making an attack more likely, because the attack planners can then be more confident of destroying the nuclear facilities and being able to know that they have done so.

      It is also not entirely unlikely that the IAEA might want to inspect some military site which might be suspected, and that such inspections might reveal information about Iran’s “arsenal” in your sense.

      It’s no good to say the Iranians should know that inspections will make an attack less likely by showing Iran’s good faith and demonstrating that they’re on the level. Let’s not forget that Iraq submitted to the most intrusive inspections regime in history, and still got invaded.

    • Andy (History)


      “Allowing inspections now risks making an attack more likely, because the attack planners can then be more confident of destroying the nuclear facilities and being able to know that they have done so.”

      Actually, the reality is the opposite of that. Denying inspectors access to facilities is a sure way to get that facility on a target list (if it isn’t already). Access denial would also increase the likelihood of an attack because it would reinforce the perception that Iran is hiding something. I’m not sure how that would make an attack less likely since it would provide a justification to those advocating for an attack.

      Secondly, while “inside” information can be helpful to military planners, the US military (which I mention specifically only because that’s where my knowledge is with regard to capabilities) has been destroying installations it’s never seen the inside for years. Denying access won’t get a facility off a target list – all it would do is maybe change the facility’s relative priority and, in the “best” case, optimize weaponeering. Seems like a bad deal for Iran to increase the risk of war in exchange for marginally less effective war-planning and execution.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)


      Information that might be gained from IAEA inspections may in fact be of only marginal benefit to airstrike planners.

      But the Iranians will reasonably fear that such information would be useful and bolster confidence in the ability of a limited strike (given Israel’s limited capabilities and US desire to limit the duration and intensity of any war) to achieve specific objectives.

      On the other hand, you want Iran to trust the IAEA, the US and its allies, and acting out of trust, demonstrate their good faith, overriding concerns which are entirely reasonable, especially given the precedent set in 2003.

      This is always difficult, but especially so at this moment. The way to encourage an adversary to act on the basis of trust over fear is not to threaten an imminent attack. This only worked in 2002-2003 because Iraq was truly helpless at that point.

  11. Arch (History)

    A large number of Iranian officials were “lying all along about that whole no-nuclear-weapons thing”. This is the benefit of the AP. If you fundamentally are asking inspectors to “prove a negative,” which is impossible, States need to take actions to allow more proofs of positive things. The strongest argument to date for the AP is that Iran accepted it, then rejected it. This was during ElBaradei’s term, and no one can say he was a tool of the US and Western powers.

    • hass (History)

      Arch, Iran did not “accept then reject” the Additional Protocol. Iran VOLUNTARILY and TEMPORARILY implemented it as a good faith gesture, for 2.5 years, as part of the Paris Agreement negotiations, pursuant to which the EU had committed itself to recognizing Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

      When the US refused to back the EU in negotiations, the EU had to find a face-saving way out of the deal, so they tried to drag out the negotiations, and when Iran resumed enrichment after 2.5 years of suspension, they accused Iran of “breaching” the Paris Agreement (which was a voluntary undertaking by Iran anyway, intended to last for 6 months)

      And even then, Iran continued to allow additional inspections outside of its basic safeguards agreement, such as at Parchin (twice.) In fact the items on the 2007 Workplan between the IAEA and Iran were deemed to be resolved because Iran allowed inspections that went well beyond the requirements of even the Additional Protocol.

  12. hass (History)

    Frankly Goldschmidt and everyone else is simply missing the point. This conflict between the US and Iran is not really about nuclear weapons and never was. That’s just an excuse and pretext for a policy of regime change. The “Iranian nuclear weapons threat” is pretexual, just as “WMDs in Iraq” was just a pretext. Iran has repeatedly put forth a variety of concession offers — multinational enrichment, swap of LEU for fuel, capping enrichment, expanding inspections etc etc — which were all simply ignored. The US even actively torpedoed the Brazil/Turkish deal with Iran by imposing an additional last minute demand of ending enrichment. Nevermind the 2003 Iranian peaceoffer which included even potentially recognizing Israel, which was also ignored to death.

    Look folks, the last thing the US wants is for this nuclear dispute to be resolved, while the current regime is still in power. And the Iranians have figured out that the nuclear issue is just an excuse, that whatever concessions they provide will be met with moving goalposts and increased demands so there’s no point in making more concessions, and that the US will always demand the impossible precisely because it does NOT want to resolve the nuclear standoff.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      When people claim that the “real motivation” behind some major policy is different than what everybody says and thinks the real motivation is, I have to ask, Whose real motivation? How is it their real motivation? Do they think so? Do they say so? Do they say so to each other in secret, while saying something else in public?

      Do you really think that President Obama and his top advisers believe that what they are doing is seeking regime change, while publicly pretending to be concerned about the possibility that Iran may move to build nuclear weapons?

      No doubt it is difficult for Obama or any US president to make peace with Iran, given the history, given the ongoing confrontation, and given Iranian rhetoric about wiping Israel off the map. No doubt there are many influential Americans, including those in the Likudnik orbit, who would not be satisfied with anything short of regime change in Iran, and who work to ensure that any accommodation between the US and Iran is impossible. But those people are pretty open about their position.

    • b (History)

      Putin: ‘The West wants regime change in Iran’
      “Under the guise of trying to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction they [the US] are attempting something else entirely and setting different goals – regime change,” news agencies quote Putin as saying.

      The Russian PM pointed out that US foreign policy, including that in the Middle East, was expensive, inefficient and largely unpredictable. Putin also added that, among other things, it may eventually disserve Israel.

      “They changed regimes in North Africa. What will they do next? In the end, Israel may find itself between the devil and the deep blue sea,” he said.

    • Cameron (History)

      Vladimir Putin, noted for his uncritical and fair view of US foriegn policy. Expensive, Inefficent, Unpredictible?

      We aren’t going to shut up shop, become isolationist and leave a power vacuum for Russia to fill. Sorry. Is the US perfect? Hell no. Is the US unpredictible? I’d only agree if we carpet bomb Iran in banana creme pudding.

      Russia knows basically what our options are, what our preferences are, and how we’re going to act. It’s why deterrance works.

      If anything I suspect this comment is aimed as much at Syrian policy as anything else. I wonder what Putin’s “real motivation” is for supporting the Assad regime despite Homs.

  13. Maxtrue (History)

    The motivation for the Iranian nuclear program was Saddam. And it was Israel that took away his first reactor. It is silly for an Iranian to state a fact he knows is false. Why?

    The Iranian people had no grudge against Israel and I take exception to the comment above that Ahmadinejad is playing to the people’s hatred of Israel. I suspect a large number hate Ahmadinejad. Some of them are dead or in jail. It is obvious that Khameini’s strategy was to exploit the Palestinian issue in a bid to influence the Muslim world. He has to make it acceptable for Hizb’Allah to operate. This has led him to making unacceptable comments about Israel’s security while Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust. Today the Iranian regime accused Israeli of murdering Jewish Argentinians is a false flag operation to damage bi-lateral relations between Iran and Argentina. How many people here believe this? Amir?

    What is bizarre in this thread is the compartmentalizing of the regime’s behavior. Iran supports terror. Does everyone here deny US reports or that Obama said recently Iran plotted to kill the KSA Ambassador as well as some US representatives? Iran lied to the international community about its program and is now supplying weapons to Assad so he can butcher his people to stay in power. Amir, do you accept that blood on your hands?

    So I guess my question would be how can this “fiction” ever be more than fiction if the context of Iran’s action both nuclear and non-nuclear are not taken into account? Long before Israel had nuclear weapons, Nasser hired Sanger and other former Nazis to help him build missiles that would rain radioactive waste on Israeli citizens. Fortunately, Israel responded. See Operation Damocles.

    That wasn’t fiction.

    • hass (History)

      The story of the used-car salesman turned assassin is too funny to believe, and Iran doesn’t support “terror” any more than the US or Israel. There’s also no eivdence at all that Iran is arming Assad (nevermind the evidence that Assad’s oppionents include al-Qaeda members and Sunni hardliners that were killing Americans in Iraq). Iran’s nuclear program predates any war with Iraq, and the Iranians weren’t willing to use chemical weapons against Saddam so why use nuclear weapons (in fact considering that Iran today is judged to be years away from making any nukes, it would be silly of Iran to think that it could have built nukes to deter Saddam) and finally, the Osirak reactor bombed by Israel had no relation to a nuclear weapons program in Iraq, and the bombing was a failure if you consiuder the fact that it just convinced the Iraqis to speed up their nuclear weapons program

    • Amir (History)

      I do not know about those allegation, they might be genuine or false flag operation. The point is not about Iranian regime goodness.At least in the International stage its behavior is not worse than US and Israel. In fact, Israel is by far more irrational than Iran if you just review their history. About the KSA story, I simply don’t buy that since it has many holes and the whole operation was too non-professional (hiring a drunk car dealer and wiring money from Tehran!?) From my point of view Israel is an Apartheid/racist/religious regime far worse than Iranian regime and acted like a bully in the last 70 years. I think a powerful Iran (no matter who is ruling in tehran) is limiting Israel and so they want US attack Iran (Israel is not capable of anything serious by itself.)

    • Brian (History)

      As for the supposed Iranian backed operation to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, an even cursory glance at the opinions of intelligence professionals not linked to the current administration casts serious doubt on the story. Robert Baer wrote that he thought it was near impossible the Iranian government was actually behind the plot as it is completely out of character going back in their 30 year history of supporting terror operations. But whether Iran was or wasn’t behind it is largely immaterial as it would only add a needle to the haystack of terror operations they’ve conducted since the Mullahs took power.

      When you assert that there’s no evidence Iran is arming Assad, you have lost any ounce of credibility and it is impossible to take at face the rest of the information you are disseminating. This is as about as absurd as saying the sky is not blue. However, I’ll provide you with a few resources that I’m sure will be dismissed as western propaganda:

      Also, the Israeli conspiracy theories are getting to be a bit much

  14. hass (History)

    FROM: Beyond Arms Control: Challenges and Choices for Nuclear Disarmament by Michael Veiluva

    The Iranian note to the IAEA of 24 March 2008 is perhaps Iran’s most comprehensive statement of the legal and political justification for its continuing resistance to the UN Security Council sanctions resolutions demanding cessation of its uranium enrichment programme. The central postulate of Iran’s March 2008 note is the “inalienable right” to peaceful nuclear energy guaranteed by NPT Article IV, and the violation of that article by the US-brokered sanctions.

    This point, standing alone, begs the question of whether Iran has met the conditions for exercise of this right under Articles II and III. These conditions would include:

    • To not accept any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices (Article II);
    • To not seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices (Article II);
    • To enter into a safeguards agreement with the IAEA over all of its fissionable nuclear materials (Article III);
    • To not divert any fi ssionable nuclear material subject to Article III;
    • To follow all procedures provided in the safeguards agreement with respect to such agreements, including verifi cation (Article III).

