6-power overture to Iran working?

Iran’s positive response to the international negotiators’ overture is really exciting. Long may this progress towards de-escalation in the Persian/Arabian Gulf and the broader region continue!
Wednesday is the 25th anniversary of Israel’s bombing of the Iraqi nuclear plant at Tuwaitha (Osirak). I’m planning something special here on JWN to mark the occasion.
Oh, and look who‘s sending out a fundraising letter urging a tough US position against Iran. That would be AIPAC… Well, I guess after the Bush administration started thinking a bit harder about the 2,480 US body-bags that resulted from the last successful piece of warmongering by AIPAC and its allies, they decided that maybe there was a better way of doing things…

The Khamenei text

Huge kudos, once again, to Juan Cole for having made available to the public a key publicly funded product of the US government’s “Open Source Center”– namely, the OSC’s English translation of substantial excerpts from the speech that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gave yesterday at Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum.
The speech contained significant and very well-argued responses to the principle accusations the US government has been making against the Iranian government. Khamenei lists these accusations thus:

    First, that there is an international consensus against Iran.
    Second, that Iran is a threat to the world.
    Third, that Iran is trying to make a nuclear bomb and nuclear weapons.
    Fourth, that Iran is a violator of human rights…

And then, as I say, he responds to those…
The whole of the text that Juan publishes there is incredibly important, especially in these days when the Bushites’ fear- and hate-mongering campaign against Iran has assumed a front-and-center position in their’ engagement (such as it is) with the rest of the world.
Juan makes two excellent points about the limitations on the availability of the Khamenei text:

    (1) The US media presented only a snippet from the speech of Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei of Iran on Sunday, in which he threatened to damage oil supplies to the West if the US militarily attacked Iran. He did say that, but he also announced that Iran had no intention of striking first, had not attacked and would not attack another country, and that it has no nuclear weapons program and does not want a nuclear bomb. I didn’t hear any of those statements reported on television.
    For some strange reason, a relatively full text of important speeches given by world leaders is almost never provided to the public by any US media in English. I doubt there are even a handful of speeches easily accessible in English by Spanish President Zapatero, e.g. I cannot entirely explain this strange phenomenon, of the coccooned and almost deliberately ignorant approach to the world of the US corporate media and their audience.


    (2) the American public pays tax dollars so that the Open Source Center of the USG can translate such primary texts. They are, however, not made freely available, though you can get them via university and maybe other good libraries.

Well, yes, Juan, you can get them easily via university libraries if you have a nice tenured professorship at such a university. As for the rest of us taxpayers here…
Which is why it is great that Juan, who is one of the privileged few in this regard, takes the trouble to publish an important text such as this on his freely accessible blog.
I have a suggestion. Either the US government should make the products of the publicly funded OSC freely available via the (also publicly funded) world-wide-web. Or it should change the institution’s name to the Closed Source Center.
There is just one thing that Juan writes in his post there that I disagree with. That is this: “I should think it is obvious that I loathe Khamenei and his regime, but I suppose I have to say so yet again in today’s wretched intellectual environment.”
For my part, I am deeply concerned by some (but not all) of what I know about the human-rights record and other practices of the Iranian regime. But that doesn’t lead me to “loathe” anyone. Moreover, I don’t see that the sentiments of any one private individual like Juan Cole toward someone else (even a public figure like Khamenei) have any particular broader relevance; and more importantly, I don’t see that bringing his own private feelings into his discussion of the Khamenei text adds anything of value to the discussion. Far from it, it detracts from the value of the discussion, for two reasons: (1) It indicates there may be an emotional and not totally rational dimension to his analysis, and (2) By saying, “I suppose I have to say so yet again in today’s wretched intellectual environment” Juan seems to me to be giving the authors of that wretched intellectual environment a quite unnecessary victory…
Far better, surely, if he had written something like, “Think what you may of the track-record of the mullahs’ regime, Khamenei’s speech at least deserves wide dissemination and a fair hearing.”
(At another level, too, I strive to not to let my strong disapproval of the acts of some individuals or groups of individuals become generalized into any “hatred” or “loathing” for those individuals. This is a Gandhian– and also, a Christian– thing to do. Loving the sinner while hating the sin… I think it is really important.)
So anyway, at this point, let me join Juan in disseminating the Khamenei text. Here (without Juan’s marking-up in “bold”) it is:

Continue reading “The Khamenei text”

150,000 American hostages?

