Can Europe be trusted? Certainly, this is an important question on the mind of many Iranians, in light of the surprise news that a precious few days after signing the Geneva agreement on November 24th, the European Union (EU) imposed new sanctions on Iran, by targeting 17 Iranian shipping companies, decried by Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson as “illegal.”
Per the terms of the Geneva agreement, the “5 + 1” nations have agreed not to impose any new sanctions on Iran for the duration of this “interim agreement” that stipulates a six-months timeline for negotiating a final status agreement, subject to further extension by both sides’ consent.
It therefore comes as a shocking surprise to many people both inside and outside Iran that instead of moving to ease the sanctions, the most immediate European follow-up action has been the intensification of the Iran sanctions. There is no valid justification for this move, which clearly contradicts both the letter and the spirit of the Geneva agreement, reflecting instead a counter-productive and obstructionist tendency on the part of the European officials, who may be addicted to Iran-bashing and find it rather difficult to re-track themselves toward the unknown territory of “Iran detente.”
But, of course, the Geneva agreement is in Europe’s own interest, seeing how over the past 8 years the continent’s once thriving trade with Iran has languished, which can be resurrected as a result of good-faith diplomacy toward Iran in the weeks and months to come. Already, there are reports of various European auto and other companies embracing the positive development in Geneva and preparing themselves to re-engage with Iran, awaiting clear policy guidelines by the EU so that their present concerns regarding the prohibitions on doing business with Iran are fully addressed.
Henceforth, it is vitally important for the EU officials not to drag their feet on implementing the terms of the Geneva agreement; otherwise, some provisions such as those with respect to the easing of the sanctions affecting the European insurance companies would not be implemented in a timely fashion, thus resulting in a partial lack of the fulfillment of sanctions’ relief promised by the West.
Unfortunately, the history of Europe’s nuclear negotiations with Iran during the past decade leaves a lot to be desired, warranting a healthy Iranian skepticism. Case in point, exactly nine years ago, the EU3 (i.e. France, Germany, and England) signed an agreement with Iran, the so-called Paris Agreement in November 2004, that was hailed in the Western media as a “major breakthrough” and raised the expectation for an end to the Iranian nuclear standoff.
One key element of the Paris Agreement was, as this author pointed out in a New York Times report back then, its recognition of “Iran’s rights under the NPT standards… without discrimination.” Naturally, Iran fully expects the same willingness on the part of Western governments to acknowledge and respect Iran’s full nuclear rights including the right to possess a peaceful nuclear fuel cycle (via an indigenous uranium enrichment program), which was expressly mentioned in the Paris Agreement.
Sadly, as this author has fully documented in his book, Iran’s Nuclear Program: Debating Facts versus Fiction (2006), the Europeans ended up reneging on their promises in the Paris Agreement, by failing to provide the promised incentives and, worse, by reversing themselves on Iran’s enrichment rights under pressure by the US, which was opposed to this aspect of the agreement from the outset.
As a result, none of the “objective guarantees” regarding technical, nuclear, and other cooperation with Iran, as well as the promise of regional security cooperation, ever materialized, thus setting the stage for the agreement’s subsequent breakdown, fully blamed on Iran by the hypocritical European officials, who consistently failed to direct their criticisms at their own shortfalls.
This was interpreted as an example of bad-faith negotiation and “broken promises” by, among others, Iran’s envoy to the United Nations at the time, current Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a seminal article in Columbia University’s journal of international affairs.
In the light of the above-said, the important question is, of course, whether or not the Geneva agreement is destined to have the same fate as the Paris Agreement? Lest we forget, the West’s failure to accept blame for the breakdown of the Paris Agreement played a crucial role in the dispatching of Iran’s nuclear file to the UN Security Council and the subsequent imposition of several rounds of UN sanctions on Iran, despite the absence of any formal and proper finding of “non-compliance” by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Drawing lessons from the past, the history of incoherent and contradictory European behavior after signing the Paris Agreement mentioned above is a fresh reminder of the potential perils facing the Geneva agreement, which can easily derail it absent the political will on the part of EU officials and lawmakers to withstand the avalanche of anti-Iran pressure, some of which stems from certain governments in the region.
As a result, from Iran’s vantage point, the Western governments’ full compliance with the terms of the Geneva agreement is a must, which, as stated above, requires the issuance of new policy guidelines with respect to the easing of sanctions cited in the agreement.
Following the agreement, a joint commission consisting of officials from Iran and the “5 + 1” nations will be formed shortly to oversee the simultaneous implementation of the pledges made by both sides and to resolve any potential problems in this connection. Only then can full Iranian confidence in Europe’s good-faith negotiation be restored and the troubled Iran-EU relations gradually heal.
For now, however, the news of new EU sanctions in the aftermath of the Geneva agreement is simply a fresh log to the Iranian collective memory of past European behavior (of broken promises and reneged contracts), yet another reminder that the the continent’s policy-makers continue to be infected by the legacy of Euro-centric post-colonialism, requiring a cognitive leap forward, presently held at bay by the lingering distortions of what the late Edward Said aptly labeled as “Orientalism.”
With the EU policy on Iran clearly showing the traces of “Orientalism,” the path forward in Iran-EU relations must be explored on all levels, including at the normative and cognitive level, given the ‘cognitive dissonance’ of contradictory behavior toward Iran mentioned above.
Europe’s failure to resolve this problem will undoubtedly affect their level of commitment to their own pledges reflected in the Geneva agreement and thus set the stage for a policy vicious circle regarding Iran. It is time for Europe to break the spell of this vicious circle and demonstrate a collective evolution, following the norms of international affairs in showing respect and reciprocity to the nation of Iran, a cradle of world civilization.
French automakers PSA Peugeot Citroen and Renault are planning to return to Iran’s market following a recent nuclear deal reached between Tehran and six major world powers in Geneva which will ease sanctions on auto industry.
According to the Geneva deal, the EU and US sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical export, gold and precious metals and auto industry as well as the supply of spare parts for the Iranian airplanes would be suspended.
French auto giants are poised to resume vehicle sales in Iran to reclaim their share of the huge Iranian market they lost after the implementation of sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear energy program in 2011.
Peugeot and Renault are among Western companies sending representatives to a crucial auto conference that was to open in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on Saturday.
Their participation in the conference has been interpreted by the media as a sign to mark their early return to the Iranian market before other competitors.
Renault and Peugeot have been production partners of Iran’s domestic majors – Iran Khodro and SAIPA.
Official data show the sanctions against Iran led to the unemployment of 100,000 workers and undermined the output of the two French giants.
A day after the nuclear deal between Iran and the six countries, Peugeot’s shares soared 4.50 percent to 10.69 euros and Renault rose 1.43 percent to 65.35 euros.
Iran used to be Peugeot’s second-biggest market in car sales volumes before Western sanctions against Tehran were toughened. In 2011, Iran accounted for 13 percent of Peugeot’s annual sales.
Peugeot has experienced an estimated four billion euros in lost sales after cutting ties with Iranian automaker Iran Khodro in February 2012 under pressure from its American partner company General Motors.
On July 26, Renault reported a huge fall in profits for the first half of 2013 after writing off the entire value of its business in Iran due to the US-led sanctions against Tehran.
The firm took a 512-million-euro (680-million-dollar) charge after halting its activities in Iran.
Last year, Renault sold a total of 100,783 vehicles in Iran, and had a 10-percent market share. The Middle Eastern country was Renault’s eighth-biggest global market by sales, above Italy where Renault sold 96,144 units and Spain where it sold 83,366 cars.
On November 24, Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – Russia, China, France, Britain and the US – plus Germany sealed an interim deal in the Swiss city of Geneva to lay the groundwork for the full resolution of the West’s decade-old dispute with Iran over its nuclear energy program.
- Iran Accord Sparks Race to Tehran as Automakers Target Deals (bloomberg.com)
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.
Last Saturday, the ink on the historic “interim agreement” signed in Geneva had not dried yet when the early signs of trouble with the deal and its roadmap for a comprehensive final agreement emerged in the form of US Secretary of State’s explicit denial that the deal had recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium.
Since then, John Kerry has repeated this claim, flatly contradicted by his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on a half dozen occasions, thus raising questions regarding US’s sincerity.