    As of September 2009, the IAEA had never determined that Iran had violated any of these conditions. But since the United States and the E3 continue to insist that “unanswered questions” remain, particularly as to the acquisition of weapons information (via the “laptop of death” and other miscellany), the IAEA has likewise refrained from giving Iran any statement that it has completed the modalities required under the IAEA’s 2007 workplan. The IAEA remains unwilling to declare the nuclear issues closed, the consequence of enormous pressure from the West and Iran’s prickly history of responsiveness. Iran otherwise correctly points out that the United States opposed the 2007 workplan when it was announced. Iran’s formal letter also correctly identifi es the confl ict between US demands that it cease uranium enrichment on one hand and the IAEA’s mandate to verify the non-diversion of fi ssionable material on the other. Since 2007, the IAEA agreed that it had no evidence of any such diversion. However, once the IAEA inserted commentary to both reports citing transparency issues and lack of forthrightness on Iran’s part, the door was open to the United States and its allies to impose the negative burden of proof upon Iran to establish an impeccable and possibly impossible performance history…

    The current impasse between Iran and the United States over uranium enrichment actually has little to do with the IAEA safeguards agreements or the shortcomings in reporting and verification by Iran to date. Rather, the conflict is over Iran’s refusal to abide by a political sanction selected by a few powerful states and endorsed by the UN Security Council, namely a demand to suspend uranium enrichment, an activity that many nations engage in and which is encouraged by NPT Article IV. To suspend this programme remains a non-negotiable issue for Iran.

    • Maxtrue (History)

      The motivation for Iran’s current program as mentioned in the 2007 NIE report (a report in many ways laughable) was the weaponizing aspect approved by today’s “reformers” decades ago, likely as a deterrent to Saddam. The Shah’s program did not have this weaponizing aspect so your comment was deflection.

      I see nothing you showed that proves the Israeli attack spurred an Iraqi nuclear program. Did they really have an advanced program after two decades? I’m sure there would have been more evidence of this in 2003. Or was this “spurred” program moved first to Hasaka? Seems you have a contradiction.

      I though “A dingo ate my baby” was pretty funny too, but evidently it was true in Australia. You have no evidence that Obama’s claim is untrue, do you? Was it less Keystone cops that Thailand, India or Azerbaijan? I think the terrorist blew his leg off in Thailand. Your claim that Iran is not arming Assad is strange. That would even defy common sense. Perhaps you should look into what happened with Kharg’s first pass through the Suez. No weapons on it when it docked in Syria? Numerous reports have indicated the IRGC has been on the ground for some time now.

      A regime that killed its generals and then sent hundreds of thousands of its soldiers to their death in an absurd military strategy does not sound like a regime that refrained from chemical weapons out of sheer humanity for Iraqis. Can you think of another reason?

      You consider Iran “years” away from a nuclear weapon. Same thing was said years ago. History is replete with false assumptions including some here at Arms Control Wonk. What was the first reaction to the Israeli strike in Syria? The first reaction to NK tests? Predictions of the speed that Iran could advance (without Stuxnet)? The only thing we’ll here is “oops” and “don’t worry”…lol.

      Don’t get me wrong. I’ve learned a great deal over the years visiting here. I respect the difficulty of what you are trying to do at a proliferation level. However in regard to Iran, the intent seems bizarre. Reagan stopped an Israeli/Indian attack on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities. We can see what a live A Q Khan did afterwards. How was that better than a strike?

      And as far as EU or British Ambassadors to Iran, if it wasn’t for MEK, they all would have little clue Iran was even trying to build a bomb. Many I suspect still don’t believe it. That the IAEA has no role here is really as funny as comparing Israeli and Indian nukes to Iran’s.
      I’ll leave it at this for now. Thanks however for letting me comment ACW. I do appreciate that.

      And thank you Mr. hass for responding.

    • anon (History)

      In one key respect, hass’s (or Veiluva’s) comment is false. He writes: “the IAEA had never determined that Iran had violated any of these conditions.” The IAEA reported in 2003 that Iran had many “breaches” and “failures to comply” with its safeguards agreement, citing a “policy of concealment.” In 2005 the IAEA Board of Governors (finally) concluded that these breaches and failures constituted non-compliance by Iran with its safeguards obligations.

  15. hass (History)

    Read what 5 former EU ambassadors to Iran have written, and more recently what the former British Ambassador to the IAEA has written.

  16. hass (History)

    …and what the former British Ambassador to the IAEA has said about Iran’s nuclear program

  17. Maxtrue (History)

    So are you saying that Iran had no role in the murder of Jews in Argentina? That is fine. I will not not clutter this site with far more evidence than you posted. I can just leave you short list from our own government

    Your intent is clear. The US government, both Republican and Democrat is a bunch of liars. We’re just like Khameini and Ahmadinejad.

    Have fun with that.

  18. Maxtrue (History)

    Oh, and linking the Guardian was exactly what I thought you would post.

  19. George William Herbert (History)

    A lot of this discussion is overly legalistic. This is great power politics; the treaties et al are more than window dressing, but don’t drive fundamental conflicts, are only used within them.

    The objective of the NPT was both to discourage new weapons programs and give non-weapons states a moderately intrusive but non-aligned entity with which to demonstrate they weren’t creating new weapons programs, so that the US and USSR and others would not have an excuse to come stomp on them over their nuclear activities.

    If one does not subscribe to the treaty and organizational approach to confidence building – which the great powers agreed to accept as reasonable enough evidence, without imposing their own more coercive approach in general – then one is vulnerable to great powers using force rather than political posturing.

    This was part of the endgame failure Saddam Hussein failed to recognize; both a switch from a legalistic engagement to a fundamentally coercive / force based one, and the stability inversion that accompanies the opposing power’s shift in fundamental motivation. The various deterrence theory studies have shown that the inversion is real and has a strong tendency not to get noticed.