Riverbend had a good new post on her blog Tuesday. In her inimitable way, she sketched some of her memories of the US capture of Baghdad back in early April 2003… She also penned her (highly critical) reactions to more recent political developments in Iraq.
At the end, though, she writes:

    The big question is- what will the US do about Iran? There are the hints of the possibility of bombings, etc. While I hate the Iranian government, the people don’t deserve the chaos and damage of air strikes and war. I don’t really worry about that though, because if you live in Iraq- you know America’s hands are tied. Just as soon as Washington makes a move against Tehran, American troops inside Iraq will come under attack. It’s that simple- Washington has big guns and planes… But Iran has 150,000 American hostages.

Until recently, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with that conclusion. (I also really applaud Riverbend’s ability to differentiate between her feelings toward the Iranian government and the solidarity she expresses for the Iranian people.)
However, now I have a few doubts creeping into my mind as to whether the “hostage” nature of the huge US troop deployment in Iraq really is enough to deter (we could say “self-deter”) the Bush administration from launching a completely reckless military adventure against Iran.
After all, there were many of us with great experience in Middle East affairs who, in the run-up to his assault against Iraq, were warning Pres. Bush that to launch that assault would be counter-productive folly. That did not stop him then.
This time around, will he heed such warnings regarding the folly of attacking Iran? I would most certainly hope so. But at this point, I don’t feel as certain of his rationality–and, equally importantly, the rationality of key advisors like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld– as I did, say, six weeks ago.
Of course, the fact that Condi Rice seems to have been given new presidential authorization to outrank Rumsfeld, as evidenced in all the accounts of their recent trip to Baghdad, gives me some heart that her form of rationality might reign. She strikes me as significantly less reckless, stubborn, and ideological than Rumney or Chefeld.
However, hidden away in the back reaches of some portions of US “strategic thinking”, however, is something called “the madman theory of history”. This was pioneered especially by Henry Kissinger; it held that, in facing down the Soviet Union (at that time) there was strategic value in keeping or even cultivating a reputation for unpredictability and recklessness…
If the Bushies want to distance themselves decisively from that theory, then they should be working very hard right now to give assurances to the governments and peoples around the world (including the US citizenry here at home) that they are aware of the dangers of escalation– including even”inadvertent” escalation– in US-Iran relations and that they intend to act cautiously, rationally, and always with the best interests of the US citizenry and their (our) friends around the world front and foremost in their sights.
Note that to say this is to say nothing about the content of the policy they should pursue. (Though of course I have thoughts about that, too.)
But I have heard no such reassurance from the Bushies yet. That is a strong cause for concern.

Addendum Just one last thought. Back in 1980, Jimmy Carter lost an election because of his inability to solve the problem cuased by 57 US government employees who had been taken hostage by Iran. So how about the propsects for GWB and his party in the 2006 and 2008 elections if anyone points out that he has gratuitously given to the Iranians as hostages 150,000 US government employees?
Just a thought.

Clark and Simon against attacking Iran

Richard Clarke and Steven Simon have a very significant op-ed
in today’s NYT that argues forcefully against the idea of the US
bombing Iran in attempt to halt the Iranian nuclear program.

The piece is significant mainly because of these two men’s
credentials.  Clark is the fairly famous guy who was national
coordinator for security and counterterrorism in both the Clinton and
the early GWB administrations, and Simon was senior director for
counterterrorism in the Clinton-era National Security Council.

They build on the experiences they both went through dealing with the
Iran issue in the mid-1990s, noting that on that occasion: “In essence,
both sides looked down the road of conflict and chose to avoid further

And they conclude this about the present situation:

Now, as in the mid-90’s, any United
States bombing campaign would
simply begin a multi-move, escalatory process. Iran could respond three
ways. First, it could attack Persian Gulf oil facilities and tankers —
as it did in the mid-1980’s — which could cause oil prices to spike
above $80 dollars a barrel. [Or,
much more ~HC]

Second and more likely, Iran could use
its terrorist network to
strike American targets around the world, including inside the United
States. Iran has forces at its command that are far superior to
anything Al Qaeda was ever able to field. The Lebanese terrorist
organization Hezbollah has a global reach, and has served in the past
as an instrument of Iran. We might hope that Hezbollah, now a political
party, would decide that it has too much to lose by joining a war
against the United States. But this would be a dangerous bet.