Not only that, within hours of the late night breakthrough in Geneva, the White House published a “fact sheet” about the content of the agreement, which has now been contested by Iran’s Foreign Ministry as inaccurate, misleading and “one-sided interpretation.” As expected, there is absolutely no reference in this “fact-sheet” to Iran’s nuclear rights, including the right to enrich uranium, an important step in manufacturing fuel for the country’s reactors, which is enshrined in the articles of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Indeed, one of the main problems with the US’s approach toward the Iran nuclear issue is, and always has been, its complete obliviousness toward and lack of respect for Iran’s inalienable nuclear rights, which are the centerpieces of Iran’s negotiation strategy.
Little wonder, then, that US President Barack Obama in his post-Geneva outreach to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly emphasized the “shared goals” vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear program, namely, the dismantling of Iran’s “nuclear weapons capability” that stems from its uranium enrichment program.
Israel has now dispatched a technical team to Washington to coordinate the US’s effort with respect to the final status agreement with Iran. This will probably mean even less of a “tactical difference” between US and Israel in the coming months with respect to Iran.
There is now even a shared US and Israeli linguistic (and policy) emphasis on “dismantling” the Iranian nuclear program. The word “dismantle” has seeped in the public statements of John Kerry, in contrast to his earlier hints at respecting Iran’s right to enrich uranium, e.g. in Financial Times in 2009.
Case in point, in his interview with ABC network on November 24th, Kerry stated, “While we are negotiating for the dismantling, they will not grow their program.” This echoed Kerry’s earlier admission, on November 10, 2013, that the US “is aiming to get Tehran to halt further nuclear development as a first step toward a complete dismantling of the program.”
By all indications, the US is pursuing this objective through a phased “roll back strategy,” whereby the Iranian nuclear energy program would be targeted for a gradual dismantling, in light of the statement by Tony Blinken, the US Deputy National Security Adviser, that “if we could have gotten an entire freeze of their program right away in one fell swoop, we would have done that.” This recalls Kerry’s other interview, with CBS’s Face the Nation on November 24, when he responded to the question of whether the agreement calls for the dismantling of some of Iran’s programs by saying “Not yet. That’s correct. Not yet. But you don’t get everything at first step. You have to go down the process here.”
The interim agreement is thus viewed by the US as a milestone in achieving the initial objectives of this “roll-back” strategy – by destroying Iran’s 20-percent enriched uranium, halting the completion of Arak heavy water reactor and the installation of new centrifuges, freezing the number of centrifuges and imposing a low-ceiling on enrichment – according to Kerry “3.5 percent,” even though the agreement specifically says 5 percent, and subjecting Iran’s program to unprecedented intrusive inspection, including “a number of facilities we have never been in before,” to paraphrase Kerry.
Since collecting information on Iran’s nuclear energy program is a must for the “roll-back” strategy, the US hopes that the implementation of the interim agreement will prove vital, given the American persistence on keeping the “military option on the table.” Equally important is “reversing key aspects of the Iranian program” via this deal, which Kerry has been fond of repeating since co-signing the deal in Geneva.
As for the agreement’s concluding statements that refer to Iran’s enrichment program in a final agreement, Kerry has put the emphasis on the sentence that subjects this to “mutual agreement.” In other words, Iran’s NPT right is now threatened with a contractual atrophy that subjects this right to the prerogatives of a select few governments and thus shrinks and compromises it.
The full text of that important paragraph is as follows: “Involve a mutually defined enrichment program with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs, with agreed limits on scope and level of enrichment activities, capacity, where it is carried out, and stocks of enriched uranium, for a period to be agreed upon.”
In addition, Kerry has repeatedly turned attention to the agreement’s reference to the UN sanctions resolutions on Iran, which call for the suspension of Iran’s enrichment and reprocessing activities. In other words, as far as the US is concerned, the inclusion of the passage on UN resolutions is yet another stab at Iran’s defense of its right to enrich.
Notwithstanding the above-said, there is very little doubt that the US’s intention of the “first step” interim agreement is to downgrade the Iranian nuclear energy program and move steadily along the path of complete dismantling and dispossession of Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle.
