What a Surprise: U.S.-Based Iran “Experts” Promoting Israeli Policy

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.     

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett


Will Obama Blow His Diplomatic Opportunity with Iran?

As we move toward a new round of nuclear talks in Geneva this week between Iran and the P5+1, it is important to look soberly at each side’s approach to renewed nuclear diplomacy and what that implies about the prospects for real diplomatic progress. 

On the Iranian side, the public diplomacy carried out by President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during their visits to New York for the United Nations General Assembly—along with Zarif’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the other P5+1 foreign ministers and Rohani’s fifteen-minute phone conversation with President Obama—was exceptional.  Moreover, conversations with Iranian officials in New York during Rohani and Zarif’s visits there and in Tehran during the first week of October suggest that the Iranian side will come to the Geneva talks proactively prepared with proposals for resolving the nuclear issue within a finite period. 

It is far less clear, however, that the Obama administration is prepared to do anything of real seriousness and substance to facilitate diplomatic progress.  American elites—including Obama administration policymakers—are still talking about “productive diplomacy” with Iran primarily in terms of extracting major concessions from the Islamic Republic. 

On the nuclear issue, for example, President Rohani and Dr. Zarif have articulated a model for resolving the nuclear issue whereby the United States and the West would recognize Iran’s nuclear rights in exchange for greater transparency surrounding Iran’s nuclear activities (e.g., the Islamic Republic could ratify and implement the Additional Protocol to the NPT and accept stricter notification requirements regarding new nuclear initiatives).  But Obama administration officials and many pundits are arguing, in effect, that “transparency is not enough.” 

–They are arguing that Washington must become, in effect, the co-manager of Iran’s nuclear program, determining which Iranian nuclear facilities must be closed and which might be allowed to remain opening, determining not how many additional centrifuges Iran might be allowed to install in the future but how many centrifuges it must dismantle to satisfy the United States and Israel.   

–And, as we have pointed out for many months (and which American pundits themselves are now finally noticing), the Obama will face enormous and largely self-inflicted legal difficulties in lifting or modifying U.S. sanctions to encourage and support diplomatic progress on the nuclear issue.  During Obama’s presidency, many U.S. sanctions that started out as executive order sanctions have been written into law, with conditions for their removal that go well beyond progress on the nuclear issue.  These conditions include requirements that Tehran cut its ties to groups like Hizballah that the United States foolishly designates as terrorist organizations and effectively transform the Islamic Republic into a secular liberal republic.      

And, of course, notwithstanding the Obama administration’s self-inflicted debacle over its declared intention to attack the Syrian government following the use of chemical weapons in Syria on August 21, the United States continues to insist—as Obama himself declared in his UN General Assembly address—that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave office before any political process aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict can unfold. 

America’s Middle East policy, it seems, remains stuck in fantasy land.    

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett