Iran I

Well. This morning I had hoped to draft something short and to the point about the threat posed to international peace and security by the Master of the world. Not a trivial undertaking, I’m sure you’ll agree. Particularly since its Fearless Leader spent most of the past week visiting several of the main neocolonies in Europe.

What I had wanted to do was survey the way the regime in Washington has been treating Iranian territory as if it were sovereign U.S. territory, with overflights by American military aircraft and American-sponsored ground forces crossing its border, and the like. Also paying careful attention to the demand emanating from Washington for a number of years now that in the case of Iran, the rest of the world should abrogate Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and compel Iran to forgo its right to enrich nuclear material for peaceful purposes, and maybe even shut down its nuclear program altogether. On top of this, I had wanted to take a quick look at the way Washington’s belligerent actions and demands get reported to the captive American mind back in the States. Because, as the Americans like to put it, American “interests” are at stake. So what happens on the outskirts of Tehran is no different than what happens, say, on a ranch somewhere in Texas.

Forget it. Because the second I touched the regime in Washington—Republican or Democrat—George and Dick or Hillary and John—and their legions at the Fox News Network and National Public Radio—I saw that not just Iran, but the whole world, was in this regime’s crosshairs.

This blog, therefore, is a blog about failure. Mine, to be precise. Just as it is about impossibility: The impossibility of considering the threat that the Americans pose to Iran without taking into consideration the threat that the Americans pose to international peace and security across the entire world.

Of course, you won’t find a mention of this quite real and indeed grave threat in any of the paragraphs of the Secretary-General’s recent opus on “collective security” and the future of the United Nations—rhetoric over which the jingoists of the American media hold the gentleman in contempt, no matter how well he serves them elsewhere.

Still. It is neither the government in Tehran nor anything afoot at the Bushehr or Nantanz nuclear plants (or any place else inside Iranian national territory, for that matter) that connects these dots with the governments in Damascus, Moscow, Pyongyang, Beijing, Brussels, Berlin, Paris, London, Ottawa, Kabul, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Only American Power connects the whole.

Best, therefore, for the world to acknowledge this fact. Beginning with the Americans themselves. Who, being the world’s preeminent killers, the world’s preeminent torturers, and above all the world’s preeminent deniers of their devotion to the art of murder and the art of torture, quite frankly have lost the ability to engage with anybody or anything, unless violence and pain are the medium of exchange.

You take a look at the vast array of material I’ve archived in this one single blog. Then, you tell me. What percentage of the Washington regime’s relations to the world beyond its borders do you think is determined by the threat or use of violence, and the capacity to deliver pain—or to withdraw it, whatever the case happens to be?

A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, United Nations, 2004 (And the accompanying Media Release)

The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib, Karen J. Greenberg and Joshua L. Dratel, Eds., Cambridge University Press, 2005
Outsourcing Torture,” Jane Mayer, New Yorker, February 14, 2005

Iran’s Dire Threat (It might be able to defend itself),” Edward S. Herman, Z Magazine, October, 2004
The Coming Wars,” Seymour M. Hersh, New Yorker, January 24/31, 2005

Iran to aid Syria against threats,” BBC News World Edition, February 16, 2005

Iran and Syria confront US with defence pact,” Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, February 17, 2005
“Iran’s nuclear plans,” Editorial, Irish Times, February 17, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
‘Rogue states’ join forces to confront America,” Roland Watson, The Times, February 17, 2005
IAEA Digs Into Past Of Iranian Program,” Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, February 17, 2005

Iran and Syria unite against ‘threats’,” Nicolas Rothwell, The Australian, February 18, 205
‘America would back Israeli attack on Iran’,” Francis Harris, Daily Telegraph, February 18, 2005
Bush keeps the door open for diplomacy,” Ian Bruce, The Herald, February 18, 2005
“The Bush Administration Must Be Careful Not To Start Fires in the Middle East,” Editorial, The Independent, February 18, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
U.S. faces dilemma on nuclear weapons,” James Klurfeld, Newsday, February 18, 2005
Russia’s nuclear deal with Iran raises Middle East temperature,” Roland Watson and Jeremy Page, The Times, February 18, 2005
Bush Urges Diplomatic Solutions to Conflicts,” Peter Baker, Washington Post, February 18, 2005

Bush Seeks United European Stance To Isolate Iran, Syria,” Boston Globe, February 19, 2005
Bush rejects moves to boost EU military might,” Alec Russell, Daily Telegraph, February 19, 2005
Putin dismisses U.S. concerns over Iran,” Mark McDonald and Warren Strobel, Houston Chronicle, February 19, 2005
“Putin defies US with plan to visit Iran,” Irish Times, February 19, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
Iran Will Dominate Bush’s Europe Trip,” Tyler Marshall and Edwin Chen, Los Angeles Times, February 19, 2005
Russia Vows to Help Iran Develop Nuclear Energy,” Peter Finn, Washington Post, February 19, 2005

History of mistrust, violence complicates efforts on Iran,” Robert Timberg, Baltimore Sun, February 20, 2005
Nuclear Reality: America Loses Bite,” David E. Sanger, New York Times, February 20, 2005 [also see below]
The Atomic Threat: Flirting with Armageddon,” Paul Harris and Jason Burke, The Observer, February 20, 2005
Whose side is Russia on?” Con Coughlin, Sunday Telegraph, February 20, 2005
Knocking on the nuclear door,” Lynda Hurst, Toronto Star, February 20, 2005

“US urged to join EU’s nuclear talks with Iran,” Christopher Adams et al., Financial Times, February 21, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
“Critics pour water on US foreign policy’s fiery vision,” Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, February 21, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
“Tehran’s troops no match for threatened US might,” Borzou Daragahi, South China Morning Post, February 21, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]

