Iran

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Implementation Day Fallout: Neocons Have Nuclear Meltdown Over Prisoner Exchange

The main editorial in today’s New York Times puts into proper prospective the momentous events of this past weekend. The declaration of Implementation Day for the deal negotiated over the past two years between the P5+1 group of nations and Iran merits the title of the editorial: “A Safer World, Thanks to the Iran Deal“. Just consider the import of what has been accomplished through this incredible feat of diplomacy:

This is a moment many thought would never come: Iran has delivered on its commitment under a 2015 agreement with the United States and other major powers to curb or eliminate the most dangerous elements of its nuclear program. The world is now safer for this.

The International Atomic Energy Agency verified on Saturday that Iran has shipped over 8.5 tons of enriched uranium to Russia so Iran can’t use that in bomb-making, disabled more than 12,000 centrifuges and poured concrete into the core of a reactor at Arak designed to produce plutonium.

On Sunday, President Obama hailed these steps as having “cut off every single path Iran could have used to build a bomb” and noted that engagement with Iran has created a “window to try to resolve important issues.” Most important of all, he said, “We’ve achieved this historic progress through diplomacy, without resorting to another war in the Middle East.”

Yet, as long-time commenter lefty665 pointed out this morning, in response to Implementation Day and the exchange of prisoners between the US and Iran, most of the chatter in the press (and especially its dominant conservative voices) dealt with the prisoner exchange:

Can you believe that most of the chatter has been about prisoner exchange and not the actualization of the nuclear deal and dropping of sanctions on Iran? Suppose they just happened in conjunction during a weekend news vacuum? Or was it a conscious, “Here, watch this hand” to distract attention. Either way we sure got a boatload of plain old American bozos baying at the moon as usual.

Perhaps peak “American bozos baying at the moon” over the prisoner exchange came in this editorial from the Wall Street Journal:

Now we know that Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and three other Americans were hostages held by Iran in return for U.S. concessions, in case there was any doubt. And on Saturday we learned the ransom price: $100 billion as part of the completed nuclear deal and a prisoner swap of Iranians who violated U.S. laws. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps should call this Operation Clean Sweep.

The timing of Iran’s Saturday release of the Americans is no accident. This was also implementation day for the nuclear deal, when United Nations sanctions on Tehran were lifted, which means that more than $100 billion in frozen assets will soon flow to Iran and the regime will get a lift from new investment and oil sales. The mullahs were taking no chances and held the hostages until President Obama’s diplomatic checks cleared.

/break/

All of this shows that the nuclear accord is already playing out as critics predicted. The West will tread gingerly in challenging Iran’s nonnuclear military and regional ambitions lest it renege on its nuclear promises. Iran has again shown the world that taking American hostages while Barack Obama is President can yield a diplomatic and military windfall.

Ah, but the Wall Street Journal is far from alone. Consider this fine baying at the moon from Senator Tom Cotton:

But in our elation over their safe return we must be careful not to forget the dangerous circumstances of their release. President Obama has appeased Iran’s terror-sponsoring ayatollahs, this time with a ‘prisoner’ swap to secure the overdue release of four innocent American hostages in return for which Iran gets seven lawfully convicted terrorists and criminals, fourteen terrorism prosecutions halted, $100 billion in sanctions relief, and an industrial-scale nuclear program-and Iran gets to keep Americans Siamak Namazi and Robert Levinson to extract future concessions. While we exult in the return of American hostages, one must also wonder how many more Americans will be taken hostage in the future as a result of President Obama’s shameful decision to negotiate with these terrorists.

Clearly, nothing but all-out war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands will appease Cotton and his blood-lust for Iran.

The anti-Iran echo chamber also fired up against the deal and even moved beyond just the prisoner exchange. Consider this fine bit of echo, which I found when United Against Nuclear Iran retweeted David Albright’s “The Good ISIS” retweeting Josh Rogin promoting an article he wrote (by himself this time, rather than with his usual Partner in Keeping the Neocon Flame Alive Eli Lake) warning us that now Iran is going to arm Assad (somehow I can’t get the full level of retweeting echo to embed…):

Remarkably, though, there were a couple of usually reliable voices in the anti-Iran rhetoric who did not come through. AP’s George Jahn seemed fresh out of “diplomatic sources” to smear Iran, as he co-authored a piece of straight up reporting on Implementation Day. Similarly, fear-monger Joby Warrick briefly returned from his Washington Post exile to environmental reporting this morning to write about the deal, but gave as much of his analysis to a likelihood of reformers forging ahead in Iran as hardliners bringing more peril. As with Jahn, David Sanger also wound up only writing straight reporting of Implementation Day without finding much smear material to leak against Iran.

Essentially simultaneous with the lifting of sanctions against Iran due to its nuclear technology, the US imposed new sanctions because of Iran’s recent testing of ballistic missile technology. I confess to not having followed the ballistic missile controversy as closely as the nuclear technology issue, but it did strike me as unfortunate to implement new sanctions right away. This could be an attempt by Obama to provide a bit of comfort to Iran haters in our government. I also haven’t looked deeply, but these sanctions are likely to be much more limited in scope and shouldn’t produce the same widespread damage to Iran’s economy as the nuclear sanctions.

Finally, we also saw a demonstration that Hillary Clinton is indeed now a candidate running for office and no longer the diplomat she was as Secretary of State. Her statement this weekend, published after the announcement of the prisoner exchange but before the prisoners actually left Iran, was overly belligerent in its call for the new ballistic missile sanctions. She almost certainly had to have known that the ballistic missile sanctions had been held in abeyance to finish the prisoner exchange negotiations, so her statement could be seen as a late threat to the prisoners actually being allowed to leave Iran.

Implementation Day: Full Description From JCPOA Text

It is now just over six months to the day since the historic P5+1 agreement with Iran was reached, dramatically decreasing Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon in return for dropping economic sanctions. Although some small amounts of cash have been freed up for Iran in this intervening period, this period has consisted almost exclusively of actions by Iran while the P5+1 group of nations awaits IAEA certification that Iran has met its obligations under the agreement. Only once this certification is in place will the sanctions against Iran be dropped. Removal of many of the existing sanctions (some that don’t relate to nuclear technology will remain in place and hawks in Congress are doing their best to keep or replace the ones due to be dropped) will be a huge development for Iran, as the sanctions have devastated Iran’s economy. We are hearing that Implementation Day will arrive any moment now, perhaps later today or tomorrow (maybe even before I finish writing this overdue post).

We are now over two years into the P5+1 process, and so it should come as no surprise that an agreement this long in the making is very long and quite detailed. This post will be quite long and dry, as what it will do is to set out the language from the agreement that describes just what has taken place to get us to Implementation Day and what will take place as a result. Many steps have been taken to get us to this pivotal moment, and it is important that we see them laid out in orderly fashion.

Implementation Day

From the White House document (pdf) providing us excerpts of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), we have this:

Implementation Day is the date on which, simultaneously with the IAEA report verifying implementation by Iran of the nuclear-related measures described in Sections 15.1 to 15.11 of Annex V, the EU and the United States takes the actions described in Sections 16 and 17 of Annex V.

Links to the various documents that make up the text of the agreement itself can be found here.

Iran’s Actions Under JCOPA

As mentioned above, sections 15.1 to 15.11 describe the actions by Iran that the IAEA will certify to have been completed. I have put the topic for each of these entries into bold text and then provide the referenced material from the other parts of the agreement:
Continue reading

Jahn’s AP Report Was Wrong. Was He Manipulated or Did He Intend to Mislead?

On August 19, AP’s George Jahn set off a firestorm of controversy when he published an article on how Iran’s Parchin site would be inspected as part of the P5+1 agreement reached earlier on Iran’s nuclear technology. Iran deal opponents jumped onto the story instantaneously and quickly claimed that Iran would be doing its own inspections of the Iran site.

In the intervening time, much has happened on the issue of the story and Jahn’s reporting of it. Jahn claimed to base the story on a draft of an agreement between the IAEA and Iran on how the inspections would take place and AP even eventually published what it said was a hand transcription of the document shown to Jahn. The link I used in my original post now goes to a short “correction” of Jahn’s story.

On August 20, I wrote a post with the title “Washington Shocked! Shocked That AP’s George Jahn Is a Tool for Iran Deal Opponents“. Based on several years of reading and commenting on Jahn’s reporting on Iran’s nuclear technology and the diplomacy surrounding it, I pointed out how the article fit Jahn’s usual pattern of being told something by “diplomats”, with that something always seeming to put Iran in the worst possible light. In other words, his stories usually consist of him being used as a tool to put out information that makes Iran look bad.

