Quick Takes Archive
Ashura Demonstrations Met with Violence (12/27/09) Iranian security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Tehran today. Four have been reportedly killed as of 1300 US EST. Among the dead is the nephew of Mir Hosein Mousavi (see unconfirmed video). More clashes and deaths are being reported in cities across the country. Follow developments via Current News Links.
Grand Ayatollah Montazeri Dies (12/20/09) Iran's leading dissident cleric passed away this weekend. Grand Ayatollah Hosein Ali Montazeri was one of shi'a Islam's two most eminent clerics alongside Grand Ayatollah Sistani of Iraq. Montazeri helped establish the Islamic Republic and was Ruhollah Khomeini's designated successor until a personal and political estrangement between the two in the late 1980s. By then, Montazeri had become a leading critic of the political and human rights abuses of Khomeini's Islamic Republic. He would later go on to support Reformist President Mohammed Khatami and apologize to the Iranian people for his role in creating a repressive system of government. Despite two decades of official disrepute in Iran, Montazeri has remained a force. He has provided religious legitimacy and inspiration to the Green Movement and its leading figures Mir Hosein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. His death is certain to have a galvanizing effect in the short term, especially as mourning coincides with the religious observances of Muharram and Ashura. His passing could be a significant loss to the Green Movement in the longer term, however. Provided the regime can weather the current storm, it will no longer have to contend with competing statements and fatwas issued by a cleric of higher rank than Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei. In short, the Green Movement has lost the real-time backing of one of the top religious leaders in the shi'a world. It will now have to invoke his memory and his precedents in the fight against a regime that claims to rightfully rule in the name of Islam. Read coverage of the life and death of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri under Current News Links.
A Busy Week in Congress; IRPSA Passes House (12/15/09) It has been a busy week in the US Congress as far as Iran issues are concerned. As expected, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA) on Tuesday. The act levies sanctions on sellers, shippers, and insurers of refined petroleum to Iran. Passage by the House does not mean that IRPSA has become law. A similar bill would also have to pass the Senate. President Obama would then have to sign IRPSA into law. According to Reuters, the US State Department likes features of the bill and would seek the cooperation of Congress to ensure that any final version is consistent with Obama administration policy.
While IRPSA is likely to get the headlines, two other important pieces of Iran legislation were introduced this week. The 'Stand With the Iranian People Act' calls for US sanctions policy to target individuals within the Iranian government, particularly members of the IRGC. It posits targeting the bank accounts and assets of regime leaders and sanctioning foreign entities that provide censorship or surveillance technology to the regime. It specifically calls for efforts to ensure that sanctions not harm the Iranian people, which is a widespread concern among critics of IRPSA. It also calls for increased "people-to-people exchanges" and efforts to focus international attention on human rights abuses in Iran. Finally, a complementary bill called the 'Iranian Digital Empowerment Act' has been introduced to redress barriers to fulfillment of the Senate's summer authorization of $20 million for software to circumvent censorship in Iran. The bill states that current sanctions law has the "unintended effect of stifling Iranians' access to the Internet." It "encourages the development and provision of technologies and services to the Iranian people" that help them fight ramped-up regime efforts to monitor and stop dissident communications. It is intended to override existing sanctions provisions that prohibit the export to Iran of software and related services. It remains unknown whether and when either of these bills will come to a vote in the House.
Refer to Current News Links for additional coverage of and reaction to these bills.
The Perils of Petroleum Sanctions (12/10/09) Congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and author of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, announced last week his plan to pass sanctions legislation by the end of December; he appears to easily have the support needed in both the House and Senate. Though the Obama administration and allies such as France and Britain have recently escalated threats of sanctions, congressional action that is not coordinated with the White House risks a convoluted American strategy and a sub-optimal outcome to the dispute with Iran. An article yesterday by the National Security Network argues that Congress and the White House must remain on the same page. An older study by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) argues that petroleum sanctions are unlikely to help the US achieve its goals. The study is a pretty thorough review of what IRPSA is meant to do and how Iran may respond. AEI's website IranTracker.org is worth a look beyond the study on petrol sanctions; readers can, for example, view and track the status of congressional legislation relevant to Iran and see lists of sanctioned entities. US-Iran-Relations.com will continue to track movement toward sanctions in both the US Congress and at the United Nations in the weeks and months to come.
New Protests Rock Iran, More Likely on the Way as Ashura Approaches (12/8/09) Thousands of protesters gathered across Iran yesterday, proving that the opposition Green Movement is alive and well. December 7th is a day for government-sanctioned anti-American protests; it is meant to commemorate the death of three Iranian students at the hands of the Shah's security services in 1953. Yet just on as November 4th, Iranians turned such an occasion on its head and instead challenged their own government. Perhaps most interesting about these most recent protests is the extent to which they show emerging secular-national sentiment against the Islamic system. Iranians have stopped specifically protesting the June election and instead are targeting the governing system. One popular chant heard over the summer was repeated yesterday: 'Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic.' This is provocative insofar as it is a play on the chant 'Independence, Freedom, Islamic Republic' heard thirty years ago. Another provocative gesture seen yesterday was the display of the Iranian flag without the Islamic Republic's coat of arms - the stylized tulip which reads 'Allah' in Arabic script.