Bush puts Syria, Russia on notice,” Bob Deans, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 22, 2005
Doomed to fail,” Scott Ritter, Baltimore Sun, February 22, 2005
Bush Admonishes Russia To Commit Democracy in Europe,” Susan Milligan, Boston Globe, February 22, 2005
“Rift between US and EU not likely to heal overnight,” Shada Islam, Singapore Business Times, February 22, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
“Different era, but same talk,” Leon Hadar, Singapore Business Times, February 22, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
EU chief dampens mood of entente with Bush,” Alec Russell and David Rennie, Daily Telegraph, February 22, 2005
Bush overture to Europe is met with silence,” Alec Russell, Daily Telegraph, February 22, 2005
Declaration of power: North Korea’s announcement that it has nuclear weapons escalates its dispute with the US,” Lyndsey Turner, The Guardian, February 22, 2005
The real priority for Bush,” Editorial, The Herald, February 22, 2005
Bush to Focus on Nonproliferation,” Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2005
“U.S. ‘hypes, distorts, twists’ evidence to drum up support for missile shield,” David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen, February 22, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
Natanz plant in Iran is focus of nuclear concerns,” Barbara Slavin, USA Today, February 22, 2005
Three Little Words Matter to N. Korea; Bush Has Avoided ‘No Hostile Intent’,” Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 22, 2005

The Rice era: dignified but bare-knuckled,” John Hughes, Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2005
Bush Denies Plan to Bomb Iran but Nixes Direct Talks,” Kenneth R. Bazinet, Daily News, February 23, 2005
Bush: talk of strike on Iran is ridiculous,” Nicholas Watt, The Guardian, February 23, 2005
Bush Threatens Reprisals Over EU Arms Sales to China,” Stephen Castle, The Independent, February 23, 2005
“Bush: no plan for military action on Iran,” Denis Staunton, Irish Times, February 23, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
Atlantic Divide on China,” Edwin Chen, Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2005
Martin talks tough on Iran,” Murray Brewster, London Free Press, February 23, 2005
Martin Warns Iran on Nukes,” Stephanie Rubec, Toronto Sun, February 23, 2005
Bush Tries To Allay E.U. Worry Over Iran,” Michael A. Fletcher and Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, February 23, 2005

Iran unites U.S., Germany,” Bob Deans, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 24, 2005
Bush, Schroeder Hold Firm on Iran,” Susan Milligan, Boston Globe, February 24, 2005
Schroeder, Bush vow `one voice’ to Tehran,” Mark Silva, Chicago Tribune, February 24, 2005
Bush hints at talks rather than threats to rein in Iran,” Alec Russell, Daily Telegraph, February 24, 2005
U.S. president to look again at European stand on Iran,” James Harding and Hugh Williamson, Financial Times, February 24, 2005
Bush and Schroder unite on Iran,” Luke Harding, The Guardian, February 24, 2005
The Downside of Democracy,” Juan Cole, Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2005
Bush May Weigh Using Incentives To Dissuade Iran,” Elizabeth Bumiller, New York Times, February 24, 2005 [also see below]
United stance on Iran – sort of,” Craig Gordon, Newsday, February 24, 2005
Bush, Schroeder Denounce Iran Nuclear Aims,” Judy Keen and Barbara Slavin, USA Today, February 24, 2005
An ‘A La Carte’ Coalition Between U.S. and Europe,” Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 24, 2005

Tackling `gravest threat’,” Mark Silva, Chicago Tribune, February 25, 2005
President faces hard sell over Iran policy,” Guy Dinmore and Hubert Wetzel, Financial Times, February 25, 2005
EU sways Bush towards softer line on Iran,” Ian Traynor, The Guardian, February 25, 2005
Now Syria is at the top of the bad guys’ league table,” Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, February 25, 2005
“Putin tells Bush that Russia will not alter its system,” By Daniel McLaughlin, Irish Times, February 25, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
Bush and Putin Exhibit Tension Over Democracy,” Elizabeth Bumiller and David E. Sanger, New York Times, February 25, 2005 [also see below]
A Shell Game in the Arms Race,” Matthew Godsey and Gary Milhollin, New York Times, February 25, 2005 [also see below]
No conspiracy, just the birth of a Bush Doctrine,” James Klurfeld, Newsday, February 25, 2005
Iranians Might Find Bush Remark Puzzling,” Al Kamen, Washington Post, February 25, 2005

FYA (“For your archives”): Am going to deposit here some items to which no electronically-archived copy is readily linkable ($$$$$$ always being the culprit), as well as some that experience has taught will be pulled from circulation in very short order. (Among the worst offenders being the Financial Times, The Independent, and the New York Times.)

The Irish Times
February 17, 2005
SECTION: Opinion; Pg. 17
HEADLINE: Iran’s nuclear plans

It is a measure of current international alarm that world markets should shudder yesterday on reports that an explosion near a nuclear plant in Iran might have come from a missile fired by an attacking aircraft.

This was quickly denied by Iranian spokesmen who said it happened during the construction of a dam – and immediately in Washington by Pentagon and other sources who insisted that US policy is to deal with Iran diplomatically.

Nonetheless, the flurry of alarm was stoked by several recent reports that the US is sending intelligence drones over Iran and identifying possible targets for air attacks against its nuclear facilities. It follows several warnings that the country is at the top of the Bush administration’s threat list. There have also been suggestions that Iran could also be targeted by Israel. Yesterday, Iranian representatives warned that time is running out to complete negotiations with Germany, France and Britain on economic and security guarantees against which Iran would agree not to develop nuclear weapons. They were referring to next week’s talks between President Bush and European leaders in Brussels. Unless the US agrees to back any such guarantees the talks are likely to fail, which would rapidly escalate the issue in weeks to come.