Today, we have a story from Louis Charbonneau and John Irish of Reuters that informs us (via diplomats, presumably not the ones Jahn listened to) that IAEA inspectors will in fact be present when Iran takes samples from the Parchin site, so Iran will in no way be inspecting itself:

United Nations inspectors will be present with Iranian technicians as they take samples from a key military site, two Western diplomats said, undercutting an objection by U.S. Republicans to the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Irish and Charbonneau waste little time in pointing out that Jahn was wrong:

An August report by the Associated Press, in its original version, said the agreement on Parchin suggested that IAEA inspectors would be barred from the site and would have to rely on information and environmental samples provided by Iranian technicians. The AP later published what it said was the text of an early draft of the agreement that remains unconfirmed.

The report was seized on by Republicans in the U.S. Congress as proof that President Barack Obama’s administration gave in to Iran on the sensitive issue of inspections to check on Tehran’s suspected ambition to build a nuclear bomb.

Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano rejected the report as “a misrepresentation”, though he declined to provide details of what some Republicans described as a “secret side deal” between Iran and the IAEA on Parchin. Amano said on Aug. 20 that the arrangements with Iran were technically sound.

If we want to go as far as we can to see how Jahn could have been acting in good faith, it is worthwhile to concentrate on the fact that he said from the start that the document he was shown was an early draft of the agreement between the IAEA and Iran. Then, when we get to this in the Reuters report, we can see that perhaps the IAEA inspectors being present was a later addition (or a filling in of detail as Cheryl Rofer seems to suggest) to the agreement:

But the Western diplomats told Reuters that while Iranians would be allowed to take the samples themselves, the agency’s inspectors would be physically present and would have full access to their activity.

“There was a compromise so the Iranians could save face and the IAEA could ensure it carried out its inspections according to their strict requirements,” said one of the diplomats.

If Jahn was shown a document that differed so substantially from the final arrangement, it is at least possible that he was completely manipulated by whoever showed him the document. He can save a considerable amount of face by publicly identifying who brought the document to him. His promise of confidentiality should not apply to information that turned out to be false. If he stands by his reporting, however, then we must seriously consider that he intentionally put Iran in the worst possible light and assumed he would never be called out on it.

Washington Shocked! Shocked That AP’s George Jahn Is a Tool for Iran Deal Opponents

Greg Sargent this morning walks us through the latest math from the Washington Post on Congressional war hawks trying to obstruct the breakthrough P5+1 agreement with Iran limiting its nuclear technology. Not only does the Post find that Congress has very little chance of overriding a Presidential veto of a vote of disapproval, but as Sargent notes:

It’s not out of the question at this point that opponents will fail to muster 60 votes in the Senate to stop the deal — which would mean that President Obama would not even need to veto the expected measure disapproving of the accord, sparing us a veto-override fight.

So, of course, with the deal looking like it has smoother than expected sailing, opponents have been forced into a desperation move. That hit yesterday afternoon, when known tool of Iran opponents George Jahn (see my posts about his dismal track record here) published an AP story (try that link, but God knows what version of the story you’ll get, see below) that fits his normal pattern. He cites a “draft” of an agreement between the IAEA and Iran on inspection of the Parchin site. Much controversy has surrounded allegations of previous work there. Jahn describes what he saw in the draft agreement and says that “one official familiar with its contents said [it] doesn’t differ substantially from the final version”.

Further complicating matters, Jahn’s story went through several changes in the hours after its release. Fortunately, I don’t have to walk you through all of that or the details of what Jahn claimed. This excellent piece by Max Fisher at Vox walks you through the baffling evolution of the story. The Fisher piece relies heavily on Jeffrey Lewis, who was very quick to note the level of duplicity coming from Jahn even before Fisher talked to Lewis:

In the Fisher piece, Lewis provides us with the perspective that is needed to understand Jahn’s move:

“The oldest Washington game is being played in Vienna,” Lewis said. “And that is leaking what appears to be a prejudicial and one-sided account of a confidential document to a friendly reporter, and using that to advance a particular policy agenda.”

What Fisher completely missed, though, is that George Jahn is the poster child for this behavior that Lewis describes. At the end of the piece, Fisher expresses shock that AP would take part in such a ruse:

But it is disturbing that the AP allowed itself to be used in this way, that it exaggerated the story in a way that have likely misled large numbers of people..

Jahn has been playing precisely this game at AP for years, so it has “allowed itself to be used in this way” many times before by Jahn.

In reading about how events evolved after Jahn put up the first version of the story, it pays to look at these events in the light of the usual process of hurling the lopsided accusation out there and then watching the propaganda develop around it. Iran deal opponents were so fast to to jump on the story that we are left to wonder if they had a heads up as to when it would go live. Republicans in Congress were able to get their condemnation of this “secret side deal benefiting Iran” into some of the earliest revisions of Jahn’s article. And that was the precise reason Jahn was given the copy of the draft agreement in the first place, because it was seen as the last and best chance for Congress to disrupt the deal.