    I think there’s a reasonable case to be made that the inversion tricks the aggressor as well, making military action seem more attractive than long term reality may indicate. But that does little solace for the other party; Saddam Hussein and his key cohort are all buried six feet under now.

  20. Barmak (History)

    Goldschmidt has pretty much nothing to negotiate with.

    He says UNSC sanction could be lifted and the threat of Israeli attack will be minimum, but no promises.

    Nobody even cares about UNSC sanctions anymore. There is unilateral US sanctions which go much further than UNSC. US sanctions have nothing to do with IAEA. Reversing these US sanctions is linked to regime change in Iran and a complicated domestic US politics which even Americans don’t understand. This can’t be used as leverage, at the same time it puts UNSC sanctions in to irrelevant category.

    Iran doesn’t care about Israeli attack either. An Israeli attack would provoke Iran to make nuclear bombs. That means the chance of Israeli attack is zero. This threat level would increase if Iran gave up its nuclear capabilities. Basically this is using a stick to force Iran not to back down.

    At least George Bush knew how to use carrots and sticks correctly. He had troops in position to attack Iran, he had limited sanctions which could be lifted, he used his carrots and sticks to get Iran to negotiations and force a concession. The deal broke down because things changed in Iran’s favor and US refused to get off its high horse. But at least there was some process. Obama’s strategy is to annoy Iran with vague military threats and more sanctions, with imaginary negotiations where Iran inexplicably makes concessions.

    • Cameron (History)

      Unilateral US Sanctions are a driving force sure, but as an avid follower of US politics, I disagree with just about everything you said.

      If an Israeli attack leads inevitably to Iranian weaponization, then I have to ask why Iran is deputizing to Israel the decision that tips the US from sanctions and the hope of negotiations to military strikes?

      If US Sanctions are about regime change why not say “we agree with your proposal” and force the US’s hand?

      George Bush used a carrot and stick effectivly? Are you sure? The man who coined “axis of evil,” who demonized enemies for domestic politics, making negotiations difficult if not impossible? Did you hear how his NorK diplomacy turned out?

    • Barmak (History)

      US sanctions are based on US laws. These laws describe Iran as “international terrorist” and “state sponsor of terrorism”, hater of freedom, democracy and human rights etc. US law says Iran must not have any “nuclear weapons capabilities”. That is to say Iran must dismantle its centrifuge program, heavy water reactor, all relating facilities, sign AP… and the sanctions would not be lifted because Iran is still terrorist.

      I don’t really know what you are asking me!

      In contrast there is a simple mechanism to lift UNSC sanctions once IAEA is happy. Why couldn’t US use similar wording for its unilateral sanctions?

      Also, Iran has done exactly what you suggested. Iran has offered to negotiate on the condition that sanctions are lifted, knowing full well that the offer would be rejected. Nobody cares what Iran says.

      Israel cannot destroy Iran’s nuclear program. This is a difficult task even for US air force. US has 30,000 pound bunker buster bombs, these bombs way more than Israeli F-15s, but US is not sure the bombs are big enough to take out Iran’s key facilities. Moreover, Iran’s nuclear program is not transparent, that means Iran could start making nuclear bombs under US bombardment. Nothing short of ground invasion would solve the problem.

      Heck, Iraq had faced over 10 years of bombing and sever sanctions, US still invaded Iraq because we couldn’t be sure Saddam was not making weapons of mass destruction in his van.

      Unlike Iraq, Iran has an indigenous nuclear program and a large industrial base. What makes you think Israel can drop a couple of bombs on Iran and everybody can rest easy?

      My point about George Bush was that he did get Iran to negotiate, but he kept waving his stick and scared Iran back in to non-transparency hole. This is partly related to those US sanctions and laws.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Barmak writes:

      Iran doesn’t care about Israeli attack either. An Israeli attack would provoke Iran to make nuclear bombs. That means the chance of Israeli attack is zero.

      There are diplomatic and military signs that Israel has shifted from a waiting game to an endgame; they’re acting in some key ways with the inverted crisis deterrence failure mindset in the last few weeks.

      It seems to date to a few days after the recent overseas bombing campaign against their diplomats.

      That is not to say that Israel is not deterrable from acting any more. But I think that the stabilization/destabilization characteristics flip crisis mode just happened, is real, and if nothing changes we’re looking at a strike as soon as either the US stops saying NO as loudly as possible, or the Israelis work up the gumption to just go anyways regardless of the US veto attempt.

      Iran would have to make a major – MAJOR – position shift to invert the attack/don’t attack risk sensitivity analysis Israel appears to have developed with the crisis mode thinking in their leadership. And the later it goes the larger that would have to be.

      See for example the Iraqi last final full disclosure of their WMD programs, which despite being everything that 10-plus years of inspections and threats had been asking for (an ultimately ground-truth verified accurate accounting of a program that was determined to have gone cold) the war still happened. It came too late, by several months.

      Israel might be convinced to shift back out of crisis mode, but lacking good mind-reading ability in their leadership or the US defense and diplomatic and executive branch, I don’t know how or what might work there.

      I’ve been mentally budgeting some crisis bringing this about for some time, though I was not sure it was going to happen. The wildcard here is the Arab Spring and in particular the Syria thing at the moment. One has to wonder if the Iranians didn’t intentionally decide to provoke this, after the last bombing of their scientist, to take advantage of the Syria situation which is moving towards a regional war. Iran being attacked by Israel will seriously affect the social and political dynamics of responses to that.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      “…the stabilization/destabilization characteristics flip crisis mode just happened…”

      “the Iraqi last final full disclosure of their WMD programs….came too late, by several months.”

      It seems to me that you are making excuses for the GW Bush gang and, proactively for the gang in charge of Israel today. You paint a picture of mere automata acting according to the dynamical programming outlined in some handbook of international relations theory.

      I see these human persons as acting with intent and I hold them fully accountable for their actions.

      Long before UNSCR 1441 was enacted and implemented with Iraq’s full cooperation, the fact that Iraq was essentially disarmed and not in possession of any militarily significant quantities of WMD could easily be determined by any member of the public who cared, let alone by the US government. That the inspections in late 2002 and into 2003 confirmed this beyond any reasonable doubt is simply proof that WMD was never the reason for the invasion. Whatever the Bush gang chose to believe about Iraqi WMD, it is clear that they didn’t really care what the truth was.

      Likewise, nobody today can plausibly argue that a limited strike on Iranian nuclear and military facilities would prevent Iran’s prompt rebuilding of those facilities, this time in a more hardened form and with firm resolution to carry through with the development and production of nuclear weapons. Unless, of course, it leads to a catastrophic regional war, one which destroys millions of lives and risks igniting a global holocaust.

      Bibi & Co. have already defined themselves by their actions in Lebanon and Gaza, to say the least. But it is still their call whether to launch this potentially most horrific “war of aggression,” and history, if anybody is left to record it, will judge them accordingly.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      In case anybody thinks I’m being inconsistent with my comment above about Obama’s “real motive,” I should clarify a bit.

      We should distinguish between underlying motives, which even very smart people may not be aware of, and the reasons people believe they have for whatever they do.

      I think most people, most of the time, whatever their underlying motives may be, really do believe that their reasons are the ones they proclaim in public. Except when they’re lying, of course.

      I don’t think Obama & Co. are seeking war or that they believe their policy is intended to bring about regime change and that they are only using the nuclear issue as an excuse.

      I do believe Bush & Co. were seeking war and intended to go to war to invade and occupy Iraq and impose a new regime. I do believe they only used WMD fears as an excuse, and were not interested in finding out that Iraq didn’t have any. If this were not the case, they would have declared victory and called off the invasion.

      I don’t know if Netanyahu & Co. are seeking war, but if they choose war it will be their choice and their responsibility, and it clearly won’t be based on any reasonable belief that this will prevent or make it less likely that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons in the future.

      I do believe it serves their political purposes to threaten war at this time, and they may be crazy enough to think that war would serve their purposes, too, but I doubt it.

    • George William Herbert (History)


      This is observations, not excuses. Read “Psychology and Deterrence” by Jervis, Lebow, and Stein, and subsequent works in the field.

      The way national leadership teams behave in crisies has been studied in significant depth, and a flip in how they perceive others’ actions (things that were previously stabilizing become destabilizing, and visa versa) is a usual feature of the situations.

      The flip behavior is a clear tipoff that the party views the situation as a crisis; it’s very rare for military strikes to come “out of the blue” – usually, the striking nation finds itself in (or believes itself to be in) a crisis situation. From what I’ve read on the historical incidents and analysis, there are sets of signs and behaviors that indicate the flip, and I’m seeing flip.

      I don’t do this full time, and I certainly could be wrong, but I call what I see.

    • Alan (History)

      George – it seems to me that the “flip” you describe is open to manipulation. An actor could

      1) flip to create the impression that it intends to act when it doesn’t in order to extract concessions, or

      2) manufacture or simply use what could be an act of lesser significance by an adversary as a pretext to flip in order to start a war.

      Israel has a long history of acting aggressively either through using pretexts, or with no evident flip.

      In this case it seems to me Israel fears an agreement more than a war, which brings all kinds of machinations into play.

      The key to the outcome of this is how the US deals with that, but Iran has to give the US something to work with too.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      George, thanks for the reference; I haven’t read that, but I think I understand exactly what you and they are talking about. On the other hand, I agree with Alan that this idea is open to manipulation and I also think we should hold leaders accountable for their decisions and actions regardless of any theories about how their minds and group dynamics work.

      I also question what kind of “crisis” faced Bush & Co. in 2003. Only the risk that if they didn’t invade then, they wouldn’t be able to in the future. I find it hard to apply the “flip” idea without a real stretch. How would evidence that Iraq had no WMD be destabilizing? Only if the Bush gang did not want to find that out and just wanted to invade — so they’d better hurry up before it became any clearer that their excuse was a fraud.

      Likewise, the only “crisis” for Israel today is that if they don’t strike now they might not be able to in the future. Again, I don’t know if Bibi & Co. really want the war. I doubt it. But I don’t see how “things that were previously stabilizing become destabilizing” unless they really do want war and don’t want anything to get in the way of that.

      This is very different from the Cold War where “crisis” could involve potential preemptive moves in or towards global thermonuclear war. Israel does not fear an imminent Iranian attack.

    • Cameron (History)

      Mark, I think the flip to crisis mode that George is talking about wasn’t on the side of Bush et al, but a change in Iraqi behavior. Iraq didn’t see that they were heading for a crisis until it was to late to fix it. Their action – complete and transparent disclosure came to late because of this. If that level of disclosure had been made earlier it would have at least slowed down the march to war.

      ie. if after Powell’s UN speech the Iraqi ambassador had stood up and said, look we’ve been trying to show that we’re out of the WMD buisness, you think our economy can support building fancy drones, why don’t Finland and Indonesia (or whoever) send some people there by tomorrow morning and get this cleared up… where is Bush & Co?

      But Iraq felt like Iran was a bigger existential threat than the US, miscalculated, and we get Gulf War 2.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Alan – There’s a difference between bluster / cohersion and someone operating in “crisis mode”. One is aggressive, the other is more defensive (or, responsive, at least).

      The flip I’m seeing corresponded with the day or two after the diplomat bombings.