Yesterday, Iran’s pivotal role in the Middle East region was underlined when its vice-president met the Syrian prime minister in Tehran. They pledged to set up a “common front” against regional challenges, but denied this refers to the United States. Following the murder of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri on Monday, Syria is widely assumed to be responsible for it and will face severe pressure to withdraw from Lebanon. Its leaders stand accused by the Bush administration of facilitating the Iraqi resistance. Hariri’s murder is bound to strengthen neoconservatives in Washington who want to see regime change in Syria and Iran in the belief that this will reduce pressure on Israel and weaken hostility against Mr Bush’s policy to democratise the region. They are afraid the victory of Shia Islamic parties in the Iraqi elections will bolster clerical rule in Iran.

So yesterday’s political and financial flurry of alarm was not irrational. Iran’s policies will profoundly affect neighbouring states. Its leaders have a lot to gain from an agreement on nuclear energy. But the more they are threatened the more they feel the need to press ahead with a nuclear military programme to deter attack. The talks with Germany, France and Britain are central in this calculation of security costs and advantage. Next week’s talks with Mr Bush will set the scene for a negotiated agreement or an escalation of tension with Iran.

The Independent (London)
February 18, 2005, Friday
SECTION: First Edition; LEADER; Pg. 36

WHEN GEORGE Bush made his famous “axis of evil” speech in 2002, some were surprised that Syria was not included as a target. The country’s regime would seem to qualify as an enemy in America’s so-called “war on terror”: the regime is dictatorial, it has been unable to shake off accusations that it sponsors terrorism, and it is a destabilising influence in the region. Now, though, the US administration’s behaviour seems to suggest that Syria is firmly on the list.

Congress imposed sanctions on Damascus last year and the US president, in his recent State of the Union address, delivered a pointed warning to the regime to sever its links with terror groups. Now, in the wake of the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, the US plans to crank up the pressure on Syria even further. It has withdrawn its ambassador, and plans are in motion to hit the regime with even more punitive economic sanctions.

It remains unclear who was behind Monday’s assassination, but the finger of suspicion points at Syria. Hariri’s opposition to the Syrian troop presence in Lebanon was well known. His elimination, shortly before general elections in which he would have formed the focus of the anti-Syrian opposition, is undoubtedly convenient for Damascus. If the Syrian government was responsible, it must be held accountable – and not just by America, but by the entire international community.

Even if Syria had no hand in the murder, the case for exerting greater pressure on the regime in Damascus is clear. Syria’s military occupation of Lebanon ought to have ended long ago. The civil war was over in 1990. There is no justification for the continued presence of 14,000 troops. Syria must act upon the United Nations resolution, passed last year, which demands the withdrawal of “all remaining foreign forces” from the country.

It would be a mistake to regard America’s increasingly belligerent stance towards Syria as a sign that its priorities in the Middle East have changed. The number one threat in the region as far as Washington is concerned is still Iran. The two nations were claiming this week that they will now make common cause in the face of America’s threats, but Washington will continue to treat them very differently. Iran is on the verge of developing nuclear technology, and Syria is not. That is the reason why Syria was not included in the original “axis of evil”. And that is why, despite the latest stand-off, America will keep the door open to diplomatic relations with Syria. With Iran, America has left the diplomacy up to European governments.

The United States is right to put pressure on the autocracies of the Middle East to stop funding terrorism and interfering outside their own borders. The newly invigorated peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is at a delicate stage and must be protected at all costs.

But the US administration must be careful. Sabre-rattling can easily become counter-productive. The invasion of Iraq has undermined America’s moral right to lecture nations about interfering in other countries’ affairs. And America must bear in mind its own responsibility for Iran’s dash towards a nuclear capability. For Iranian theocrats, the lesson of the US invasion of Iraq is that the only real defence against US aggression is the bomb. It is certainly that capability which has eased the pressure on North Korea, the third member of Mr Bush’s “axis of evil”.

It is imperative, too, that America recognises how inter-connected all the different problems are in this volatile region. Toppling the Syrian regime would have an unpredictable effect on Iraq. The Sunni insurgency could easily spread across the border into Syria. There is also a risk that civil war could break out again in Lebanon if the Syrian withdrawal is not handled delicately. America must tread carefully. It is already embroiled in one conflagration in the region. It is in no one’s interests, including its own, for the fire to spread any further.

The Irish Times
February 19, 2005
SECTION: World; Other World Stories; Pg. 11
HEADLINE: Putin defies US with plan to visit Iran

RUSSIA: Russian President Vladimir Putin openly defied Washington yesterday by announcing a visit to Iran less than a week before a summit with President Bush.

Mr Putin welcomed Iran’s national security chief, Hassan Rohani, to the Kremlin and declared that Tehran was not pursuing nuclear weapons, flatly contradicting repeated allegations by the US. Moscow has also signalled that Alexander Rumyantsev, head of Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency, will fly to Tehran next Saturday to sign a deal that would open the way for delivery of nuclear fuel to a Russian-built reactor in Bushehr.

Ahead of the US-Russian summit in Bratislava on Thursday, Mr Putin has also defied Washington over Syria, another state the Bush administration is trying to isolate. Russia has announced the sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Damascus.

Under the Iranian nuclear deal, spent fuel would be returned to Russia, but only after 10 years. Nuclear proliferation experts fear that without adequate safeguards, the spent fuel could easily be converted to plutonium for bombs. The deal would also open the way for nuclear fuel deliveries to Bushehr.

The fuel is ready for delivery within weeks and the plant could be operational by 2006.

The New York Times
February 20, 2005 Sunday
Late Edition – Final
SECTION: Section 4; Column 4; Week in Review Desk; The Nation; Pg. 1
HEADLINE: Nuclear Reality: America Loses Bite

NOT so long ago, the terrifying rules of nuclear chicken were clear.

When only superpowers and their allies held nuclear arsenals, deterrence worked, because all sides understood the horrific consequences of a misstep. Even during the most unnerving confrontations, like the Cuban missile crisis, there were clear ”red lines” beyond which no sane leader would intentionally step. And as nuclear technology spread, new red lines emerged. Israel enforced one in 1981, when it destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor rather than let him get near a bomb.

But the lesson of the past few years is that red lines have blurred, to the point where they are now little more than pink smudges. And now, no one seems to know the rules. Not the Bush administration, as it sends conflicting signals about what it and its allies will do if diplomacy fails to disarm Iran and North Korea. Not Kim Jong Il, or the Iranian mullahs, as they test new and undefined limits. And why not test them?

They all know that India, Pakistan and Israel joined the nuclear club without ever accepting the rules laid out in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Even after India and Pakistan set off tests in 1998, the sanctions America imposed were relatively mild and short-lived. As soon as America needed Pakistan’s help after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the country was transformed from nuclear outlaw to ”major non-NATO ally.”

Nicholas Eberstadt, a North Korea scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wonders about this: ”You have to think the Iranians are watching how we handle the North Koreans in the next few months. If you won’t do anything with a big cheater, what are the middle and future cheaters to think?” The list could include Syria, Saudi Arabia or Egypt, Taiwan or Brazil, even Indonesia and Sudan, though all deny any weapons ambitions.

What’s been missing in Washington in the last few months — to say nothing of capitals in Asia and Europe — is clear language about what the world is ready to do if Iran and North Korea follow the path of India and Pakistan. Sure, during his first term, Mr. Bush said repeatedly that he would not ”tolerate” either country possessing a nuclear weapon. But no one in the White House will say exactly what that means.

In Iran’s case, there may be some time to figure it out: Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate last week that Iran is unlikely to be able to make a weapon until ”early in the next decade.” (Other intelligence officials think he may be too optimistic.)

In North Korea’s case, red lines may be what Kim Jong Il sees in his rear-view mirror. His country declared publicly this month what it whispered long ago to American negotiators: It already has the weapons Mr. Bush will not tolerate.

Maybe Mr. Kim is bluffing. Maybe he isn’t. So far there hasn’t been a test, and as the North Koreans know, American spy satellites are in the sky over the country, looking for evidence that one may be imminent.

But there is no doubt that the North has stepped up to every line the world has drawn in the sand, and then inched over it, waiting for the reaction. This time, the reaction has been pretty muted. The North’s angry declaration 10 days ago led the United States and its neighbors to warn that it must return to six-nation talks about disarmament that have gone nowhere in 18 months, and haven’t convened since last June. But punishment? The Chinese and South Koreans say it would only incite the North Koreans to some other provocation.

Even President Bush, the author of the most muscular national security strategy in memory, has sounded remarkably placid. Asked about North Korea on Thursday, he talked about talks.

”It’s counterproductive to draw a red line for North Korea because they will only view it as a challenge,” one senior administration official explained recently.

However true, that has left an enormous ambiguity at the core of American policy.

”If, right now, the cases we worry about the most are Iran and North Korea, and if they are seen as compelling dangers to the international system, what is it we are prepared to do to forestall them from going nuclear?” asked Jonathan Pollack, a professor at the Naval War College who writes about the game theory of nuclear behavior. ”I don’t know the answer to that question — and I don’t think the administration knows the answer to that, either.”

But he notes that North Korea is a special case. ”If it has nuclear weapons right now,” he said, ”it would be the first time an avowed adversary of the United States took that step since China,” 40 years ago.

Perhaps one reason no one wants to draw sharp lines is that, while North Korea and Iran pose a threat, it may not be a direct one. No one doubted that the Soviets, and eventually the Chinese, could land a missile on a major American city. Iran clearly cannot, and North Korea’s long-range missile has never been tested. In short, the threat to America is more indirect. Iran can threaten Israel, North Korea can menace Japan, and either could cut a black-market deal with terrorists. (That was why the administration was so hesitant to talk about new evidence that North Korea sold raw nuclear fuel to Libya as recently as 2003.)

But no one understands how to play this new game better than North Korea. ”They’ve been very, very smart about how they have gone about this,” a senior administration official said the other day. ”Bit by bit. Just hoping the world will accept this as the new reality.”

It may be working. The other day Pat Roberts, the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, didn’t sound much like a hardliner. ”They have whatever capability they have, and they insist that they are going to continue with that, and I think that’s the way it is,” he told Reuters.

This is exactly what a veteran of the cold war, Brent Scowcroft, who trained many on the Bush team, warned about in 1994. He published an essay urging the Clinton administration to draw a red line: Tell the North Koreans that if they move to turn their stockpile of spent nuclear fuel into bomb-grade plutonium, we will bomb their reprocessing facility. It would be risky, he and his co-author, Arnold Kanter, argued, but he doubted that the North would risk all-out war and the toppling of its regime. It was the only way, he argued, ”to prevent a bad problem from becoming worse.”

A decade later, facing a different president, the North Koreans did exactly what Mr. Scowcroft warned couldn’t be allowed: They kicked out international inspectors and flipped on the plutonium machine. But Mr. Bush, tied up in Iraq, drew no red line. By then, aides say, intelligence showed that the North apparently had a second nuclear program under way, involving uranium. ”What good would it have done to stop one program, and not the other,” one aide asks.

Conservatives are clearly unhappy that a White House that talked in such clear terms about what Saddam Hussein must do has sounded so unclear on North Korea and Iran. Mr. Eberstadt wrote last week: ”Each new round of North Korean nuclear provocations has generated clear-cut benefits for the North Korean state, rather than incontrovertible costs. It will be very unpleasant and very expensive to un-teach Pyongyang the lessons of the past two and a half years.”

At the very least, drawing those lines now would be a lot more complicated. In North Korea’s case, President Bush has said the problem has to be handled in concert with the North’s neighbors — China, South Korea, Russia and Japan. That’s the kind of multilateral approach the world has urged, but it also means getting a unanimous position from countries with very different interests. So far, that has been impossible.

Likewise, the Europeans, who are taking the lead with Iran, are not interested in red lines that would choke off trade, especially oil. So they have studiously avoided the question of how far they are willing to let the Iranians go in developing a civilian nuclear capability that could be converted, in a matter of months, to military use.

So the cold war really is over, but its rules have yet to be rewritten. Some want to start doing that this year, when the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is up for review. But for now, a world free of red lines is a world in which any state that has long hankered for a bomb sees an opening to get one — and to hope that by the time new rules are written, it will be too late to turn back the clock.

Financial Times (London, England)
February 21, 2005 Monday
London Edition 1
HEADLINE: US urged to join EU’s nuclear talks with Iran

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, has called on the US to join Britain, France and Germany in their diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

In an interview published today in Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, Mr ElBaradei said that the European initiative could only succeed if “the United States joins in and throws its weight behind it”.

He said that without US involvement, the so-called “EU-three” could not offer Iran enough economic and security guarantees to persuade it to permanently stop enriching uranium and renounce its nuclear ambitions. “Progress is difficult to conceive without Washington,” said the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. “We need a common front.”

Mr ElBaradei said that if Iran was determined to have nuclear weapons – as the US believes it is – they could be available within two or three years. But he voiced his alarm over the possibility of a military attack by the US on Iran, saying it would only make the country more determined to acquire a nuclear deterrent.

“After such an attack the Iranians would certainly set themselves in earnest to making a bomb in secret.”

European diplomats have warned that a deal with Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions looks increasingly remote. An official close to the negotiations said yesterday: “There is unlikely to be an agreement for months.”

As the US conducts a review of its policy on Iran, future talks between the Islamic republic and the EU-three are expected to focus on how an agreement to suspend enrichment of uranium can be made permanent.

As George W. Bush, US president, prepares for his first meeting since re-election with EU leaders in Brussels tomorrow, officials on both sides of the Atlantic said Iran would be high on the agenda. The talks follow tension between Washington and Tehran that has unsettled financial and energy markets.

Mr Bush and European leaders agree that Iran should not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. But differences over strategy remain and these are likely to surface if the US pushes for Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council. Washington has refused to rule out military action against Iran and Mr Bush wants the Europeans to stress the penalties it could face.

To encourage Tehran to adhere to its suspension of uranium enrichment, some incentives will be offered. Modest offers of humanitarian aid from Europe are likely to form part of the negotiations, along with help ensuring that food products meet standards for export to western markets.

Iranian officials have privately made clear to European negotiators they are determined to develop a nuclear programme for civil purposes and complain that Iran has not benefited from its earlier commitment to suspend uranium enrichment. The issue could flare in the summer if Iran carries out a threat to restart the process.

Financial Times (London, England)
February 21, 2005 Monday
Correction Appended
London Edition 1
HEADLINE: Critics pour water on US foreign policy’s fiery vision: European diplomats and US Democrats say White House strategy on the Middle East and central Asia lacks direction, writes Guy Dinmore

In his second inaugural address, President George W. Bush spoke of lighting “a fire in the minds of men” and how “one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world”.

The fiery imagery of the speech was uplifting for his admirers, disturbing for tyrants. Others, especially Russian specialists, wondered why the president or his speechwriters had borrowed the words from the character of a revolutionary nihilist in Dostoevsky’s novel The Possessed.

Still, a month later, as Mr Bush flies to summits in Europe – including a neutral-territory rendezvous this Thursday with Russia’s Vladimir Putin – analysts and diplomats perceive a US foreign policy that is as inclined to pragmatism and opportunism as it is dictated by an overriding vision.

Indeed, in the case of Iran and North Korea, European diplomats and Democratic critics are not convinced there is any coherent US strategy.

Washington has seen a stream of foreign dignitaries coming to confer with the new, reshuffled team led by old familiar figures: Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, and Stephen Hadley rising to replace her as national security adviser.

One senior European official asked his White House counterpart whether the president’s vision of spreading liberty and democracy would be applied equally to friends and foes.

“We can be pragmatic when we like,” the US official joked in reply.

That outlook has been reinforced by developments in the Middle East, where four autocratic regimes are under scrutiny: allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and suspected state sponsors of terrorism, Iran and Syria.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egypt’s foreign minister, was in Washington last week when the International Atomic Energy Agency voiced concern over previously secret aspects of Egypt’s nuclear programme. At the same time the US State Department was criticising arrests of opposition politicians.

But the administration has decided not to take the embarrassing step of referring an ally to the United Nations Security Council for failing to declare its nuclear activities. “Rogue scientists” were to be blamed instead.

Mr Bush singled out Egypt and Saudi Arabia in his State of the Union address, saying they should “show the way towards democracy in the Middle East”. But this message, diplomats said, had since been diluted. Ms Rice assured her European audience that countries would reform at their own pace.

In a further sign that the Bush administration is hesitating to shake up key allies, a senior official told the FT that a review of policy towards Saudi Arabia was needed, to “recalibrate the relationship”, but would not lead to substantial changes in the strategic partnership.

There has been a distinct hardening of policy towards Syria and Iran, however – especially since Syria came under suspicion for the Beirut bomb that killed Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, last week. US officials have given warning of further sanctions and even hinted at military action to deal with Iraqi insurgents in Syria.