One more point needs noting in this context. Deal opponents, as mentioned above, are quick to spin the agreement between the IAEA and Iran as being kept secret because it is such a sweet deal for Iran. That paints the picture that the IAEA is on Iran’s side. As noted in the Vox piece, though, confidentiality in agreements of this type are the norm. Further, as virtually nobody discussing these developments points out, the Director General of the IAEA, according to WikiLeaks documents, made it known while he was being considered for the position that he “was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program”. [Note that the cable is from July, 2009, so early in the Obama Administration that US strategy on Iran’s nuclear weapons was primarily still that of the Bush Administration.] So, far from being someone to cut a sweetheart secret deal with Iran, perhaps we might want to see Amano more in the light Iran sees him when they accuse the IAEA of leaking the identifying information on Iranian nculear scientists that allowed them to be targeted for assassination.

On Hiroshima Anniversary, Iran Deal Opponents Make One More Push Based on Parchin Photos

Hiroshima was flattened by the US on August 6, 1945 by the deployment of a nuclear weapon.

Hiroshima was flattened by the US on August 6, 1945 by the deployment of a nuclear weapon. (Wikimedia Commons)

Seventy years ago today, on August 6, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. By November of that same year, approximately 130,000 people were dead because of that single bomb, which targeted a civilian population. Three days later, the US deployed a second nuclear weapon in Nagasaki. It appears that these horrific weapons were not needed, despite the prevailing myth surrounding their use. Even with the subsequent proliferation of nuclear weapons, the US remains the only country to have ever used them outside a testing scenario, while countries as unstable as North Korea and Pakistan have achieved nuclear weapons capability at some level.

As might be expected, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is using the occasion of this anniversary to call for an end to nuclear weapons. Last week, Javad Zarif made an excellent move, in suggesting that now that Iran has signed an agreement with the P5+1 group of countries on its nuclear technology, there should be a push to remove nuclear weapons and all WMD from the Middle East. Recall that Iran has agreed to the most intrusive inspections regime ever put into place in a country that didn’t first lose a war, making their call for inspections of Israel’s nuclear weapons program especially strong. These two calls together represent an appeal to those who prefer peace over war while placing the highest possible value on civilian lives.

That attitude of favoring peace over war and putting civilians first stands in stark contrast to those who oppose the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed by the P5+1 and Iran. As Barack Obama pointed out yesterday, those who are opposing the deal are the same people who were so tragically wrong about the decision to invade Iraq in 2003:

President Obama lashed out at critics of the Iran nuclear deal on Wednesday, saying many of those who backed the U.S. invasion of Iraq now want to reject the Iran accord and put the Middle East on the path toward another war.

/snip/

While calling the nuclear accord with Iran “the strongest nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated,” Obama also seemed to turn the vote on the deal into a referendum on the U.S. invasion of Iraq a dozen years ago, a decision he portrayed as the product of a “mind-set characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy.”

Obama said that when he first ran for president, he believed “that America didn’t just have to end that war. We had to end the mind-set that got us there in the first place.” He added that “now, more than ever, we need clear thinking in our foreign policy.”

One of the saddest aspects of this push for war over diplomacy is that much of it comes from deep within the US government itself. In many of my posts on the path to the P5+1 accord with Iran, I have noted the nefarious process of anonymous “disclosures” coming sometimes from “diplomats” and sometimes from “intelligence sources” that get transcribed into the press by a small handful of “reporters”. Usually the worst offender on this front is George Jahn of AP. A recent retiree from this fold is Fredrik Dahl who now, ironically, appears to be the primary press contact for the IAEA. But never fear, rushing into the void created by the departure of Dahl (or perhaps his insertion into an operative role further inside the apparatus), we have the dynamic duo of Eli Lake and Josh Rogin. Their blather being put out as “journalism” is not worthy of a link here. If you want to find it, try going to Marcy’s Twitter and searching for “not The Onion”.

Of course, the high point of this process of manufacturing nuclear charges against Iran and then getting them into the media is the notorious “laptop of death“. Running a close second, though, are the charges that Iran has engaged in developing a high explosives trigger device at the Parchin site. Showing that those who engage in this level of deceit have absolutely no pride, the charges of this work have proceeded despite an equally plausible explanation that the high explosives chamber could just as easily have been used to develop nanodiamonds. Further, those making these charges have allowed themselves to be baited into a ridiculous level of “analysis” of satellite photos of the site, with hilarious results from how Iran has played them.

Despite this level of embarrassment, one of the primary tools in this process, David Albright, couldn’t resist one last try on the satellite photo front. Yesterday, he breathlessly informed us that there are a couple of new sheds on the Parchin site and there is even some debris. And, get this, a crate has been moved! Seriously, here is the “meat” of Albright’s analysis (pdf): Continue reading

How About “Any Time, Anywhere” Inspections for Israel’s Nuclear Weapons?

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues his whinging campaign that the West capitulated on a non-existent earlier demand for “any time, anywhere” snap inspections in Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated by the P5+1 group of nations with Iran on its nuclear activities, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has come forward with a proposal that brilliantly turns the tables on Israel. Writing in the Guardian, Zarif calls on Israel to join in a plan to remove all weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East. Such a plan, of course, would require Israel to give up its poorly-held secret of an arsenal of their own nuclear weapons:

We – Iran and its interlocutors in the group of nations known as the P5+1 – have finally achieved the shared objective of turning the Iranian nuclear programme from an unnecessary crisis into a platform for cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation and beyond. The nuclear deal reached in Vienna this month is not a ceiling but a solid foundation on which we must build. The joint comprehensive plan of action, as the accord is officially known, cements Iran’s status as a zone free of nuclear weapons. Now it is high time that we expand that zone to encompass the entire Middle East.

Also in the Guardian, Julian Borger provides some perspective on Zarif’s proposal:

Israel does not officially confirm its nuclear arsenal, but it is believed to have about 80 warheads. Zarif’s remarks also represent a rebuke to the five permanent members of the UN security council, all armed with nuclear weapons – the US, Russia, France, the UK and China – as well as the three other nuclear-armed states which, like Israel, are not NPT signatories: India, Pakistan, and North Korea.

/snip/

Since a cold war high in 1986, when global stockpiles of nuclear warheads topped 65,000, the main weapons states have reduced their arsenals considerably. There are now thought to be fewer than 16,000 warheads worldwide, of which 14,700 are held – roughly equally – by the US and Russia. But the disarmament is now approaching a standstill. The Obama administration wanted to follow the 2010 New Start agreement with another, more ambitious, arms control treaty, but the dramatic worsening in relations halted progress. Russia and the US are modernising their nuclear arsenals.

That last bit about the US and Russia modernizing weapons rather than removing them is especially upsetting, but for now I’d like to concentrate on Zarif’s Middle East proposal. Insterestingly, Zarif points to Iran’s history of restraint on weapons of mass destruction when it came to the Iran-Iraq war. While widespread use of chemical weapons by Iraq in that war is indisputable, Zarif claims that Iran “never reciprocated in kind”. The record seems to bear that out. While Iran did develop their own chemical weapons program late in the war, the evidence that they ever used it is murky at best.

Zarif correctly depicts Israel as openly flaunting the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while at the same time noting how ironic that position is considering Israel’s rabid attitude towards Iran’s nuclear program:

One of the many ironies of history is that non-nuclear-weapon states, like Iran, have actually done far more for the cause of non-proliferation in practice than nuclear-weapon states have done on paper. Iran and other nuclear have-nots have genuinely “walked the walk” in seeking to consolidate the non-proliferation regime. Meanwhile, states actually possessing these destructive weapons have hardly even “talked the talk”, while completely brushing off their disarmament obligations under the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and customary international law.

That is to say nothing of countries outside the NPT, or Israel, with an undeclared nuclear arsenal and a declared disdain towards non-proliferation, notwithstanding its absurd and alarmist campaign against the Iranian nuclear deal.

Borger gives us a concise summary of Zarif’s proposal:

Zarif makes three proposals: for negotiations to begin on a nuclear weapons elimination treaty; that this should lead initially to nuclear arsenals being taken off high alert readiness (for example, by removing warheads from missiles); and for the creation of a zone in the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.

Again, the irony of Israel’s actions are brought into full light here. Another front on which Israel has been vocal regarding the JCPOA relates to restrictions on Iran’s missile program. At the same time Israel wants to severely restrict any further development of missiles in Iran, Israel has an arsenal of missiles already fitted with nuclear warheads and ready for launch.

But there is one more point that Zarif puts into his piece that I can’t stop marveling at. In his description of how negotiations on his plan could start, we have this:

One step in the right direction would be to start negotiations for a weapons elimination treaty, backed by a robust monitoring and compliance-verification mechanism.