      It’s possible that it is being played up to attempt to push US policy, or is entirely a bluff. I am not psychic about Israeli leadership’s behavior.

      My guess – given the timing – is that they perceived the diplomat bombings as a large escalation and that put them into crisis mode. There’s been a lot of tit for tat national terrorism going back and forth between them for years – Iranian nuclear scientist assassinations, Israeli interests in various foreign countries bombed. I think Iran saw this as another tit-for-tat response. My feeling is that, totality of situation in view, Israel took it as an escalation, and that was or is approaching being the last straw they needed to decide “to go” on the nuclear facilities strike.

      Again, I don’t do this for a living, and don’t pretend to be an expert in crisis situations, though I have read up and studied it some.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Mark –

      The 2003 stuff is still wrapped up in a lot of post-facto ideological blinders, on “both sides” of the usual spectrum. It’s not reached reliable well-analyzed history yet.

      As I see it… and I had my own beliefs and biases going in (that there was good evidence from the UNMOVIC/UNSCOM work and other analysis that there was residual program or materials) which were clearly in retrospect wrong…

      Iraq used lack of cooperation with the west and UN and somewhat of a latent program until about 1995/96 as a bluff, to make their capabilty look ambiguously stronger and deter Iran (and others, potentially) against being aggressive towards Iraq.

      This was inherently stabilizing in some ways. They were taking no overt offensive actions overseas to do that, but everyone had to take into account some risk that aggression towards Iraq would be countered with WMD of some sort. That seemed to work with Iran, and perhaps to some degree the west (it was discussed in context of no-fly zones, other enforcement, etc).

      That remained stabilizing while the west was indecisive about whether a remaining program was something they’d go to war over. What Iraq didn’t understand in time was that soon after 9/11, the Bush administration made up its mind on that point, and a remaining Iraqi WMD program became something they’d be willing to fight a war to remove.

      This was communicated, but it wasn’t clear to everyone that the Bush administration was serious – operating in “crisis mode” and entirely serious about it, and that a war was what was coming. If the Iraqis had immediately initiated the full disclosure program and allowed inspectors back in, the Bush administration would still have looked for a reason to knock the regime off, but it’s not clear they’d have gone as far as launching an active war to do so.

      The formerly stabilizing ambiguity became instantly destabilizing.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)


      The IAEA and UNSCOM/UNMOVIC and other reliable reporting prior to late 2002 established that Iraq had shut down its nuclear program completely, and its CW production facilities, and its facilities for supporting Scud missile operations, and had accounted for nearly all of the hardware and agents, so that if any remained they were not militarily significant. It was known that any remaining CW agents would have degraded in the meantime. Iraq had hidden its BW program until the mid-1990s, then came clean when they were exposed. I’m not going to bother to look up dates and references; all this is well known and easily accessible in the public domain, as it was in 2002. Facilities and materials were destroyed under verification. The programs were shut down. This could be known2002, beyond reasonable doubt, to anyone willing to spend one afternoon on the internet.

      The only thing one might have reasonably suspected is some small covert labs that might have been able to support terrorism or later reconstitution of programs. But the sources claiming evidence of these were soon publicly debunked, and inspections in 2002/3 showed that not even this level of activity was likely to exist.

      The Bush gang engaged in active internal and public disinformation and misrepresentation of facts to create the impression that there was reason to suspect Iraq of secret WMD. They ignored the findings of UNMOVIC and launched as clear a “war of aggression” as any in history. This did immeasurable harm to the process of arms control as well as to the image and fortunes of the United States, to say nothing of the millions of lives destroyed and shattered in Iraq and thousands in the US.

      I really must say that I have no interest in any kind of apologies for that particular bunch of war criminals.

    • Alan (History)

      George: “There’s a difference between bluster / cohersion and someone operating in “crisis mode”. One is aggressive, the other is more defensive (or, responsive, at least).”

      I understand this point. I agree that there is every chance Israel is operating in crisis mode. My concern is how the aggressive act can be wrapped up to look like a defensive act, and there are many precedents for this in Israel’s behaviour.

      The critical factor in the Iran nuclear issue is that what constitutes a crisis for Israel does not constitute a crisis for the US or anybody else.

      Any agreement likely to work with Iran will permit enrichment in Iran. This is strategically unacceptable to Israel, which equates to a crisis for them. Their nuclear monopoly will end, coinciding with rapprochement between Iran and the US.

      This is what I believe will flip them or has flipped them.

      The only way I can see a war being avoided is if the US somehow manages to position itself so that an Israeli strike is clearly seen to be detrimental to US interests, to the extent that Israel believes the loss of goodwill in the US is more expensive than allowing Iran in from the cold.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Mark writes:

      The IAEA and UNSCOM/UNMOVIC and other reliable reporting prior to late 2002 established that Iraq had shut down its nuclear program completely, and its CW production facilities, and its facilities for supporting Scud missile operations, and had accounted for nearly all of the hardware and agents, so that if any remained they were not militarily significant. It was known that any remaining CW agents would have degraded in the meantime. Iraq had hidden its BW program until the mid-1990s, then came clean when they were exposed. I’m not going to bother to look up dates and references; all this is well known and easily accessible in the public domain, as it was in 2002. Facilities and materials were destroyed under verification. The programs were shut down. This could be known2002, beyond reasonable doubt, to anyone willing to spend one afternoon on the internet.

      A lot of people assert that. What you write above is essentially the “liberal doctrine” about what happened from 1994-2003.

      Without going to the internet to look, I can tell you that from 1994 to 2003 I read something approximating every single word published in public by UNSCOM and UNMOVIC as they came out, all the other public reports, and a fair amount of other information, all in real time. Until about six months after the US invaded in 2003 – when the leaks started in private then public that the WMD-digging investigations were all coming up empty – I was strongly convinced by the Iraqi behavior that they must have been hiding materiel and equipment and program documentation and might in fact have a latent program going in hiding.