However, senior Europeans, including Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister, have come away from talks with Ms Rice heartened by the impression she does not favour the military option in dealing with Iran’s nuclear programme.

While the US is open to rejoining nuclear talks with North Korea after an eight month hiatus, it refuses to take part in the current negotiations between Europe and Iran, saying its presence would confer legitimacy on the Islamic regime.

“I don’t understand our policy. I’m not being facetious. I don’t understand the policy,” Joe Biden, the Democratic senator from Delaware, told Ms Rice last week.

Anticipating a breakdown in the EU-Iran process, the Bush administration is looking for support to take Iran to the UN Security Council for a resolution of condemnation.

Since Russia and China are unlikely to agree to meaningful economic sanctions, diplomats say the US wants the Group of Seven industrialised nations to take action. Japan, which imports about 15 per cent of its oil from Iran, is not happy with that prospect.

The unresolved tension between pragmatism and ideology seen in personal terms as a struggle between “realists” and “neoconservatives” in the administration may also be played out in another energy-rich country on the fringes of the Middle East: Azerbaijan.

Ali Karimli, chairman of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan, a western-oriented opposition party, was also in Washington last week, lobbying for US guarantees that it would demand that President Ilham Aliyev ensure parliamentary elections scheduled for November were completely free and fair.

Azerbaijan was in the “coalition of the willing” that ousted Saddam Hussein and is integral to the pipeline that will carry oil to Europe from central Asia, circumventing Russia and Iran. But Mr Aliyev’s relations with the US have soured.

Wayne Merry, a former State Department and Pentagon official, says the US will do anything to avoid a nasty war inside Azerbaijan and would not want pro-democracy parties to take to the streets as they did in Georgia and Ukraine.

At the same time, Azerbaijan has shifted firmly towards Russia, and to an extent to Iran.

Speaking at the Nixon Center, Mr Aliyev has given warning that radical Islam is on the rise in Azerbaijan, responding to popular dissatisfaction with the US and the political vacuum caused by the crackdown on secular parties.

Mr Aliyev and Mr Putin both allied themselves to the losing parties in Georgia and Ukraine and could be getting on the wrong side of history again. This week in Moscow, the Russian president rolled out the red carpet for Mr Aliyev, the son of the former president Haidar Aliyev, who was a KGB colleague of Mr Putin in the former Soviet Union. Mr Putin proclaimed 2005 the “Year of Azerbaijan”. In 2004 it was the “Year of Ukraine”.

South China Morning Post
February 21, 2005
HEADLINE: Tehran’s troops no match for threatened US might; But agents around world could wreak havoc if Bush launches an attack
BYLINE: Borzou Daragahi in Tehran

Clothing store manager Hamid-Reza lost numerous relatives in the Iran-Iraq war and would be ready to give his own life for Iran against any aggressor.

But he fears his country would be no match for the United States, which is threatening to punish Iran over its nuclear programme.

“What will I do?” Hamid-Reza, 23, asked. “Get inside an inner tube and go fight against the American battleships in the Persian Gulf?”

Though Iran has begun publicly preparing for a US attack, many doubt whether its conventional forces are up to a battle.

It has recently begun to mobilise recruits in citizens’ militias and leaking plans to engage in the type of “asymmetrical” warfare that has bogged down American troops in neighbouring Iraq, officials and analysts say.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have increased over Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology. Tehran insists it needs nuclear power to meet domestic energy needs and bolster its scientific knowledge.

Washington officials insist they support the European efforts to pursue diplomacy, but refuse to rule out a military option if Iran refuses to give up its alleged development of a nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, Iranian authorities say they have been getting ready for war. Newspapers have announced efforts to increase numbers in the country’s seven million-strong Basiji militia, which were deployed in human wave attacks against Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.

The military has paraded long-range North Korean-designed Shahab missiles before television cameras. Generals have conducted war games near the Iraqi border.

Iran’s army includes 350,000 active-duty soldiers and 220,000 conscripts. Its elite Revolutionary Guards number 120,000, many of them draftees. Its navy and air force total 70,000 men.

The armed forces have about 2,000 tanks, 300 combat aircraft, three submarines, hundreds of helicopters and at least a dozen Russian-made Scud missile launchers of the type Saddam Hussein used against Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.

But both outside military experts and Iranians concede the country’s antiquated conventional hardware, worn down by years of US and European sanctions, would be little match for the hi-tech weapons of the United States.

Still, Iran could create problems for Washington and the world. Experts say its security forces include intelligence agencies with extensive overseas experience.

Iran’s highly classified Quds forces, which answer directly to Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are believed to have operations throughout the Middle East, in Central and South Asia, North Africa and in Europe and North America, according to a December report by the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

Within minutes of any attack, Iran’s air and sea forces could threaten oil shipments in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Iran controls the northern coast of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway oil tankers must navigate to get out of the Gulf.

Iran could activate Hezbollah militia in Lebanon to launch attacks on Israel and operatives could also attack US interests in Azerbaijan, Central Asia or Turkey.

“Iran can escalate the war,” said Nasser Hadian, professor of political science at the University of Tehran. “It’s not going to be all that hard to target US forces in these countries.”

But most analysts agree Iran’s trump card would be to unleash havoc in neighbouring Iraq, where Iraqis who spent years as exiles in Iran are about to assume control.

Though the US alleges Tehran has already been interfering in Iraq, many brush off the low-level infiltration as minor compared to the damage it could cause by allowing Iraqi militiamen into Iran or backing extreme Islamist groups.

The Business Times Singapore
February 22, 2005 Tuesday
HEADLINE: Rift between US and EU not likely to heal overnight
BYLINE: Shada Islam

EUROPEAN leaders hope to use key meetings with US President George W Bush during his current five-day European trip to repair transatlantic relations following two years of bitter acrimony over the Iraq war.

European Union (EU) and US officials were going out of their way in the run-up to the presidential visit to highlight their eagerness to start a new chapter in relations and put past differences behind them.

But while the mood is clearly mellower than in recent years, abiding disagreements between the two sides on a range of foreign policy, human rights, trade and environmental issues make it unlikely that the fractures in transatlantic ties can heal overnight.

The EU’s plans to lift a 15-year-old arms embargo against China as well as European efforts to find a diplomatic solution to end the current nuclear standoff with Iran have emerged as the two strongest points of divergence.

Europeans are also unhappy with America’s refusal to sign up to the Kyoto protocol on climate change and Washington’s still hesitant role in reshaping the United Nations.

Still suspicious

Crucially, while EU policymakers voice a strong desire to forge more forceful ties with Washington, they also insist that the 25-nation bloc will no longer accept a mere walk-on role as junior partner in the transatlantic alliance.

With European public opinion still largely suspicious of the US, European leaders have to be careful about just how close they want to get to Washington. This is especially the case for French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder – the two EU leaders most opposed to the Iraq war.

Also, while clearly buoyed by America’s new interest in the EU and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s repeated assurances during a recent European tour that Washington wanted to see a ‘strong and united EU’, officials in Brussels have few illusions about America’s ambivalence at having to deal with a more confident and self-assured Europe.

The US administration has, in fact, been sending mixed signals to Europe. In contrast to Ms Rice’s gentle courting of the EU, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld showed his indifference to the emerging global ambitions of the bloc at a recent international security conference in Munich.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), not the EU, was the most appropriate channel for promoting transatlantic ties, Mr Rumsfeld insisted at the meeting, contradicting Ms Rice’s insistence that the alliance was based on two equally important pillars – Nato and the EU.

Washington’s change of heart over Europe is clearly prompted by a belated realisation it needs European help to deal with post-conflict Iraq. In fact, despite their past rancour over the war, now that Iraq has held elections, this is one area where Europeans and Americans now see – almost – eye to eye.

EU governments have said they will undertake a first-ever collective police training mission for Iraq. The programme to train around 800 senior Iraqi judges, police and other officials is, however, expected to take place outside the country due to security concerns. The EU has also said it wants to play a role in helping Iraq draft a new constitution.

No major changes

Agreement is also expected later this week on joint transatlantic efforts to secure elusive Middle East peace. But areas of dissent remain. Ms Rice has cautioned the EU against lifting a 15-year-old arms embargo against China, saying such a move could destabilise the military balance in Asia.

EU leaders, however, insist that the ban will be replaced by a more effective code of conduct which will ensure that there is no transfer of sensitive technology to Beijing.

Seeking to defuse transatlantic tensions over the issue, the EU’s foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana has called for Washington and Brussels to establish a strategic dialogue on China’s emerging power.

European officials are not expecting any major changes in US policy as a result of Mr Bush’s visit. But they are hoping the talks will help restore trust between the two sides and convince the US leader of Europe’s growing clout on the global stage.

America’s new pro-EU rhetoric sounds impressive but it’s the nuts and bolts of US policy in the coming months that will determine whether transatlantic ties are really back on track.

The Business Times Singapore
February 22, 2005 Tuesday
HEADLINE: Different era, but same talk;
Bush’s campaign to spread democracy globally is similar to yesteryear’s communist idealism in rhetoric and attitude
BYLINE: Leon Hadar Washington Correspondent

AS Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party were moving towards capturing political power in Germany, in the aftermath of the last democratic parliamentary elections there in March 1933, there was no indication that the German Communist party was mounting any concerted response against the threat.

The relative inaction of the Communists reflected the belief among its leaders that the new Nazi-dominated government was the dying gasp of moribund capitalism. According to the prevailing Marxist doctrine of the time, Hitler’s government signalled the temporary triumph of Big Business and would create the conditions for a ‘revolutionary upturn’, accelerating the momentum towards a ‘proletarian revolution’.

Taking into consideration all that had happened after 1933, those German Communists sound today like a bunch of lunatics. But in a way, the grand expectation that the Nazis would help ignite a Communist revolution in Germany made a lot of sense at that time if one had been a Marxist activist believing in an doctrine that assumed that realities of Germany and the world were pre-determined by political and economic forces; that sooner then later the Good Guys – the workers – and their leaders – the Communists – were bound to defeat the ‘reactionary’ capitalists and their ‘agent’ Hitler. In its time, that was the Big Picture. The rest were just small details.

Now that Communism is more or less dead and when the few Marxists that are still around tend to seek refuge in social science departments in universities, the tendency among the chattering classes is to talk about the Death of Ideology, not to mention the End of History.

The members of the political and intellectuals classes have all become born-again pragmatists and realists committed to practical solutions to the problems confronting the nation-state and the market. The Big Picture consists of the small details managed by the government officials and business executives that meet each year in the Swiss resort town of Davos.

Alive and well

But there is certainly one place in this world in which the devotion to a grand ideological doctrine remains as powerful as ever; where political leaders and their intellectual coaches still assume that that the reality of the world is pre-determined by powerful political and economic forces.

That place is Washington, DC, and these days, if you’ve listened to American President George W Bush’s inaugural speech or to his State of the Union Address, you would have concluded that a historic ‘revolutionary upturn’ has taken place in Iraq that would be accelerating the tempo towards a ‘democratic revolution’ in the Greater Middle East and elsewhere. Indeed, the neoconservative ideologues who have dominated the foreign policy thinking of the Bush Administration and have been the architects of the war in Iraq (and Iran? and Syria?) are sounding more and more today like the Marxists of Germany in the 30s.

Forget those ‘little details’: you know, no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and no Saddam-Bin Laden ties; the anti-American insurgency; Abu Ghraib; the rising political influence of the Shiite clergy; signs of civil war. What counts is the march towards victory of democracy in Iraq and the spread of freedom and liberty in the entire Muslim world. The theocracy in Saudi Arabia? The military regimes in Egypt and Pakistan? These are just two more examples of those ‘small details’.

These let’s-make-the-world safe-for-democracy noises emanating from the White House are for real. If you watch Mr Bush’s body language as he calls for the spread of freedom worldwide, you do get the impression that he is a believer. And not unlike those 30s Marxists, the vision espoused by Mr Bush and the neocons makes for good reading and has a prophet that promises to lead all of us the promised land of liberty and democracy.

The book is The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, and the prophet is the author, former Soviet dissident and current Israeli right-wing politician Natan Sharansky who is confident that American should lead what would turn out to be a victorious crusade for global democracy. And for the cynic (aka realist) he has a clear message: ‘To suggest, as the sceptics do,’ writes Mr Sharansky, ‘that the majority of a people would freely choose to live in a fear society is to suggest that most of those who have tasted freedom would freely choose to return to slavery.’ Indeed, Mr Sharansky has become a cross between the Karl Marx of the Democratic Revolution and the Michael Jordan-style endorser of the American democratic brand, as well as a regular guest in the White House. Mr Bush has revealed that Mr Sharansky’s book has been his favourite bedtime reading and that he invited the former Israeli cabinet member for a discussion on how ‘the power of freedom’ can transform the Middle East.

On a recent interview on CNN, Mr Bush mentioned the ‘book by Natan Sharansky, who was imprisoned in the Soviet Union. He’s a heroic figure. He’s now an Israeli official who talks about freedom and what it means, and how freedom can change the globe. And I agree with him. I believed that before I met Natan Sharansky. This is a book that, however, summarises how I feel. I would urge people to read it’.

And while discussing Mr Bush’s foreign policy during her confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared that ‘the world should apply what Natan Sharansky calls the ‘town square test’: if a person cannot walks into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society. We cannot rest until every person living in a ‘fear society’ has finally won their freedom.’

Not surprisingly, Bill Kristol, the editor of the leading necon magazine, Weekly Standard is so thrilled, writing recently that ‘it’s good news that the president is so enthusiastic about Sharansky’s work. It suggests that, despite all the criticism and the difficulties, the president remains determined to continue to lead the nation along the basic foreign policy lines he laid down in his first term’ and, well, use the full political, economic and military resources to ensure that China and Russia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, and other US allies in the war on terror – not to forget the above-mentioned Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan – pass the ‘town square test’.

Is it the responsibility and obligation of the US to conduct such tests around the globe and does this democracy crusade really helps advance core US national interests?

In fact, in his book Mr Sharansky argues that in the Arab world, morality and American political interests are one and the same: as the best guarantee of its national security, America must use all the tools at its disposal to promote democracy throughout the region.

Mr Bush can repeat Ronald Reagan’s achievements in the former Soviet bloc in the 80s: confront an ideological enemy, defeat it and bring freedom to a region that has lived under tyranny. This is a vision that represents the post 9/11 Bush World View. Like Mr Bush, Mr Sharansky has a Manichean view of a world divided into good and evil, democracy and tyranny, ‘free society’ and ‘fear society’.

Like Marxism, it sounds like a great theory, but what exactly all has it to do with the real world? How exactly would the breakup of Iraq and/or a bloody war there and/or the rise of a pro-Iran Shiite government and/or the creation of an independent Kurdish state and/or the need to maintain large number of US troops there forever (in order to prevent the previous scenarios) advance US interests in the Middle East?

Problems worth considering

Will the erosion in the rights of women and minorities under a Shiite government in Baghdad mark the triumph of American-style democracy? Will Christians and women that are not shrouded in black be able to walk into the town square in Najaf, Krabala and Sadr City and express their views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm?

And what will be the results of the ‘town square test’ if it had been applied in US-occupied Fallujah or Israel-occupied-Nablus? Indeed, when one considers that Mr Sharansky has been one of the most right-wing Israeli politicians – he describes the West Bank and Gaza Strip as being ‘disputed’ rather than ‘occupied’, admires the Jews and even accused Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of being too soft on the Palestinians – the notion of ‘moral clarity’ espoused by Mr Sharansky (and Mr Bush) don’t sound very convincing.

American commentator Pat Buchanan had it right when he confronted Mr Sharansky on a NBC television news show: ‘If you believe in democracy that much, would you allow the fate of the settlers in Gaza to be decided by all the people of Gaza? Let them vote on whether the settlers should stay or go.’

Mr Sharansky would not agree to permit the Palestinians to make that decision and he refuses to acknowledge that Palestinians too want freedom from foreign rule and to recognise Palestinian nationalism as legitimate. For the Israeli ideologue the notion of making the Middle East – and the West Bank – safe for democracy under American leadership is self-serving.

It is an attempt to draw the US into a never-ending war against the Arab world in a way that would serve the interests of Mr Sharansky’s ultra-nationalist vision of a Greater Israel ruling over the Palestinians until they would ‘be ready’ for democracy.

Is President Bush, who summoned Mr Sharansky to the White House nine days after his re-election victory, buying into the Israeli politician’s doublespeak? Many of the neocons in Washington certainly do and insist that Mr Sharansky’s book provides a coherent summary of the global vision of the White House. And they are not going to permit any little unsettling detail to slow the momentum towards the revolution.

Also see Iran II.

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