Another point: the agreement places some of Iran’s centrifuges in standby, i.e. spinning without enriching, which can be hazardous to the equipment after a while, causing equipment decay and failure. Both the standby and shut down options have clear consequences for the physical condition of the centrifuges, which is why it is important not to extend this agreement beyond the six months. On this account alone, the US will likely drag its feet on a final deal, hoping that Iranian centrifuge program will increasingly suffer as a result of a lengthy state of ‘limbo.’
Consequently, it is important from Iran’s vantage to correctly tabulate what a “win” for the other side entails, and whether or not the “win-win” is balanced and evenly distributed, rather than triggering a process whereby the other side’s “win” would accumulate over time at Iran’s expense. In that case, it would simply culminate in a “lose-win,” to the detriment of Iran’s interests.
Of course, this is not even to mention the “psychological warfare” behind the White House “fact-sheets” hoopla about allowing the release of measly 4.2 billion of Iran’s oil proceeds in the next six months, while keeping the rest in an escrow. Clearly, the US’s intention is to weaken not only Iran’s resolve but also the spirit of resistance and national dignity, as part and parcel of its nuclear “roll-back.”
Yet, despite all the US’s clever “smart power” maneuvers mentioned above, what is rather remarkable about Iran’s counter-strategy, based on deft, skillful negotiation strategy, is how those maneuvers are neutralized and a broader anti-sanctions, pro-Iran momentum has been generated that is bound to grow stronger and introduce greater fissures between US and its Western partners, who happen to have greater vested economic interests with Iran. And this is precisely why Iran’s “win” in this stage of the nuclear game is irrefutable.
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.
A Senior Iranian lawmaker says the Islamic Republic will leave the negotiating table if the US Congress approves additional sanctions against Tehran.
“The US Congress has recently been seeking to approve a bill to increase sanctions against Iran. It has been decided that the negotiations be suspended if the bill gets through the US Congress,” said Mohammad Hassan Asafari who sits on the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of Majlis.
The Iranian lawmaker made the remarks after a meeting in which Iran’s nuclear negotiating team briefed the parliamentary committee on two rounds of nuclear talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US – plus Germany.
The US Senate Banking Committee is mulling over whether to move ahead with a new anti-Iran sanctions bill it had delayed before the latest round of talks between Iran and the group of six world powers which was held in the Swiss city of Geneva on November 7-10.
The new round of sanctions against Iran, which the Senate Banking Committee has been asked to “mark up,” were passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in July. The House bill seeks to cut Iran’s oil exports by one million barrels a day for the next year and includes threats of military force against Iran.
The White House, however, is resisting growing pressure from Congress over Iran sanctions, trying to convince US lawmakers not to impose what they call further “punitive” measures.
“Our hope is now that no new sanctions would be put in place for the simple reason that if they are, it could be viewed as bad faith by the people we’re negotiating with, [and] it could destroy the ability to be able to get agreement,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said before a closed-door briefing with the Senate Banking Committee on November 13.
During Sunday’s meeting, Iran’s negotiating team also briefed the country’s lawmakers on the agenda of the forthcoming round of negotiations slated to be held on November 20 in Geneva.
“The negotiating team and the members of the Majlis National Security [and Foreign Policy] Committee reiterated in the meeting that the suspension of enrichment as well as the closure of the Fordow facility and the Arak heavy water [reactor] or any other [nuclear] sites is not on our agenda,” Asafari noted.
Meanwhile, Israel has been trying to force the US administration into imposing additional sanctions to stop an agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.
Israel’s Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett has recently met with a number of congressmen in Washington in order to persuade them to oppose a diplomatic deal with Iran.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the United States is “100 percent” allied with Israel, especially when it comes to negotiations over Iran’s nuclear energy program.
In an interview with MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ on Thursday, Kerry said, “What’s important here is we stand with Israel firmly – 100 percent.”
He made the comments one day after Republican members of the Senate Banking Committee stormed out of a classified meeting with Kerry, saying the briefing session was “anti-Israeli.”
