While Obama Urges Caution, Netanyahu, McConnell, IAEA Fan Anti-Iran Rhetoric, Iran Takes Positive Diplomatic Steps


President Obama and his administration have spent the last week trying to point out the extreme downside to an attack by Israel on Iran’s nuclear sites. Unfortunately, Obama’s words of caution are getting little play while Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made appearances before the war-hungry mob at AIPAC to make the case for an attack now. In the meantime, Iran took positive diplomatic steps that are likely to be overlooked, reversing a death-sentence conviction on an accused US spy and committing to an IAEA visit to the disputed Parchin site.

As seen in the video above, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano made public statements associated with his appearance before the Board of Governors.  From his prepared remarks:

As my report on Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran makes clear, the Agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.

In January and February, a senior Agency team held two rounds of talks in Tehran with Iranian officials aimed at resolving all outstanding issues in connection with Iran’s nuclear programme. Despite intensive discussions, there was no agreement on a structured approach to resolving these issues. Iran did not grant access to the Parchin site during the visits, as requested by the Agency. Iran provided an initial declaration on the issues listed in the Annex to my November 2011 report, although it did not address the Agency’s concerns in a substantive manner. During the visits, the Agency also submitted questions on Parchin and the possible role of a foreign expert.

Iran’s Ambassador to the UN agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh dismissed Amano’s report as “only a summary of his earlier report“. Today, Soltanieh announced that Iran remains prepared to define the conditions under which IAEA will be allowed access to Parchin:

Iran’s Representative Office at the International Atomic Energy Agency announced on Tuesday that the country will be ready to provide the UN nuclear agency with one-time access to its Parchin military test facility once modalities of Iran-IAEA cooperation have been agreed on, reminding that the facility is a highly sensitive military site already visited by inspectors twice.

“Given the fact that Parchin is a military site and finding access to such a site is a time-consuming process and cannot be done repeatedly, and taking into account that the Agency has been asked (by Iran) to integrate all the related issues, including the hydrodynamic tests, permission will be granted for access” to Parchin (of course, only after the aforementioned demand is materialized), a statement by Iran’s Representative Office at the IAEA said.

“Clearly, this process can start only when an agreement is made on the modality plan,” it said, and reminded that the two sides have already agreed that the IAEA’s demand for accessing Parchin be postponed until after the next meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors currently underway in Vienna.

News media reported last week that Iran had flatly refused the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to its Parchin military test facility, based on a statement to reporters by IAEA Deputy Director General, Herman Nackaerts, that “we could not get access”.

But, explicit statements later made on the issue by the Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA and the language of the new IAEA report indicate that Iran did not reject an IAEA visit to the base per se but was only refusing access as long as no agreement had been reached with the IAEA governing the modalities of cooperation.

In an unrelated move of positive diplomacy, Iran’s Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of accused spy Amir Mirza-Hekmati:

The death sentence verdict issued for Amir Mirza-Hekmati, who was arrested by Iranian intelligence agents on a charge of spying for the CIA in 2011, has been overturned.

The Intelligence Ministry announced his arrest on December 7, 2011.

He was convicted of espionage, moharebeh (enmity against God), being a ‘corrupt person on the Earth’, and attempting to implicate Iran in terrorist actions.

“To my memory, after the defendant appealed, the case was referred to the country’s Supreme Court, and finally, the verdict was overturned in the country’s Supreme Court, and therefore, it (the case) was sent to an equivalent court,” Judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejeii told a press conference on Monday.

Mohseni-Ejeii also said that the Supreme Court had found some shortcomings in the case.

Despite these positive developments from Iran, US airwaves have been dominated by the war rhetoric against Iran coming especially from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Speaking yesterday at AIPAC, he said “We waited for diplomacy to work; we’ve waited for sanctions to work; none of us can afford to wait much longer.” In describing Netanyahu’s speech before AIPAC, the Washington Post noted that he delivered this particular line to “a cheering audience”.

Displaying his continued insistence to want the opposite of what Barack Obama wants, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also spoke to AIPAC to call for an attack on Iran. From the Times article:

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, used his speech to lay out conditions under which he would introduce a bill in the Senate authorizing the use of military force against Iran. “We have now reached the point where the current administration’s policies, however well-intentioned, are simply not enough,” the Kentucky Republican said. An Aipac official noted that this idea originated with Mr. McConnell, not with Aipac.

It was very polite of AIPAC to point out that they did not formally issue this talking point to McConnell since their positions are so difficult to distinguish from one another.

Obama, for his part, seems to be trying to point out to Israel what the horrible consequences of an attack would be and to remind Israel that there is no evidence that Iran has made the decision to actively pursue nuclear weapon development. From the Post article:

In public and private statements in recent days, Obama urged Israel to refrain from a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, a move that many in the administration feared would set off a regional war in the volatile Middle East. Such a conflict in the oil-rich region would send gasoline prices even higher, exacerbating an election-year threat to Obama.

For Netanyahu, McConnell and the rest of the folks at AIPAC, the time is now for an attack. Iran seems to realize that they are running out of time to head off the attack, as their most recent moves appear to be their most positive yet. It seems to be up to Obama to make the most of these diplomatic advances and to make the case that further diplomacy is the way out of this dire crisis. If he can prevail in achieving a negotiated settlement on Iran’s nuclear technology with verifiable abandonment of all weapons development, Obama could even earn that Nobel Peace Prize that is moldering in the face of atrocious US policies in the rest of the Muslim world.

21 replies
  1. Steve C says:

    Thanks for recognizing that President Obama and his administration are trying to work through this crisis without using force. It is a most difficult challenge given the “bluster” of Israel, Republican leaders, and many in the press. I surely hope for all that Obama finds success.

  2. 1970cs says:

    Despite Israel selling it’s two oil refineries to private companies, the U.S. is still supplying IDF with fuel assistance.

    The Israeli government obtains the fuel through the Defense Department’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, and pays for the fuel and the shipping with funds granted to it through Foreign Military Financing (FMF), another Defense Department program. (In 2008, Congress earmarked $2.4 billion in FMF money for Israel, and $2.5 billion for 2009.) The dimensions of the FMS fuel program are virtually unknown among America’s top experts on Middle East policy. For his part, the Pentagon analyst was surprised to learn that FMS money was even being used to supply fuel to Israel. “That’s not the purpose of the program,” he says. “FMS was designed to allow U.S. weapons makers to sell their goods to foreign countries. The idea that fuel is being bought under FMS is very, very odd.”

    Keeping other countries in the ME from developing is the key to imperial aspirations.

    The U.S. fuel shipments are part of a sustained policy that has widened the energy gap between Israel and its neighbors. Over the past few years, the Israel Defense Force has cut off fuel supplies and destroyed electricity infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Those embargoes and attacks on power plants have exacerbated a huge gap in per-capita energy consumption between Israelis and Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. And that sharp disparity helps explain why the Palestinians have never been able to build a viable economy.

    How could any blowback result from this?

    In short, U.S. taxpayers are paying for U.S. energy companies to buy Arab crude, ship it across the Atlantic to refineries in the U.S., refine it, and then ship it back across the Atlantic so that the Israel Defense Force can use it in its wars.


  3. Tom Allen says:

    @Steve C: I suspect instead that he’s using the old “I tried to be nice but those meanies made me do it” ploy that typifies everything he’s ever done. Sure, he didn’t *want* to take SuperPAC money, to extend the Bush tax cuts, to give in on health care, to attack Libya, to keep Guantanamo open, to refuse to investigate torture — but those awful folks on the other side were just so intractable! What could the poor leader of the US do?

  4. Bob Schacht says:

    This brings to mind the story about how JFK prevented war with Russia over the missiles in Cuba: When he was presented with a yes answer and a no answer, he chose to ignore the no and accept the yes.

    What the war mongers want us to do is to ignore the yes and double down on the “no.” Fortunately, Obama is not one of them.

    Think also of the significance of the fact that we no longer draft our “defense” forces from the general population; we have an “all volunteer” force so that the public is insulated from the brutal cost of war. Would we be hearing quite so much war talk if we still had the draft?

    Bob in AZ

  5. ondelette says:

    @Tom Allen: You are one of the people driving the war mind. Tien sha qie zhi mei zhi wei mei she e yeh. Tone down all the talk of war and the war will go away. That’s the philosophy behind the current rhetoric out of not just the White House, but the Joint Chiefs, the CIA, the Mossad, and the IDF. The people who are driving not only the drive to war are the Likud, AIPAC, McCain and Graham and Lieberman, Ahmedinejad, and, not too surprisingly, people like you, who are obsessed with believing that it is inexorable and can’t stop talking it up.

    The way the war stops being inevitable is that Iran sees no threat, the U.S. sees no threat, and everybody talks instead of yelling. What you do by yammering and interpreting anything the White House says no matter what it says as warmongering is contribute to the yelling, not the talking.

    If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

  6. 1970cs says:

    Came into contact with this oil terminal in New Haven a few years ago.
    During an orientation, they asked for questions, someone asked who actually owns this place? Answer: Goldman Sachs. Even with millions of gallons in storage, the set price for the day would change at midnight every day. What came out of the same pipe at 12:01 could be cheaper or more expensive, depending.

    They own the casino, hold the cards, and decide how many you can hold, and at what price.

  7. rugger9 says:

    @1970cs: #3
    Well, that’s a huge observation but not terribly surprising given the relations Israel has with its neighbors. One we don’t hear about and the AIPAC crew would shout down anyway.

    It does give us a lever if we choose to use it, and FWIW, Bibi isn’t fully backed within his own country on this policy, Haaretz has lots to say. All in all it’s a wag the dog scenario to keep Bibi employed.

  8. eCAHNomics says:

    1. The U.S. never negotiates in good faith with Iran. Only pretends to, and when it gets everything it wants, pulls out at the last minute.

    2. Hillary Mann Leverett interprets O’s remarks (key phrase is: not allow them on their current path) promise attack in O’s second term. Just want to soften them up more with sanctions (Nuttyahoo wants full blockade) first so they’re a decayed shell and thus a pushover when the invasion comes, like they did with Iraq.

  9. Yastreblyansky says:

    @Tom Allen: I wouldn’t say Obama works in 11 dimensions, but he works at a different tempo, not getting distracted by the things that make the rest of us hysterical, and you need to watch him more slowly if you want to understand what he’s up to. Have you seen this discussion of this? It begins to look as if the ACA is designed to hasten the death of the health insurance industry and grease its replacement by something that works better–the single-payer system is going to create itself out of the exchanges and the nonprofits and Medicare. For Iran, try to focus your mind on the relevant election–not Obama’s but Netanyahu’s (as rugger9 suggests).

  10. Yastreblyansky says:

    @SpanishInquisition: Not: He asked Panetta to “work directly with” Barak on the matter. I haven’t checked out the Guardian story, but Haaretz reminds us that this gift is taking an awfully long time to deliver:

    Diplomatic cables exposed by the WikiLeaks website exposed discussion concerning advanced weapons shipments. In one cable which surveyed defense discussions between Israel and the United states that took place on November 2009 it was written that “both sides then discussed the upcoming delivery of GBU-28 bunker busting bombs to Israel, noting that the transfer should be handled quietly to avoid any allegations that the USG is helping Israel prepare for a strike against Iran.”

    Netanyahu’s not negotiating an air strike on Iran, he’s negotiating good news to sustain him until after his reelection.

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