Interesting Comments From Top Adviser to Iranian Leader

The top adviser to Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dished out a few comments worth noting in an interview with the AP recently.  After reaffirming the Ayatollah, and not new the new president, always has the last word on what happens with the country’s nuclear ambitions, he stated:

Velayati said Iran will not again suspend enrichment because Tehran had a bitter experience when it did so in 2003 as a confidence-building measure.

“We stopped any kind of enrichment for two years. What was the result? Nothing. Every day they used to put an extra claim on their former claims. Why must we repeat this experience?”

He could really take this a step further and point out sanctions have increased on Iran despite an admission of no evidence they are pursuing nuclear weapons by the West.

But we must address his point and ask: what does the West truly want if stopping the enrichment for two years did not appease their needs in a way that would end the situation?

And some may point to Iran’s backing of regimes not friendly to the West, such as Syria, as a reason for stronger sanctions.  Their backing of Assad is mentioned in the piece:

Velayati also said Iran will continue to support Bashar Assad’s government in Syria, which is fighting rebels backed by Western and some Arab states.

“We strongly believe that the government of Syria will remain in power,” he said. “The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran won’t hesitate to help the Syrian people and the Syrian government to defend their rights and their territory and their territorial integrity.”

But there is an elephant in the room at the moment when it comes to the United States throwing stones about this: the U.S. continuing to fund the Egyptian military and the reluctance to call what is going on in Egypt a coup.

As long as the U.S. is willing to give aid to regimes in the world such as this, we really can’t expect Iran to back off giving aid to its allies.  It’s a hollow argument and it should be thrown right back in the face of any Western negotiator trying to pressure the Iranian regime on this issue.

Sanctions Increase on Iran Despite Little Proof to Justify the Added Burden

Additional sanctions on Iran came into effect this week and we must still ask the question as to what the reasoning is for the increase?  What exactly has Iran done to deserve the increase and does this really get the world closer to a long-term resolution between them and the West?  Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman points out:

“Removing sanctions would count as a confidence-building measure and can assist in a resolution of the issue but increasing sanctions would have no result, apart from making the issue more complex and harder to resolve,” he said.

Keep looking…

Frankly, it’s a fair point.  If we truly want Iran to come to the negotiating table with an open mind and prepared to work with the P5+1, adding more sanctions is probably not going to get us anywhere since none of the previous sanctions have done the job.

It was also revealed Iran has been purchasing a high grade of alumina ore from Europe which has some military uses and which also proves very little in terms of their nuclear ambitions.  (This week’s sanctions are supposed to close this door as well.)  With the lack of evidence Iran is pursuing nuclear materials for weapons purposes the additional penalties are coming for reasons that seem unclear, other than to have a political boogeyman to scare people with as I’ve pointed out before.

Advocates for more sanctions might point out Iran has sent arms to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah for use in the ongoing civil war.  This may be considered bad behavior but there are two problems with wanting to penalize them for this action.

The first is that Russia was arming Assad as well.  That being said, if you are going to enact penalties on Iran for doing it, wouldn’t we need to impose equal penalties on Russia?  In fact, my guess would be the arms coming from Russia are probably a higher quality than those of Iran so wouldn’t the penalties need to be even more restrictive?

The second is the U.S. is now arming the rebels in Syria.  From an objective perspective, wouldn’t this open the door for Iran to call for sanctions against the U.S. for arming an opponent they don’t like?  That may sound silly but if we step away and just look at the situation from the outside, it’s a valid question.

Testimony Shows Why U.S. Position on Iran is Laughable

The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on American policy toward Iran with a lot of information that seems almost humorous when compared with what we factually know.  Let’s take a look at some of the points made by Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, during her opening comments.

A nuclear-armed Iran…would risk an arms race in a region already rife with violence and conflict.

One might ask why the region is so unstable and violent?  Could it be continued American support for the monarchy in Bahrain that has violently suppressed its people?  Or maybe the disastrous invasion of Iraq that has grown into an even more violent country since the U.S. has pulled the military out?  And how would we make that region even more violent and rife with conflict?  An invasion of Iran would be a start.  The fact is American policy in the Middle East has been an obvious contributor to the instability Sherman mentions but there is no acknowledgment of that here.  Can’t admit guilt on that one.

As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has responsibilities to the international community.

Or you can just run it over. That works, too!

So it’s important for countries in the region to sign on to the NPT and carry out the terms of it?  Then why did the U.S. vote against a U.N. resolution calling on Israel to sign the treaty just six months ago?  Does this mean Israel does not have the same responsibilities to the international community as Sherman has bestowed on Iran?  Difficult to hide this hypocrisy from the anyone in the international community paying even a little attention to this situation.

We also have grave concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East, particularly its support for Bashar Asad in Syria; its support for terrorist organizations like Hizballah; and its unacceptable attacks on innocent civilians worldwide.

A lot of the Middle East probably has “grave concerns” about U.S. activities in the region as well but that, of course, doesn’t really matter.  As far as the attacks on innocent civilians, one could point out the U.S. is also guilty of attacks on civilians through the drone program but America can’t view these as “unacceptable” attacks because we are the world’s moral authority and anything else is heinous.

Israel is not Iran’s only target, however. Iranian national Mansour Arbabsiar pled guilty last year to plotting with members of the Qods Force to murder the Saudi Arabian ambassador by bombing a crowded restaurant here in Washington, DC.

Still a lot of questions about this plot and its connection to Iran.  The man was deemed to have mental problems, was described by a friend as more “Mr. Bean” than “007”, and the U.S. has never provided any evidence he had a direct connection to the Iranian security apparatus as the government has claimed.  Also seems like a smaller act of aggression compared to Israeli assassinations of Iranian scientists and the cyber attack on Iran by the West known as Stuxnet, an action the U.S. would consider an act of war if conducted against it but apparently not an act of war if it commits the attack.

(Regarding) Iran’s continued efforts to expand its nefarious interference in the region…It is no surprise then that, according to a 2013 Zogby survey of 20 Arab and Muslim-majority countries, Iran is now viewed unfavorably in a majority of Arab countries and its appeal to mainstream Arab public opinion has virtually collapsed from its 2006 peak.

So if a country is unpopular in the region according to the people that live there, that country should stop trying to “expand its nefarious” influence in the region?  What is the U.S. approval in some of the countries in the Middle East again?  Pretty much as bad (worse in some cases) as Iran.  Does this mean by Sherman’s rationale that we will be leaving the region alone, too?  Guessing not.

Instead of meeting the needs of its own people, the Iranian regime has chosen to spend enormous amounts of its money and resources to support the Asad regime as well as its militant proxies around the world, and to pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction.

The sad thing here is, if you change Iranian to American and Assad to (insert name of favorite Middle Eastern dictator the U.S. at some point supported here), you can say the same exact thing about the United States.

All of these questionable points coupled with two other facts mentioned during the hearing.  The first being there is no evidence Iran is pursuing nuclear materials for weapons purposes, conceded many times throughout the hearing.  The second is the West has offered little in the way of sanctions relief in exchange for Iranian actions, another point conceded by Sherman during the most interesting exchange of the question time with Senator Tim Kaine (begins at the one hour ten minute mark in the video and worth watching).  This was also addressed yesterday by the CSM in an interview with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and potential next president.

With all this in mind, it’s time to ask when the U.S. is actually going to get serious about its relationship with Iran.  Clearly, that time has not come with such a laughable position on the situation.

Rumblings for Fair Negotiations with Iran Increasing

More and more people are seeing what should’ve been plainly obvious to everyone by now: sanctions on Iran have failed to bring a solution to the situation and a very different route is needed.

An article on the CSM’s site today shows the growing call from various groups studying the situation to change tactics and present more lucrative packages to Iran in exchange for more transparency in their nuclear program.  In other words, it’s time to start offering to get rid of sanctions on Iran so they will be more open with their facilities.

Time for the U.S. to make a real offer to this man despite what we have been led to believe.

One of the biggest problems pointed out in the article is that sanctions are what the U.S. ‘knows’ in terms of dealing with countries deemed adversaries and calling for more benevolent policies are politically difficult.  No one wants to be the politician saying we need to offer real relief to Iran because opponents will use that against them even though it would likely bring about a successful end to the situation.

And Iran’s leadership can’t cave in to sanctions either or they look weak to their people.  As pointed out in the piece:

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated in February that pressure and sanctions are akin to the US “pointing a gun at Iran and say[ing] either negotiate or we will shoot.” In March, Khamenei said, “if the Americans sincerely want” to resolve the nuclear issue “they should stop being hostile towards the Iranian nation in words and in action.”

So, we have reached this point where two bulls are running at each other and one has to give.  And considering what has transpired, it would seem the U.S. is the one that has to bend.

Iran’s leader has called for a fatwa against making nuclear weapons.  The U.S. has admitted it has no intelligence suggesting Iran is pursuing nuclear technology for weapons purposes.  Iran also reduced its stockpile of material that could be converted into weapons recently showing it is moving in the direction apparently wanted by the rest of the world.

Iran has seemingly done what it needs to do in terms of showing the world it is ready for the sanctions to be lifted.  Now is the time for the United States to do what more people are recognizing is the solution: offer real relief on the sanctions and treat Iran as their actions have shown they should be treated.

Even some from the usually hawkish right see this as the solution.  From the piece:

“I think the answer is probably pretty simple. We’re going to have to sweeten the offer on sanctions relief,” former US assistant secretary of state under the George W. Bush administration and veteran troubleshooter James Dobbins said at the report launch. Sanctions should be suspended, not dropped, he said, until Iran also demonstrates it can hold to its side of any bargain.

The time for change has come.  The question now is: has the will for change made its way to the top levels of the U.S. government yet?

Chi Tribune’s Take on Iran: Ignorance Running Wild, Part Two

Continued from Part One here

And which of these labels would the cyber attack on Iran by the U.S. and Israel know as Stuxnet fall under?  Is that an incentive or a sanction?  Or is a cyber attack an act of war as the Pentagon has deemed such an action by one country against another?  I’m sure Iran is just going to consider that water under the bridge and will bow to whatever demands the countries that have already attacked them want.  As for the sanctions:

Those sanctions, including a European oil boycott, are crippling Iran’s economy…No wonder sanctions have not yet convinced Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to stop his country’s march into the nuclear club.

Sanctions are “crippling” Iran but apparently not enough.  I’m not sure how one can give such a glowing promotion of the policy regarding sanctions and then admit it isn’t really working a few sentences later.  And the not working part seems to be very true as reported by Reuters earlier this year.  Iran’s economy has absorbed the blow to this point and it’s doubtful it would break because of any further sanctions.

A religious extremist whose religious pronouncements do not matter to the people pointing out his extremism.

And the insinuation Khamenei is letting his country “march into the nuclear club?”  Kind of a curious claim since someone in Iran’s leadership issued a fatwa in 2005 saying his countrymen were not allowed to pursue nuclear weapons technology.  Who was it in Iran’s leadership that did that?…Who was it?…Name is coming to me…Oh, yeah.  It was Khamenei himself.  This statement by the Tribune is truly absurd when they are willing to call the regime “Islamic despots” yet have no respect for this particular aspect of Islam and the power the fatwa carries.  Might want to do a tad more research on that next time.

Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois and other lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on legislation that would sharply intensify the pressure on Iran…The goal: a complete banking and trade embargo against Iran.  We’ve long backed such an embargo.

And why wouldn’t people back a trade embargo as a path to vastly changing the behavior of a government?  Look how quickly the trade embargo on Cuba rushed Fidel Castro out of power.  The U.S. starts the embargo and roughly five quick decades later Castro hands power over to his longtime rival and political opponent, Raul…something.  His last name escapes me at the moment but I’m sure he is nothing like Fidel Castro.  Not related in any way.  All systems go on that trade embargo!  It will work wonders for this Iran thing!

The Tribune’s take on Iran is incredibly ignorant of the situation and has no business appearing in a major publication moonlighting as informed opinion.  Freedom of speech is wonderful.  But it would be so much better if people would just admit they do not know what they are talking about when they know so very little about a subject.  Then they can plague the world with their horrible assessments of situations with a clear and fair warning to their readers of their lack of knowledge.

Chi Tribune’s Take on Iran: Ignorance Running Wild, Part One

The Chicago Tribune decided to weigh in on the Iran situation by making a comparison to the ongoing chicanery in North Korea.  Just a couple problems: the situations are vastly different and their claims about Iran are downright ludicrous considering the facts we possess on the country.

It begins with a strange declaration considering the whole situation:

On the day that Iran declares to the world that it has defied Western red lines and is capable of building its first nuclear bomb, the Middle East will become immensely more dangerous and unstable.

Right on target!

So, objectively speaking, nukes in the hands of a country led mostly by proponents of one religion makes a region dangerous?  If that’s the case, what about Israel’s nukes?  Is it the fact that nukes are in the region and are inherently dangerous regardless of who holds them or is it just when they’re in the hands of Iran that makes them dangerous?

Actually, the growing body of evidence on nuclear proliferation and war points to the contrary.  “When a nuclear monopoly exists between two states, and their opponent does not, there is a greater chance of war.  In contrast, when there is mutual nuclear weapon ownership with both states possessing nuclear weapons, the odds of war drop precipitously.”  Not that anyone is cheering for Iran to begin building nuclear weapons but history and research is not on the side of the Tribune’s position.

The latest round of international talks with Iran to discourage its nuclear program has fizzled. A decade of these talks has produced nothing.

A very slick way to word the argument and slide a factual piece of info past the reader.  A “decade” of “nothing” ignores the reality Iran, according to U.S. intelligence, stopped its nuclear weapons pursuit in 2003.  By my amateurish math, that would be roughly…oh, surprise, surprise!  One decade ago.  Again, slick way to word it but hugely dishonest to the reader.

Iran could have that capability (enough material to make nuclear weapons) by mid-2014 or earlier.

Yet another claim Iran will have a nuclear weapon at a stated date in the future.  The problem with the media doing this is it becomes an instance of crying wolf and becomes a ridiculous claim to anyone paying attention.  We have heard it so often and the claims have been so scattered (Israel now says 2015 or 2016, by the way) it is impossible to take any of them very seriously without some type of harder evidence being given.  Until some semblance of proof is shown, this fantastical claim should no longer be made by anyone in the media.

For the better part of a decade, the U.S. and its allies have tried to prevent a nuclear Iran in two ways: bribes of increased trade or other incentives to stand down. And strangling economic sanctions.

So, is it only incentives or only sanctions that we’ve used in dealing with Iran?  I’m guessing one would make them interested in working with us and the other not so much.  In the case of the incentives, they seem to be nothing more than showing we are “trying” without actually trying by continually offering the same package Iran repeatedly rejects.  That’s not really working just in case the Tribune hasn’t noticed.

Iran, Israel, and the Necessity of Political Boogeymen

No matter where or when a politician runs for office, the one thing they will always need is a political boogeyman.  They must have some real or imagined evil taking place that they believe they could fix if we just give them our vote at the polls.  And this is natural since the opposite would sound rather ridiculous.  “Please elect me because things are perfect and I want to continue that by not changing anything and doing as little as possible.”  Despite the fact it probably seems like many politicians do close to nothing at times, they certainly couldn’t win an election with that platform.  (Except maybe in the gerrymandered and uncompetitive districts in America.  They could probably still win those.  Only half kidding, sadly.)

The boogeymen usually have two key characteristics.  The first is that the politician sees the evil being performed as an abnormality from their perception of societal norms.  The second, typically, is that the boogeymen have little to no political power, preferably no voting power.  Take for instance illegal immigrants, criminals, foreign country/ideas influences, or the poor (since their voting turnout is lower than the shrinking middle class and the getting wealthier wealthy).  If you haven’t heard a politician angrily talk about these evils, you haven’t heard a politician talk.

Most will remember Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Looney Tunes-like diagram he held up during his speech at the United Nations last September when he suggested Iran would be most of the way to a nuclear bomb by early-to-mid 2013.  The potential prospect suggested seemed a bit scary while at the same time the presentation was a bit unintentionally humorous.  But Netanyahu was just doing what he needed to help himself as a politician.  He had an election coming and he needed to show why he was the one Israel should choose to continue its fight against its enemies.

In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Jacques E. C. Hymans addresses the overall situation between the West and Iran and particularly the numerous failed intelligence assessments by both the U.S. and Israel, at least failed when reality is compared to the rhetoric of each country’s politicians.  Hymans points out the move could be political but strangely dismisses the idea for the exact reason it should, in fact, be seen as political.  Hymans argument:

A second hypothesis is that Israeli intelligence estimates have been manipulated for political purposes. This possibility is hard to verify, but it cannot be dismissed out of hand. Preventing the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran is Netanyahu’s signature foreign policy stance, and he had an acute interest in keeping the anti-Iran pot boiling in the run-up to last month’s parliamentary elections, which he nearly lost. Now, with the elections over, perhaps Israeli intelligence officials feel freer to convey a more honest assessment of Iran’s status. This theory of pre-election spin is not very satisfying, however, because it fails to explain why Israeli governments of all political orientations have been making exaggerated claims about Iran for 20 years — to say nothing of the United States’ own overly dire predictions.

The reality that Israeli claims about Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been overblown for over two decades now should reinforce the idea these claims have been political.  The idea that the length of time this has been going on nulls the possibility it is political bears no resemblance to history.  Take almost any other common political boogeyman.  Railing about illegal immigrants in the U.S. has gone on since long before anyone reading this was born.  Politicians are still debating the use of marijuana while some states are legalizing it.  Look at the era of Prohibition.  The Red Scare.  The list goes on and on.

In fact, there is an obvious clue in the article that should have tipped the author off to this being political.  Hymans points out Israel has backed off its claim Iran will have a nuclear weapon this year and now projects they will have a weapon around 2015 or 2016.

Take a wild guess when the next parliamentary elections in Israel will likely take place.

The West’s Failed Dealings With Iran Continues

The foreign policy debacle that is the West versus Iran continues as both sides plan to meet in Kazakhstan next week to discuss Iran’s nuclear enrichment goals.  The countries trying to stop Iran’s activities are preparing to offer what they call “a substantial and serious” deal hoping to get their way with the Middle Eastern nation.  Just one problem: they already know Iran isn’t interested in their offer.  As reported by Reuters:

Western officials in Washington have told Reuters they plan to offer to ease sanctions barring trade in gold and other precious metals in return for Iran shutting its Fordow uranium enrichment plant – a proposal already rejected by Tehran.

So, the plan is to put something we know will be rejected on the table in order to look like we are trying to negotiate fairly.  This, of course, comes after more economic sanctions have been imposed by the United States.  Hard to see why a country wouldn’t want to jump at an offer they don’t want after being treated even worse in the meantime.

Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Kidding front and center, the West uses its tried and true method of economic sanctions expecting it will bring about the demise of the Iranian government and install a new regime more friendly to the United States.  Economic sanctions have been so successful in the past there really should be no other way even suggested when trying to convince a foreign country to run their government the way the people who don’t live there want it operated.  Just look at how quickly the trade embargo on Cuba took Fidel Castro out of power.  Five meager decades and boom!  A new revolution in Cuba sweeps into power headed by longtime guy-on-the-opposing-side…Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother.  See how well it works!

And how are those sanctions now working in Iran?  Well…they’re not.  Some highlights from Reuters’ report on Iran’s economy:

Shops in the Iranian capital are crowded. Finding a seat at good restaurants can be difficult. And the ski resorts in the mountains north of Tehran continue to attract Tehran’s glamorous and well-heeled.  “The economy has problems with the sanctions, yes. But it’s still working,” he says. “It isn’t as bad as people outside the country think.”

“The government had a long time to prepare for economic war,” said Mohammad Ali Shabani, an Iranian political analyst based in London. “If you’re talking about collapse, that is not happening.”

Iranians seeking to escape inflation and unable to move their money out of the country are building new homes, boosting the construction and carpentry industries.  These mini-booms are reflected in flashy new cars cruising Tehran’s streets and luxury apartments going up in its affluent neighborhoods. The stock market hit a record high this week.

All of this sounds bad.  But that’s not the worst part:

The rial’s depreciation has halved the savings of the middle class and destroyed some of their businesses, but “those at the top and bottom of the pyramid haven’t seen a dramatic amount of change”…This uneven distribution of the pain of sanctions is why, for Washington, they could prove counter-productive: they are doing most damage to a group that might be expected to push for political change in Iran.

Ouch!  All of this coupled with the fact that we still have no hard evidence showing Iran is pursuing nuclear enrichment for anything other than peaceful medical research purposes. In fact, Iran has restarted the conversion of more of its stockpile in a way that makes it harder to create weapons in recent months, an act the West should view as rather conciliatory given the sequence of events.  As noted by Julian Borger’s security blog at the Guardian:

At the time of the last IAEA report three months ago, Iran had a stockpile of nearly 135kg of 20% uranium and that figure was growing fast because it had stopped converting a portion of its production into uranium oxide powder for use as reactor fuel. That conversion resumed on December 2, the IAEA reports, and 28% was taken away from the 20% stockpile between in the two months since. Once it is converted into powder, it becomes much less of a proliferation concern.

This is not to say we shouldn’t be mindful of Iran’s actions.  As with all nuclear material around the globe we should keep a close eye on it regardless of where it is located, which is what is happening.  But if the West wants to negotiate with Iran, it appears it will have to do so on more of an equal ground instead of the talking down to the country that has been done for many years.

From an outside observer’s perspective, Iran has not backed-down to the West’s threats and it appears they have no immediate reason to do so.  They have stood their ground and have tried to show they are wanting the material for peaceful means.  It is time for the West to get serious about dealing with Iran if it wants to continue working with the country and closely watching its nuclear program through groups such as the IAEA.

Did the Israeli military defy PM Netanyahu? – Amanpour – CNN.com Blogs

Did the Israeli military defy PM Netanyahu? – Amanpour – CNN.com Blogs.

A scary situation with a very positive outcome.  It is amazing how quick some leaders are willing to go to war with seemingly little evidence backing their reasoning.  The most eye-opening reality here is this order and the defying of it took place two years ago and what has Iran done since?  Apparently nothing in terms of attacking Israel or anything else that would have justified the attack at that time.  There is still no proof Iran is building nuclear weapons or is as big a threat as we are being sold and this is just another clear and dangerous mistake made by Iran’s opponents in this foreign policy battle.

Revealing Article on Iran Situation

The Guardian posted a very detailed article covering many aspects of the international situation with Iran today.  Some highlights that should be noted:

Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak, said this week in London that it was the Iranian decision this year to convert a third of the country’s stock of 20%-enriched uranium into fuel (making it harder to convert to weapons-grade material if Iran decided to make a weapon) that had bought another “eight to 10 months”.

I’ve mentioned before there is no evidence Iran is pursuing nuclear materials for weapons purposes and another statement furthers that point as the Iranians are clearly using the materials for fuel purposes according to the head of defense of the country most affected by the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.  In other words, they are a threat and pursuing nuclear weapons even though they have done nothing overly threatening and have shown no action they are pursuing nuclear materials for weaponized purposes.

The UK government has told the US that it cannot rely on the use of British bases in Ascension Island, Cyprus, and Diego Garcia for an assault on Iran as pre-emptive action would be illegal.

This should be particularly eye-opening considering the UK was such a strong ally of the U.S. going into the war with Iraq.  Obviously, the British government lives by the idea of “fool me once about a Middle Eastern country allegedly pursuing WMDs with no evidence proving it, shame on you.  Fool me twice about the same situation, shame on me.”  The United States’ closest ally isn’t going for it.  Why should anyone else?  (Including the American public.)

Ami Ayalon, a former chief of the Israeli navy and the country’s internal intelligence service, Shin Bet, argues Israel too cannot ignore the new Arab realities…”In order for Israel to face Iran we will have to form a coalition of relatively pragmatic regimes in the region, and the only way to create that coalition is to show progress on the Israel-Palestinian track.”

Like so many other international conflicts in the Middle East, it boils down to one issue: Palestine and the refusal of Israel to cooperate in forming a fair and legitimate Palestinian state.  We are left to wonder how different (and likely more peaceful) the world would be if this issue had been solved decades ago…