      This was still true after the Dec 7 2002 detailed full final disclosure report that Iraq handed over. I was not alone in this; the general consensus of experts was that, given all the new things they’d just admitted to (having done in the then-past), their credibility was not good that the report was in fact reasonably complete and accurate.

      I had repeatedly and openly and explicitly looked at and talked about the other viable big-picture explanation that the lack of cooperation was a giant masrikova program to induce uncertainty and deterrence in their neighbors (primarily, Iran). I was always convinced in the end that that couldn’t be what was going on.

      In retrospect, looking back from late 2003 and onwards, it is obvious that that’s exactly what happened.

      The Dec 7 2002 “12,000” page report was as far as anyone can tell accurate in every important particular and reasonably complete, probably the best job they could do with the time and data available to them. They filed it on time. Six months earlier, that plus follow-on UNMOVIC inspections would have been confidence building and probably deflected the war. At the time, given that it was already an international crisis, them admitting to a bunch more activity they’d been hiding since 1993 was in fact destabilizing, even though it was honest admissions.

      I was certainly wrong, on the deception campaign and presence of WMDs. I was not wrong following it from a distance or as a debating point; I was personally highly concerned that there was a valid viable nuclear weapons program in there somewhere (we’d clearly gotten the bulk of their material out and enrichment out, but nobody was quite sure if they had snuck a bunch of centrifuges in a basement somewhere and been running up to a critical mass or two of HEU…). The parts of the Dec 7 2002 report they filed that I have seen, regarding the nuclear weapons program, show that the prior activities matched what I was afraid of.

      They also showed that the actual Iraqi behavior was a program abandonment and shutdown in the 1995-ish timeframe, which they said and partly admitted to then but never cooperated with enough inspections for anyone else to believe. In that retrospect, Ritter and Blix and others were entirely right, though they just thought so and couldn’t prove it so in the late 90s / early 2000s.

      The current liberal doctrine that Bush fabricated a bunch of stuff (slightly true, some low-grade intelligence near the end was sexed up for presentations) and fabricated the whole long WMD saga (obviously false; nearly all of it happened under Clinton in the 90s while Bush was running a baseball team and then Texas); that it was obvious to all the UN inspectors all along what had been going on (false, Blix and others suspected it but said outright that the final declaration’s new information surprised them a lot, and made it harder to trust the accuracy of anything…).

      It doesn’t do analysis of current crisies any good to repeat current historical myths about recent past crisies. It is objectively true that “everyone” – including me – were wrong about Iraq. It’s objectively true that we could be equally wrong about Iran’s intentions (but not capabilities, they clearly have admitted to essentially all the stuff of worry there). The track record of those arguing that it’s not a program is currently better. But that track record tends to be repeated a lot by people who weren’t there or didn’t bother to look at the Iraq evidence as it was coming in, and whose opinion on the 1990s events mostly formed post-2004 once we knew the ground truth answer.

      It’s fair to say that, as someone who looks at and for nuclear weapons programs, Iran has a lot of the ingredients in the pot. If you disagree that the ingredients are in the pot, I would like to repeat that Iran has admitted to the activities to which I refer. If you would like to disagree that those are weapons related technologies, the conversation can’t continue in depth in public (or online) but can continue elsewhere.

      If you would like to disagree that the ingredients in the pot suggest an intention to weaponize, that’s a fair criticism. None of us here can read their minds (or have access to transcripts of their cabinet meetings and so forth).

    • Mark Gubrud (History)


      What you call the “liberal doctrine” turned out to be absolutely correct, didn’t it?

      You minimize the extent of the Bush gang’s deliberate distortion and misrepresentation of facts, and their persistent use of already-discredited information, from the “Office of Special Plans” internal propaganda campaign, to Cheney’s interference in and Tenet’s juicing of CIA reporting, to the public statements of Bush, Cheney and Rice, right up to Powell’s speech before the entire world.

      What you don’t explain is why they are not accountable for having launched a war of aggression on the pretext of WMD concerns even after the full disclosure statement and with Iraq bending over backwards to comply with the most intrusive inspections regime ever imposed on any nation not actually under foreign occupation — inspections which were confirming the veracity of the report and the fact that Iraq was not hiding any significant WMD or related activities.

      There was no “crisis” other than the one manufactured by the Bush gang. War was not “coming” to them. They launched it.

      As for Iran, I agree that what they are doing now suggests the intent to obtain a nuclear weapons option, and in the past they have pursued a weaponization capability. However, the consensus of the USIC remains that the weaponization effort is still suspended, that a breakout to weaponization would be detected in time for a military response (if you believe that would be necessary), and that it remains reasonable to hope that Iran will refrain from weaponization.

      As for the Israeli leadership, if they decide to launch a major war now, it’s on them.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Mark writes:

      What you call the “liberal doctrine” turned out to be absolutely correct, didn’t it?

      No. It’s a historical revisionist viewpoint. It’s accurate because it’s retrofitting now-known truth to what people idealize the situation was before the war.

      I don’t know anyone who at the time looked in depth at the situation, has a reasonable actual concern about proliferation, and was further “left” (wrong axis system, but bear with me) than Hans Blix. As it turned out, reality was further over than Hans Blix’ own position – he suspected that what reality turned out to be was so, but couldn’t convince himself or others of it because Iraq had lied to him so often.

      The current “liberal doctrine” of what it’s alleged happened there is horribly counterproductive.

