North Korean nuclear, missile experts visit Iran

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the test-fire of a strategic submarine underwater ballistic missile (not pictured), in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on May 9, 2015. REUTERS / KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the test-fire of a strategic submarine underwater ballistic missile (not pictured), in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on May 9, 2015. REUTERS / KCNA

Reuters (June 1) — An exiled Iranian opposition group said on Thursday that a delegation of North Korean nuclear and missile experts visited a military site near Tehran in April amid talks between world powers and Iran over its nuclear programme.

The dissident National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) exposed Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy water facility at Arak in 2002. Analysts say it has a mixed record and a clear political agenda.

Iran says allegations that is trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability are baseless and circulated by its enemies.

Iran and six world powers are trying to meet a self-imposed June 30 deadline to reach a comprehensive deal restricting its nuclear work. Issues remaining include monitoring measures to ensure it cannot pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons programme.

Citing information from sources inside Iran, including within Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Paris-based NCRI said a seven-person North Korean Defence Ministry team was in Iran during the last week of April. This was the third time in 2015 that North Koreans had been to Iran and a nine-person delegation was due to return in June, it said.

“The delegates included nuclear experts, nuclear warhead experts and experts in various elements of ballistic missiles including guidance systems,” the NCRI said.

The Iranian embassy in France dismissed the report.

“Such fabricated reports are being published as we get closer to final stages of the talks and also because there is a high chance of reaching a final deal,” Iran’s state website IRIB quoted an unnamed Paris-based Iranian diplomat as saying.

In Washington, the State Department said it was examining the claims but had been unable to confirm them.

“These allegations, we’re taking them seriously,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters. “We have not been able to verify them thus far.”

There have previously been unconfirmed reports of cooperation between the two countries on ballistic missiles, but nothing specific in the nuclear field.

The U.N. Panel of Experts which monitors compliance with sanctions on North Korea has reported in the past that Pyongyang and Tehran have regularly exchanged ballistic missile technology in violation of U.N. sanctions.

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The Lessons of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Discovery

800px-WMD_symbols_variant-2_horizontal.svg_Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (May 19):

  • In early May, inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that they had located traces of sarin-type chemical weapons and ricin-type biological weapons in at least three sites in Syria which the Assad regime had not reported. This came following verification of the regime’s extensive use of chlorine in barrel bombs dropped on heavily populated areas controlled by the opposition. These developments and Western reactions carry ramifications that go beyond the Syrian context, with direct implications for the planned nuclear deal with Iran.
  • So long as the extent of supervision is dictated by the supervised party’s declarations regarding its facilities, and so long as that party’s intention is to retain prohibited capabilities, that party can conceal facilities or surreptitiously transfer assets to other sites relatively easily. In this context, Iran has made clear yet again that it refuses to allow unlimited access to its military facilities or those of the Revolutionary Guard, which obviously could hide crucial components of the nuclear program.
  • Once problematic information emerges, no matter how grave, the West makes no quick decision, let alone taking the required action. The lack of political will to be drawn into a conflict with the party under supervision leads to foot-dragging; the issue is sidelined and its importance downplayed. The chlorine-gas attacks on the Syrian population, for example, have become a humdrum matter that interests no one and is barely mentioned, let alone spurring a response.
  • The West’s commitment to act on these issues only within the framework of a broad international coalition creates total paralysis. In the Iranian context, the Russians have already made clear that they will oppose a snapback of the sanctions even if Iran violates the nuclear agreement, if and when it is signed.
  • Whoever wants to defend against the threats embodied in Iran’s behavior must have an independent capacity to act – even if one enjoys a deep strategic security relationship with the U.S. What the Saudis have been demonstrating in Yemen shows that they have already reached this conclusion.

Click here to read the full article.

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is Director of the Project on the Regional Implications of the Syrian Civil War at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research and Analysis and Production Division of IDF Military Intelligence.

Getting the Islamic Republic Wrong

Read this if you want to understand the Iranian Regime and why the international elite (media and politicians) get it wrong.

IRAN/FrontPageMag (April 18) — Mainstream media outlets have been flooded with analysis and articles predominantly from Western scholars, professors and policy analysts discussing the reaction from Iran’s domestic political establishment and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to the recent nuclear deal.

Having lived in the Islamic Republic for over a decade under both the so-called “moderate”and “hardline” governments and having studied Iran for many years, I never cease to be surprised by the mainstream media and many of Western writers’ view of Iran’s politics.

The main narrative being circulated on the media involves the various responses from Iranian politicians: The moderates, hardliners, principlists and the Supreme Leader. The analyses and opinions center on the premise of  “this group vs. that group,” in other words, moderates versus hardliners, the Supreme Leader vs. moderates.

For many of Western writers and politicians, this is a natural way to view and interpret Iran’s political system. Because this is how the politics of Western democracies are often characterized: Democrats vs. Republicans, capitalists vs. socialists, etc.

Hence, it is very challenging for these writers, scholars, politicians and policy analysts to view things outside of this framework and prism.

Domestically speaking, I, like the majority of people who lived in the Islamic Republic, never noticed social, political, economic, or legal differences under either “moderate” or “hardline” governments. The political suppression was the same.

Human rights abuses, stripping people of their basic universal human rights (freedom of religion, speech, assembly, press) were the same under various political parties, and have deteriorated since the Islamic Republic came to power in 1979.

Whether under Rouhani’s rule, Ahmadinejad’s, Khatami’s, or Rafsanjani’s rule, discrimination against women, subjugation of women, suppression and killings of dissidents, persecuting religious minorities persisted and increased.

Similarly, when it comes to the actual implementation of the Islamic Republic’s regional and foreign policy, there exists no difference between the so-called “moderate,” “hardliners,” “principlists,” or different Supreme Leaders.

Instead of analyzing Iran’s nuclear dossier and its regional policy based on the aforementioned categorizations (which reflects a Western mindset rather than the reality on the ground in the Islamic Republic), I actually divide these groups into what I call the “real” face of Iranian politics and the “deceptive,” soft face that serves the political establishment and the theocratic regime.

The real face of the Islamic Republic (the Supreme Leader, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Quds Forces, Basij, etc.) are those whom the West calls “hardliners.” They are clear about their goals and objectives. They desire to pursue interventionist and aggressive foreign policy in the region. They are vocal about matters such as their anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Western sentiments.  They state that they would like to wipe Israel off of the map, that they would like to spread their version of Islam across the region and beyond.

On the other hand, the deceptive, soft face of the regime is represented by those who are depicted as the “moderates.” Many of the politicians in this camp, who have smiles on their faces, are Western- or US-educated (such as Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif, who recovered his PhD from Josef Korbel School of International Studies in Denver), and they have learned  how to manipulate the West’s language and diplomacy in order to fool the US and other powers.

