Hello All – With a second round of negotiations re: Iran’s nuclear program scheduled to take place in Baghdad on May 23, most of the preparatory work is taking place off-the-record and behind-the-scenes. As reported last week, and as reiterated by James Risen’s New York Times article just below, the April meeting in Istanbul was generally interpreted as a “success,” and all parties (except outsider Israel) are speaking optimistically about a negotiated outcome. Yet as Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett state on their website “Race for Iran” (linked below), the Obama administration does not seem to have decided to accept the basic changes in its position that are necessary for a negotiated outcome to succeed.
The sudden US military build-up in the Persian Gulf may or may not be related to the recent escalation of the conflict between Iran and the United Arab Emirates over three small islands in the Straits of Hormuz, but the deployment of advanced aircraft and another aircraft carrier is ominous. The Iranians presumably see this as what the United States would do to support an Israeli air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
This week also saw a further escalation of political conflict within Israel, with more senior figures denouncing Netanyahu’s Iran policy as “reckless.” For unrelated reasons, Netanyahu is now expected to announce new elections for the fall (rather than waiting until the scheduled elections next year). At the moment, Netanyahu is expected to win this election easily; but the questions it raises for Iran are: Does this mean that any attack on Iran would be postponed until after the fall election? And, would a Netanyahu victory in September or October be followed by an Israeli attack on Iran, while the United States is mired in its own presidential election?
While the immediate and day-to-day issues re: Syria’s internal conflicts are quite separate from the US/Israel-Iranian stand-off over nuclear issues, the possibility of outside military intervention in Syria has been seen in part as targeting Syria’s ally Iran. The lack of success that Kofi Annan’s Six-Point Plan has achieved so far in ending the violence in Syria may have moved the possibility of outside armed intervention closer this week, though this may be little more than rhetoric at the moment. Links to more thought on this are pasted in below.
Finally, I very much appreciate the help that many of you have given in distributing the Iran War Weekly and/or linking it on websites. David Swanson has kindly given me blog space on his site “War Is a Crime,” and so you can read previous “issues” of the IWW athttp://warisacrime.org/blog/
Concerned Families of Westchester (NY)
Experts Believe Iran Conflict Is Less Likely
By James Risen, New York Times [April 30, 2012]
—- After a winter of alarm over the possibility that a military conflict over the Iranian nuclear program might be imminent, American officials and outside analysts now believe that the chances of war in the near future have significantly decreased. They cite a series of factors that, for now, argue against a conflict. The threat of tighter economic sanctions has prompted the Iranians to try more flexible tactics in their dealings with the United States and other powers, while the revival of direct negotiations has tempered the most inflammatory talk on all sides. A growing divide in Israel between political leaders and military and intelligence officials over the wisdom of attacking Iran has begun to surface. And the White House appears determined to prevent any confrontation that could disrupt world oil markets in an election year. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/
[FB - This useful website is run by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett. They worked for the Bush administration on Iran and the Middle East before rejecting the Dark Side and becoming outspoken critics of US policy toward Iran. Last month Hillary appeared on an interesting CNN special (not broadcast in the US) on “Nuclear Iran”:http://amanpour.blogs.cnn.com/
As for the nuclear talks, it seems that isolated parts of the mainstream Western media are beginning to realize something that should have been manifestly evident before any negotiators arrived in Istanbul: the major variables that will determine the success or failure of the talks are not whether the Iranian side is “serious” or whether there is sufficient consensus in Tehran to make a deal possible. The main variables are on the Western (especially U.S.) side: is the Obama Administration prepared to define a realistic endgame for negotiations and, as the parties work toward that endgame, what is it (and its European partners) prepared to put on the table with regard to sanctions and recognizing Iran’s right to enrich. We were skeptical about the administration’s seriousness on these points before the Istanbul meeting. We have seen no reason since that meeting to revise our estimate. www.raceforiran.com.