Third, Iran is in a position to make our
situation in Iraq far more
difficult than it already is.
The Badr Brigade and other Shiite
militias in Iraq could launch a more deadly campaign against British
and American troops. There is
every reason to believe that Iran has
such a retaliatory shock wave planned and ready.

No matter how Iran responded, the
question that would face American
planners would be, “What’s our next move?” How do we achieve so-called
escalation dominance, the condition in which the other side fears
responding because they know that the next round of American attacks
would be too lethal for the regime to survive?

Bloodied by Iranian retaliation,
President Bush would most likely
authorize wider and more intensive bombing. Non-military Iranian
government targets would probably be struck in a vain hope that the
Iranian people would seize the opportunity to overthrow the government.
More likely, the American war
against Iran would guarantee the regime
decades more of control.

Good judgment there, guys.  You don’t have to “love” the mullahs
who rule in Teheran to reach this conclusion…  You just need to
have some basic grasp of the realities of regional and global power

Of course, what they didn’t do in their article, which I wish they had
done, was point out that even if using a bombing campaign or other
major military escalation against Iran is a really, really bad option–
still, there are other options which might help people deal with
concerns they (we) still have about the Iranian nuclear program…. As
I have noted here on a number of occasions, there are a number of
urgent diplmatic paths that need to be followed.  One is working
intensively through and with the IAEA.  Another is opening
diplomatic talks with Teheran with an open-ended agenda to include the
nuclear question along with others…

Do I think these are the kinds of “diplomatic” options that the Bushies
are now pursuing?  No, sadly, I don’t.

CSM column on Iranian nuclear program and the NPT

The column I wrote yesterday about the Iranian nuclear program, western concerns about that, and the urgent need to preserve the NPT is now up on the Christian Science Monitor website. It’s actually going to be in Thursday’s paper.
It’s titled Work through the NPT to address concerns about Iranian nukes.
In there, I also point out that the Bush administration is currently attempting to drive a ten-ton truck through the NPT by urging Congress to change the US’s own anti-proliferation legislation in order to allow ratification of his recent proposed nuclear deal with India.
I already had one very interesting letter in response, from someone who argued that all nations should indeed be allowed to have nuclear-weapons programs…
But I’m really glad the looming presence of the Indian-nuke deal will force folks in the US to seriously engage with whether we want to keep (and strengthen) the NPT or not.
I say, “Yes!”
Anyway, go read the column, and you can post your (as always, courteous) comments on it here.

Iran, the nuclear issue, the NPT

Javad Zarif, the Iranian ambassador to the UN, has a significant op-ed piece on the nuclear issue in todays NYT. Titled “We Do Not Have a Nuclear Weapons Program”, the piece says:

    There need not be a crisis. A solution to the situation is possible and eminently within reach.
    Lost amid the rhetoric is this: Iran has a strong interest in enhancing the integrity and authority of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It has been in the forefront of efforts to ensure the treaty’s universality. Iran’s reliance on the nonproliferation regime is based on legal commitments, sober strategic calculations and spiritual and ideological doctrine. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic, has issued a decree against the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons.
    Let me be very clear. Iran defines its national security in the framework of regional and international cooperation and considers regional stability indispensable for its development. We are party to all international agreements on the control of weapons of mass destruction. We want regional stability. We have never initiated the use of force or resorted to the threat of force against a fellow member of the United Nations. Although chemical weapons have been used on us, we have never used them in retaliation — as United Nations reports have made clear. We have not invaded another country in 250 years.