Kerry held a closed-door briefing with the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday to convince Congress that any new sanctions against Iran would be viewed as “bad faith” and can “destroy the ability to” reach an agreement over Tehran’s nuclear energy program.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) described the briefing as “anti-Israeli,” saying “I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me.”
Meanwhile, Israel continued its lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill as Israel’s Economy and Trade Minister, Naftali Bennett, pushed for new anti-Iran sanctions on Thursday and described a possible deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany as “catastrophic.”
This comes as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Tuesday that imposing new sanctions on Iran would be a “march to war” and that “the American people do not want a march to war.”
Speaking with reporters during a White House briefing on Thursday, US President Barack Obama also called on Congress not to impose any new sanctions on Iran.
On Friday, an unnamed top US official told Reuters that a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 is “quite possible” during the next round of talks between the two sides, which is to be held in Geneva on November 20.
Tehran will be “very skeptical” about the intentions of the six world powers during next week’s P5+1 talks in Geneva, after the initial text of a deal on Iran’s nuclear program was “gutted” following objections from France, historian Gareth Porter said.
The six world powers are gearing up for yet another round of talks with Iran to curb its nuclear program on November 20. The previous round, which took place last weekend, failed to strike an accord limiting Tehran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for an easing of Western sanctions.
US Secretary of State John Kerry blamed Iran for the failure, saying the six world powers were unified on the nuclear deal, but that the Iranians were unable to accept it “at that particular moment.” He denied reports that the US and France had differences regarding the agreement, saying that “the French signed off on it, we signed off on it.”
Iran pointed the finger at Western powers. The country’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said on Twitter that “No amount of spinning can change what happened within 5+1 in Geneva from 6PM Thursday to 545 PM Saturday. But it can further erode confidence.”
He also appeared to blame France for “guttering over half of US draft.”
Still, Zarif said on Friday that he was hopeful ahead of next week’s fresh talks. “It is not possible to drive ahead without hope,” he told Fars news agency, as cited by AP. “Of course, hope doesn’t necessarily mean going without open eyes,” he added.
Zarif reiterated Tehran’s demand for its rights to nuclear energy. “Any agreement that does not recognize the rights of the Iranian people and does not respect these rights has no chance.”
Meanwhile, another political battle has unfolded in the US, as Congress debates whether to impose additional economic sanctions against Iran. Israel – America’s key ally in the region – dispatched its economy minister, Naftali Bennett, to Washington to lobby for the sanctions.
However, US President Barack Obama sought on Thursday to convince Capitol Hill hard-liners to go forward with negotiations with Iran and to not impose new sanctions.
RT spoke with historian and investigative journalist Gareth Porter about the possible outcomes for the nuclear talks and America’s role in the negotiations.
RT: Pleas from John Kerry and Joe Biden haven’t gained much traction among some Congress members. What kind of impact do you think Obama’s speech will have? Do you think it could ensure that no further sanctions are imposed?
Gareth Porter: No, I don’t think the president’s statement or speech is going to hold off the members of the Congress who are determined to go ahead with this move. The question is whether they will be able to muster a majority in the Senate. I think the House is more likely to be responsive to Israel’s urgings on this and is most likely to go ahead with sanctions. But I think the Senate may possibly constitute a rollback to going ahead with much harsher sanctions. By which I mean there will be sanctions from which the legislatures have stricken any reference to national security away, or taking away the last bit of responsibility that President Obama would have.
RT: So this is all about Israel then? These members will push through with what Israel wants?
GP: This is the track record that both the majority of the Senate and the majority of the House have compiled in recent years, which is to say that they have been responsive whenever the AIPAC, the lobbying organization devoted to Israel, has put forward legislation. The majority in both Houses of Congress have been responsive. I think that definitely has to be the working assumption for this week.
RT: If the sanctions are imposed, will Iran likely say they are not going to talk any further? Is it realistic to believe the White House would then begin considering military action?
GP: I don’t think it’s realistic that Iran is simply going to walk away from the table. But it is definitely realistic to expect that Iran is going to take a much tougher position in the talks next week than they did in a last round. After all, Iran was under the firm impression that they had an understanding and agreement on a text with the United States.
As Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted in the last 40 hours – from late Thursday of last week to late Saturday – is that he was turned upside down. He claims that as much as 50 percent of the text they agreed upon was essentially gutted, as he put it, by the objections coming from France, in particular. So definitely the Iranians are going to be very skeptical about the intentions of the six powers in these negotiations. They are going to insist on guarantees that it will not happen again. Obviously, they are going to insist that the text be returned at least substantially to what was before this sabotage took place over the weekend.
RT: The White House is saying to members of Congress that military action could be possible if diplomacy fails. Do you think Washington will stand behind that statement?
GP: There is grandstanding in the United States. I can guarantee that the United States is not going to war anytime soon over Iran. I don’t think they will ever go to war over Iran, but certainly not in the present circumstances. The US military certainly exercises very powerful influence over the policy of the White House on this, and the Pentagon and the military service heads are adamantly opposed to the US going to war. They don’t see any reason to do so under present circumstances.
US Senator Lindsey Graham has warned about a possible easing of economic sanctions against Iran, saying Israel is “apoplectic” about the Obama administration’s approach.
Graham, a hawkish Republican from South Carolina who has repeatedly called for military strikes on Iran, said Sunday that lifting sanctions would send the wrong message to Israel and other US allies in the region.
“The Israelis are apoplectic about what we’re doing,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I’ve never been more worried about the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East than I am now.”
The White House offered a “very modest sanctions relief” as Iran and the six major world powers– the US, Britain France, China, Russia and Germany– engaged in talks over Iran’s nuclear energy program in Geneva, Switzerland over the weekend.
The talks ended inconclusively on Sunday when France rejected a list of demands on Iran, saying they were too generous to result in an easing of sanctions. More negotiating sessions are scheduled for November 20.
Sen. Graham said the sanctions should be kept in place, and coupled with the threat of military force, to compel Iran to stop its uranium enrichment activities.
“If it ends with anything less, the world will regret this,” Graham said. “My fear is that we’re going to end up creating a North Korea kind of situation in the Middle East.”
Senate leaders showed bipartisan support Sunday for tougher sanctions on Iran.
Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a key architect of anti-Iran sanctions, called on Congress to consider new economic sanctions against Iran.
“I think that the possibility of moving ahead with new sanctions, including wording it in such a way that if there is a deal that is acceptable that those sanctions could cease upon such a deal, is possible,” Menendez said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
The US lawmakers’ outburst happened after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced a possible agreement with Iran as a “historic blunder.”
Benyamin Netanyahu’s hyperventilated fury didn’t surprise anybody. Even before the first outlines of a possible long-term agreement between Iran and the West on Iran’s nuclear program were publicized, Israel’s Prime Minister categorically rejected any such agreement. This irrational behavior disqualifies him as a serious partner to other heads of state. His extremism goes even so far as to promote further sanctions against Iran. Netanyahu wants Iran to capitulate and abolish its entire nuclear industry. He announced that Israel does not feel bound by the agreement. Netanyahu arrogates Israel the right to override decisions by UN Security Council members.
That Western leaders should consult the leader of a tiny country before they act shows the imagined power they attribute to Netanyahu. To seek advice from Netanyahu shows how intimidated Western politicians are. By now, they should be aware of his hostility to peace, be it with Iran or the Palestinians. How submissively the United States acts, is shown by the phone call between Obama and Netanyahu and by Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Jerusalem, as if they needed Netanyahu’s blessing for the negotiations with Iran. The best political strategy would be to ignore him.
What infuriated Netanyahu and made him go wild was John Kerry’s statement made in Bethlehem: “We consider now and have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate.” The US has finally returned to its erstwhile stance that all Israeli settlements are contrary to international law, after they have gone astray under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush junior. Netanyahu appears increasingly isolated with regard to the Iran deal. He appears willing to do anything to derail a possible agreement between the US and Iran. His last weapons are the political bull terriers of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC, and their supporters in the US Congress. But Netanyahu is increasingly a political nuisance, not only for the Obama administration but also for other powers. For the last 25 years it has been his mantra to warn that a nuclear armed Iran is just around the corner.
