Iran war news this week was focused on last weekend’s talks between the P5+1 and Iran. The P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) reopened talks with Iran, for the first time in 15 months, over Iran’s alleged violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and over Iran’s refusal to obey the UN Security Council Resolutions to halt its uranium enrichment program.
In an atmosphere overshadowed by the Obama/Clinton line that “this was Iran’s last chance,” the conference was viewed by most observers as constructive and encouraging, and a follow-on meeting is now scheduled for May 23 in Baghdad. At the next meeting the negotiations will focus on in-depth examinations of the alleged violations by Iran, and (presumably) detail a program to remedy many of the outstanding issues.
The relative success of last weekend’s meeting in Istanbul is not to everyone’s liking. Israel’s president Netanyahu complained that weak US diplomacy had given Iran a 5-week “freebie,” and the US Congress barged ahead crafting a new round of sanctions. However, as comments and assessments linked below indicate, the general view (by the Europeans, for example) was that Iran had been forthcoming and apparently sincere in its desire to find a negotiated outcome.
One of the major issues on the table is Iran’s program that is now enriching uranium to a 20 percent level (meaning that the uranium is manipulated so that the percentage of the final product that is useful in nuclear fission – U235 – is raised from 0.7 percent [as in “natural” uranium] to the 20 percent level needed to produce isotopes that can be used in nuclear medicine/cancer treatment.) It appears that Iran may be open to some kind of bargain by which it will be supplied with the quantities of the fuel that it needs for this work in exchange for stopping enrichment to the 20 percent level, sending its supply of such enriched uranium out of the country, etc.
Of course there are other issues on the table, including Iran’s new underground enrichment facility at Fordo, which is seen as threatening because it would be hard to bomb. (Truly!) And there are also demands by the United States (and indirectly by Israel) that stem from allegations in the (very likely forged) so-called “laptop documents,” which includes the demand to inspect a particular building at the giant Iranian military base at Parchin.
Of interest (to me at least) this week was a clustering of news stories and controversies re: some of the vocabulary of the US/Israel/Iran stand-off. The United States and its mainstream media are not all on the same page about Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei’s “fatwa” against nuclear weapons; similarly, the Shi’ite concept of “Taqiya” (a lie that is acceptable under certain conditions) has been raised by US regime-changers to challenge the thought that something an Iranian has said can be taken as the truth. And Juan Cole pointed out this week that US “sanctions” on Iranian oil have morphed into an economic blockade, an act of war in international law. All this and more is developed in the good/useful reading linked below.
As if to make up for the slackening of tensions around Iran, developments on the Syria front raised serious questions about whether last weekend’s UN/Arab League-brokered cease fire would last out the week. While the UN Security Council has gone ahead and authorized a larger contingent of UN truce monitors (about 300 people), the “bad cop,” the Friends of Syria, met in Paris to threaten military action, further sanctions, and arming the Syrian resistance. And based on some cross-border shooting at Syrians fleeing into Turkey last week, Hillary Clinton raised the point that the “attack on Turkey” by Syria might trigger intervention by NATO. I’ve have linked some useful summary articles below that elaborate on these events.
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LAST WEEKEND’S MEETING IN INSTANBUL – SOME ASSESSMENTS
What a Difference a Day (of Iran Talks) Makes
By Kate Gould, Friends Committee on National Legislation [April 20, 2012]
—- After ten hours of talks with Iran, opportunities for a diplomatic resolution of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program have dramatically improved, and Congress gears up to vote on yet another attempt to kill diplomacy before the next round of talks. After the first talks in more than a year, the parties have agreed to meet again on May 23 for an additional round of talks. Considering the high stakes involved, hitting the ‘snooze’ button on the proverbial ‘alarm clock of confrontation’, as journalist Tony Karon put it, is a real achievement. Agreeing to more talks signals a commitment from all parties at the table to hold off on war—at least for now. http://truth-out.org/opinion/
(Video) Inside Story: Iran nuclear talks: A positive first step?
From Aljazeera [April 17, 2012] – 25 minutes
—- As Iran and the world’s major powers engage in a new round of nuclear talks, we discuss if a compromise will be reached. http://www.youtube.com/watch?