Israeli National Security Adviser heads to EU for 'sensitive' talks on Iran
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz [Israel] [May 1, 2012]
—- A series of reports that reached Jerusalem from Washington, Moscow, Paris and other capitals following the first round of negotiations led Israeli officials to suspect that the six powers were on the verge of striking an agreement with Iran that would not require Tehran to bring its nuclear program to a complete halt. A number of sources indicate that such a deal would feature an Iranian announcement that it was halting its effort to enrich uranium at levels higher than 20 percent and agreed to send any existing uranium enriched at that level or higher out of the country. Such a deal may also include Iranian consent to allow international inspection of its underground nuclear facility near Qom, sources said. http://www.haaretz.com/news/
No Changes Expected from The French Election
The likely victory of the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in France’s presidential election is unlikely to change France’s policy toward Iran and Syria. Under President Sarkozhy, France has been very aggressive towards Iran; and the French Foreign Minister recently advocated military intervention in Syria, should the fighting there continue. Two weeks ago the defense policy adviser to Hollande stated that the Socialist position on Iran remained “very firm” and “the same” as now. The New York Times noted that Hollande “supported France’s current positions of solidarity with Washington and with the Syrian opposition.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/
A Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East?
One of the best sources of information for the diplomacy of nuclear non-proliferation is the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, under the direction of Dr. Rebecca Johnson. This is an excellent resource to follow the negotiations, scheduled for this fall, to consider a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Here is a blurb from Acronym’s website:
The objective of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East was put forward by Egypt in 1990. It built on a 1974 UN General Assembly resolution from Egypt and Iran for a nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East, but also reflected horror at the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein amid growing concerns about biological and chemical weapons programmes in the region. [In 2010], after tough negotiations, it was agreed that a Facilitator would be appointed and a Conference held in 2012. The aim of the 2012 Conference would be to involve all States in the Middle East on the “establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction”. http://www.acronym.org.uk/
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times [May 1, 2012]
—- The US has deployed its latest generation of stealth bombers at “Iran’s doorway”, possibly in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is in dispute with Tehran over the three islands of Abu Musa, Little Tunb and Big Tunb, strategically situated near the Strait of Hormuz. The United States has deployed a number of stealth jets, its most modern, fifth-generation fighter bomber, to an air base in Southwest Asia. The tacit message sent to Tehran is that the US is now poised to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, especially the bunkered one known as Fordo, if Iran refuses the US’s demands.http://www.atimes.com/atimes/
Lobbying for Sanctions: Who Are These Guys?
Group Seeks Suspension of Iran From I.M.F.
By Rick Gladstone, New York Times [May 1, 2012]—- An American advocacy group that has successfully pushed to isolate Iran economically through sanctions and business boycotts opened a new front in that effort on Tuesday, seeking to pressure the International Monetary Fund to withdraw all its holdings in Iran’s central bank or to suspend Iranian membership. The advocacy group, United Against Nuclear Iran, also castigated the fund’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, over what it called her inappropriate compliments for Iran’s central bank.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/
Also useful – From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Ahmadinejad’s supporters suffered in the first round. While the President has no control and little influence over the nuclear issues now in contention between the US/Israel and Iran, the outcome of the election can be interpreted as a strong show of support for Iran’s top leadership re: the nuclear issue, suggesting that establishing a consensus within Iran on diplomatic negotiations in Baghdad and beyond may be easier for the leadership. For more background: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/
By Jim Lobe, Antiwar.com [May 2, 2012]—- The threat of a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities this year appears to have substantially subsided over the past several weeks as a result of several developments, including the biting criticisms voiced recently by former top national security figures of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak. That a war seems significantly more remote than during the winter months, when tensions reached an all-time high, was confirmed to some extent Monday when the U.S. “newspaper of record,” The New York Times, ran a front-page article titled “Experts Believe Iran Conflict is Less Likely.” http://original.antiwar.com/
Also useful: An editorial from the Israeli liberal newspaper Haaretz: “Israel should listen to former Shin Bet chief Diskin,” [April 30, 2012] http://www.haaretz.com/
Talk of Early Israeli Elections Distracts from Iran War Debate
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [April 29, 2012]
—- The Israeli media’s focus, squarely on the accusations by former officials that the current government is on the verge of starting a dangerous and unjustified war with Iran, took a dramatic swerve today when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the prospect of an early vote.
Netanyahu’s comments put the possible early election in September or October, while opposition figures were pushing for a vote earlier in the summer. While the possible war has occupied most public attention in recent weeks, it has nothing to do with the sudden early vote calls. http://news.antiwar.com/2012/
Also useful: Amos Harel, “Israeli elections likely to postpone any deliberations on Iran strike,” Haaretz [Israel] [May 4, 2012] http://www.haaretz.com/
Israel to take delivery of 4th German submarine
This potential flash-point is another legacy from British colonialism. In carving up, re-arranging, and then pulling out of the Middle East, the British left a residue of border disputes. One of them concerns three small islands in the Persian Gulf, in the “choke point” of the Straits of Hormuz. Iran has successfully claimed and maintained sovereignty over these islands for decades. The United Arab Emirates has disputed this claim, but the timing and militarization of this dispute can only be seen as part of the US-Iran stand-off. The events of the last weeks have served to provide a rationale for the deployment of additional US fighter jets to the region (see above),and it is reasonable to speculate that the UAE’s military response to Ahmadinejad visit to one of the islands was coordinated with the United States to facilitate the US military moves. A tempest in a tea pot? We shall see.
Gulf States Provoke Iran With Military Exercises Using False Pretext
A Tiny Island Is Where Iran Makes a StandBy Thomas Erdbrink, New York Times [April 30, 2012]
—- For Iranians, whose country’s borders have shrunk in the past 200 years after wars and unfavorable deals by corrupt shahs, territorial issues are a delicate matter. So a renewed claim by the United Arab Emirates to the tiny island of Abu Musa in the Persian Gulf has touched a raw nerve. But many here say that may just be the point.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/
Also useful – “Abu Musa and the Tunbs – The Dispute That Won’t Go Away, (2001)”http://www.theestimate.com/
NEWS FROM SYRIA
The implementation of the UN/Arab League peace plan promoted by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has been minimal, at best. The US and French position is that the plan can already be judged to have failed; and the French are saying that military intervention is the only practical option available. [As noted above, the French position on Iran and Syria is unlikely to change, even if the Socialists win today’s presidential election.] Yet observers do report that fighting diminishes when UN observers are in a particular area; and the deployment of the observers has barely begun. The US/NATO spin on events is that the continuation of the violence is solely due to the Syrian government; but as the excellent website “Syria Comment” (excerpted below) notes, much violence is also instigated by the rebel insurgency. And as reported last week, the insurgency is divided between internal and external forces, and between armed and non-violent wings; with most of the support for outside military intervention coming from the (external) Syria National Council, while many among the internal opposition are pushing for an end to the armed insurgency and a return to non-violent and political struggle. With Russian and China opposing further sanctions targeting only the Syrian government, one question is whether the United States will choose to by-pass the UN Security Council and use NATO to launch military action in Syria.
“Syria Comment” News Update
FB – “Syria Comment” is a website run by Professor Joshua Landis at the University of Oklahoma. It is a valuable source of news and commentary, with many links (though mainly to mainstream sources). Here is an excerpt from this week’s “Syria Comment”:
Because the Annan Truce has been so badly observed by both sides – government and rebel- most observers have struggled to apportion blame. The Syrian government has insisted that the rebels are the primary violators. It highlights the list of bombs being set off in Syria’s major cities and attacks against security personnel. The Syrian opposition insists that the Syrian government is responsible for these killings, i.e. they are setting off the bombs in Syria’s cities and that defecting soldiers attacked their own in Latakia. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has blamed the regime for widespread violations of the truce — prompting Syria to fire back that his comments were “outrageous” and accuse him of bias. Ban and Annan have cited violations by both sides, but generally portrayed the regime as the main aggressor. (Read more http://www.joshualandis.com/
White House: UN Ceasefire in Syria ‘Not Working’
—- White House spokesman Jay Carney today urged the international community to “admit defeat” and abandon the struggling ceasefire in Syria, insisting that the Assad regime was fully to blame for its failure. Carney said that a new alternative should be considered through the UN Security Council, likely referring to the initiative promised last week by French FM Alain Juppe calling for a UN invasion of Syria.http://news.antiwar.com/2012/
US, NATO exploring post-Assad scenarios in Syria, says top general
By Carlo Munoz, The Hill [May 2, 2012]
—- Top U.S. and NATO military leaders are exploring the possible political and military fallout in Syria if Western powers decide to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by military force.