Netanyahu and the war party in the US will do everything in their power to prevent an agreement between Iran and the West. Netanyahu exerts not only great influence on the US Congress via AIPAC, but does so personally, as his last speech before both Houses in May 2012 has shown, during which US lawmakers outdid themselves in celebrating his reactionary speech. AIPAC could try to arrange again another such ridiculous circus. That doesn’t mean that Netanyahu would make it this time, knowing that he would jeopardize the recently improved relations with the Obama administration.
The political charade, which Netanyahu performs, has nothing to do with the imaginary Iranian nuclear threat. The Israeli political establishment knows this and fears that it would lose its hegemony over the entire Middle East and Northern Africa if Iran would go nuclear. The late Israel Shahak has pointed out in his book “Open Secrets. Israeli Nuclear and Foreign Policies”, that Israel’s main goal is to maintain its hegemony from India to Mauritania.
The political interests of the Western powers and Israel are not the same. The West has suffered heavy economic losses by bowing to Israeli interests; especially US soldier had to pay a high price in Iraq. Netanyahu can perhaps bamboozle the U.S. government again, but Israel’s relationship with Europe is on a downward slide. Europe, and especially Germany, can look back on an enduring friendship with Iran. This friendship should not be damaged by unregenerate politicians. Germany would do well to normalize its relations and reestablish its traditionally excellent relations with Iran, regardless of the outcome of the US-Iran negotiations.
By now, the US and the other Western countries should have understood that Netanyahu as well as former Israeli governments have been torpedoing every chance for a peace agreement with the Palestinians, because their colonial hunger for land has not yet been satisfied. The so-called peace negotiations, which are once again taking place, is likely to go nowhere because the Netanyahu government is not willing to make any real concessions that fall short of total surrender by the Palestinians.
US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman says Washington will take into consideration Israel’s security interests at the upcoming talks between Iran and the group of six major world powers.
According to a report published by the Israeli daily Jerusalem Post, Sherman said the US will not ignore Israel’s security interests at the forthcoming nuclear talks, which are slated to be held in the Swiss city of Geneva on November 7-8.
Sherman made the remarks in an interview with Channel 10, which is set to be broadcast later on Sunday.
Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US – plus Germany held two days of talks over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program in Geneva, Switzerland, on October 15-16.
During the talks, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif presented Tehran’s proposal titled, “Closing an Unnecessary Crisis, Opening a New Horizon” to the six countries.
Sherman also rejected reports about Washington offering Iran relief from unilateral sanctions imposed over the country’s nuclear energy program.
“We have not offered any sanctions relief on Iran, and we have not removed any sanctions,” the US official added.
Under pressures by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the US Senate is ratcheting up pressure on the White House to tighten the sanctions against Iran in line with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand for more pressure against Tehran.
In a statement on Saturday, the AIPAC said there would be “no pause, delay or moratorium in our efforts” to seek new sanctions on Iran.
As the new round of nuclear diplomacy between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 unfolds, an informal coalition of forces is coalescing in the West to oppose any prospective deal in which the United States would “accept” safeguarded uranium enrichment in Iran. Of course, Israel and the pro-Israel lobby are at the heart of this coalition. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s remarks about the Iran nuclear talks on NBC’s Meet the Press this past Sunday, see here, are emblematic of the “zero enrichment” camp:
“The question is not of hope; the question is of actual result. The test is the result. The result has to be the full dismantling of Iran’s military nuclear program. If that is achieved, that would be very good. If it’s achieved peacefully, it’s even better…I think the pressure has to be maintained on Iran, even increased on Iran, until it actually stops the nuclear program—that is, dismantles it. I think that any partial deal could end up in dissolving the sanctions. There are a lot of countries waiting for a signal, just waiting for a signal, to get rid of their sanctions regime. And I think that you don’t want to go through halfway measures…
As far as the freezing of assets—as far as I remember, those assets were frozen for three reasons: one, Iran’s terrorist actions; two, its aggressive actions, particularly in the Gulf; and three, its continued refusal to stop the production of weapons of mass destruction. You know, if you get all three done, and they stop doing it—well, then, I suppose you could unfreeze them…Those sanctions weren’t Israeli sanctions. I’ve always advocated them, but the international community adopted very firm resolutions by the Security Council, and here’s what those resolutions say: they said Iran should basically dismantle its centrifuges for enrichment (that’s one path to get a nuclear weapon) and stop work on its plutonium heavy-water reactor (that’s the other path for a nuclear weapon).
It’s very important to stress that it’s for nuclear weapons. Nobody challenges Iran’s or any country’s pursuit of civilian nuclear energy. But seventeen countries in the world, including your neighbors Canada and Mexico, have very robust programs for civilian nuclear energy, and they don’t enrich with centrifuges, and they don’t have heavy water plutonium reactors.
Here comes Iran and says, ‘I want civilian nuclear energy.’ I don’t know why, because they have energy, with gas and oil, coming out of their ears for generations. But suppose you believe them. Then you ask, ‘Why do you insist on maintaining a plutonium heavy water reactor, and on maintaining centrifuges that can only be used for making nuclear weapons?’ And the answer is because they want to have residual capability to make nuclear weapons. And you don’t want that, and UN resolutions don’t want that, Security Council resolutions. And I propose sticking by that.”
Anyone who has been following the Iranian nuclear issue with any measure of objectivity will note that Netanyahu mixes up U.S. secondary sanctions with sanctions authorized by the United Nations Security Council; likewise, he misrepresents what the relevant Security Council resolutions actually say about Iran’s nuclear activities, and misstates basic facts about fuel-cycle technology. Never mind all that. Notwithstanding his myriad factual errors, Netanyahu gives authoritative voice to the main rhetorical tropes of the “zero enrichment” camp:
–Iran has to dismantle its current infrastructure for uranium enrichment, and stop work on the heavy-water reactor currently under construction at Arak.
–Moreover, even if Iran does these things, this is not enough to warrant a lifting of sanctions. The Islamic Republic must also terminate its relations with democratically validated resistance/religious/social service/political movements like Hizballah in Lebanon, and stop suggesting that disenfranchised Shi’a populations in countries like Bahrain actually have political rights.
In the wake of Netanyahu’s Meet the Press appearance, we were struck by the similarity between his positions and those espoused in an Op Ed, titled “The World Must Tell Iran: No More Half Steps,” published earlier this week in the Washington Post, see here:
“Despite its softened rhetoric, the new Iranian regime can be expected to continue asserting its nuclear ‘rights’ and to press its advantages in a contested Middle East. The Islamic Republic plans to remain an important backer of the Assad dynasty in Syria, a benefactor of Hezbollah and a supporter of Palestinian rejectionist groups. It will persist in its repressive tactics at home and continue to deny the people of Iran fundamental human rights. This is a government that will seek to negotiate a settlement of the nuclear issue by testing the limits of the great powers’ prohibitions.
Washington need not accede to such Iranian conceptions. The United States and its allies are entering this week’s negotiations in a strong position. Iran’s economy is withering under the combined pressures of sanctions and its own managerial incompetence. The Iranian populace remains disaffected as the bonds between state and society have been largely severed since the Green Revolution of 2009. The European Union is still highly skeptical of Iran, a distrust that Rouhani’s charm offensive has mitigated but not eliminated. Allied diplomats can use as leverage in the forthcoming negotiations the threat of additional sanctions and Israeli military force.
Given the stark realities, it is time for the great powers to have a maximalist approach to diplomacy with Iran. It is too late for more Iranian half-steps and half-measures. Tehran must account for all its illicit nuclear activities and be compelled to make irreversible concessions that permanently degrade its ability to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program at a more convenient time. Anything less would be a lost opportunity.”
Who is the author of this Op Ed? An AIPAC spokesperson? One of the many neocon firebrands to whom the Washington Post long ago turned over its Op Ed page?
No and no. The author of the remarkably Netanyahu-like Op Ed cited above is: Ray Takeyh, the mainstream media’s long-time “go to” (if also perennially mistaken) Iran “expert” who advised Dennis Ross’s destructively incompetent handling of the Iran nuclear file during President Obama’s first term and is now back at the Council on Foreign Relations.
We have no reason to believe that Ray is coordinating his public positions with the Israeli government. But it is remarkable how congruent his views are with those of the most hegemonically-minded Israeli prime minister in living memory.