Optimism in Iran: Officials See Potential for Nuclear Deal in Baghdad
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [April 21, 2012]
—- Comments from Guardian Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati yesterday show a surprising level of optimism in Iran about the prospect of reaching a deal with the P5+1 over Iran’s civilian nuclear program. Terming the Istanbul talks of last weekend “success and progress,” Jannati said that the P5+1 seem ready to accept enrichment of uranium for civilian purposes as “Iran’s right.” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi seemed similarly optimistic, saying that Iran was “ready to resolve all issues very quickly and simply.” The officials all seemed to express great hope for finalizing a deal at the May 23 Baghdad meeting. Jannati warned Western nations against trying to impose yet more sanctions in the middle of the talks, saying that they could derail the entire effort. US officials have been pushing for more sanctions before the talks. http://news.antiwar.com/2012/
04/21/optimism-in-iran- officials-see-potential-for- nuclear-deal-in-baghdad/
Is Peace Getting in the Way of Our War Plans?
By David Swanson, War Is a Crime [April 19, 2012]
—- This past weekend’s talks clearly suggested that an alternative to war is possible. This prospect for peace was immediately denounced by right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman and other members of Congress – who may try to block further talks as early as this week. A Senate effort to prevent the talks from even beginning had been blocked by Sen. Rand Paul. Now Congress is coming back with more deadly sanctions, ultimatums, and resolutions requiring war. http://truth-out.org/opinion/
For Israel, the Problem with Iran Diplomacy Is the Prospect of Nuclear Compromise
By Tony Karon, Time [April 19, 2012]
—- Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amplified his skepticism of President Obama’s Iran strategy on Wednesday, when he used a Holocaust remembrance speech to warn that Iran was building nuclear weapons in order to destroy Israel. “The Iranian regime is acting openly and decisively toward our destruction, and it is acting feverishly to develop a nuclear weapon to achieve this goal,” Netanyahu said, two days after accusing the Administration and its partners of giving Iran a “freebie” in last weekend’s nuclear talks in Istanbul. The combination of those statements creates an impression that the Israelis see the current diplomacy with Iran as prevarication in the face of a mortal threat to Israel — a message calculated to raise the domestic political heat on President Obama. http://globalspin.blogs.time.
com/2012/04/19/for-israel-the- problem-with-iran-diplomacy- is-the-prospect-of-nuclear- compromise/
Also useful: Patrick Martin, “Israeli PM criticizes Obama for diplomacy with Iran,” Globe and Mail [Canada] [April 19, 2012] http://www.theglobeandmail.
com/news/world/israeli-pm- criticizes-obama-for- diplomacy-with-iran/ article2408381
DECONSTRUCTING THE LANGUAGE OF US/IRAN DIPLOMACY
Iran’s Nuclear Fatwa
By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service [April 19, 2012]
—- The Barack Obama administration’s new interest in the 2004 religious verdict, or “fatwa”, by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banning the possession of nuclear weapons, long dismissed by national security officials, has prompted the New York Times to review the significance of the fatwa for the first time in several years. Senior Obama administration officials have decided to cite the fatwa as an Iranian claim to be tested in negotiations, posing a new challenge to the news media to report accurately on the background to the issue. But the Apr. 13 New York Times article by James Risen rehashed old arguments by Iran’s adversaries and even added some new ones. http://www.counterpunch.org/
Also useful: Juan Cole, “Fatwa from Khamenei forbidding Nukes,” Informed Comment [April 22, 2012] http://www.juancole.com/2012/
04/yes-memri-there-is-a-fatwa- from-khamenei-forbidding- nukes.html
Iran’s Forbidden Nukes and the Taqiya Lie
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment [April 16, 2012]
—- It is said that Iranian negotiators stressed that the decisions on the nuclear program are taken by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and that he has given fatwas or considered legal rulings, against having or using nuclear weapons. But skeptics [have] pointed to two counter-arguments. One is that Khamenei criticized Muammar Qaddafi for giving up his nuclear plans in the face of Western pressure, which left him a sitting duck when NATO turned on him. The other is that Shiite Muslims practice taqiyya or pious dissimulation. That is, they are allowed to lie for their faith under certain circumstances. These are the only two counter-arguments the analysts appear to have conveyed to Mr. Risen, and they are both false. http://www.juancole.com/2012/
(Video) Israel’s Dan Meridor: We misquoted Ahmadinejad
From Aljazeera [April 16, 2012]
—- As the US and Europe confront Iran in talks about its nuclear programme, the diplomatic tensions between Iran and Israel remain at boiling point, with threats of an attack on the Islamic Republic by the Jewish state. And there is one expression that is continuously invoked by the Israeli leadership in order to justify its claims that Iran is an existential threat. On this episode of Talk to Al Jazeera we analyze the words and issues central to the dispute between Israel and Iran with Israel’s deputy prime minister. http://www.aljazeera.com/
SOME OTHER ISSUES
Beyond the central issues in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, there are other issues that are important, but that have received less media attention. One such issue that we would like to get more media attention (and action!) is the idea of a Nuclear Free Zone in the Middle East. This is a way out of the present impasse posed by Israel’s nuclear arsenal and the nuclear-proliferation pressures that it generates. CND’s Kate Hudson’s article, linked below, is an especially useful guide. An issue that will probably get lots of media play is the IAEA demand to inspect a certain building at the Parchin military base. While this is treated as a stupid demand by many experts, it is complex and “scary” enough to stir up rightwing froth in the media; and so linked below is a useful guide to what it’s all about. The Iranians regard additional sanctions while negotiations are underway as a provocation and a sign that the United States is not serious about resolving disagreements through diplomacy. So, just in time, here comes Congress, with more bad ideas. And as for the small islands in the Persian Gulf that are disputed between Iran and the United Arab Emirates … what could go wrong?
Inspecting the Parchin Military Base
Iran‘s Parchin complex: Why are nuclear inspectors so focused on it?
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor [April 20, 2012]
—- Parchin has been turned into a high-profile test case of Iran’s willingness to be transparent by the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, which says it has new information on past weapons-related activities there, and seeks access to the site for the first time in seven years. But veteran inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) say the singular focus on visiting Parchin is a departure for the Agency that could jeopardize its credibility, considering the host of issues that remain between the IAEA and Iran. http://www.csmonitor.com/
World/Middle-East/2012/0420/ Iran-s-Parchin-complex-Why- are-nuclear-inspectors-so- focused-on-it
A Nuclear Weapons Free Zone?
Iran and Israel must both work for a nuclear-free Middle East
By Kate Hudson, Aljazeera [April 20, 2012]
[FB – Kate Hudson is the general secretary of the UK-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament]
—- A dispassionate look at the current tensions between Iran and Israel would surely conclude that the security concerns of each state must be acknowledged in order to move towards a peaceful and sustainable resolution. Beginning dialogue on these issues is not easy, but this is precisely what needs to be done. The UN will this year be holding an important conference on a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East. The conference has certainly been a long time coming. But with the prospect of Iran, Israel and delegates from all of the Middle East states being brought to the table for frank discussions on security and disarmament, hopes for genuine progress have emerged over recent months. If the US really wants to see a lasting solution to the problems of the region, it needs to exert productive diplomatic pressure and not simply ratchet up the talk of military conflict. It could start by suggesting that Israel, as the only nuclear armed state in the Middle East, should attend this vital conference. http://www.aljazeera.com/
Some Little Islands in the Persian Gulf
(Video) Inside Story: Iran and UAE tussle over Gulf islands
From Aljazeera [April 19, 2012] – 25 minutes
—- As Gulf states unite to take on Iran over disputed islands we ask what does this mean for an already volatile region. http://www.youtube.com/watch?
Also useful: Zaineb Al Hassani, “Iran warns of military response over islands,” The National [UAE] [April 20, 2012] http://www.thenational.ae/
news/uae-news/iran-warns-of- military-response-over-islands ; and “US backs UAE in islands row with Iran,” The National [UAE] [April 19, 2012]
Sanctions and Counter-Sanctions
(Video) Juan Cole: US Sanctions, a ‘blockade’ of Iranian Petroleum
From Russia Today [April 17, 2012] – 10 minutes
—- After a meeting between Iran and five UN Security Council members in Turkey over the weekend, the Iranian Foreign Minister said today that Iran is ready to solve all nuclear disputes “quickly and easily” at another round of talks in Baghdad next month. But the Iranian foreign minister also urged for sanctions that have been put in place by the US and other western countries to be lifted. Juan Cole, blogger and University of Michigan professor discusses. http://www.youtube.com/watch?
Amid Nuclear Talks, Iran Warns EU of More Oil Cutoffs if Sanctions Aren’t Lifted
By John Glaser, Antiwar.com [April 20, 2012]
—- Iran’s oil minister on Thursday warned of more cutoffs in oil sales to the European Union unless they show more flexibility toward Iran ahead of a second round of nuclear talks next month. Washington had aggressively pressured the European Union states to cooperate on sweeping economic sanctions on Iran’s oil sector, and Iran hit back with warnings of preempting the sanctions and cutting off exports to them completely. Economic sanctions were supposed to be a tool of leverage for the West against Iran, but Tehran is using it back on the West in kind.
04/20/amid-nuclear-talks-iran- warns-eu-of-more-oil-cutoffs- if-sanctions-arent-lifted/ print/
SOME USEFUL RESOURCES
Timeline of Iran’s nuclear programme
From Aljazeera [April 14, 2012]
—- Major events in Iran’s development of nuclear power since 2002.
Iran‘s Nuclear Program (Nuclear Talks, 2012)
From New York Times [April 2012]
news/international/ countriesandterritories/iran/ nuclear_program/index.html? inline=nyt-classifier
Iran‘s Nuclear Program
snapshot/t/news/international/ countriesandterritories/iran/ nuclear_program/
NEWS FROM SYRIA
UN Security Council: 300 Observers for Syria Ceasefire
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [April 21, 2012]
—- The United Nations Security Council has voted today to turn the ceasefire observers in Syria into a full mission, under the name UN Supervision Mission in Syria, with plans to send 300 unarmed military observers and a team of civilian specialists to join the “advance” group already on the ground. http://news.antiwar.com/2012/
Also useful: Neil MacFarquhar, “U.N. Agrees to Send More Cease-Fire Observers to Syria,” New York Times [April 22, 2012] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/
04/22/world/middleeast/; Neil MacFarquhar, “Syria Protests Cite Observers and a Truce as Faltering,” New York Times [April 21, 2012] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/ battered-city-in-syria-is- quiet-as-un-cease-fire- monitors-visit.html 04/21/world/middleeast/syrian- protesters-mock-cease-fire- and-united-nations-observers. html?ref=world
The “Friends of Syria” Meeting
U.S., France, others hint at use of force against Syria if violence continues
By Edward Cody, Washington Post [April 19, 2012]
—- The United States, France and 13 other nations demanded Thursday that Syria immediately cease military operations against rebel forces and allow unfettered deployment of U.N. observers, suggesting that use of force will be considered if Damascus fails to comply. The stand, at a French-organized meeting of foreign ministers and other officials from the “Friends of Syria” group, signaled a growing impatience among Western leaders and Arab allies over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s delay in putting into practice a six-point peace plan, including a truce, that was negotiated by joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan but has yet to halt the killing. http://www.washingtonpost.com/
world/middle_east/violence- flares-across-syria-despite- un-observers-visit/2012/04/19/ gIQAfZpFTT_story.html
Also useful: Steven Erlanger and Rick Gladstone, “Pressure Builds for Tougher Line as Syria Is Said to Shun Peace Plan,” New York Times [April 19, 2012] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/
04/20/world/middleeast/syria- united-nations-secretary- general-ban-ki-moon-cease- fire.html
(Video) Back from Syria, Journalist Anand Gopal Warns Protesters “Face Slaughter” by Assad Regime
From Democracy Now! [April 20, 2012]
—- Journalist Anand Gopal has just returned from Syria, where he interviewed survivors of last week’s bloody battle for the town of Taftanaz in northern Syria. Reports say government forces continue to attack rebel strongholds in Homs, Hama and other cities in violation of a U.N.-backed ceasefire that took effect last week. “In every town and village, essentially the entire population was mobilized in support of the revolution,” Gopal says. “You had from little children to old people. Really, I’ve never seen anything like that before. And it showed to me the extent to which the revolution has a mass, democratic popular base, and Assad doesn’t.” http://www.democracynow.org/
Who Broke Syria?
By James Harkin, Foreign Policy [April 17, 2012]
—- Less than a week into a U.N.-brokered ceasefire in Syria, the arrangement is already looking pretty shaky. The Syrian government has promised to pull its army back from major cities, but now seems to be reneging on that deal. But rather than castigating its motives, perhaps it might be a good time now to take a fresh look what exactly has been accomplished by the internationalization of the Syrian “problem.” In retrospect, by leaning on precedents within international law rather than the force of its own movement, the exiled Syrian opposition seems to have aimed to exaggerate the civilian losses in the city into the claim of genocide in order to push buttons within the international community. The United Nations bought it. If there was a strategy to internationalize the conflict, however, it failed. The United Nations could do nothing, but the promise that it might may have put ordinary activists and Free Syrian Army rebels in the city at even greater risk. Many were led to believe that help was coming, when it most definitely wasn’t. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/
Also useful: Samer Araabi, “The Militarization of the Syrian Uprising,” Right Web [April 18, 2012] http://rightweb.irc-online.
org/articles/display/the_ militarization_of_the_syrian_ uprising