Secular-national undertones do not mean that the Green Movement is irreligious, however. In fact, protest is likely to continue later this month in a very religious context. The Islamic month of Muharram begins in mid-December. Ashura - the most significant day of the year for Shi'a Muslims - falls on December 27th. Shi'a Muslims stage solemn parades on Ashura to mark the death of The Prophet's grandson Hussein at Karbala. It is the seminal commemoration of Shi'a suffering, injustice, and martyrdom and is often characterized by acts of self-flagellation. Rest assured, the Green Movement will use Ashura to highlight and protest the irony and hypocrisy of a Shi'a Muslim government that claims to act in Imam Hussein's stead presiding over the repression of the Iranian Shi'a people. While many of us in the West recover from Christmas festivities on December 26th and 27th, it will be worth watching religious observances of another type unfold in Iran.
New Editorial Analysis: A Helsinki Process for Iran? (12/2/09) Diplomacy with Iran is not going well. Tehran has de facto rejected the once-promising idea of sending its uranium abroad for peaceful processing. The IAEA censured Iran last week; Tehran responded by announcing a provocative and outlandish plan to build ten new nuclear enrichment facilities. The French foreign minister has described Iran’s behavior as “childish.” Dire and resigned warnings of sanctions are on the rise and a debate may be emerging in Iran about withdrawal from the NPT. Meanwhile, the Iranian regime’s gratuitous injustice toward political opponents – both real and perceived – detracts each day from the moral palatability of negotiations. It’s time to throw in the towel on diplomacy, resort to good old sanctions, and call it a day – right?
Read the new editorial analysis by US-Iran-Relations.com about how the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe could be adapted to bolster diplomacy and reduce the threat of an Iranian nuclear capability. Diplomacy is not dead - it may just need a creative jolt. The US and its allies are currently fixated on Iran's capabilities, but must also address Iranian intentions and the potential of the Green Movement.
Iran Plans Ten New Nuclear Enrichment Sites (11/30/09) Just a few days after the IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution imploring Iran to cooperate on the nuclear issue, President Ahmadinejad's cabinet voted to move forward on a plan for ten new industrial-scale uranium enrichment sites in Iran. Work on five sites will supposedly begin soon; a panel is to explore options for an additional five. All are ostensibly to be built into mountains for protection against attack. It is highly unlikely that this plan will come to fruition - and if it does, it will take years. One nuclear expert calls the idea "preposterous." The gesture's true significance, then, is political. Iran is making a statement of defiance. It does not bode well for talks as currently framed. Only truly creative diplomacy can stop what increasingly appears to be another inexorable march toward sub-optimal sanctions policies and even a military confrontation. Read the news reports on the Current News Links page.
El Baradei Sees 'Dead End,' IAEA Censures Iran (11/29/09) The IAEA Board of Governors voted to censure Iran on Friday. The resolution falls short of an official non-compliance charge, but is a major political statement that could set the stage for a new round of UN sanctions. According to the LA Times, the measure calls on Iran to halt all uranium enrichment, resolve lingering questions about its past nuclear activities, open its nuclear facilities to more thorough inspections, and provide credible assurances that it is not operating additional secret sites. It is the first such IAEA action in four years, and importantly includes the support of Russia and China. The resolution passed one day after outgoing IAEA chief Mohammad El-Baradei struck a chord of uncharacteristically deep pessimism and frustration, saying that the agency's investigation of Iran was at a "dead end" given Iran's lack of cooperation. Iran has, of course, condemned the resolution. An Iranian government spokesman warned that it will further complicate talks, and Iran's Majlis, or parliament, has called for reduced cooperation with the IAEA. Read more about these developments and other news and analysis from a busy holiday week under Current News Links.
Riveting News Day Kicks off Holiday Week (11/24/09) Today's Current News Links provides perhaps the most compelling daily compilation of news and analysis in the brief history of this website. Robin Wright reports that Iranian opposition figures seek US support and targeted sanctions against the IRGC. Noted Israeli historian Benny Morris writes a chilling column that all but forecasts an Israeli-Iranian war next spring and summer. Al Arabiya reports that Iran may be willing to send its uranium abroad after all - provided it receives sufficient assurances of its return. Brazil's President receives criticism for his show of support for Iran and Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Iran's Fars News Agency details ongoing air defense exercises. And then there are today's top stories, summarized below, which detail the intimidation and propaganda wars underway in Iran and Maziar Bahari's unfathomable ordeal as a prisoner of the regime. There is, in short, plenty for visitors to read and digest over the next few days as US-Iran-Relations.com takes a short break from updating Current News Links to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. Current News Links will next be updated on Sunday, November 29. Stay tuned in the coming weeks, as well, for a new original analysis of how the US should respond to Iran's apparent rejection of the IAEA proposal to send its uranium abroad.
Iran Waging Quiet War on Own People (11/24/09) The dramatic street beatings may be over, but the Iranian regime's war on large segments of its own people is only getting started. The regime is waging a "soft war" against Western and liberal influences in the media and educational institutions. The New York Times reports today in a must-read article that Iran plans to establish 6,000 Basij military centers in elementary schools across Iran. This program of indoctrination clearly aims to counteract unfavorable demographic and social trends, which show a young population with increasingly liberal political and social views. The IRGC, which recently acquired a dominant stake in Iran's telecommunications sector and which already controls leading news sources such as the Fars News Agency, plans to launch a new media outlet called "Atlas" to help win what it sees as a media-based propaganda war with the West. Iran also appears to be stepping up its use of the death penalty to intimidate political opponents. A fifth person connected to this summer's post-election protests was recently sentenced to death, and executions in general are on the rise.
Maziar Bahari Speaks (11/24/09) Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari is home safely after a nearly-four month ordeal as a political prisoner in Iran's notorious Evin Prison. Bahari was arrested on charges of espionage soon after the outbreak of this summer's post-election tumult. He withstood unimaginable psychological and physical torture, and tells his remarkable story here. It is another must-read that sheds further light on the often-bemusing thinking and paranoia of the Iranian regime.
Iran Appears to Finally Nix Uranium Deal (11/19/09) The proposed deal for Iran to send most of its uranium abroad appears to be all but officially dead. Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki told the media yesterday that "we will definitely not send our 3.5 percent-enriched uranium out of the country." Iran may still be open to a simultaneous swap arrangement or a simple purchase to meet its needs for medical isotopes, but such ideas are highly unlikely to resonate in the West, as they would not serve the essential purpose of decreasing the amount of enriched uranium available in Iran for a nuclear weapon. The US is awaiting official word of Iran's rejection before proceeding with potentially-coercive steps. Various news outlets suggest, however, that Western diplomats are deeply pessimistic. Sanctions proceedings could begin shortly after the New Year if talks fail to yield alternative solutions. The Wall Street Journal reports that the US is talking to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about ways to use oil sales to pressure Iran; even if Russia and China do not get on-board with tougher measures, the US may pursue other avenues to use economic leverage against Iran. See Current News Links for coverage from several different media outlets.
IAEA Releases Report on Qom Facility (11/17/09) The IAEA has released a report on its inspection of the new Fordo nuclear facility near Qom. The report expresses alarm that Iran continues to withhold information about Fordo and is hiding additional sites. International inspectors found Fordo to be in an advanced stage of development, but Iran has not yet introduced centrifuges at the site. Iran suggests that the facility will begin enriching uranium in 2011. Inspectors were unable to interview the director or builders of the site. Iran insists that it has cooperated fully and that the suspicions and concerns raised by the report are - surprise! - the result of Zionist lies and conspiracies. See Current News Links for reporting from several major news outlets; the article in the New York Times is most strongly recommended for its thoroughness.
Is Russia Taking a Hard Line on Iran? (11/16/09) It is conventional wisdom that Russia is a stumbling block to serious measures against Iran and its nuclear program. The conventional wisdom is often worth questioning, however. Moscow has proceeded cautiously in recent months, but language and actions suggest that Russia may be moving toward a harder line on Iran. President Medvedev repeated in a meeting this weekend with President Obama that harsher sanctions may be necessary. More impressive than its language, however, are Russia's actions - or lack of action, more accurately. Moscow continues to withhold delivery to Iran of an advanced air defense system known as the S-300 surface-to-air missile system. Iranian officials and media have expressed a great deal of angst and impatience lately over Moscow's failure to fulfill the contract; delivery of the system has so far been delayed by six months, and the Russians appear to be in no hurry to follow through with the sale. The S-300 is very significant in that its deployment around Iran's nuclear sites would greatly increase the risks involved in any attempted military strike. Iran suggests that it may be able to reverse-engineer the S-300, but this is highly unlikely; Iran's defense industry lacks the sophistication to produce anything like the S-300 in the near future. Meanwhile, Russia has announced that it will be unable to complete the Bushehr nuclear power plant by the end of 2009. Russia's energy minister says that the delay is for purely technical reasons, but the BBC, which has correspondents in Tehran, calls the delay "clearly political." The delay pushes completion of Bushehr past the unofficial Western deadline of December for diplomacy over Iran's nuclear program to bear fruit. Withholding fulfillment of the S-300 and Bushehr contracts may end up being crucial bargaining chips that ultimately drag Tehran into a nuclear deal with the P5+1, even if kicking and screaming. Though deemed a dubious partner in dealing with Iran, Moscow may be deliberately retaining critical leverage over Tehran that ultimately helps the West achieve its objectives vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear program. Read more about these issues in Current News Links.
New Resources Added (11/13/09) US-IRAN-RELATIONS.COM has added some truly excellent resources to its Special Links section. Check out the new Iran Gateway of the American Foreign Policy Project as well as a new blog by Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett. Resources relevant to Iran's nuclear program and nuclear affairs in general have also been added; of special note is Iranwatch.org, which is part of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.
An Incredible Week (11/8/09) November is only a week old, but it has already added greatly to America's challenge of crafting a coherent and successful Iran policy. November 4th marked the 30th anniversary of the US Embassy seizure in Tehran, which led to a 444-day hostage crisis. The Islamic regime has long used this anniversary to hold rallies castigating the Great Satan, but things took a different turn this year. Yes, there were the usual anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Britain gatherings. Yet the Green Movement took advantage of the occasion to hold the first demonstrations against the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad government in several weeks. Thousands took to the streets and were subject to tear gas, batons, and arrests. Protesters also gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Tehran to protest Russia's support for Ahmadinejad during this summer's electoral crisis. In a remarkable gesture, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri said that the US Embassy seizure had been a mistake due to its effect on the American people and its contribution to the countries' estrangement. This is as close as the US has perhaps ever come to receiving an apology from an elite revolutionary cleric. Montazeri was a vanguard figure of the Revolution and was once Khomeini's designated successor. He now sits outside of government as a vocal regime critic and is perhaps the most widely-revered Ayatollah in Iran, at least among more liberally-inclined Iranians.
The most significant development from the November 4th protests, however, is the evidence of growing frustration among reformist Iranians with President Obama. Among the chants heard was "Obama! Either with us or with them!" Pro-opposition Iranians are growing concerned that the Obama administration is willing to turn a blind eye to Iran's internal affairs in exchange for a nuclear deal. Such developments are certain to give regime-change advocates renewed confidence, but that is probably reading too much into what these Iranian reformists seek. They do not necessarily want the US to pursue a concerted regime change policy. Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi likely speaks for many when she calls for the US to expand the scope of talks beyond the nuclear issue to include human rights and democracy. The Green Movement does not want to be used as an excuse for an overly-aggressive American policy (remember that Ebadi and Mousavi oppose sanctions of any kind), but it does not want to be sold down the river, either. It appears that the US may have to consider a careful recalibration of its "involvement" in Iran's internal affairs - a perennially sensitive topic with the government in Tehran.
Meanwhile, the hour glass for nuclear diplomacy may be approaching empty, and things do not look good. The head of the Majlis (Iranian parliament) committee on national security and foreign policy dismissed this week any deal to ship uranium abroad. Yet Iran's ambassador to the IAEA said that Tehran is still crafting its official response, which may involve a compromise proposal rather than an outright rejection. The Iranian government is clearly not of one mind or one voice on the issue; this never bodes well for a positive outcome. According to ElBaradei, the core issue is trust; many Iranian leaders simply do not believe that they will ever see their uranium again if they ship it abroad. The IAEA is considering a compromise in which Iran could send its uranium to a friendly and ostensibly more trustworthy country such as Turkey. The US may not even be amenable to an Iranian or IAEA counter-proposal, though. Secretary of State Clinton said this week that the US would not be willing to re-write the currently-proposed deal.
As the uranium transfer deal stalls, bad news has emerged regarding Iran's military pursuits. Britain's The Guardian reported this week that the IAEA is investigating Iran's apparent testing of a highly-sophisticated nuclear warhead design. Iran's surprising acquisition of the technology for a two-point implosion device is the latest piece of incriminating information to be leaked from the IAEA's dossier "Possible Military Dimensions of Iran's Nuclear Program." Bloomberg News reports that Iran has boosted domestic mining of uranium, an activity outside the current purview of international inspectors. Finally, Israel intercepted a shipment of Iranian arms this week believed to be intended for Hezbollah. The cache, weighing over 100 tons, includes grenades, rockets, mortars, and missiles. Iran and Hezbollah deny any illegal arms shipment.
Finally, IAEA chief ElBaradei has said that there is "nothing to be worried about" at the nuclear site near Qom. Inspectors have visited the recently-revealed site, which ElBaradei describes as a "hole in a mountain" intended for use as a bunker; a full IAEA report is due in mid-November. ElBaradei's assessment is peculiar if not disingenuous given that the Iranians themselves say that the site is intended for low-level uranium enrichment.
For more on all of these developing stories, visit Current News Links.
It's Not Over Yet (10/31/09) "Confusion" is the single word that best characterizes the current status of talks over Iran's nuclear program. The New York Times reported on Thursday night that Iran had essentially rejected the plan to transfer roughly 80 percent of its uranium abroad for conversion. Iran delivered its response to the IAEA orally, however, creating uncertainty about its official stance. France and the United States have called for Iran to put this week's response in writing, but Iran says that the oral response does not constitute its final, "official" response. An official response is supposedly pending in which Iran will propose changes to the plan - not reject a deal altogether. These changes may include simultaneous swaps of Iran's LEU for fuel already fabricated to serve the Tehran research reactor (see today's LA Times). Diplomats and commentators in the West, though, say that such an arrangement would undermine the whole point of the deal, which is to reduce Iran's stock of uranium that could be used to build a nuclear bomb in the short-term. The delay is, of course, also buttressing those who believe Iran is up to its old tricks. A commentary on TehranBureau.com suggests that Iran wants to string along President Obama until he is forced to take a belligerent line reminiscent of George W. Bush - a development the regime would consider politically advantageous.
No News Is...Bad News? (10/26/09) Friday's "deadline" for Iran to accept a uranium deal has come and gone without an answer from Tehran. The government of Iran is very likely split over whether to accept the IAEA plan that would transfer most of Iran's uranium abroad for conversion to a form suitable for medical applications; the uranium would be returned to Iran in late 2010, buying a year for diplomacy to bear additional fruit. Not all Iranians are confident in the good faith of the West and its partners, however. Majlis Speaker and former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani has suggested that the US and its allies are trying to dupe Iran into giving up its nuclear fuel. An alternative plan being discussed in Iran is the simple purchase from abroad of the uranium fuel rods that it needs for its medical reactor. Though this option may be preferable to some officials of the Islamic Republic, Iran would have to find a willing seller - which may be difficult if Tehran pulls completely out of the transfer deal at the eleventh hour. Should Iranian proponents of the transfer deal fail to sell the current package to the top decision-makers in Tehran, look for a hybrid counter-proposal that might involve shipment of a smaller portion of Iran's uranium and purchase of the balance from a foreign supplier. Tehran has said to expect an answer in the next week. Meanwhile, IAEA inspectors began a three-day visit yesterday to the Fardo nuclear facility near Qom. Results from the inspection will probably take a few weeks to be made public. See Current News Links for coverage of both of these issues.
The Weekend Ahead (10/23/09) This weekend is to be book-ended by significant events. Tehran is supposed to decide today (Friday) whether or not it will accept the uranium deal worked out by diplomats this week in Vienna. On Sunday, international inspectors will visit the recently revealed nuclear facility near Qom. US-Iran-Relations.com has to take the weekend off from daily updates for travel purposes, but will be back Monday with full coverage of the weekend's events. In the meantime, you can use 'Special Links' to keep up with developments in real time. Also, be sure to read the wealth of interesting links under today's Current News Links.
New Editorial: Why Fareed Zakaria Is Wrong About Iran (10/20/09) Fareed Zakaria thinks that engagement is a fundamentally flawed endeavor because the Iranian regime is committed to an anti-American posture. Yet Zakaria ignores evidence to the contrary. Read the latest US-Iran-Relations.com editorial here.
New Poll of American Attitudes toward Iran (10/19/09) A new Washington Post-ABC News public opinion poll reinforces the findings of an October 6th poll by the Pew Research Center suggesting a hawkish American outlook on Iran. Though Americans overwhelmingly support talks (82 percent) as a first step to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, they likewise overwhelmingly support sanctions (78 percent). Forty-two percent favor bombing Iran's nuclear sites. Perhaps most remarkably, one in three Americans (33 percent) favors a ground invasion of Iran to remove the government from power. Though Republicans tend to be more hawkish than Democrats, the partisan differences are not extreme; of those favoring regime change through invasion, 32 percent are Democrats, 40 percent are Republicans, and 30 percent are self-described Independents. These trends suggest the Obama Administration faces a dual challenge. It must not only negotiate a solution acceptable to several governments, but one that it can sell to a skeptical domestic audience. The late and renowned political scientist Alexander George argued that foreign policy in the United States requires "policy legitimacy" to succeed. The American electorate must believe that a policy is both feasible and desirable. Unfortunately, the American electorate tends to be impatient and unappreciative of nuance. This, according to George, is what led to the failure of the policy of Detente with the Soviet Union. The American people were too used to viewing the Soviets as an irredeemable enemy. They also lacked the patience to support a policy that would require time to bear fruit. Detente sought to transform the nature of the Soviet-American relationship to one of reduced tension and practical cooperation. It sought to socialize the USSR to international norms so that the Soviets would effectively "contain" themselves through better behavior. Clearly such a transformation cannot happen overnight. President Obama appears inclined to achieve detente with the Islamic Republic. Can he maintain "policy legitimacy" for a sufficient amount of time? The polling numbers do not bode well. Though no analogy is perfect, the ghosts of 1970s Detente loom.
New Resources Added (10/12/09) Two new links have been added to the website under Special Links. Press TV is Iran's first international news network. It broadcasts twenty-four hours per day in English from its Tehran headquarters and has a very impressive and user-friendly website. Gulf/2000 is a project of Columbia University. It is led by Professor Gary Sick, a widely-respected Iran expert and former National Security Council official. It provides a wealth of links relevant to Iran and US-Iran relations. US-IRAN-RELATIONS.COM is proud to be listed among Gulf/2000's top Iran resources!
Poll Shows Americans Hawkish on Iran (10/7/09) A new poll released yesterday by the Pew Research Center suggests that a sizable majority of Americans favors the use of military force to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. If given the choice between a nuclear Iran and war, Americans choose war by a large margin. Sixty-one percent believe that it is worth taking military action to stop an Iranian Bomb, while only 24 percent believe that the US should avoid war with Iran, even if it means that Iran would acquire a nuclear weapon. Interestingly, Americans across the political spectrum favor this hawkish stance, including just over half of Democrats. Americans are not in a rush to war, however. Sixty-three percent favor the direct negotiations currently underway, but 64 percent doubt they will work, suggesting most Americans view talks as a necessary precursor to more forceful action. Democrats are more likely than Republicans or Independents to believe that talks can work. Americans also look favorably upon sanctions. A very strong majority (78 percent) favors tougher sanctions on Iran. Curiously, 56 percent say that sanctions will not prevent Iran from acquiring The Bomb. So why do Americans support them? Is it because they seek to punish Iran for punishment's sake? Are sanctions, like talks, just another step in setting the table for military action? Finally, only 41 percent of respondents consider themselves to be well-informed on the issue. According to Pew, the more informed the respondent claims to be (or the more they claim to have heard), the more hawkish they are. There are obvious measurement problems here: how can you trust one's own assessment of their level of knowledge on an issue? There are a few possible meanings of this category of data. First, respondents may reflect the hawkish nature of American media. The more hawkish news and analysis that one consumes, the more likely one may be to be influenced by it. Second, it may suggest that a hawkish stance is indeed objectively the best position to take, and that the more informed one becomes, the more clearly one sees this. Finally, it may reflect naive epistemology among those with hawkish positions. That is to say: people may think they are well-informed when they reach conclusions but they may in fact not be. So what does all of this mean? Any way you slice it, the data from the poll suggests that "hawks" are winning the debate in American public discourse on Iran.
Diplomacy Off to Positive Start (10/5/09) "Cautious optimism" best characterizes the tone after talks last week between Iran and the US/P5+1. Iran agreed to open its recently-revealed nuclear facility near Qom to international inspection; an IAEA inspection will occur on October 25th. A more surprising and compelling development is Iran's agreement in principle to ship a large portion of its declared low-enriched uranium stockpile to Russia and/or France for enrichment to a level suitable for medical applications. Assuming no large, undeclared stockpile of enriched uranium, this would limit any Iranian nuclear-weapons breakout potential and be a major confidence-builder, allowing extra time for talks to achieve a more substantive solution to the overall nuclear dispute. Technical talks on such a transfer will occur on October 19th. Finally, Iran and the P5+1 have agreed to meet again before the end of the month to pick up where things left off on Thursday. The picture is not entirely rosey, however. While US officials have expressed optimism, they continue to warn that talks cannot continue indefinitely, and Congress remains poised to act on sanctions if progress stalls. One development over the weekend may especially militate against Western patience. An article in Sunday's New York Times discusses an IAEA report that Iran has "sufficient information" to design and build a nuclear warhead. Though the authors of the report claim the conclusions are tentative, this revelation may add significant fuel to the fire of a lingering debate within public discourse and among intelligence agencies over Iran's nuclear intentions and capabilities.
Live Television Interview (9/30/09) Watch Chris Ferrero, creator and editor of US-Iran-Relations.com, discuss Iran and the P5+1 talks on international television with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's News Breakfast program. The interview will air live shortly after 6 a.m. Friday in Melbourne/ 4 p.m. Thursday on the US East Coast. It will air in 44 countries on the Australia Network. You may also watch streaming online video here.
New Editorial: Nuclear Focus May Doom Talks (9/30/09) The much-anticipated talks between Iran and the US/P5+1 begin tomorrow. The prospects for success are not good. The US and its allies appear more willing to incur the costs of coercing Iran than the costs of compromising with it. Broadening the scope of talks beyond nuclear weapons could lessen the political costs of a deal, but the West is wholly focused on the nuclear issue. Meanwhile, Iran is not helping matters by being vague about what it seeks -- even though its likely terms are there for all to see. Read what all of this means in the new US-Iran-Relations.com editorial.
The (In)Significance of Iran's Missile Tests (9/28/09) Iran has made headlines the last couple of days with the launch of several ballistic missiles. Media have described the launches as heightening tensions. Yet to treat them as such is to give them more attention than they probably deserve - or at least the wrong kind of attention. Their likely intended audiences are the Iranian and international publics; such demonstrations of power are a way to shore up national pride and perhaps instill fear in foreign publics who may pressure their own governments to take a softer line. The Tondar, Fateh, and Shahab missiles have been known to Western intelligence agencies for years. The Shahab-3 has been Iran's premier missile; it is ostensibly capable of striking Israel with a nuclear warhead (presuming, of course, that Iran could develop a nuclear warhead to fit on top of it). Iran has been attempting to improve the accuracy, range, and payload capabilities of the Shahab-3; as such, today's launch may reveal important new features or capabilities. Yet of far more interest are the test results of Iran's newer solid-fuel missiles such as the Sejil.
The strategic utility of Iran's ballistic missile arsenal has long been limited by its reliance on liquid-fuel missiles such as the Shahab-3. Launches of liquid-fuel missiles, especially large ones, are significantly easier to detect and pre-empt than those of solid-fuel missiles. Liquid fuel is highly volatile. One cannot transport missiles loaded with liquid fuel; the fuel must be transported separately and loaded into the missile at the launch site. This process can take 2-3 hours. Missile crews can try to camouflage their activities, but Iran's topography makes this difficult. Thus, in a crisis situation, it is quite likely that the US would be able to detect and pre-empt a mobile Shahab-3 launch. Iran could place liquid-fuel missiles in silos or on hidden stationary platforms, but it would thereby sacrifice mobility.
In contrast to liquid-fuel missiles, solid-fuel missiles do not require launch-site fueling. They can thus be launched more quickly (20-30 minutes) and carry less risk of detection and preemption. (A pre-fueled missile also requires fewer support trucks, which further reduces the risk of detection compared to the relatively large entourage that a liquid-fuel missile requires.) A truly significant demonstration of Iran's missile capability, therefore, would be repeated, successful tests of solid-fuel systems. Readers can rest assured that Western Intelligence is paying greatest attention to the launch results of the Sejil, one such solid-fuel missile recently introduced into Iran's arsenal. A transition to solid-fuel systems would be a major step in the evolution of Iran's strategic missile forces. This, not made-for-TV launches of short-range rockets, would be a development worthy of headlines and concern.
Iran Has Secret Nuclear Facility (9/25/09) President Obama, flanked by the leaders of France and the United Kingdom, made a statement this morning accusing Iran of maintaining a secret nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom (view stories here). Iran, its cover apparently having been blown, has duly reported to the IAEA that it is building a second uranium enrichment facility. Will this "gotcha moment" help bring about Iranian acquiescence to a bargain, or will it only serve to harden Iran's position and resistance? It is too soon to tell. Stay tuned.
Ahmadinejad at the UN (9/24/09) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York last night. View the video of his full address and read reports and reaction on the Current News Links page. Read President Obama's remarks to the UN here.
Should the US Threaten Israel? (9/23/09) Zbig Brzezinski made quite a splash in an interview with the Daily Beast earlier this week in which he suggested the US should threaten to shoot down any Israeli jets that may attempt to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Is Brzezinski crazy? Not necessarily. He seemed to advocate not an explicit – but an implied threat that would apply to anyone that might violate certain airspace. This would ostensibly be done by modifying air defense SOPs to ensure a more rapid and automatic response to airspace encroachments, thereby elevating the risk of an ‘accident.’ Tying one’s hands to a certain course of action and being able to claim loss of control (in other words, creating ‘automaticity’) is a standard way to make incredible threats appear more credible. This, in turn, can have a deterrent effect. It would not be very credible if the US told Israel it would take the initiative to shoot down its planes. Yet it would be more credible if the US warned Israel that it was implementing new SOPs for regional air defense based on automaticity that could result in an ‘unfortunate accident.’ It would give Israel the burden of the initiative and add another element of risk to the Israeli calculus. This is, in all likelihood, what Brzezinski meant.
New Editorial: Taking Iran's Proposal Seriously (9/21/09) Today's edition of the Washington Post carries an op-ed by former Senators Dan Coats and Charles Robb and retired General Charles Wald arguing that upcoming negotiations must constitute Iran's "last chance." According to the authors, the United States cannot expend time "on Iranian stalling tactics, if this is indeed what this overture is." But what if this overture is more than mere stalling tactics? The US is of course wise to suspect that Iran may be stalling, but it would be potentially short-sighted to dismiss the Iranian proposal out of hand. The authors' caveat "if this is indeed what this overture is" suggests that even they, intuitively, know that the Iranian proposal may be worth a serious look. It is indeed plausible that Iran is seeking a major rapprochement with the United States. Read the case for this possibility in the new US-Iran-Relations.com editorial: "Is Iran Angling for a Grand Bargain?"
Quds Day Rallies an Opportunity for Opposition (9/18/09) Today is "Quds Day" in Iran - an annual, government-sponsored event in which Iranians rally to express solidarity with the Palestinians and condemn the 'Zionist occupation' of Jerusalem. But Opposition leaders have called on Iranians to use this Quds Day as an opportunity to rally against the oppression and misdeeds of their own government. Street clashes have been reported between pro- and anti-government marchers. Mir Hossein Mousavi and former President Khatami are even reported to have been roughed-up. See Current News Links for more.
"Our Disputes Are Not So Deep" (9/17/09) Defeated presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi appears in Western media to be a model of resistance to the Iranian regime. But this recent LA Times interview with him suggests caution in assuming that stark political divisions can be exploited to stop Iran's nuclear program or even overthrow the regime. The Iranian Opposition is not pining for outside support, nor is it taking the Western side in the nuclear dispute. Iran's internal divisions are certainly real, but they do not necessarily carry over to foreign policy issues. Caution is advised before assuming otherwise.
Iran's Proposal Could Be Worth Taking Seriously (9/16/09) There is no shortage of scorn in American public discourse for the recent Iranian proposal for negotiations. Most dismiss it as naive, unserious, or subterfuge. But a meandering proposal that is heavy on rhetoric and short on details does not necessarily imply an unserious proposal. In fact, it may even be expected from a country that specializes in "taarof," an Iranian social and cultural code of interaction and negotiation that involves flowery language, expectations of deference, implication, and sheer disingenuousness. See Roger Cohen's column in today's New York Times, and stay tuned for a US-Iran-Relations.com editorial exploring the possibility that Iran is actually seeking a grand bargain with the Great Satan (but won't come out and say it explicitly).
Reminder: New Editorial on US Objectives (9/15/09) There has been a flurry of activity on US-Iran-Relations.com over the last few days. Amidst all of the changes and additions, be sure to read the new editorial explaining why the US should reconsider its main objectives vis-a-vis Iran. Feedback is encouraged.
New Protests Later This Week? (9/15/09) The dial is turning back up on domestic political tensions in Iran, as regime members have called for the arrest of presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi. Karroubi continues to assert that political prisoners were raped in prison after this summer's protests. A judicial panel dismissed the charges this week. Meanwhile, Ayatollah Montazeri - probably the most beloved cleric in Iran - has accused the Islamic Republic of becoming a 'military regime.' Watch for possible street protests on Friday and even a high-profile arrest.
Negotiations to Begin in October (9/14/09) The chief headline today is the decision by Iran and the P5+1 to begin talks in October. Location is TBD. President Ahmadinejad reiterated yesterday, however, that uranium enrichment will not be on the agenda. The US is certain to raise the issue nonetheless. Disagreement about the agenda is never a promising way to begin talks. See Current News Links for more.
Iranian Proposal for Comprehensive Negotiations (9/14/09) Read Iran's proposal for talks here.
Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (9/13/09) Track the status in Congress of the widely-discussed Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act here. The bill is currently in committee. The link will be deposited for future reference under "Official Documents and Links" - Sanctions.
You Go First; No - You Go First (9/13/09) Readers may be forgiven for feeling a bit confused by the first three headlines in today's Current News Links. Iran is ready to talk about its nuclear program. Iran may be willing to talk about its nuclear program. Iran will not compromise on its nuclear program. It smacks of nuclear Goldilocks - or perhaps Brett Favre is running the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Yet there is a simple explanation: Iran wants some significant concessions within a larger negotiating framework before it seriously negotiates any nuclear concessions of its own. This has been a persistent problem holding back US-Iran rapprochement for years; each side usually wants the other to go first - and to do more than it is ready to do. In recent years, the Bush administration conditioned talks on suspension of uranium enrichment. And throughout its short history, the Islamic Republic has often sought major American gestures prior to or in exchange for relatively modest gestures of its own. For example, Iran was disappointed that the US did not rapidly pursue normalized relations in the early 90s in exchange for Iran's help releasing the remaining hostages in Lebanon (see Ken Pollack's book The Persian Puzzle). Iran has also spoken repeatedly of American "respect" for the Islamic Republic, however that is to be manifested, as a pre-requisite of rapprochement. In theory, Iran probably is ready to make some nuclear concessions - but only after it has first secured some symbolic and tangible concessions from America and the West. These would most likely include an explicit recognition of the legitimacy of the Iranian regime, assurance of a prominent Iranian role in Persian Gulf security affairs, and perhaps even the removal of sanctions. This is likely what Foreign Minister Mottaki means when he speaks of the time eventually being "ripe" for nuclear talks. In other words, he is telling the West: "You go first."
New Editorial Posted (9/12/09) US-Iran-Relations.com has posted the first opinion piece of its new Editorial series. Click the new 'Editorials/Commentary' link on the menu bar or click here to read why it is time for the US to reconsider its main objective in Iran.
Welcome to US-Iran-Relations.com 2.0 (9/12/09) The site has reached a new stage in its evolution three months after its founding. Two new features have been added in order to facilitate the production and sharing of more original content. US-Iran-Relations.com now offers three 'levels' of original content: Highlights and Insights, Editorials and Commentary, and In-Depth Analysis. 'Original Analysis' is now 'In-Depth Analysis;' this page will remain home to the most thorough and probing analysis on the site. The new 'Editorials and Commentary' section offers shorter, usually more opinionated pieces of roughly 600-1,000 words. Readers are encouraged to submit op-ed commentaries for publication. Both in-depth analyses and editorials will be posted on an ad hoc basis. Finally, the biggest change to the site is the new home page featuring 'Highlights and Insights.' This page will most resemble a standard "blog" (a word that US-Iran-Relations.com generally prefers not to use to describe itself). Website founder and editor Chris Ferrero will present a thread of paragraph-length comments and insights about news and developments in US-Iran relations. The page will also highlight major news stories from 'Current News Links' and direct users to new links and features in lieu of the 'News and Updates' column that used to reside on the left side of site. Please feel free to provide feedback! Thank you.
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