It is worth noting that the underlying objective of all these different camps is not undermining each group as the mainstream media depict. The main goal is to preserve the power of the Supreme Leader and the underlying foundations of the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian leaders learned a crucial lesson under the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that if they employ their real aggressive face on international arenas and in nuclear talks, they will be hit by more sanctions that will endanger the hold-on-power of the Supreme Leader and the political establishment. As a result, the creation of “moderate” narratives was crucial to preserve the ruling clerics and the mullahs.  By creating this narrative, they became fully capable of preventing the West from understanding the reality of Iran’s political system.

There is no real binary such as moderate vs. hardliners, or the Supreme Leader vs. moderates. There is only the interests of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the underlying foundation of the Islamic Republic.

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The Iran deal: Anatomy of a disaster

By Charles Krauthammer, syndicated columnists and Fox News contributor, for the Washington Post (April 9):

Negotiations . . . to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability . . .

Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, the Wall Street Journal, April 8.

President Obama speaks at the White House about the Iranian nuclear talks. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

President Obama speaks at the White House about the Iranian nuclear talks. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

It was but a year and a half ago that Barack Obama endorsed the objective of abolition when he said that Iran’s heavily fortified Fordow nuclear facility, its plutonium-producing heavy-water reactor and its advanced centrifuges were all unnecessary for a civilian nuclear program. The logic was clear: Since Iran was claiming to be pursuing an exclusively civilian program, these would have to go.

Yet under the deal Obama is now trying to sell, not one of these is to be dismantled. Indeed, Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure is kept intact, just frozen or repurposed for the length of the deal (about a decade). Thus Fordow’s centrifuges will keep spinning. They will now be fed xenon, zinc and germanium instead of uranium. But that means they remain ready at any time to revert from the world’s most heavily (indeed comically) fortified medical isotope facility to a bomb-making factory.

And upon the expiration of the deal, conceded Obama Monday on NPR, Iran’s breakout time to a nuclear bomb will be “almost down to zero,” i.e., it will be able to produce nuclear weapons at will and without delay.

And then there’s cheating. Not to worry, says Obama. We have guarantees of compliance: “unprecedented inspections” and “snapback” sanctions.

The inspection promises are a farce. We haven’t even held the Iranians to their current obligation to come clean with the International Atomic Energy Agency on their previous nuclear activities. The IAEA charges Iran with stonewalling on 11 of 12 issues.

As veteran nuclear expert David Albright points out, that makes future verification impossible — how can you determine what’s been illegally changed or added if you have no baseline? Worse, there’s been no mention of the only verification regime with real teeth — at-will, unannounced visits to any facility, declared or undeclared. The joint European-Iranian statement spoke only of “enhanced access through agreed procedures,” which doesn’t remotely suggest anywhere/anytime inspections. And on Thursday, Iran’s supreme leader ruled out any “extraordinary supervision measures.”

The IAEA hasn’t been allowed to see the Parchin weaponization facility in 10 years. And the massive Fordow complex was disclosed not by the IAEA but by Iranian dissidents.

Yet even if violations are found, what then? First, they have to be certified by the IAEA. Which then reports to the United Nations, where Iran has the right to challenge the charge. Which then has to be considered, argued and adjudicated. Which then presumably goes to the Security Council where China, Russia and sundry anti-Western countries will act as Iran’s lawyers. Which all would take months — after which there is no guarantee that China and Russia will ratify the finding anyway.

As for the “snapback” sanctions — our last remaining bit of pressure — they are equally fantastic. There’s no way sanctions will be re-imposed once they have been lifted. It took a decade to weave China, Russia and the Europeans into the current sanctions infrastructure. Once gone, it doesn’t snap back. None will pull their companies out of a thriving, post-sanctions Iran. As Kissinger and Shultz point out, we will be fought every step of the way, leaving the United States, not Iran, isolated.

Obama imagines that this deal will bring Iran in from the cold, tempering its territorial ambitions and ideological radicalism. But this defies logic: With sanctions lifted, its economy booming and tens of billions injected into its treasury, why would Iran curb rather than expand its relentless drive for regional dominance?

An overriding objective of these negotiations, as Obama has said, is to prevent the inevitable proliferation — Egypt, Turkey, the Gulf states — that would occur if Iran went nuclear. Yet the prospective agreement is so clearly a pathway to an Iranian bomb that the Saudis are signaling that the deal itself would impel them to go nuclear.

You set out to prevent proliferation and you trigger it. You set out to prevent an Iranian nuclear capability and you legitimize it. You set out to constrain the world’s greatest exporter of terror threatening every one of our allies in the Middle East and you’re on the verge of making it the region’s economic and military hegemon.

What is the alternative, asks the president? He’s repeatedly answered the question himself: No deal is better than a bad deal.

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The Iranian Revolution Lives!

By David Brooks for The New York Times (April 10):

Beyond all the talk of centrifuges and enrichment capacities, President Obama’s deal with Iran is really a giant gamble on the nature of the Iranian regime. The core question is: Are the men who control that country more like Lenin or are they more like Gorbachev? Do they still fervently believe in their revolution and would they use their postsanctions wealth to export it and destabilize their region? Or have they lost faith in their revolution? Will they use a deal as a way to rejoin the community of nations?

We got a big piece of evidence on those questions on Thursday. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered his first big response to the sort-of-agreed-upon nuclear framework. What did we learn?

First, we learned that Iran’s supreme leader still regards the United States as his enemy. The audience chanted “Death to America” during his speech, and Khamenei himself dismissed America’s “devilish” intentions. When a radical religious leader uses a word like “devilish,” he’s not using it the way it’s used in a chocolate-cake commercial. He means he thinks the United States is the embodiment of evil.

Second, we learned that the West wants a deal more than Khamenei does. “I was never optimistic about negotiating with America,” he declared. Throughout the speech, his words dripped with a lack of enthusiasm for the whole enterprise.

President Obama is campaigning for a deal, while Khamenei is unmoved. That imbalance explains why Western negotiators had to give away so many of their original demands. The United States had originally insisted upon an end to Iran’s nuclear program, a suspension of its enrichment of uranium, but that was conceded to keep Iran at the table.

Third, we learned that the ayatollah is demanding total trust from us while offering maximum contempt in return. Khamenei communicated a smug and self-righteous sense of superiority toward the West throughout his remarks. He haughtily repeated his demand that the West permanently end all sanctions on the very day the deal is signed. He insisted that no inspectors could visit Iranian military facilities. This would make a hash of verification and enforcement.

Fourth, we learned that Khamenei and the U.S. see different realities. It’s been pointed out that Iranian and American officials describe the “agreed upon” framework in different ways. That’s because, Khamenei suggested, the Americans are lying. “I’m really worried as the other side is into lying and breaching promises. An example was the White House fact sheet,” he said. “This came out a few hours after the negotiations, and most of it was against the agreement and was wrong. They are always trying to deceive and break promises.”

Fifth, Khamenei reminded us that, even at the most delicate moment in these talks, he is still intent on putting Iran on a collision course with Sunnis and the West. He attacked the Saudi leaders as “inexperienced youngsters” and criticized efforts to push back on Iranian efforts to destabilize Yemen.

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, characterized Iran’s recent bellicosity this way: “It’s about Iran believing in exporting the revolution. It’s part of their regime, a part of their ideology.”

Khamenei’s remarks could be bluster, tactical positioning for some domestic or international audience. But they are entirely consistent with recent Iranian behavior. His speech suggests that Iran still fundamentally sees itself in a holy war with the West, a war that can be managed prudently but that is still a fundamental clash of values and interests. His speech suggests, as Henry Kissinger and George Shultz put it in a brilliant op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, that there is no congruence of interests between us and Iran. We envision a region of stable nation-states. They see a revolutionary anti-Western order.

If Iran still has revolutionary intent, then no amount of treaty subtlety will enforce this deal. Iran will begin subtly subverting any agreement. It will continue to work on its advanced nuclear technology even during the agreement. It will inevitably use nuclear weaponry, or even the threat of eventual nuclear weaponry, to advance its apocalyptic interests. Every other regional power will prepare for the worst, and we’ll get a pseudo-nuclear-arms race in a region of disintegrating nation-states.

If President Obama is right and Iran is on the verge of change, the deal is a home run. But we have a terrible record of predicting trends in the Middle East. Republican and Democratic administrations have continually anticipated turning points in the Middle East: Republicans after interventions, Democrats after negotiations. But the dawns never come.

At some point, there has to be a scintilla of evidence that Iran wants to change. Khamenei’s speech offers none. Negotiating an arms treaty with Brezhnev and Gorbachev was one thing. But with this guy? Good luck with that.

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The “historic” agreement that ignores history

No-one agrees on what was agreed with Iran, but in any case the precedents are hardly encouraging.

Globes (April 12) — By this time hordes of commentators have chewed over Mr. Obama’s “historic” agreement. Some aspects, however, have been overlooked or misinterpreted:

1. It is not an agreement. It is a “framework” for an eventual agreement to be forged in the period between now and June 30th when the actual “agreement” is to be signed.

2. There is no agreement as to what was agreed. At least three versions of the framework are in circulation: that of the State Department, that of the French and that of the Iranians. They disagree fundamentally on what was agreed.

3. Why does Iran need all those “research and development” nuclear facilities that were apparently agreed to by the six negotiating powers? For nuclear power? That technology is many decades old and can be bought off the shelf from the Russians, the French, the Americans or elsewhere. For medical research? That would require one small facility. Then what for? Why, for the development of the capacity to make nuclear weapons, of course. There is no other possible use.

4. Military facilities are left out of the “agreement”. Why? Military facilities can be used to achieve nuclear “breakout” as well as civilian facilities.

5. Finally, according to the State Department version, Iran will achieve nuclear breakout within two to three months. Come again? If they are right that means that the Iranians will achieve breakout BEFORE June 30th! So what is the point of the whole exercise?

In 1994 President Clinton made a television address from the White House remarkably similar in wording to that of Mr. Obama following the Lausanne meetings. What was it about? It celebrated an “agreement” reached with North Korea to end that country’s nuclear weapons program. Subsequently North Korea violated every aspect of that agreement with impunity, and is now a nuclear power.

The same will happen again with Iran unless (1) sanctions are maintained and strengthened leading to regime change in Iran or (2) military force is used to destroy or seriously damage Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The alternative is living (or dying) with a nuclear weapons-capable fanatical, tyrannical, aggressive regime much more dangerous for the rest of the world than North Korea will ever be.

Too bad the meetings weren’t held in the holy city of Qom. In that case the comparison with the betrayal of Czechoslovakia by the British and French in 1938 would have been even more perfect. That famous meeting, leading to an “historic” agreement, was of course, held in Munich, birthplace of the Nazi Party.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.

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Israel sets out key changes for a better deal with Iran

Minister lists components of a more effective agreement, including no Iranian R&D on centrifuges, ‘anywhere, anytime’ inspections; poses 10 questions about current ‘irresponsible’ framework

US State of Secretary John Kerry with Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (left) Minister Yuval Steinitz (second left), and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on May 23, 2013. Photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ POOL/ FLASH90)

US State of Secretary John Kerry with Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (left) Minister Yuval Steinitz (second left), and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on May 23, 2013. Photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ POOL/ FLASH90)

The Times of Israel (April 6) — Israel on Monday set out a series of requirements and changes that it said could turn the framework agreement reached last Thursday by US-led negotiators with Iran into a more acceptable final deal.

It also issued a document posing 10 questions that it said underlined “the extent of the irresponsible concessions given to Iran” in the agreement, and that it claimed made clear “how dangerous the framework is for Israel, the region and the world.

The document was distributed by Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a Likud party member and confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Meeting with reporters in Jerusalem, Steinitz demanded a series of changes to close key loopholes as the final terms are negotiated ahead of a June 30 deadline. He presented the demands after Netanyahu reiterated in a series of US TV interviews on Sunday that Israel does not oppose any deal with Iran, but rather demands a “better deal.”

The changes set out by Steinitz include:

  • Barring further Iranian R&D on advanced centrifuges
  • Significantly reducing the number of centrifuges Iran would have available to press back into service if it violates the deal
  • Shuttering the Fordo underground enrichment facility
  • Requiring Iran’s compliance in detailing previous nuclear activities with possible military dimensions
  • Shipping its stockpile of lower-enriched uranium out of the country
  • Ensuring “anywhere, anytime” inspections of Iran’s facilities.

Such changes, said Steinitz, would render a final deal “more reasonable.”

The document distributed by Steinitz (see accompanying PDF here) reiterated Netanyahu’s assertion that “a better deal” can and must be reached. It protested that the framework agreement reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, and hailed by President Barack Obama as “historic,” “ignores the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program to Israel.” By contrast, it charged, “great consideration” was given to Iran, “an enemy of the Unites States, whose regime, even during the negotiations, continued to conduct aggression in the region and to call for the destruction of Israel.”

It charged that “the framework deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb. By removing the sanctions and lifting the main restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in about a decade, this framework paves Iran’s path to a bomb.”

Apart from what it called “the significant differences in the parties’ interpretations of the framework – reflected in the conflicting statements and ‘fact sheets’ they issued” — the Israeli document posed the following 10 questions:

1. Why are sanctions that took years to put in place being removed immediately (as the Iranians claim)? This would take away the international community’s primary leverage at the outset of the agreement and make Iranian compliance less likely.

2. Given Iran’s track record of concealing illicit nuclear activities, why does the framework not explicitly require Iran to accept inspections of all installations where suspected nuclear weapons development has been conducted? Why can’t inspectors conduct inspections anywhere, anytime?

3. Will Iran ever be forced to come clean about its past nuclear weaponization activity?

4. What will be the fate of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium?

5. Why will Iran be allowed to continue R&D on centrifuges far more advanced than those currently in its possession?

6. Why does the framework not address Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, whose sole purpose is to carry nuclear payloads?

7. Following Iranian violations of the framework, how effective will be the mechanism to reinstitute sanctions?

8. What message does the framework send to states in the region and around the world when it gives such far-reaching concessions to a regime that for years has defied UNSC resolutions? Why would this not encourage nuclear proliferation?

9. The framework agreement appears to have much in common with the nuclear agreement reached with North Korea. How will this deal differ from the North Korean case?

10. Why is the lifting of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in about a decade not linked to a change in Iran’s behavior? According to the framework, Iran could remain the world’s foremost sponsor of terror and still have all the restrictions removed. Instead, the removal of those restrictions should be linked to a cessation of Iran’s aggression in the Middle East, its terrorism around the world and its threats to annihilate Israel.”

The document ended with the assertion that “the alternative to this framework is a better deal, one that will significantly dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, bring about a cessation of its aggression in the region and terrorist activities around the world, as well as end its efforts to destroy Israel. The framework deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb. By removing the sanctions and lifting the main restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in about a decade, this framework paves Iran’s path to a bomb. The result will be a dramatic increase in the risks of nuclear proliferation and an increase in the chances of a terrible war.”

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Congress Totally Cool With Israel Spying on U.S. Officials Negotiating With Iran

1427291213664.cachedThe Daily Beast (March 25) — Israel is spying on the U.S.-Iranian nuclear talks? No problem, key Democrats and Republicans in Congress say. “I don’t look at Israel or any nation directly affected by the Iranian program wanting deeply to know what’s going on in the negotiations – I just don’t look at that as spying,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “Their deep existential interest in such a deal, that they would try to figure out anything that they could, that they would have an opinion on it….I don’t find any of that that controversial.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday joked that he was more concerned that Israeli intelligence hadn’t shared what they learned with him. “One of my reactions was, why haven’t they been coming up here sharing information with me? I mean Israel. I haven’t had any of them coming up and talking with me about where the deal is, so I was kind of wondering who it was they were meeting with. I kind of feel left out.”

If anything, lawmakers said they were perturbed that the Israelis were being accused of spying. Learning the details of the nuclear talk, lawmakers argued, was more like information gathering. “To use the word ‘spying,’ that is a pejorative accusation. That’s not the phrase I would use to describe what I read,” Kaine said. Several lawmakers interviewed said that the Israeli government had not told them anything they weren’t already aware of in broad strokes. “No one from Israel has told me anything that I haven’t already known,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

A senior congressional staffer called administration allegations of Israeli spying “deeply irresponsible innuendo and destructive hearsay,” adding that “these unsubstantiated allegations are all the more galling in light of the fact that this administration has leaked, consistently and aggressively, details of Iran proposals to the front page of the New York Times and other news outlets, as well as to sympathetic think-tankers and pro-Iranian groups outside of government.”

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Dershowitz: Supporters of deal are strengthening Iran’s negotiating position

Alan Dershowitz is an American lawyer, jurist, author, and political commentator. He is a scholar on United States constitutional law and criminal law. He spent most of his career at Harvard Law School where in 1967, at the age of 28, he became the youngest full professor of law in its history.

2994By Alan Dershowitz for The Jerusalem Post (March 11) — Despite repeating the mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal” with Iran, the United States seems to be negotiating on the basis of a belief that the worst possible outcome of the current negotiations is no deal. Many supporters of the deal that is now apparently on the table are arguing that there is no realistic alternative to this deal. That sort of thinking out loud empowers the Iranian negotiators to demand more and compromise less, because they believe—and have been told by American supporters of the deal—that the United States has no alternative but to agree to a deal that is acceptable to the Iranians.

A perfect example of this mindset was the Fareed Zakaria Show this past Sunday on CNN. He had a loaded panel of two experts and a journalist favoring the deal and one journalist opposed. This followed Zakaria’s opening essay in favor of the deal. All those in favor made the same point: that this deal is better than no deal, and that any new proposal—say to condition the sunset provision on Iran stopping the export of terrorism and threatening to destroy Israel—is likely to be rejected by Iran, and is therefore, by definition, “irrational” or “unproductive,” because it would result in no deal.

The upshot of this position is that Iran essentially gets a veto over any proposal, but the United States does not get to make new proposals. If it were true that this deal is better than no deal, it would follow that any proposed change in this deal that Iran doesn’t like is a non-starter.

That’s why Netanyahu’s reasonable proposal that the sunset provision be conditioned on changes in Iranian actions and words has been poo-pooed by the so called “experts.” They haven’t tried to respond on the merits. Instead they are satisfied to argue that Iran would never accept such conditions, and therefore the proposal should be rejected as a deal breaker.

This is the worst sort of negotiation strategy imaginable: telling the other side that any proposal that is not acceptable to them will be taken off the table, and that any leader who offers it will be attacked as a deal breaker. This approach—attacking Netanyahu without responding to his proposal on their merits—characterizes the approach of the administration and its supporters.

We will now never know whether Iran might have accepted a conditional sunset provision because the advocates of the current deal, both inside and outside the administration, have told Iran that if they reject this proposal, it will be withdrawn, because it endanger the deal. What incentive would the Iranians then have to consider this proposal on its merits? None!

The current mindset of the deal’s advocates is that the United States needs the deal more than the Iranians do. That is why the United States is constantly leaking reports that the Mullahs may be reluctant to sign even this one-sided deal which has shifted perceptibly in favor of the Iranian position over the past several months. But the truth is that Iran, which is suffering greatly from the combination of sanctions and dropping oil prices, needs this deal—a deal that would end sanctions and allow it unconditionally to develop nuclear weapons within ten years. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will accept it. They may push for even more compromises on the part of the United States. The reality is that we are in a far stronger negotiating positon that advocates of the deal have asserted, but we are negotiating from weakness because we have persuaded the Iranians that we need the deal—any deal—more than they do.

Most Israelis seem to be against the current deal, especially the unconditional sunset provision. Author David Grossman, a left-wing dove who is almost always critical of Netanyahu, has accused the United States of “criminal naiveté.” He opposes Netanyahu’s reelection but urges the world to listen to what Netanyahu told Congress.

“But what [Netanyahu] says about Iran and the destructive part it is playing in the Middle East cannot and should not be ignored,” Grossman said. “Netanyahu is right when he says that according to the emerging deal there is nothing to prevent the Iranians from developing a nuclear bomb once the deal expires in another 10 years, and on this matter there is no difference in Israel between Left and Right.”

There are considerable differences, however, between the Obama administrations’ negotiating position and the views of most Israelis, Saudis, Emirates, Egyptians and Jordanians—as well as most members of our own Congress. We can get a better deal, but supporters of a deal must abandon their unhelpful public claims that the current deal is the best we can get.

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Poll: 84% of Americans oppose terms of Iran nuclear deal

Majority of US voters support using military action to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Fox News survey finds.

Netanyahu Congress Speech March 2015The Times of Israel (March 9) — The majority of Americans do not believe the Obama administration has been aggressive enough in its effort to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and overwhelmingly reject the terms outlined in the prospective deal it is pursuing with Tehran, a poll found recently.

According to a survey conducted ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to the US Congress, 57 percent of American voters asked said that the United States was not doing enough to stop Iran from advancing toward a nuclear bomb.

The poll, commissioned by Fox News, found 84% of voters thought it was a bad idea to allow the Iranians to obtain nuclear weapons in 10 years, in return for agreeing to freeze their program now.

Some 55% of the 1,011 polled said it would be a “disaster” if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, while 40% categorized it as “a problem that could be managed.”

Last week, Netanyahu delivered a speech to US lawmakers warning of the dangers posed by Tehran’s apparent pursuit of nuclear weapons.

In his speech, Netanyahu called the emerging deal “very bad” and said it “paves the path” for Iran to get a bomb.

The poll found 56% of voters thought it was a good idea for House Speaker John Boehner to independently invite Netanyahu to Washington to address lawmakers without the approval of the White House, versus 27% who disagreed with the move. Fifty-five percent also agreed with the Israeli prime minister.

… Nearly two thirds of voters (65%) said they supported the US using military force if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Some 41% thought the Obama administration “is not supportive enough” of Israel, while another 35% say the Washington’s support is “just right.”

Finally, a 59% majority said that Obama was a weak negotiator with foreign leaders, up from 54% from last year.

The poll was carried out by Republican and Democratic research groups and had a margin of error of three percentage points.

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Krauthammer: Netanyahu’s Churchillian warning

By Charles Krauthammer for the Washington Post (March 5):

Netanyahu Congress Speech March 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress was notable in two respects. Queen Esther got her first standing O in 2,500 years. And President Obama came up empty in his campaign to preemptively undermine Netanyahu before the Israeli prime minister could present his case on the Iran negotiations.

On the contrary. The steady stream of slights and insults turned an irritant into an international event and vastly increased the speech’s audience and reach. Instead of dramatically unveiling an Iranian nuclear deal as a fait accompli, Obama must now first defend his Iranian diplomacy.

In particular, argues The Post, he must defend its fundamental premise. It had been the policy of every president since 1979 that Islamist Iran must be sanctioned and contained. Obama, however, is betting instead on detente to tame Iran’s aggressive behavior and nuclear ambitions.

For six years, Obama has offered the mullahs an extended hand. He has imagined that with Kissingerian brilliance he would turn the Khamenei regime into a de facto U.S. ally in pacifying the Middle East. For his pains, Obama has been rewarded with an Iran that has ramped up its aggressiveness in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen, and brazenly defied the world on uranium enrichment.

He did the same with Russia. He offered Vladimir Putin a new detente. “Reset,” he called it. Putin responded by decimating his domestic opposition, unleashing a vicious anti-American propaganda campaign, ravaging Ukraine and shaking the post-Cold War European order to its foundations.

Like the Bourbons, however, Obama learns nothing. He persists in believing that Iran’s radical Islamist regime can be turned by sweet reason and fine parchment into a force for stability. It’s akin to his refusal to face the true nature of the Islamic State, Iran’s Sunni counterpart. He simply can’t believe that such people actually believe what they say.

That’s what made Netanyahu’s critique of the U.S.-Iran deal so powerful. Especially his dissection of the sunset clause. In about 10 years, the deal expires. Sanctions are lifted and Iran is permitted unlimited uranium enrichment with an unlimited number of centrifuges of unlimited sophistication. As the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens points out, we don’t even allow that for democratic South Korea.

The prime minister offered a concrete alternative. Sunset? Yes, but only after Iran changes its behavior, giving up its regional aggression and worldwide support for terror.

Netanyahu’s veiled suggestion was that such a modification — plus a significant reduction in Iran’s current nuclear infrastructure, which the Obama deal leaves intact — could produce a deal that “Israel and its [Arab] neighbors may not like, but with which we could live, literally.”

Obama’s petulant response was: “The prime minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives.” But he just did: conditional sunset, smaller infrastructure. And if the Iranians walk away, then you ratchet up sanctions, as Congress is urging, which, with collapsed oil prices, would render the regime extremely vulnerable.

And if that doesn’t work? Hence Netanyahu’s final point: Israel is prepared to stand alone, a declaration that was met with enthusiastic applause reflecting widespread popular support.

It was an important moment, especially because of the libel being perpetrated by some that Netanyahu is trying to get America to go to war with Iran. This is as malicious a calumny as Charles Lindbergh’s charge on Sept. 11, 1941, that “the three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.”

In its near-70 year history, Israel has never once asked America to fight for it. Not in 1948 when 650,000 Jews faced 40 million Arabs. Not in 1967 when Israel was being encircled and strangled by three Arab armies. Not in 1973 when Israel was on the brink of destruction. Not in the three Gaza wars or the two Lebanon wars.

Compare that to a very partial list of nations for which America has fought and for which so many Americans have fallen: Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Vietnam, Korea, and every West European country beginning with France (twice).

Change the deal, strengthen the sanctions, give Israel a free hand. Netanyahu offered a different path in his clear, bold and often moving address, Churchillian in its appeal to resist appeasement. This was not Churchill of the 1940s, but Churchill of the 1930s, the wilderness prophet. Which is why for all its sonorous strength, Netanyahu’s speech had a terrible poignancy. After all, Churchill was ignored.

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A Problem of Nuclear Proportions

Arak_Heavy_Water4-300x215By Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaacov Amidror, former Israeli National Security Advisor and head of the National Security Council, served 36 years in senior IDF posts.

 

BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University (March 1):

  • Almost every intelligence agency interprets the Iranians’ unrelenting efforts in the same way: to obtain nuclear arms. There is no other way to explain the herculean efforts they have been engaged in for so many years. We must not allow Iran to receive legitimacy for its preparations to possess nuclear arms, in exchange for buying an insignificant amount of time. The price is too high. There is no chance to restore pressure on Iran once it is stopped. The sanctions will not be applied once more if Iran should renege on the agreement. Therefore, the chances that Iran will renege on the agreement are great.
  • Even without using nuclear arms against Israel, a nuclear Iran will make the Middle East a much more dangerous place. One way is the significance of Iran’s “nuclear umbrella” over the leadership of terrorist groups and hostile countries. It is obvious that Hizbullah would thrive in such a situation, while Israel would not be able to respond or prevent it from acting even when it felt threatened. Under this umbrella the terrorist groups could grow far more dangerous and act against Israel around its borders and throughout the world. The Iranians and their allies have planned dozens of acts of global terrorism in recent years.
  • Iran would become the leading regional superpower and grow extremely strong once it succeeded in getting U.S. permission to become a nuclear threshold state. The stronger Iran becomes, the more anyone who dreams of seeing the Middle East moving away from totalitarianism and toward democracy can forget about it.
  • But beyond that, the important Sunni states in the Middle East will act to protect themselves. They will lose all trust in the U.S., which surrendered to Iran’s trickery in the talks, and will act to obtain nuclear arms for themselves. These countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, and perhaps others, will never agree to go on without nuclear capability when the leading Shiite state possesses it.
  • The Iranians realized that even though the American president said all options were on the table and even built a credible military option, the U.S. had no desire to use that option, no matter what. The absence of a stick in the negotiating room lifted a great deal of pressure off the Iranians.
  • The second Iranian realization came after a statement from a White House spokesperson that an agreement with Iran would be the president’s greatest success during his term. Together with the superpowers’ acceptance of Iran’s main demands regarding the continued existence of their enrichment capability, that statement led the Iranians to conclude that the U.S. wanted an agreement more than Iran and contributed to Iran’s near-uncompromising stance.
  • At the end of the day, Israel must make it clear it has not signed the agreement and is not bound by it. In the future, Israel must formulate its policy on the basis that “a bad agreement is worse than no agreement,” “all options are on the table” and “Israel must protect itself on its own.”

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Dershowitz: The White House must respond to Netanyahu’s important new proposal

US President walking into the White House. (photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO / PETE SOUZA)

US President walking into the White House. (photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO / PETE SOUZA)

The Jerusalem Post (March 4) — I was in the House gallery when Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a logical and compelling critique of the deal now on the table regarding Iran’s ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons.  He laid out a new fact-based proposal that has shifted the burden of persuasion to the White House.

His new proposal is that “If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires.”  His argument is that without such a precondition, the ten-year sunset provision paves, rather than blocks, the way to an Iranian nuclear arsenal, even if Iran were to continue to export terrorism, to bully nations in the region and to call for the extermination of Israel.

With logic that seems unassailable, Netanyahu has said that the alternative to this bad deal is not war, but rather “a better deal that Israel and its neighbors might not like, but which we could live with, literally.”  Netanyahu then outlined his condition for a better deal:  namely that before the sun is allowed to set on prohibiting Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the mullahs must first meet three conditions:  stop exporting terrorism, stop intruding in the affairs of other countries, and stop threatening the existence of Israel.

If the mullahs reject these three reasonable conditions, it will demonstrate that they have no real interest in joining the international community and abiding by its rules.  If they accept these conditions, then the sunset provision will not kick in automatically but will require that Iran demonstrate a willingness to play by the rules, before the rules allow it to develop nuclear weapons.

Instead of attacking the messenger, as the White House has done, the Administration now has an obligation to engage with Netanyahu in the marketplace of ideas, rather than in a cacophony of name-calling, and to respond to Netanyahu’s argument on its merit.  There may be persuasive responses, but we have not yet heard them.

The decision to accept or reject a deal with Iran over its nuclear weapons program may be the most important foreign policy issue of the 21st Century.  Many members of Congress, perhaps most, agree with the Prime Minister of Israel, rather than with the President of the United States on this issue.  Under our system of separation of powers, Congress is a fully co-equal branch of the government, and no major decision of the kind involved in this deal should be made over its opposition.   Perhaps the President can persuade Congress to support this deal, but it must engage with, rather than ignore, our duly elected representatives of the people.

The Administration and its supporters, particularly those who boycotted the Prime Minister’s speech, focus on the so-called lack of protocol by which Netanyahu was invited by the Speaker of the House.  Imagine, however, the same protocol for a speaker who favored rather than opposed the current deal.  The White House and its supporters would be welcoming a Prime Minister who supported the President’s deal, as they did British Prime Minister David Cameron, when he was sent in to lobby the Senate in favor of the Administration’s position.  So the protocol issue is largely a pretext.  The Administration is upset more by the content of Netanyahu’s speech than by the manner in which he received the invitation.

This is too important an issue to get sidetracked by the formalities of protocol.  The speech has now been given.  It was a balanced speech that included praise for the President, for the Democrats, for Congress and for the American people.  Prime Minister Netanyahu was at his diplomatic best.  In my view, he was also at his substantive best in laying out the case against the Administration’s negotiating position with regard to Iran, especially the unconditional sunset provision.

The Administration must now answer one fundamental question:  why would you allow the Iranian regime to develop nuclear weapons in ten years, if at that time they were still exporting terrorism, bullying their Arab neighbors and threatening to exterminate Israel?  Why not, at the very least, condition any “sunset” provision on a change in the actions of this criminal regime?  The answer may be that we can’t get them to agree to this condition.  If that is the case then this is indeed a bad deal that is worse than no deal.  It would be far better to increase economic sanctions and other pressures, rather than to end them in exchange for a mere postponement of Iran obtaining a nuclear arsenal.

There may be better answers, but the ball is now in Obama’s court to provide them, rather than to avoid answering Netanyahu’s reasonable questions by irrelevant answers about “protocol” and personal attacks on the messenger.  Israel deserves better.  The world deserves better.  The American people deserve better.  And Congress deserves better.

An unconditional sunset provision is an invitation to an Iran that continues to export terrorism, bully neighbors and threaten Israel—but with a nuclear arsenal to terrorize the entire world.  This would be “a game changer”, to quote President Obama’s words from several years ago, when he promised that he would never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.  Suddenly, “never” has become “soon.”  Congress should insist that any provision allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons after ten years must at the very least be conditioned on a significant change of behavior by the world’s most dangerous regime.

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Dershowitz: The appalling talk of boycotting Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses US Congress in 2011. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses US Congress in 2011. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Jerusalem Post (Feb 28) — As a liberal Democrat who twice campaigned for US President Barack Obama, I am appalled that some Democratic members of Congress are planning to boycott the speech of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 3 to a joint session of Congress.

At bottom, this controversy is not mainly about protocol and politics – it is about the constitutional system of checks and balances and the separation of powers. Under the Constitution, the executive and legislative branches share responsibility for making and implementing important foreign-policy decisions. Congress has a critical role to play in scrutinizing the decisions of the president when these decisions involve national security, relationships with allies, and the threat of nuclear proliferation.

Congress has every right to invite, even over the president’s strong objection, any world leader or international expert who can assist its members in formulating appropriate responses to the current deal being considered with Iran regarding its nuclear-weapons program. Indeed, it is the responsibility of every member of Congress to listen to Netanyahu, who probably knows more about this issue than any world leader, because it threatens the very existence of the nation state of the Jewish people.

Congress has the right to disagree with the prime minister, but the idea that some members of Congress will not give him the courtesy of listening violates protocol and basic decency to a far greater extent than anything Netanyahu is accused of doing for having accepted an invitation from Congress.

Recall that Obama sent British Prime Minister David Cameron to lobby Congress with phone calls last month against conditionally imposing new sanctions on Iran if the deal were to fail. What the president objects to is not that Netanyahu will speak to Congress, but the content of what he intends to say.

This constitutes a direct intrusion on the power of Congress and on the constitutional separation of powers.

Not only should all members of Congress attend Netanyahu’s speech, but Obama – as a constitutional scholar – should urge members of Congress to do their constitutional duty of listening to opposing views in order to check and balance the policies of the administration.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Speaker John Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu or Netanyahu’s decision to accept, no legal scholar can dispute that Congress has the power to act independently of the president in matters of foreign policy. Whether any deal with Iran would technically constitute a treaty requiring Senate confirmation, it is certainly treaty-like in its impact.

Moreover, the president can’t implement the deal without some action or inaction by Congress.

Congress also has a role in implementing the president’s promise – made on behalf of the American nation as a whole – that Iran will never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

That promise seems to be in the process of being broken, as reports in the media and Congress circulate that the deal on the table contains a sunset provision that would allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons after a certain number of years.

Once it became clear that Iran will eventually be permitted to become a nuclear-weapon power, it has already become such a power for practical purposes.

The Saudis and the Arab emirates will not wait until Iran turns the last screw on its nuclear bomb. As soon as this deal is struck, with its sunset provision, these countries would begin to develop their own nuclear-weapon programs, as would other countries in the region. If Congress thinks this is a bad deal, it has the responsibility to act.

Another reason members of Congress should not boycott Netanyahu’s speech is that support for Israel has always been a bipartisan issue. The decision by some members to boycott Israel’s prime minister endangers this bipartisan support.

This will not only hurt Israel, but will also endanger support for Democrats among pro-Israel voters. I certainly would never vote for or support a member of Congress who walked out on Israel’s prime minister.

One should walk out on tyrants, bigots, and radical extremists, as the United States did when Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust and called for Israel’s destruction at the United Nations. To use such an extreme tactic against our closest ally, and the Middle East’s only vibrant democracy, is not only to insult Israel’s prime minister, but to put Israel in a category in which it does not belong.

So let members of Congress who disagree with the prime minister’s decision to accept Boehner’s invitation express that disagreement privately and even publicly, but let them not walk out on a speech from which they may learn a great deal and which may help them prevent the president from making a disastrous foreign- policy mistake.

Inviting a prime minister of an ally to educate Congress about a pressing foreign-policy decision is in the highest tradition of our democratic system of separation of powers and checks and balances.

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Iran Opposition Unveils Secret Tehran Uranium Enrichment Site

Alireza Jafarzadeh, Deputy Director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, shows satellite photos during a press conference at the National Press Club February 24, 2015, in Washington, DC (AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski)

Alireza Jafarzadeh, Deputy Director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, shows satellite photos during a press conference at the National Press Club February 24, 2015, in Washington, DC (AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski)

Washington (AFP) – An exiled Iranian opposition group Tuesday accused Tehran of running a “secret” uranium enrichment site close to Tehran, which it said violated ongoing talks with global powers on a nuclear deal.

“Despite the Iranian regime’s claims that all of its enrichment activities are transparent … it has in fact been engaged in research and development with advanced centrifuges at a secret nuclear site called Lavizan-3,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

He said the site was hidden in a military base in the northeastern suburbs of Tehran.

He presented to reporters a series of satellite images drawn from Google Maps which he said backed “this intelligence from highly placed sources within the Iranian regime as well as those involved in the nuclear weapons projects.”

The Lavizan-3 site was apparently constructed between 2004 and 2008 and has underground labs connected by a tunnel.

“Since 2008, the Iranian regime has secretly engaged in research and uranium enrichment with advanced… centrifuge machines at this site,” Jafarzadeh said.

The group had shared its information with the US administration, he added.

The existence of the site was “a clear violation” of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as well as UN resolutions and an interim November 2013 deal struck with global powers gathered in the P5+1 group, he said.

Under the interim accord, Iran agreed not to allow “any new locations for enrichment” and to provide IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, all information about its nuclear facilities.

“It is absolutely senseless to continue the negotiations,” added Jafarzadeh.

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An Iran nuclear deal is coming into focus, but there’s one glaring problem

Business Insider (Feb 22) — U.S. negotiators believe restrictions on enrichment and rigorously enforced enriched uranium stockpile limits will be able to prevent Tehran from accumulating enough highly enriched uranium to construct a nuclear weapon undetected.

By this logic, the problem with Iran’s nuclear program isn’t its 19,000 centrifuges, secretive and heavily guarded nuclear facilities, weaponization and advance centrifuge research, Revolutionary Guards Corps involvement, ballistic-missile program, and plutonium reactor.

Instead, the problem is the much more narrow, and solvable, issue of preventing Iran from having enough plutonium or highly enriched uranium needed to construct a bomb within a certain time.

So the latest reports suggest Iran would be allowed to keep between 4,500 and 6,500 centrifuges. According to Olli Heinonen, a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a former deputy director general for safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency, a nuclear weapon requires 5,000 separative work units, or SWUs, of uranium enrichment. (SWU is a standard unit for measuring the effort needed to separate uranium isotopes.)

Each Iranian centrifuge produces 1 SWU a year, although the country has 1,000 more advanced machines capable of producing 5 SWU. So it would take Iran about six months to create a single nuclear weapon with 10,000 centrifuges if it had no previous stockpile of low or highly enriched uranium to bump up to weapons grade. At the moment, Iran has over 8 metric tons of low-enriched uranium, shortening its path to a bomb.

Interestingly, one of Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s stated “red lines” in negotiations is 190,000 SWU a year.

If Iran were really building a nuclear program for purely civilian reasons, it could just purchase all of its enriched uranium from a foreign seller. Even the U.S. actually imports the vast majority of its enriched uranium and has no currently operating industrial-scale enrichment facilities, says Olli Heinonen, former deputy director general for safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

There’s a larger principle at stake. A deal including 4,500 centrifuges or more would make Iran one of the few countries in the world to have its uranium enrichment formally legalized under an international treaty.

Strikingly, this wouldn’t happen as the result of an alliance with the US. The US has a nuclear cooperation treaty with India, for instance, but Delhi is a longstanding US economic and political ally and a fellow democracy. And this wouldn’t be a reward for Iran’s virtuous behavior on the world stage. Iran’s uranium enrichment is banned under several UN Security Council resolutions. Tehran is still a US-listed state sponsor of terrorism, and its assistance is responsible for Bashar Assad’s regime hanging on in Syria.

Under an agreement that allows Iran to keep thousands of centrifuges, Iran will be given a green light to enrich uranium — something it has no practical need to do — thanks to decades of recalcitrance, single-minded policy dedication, and outright deceit. It would be a historic and nearly unprecedented accomplishment, and one with unknown implications for nuclear proliferation.

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Iran: “We Are Witnessing the Export of the Islamic Revolution Throughout the Region”

Qassem Suleimani, the increasingly public head of Iran's elite Quds Force. Photo: AP

Qassem Suleimani, the increasingly public head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Photo: AP

Bloomberg (Feb 19) — The commander of the foreign wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was upbeat as he addressed a rally marking the 36th anniversary of the uprising that ushered in theocratic rule.

“We are witnessing the export of the Islamic revolution throughout the region,” Qassem Suleimani, the increasingly public head of the elite Quds Force, said last week. “From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”

While grand declarations regularly feature in speeches commemorating the 1979 revolution that ousted the Shah, this year Suleimani’s words carry more meaning. As it attempts to negotiate a nuclear deal that would free its economy from sanctions, Shiite Iran’s influence is increasingly visible from the Gulf of Aden to the Mediterranean. Sunni states, especially those like Saudi Arabia that have waged proxy wars with Iran in a fight for regional supremacy, are uneasy.

“Iran’s threat is growing — either due to Iran’s success or to our failures — but Iran is advancing,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi commentator who has advised Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief in Riyadh. Iran “has succeeded in Syria in maintaining Bashar al-Assad, succeeded in Iraq in having all the Shiites on its side and it has expanded now to Yemen.”

The Houthi rebels who this month removed a Saudi-backed president from power in Yemen follow the Zaidi sect of Islam that’s linked to Shiism, Iran’s dominant religion. The group’s overseas links are disputed, yet many analysts say it draws funds and inspiration from Iran.

Iran has expressed support for the Houthis. In October, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said he hoped that the rebels play the same role in Yemen as Hezbollah does in Lebanon.

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Iranian foreign policy: the long arm

Iran is doing better than its rivals at expanding its influence in an unstable region.

20150124_MAD001_0The Economist (Jan 26) — OFFICIALS in Tehran are not shy about their aim of spreading influence abroad, nor of their apparent success. Even as the efforts of the West and its Sunni Arab allies look distinctly half-hearted, notably in their fight against Islamic State (IS), Tehran can claim, with only a pinch of hubris, to run three Arab capitals: Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut.

This week it may have added a fourth: Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, where on January 20th Shia Houthi rebels took over the presidential palace (see article). American and Saudi officials believe the rebel militia is backed by the Iranians, although they deny it in public (and boast of it in private).

The takeover in Yemen came soon after an Israeli drone strike exposed Iranian meddling in another part of the Middle East. The cross-border attack on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights killed six fighters from Hizbullah, the Iran-backed Shia party-cum-militia in Lebanon, days after the group denied that it was in the area. More surprisingly it also killed Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, an Iranian general. His presence suggests that Iran was trying to establish a presence in an area that has fallen out of Syrian government control and into the hands of rebels with whom Israel appears to be on friendly-enough terms. To its critics, Iran alarmingly holds sway from the Mediterranean Sea to the Fertile Crescent and the Gulf of Aden.

Iran’s biggest gains were handed to it by America when, after the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, it removed hostile regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran has continued to extend its influence, even after a wave of Sunni uprisings that started in 2011 seemed likely to weaken the Shia regime’s pull. The Quds Force, the foreign wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, has exploited the region’s instability. Its tactics include assassinations and bombings overseas, and supplying arms and training to militias deemed helpful to its interests. “The Iranians are experts at taking advantage of chaos,” says Shimon Shapira, a retired military man now at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, a think-tank.

The rise of IS, a Sunni jihadist movement straddling Iraq and Syria, has only strengthened Iran. Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s former prime minister and an Iranian ally, was ousted in August, and American forces rode back into Iraq to rescue it from IS. But Iran has won much of the kudos. Iranian officials boast of being the ground force for America’s air strikes. Politicians—Iranian and Iraqi—talk of Baghdad being intact, and the government in place, thanks only to a ring of defences set up around the city by Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force; some call him “Supermani”.

Similarly Syria has fallen ever more under Iran’s spell. Where Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president, kept Iran at arms length, his son “sold Syria to the Iranians,” says a defected general. Mr Assad relies on Tehran for cash, advice and training for its paramilitary fighters. In Lebanon, Hizbullah’s military force rivals that of the country’s army, and it has maintained a tenuous military balance with Israel.

Not waving but drowning

Iran’s rising influence is a concern for Saudi Arabia and America. The Saudis are rich but mostly ineffectual and the Americans are reticent and often unwelcome outsiders. Whereas the Saudis are building a 600-mile-long wall along its border with Iraq to keep out IS militants, Iran has waded into Iraq to support Shia militias.

Yet Iran’s reach has limits. One motivation for Israel’s attack may have been to expose Iran’s covert activities at a time when America looks close to striking a deal with the country over its nuclear programme. In what was likely an effort to calm tempers, Israeli officials later said they did not know the Iranian general was present, but Hizbullah cadres in southern Lebanon threatened retaliation, possibly with guerrilla attacks over the border with Israel.

Iran, however, would probably not be able to sustain a significant escalation or open confrontation. Propping up the Syrian regime is reckoned to have cost billions of dollars that it can ill afford, now that oil prices have fallen and Western sanctions bite hard. Oil exports are down to less than half the pre-sanctions level of 2.5m barrels per day. Some in Lebanon say Iranian largesse to Hizbullah has been trimmed.

The growth of IS just over the border in Iraq has Iranian officials worried. Yet Sunni extremism is, in part, a consequence of Iran’s own policies. Mr Assad deliberately sought to destroy moderate rebels and stoke extremism to present himself as the only bulwark against jihadists. Disgust at the Syrian regime’s brutality has led Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement, to distance itself from its Iranian backers.

Moreover, Iran’s Shia allies are deepening sectarianism. Abuses by Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq are undermining attempts by the Baghdad government to woo the Sunni tribes whose support is needed to counter IS. And Hizbullah has lost favour around the Muslim world by moving away from its supposed raison d’être—resistance to Israel—and fighting instead to prop up Mr Assad.

Its meddling also undermines the overtures by Iran’s president, Hassan Rohani, and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who want Iran to be accepted as a normal state—starting with a deal with America and other Western powers over its nuclear programme. Some in the West think a nuclear deal could be part of a grand bargain to stabilise the Middle East. But more likely Iran would simply pocket a deal on its nuclear programme and continue its current policy in the region. Indeed it is already hinting at doing so.

Some Iranian officials, who think Saudi Arabia has refused to cut its oil production in an attempt to weaken Iran, talk about making mischief there by stirring up the oppressed Shia minority in the east. “It’s not that we want to make trouble there,” says a political adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. “But we have sent a message that if we wanted we could have the same benefits in the Gulf as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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