      It’s “right” in the same way that a comic book may be right. It may be correct, but it’s a two-dimensional and oversimplified version of the world, and if you try to solve real problems that way you find that you fail. It leads to two-dimensional interpretations going forwards – such as, that none of the countries working up to the nuclear threshold would or intend to build an actual bomb, etc. Obviously if Iraq was just bluffing, then so must Iran.

      I’ve heard that repeated over and over again recently. My most frequent retort is “And what explains North Korea?”. That we got it wrong in Iraq doesn’t mean we should ignore warning signs (such as those in NK prior to its bomb tests) (or those in Iran now). Iran is a cautionary tale that sometimes people perform strategic bluffs, and that sometimes analysts get things wrong. But “sometimes” is not “always”, and NK demonstrates the risk of putting ones head in the sand. If there are warning signs it is usually because someone is up to something. If you chose to act without certainty of information you will be wrong sometimes; if you chose not to act, lacking certain information, you’re responsible for whatever people are able to get away with doing while you were chosing to let them be.

      It’s not 2-D and one of the branches is not morally superior and without disandvantages or geopolitical impact. The 2-D fake history version misses that.

  21. Abbott (History)

    Pierre Goldschmidt’s “hypothetical dialogue” with an Iranian counterpart is “lively” as Jeffrey writes. It is likely in my view to be counterproductive. Any Western attempt to present the Iranian views on new, or even old, issues is an iffy undertaking and likely to be judged by them as another example of Western arrogance. An important example is Pierre’s Iranian response of “Yes” to his question: “Do you accept that as long as Iran does not verifiably suspend all enrichment-related activities there is no hope that the UNSC will suspend existing sanctions under its resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1973?” I also believe that his discussion about Japan, Brazil, Argentina, India, Pakistan is not helpful. The problem at hand is with Iran.

    Pierre states that ‘Iran is a great nation’. Well, a great nation is more than able to present its views itself. In fact, one has to marvel how often Iranian government officials make statements to the media about their nuclear activities and nonproliferation.

    Regarding Pierre’s proposals for Western negotiating points, he adds to the plethora of possibilities for dealing with enrichment. Why he brings in U.S ratification of the CTBT in the near future followed by Israel and Iran is beyond my comprehension.

    Nitpicking on a terminology issue, Pierre uses the phrase for simplification: “the IAEA has confirmed the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.” Mark Hibbs in his Feb 7 blog uses a similar phrase: “the IAEA’s confidence that Iran’s nuclear activities are exclusively dedicated to peaceful use.”

    It is worth remembering that in the IAEA annual Safeguards Statement, the safeguards conclusion drawn for NPT States with additional protocol in force and broader conclusion drawn is “the Secretariat concluded that, for these States, all nuclear material remained in peaceful activities.” What will matter is not the safeguards conclusion of the IAEA Director General or Secretariat, but what the Member State governments represented on the UN Security Council believe. This is reflected in the UN Security Council Resolutions on Iran in the phrase: “once international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme is restored.”

  22. Ara Barsamian (History)

    The issue is being obfuscated.

    Simply, there are two actors, Iran and Israel, and until they “make peace”, everything else, including intervention of proxies like the US and EU is just a waste of time.

    It is pretty clear that Israel won’t be able to destroy the Fordow facility without using either nuclear weapons (see Glasstone’s book on Effects), or a “boots on the ground” war. Both alternatives are unrealistic, so threatening talk is also counterproductive to everybody, including the US (where oil prices jumped $10 in one week…pity the 25 million unemployed!).

    Iran will have its 90% HEU and a couple of bombs…so what? They can’t realistically do anything with them, either to Israel or anybody else.
    Will Iran succumb to the sanctions? I think it is wishful thinking. How quickly we forget! Remember Pakistan’s ex-prime minister Zulficar Ali Bhutto’s, “we will eat grass but have our bomb”?

    The best course of action is a bit of realism which is missing both on the part of the current Israeli government, the US, and EU.

    Oh, Sharon, where are thou? Your wisdom is sorely needed.

  23. jeannick (History)

    “Exc. This merits consideration, but what would be the benefit for Iran?

    PG. First of all the US and the EU would commit not to endorse any new sanction against Iran as long as Iran implements the agreement and fully and proactively cooperates with the IAEA to resolve all outstanding issues”

    That’s a bit light , nothing much for the Iranian side

    A compromise deal would rather be enrichment at 5% and all associated fuel manufacturing ,
    no reprocessing , cessation of heavy water research
    no more 20% beyond the current need ,
    some tokens supply of 20% from whomever with the IAEA blessing to establish the principle of legitimate trade
    for legitimate use .
    after an initial and substantial gesture as token of good faith
    progressive lifting of assets seizure ,
    progressive lifting of sanctions
    progressive lifting of oil equipment embargo

    Not a chance of this passing congress
    reason , like Elvis has left the building

    Anything else

  24. John (History)

    Not sure why Amy’s post was removed but she is correct: Mr. Goldschmidt is incorrect to claim that UN sanctions only require a temporary suspension of enrichment. They do not. The Security Council has “affirmed that it would suspend the sanctions if, and so long as, Iran suspended all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, as verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)…”

    • anon (History)

      This is an incomplete reading of the trigger for lifting sanctions. IAEA Security Council Resolution 1737, paragraph 24(a) says sanctions will be suspended if Iran suspends enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. Paragraph 24(b) says sanctions will be terminated if the IAEA Board determines that Iran has complied with the resolutions of the Security Council and met the requirements of the IAEA Board of Governors (which are also spelled out in a Board resolution). Once Iran meets all these requirements, it need not continue its suspension.

  25. John (History)

    btw, Yousaff Butt has done a detailed analysis of what triggers will remove US and UN sanctions — something, frankly, that some reporter could/should have done five years ago or so: