Historic opportunity missed
When Barack Obama, the first black president of America, delivered remarks Tuesday during a South African memorial service for that country’s first black president, he muffed a historic opportunity to right a grave wrong done by the American government – one that helped send Nelson Mandela to prison for nearly 30-years.
Obama, during his remarks at a Johannesburg, SA memorial service for Mandela, who died on December 5 at age 95, recalled how that world-revered leader had endured “brutal imprisonment.”
But the U.S. president conveniently excluded the fact that America’s CIA had helped South African agents capture Mandela, leading to the very imprisonment that Obama and other world leaders were decrying during that service.
A few miles from the soccer stadium where that memorial service for Mandela was held is the house in Soweto where Mandela lived before he went underground in the early 1960s to ramp up the fight in his homeland against apartheid – that racist system modeled on U.S. segregation laws.
That small four-room house on Vilakazi Street in Soweto’s Orlando West section is now a museum commemorating the life and sacrifices of the man credited universally hailed as the ‘Father’ of modern South Africa.
Included among the abundant memorabilia inside that museum is a June 1990 letter sent to then U.S. President George H.W. Bush Sr. by some state legislators in Michigan asking Bush to apologize to Mandela for the U.S. CIA’s role in helping South African government agents capture Mandela in August 1962, leading to his long imprisonment. Mandela was finally been released from prison in February of 1990.
Bush Sr., a former CIA Director, brushed aside that request. His cold-shouldered non-response to that request continued the stance among legions of American governmental and corporate leaders who aided-&- and abetted South African apartheid right up to the negotiated end of white supremacist rule and the 1994 election of Mandela. The U.S. government had backed South Africa’s white minority government economically, militarily and diplomatically for decades.
Obama, during his eloquent memorial remarks, could have apologized specifically for that CIA role in Mandela’s arrest or he could have at least acknowledged America’s decades-long stance on the wrong side of the anti-apartheid struggle. Instead, he took a pass, even at the point when he urged persons who attended that memorial to “act on behalf of justice.”
Obama’s immediate predecessors in the White House – George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – also were on hand for the Mandela memorial service. Neither of them had extended an apology to Mandela for the CIA’s role in his arrest, during their respective presidencies. Bush, in 2008, did sign a measure removing Mandela and ANC leaders from America’s ‘Terrorist Watch List’– a labeling left over from the era of federal government backing of apartheid.
Despite an Obama declaration during his remarks that lauded Mandela for embracing the “moral necessity of racial justice” the failures – real and perceived – of America’s current president to practice what he preaches about justice, is precisely what sparked protests against him when he visited South Africa last June.
On the occasion of that presidential visit, protesters blasted Obama for his arrogant and oppressive foreign policy according to press accounts. Protesters castigated his drone wars, his failure to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and America’s continuing support of Israel in that country’s apartheid-like subjugation of the Palestinians. Protesters included leading members of COSATU (the Coalition of South African Trade Unions) and South Africa’s Communist Party. Those two organizations, along with the African National Congress (ANC), form the tripartite coalition now governing South Africa. Mandela once headed the ANC.
Obama, during his Mandela service remarks, assailed the fact that “around the world men and woman are still imprisoned for their political beliefs.” Yet there too, was an element of hypocrisy, since as president, Obama has not pardoned any of the scores of Americans who’ve spent decades in prison for their political beliefs in fighting against American apartheid during the late 1960s and early 1970s – many of whom were falsely imprisoned under the illegal police-state-style COINTELPRO program once operated by the FBI.
President Obama has exercised his pardon powers less than any U.S. President in modern history. As Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! noted recently, Obama’s has to date pardoned ten turkeys during Thanksgiving but only 39 people during his presidential tenure. None of those pardoned have been America’s political prisoners.
Obama praised Mandela for teaching “us the power of action…” Apparently, though, Obama has not learned a key lesson of Mandela’s legacy: moving beyond symbolic rhetoric to real action.
Obama applauded Mandela as a “giant of history (who) moved a nation toward justice.” Mandela’s death, Obama said, occasioned a “time of self-reflection.”
Ironically, self-reflection would appear to be exactly what this US president needs if he is to improve his record of putting real substance into his too frequent symbolic efforts towards remediating festering wrongs committed by the American government.
Washington knew Syrian rebels could produce sarin gas but “cherry-picked” intel to blame President Assad for the Aug. 21 attack on Ghouta, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed, citing senior US security sources.
The report was published in the London Review of Books after two of Hersh’s regular publishers, The New Yorker and The Washington Post, turned the article down.
Hersh, whose Pulitzers were for his exposes on American military misconduct in the Iraq and Vietnam wars, got his information on Syria from whistle-blowing acting and former intelligence and military officers, who for security reasons were not identified in the report.
According to Hersh’s findings, months before the chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus, which almost prompted US air strikes on Syria, “the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports… citing evidence that the Al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity.”
The attack took place on August 21, the same day UN inspectors arrived in Damascus to investigate allegations of use of chemical weapons. The casualty figures have ranged from several hundred to more than 1,400 deaths.
Before the attack, the Obama administration repeatedly described the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a “red line,” which would signal the US could intervene in the conflict.
Hersh wrote that he does not believe that the intelligence data, pointing at the rebels’ having capability for making sarin, could have in any way escaped the White House’s attention.
“Already by late May, the senior intelligence consultant told me, the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on Al-Nusra and its work with sarin,” he wrote.
Obama’s laying the blame for the nerve gas attack on Assad’s forces, completely disregarding Al-Nusra as a suspect in the case, is thus described in the report as the administration’s having “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.”
“The cherry-picking was similar to the process used to justify the Iraq war,” Hersh wrote.
It’s because of the lack of sufficient evidence against Assad that Obama quickly abandoned his plan for military strikes.
“Any possibility of military action was definitively averted on 26 September when the administration joined Russia in approving a draft UN resolution calling on the Assad government to get rid of its chemical arsenal,” the report reads. “Obama’s retreat brought relief to many senior military officers. (One high-level special operations adviser told me that the ill-conceived American missile attack on Syrian military airfields and missile emplacements, as initially envisaged by the White House, would have been ‘like providing close air support for al-Nusra’.)”
The investigative journalist then points at an annual budget for all national intelligence programs, leaked to the media by Edward Snowden and partly published by The Washington Post. According to the document, by the time of the Eastern Ghouta chemical attack, the NSA “no longer had access to the conversations of the top military leadership in Syria, which would have included crucial communications from Assad, such as orders for a nerve gas attack”. That puts to question the confidence with which Obama spoke of Assad’s responsibility for the deaths.
The same document described “a secret sensor system inside Syria, designed to provide early warning of any change in status of the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal”. Hersh wrote it was suspicious that the US intelligence received no alarm, if the Assad forces really prepared for an attack.
Hersh also analyses the news coverage of the chemical gas attack investigation, pointing to instances when the media outlets omitted the information that suggested there could be other suspects, beside Assad.
The UN September 16 report, confirming the use of sarin, contained one part that noted that the organization’s experts did not have immediate access to the attack sites controlled by rebels, so potential evidence could have been manipulated there. The passage was largely ignored in the news.
Following the release of the report, the spokesman for Director of National Intelligence, Shawn Turner, denied the report’s major point – that the US knew of the rebel group being capable of creating sarin.
“We were clear with The Washington Post and Mr. Hersh that the intelligence gathered about the 21 August chemical weapons attack indicated that the Assad regime and only the Assad regime could have been responsible,” Turner told Buzzfeed. “Any suggestion that there was an effort to suppress intelligence about a nonexistent alternative explanation is simply false.”
Hersh has remained unconvinced by the denial and has summed it up with a warning against ignoring alleged Al-Nusra’s chemical weapons potential.
“While the Syrian regime continues the process of eliminating its chemical arsenal, the irony is that, after Assad’s stockpile of precursor agents is destroyed, Al-Nusra and its Islamist allies could end up as the only faction inside Syria with access to the ingredients that can create sarin, a strategic weapon that would be unlike any other in the war zone. There may be more to negotiate.”
Young people in the US are disappointed with President Barack Obama’s administration and disapproved of his management of the main problems in the country, a poll revealed today.
Young people were the main support to the president in his election in 2008 and reelection in 2012. That sector of the population is currently showing a marked decrease in their support.
The poll by the Institute for Politics of the University of Harvard that included people from 18 to 29 years of age revealed that 44 percent of that sector disapproves of Obama’s work, compared to 41 percent in support.
The data shows an 11-point fall compared to a poll by the same entity this past spring, and to another poll in the fall of 2009, when 58 percent of the young supported him and 39 percent voted against.
According to Trey Grayson, director of Harvard’s Institute for Politics, this is the lowest level of support for the president since he assumed office in 2009.
Of those polled, 55 percent said they had voted for Obama, 33 percent said they voted in favor of Mitt Romney and four percent chose another politician.
Being asked today about their vote intention, 46 percent said they would vote for the current White House tenant, while 35 percent would do it for Romney and 13 percent would choose someone else.
Asking opinions about health reform, 61 percent of those polled disapproved of Obama’s administration and 57 percent rejected Obamacare, and also 44 percent consider that health care will worsen, while 34 percent said it will remain the same and just 17 percent think that it will improve.
The poll also revealed that frustration is not only against Obama, because 59 percent of those polled do not support democrats in Congress, while 35 percent approved them, but also two thirds of them do not support republicans and just 19 percent support them.
The poll included 2,089 people and defining their political inclination: 41 percent of the young defined themselves as independents, 33 percent as democrats and 24 percent as republicans, and predicted a large number of non-participants in the primary elections in 2014.
On Monday, the Obama administration called for the immediate release of Jewish-American Alan Phillip Gross from Cuban imprisonment, saying his continued captivity for anti-state activities was “gravely disappointing”.
“Tomorrow, development worker Alan Gross will begin a fifth year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba. It’s gravely disappointing, especially in light of its professed goal of providing Cubans with internet access,” a US State Department said in a statement.
Allan Gross, earlier, asked President Barack Obama to get involved personally to get him released from Cuban jail. “Havana even agreed to meet US government officials, without any pre-conditions, to discuss possible terms leading to Gross’ release and his return home. But the State Department has rejected any negotiated settlement of Gross case out of hand,” claims Scott Gilbert, Alan Gross’ lawyer.
R.M. Schneiderman, editor and writer for Newsweek and the Daily Beast, wrote in the Foreign Affairs Magazine (December 21, 2012) that the single biggest reason Barack Obama cannot make peace with Cuba – is Alan Gross, a Jewish US citizen serving out a 15-year prison sentence in Havana. Cuban officials claim that Alan Gross was working for the US government and trying to subvert the state while working as a contractor in Cuba.
Tracey Eaton, a Cuban blogger, has claimed that Alan Gross was no contractor but a soldier serving the US government to bring regime change in Havana.
“Gross was a soldier, albeit of a different sort. Instead of the usual M9 pistol, he carried a Samsonite briefcase, plenty of cash and 15 credit cards. In place of a combat uniform and boots, he wore beige Land’s End pants and brown Rockport shoes. He spoke no Spanish, but was an experienced international development worker and had worked in such hotspots as Afghanistan and the Middle East. His weapon was technology. He traveled to Havana in 2009 with satellite communication gear, wireless transmitters, routers, cables and switches – enough to set up Internet connections and Wi-Fi hotspots that the socialist government would not be able to detect or control. He worked for Development Alternatives Inc., a Maryland contractor that USAID had hired to carry out a democracy-promotion program,” wrote Eaton.
The so-called Cuba-America Jewish Mission (CAJM) is the main source of information at the US State Department.
The Office of Foreign Assests Control (OFAC) within the US Treasury Department put Cuba on its list of countries allegedly sponsoring terrorism against the United States or Israel (incidently, America’s terrorist allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia, India, etc. are not on the list) in 1982. Adam J. Szubin, a Zionist Jew, is the current director of OFAC. He is son of Rabbi Zvi Henry Szubin.
In September 2013, the UN General Assembly condemned the embargo against Cuba with 188 in favor and the US and Israel against it. Israel is the main culprit in using OFAC to starve countries which it doesn’t like, such as, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Lebanon, Pakistan, etc. Israel fears that lifting of sanctions would trigger an international rush back into some these countries especially Iran and Sudan.
Cuba is home to 15,000 Jews. Before Fidel Castro established communist rule in Cuba in 1959, Cuba was considered very friendly to Jews and Israel under former dictator Fulgencio Batista (died 1973). Batista helped the World Zionist Movement in the airlift of 150,000 Jews from Iraq, Iran, Yemen and India to help European Jewish terrorist groups set-up Jewish settlements on Arab land during 1951-52. Cuban businessman Narciso V. Roselló Otero with Israeli connections sponsored those flights. Later he became President of the new Cuban airline Aerea de Cuba.
The first four years of the Obama Administration were marked by imposing an unprecedented set of sanctions and military threats against Iran. However, since July 2013 fewer sanctions have been imposed and less military threats issued. Indeed, the Obama Administration—along with some of the other four members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, commonly known as the P5+1—appeared to be sincere in trying to resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran. They withstood pressures coming from Israel, its lobby groups and proxies in the US Congress and they pushed for a deal with Iran. In the end, a six-month accord between the P5+1 and Iran was reached on November 24, 2013, after a long and unprecedented set of negotiations. Will this accord last, and will it lead to a longer agreement? Was the deal the result of draconian sanctions imposed on Iran, as President Obama would have us believe? Was it the result of the election of President Hassan Rouhani and his promise of “constructive engagement,” as most people believe? Or could it be that President Obama’s policy toward Iran is changing?
In order to answer the above questions, a detailed examination of the Obama Administration’s policy of “tough diplomacy” is necessary. I have made such an analysis in Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy.” The book is a continuation of a pervious book that was published in 2008 on the dual containment of Iran and Iraq. The latter dealt with nearly three decades of attempts by the US and Israel to “contain” Iran, and it was concluded before President George W. Bush left office. The new book starts where the earlier book left off and follows the first four years of the Obama Administration’s policy toward Iran.
President Barack Obama came to office promising engaging Iran. Yet, in reality his administration followed the policy of “tough diplomacy,” which included, among other acts, imposing “crippling sanctions” against Iran. Indeed, a close look at the Obama Administration’s Iran policy reveals certain continuity between this policy and the policy of “dual containment” pursued by the previous administrations, particularly by the George W. Bush Administration.
Given the history of containment policy, it was not difficult to predict prior to the 2008 presidential election that regardless of the outcome, the US foreign policy toward Iran would be determined largely by Israel and its various lobby groups in the US, especially American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Indeed, it was easy to foresee that if Obama became president, Dennis Ross, Obama’s closest advisor on Iran and the former director of WINEP, would play a leading role in determining the policy. Based on Ross’s writings and WINEP’s publications, one could expect that Obama would pursue a “tough” or “aggressive diplomacy” with Iran. The diplomacy, as Ross and WINEP had formulated, was intended to give an ultimatum to Iran in some face to face meetings, telling Iran to either accept the US-Israeli demands or face aggression, including, ultimately, a naval blockade and military actions. The meetings were also intended to create the illusion of engaging Iran in negotiations and, in so doing, gaining international support for the subsequent aggressive actions.
What was expected in fact happened. Once Obama came to office Dennis Ross became special advisor to the Secretary of State for the “Gulf and Southwest Asia,” then special assistant to President Obama and his senior director for the “Central Region.” Thus, once more, an individual associated with WINEP became the main architect of Iran policy and in that capacity continued, with some modifications, the same policy that had been pursued by the Bush Administration.
It should, of course, be noted that besides Ross—who left his position at the end of 2011 and rejoined WINEP—there have been other Iran policy makers close to Israel and its lobby groups in the Obama Administration. One such person, who also left office in 2011, was Stuart A. Levey, the former Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. Levey, a leftover from the Bush Administration, managed to carry on a crusade against Iran by formulating and implementing financial sanctions against Iran. Another person who left his position in February of 2013 and, subsequently, became president of the Israeli lobby group “United Against Nuclear Iran” (UANI) was Obama’s special assistant for arms control, Gary Samore. Nevertheless, for the most part the Obama Administration policy toward Iran proceeded along Ross’s policy of “tough” or “aggressive diplomacy.” How the policy was implemented is briefly discussed below.
As mentioned earlier, one of the main aims of the policy of “tough diplomacy” was to create the impression that the US is trying its best to engage Iran. This was tried soon after President Obama took office. For example, Obama’s message of March 21, 2009, on the occasion of the Persian New Year, was intended to create such an impression. To the uninitiated the message appeared to be conciliatory. But to those familiar with the history of the US-Iran relations, the message contained nothing that was essentially new and, indeed, accused Iran of some of the same charges that the Israeli lobby had concocted since the 1990s. Actually, a few days later Obama showed how little the US policy had changed when in his trip to Prague he spoke about a “real threat” posed by Iran to its “neighbors and our allies” and advocated the same missile defense system proposed by the Bush Administration.
By the summer of 2009, while numerous unilateral sanctions were being renewed, passed or contemplated, the Obama Administration was working hard to pass the fourth multilateral, United Nations Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran. In order to get the Russian vote in the Security Council, in July 2009 Obama offered the Russians a quid pro quo: in exchange for a deal on the expiring 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and postponing the US deployment of anti-missile system in Europe, Russia would agree to impose harsher sanctions against Iran. Later, the Obama Administration sweetened the deal by promising to drop the deployment of an anti-missile system in Europe altogether.
On October 1, 2009, Iran held a meeting with the P5+1. This was followed by three other meetings, one on October 19, 2009, and two others in December
2010 and January 2011. The first two meetings centered mainly on the swap of Iran’s low enriched uranium for higher enriched uranium intended to be used by a reactor in Tehran that produces isotopes for medical purposes. The swap deal was viewed by many, both inside and outside of Iran, as a ploy by the US to get enriched uranium out of Iran and then give Iran an ultimatum to stop any further enrichment or face the fourth round of UN sanctions. Even some US officials described the deal as a clever ploy.
Under massive pressure at home, President Ahmadinejad’s government, which had originally agreed to the swap, tried to modify the deal. Yet, the Obama Administration rejected any modification and began the final push for the fourth round of UN sanctions. By this time many US officials, including Secretary Clinton, were admitting openly that the Obama Administration’s policy had been, throughout, not just an “engagement policy” but a “two-track policy” and that it was now time for the “pressure track.” This was, indeed, similar to the “carrot and stick policy” of the Bush Administration, which was always no more than offering Iran a stick.
What stood between Iran and a new Security Council resolution however, was China, which was opposed to additional UN sanctions. The Obama Administration therefore cajoled China, twisted its arms, and even threatened it financially, to make it go along with the new set of sanctions. By mid-March 2010 China’s resistance to slow down the US-Israeli push had weakened, and toward the end of March China agreed to discuss the US proposal for the fourth round of UN sanctions. Now, the only stumbling block in getting a near unanimous vote in the Security Council was the presence of three non-permanent members on the Security Council, Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon, which opposed the sanctions despite massive pressure by the US to make them go along.
On May 17, 2010, Brazil and Turkey struck a deal with Iran for swapping enriched uranium, almost the same deal that had been offered by the P5+1 to Iran in October 2009. The only difference between this so-called tripartite agreement and the US proposed swap deal was that Iran would send the low enriched uranium to Turkey rather than Russia, as it had been initially proposed. The Obama Administration rejected the tripartite agreement, making it clear that the original swap deal proposed was a ploy and that the ultimate intention of the US had been, all along, to use the deal to impose, in the language of Benjamin Netanyahu and Hillary Clinton, “crippling sanctions” against Iran.
On June 9, 2010, Resolution 1929, the fourth UN sanctions resolution against Iran, was passed by the Security Council, with Brazil and Turkey voting “no” and Lebanon abstaining. This was, of course, the same resolution that the Bush Administration was unable to pass due to time running out. The passage of the resolution officially ended the “diplomacy” phase of the Obama Administration’s Iran policy. After this multilateral sanction the US and EU intensified their unilateral sanctions, despite Russia’s protest that the measures were exceeding the parameters agreed upon and reflected in the UN Security Council resolution.
With the Obama Administration giving the green light, the US Congress passed, on June 24, 2010, one of the most severe unilateral sanctions acts against Iran, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA). The act had been in the pipeline for some time, but had been held back until the passage of the UN Resolution 1929. CISADA, which was signed by President Obama on July 1, 2010, strengthened the harshest sanctions act passed during the Clinton era, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act.
After CISADA much of the new sanctions against Iran were enacted by the State and Treasury Departments, particularly under the leadership of Stuart Levey and his successor, David Cohen. In addition, there were once again repeated talks of possible military attacks on Iran by Israel, the US or both. These were not just the usual talks by the Israelis, neoconservatives or media pundits, but threats made by some high officials in the Obama Administration, such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen who stated on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on August 1, 2010, that “military actions have been on the table and remain on the table.” The push for attacking Iran intensified in late October and early November of 2010 as more Israeli and American officials and media pundits appealed to President Obama.
The combination of continuous threats and increasing sanctions affected the Iranian economy. In the fall of 2010 the value of Iran’s currency fluctuated wildly. The fluctuation was clearly a manifestation of uncertainty, speculation and fear that were mostly caused by the cumulative effect of sanctions. The sanctions were also exacerbating the rate of inflation in Iran and reducing the rate of growth of the economy. For example, while the rate of growth in Iran’s real GDP in 2007 was 7.8%, the rate for 2010, according to the April 2011 report of the International Monetary Fund, was only 1.0%. The same report forecasted the rate of growth in Iran’s real GDP for 2011 to be 0%.
The Obama Administration appeared to be fully aware of the toll that the sanctions were taking on the Iranian economy and adopted a wait-and-see attitude, despite the pressure exerted on it by Israel and its supporters to engage in military adventures against Iran. It also appears that the current administration found various forms of sabotage—such as the introduction of the Stuxnet computer worm in the Iranian nuclear facilities, assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists—as well as agitation among separatist movements in Iran, quite useful in containing Iran. The issue of human rights violations in Iran also became a tool in the hands of the Obama Administration to mount verbal attacks against Iran.
By the end of 2010 the US policy toward Iran was back on the same track that it had been for over thirty years, a blatant containment policy. In other words, the policy of “tough diplomacy” had no more “diplomacy” left in it; it was simply a tough policy. The two meetings between Iran and the P5+1, on December 6, 2010, and January 21, 2011, were therefore devoid of any substance and merely provided forums for the two sides to express their grievances.
With the advent of the so-called Arab Spring, and the preoccupation of the US, Europe and Israel with the revolutionary upheavals in the Middle East, there were less news reports in the popular US media about Iran and the need to contain it. Indeed, to the extent that the “Arab Spring” challenged some aspects of the old order in the Middle East and created uncertainty about the future of this order, the pressure on Iran slightly subsided. But once the dust started to settle, the attention turned, once again, toward Iran, and the push by Israel, its lobby groups, and supporters in the US Congress, to intensify sanctions and threaten Iran militarily resumed. Moreover, the campaign of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists, sabotaging Iranian nuclear facilities and trying to stir up ethnic tensions intensified.
In addition, there was increasing pressure on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to accept the US demands. Under IAEA’s new director, Yukiya Amano—who was the preferred candidate of the West to replace Mohamed ElBaradei as the Director General of IAEA in 2010—Iran has faced harsh and confrontational reports about its nuclear activities. Indeed, the November 8, 2011 report of IAEA on Iran’s implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement was the harshest ever. The subsequent reports have continued to be confrontational.
Sanctions and threats of military action against Iran intensified after the November 2011 IAEA report. What Israel, its lobby groups, and their supporters in the US government wanted most was sanctioning the Iranian Central Bank. Such a sanction had been considered since the presidential election of 2008. The sanction was finally included in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which President Obama signed on December 31, 2011 and has been implemented ever since. In January 2012, the Council of European Union passed similar sanctions against the Central Bank and the energy sector of Iran. In addition to these sanctions, there were repeated talks of possible military attacks on Iran by Israel, the US or both. For the most part, however, the threats, particularly by Israel, had been used to impose more severe sanctions.
Beginning in April of 2012 Iran and the P5+1 held five more rounds of meetings, including meetings at the technical level. These meetings, similar to the earlier ones, produced no agreement between the two sides. It was, indeed, difficult to expect any agreements as long as more and more draconian sanctions were being levied against Iran and there were repeated talks of military attacks.
In the final analysis, the Obama Administration’s policy of “tough diplomacy” had mostly followed the script written by individuals associated with Israel and its lobby groups. The policy was similar to those pursued by the neoconservatives under the previous administration. But while the “carrot and stick policy” of the Bush Administration was implemented in a brutish way, the Obama Administration’s “two-track policy” had been carried out in a more refined way.
At the end of President Obama’s first term in office, the combination of continuous threats and increasing sanctions had brought about massive economic hardship in Iran. However, these difficulties did not translate into what the architects of the policy of “tough diplomacy” had been waiting for, that is, widespread discontent in Iran. Nor did the sanctions result in a complete collapse of the Iranian economy. The fate of the policy of “tough diplomacy” therefore remained uncertain. This was even more so, since by the end of Obama’s first term in office, some of the old guard responsible for formulating or implementing the policy, such as Dennis Ross, Stuart Levey, Gary Samore, and Hillary Clinton, had either left the administration or were leaving it.
It is too early to evaluate the changes that have occurred in the composition of the new Obama Administration’s foreign policy team and their approach to Iran. However, it seems that with the departure of some of the old guard and the arrival of a new crew—such as Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel—the failed policy of “tough diplomacy” is withering away. True, the new crew, particularly Hagel, had to go through the mandatory vetting process by the Israeli lobby groups and publicly kowtow to Israel before being confirmed. Nevertheless, some of the newcomers, who were well versed with the power of Israel in formulating US foreign policy in the Middle East, could see that continuing the policy of “tough diplomacy” would ultimately lead to another war that the US could neither afford nor win.
One indication of the changing policy appears to be a softening in the position of the US in the meetings between Iran and the P5+1. In the last high level meetings, during the first term of President Obama, which took place in June 2012, Iran was told to “stop, shut and ship.” This meant, according to a summary provided by EU’s representative Catherine Ashton, a three step proposal to Iran: “stopping 20 percent enrichment activities, shutting the Fordow nuclear facility and shipping out stockpiled 20 percent enriched nuclear materials.”
The above proposal changed considerably in the second term of Obama’s presidency. In February of 2013, when the P5+1 and Iran meetings resumed, there was no more talk of “stop, shut and ship.” Instead, according to various news sources, Iran was asked to implement “voluntarily” three things in six months: 1) significantly restrict its accumulation of 20% enriched uranium, but keep sufficient amount to fuel its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR); 2) suspend enrichment at Fordow underground facility and accept conditions that constrain the ability to quickly resume enrichment at Fordow; and 3) allow more regular and thorough monitoring of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency. As I wrote at the time, not only had the US blinked, but it had tacitly recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium, at least in the short-run. The Iranian negotiator at the time, Saeed Jalili, responded to these proposals by saying that they were more “realistic,” “positive,” and “closer to Iran’s position.” However, Iran argued that the so-called sanctions relief was not proportional to what was being demanded from Iran and that the endgame, i.e. what would happen after six months, remained unclear. With the Presidency of Ahmadinejad ending, and the presidential election in Iran on the horizon, no further high level meetings took place and no agreements were reached.
The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, and his Foreign Minister, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, picked up the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 where it had been left off under Ahmadinejad’s government. Even though what Iran proposed at the first round of meetings was kept relatively secret, from various leaked reports one can surmise that the proposal was a modified version of the earlier P5+1’s offering. Iran apparently proposed to: 1) freeze its production of 20% enriched uranium and convert the stock of such uranium into fuel rods for the TRR; 2) relinquish spent fuel from a yet-to-be-operational Arak heavy water reactor; 3) sign the so-called Additional Protocol—which would allow for the most intrusive inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the IAEA—once unilateral and multilateral sanctions were lifted.
Iran also proclaimed, as it had done since the beginning of such meetings, that its “inalienable right” to enrich uranium under Article IV of the NPT must be recognized. But Article IV merely states: “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.” This is a broad and vague statement that does not spell out any specific “inalienable right,” including the right to enrich uranium. The adversaries of Iran have used the ambiguity in the language to argue that Iran does not have the right to enrich uranium. Iran has been fully aware of this dispute and, even if it publicly insists upon recognizing such a right, it knows that there is nothing in the law about such a specific right. Indeed, the law must be rewritten at some point to specify the “inalienable right.”
The accord that Iran signed with the P5+1 on November 24, 2013, had some elements of what was offered to Iran in February 2013, during Ahmadinejad’s government, and the counter offers made by Iran under President Rouhani. For example, on the issue of uranium enrichment, Iran conceded not to enrich uranium above 5% for six months and either to convert the existing 20% enriched uranium into fuel or dilute it. This concession did not affect Iran, since Iran did not need any more 20% enriched uranium for TRR.
As far as Fordow was concerned, there was remarkably no more demand for its suspension. However, according to the agreement, there should be no “further advances” of activities at Fordow. The same was stated with regard to the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant and Arak reactor. This meant that the Arak reactor would not become operational for six months, a new demand that had been put forward as a result of pressure from Israel and its lobby groups. This concession, too, did not affect Iran very much, since starting this reactor had been postponed a number of times and, according to the last report of the IAEA, the start-up was not even achievable in the first quarter of 2014.
As far as the issue of allowing more regular and thorough monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the IAEA was concerned, Iran conceded. Without going into details, the accord called for “enhanced monitoring” by the IAEA of certain nuclear sites and facilities related to its nuclear program. But, again, this concession did not harm Iran, since Iran had persistently argued that it has nothing to hide and many of its nuclear facilities were already being monitored intrusively.
In exchange for these concessions, Iran was offered, in a nutshell: 1) a “pause” on “efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales”; 2) suspension of US and EU sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports, gold and other precious metals, auto industry, spare parts for safety of flight for Iranian civil aviation; 3) no “new nuclear-related UN Security Council sanctions” or “EU nuclear-related sanctions,” and a US “refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions”; 4) establishment of “a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade for Iran’s domestic needs using Iranian oil revenues held abroad”; and 5) an increase in “the EU authorisation thresholds for transactions for non-sanctioned trade to an agreed amount.” Some of these offers were similar to those offered to Iran during Ahmadinejad’s government, which, at that time, were deemed by Iran not to be proportional to the concessions.
The last section of the accord dealt with the clarification of the endgame that the Iranian negotiators during Ahmadinejad’s government had asked for. Under “Elements of the final step of a comprehensive solution,” the parties agreed that within a year they will reach a long term accord that would: 1) “Reflect the rights and obligations of parties to the NPT and IAEA Safeguards Agreements”; 2) “Comprehensively lift UN Security Council, multilateral and national nuclear-related sanctions”; 3) “Involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with mutually agreed parameters”; 4) “Fully resolve concerns related to the reactor at Arak”; 5) “Fully implement the agreed transparency measures and enhanced monitoring. Ratify and implement the Additional Protocol, consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Majlis”; and 6) “Include international civil nuclear cooperation.”
The above third element seems to tacitly recognize some sort of enrichment “right.” Indeed, the fact that Iran is allowed to continue enrichment at a low level for the short-run makes denying it the right in the long-run difficult. Nevertheless, as I argued in my recent book, the devil is always in the detail. We do not know how the above agreement will be interpreted in the future and whether it will be used in a deceptive way by the P5+1 to halt Iran’s nuclear program altogether. A similar agreement between Iran and the EU3 (France, Britain and Germany) in 2004—termed the Paris Agreement, which called for a temporary freeze of uranium enrichment in Iran—was used by the EU3 to permanently halt enrichment. Moreover, we do not know if Israel, its lobby groups and its surrogates in the US Congress, will be able to derail the agreement.
In conclusion, the new agreement between Iran and the P5+1, however it is interpreted and wherever it will lead, is not simply the result of the election of President Rouhani in Iran. Much of the agreement was already on the table before the new administration in Iran arrived. Rouhani and his team changed the tactic of negotiation, speeded up the process, and accepted what had been offered to Iran under Ahmadinejad’s government. The agreement was also not due to the success of the policy of “tough diplomacy.” On the contrary, it was the result of the failure of the policy. The policy of sanctioning Iran intensively was intended to collapse the Iranian economy, bring the masses into the street and prepare the ground for military actions. But, even though the draconian sanctions caused extreme hardship in Iran, the economy did not collapse and Iranians did not pour into the streets. Indeed, according to many reports, most people in Iran blamed the economic hardship on the sanctions. This caused the Iranian government to dig in its heels deeper and try to ride out the sanctions with what they called the resistance economy. Had it not been for the policy of “tough diplomacy,” a settlement with Iran could have been reached sooner. In that case, ironically, Iran’s nuclear program would not have been as advanced as it is today.
Sasan Fayazmanesh is Professor Emeritus of Economics at California State University, Fresno. His new book Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy” will be available in December, 2013. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
 This essay is partly based on the introduction to Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy”: http://www.c-s-p.org/Flyers/Containing-Iran–Obama-s-Policy-of–Tough-Diplomacy-1-4438-5247-3.htm.
 See The United States and Iran: Sanctions, Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment: http://www.amazon.com/The-United-States-Iran-Containment/dp/0415612691.
 For a copy of the agreement see: http://www.ft.com/cms/d0fa3682-5523-11e3-86bc-00144feabdc0.pdf.
The US and Israel are planning to conduct a joint military drill in an effort to threaten Iran towards the end of the six-month period when an interim deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany expires.
The drill is aimed at sending a threatening message to Iran while US President Barack Obama says “we cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict.”
Time magazine broke the story of the planned US-Israeli military exercise on Thursday, citing a top Israeli official who said, “The strategic decision is to continue to make noise.”
“In May there’s going to be a joint training exercise with the Americans,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s going to be big.”
The planned war game comes after the interim nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 intensely angered Israelis.
As part of the interim deal, which was announced on November 24, Iran has agreed to limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities, and the United States and its allies have agreed to lift some of the economic sanctions and offer access to a portion of the revenue that Tehran has been denied through these sanctions. No additional sanctions will be imposed.
The deal infuriated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who called it “a historic blunder.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most powerful pro-advocacy group in the US, also called on US Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran.
Meanwhile, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll has shown that the American people support the deal over Iran’s nuclear energy program by a 2-to-1 margin.
Anita Kumar, a reporter at McClatchy, has a good article highlighting how, for all the talk by the Obama administration about how it needs to be more open and transparent about what the NSA is doing, in actuality, the administration has built up the walls even higher, increasing the levels of secrecy… including secrecy about how he’s responded to everything:
Obama has been gradually tweaking his vast government surveillance policies. But he is not disclosing those changes to the public. Has he stopped spying on friendly world leaders? He won’t say. Has he stopped eavesdropping on the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund? He won’t say.
Even the report by the group Obama created to review and recommend changes to his surveillance programs has been kept secret.
As is noted in the article, the administration, which likes to pretend it’s the most transparent in history, is actually one of the most secretive. Its attempts at transparency have almost exclusively been focused on where it can get the most political bang, not for what areas people expect the government to be transparent about — such as how it interprets the laws that allow the government to spy on everyone…
What’s incredible is that it appears that no one high up in the administration seems to recognize how this is a strategy that will almost certainly make things worse, not better. It may be how the administration is used to functioning, but it makes it much more difficult to believe anything that is said about a supposed “vigorous public debate” being held on the surveillance activities. It also means that as more leaks come out revealing more questionable practices, the constant backtracking and excuses will just destroy whatever credibility the administration has left on this issue. If, instead, it were to actually be transparent and simply reveal things like how it interprets the law, and allow for a real public discussion on these matters, that would actually result in some frank discussions that the administration seems terrified of actually having.
Extreme secrecy may seem like the easier short-term strategy, but it’s just digging an ever deeper hole that the administration is going to have to try to climb out of in the long-term. Hiding reality from a public that’s going to find out eventually is just making the problem worse.
WASHINGTON – The “first step” agreement between Iran and the United States that was sealed in Geneva over the weekend is supposed to lead to the negotiation of a “comprehensive settlement” of the nuclear issue over the next six months, though the latter has gotten little attention.
But within hours of the agreement, there are already indications from senior U.S. officials that the Barack Obama administration is not fully committed to the conclusion of a final pact, under which economic sanctions would be completely lifted.
The administration has apparently developed reservations about such an “end state” agreement despite concessions by the government of President Hassan Rouhani that were more far-reaching than could have been anticipated a few months ago.
In fact the Rouhani government’s moves to reassure the West may have spurred hopes on the part of senior officials of the Obama administration that the United States can achieve its minimum aims in reducing Iran’s breakout capacity without giving up its trump cards—the harsh sanctions on Iran’s oil expert and banking sectors.
The signs of uncertain U.S. commitment to the “end state” agreement came in a background press briefing by unidentified senior U.S. officials in Geneva via teleconference late Saturday night. The officials repeatedly suggested that it was a question of “whether” there could be an “end state” agreement rather than how it could be achieved.
“What we are going to explore with the Iranians and our P5+1 partners over the next six months,” said one of the officials, “is whether there can be an agreed upon comprehensive solution that assures us that the Iranian programme is peaceful.”
The same official prefaced that remark by stating, “In terms of the ‘end state’, we do not recognise a right for Iran to enrich uranium.”
Later in the briefing, a senior official repeated the same point in slightly different words. “What the next six months will determine is whether there can be an agreement that… gives us assurance that the Iranian programme is peaceful.”
Three more times during the briefing the unnamed officials referred to the negotiation of the “comprehensive solution” outlined in the deal agreed to Sunday morning as an open-ended question rather than an objective of U.S. policy.
“We’ll see whether we can achieve an end state that allows for Iran to have peaceful nuclear energy,” said one of the officials.
Those carefully formulated statements in the background briefing do not reflect difficulties in identifying what arrangements would provide the necessary assurances of a peaceful nuclear programme. Secretary of State John Kerry declared at a press appearance in Geneva, “Folks, it is not hard to prove peaceful intention if that’s what you want to do.”
The background briefing suggested that in next six months, Iran would have to “deal with” U.N. Security Council resolutions, which call for Iran to suspend all enrichment activities as well as all work on its heavy reactor in Arak.
Similarly, the unnamed officials said Iran “must come into compliance with its obligations under the NPT and its obligations to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].”
Those statements appeared to suggest that the administration would be insisting on a complete end to all enrichment, at least temporarily, and an end to all work on Arak.
The actual text of the agreement reached on Sunday states, however, that both the six powers of the P5+1 and Iran “will be responsible for conclusion and implementation of mutual near-term measures,” apparently referring to the measures necessary to bring Security Council consideration of the Iran nuclear issue to a conclusion.
The Obama administration has yet to release an official text of the “first step” agreement, although the official Iran Fars new agency released a text over the weekend.
Iran has demonstrated its determination to achieve such an agreement by effectively freezing and even partially reversing its nuclear programme while giving the IAEA daily access to Iran’s enrichment sites.
The Washington Post story on Sunday cited Western officials in Geneva as saying that the Iranian concessions “not only halt Iran’s nuclear advances but also make it virtually impossible for Tehran to build a nuclear weapon without being detected.”
But since the early secret contacts with Iran in August and September, the Obama administration has been revising its negotiating calculus in light of the apparent Iranian eagerness to get a deal.
In mid-October, Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg reported that the White House and State and Treasury departments were interested in an idea first proposed in early October by Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who had lobbied the Obama administration successfully for the sanctions aimed at cutting Iranian oil export revenues.
The Dubowitz proposal was to allow Iran access to some of its own money that was sitting in frozen accounts abroad in return for “verified concessions” that would reduce Iranian nuclear capabilities.
Meanwhile the United States and other powers would maintain the entire structure of the sanctions regime, at least in the interim period, without any change, Goldberg reported, “barring something like total capitulation” by Iran.
The scheme would give greater rewards for dismantling all but a limited number of safeguards than for lesser concessions, according to Goldberg’s report, based on information from “several officials”.
And if Iran refused, the plan would call for even more punishing sanctions against Iran’s natural gas sector.
That was essentially the policy that the Obama administration adopted in the negotiations in Geneva. In the first step agreement, Iran agreed to stop all enrichment to 20 percent, reduce the existing 20 percent-enriched stockpile to zero, convert all low enriched uranium to a form that cannot be enriched to higher level and allow IAEA inspectors daily access to enrichment sites.
In return for concessions representing many of its key negotiating chips, Iran got no relief from sanctions and less than seven billion dollars in benefits, according to the official U.S. estimate.
But the Iranian concessions will hold only for six months, and Iran has made such far-reaching concessions before in negotiations on a preliminary that anticipated a later comprehensive agreement and then resumed the activities it had suspended.
In the Paris Agreement of Nov. 15, 2004 with the foreign ministers of the UK, Germany, France, Iran agreed “on a voluntary basis, to continue and extend an existing suspension of enrichment to include all enrichment related and reprocessing activities”.
That meant that Iran was giving up all work on the manufacture, assembly, installation and testing of centrifuges or their components. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was under the impression it was an open-ended suspension and initially opposed it.
Khamenei relented only after Hassan Rouhani, then the chief nuclear policy coordinator and now president, and other officials, assured him that it was a temporary measure that would endure only until an agreement was reached that legitimised Iran’s enrichment or the determination that the Europeans were not serious, according to Ambassador Hossein Mousavian’s nuclear memoirs.
After the Europeans refused to negotiate on an Iranian proposal for a comprehensive settlement in March 2005 that would have provided assurances against enrichment to weapons grade, Khamenei pulled the plug on the talks, and Iran ended its suspension of enrichment-related activities.
The United States had long depended on its dominant military power to wage “coercive diplomacy” with Tehran, with threat of an attack on Iran as its trump card. But during the George W. Bush administration, that threat begn to lose its credibility as it became clear that the U.S. military was opposed to war with Iran over its nuclear programme.
Obama administration officials are now acting as though they believe the sanctions represent a diplomatic trump card that is far more effective than the “military option” that had been lost.
Some news stories on the “first step” agreement have referred to the possibility that the negotiations on the final settlement could stall, and the status quo might continue. But the remarks by senior U.S. officials suggest the administration may be hoping for precisely such an outcome.
Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
When Barack Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors. Now there are 47,000 troops these five years later. Measured in financial cost, or death and destruction, Afghanistan is more President Obama’s war than President Bush’s. Now the White House is trying to keep troops in Afghanistan until “2024 and beyond.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign the deal. Here is his list of concerns. He’d like the U.S. to stop killing civilians and stop kicking in people’s doors at night. He’d like the U.S. to engage in peace negotiations. He’d like innocent Afghan prisoners freed from Guantanamo. And he’d like the U.S. not to sabotage the April 2014 Afghan elections. Whatever we think of Karzai’s legacy — my own appraisal is unprintable — these are perfectly reasonable demands.
Iran and Pakistan oppose keeping nine major U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, some of them on the borders of their nations, until the end of time. U.S. officials threaten war on Iran with great regularity, the new agreement notwithstanding. U.S. missiles already hit Pakistan in a steady stream. These two nations’ concerns seem as reasonable as Karzai’s.
The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan “as soon as possible” for years and years. We’re spending $10 million per hour making ourselves less safe and more hated. The chief cause of death for U.S. troops in this mad operation is suicide.
When the U.S. troops left Iraq, it remained a living hell, as Libya is now too. But the disaster that Iraq is does not approach what it was during the occupation. Much less has Iraq grown dramatically worse post-occupation, as we were warned for years by those advocating continued warfare.
Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan — or to the entire world, for that matter, including our own country — would cost a fraction of what we spend on wars and war preparations, and would make us the most beloved nation on earth. I bet we’d favor that course if asked. We were asked on Syria, and we told pollsters we favored aid, not missiles.
We stopped the missiles. Congress members in both houses and parties said they heard from more people, more passionately, and more one-sidedly than ever before. But we didn’t stop the guns that we opposed even more than the missiles in polls. The CIA shipped the guns to the fighters without asking us or the Congress. And Syrians didn’t get the aid that we favored.
We aren’t asked about the drone strikes. We aren’t asked about most military operations. And we aren’t being asked about Afghanistan. Nor is Congress asserting its power to decide. This state of affairs suggests that we haven’t learned our lesson from the Syrian Missile Crisis. Fewer than one percent of us flooded Congress and the media with our voices, and we had a tremendous impact. The lesson we should learn is that we can do that again and again with each new war proposal.
What if two percent of us called, emailed, visited, protested, rallied, spoke-out, educated, and non-violently resisted 10 more years in Afghanistan? We’d have invented a new disease. They’d replace the Vietnam Syndrome with the Afghanistan Syndrome. Politicians would conclude that the U.S. public was just not going to stand for any more wars. Only reluctantly would they try to sneak the next one past us.
Or we could sit back and keep quiet while a Nobel Peace Prize winner drags a war he’s “ending” out for another decade, establishing that there’s very little in the way of warmaking outrages that we won’t allow them to roll right over us.
Yesterday, while taping a discussion of the latest round of P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran on Russia Today’s CrossTalk that was broadcast today (see here or, on You Tube, here), Flynt said, “I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not particularly optimistic about a deal being reached this week. I don’t think that there’s been a lot of progress on the issues that kept agreement from being reached the last time the parties convened in Geneva:
–There’s the issue of Iran’s nuclear rights, and how they get acknowledged or not acknowledged in an interim agreement.
–There is disagreement about how to handle, during an interim deal, this heavy water reactor facility at Arak which the Iranians are building.
–There are still disagreements about the disposition of Iran’s stockpile of near-20 percent enriched uranium.
I don’t really see much sign that either the United States or the French are backing down from some of the positions they took on those issues ten days ago—and if there’s not some give on that, I don’t know how the Iranians will be in a position to accept the P5+1 proposal.”
On the positions that the United States and France took on these issues in the November 7-9 Geneva talks, Flynt recounts,
“Going into the last round at Geneva, I think the Iranians anticipated getting a draft from the P5+1 where they had clearly worked out understandings about how some of these contentious issues—about Arak, about the 20 percent stockpile, about some acknowledgement of Iran’s nuclear rights; the Iranians had expectations from their previous discussions about the kind of proposal they were going to see. And, basically, the United States and France reneged on those understandings. And so the draft proposal that went in front of Iran was different from what Foreign Minister Zarif and his team were expecting to see, and they weren’t in a position to accept that.
Unless the P5+1—in particular, the United States and France—are willing to stick to understandings that the Iranians thought they had reached, at least verbally, on some of these issues, I don’t think that the Iranians are going to feel, either in terms of substance or in terms of the atmosphere of trust, they’re not going to feel comfortable with going ahead with an agreement.”
Currently, the most fundamental sticking point in Geneva is—as we have long anticipated—the Obama administration’s refusal to recognize Iran’s clear legal right to enrich uranium under safeguards and to acknowledge that the Islamic Republic will have to be treated like any other NPT party. As we’ve written before, see here, Iran and all other states have a sovereign right to pursue indigenous fuel cycle capabilities—a right recognized in Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as an “inalienable right,” which non-nuclear-weapon states pledge to exercise in line with Article II (where non-weapons states commit not to build or obtain nuclear weapons) and Article III (where states commit to conducting their nuclear activities under safeguards to be negotiated with the International Atomic Energy Agency).
As Flynt explains, the Obama administration—like the George W. Bush administration before it—resists recognizing this legal reality:
“There are basically four countries in the world that try to deny that the NPT recognizes the right of a non-nuclear weapon state like Iran to enrich uranium under safeguards. Those four countries are the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Israel, which isn’t even a signatory to the NPT. Those are the only four countries that take this position. The rest of the world—the BRICS, the Non-Aligned Movement, key U.S. allies like Germany and Japan—have held consistently that the Treaty recognizes a right to enrich. And what is so perverse is that…when the U.S. and the Soviet Union first opened the NPT for signature in 1968, senior U.S. officials testified to Congress that the NPT recognized a right to safeguarded enrichment. That was the position of the United States until the end of the Cold War—and then we decided to try to unilaterally rewrite the Treaty because we didn’t want non-Western countries getting fuel cycle capabilities.”
We’ll see if the Obama administration can do any better this weekend.
When a man shot up a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last year, Barack Obama announced how “deeply saddened” he was that such an attack “took place at a house of worship.” His Republican challenger for the presidency, Mitt Romney, likewise expressed his disgust at “a senseless act of violence . . . that should never befall any house of worship.”
At the time, that was grotesquely funny because, by that point, Barack Obama had himself committed numerous acts of senseless violence against houses of worship. And, being the commander-in-chief of a military fighting a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan that he dramatically expanded upon taking office, he has continued to bomb religious institutions ever since.
As Reuters reported on Wednesday:
A suspected U.S. drone fired on an Islamic seminary in Pakistan’s northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa early on Thursday, killing at least five people, police said. [...]
Fareed Khan, a police officer, said the unmanned aircraft fired at least three rockets at the madrassa in the Hangu district, killing two teachers and three students just before sunrise on Thursday.
Now, and this is important: an anonymous official did say a potentially bad person was potentially seen at that madrassa a few days earlier (potentially), so Barack Obama can sleep soundly at night knowing he authorized the killing of a few people who were probably familiar with that bad guy…
Meanwhile Reuters continues:
The attack took place a day after Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying that the United States had promised not to conduct drone strikes while the government tries to engage the Taliban in peace talks.
The United States has not commented on Aziz’s remarks.
I’m really pretty sure that it has.
The Afghan President says he will not sign a crucial security pact with the US till after presidential elections next year. Hamid Karzai backs the deal, but does not trust the US.
“The agreement should be signed when the election is conducted, properly and with dignity,” Karzai told the Loya Jirga grand assembly that began on Thursday.
The unexpected statement comes just hours after Secretary of State John Kerry said the two sides had finalized the wording of the agreement.
Karzai said that his deferment would show America’s assurance “that we are moving on the path to security and they are accompanying us on this path.”
A spokesman for the United States Embassy in Kabul declined to comment on Karzai’s plan as it was an on-going diplomatic discussion.
President Karzai told the gathering in Kabul that President Barack Obama had sent a letter assuring him that a security pact between the two states was in Afghanistan’s best interest.
The five-day long 2,500-member national consultative council is set to debate the draft and decide whether US troops will be permitted to stay in the country post-2014.
The deal indicates that up to 15,000 US troops could remain in the country until 2024. But both sides still want final details to be clarified.
One of the main stumbling blocks in reaching the bilateral security agreement was the legal status of American troops on the ground.
On Wednesday the Afghan foreign ministry released a draft security deal, which said that US forces remaining in Afghanistan after 2014 will be under the jurisdiction of the US and not be subject to Afghan courts.
The Loya Jirga’s decision on the 25-page “Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” is expected by Sunday.
The council can revise or reject any part of the draft agreement. After Loya Jirga amendments, the Afghan parliament is set to review the agreement and also make more changes before it is approved.
Despite his statement, Afghanistan’s President said he backs a security deal with the US, but at the same time he acknowledged there was little trust between the two sides.
“My trust with America is not good. I don’t trust them and they don’t trust me,” Karzai said. “During the past 10 years I have fought with them and they have made propaganda against me.”
Karzai’s decision, which came as a surprise even for the closest of the President’s aides, means that the long-debated deal will not be signed before April 5, the day when the presidential election is scheduled.
“This may be misconstrued as if the president wants someone specific [to win] in the elections,” Hedayat Amin Arsala, Karzai’s former vice president, said according to The Wall Street Journal. “I hope that is not the case.”
The US had wanted the agreement signed by the end of October 2013 as it would give military planners time to prepare to keep troops in the country after the scheduled 2014 withdrawal.