Zarif makes a potent argument. One potential problem, though: the Bush administration has been running away from the NPT faster than a person could ever hope to run from the fallout from a nuclear weapon… Yesterday, Condi Rice was up on the Hill trying to drum up support for the deal the Prez reached with India recently, that would reward India in a major way for having bypassed the NPT completely and produced its own, now well-demonstrated and very robust nuclear weapons program.
Worse still, that WaPo report and the NYT report both said that Kerry and Biden said they were inclined to support the deal. Maybe we should write the obituary for the NPT and move on? No! That is ways too scary a prospect… I really think we all need to work together to find a way to save (and indeed strengthen) it. And we should fight for implementation of its Article 6, too.

Bushite meddling in Iran– backfiring?

Today’s WaPo had a very interesting article by Karl Vick and David Finkel, that was datelined Teheran and titled U.S. Push for Democracy Could Backfire Inside Iran.
The lead is this:

    Prominent activists inside Iran say President Bush’s plan to spend tens of millions of dollars to promote democracy here is the kind of help they don’t need, warning that mere announcement of the U.S. program endangers human rights advocates by tainting them as American agents.
    In a case that advocates fear is directly linked to Bush’s announcement, the government has jailed two Iranians who traveled outside the country to attend what was billed as a series of workshops on human rights. Two others who attended were interrogated for three days.
    The workshops, conducted by groups based in the United States, were held last April, but Iranian investigators did not summon the participants until last month, about the time the Bush administration announced plans to spend $85 million “to support the cause of freedom in Iran this year.”
    “We are under pressure here both from hard-liners in the judiciary and that stupid George Bush,” human rights activist Emad Baghi said as he waited anxiously for his wife and daughter to emerge from interrogation last week. “When he says he wants to promote democracy in Iran, he gives money to these outside groups and we’re in here suffering.”

The reporters also quote Abdolfattah Soltani, a human rights lawyer who co-founded a human rights defense group with Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, as saying of the Bushies’ announcement of the new “pro-democracy” funding for Iranian oppositionists, that

    “Unfortunately, I’ve got to say it has a negative effect, not a positive one… This is something we all know, that a way of dealing with human rights activists is to claim they have secret relations with foreign powers… This very much limits our actions. It is very dangerous to our society.”

One other aspect of this story that concerns me is that the workshops that Emad Baghi’s wife and daughter (and two other individuals associated with him) had attended were conducted– in fairly shady-seeming circumstances, in Dubai– by something called the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict.
If indeed this “center” has become entangled in pushing forward the Bush administration’s agenda of regime change in Iran, then it seems to me it is dragging the whole name and concept of nonviolent social action into the mud.
Of course, one tip-off there is the name. Few good Gandhians– that is, people struggling nonviolently for a more egalitarian and just world– would proudly put the word “conflict” into the title of their organization.
The ICNC is a US-based organization. The US– my country– is the country that on a daily and continuing basis perpetrates the most violence of any country in the world. Since the invasion of Iraq that it so arrogantly launched in March 2003, scores of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, some at the hands of US forces and others because of the social chaos that the callous US military occupation of Iraq has engendered. In Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq, in Guantanamo, Bagram, and other locations around the world, US interrogators and jailers are inscribing their violence onto the bodies of thousands of detainees held in contravention of the laws of war.
Surely, therefore, any individual or organization that is based in the US and that espouses the cause of nonviolence has a primary responsibility to struggle first and foremost for the changing of the policies of our government? The ICNC website says nothing about this at all. Instead, the organization seems to be exploiting the name of “nonviolence” and using a distortion of the principles of that great anti-colonial struggler Mahatma Gandhi merely to further Washington’s imperial agenda.
Oh well, the Bushites shamelessly exploit all the principles of religion. Why should they treat the principles of nonviolence any differently?

Dinner with George and Laura

… That would be George Packer, the author of the best book to date on US follies (and worse) in Iraq: The Assassins’ Gate, and Laura Secor, a writer and editor who had an intriguing piece in The New Yorker last fall about the lives of some of the reformist younger generation in Teheran. But I couldn’t resist putting “George and Laura” like that into the heading for y’all.
Bill the spouse and I had a great conversation with G&L at the dinner there last night. George is recently back from his latest reporting trip to Iraq. But I can’t write a word about what he told us because his own account of it won’t be in The New Yorker till “late March.”
What I can write about, I think, was Laura’s observation– based on the reporting she did in Serbia during the campaign for the election that toppled Milosevic, as well as her more recent two trips to Iran– about the distinct difference in the US-funded and -supported activities that helped the Serbian student movement ‘Otpor’ to become well organized, and the more recently announced $75 million that the Bushies will be giving to support opposition movements in Iran…. Her main observation was that the US never publicly announced the aid it was giving to Otpor-– “I was there, talking with them a lot, and I never got an inkling about US government funding”… Whereas of course, the aid to the Iranian “opposition” (identity of recipients not yet clear) has been trumpeted upfront.
Otpor went on to win its anti-Milosevic campaign.
And as for this latest Bushite initiative???

Flynt Leverett on Bush’s Iran mis-steps

Flynt Leverett, who was a White House/ National Security Council insider at the beginning of the first Bush administration, wrote an important piece in the NYT today in which he identified three crucial occasions on which the administration “turned away from [an] opportunity to put relations with Iran on a more positive trajectory.”
These were:

    In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Tehran offered to help Washington overthrow the Taliban and establish a new political order in Afghanistan. But in his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush announced that Iran was part of an “axis of evil,” thereby scuttling any possibility of leveraging tactical cooperation over Afghanistan into a strategic opening.
    In the spring of 2003, shortly before I left government, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences. The document acknowledged that Iran would have to address concerns about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. It was presented as having support from all major players in Iran’s power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A conversation I had shortly after leaving the government with a senior conservative Iranian official strongly suggested that this was the case. Unfortunately, the administration’s response was to complain that the Swiss diplomats who passed the document from Tehran to Washington were out of line.
    Finally, in October 2003, the Europeans got Iran to agree to suspend enrichment in order to pursue talks that might lead to an economic, nuclear and strategic deal. But the Bush administration refused to join the European initiative, ensuring that the talks failed.

So, decisions like those have consequences. (Didn’t anyone explain the theory of “consequences” to the Prez during some of his 12-step gatherings?)
As Leverett writes:

    Now Washington and its allies are faced with two unattractive options for dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue. They can refer the issue to the Security Council, but, at a time of tight energy markets, no one is interested in restricting Iranian oil sales. Other measures under discussion – travel restrictions on Iranian officials, for example – are likely to be imposed only ad hoc, with Russia and China as probable holdouts. They are in any case unlikely to sway Iranian decision-making, because unlike his predecessor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disdains being feted in European capitals.
    Alternatively, the United States (or Israel) could strike militarily at Iran’s nuclear installations. But these are spread across Iran, and planners may not know all of the targets that would need to be hit. Moreover, a strike could prove counterproductive by hardening Iranian resolve to acquire a nuclear weapons capacity…

As I mentioned here earlier, the President really is faced with a tough dilemma in this Iranian-nuclear business.
Leverett has his proposal for what might be done. It envisages the creation of a “Gulf Security Council”, involving all the Gulf states as well as (though he doesn’t really explain why) all five of the Security Council’s permanent members. His idea is that this body could negotiate an agreement for creating a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Gulf, perhaps linked to a future such zone covering the whole of the Middle East.
Phew, lucky old Israel! That would get it off the hook of having to denuclearize for quite a while yet, wouldn’t it?
Actually, right now only one power has nuclear weapons in the Gulf. It’s the US of A, whose carrier battle groups always, as a matter of course, include warships armed with nuclear-tipped SLBMs.
So maybe what would be needed is a US-Iranian negotiation to start with. One in which the US could, at a very minimum, give Iran the very valuable “negative” security guarantee, to the effect that it has no intention of attacking Iran militarily and seeks to resolve all outstanding issues of concern with Iran through peaceful means?
I think such a declaration from the US would do a lot to help launch a fruitful negotiation with Teheran. Oh, that, and a similar undertaking from Israel…
If we just go by the past performance of the Bush administration, as spelled out by Flynt Leverett, however, it doesn’t look as though it’s about to resolve its differences with Iran through peaceful means…
How come they’re willing to join in a negotiation with Kim Jong-Il, but they’re not willing to negotiate with Iran, anyway? (Oops, don’t tell me that that’s because Kim already has those nasty kind of weapons that the Iranians don’t have?)