What better spokesman could the world have for a “robust monitoring and compliance-verification mechanism” than the man who just agreed to submit his own country to history’s most intrusive inspections program for a country that hasn’t just been defeated in a war. He is definitely “walking the walk” when it comes to inspections and compliance. But I can’t help wondering if, should such negotiations actually get underway (note: yes, I realize that the chances are much less than zero), Zarif would allow himself, at least once, to call for Israel to submit to “any time, anywhere” inspections of its nuclear program.

Iran, P5+1 Reach Historic Final Agreement, Frustrating Opponents Who Push for War

Times snip

Partial screengrab of New York Times article announcing agreement. John Kerry and Ernest Moniz are on the right, while Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Solehi are in the center of the photograph.

It has been nearly 20 months since the group of P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran reached an interim agreement limiting Iran’s work on nuclear technology. Progress since that interim agreement has been painfully slow (and obstructed as much as possible by Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, neocons in Congress and United Against Nuclear Iran), with a number of “deadlines” for achieving the final agreement missed. Journalists covering the final phase of negotiations in Vienna over the last two weeks eventually got so exasperated with the process that they began reporting on the number of Twizzlers consumed by the negotiators.

Fortunately, the US, led by John Kerry, with technical support from Ernest Moniz (with the backing of Barack Obama) and Iran, led by Javad Zarif, with technical support from Ali Akbar Salehi (with the backing of Hassan Rouhani) did not give up on the process. A final agreement (pdf) has now been published.

The following sentence appears in the agreement twice. It is the final sentence in the Preface and is the third point in the Preamble:

Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.

That is the heart of what the entire process has been about. Iran’s uranium enrichment work, which grew to over 18,000 centrifuges installed at two facilities, was viewed as a rapid route to a nuclear weapon. Even though no facility in Iran has been identified where enrichment was proceeding to the highly enriched levels needed for a bomb and Iran had demonstrated no ability to make a bomb from highly enriched material, “conventional wisdom” stated that Iran would only need a few months (as of the signing of the interim agreement) to produce a working bomb. Throughout the process, Iran has claimed the work was only for peaceful uses (electricity production and the production of medical isotopes). Things had gotten really ugly back in 2011 when the IAEA lent credence to claims that originated in the Laptop of Death, where Iran was accused of past work aiming at developing a bomb. By making the blanket statement that Iran will never seek a nuclear weapon, Iran is publicly acknowledging that the West will reinstate economy-crippling sanctions should evidence surface that it is seeking a weapon. Further, by saying it “reaffirms” as much, Iran is sticking to its previous claims that it has not sought a weapon in the past. Those dual points are important enough to be appear twice on the first page of the agreement.

On first blush, the final agreement looks quite robust. I intend to address only the technical aspects of the agreement and will leave to others analysis of the aspects of the plan relating to the removal of sanctions, although it is interesting that it appears that the plan will be submitted for UN Security Council approval before Congress is expected to have a chance to chime in.

The plan is referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. It establishes a Joint Commission of P5+1 and Iran that will monitor implementation of the agreement.

Enrichment

In order to achieve the primary aim of taking Iran’s “breakout time” (the time estimated to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb) from the range of just a few months at the time of the signing of the interim agreement to the stated goal of at least one year, Iran now agrees to stop all enrichment work with radioactive material at its Fordo site (the underground site that prompted the US to develop a new generation of bunker buster bombs) and to greatly reduce the number of centrifuges in use at Natanz. Further, Iran will no longer enrich uranium above 3.67%. Iran agrees to keep its stockpile of 3.67% enriched uranium at 300 kg or less. Here is the wording for the key part of that aspect of the agreement (from page 7): Continue reading

Iran’s Description of Incident at Saudi Airport Changes

I’ve been following the recent PR battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran as they square off over Yemen and their other proxy battles across the greater Middle East. Of particular interest has been the accusation by Iran that two Iranian teenage boys were sexually assaulted at an airport as they returned from visiting holy sites in Saudi Arabia. The incident apparently took place in March but took a while to achieve the level of attention it is now commanding. Although Iran now has actually cancelled Umrah trips to Mecca and Medina (these are the lesser trips to the holy sites; Hajj this year will be in September), Iran’s description of the incident has evolved away from certainty that sexual assault took place down to stating that sexual assault was only attempted.

For example, here is the Mehr News announcement of cancellation of Umrah linked above:

In an order to Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati suspended Umrah to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia in protest to sexual assault attempt against two teenage Iranian boys by Jeddah airport security forces.

“I have ordered the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization to suspend the Umrah pilgrimage until the criminals are sentenced and punished,” Ali Jannati asserted.

The airport security agents harassing two Iranian young Hajj pilgrims are kept in custody, Jannati said, adding that Saudi officials had promised to exert maximum punishment on the perpetrators behind the assault at Jeddah airport.

Contrast that description of “sexual assault attempt” with this language from a PressTV article dated April 8:

Iran has submitted a note of complaint to the Saudi government over sexual abuse of two teenage Iranian pilgrims by Saudi officers at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.

/snip/

While performing body search on passengers, Saudi officers allegedly took the 14- and 15-year-old teenagers away citing suspicion, sounded off the alarm at the gate, and subjected them to the immorality.

Afkham said Saudi authorities had voiced disgust at the abuse and said its culprits would face religious and legal punishment upon establishment of their crime.

On April 8, then, we have frank “sexual abuse”, but only three days later it went down to the point that PressTV said the boys were “sexually harrassed” rather than abused:

Saudi officers sexually harassed two Iranian teenage boys at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah two weeks ago, prompting Tehran to submit a note of complaint to the Saudi government, according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham.

We then go from the April 11 “sexually harrassed” to today’s downgrade to attempted sexual assault. AP’s report on the situation yesterday afternoon noted that just what actually took place is unclear:

The alleged abuse, the details of which have not been publicly disclosed, sparked unauthorized protests at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran on Saturday. Public anger has grown over the incident, with President Hassan Rouhani ordering an investigation and Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoning a Saudi diplomat for an explanation.

But what actually happened remains unclear. On Monday, a representative of Iran’s top leader on hajj affairs downplayed the case, saying the pilgrims weren’t abused, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

“In the incident, no abuse has happened and the two policemen who attempted abuse were identified and detained by Saudi police,” Ali Ghaziasgar was quoted as saying.

Isn’t it interesting that Iran’s description of the incident didn’t soften until the very day that the “unauthorized” protests took place? Although described as unauthorized, the protests were mentioned by the major Iranian news outlets I scan, so Iran clearly intended to use them to portray Iran as victimized by the Saudis in the incident. But now that the protests have taken place and gotten their attention, we are finding out that no sexual assault likely even took place and the Saudis have placed the two policemen under arrest for attempted assault. It will be very interesting to see what happens at any trial these policemen might face and how each side will portray the outcome.

Given Call for War, Pakistan’s Parliament Chose Peace. Will US Congress Ignore Call for Peace, Choose War?

As Congress here in the US creeps ever closer to amassing a veto-proof margin for war with Iran by keeping sanctions in place even after a final P5+1 agreement would end them, it comes as especially refreshing that Pakistan’s Parliament has expressed clear sentiment against committing troops to a foreign exercise in folly. Especially remarkable is that this blunt refusal in the face of the Saudi request for Pakistani troops in Yemen comes only 13 months after the Saudis were found to have been the source of a critical $1.5 billion infusion of support when Pakistan’s economy was teetering.

Tim Craig gives us the essentials of Parliament’s move:

Pakistan’s parliament voted unanimously Friday to remain neutral in the conflict in Yemen, a major blow to Saudi Arabia as it seeks to build support for its offensive against the surging Houthi rebels there.

The parliament’s decision came after five days of debate in which lawmakers expressed major concern that Pakistan’s 550,000-man army could become entangled in an unwinnable conflict.

On Monday, Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, said Saudi Arabia had requested that Pakistan send troops, warships and fighter jets to help it battle the Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. But several Pakistani political leaders were strongly opposed to the request, saying the crisis in Yemen didn’t pose an immediate threat to Saudi Arabia.

The next paragraphs provide sharp contrast between the US Congress and Pakistan’s Parliament:

Instead, the resolution approved by Pakistan’s parliament warned that the Yemen crisis “could plunge the region into turmoil” if a negotiated peace and settlement was not reached soon.

“This bombing needs to be stopped because, as long as this is happening, the peace process can’t be launched,” Mohsin Khan Leghari, a Pakistani senator, said on the floor of parliament Friday.

A unanimous resolution against involvement in a foreign conflict that points out that Pakistan’s involvement “could plunge the region into turmoil”. Just wow. The US has sown turmoil on so many fronts throughout the Muslim world recently and yet Congress not only doesn’t see their own role in that turmoil but instead are doing their best to overcome the one opportunity we have there of establishing a peace process. I can’t think of a more damning indictment of Congress now than to put this move by Pakistan’s Parliament alongside Congress’ attempt to derail the Iran nuclear agreement. Given a call for war, Pakistan’s Parliament chose peace. Given a call for peace, the US Congress may still choose war.

For more details on the various forces at play in Yemen, this piece by Sophia Dingli at Juan Cole’s blog lays things out clearly.

The full text of the resolution can be found here.

Iran, P5+1 “Succeeded in Making History”

It has been a very long road since the announcement in November of 2013 that a preliminary agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations had been made on Iran’s nuclear technology. There have been extensions along the way and times when a permanent deal appeared imminent along with times when no such deal seemed possible. Despite tremendous pressure from Israel and the neocon lobby who lust after a war with Iran, the outlines for a permanent deal are now in place. What remains is to nail down the details by the June 30 deadline when the extensions of the interim agreement expire. Laura Rozen and Barbara Slavin capture the historic significance of what has been achieved:

We have “found solutions,” Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif first proclaimed on Twitter on April 2, “Ready to start drafting immediately.”

We have “succeeded in making history,” Zarif said at a press conference here April 2. “If we succeed, it is one of the few cases where an issue of significance is solved through diplomatic means.”

We have “reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” US President Barack Obama said from the White House rose garden after the deal was announced April 2.

What stands out about the agreement is just how much Iran was forced to give up on issues that had been seen by most observers as non-negotiable. Jonathan Landay interviewed a number of nuclear experts on the agreement:

On its face, the framework announced Thursday for an agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program goes further toward preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon than many experts expected it would, including requiring an international inspection system of unprecedented intrusiveness.

The Agreement

The version of the agreement as released by the US can be read here. Let’s take a look by sections.

The first section addresses the general concept of uranium enrichment. Although hardliners in the US want all enrichment in Iran stopped, it was clear that Iran would never have agreed to stop. But what has been achieved is staggering. Iran will take two thirds of its existing centrifuges offline. Those centrifuges will be placed in a facility under IAEA inspection, so there is no concern about them winding up in an undisclosed facility. Further, only Iran’s original IR-1 centrifuge type will be allowed. That is a huge concession by Iran (everybody knows the IR-1’s suck), as they had been developing advanced centrifuges that are much more efficient at enrichment. Many critics of a deal with Iran had suspected that advanced centrifuges would be a route that Iran would use to game any agreement to increase their enrichment capacity if only the number and not the type of centrifuge had been restricted. Further, Iran will not enrich uranium above 3.67% for a period of 15 years. And the stockpile of 3.67% uranium will be reduced by 97%, from 10,000 kg to 300 kg. This reduction also will apply for 15 years. This section also carries an outright statement of targeting a breakout time of 12 months to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb. [But as always, it must be pointed out that merely having enough enriched uranium for a bomb does not make it a bomb. Many steps, some of which there is no evidence Iran has or could develop under intense international scrutiny, would remain for making a bomb.]

The next section of the agreement is titled “Fordo Conversion”. Iran’s Fordo site is the underground bunker built for uranium enrichment. Iran has agreed not to enrich uranium at Fordo or to have uranium or any other fissile material present for 15 years. While many have advocated a complete shutdown of Fordo, the agreement provides a very elegant alternative. Fordo will now become a research site under IAEA monitoring. Had the site shut down, where would all of the scientists who work there now have gone? By keeping them on-site and under IAEA observation, it strikes me that there is much less concern about those with enrichment expertise slinking into the shadows to build a new undeclared enrichment facility.

The section on the Natanz facility follows Continue reading

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @ViscResponse @oldmancoyote22 @kdrum Disagree. Kevin is a friend and has been quite honest I think.
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bmaz @MonaHol @AmandaMarcotte She is voting for Bernie, and can't wait to do so.
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bmaz @MonaHol @AmandaMarcotte I think both. I have a daughter in college, and I certainly find it offensive.
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bmaz @TayNez81 Fair point!
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bmaz This is simply idiotic. https://t.co/m9kzltytbp
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bmaz This is simply idiotic. https://t.co/Vt5DNNKjID
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emptywheel @binarybits what prevents a judge in year 18 to skew her rulings in anticipation of cashing out as happens with Senators and Congressmen?
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bmaz @dbaich Yep, my thought too.
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bmaz @larsolsson And I don't think it is even clear he really has the power after Noel Canning anyway. Would b e bad idea to try.
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bmaz @larsolsson No, think the blowback from doing a recess appointment b before Scalia even buried would be counterproductive.
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bmaz Not sure why anybody really thought otherwise https://t.co/br4GmNzVk1
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