It’s no secret that I am hardly a fan of David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security. He often has been the “go to” authority when countries hostile to Iran have chosen to leak selectively groomed information to put Iran in the harshest possible light. The countries leak the information to a select few journalists and then Albright is called in to provide his “analysis” of how evil Iran is and how determined they are to produce nuclear weapons.
I also have been hammering hard on Robert Menendez’s Senate bill that calls for increased sanctions on Iran. As Ali Gharib noted immediately, the bill spells out conditions for the final agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries that we know Iran will never agree to, so the bill guarantees that the new sanctions will eventually kick in, even if a final agreement is reached.
The New York Times is finally catching up to the points Gharib made almost exactly a month ago:
But where the legislation may have an effect, and why it so worries the White House, is that it lays down the contours of an acceptable final nuclear deal. Since administration officials insist that many of those conditions are unrealistic, it basically sets Mr. Obama up for failure.
White House officials zeroed in on three of the conditions: first, that any deal would dismantle Iran’s “illicit nuclear infrastructure”; second, that Iran “has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States”; and third, that Iran has not tested any but the shortest-range ballistic missiles.
“They’re basically arguing for a zero enrichment capacity, with a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear facilities,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “That’s not attainable, and it’s not necessary to prevent Iran from getting a weapon.”
I was not at all prepared, though, for what the Times learned about how this abhorrent piece of legislation was crafted:
Proponents of the bill deny it would deprive Iran of the right to modest enrichment. They point to the qualifier “illicit” in the reference to nuclear facilities that must be dismantled, and they say the language on enrichment is intentionally vague to mollify both Republicans, who are reluctant to grant Iran the right to operate even a single centrifuge, and Democrats, who balked at signing on to a bill that would rule out all enrichment.
“There’s no language that says a centrifuge is prohibited or allowed,” said David Albright, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Institute for Science and International Security, who helped Republicans and Democrats draft some of the technical wording.
The ambiguity, he said, reflected the fact that the lawmakers who sponsored the bill are “doing it in a bipartisan way, but they have disagreements on what the end state should look like.”
Oh. My. God.
To craft one of the most important bills in US foreign policy in over a decade, Menendez and his cronies turned to an “analyst” who has a long history of producing precisely the analysis that war hawks want. And he even has the gall to brag about how the weasel words that he crafted have different meanings depending on who is reading the bill.
I really have to just stop right here and let commenters fill in the rest for me. My health and sanity won’t let me think any further on the ramifications of David Albright writing legislation on US foreign policy toward Iran.
Laura Rozen chose a particularly appropriate title for her post yesterday on the P5+1 meeting just concluded in Geneva: “US and Iran Speak ‘Same Language’ in Nuclear Talks“. Not only were the negotiations carried out in English for the first time, but all sides report that a new tone was present and that the pathway to substantial progress has been laid out:
Western and Iranian diplomats hailed a new pace, candor and mutual will to try to forge a process to resolve international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, but acknowledged they were at the beginning of a still complex and difficult negotiation whose success is not guaranteed.
“I have never had such intense, detailed, straight-forward, candid conversations with the Iran delegation before,” the American official said. “The discussions took place in English…the pace of discussions was much better. It creates the ability to have a back and forth.”
“Both sides are serious, both sides want to find common ground,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking in English, told journalists at a press conference at the conclusion of talks here. “Iran is interested in resolving this issue.”
A very important statement from Zarif at the press conference was picked up by CNN:
“We will be doing the negotiation in the negotiating room and not in the press,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told reporters after the talks concluded.
The decision to keep details of the negotiations secret (which is apparently endorsed by all sides in the negotiations since few details beyond Iran being willing to submit to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol have emerged) is significant not just for the room it provides negotiators. Keeping the details secret also makes the path much harder for those on the outside who prefer a violent regime change in Iran rather than a negotiated path to peace.
I have remarked in many of my posts on the Iranian nuclear technology issue that “diplomats” in Vienna have a long history of leaking what they claim to be incriminating evidence against Iran to reporters there, primarily George Jahn of AP (look at the pretty cartoon!) and sometimes Fredrik Dahl of Reuters. Joby Warrick at the Washington Post often chimes in with information leaked from his sources who also seem to prefer a violent path. The intelligence is often embellished by David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security. While there have been improvements lately by Jahn and Dahl in questioning the material leaked to them and providing alternative information available from other sources, much damage has been done to the diplomatic pathway by this process.
Remarkably, there is little to no pushback so far from this group to the progress made in Geneva. A story co-authored by Jahn late yesterday afternoon fits with most of the reporting on the meeting and his single quote from an unnamed source is innocuous:
A senior U.S. official said that while the six powers “got more today than we’ve ever gotten, there’s a whole lot more that we need to get and probably more that Iran wants to get from us. … There’s a lot of detail that needs to be unpacked.” The official demanded anonymity as a condition for attendance at a background briefing.
Dahl also has no disruptive quotes in the several Reuters stories to which he contributed. Completing their shutout from the trio of their usual helpers, the hawks planted no inflammatory language in Joby Warrick’s story in today’s Washington Post. The David Albright pathway to propaganda also hasn’t been activated, as the most recent post on his site at the time of this writing was dated October 3.
The dogs that aren’t barking now are the most encouraging sign of all that there is widespread optimism that diplomacy has a real chance of succeeding.
With the world anticipating real progress at the next round of P5+1 talks set to start next week in Geneva, the MEK is getting desperate. Because they appear to only want a violent regime change in Iran, talk of actual diplomacy is their worst nightmare. Today, Reuters reports on the latest wild accusation tossed out by the MEK using the “umbrella” organization of the National Council of Resistance of Iran:
An exiled Iranian opposition group said on Thursday it had information about what it said was a center for nuclear weaponisation research in Tehran that the government was moving to avoid detection ahead of negotiations with world powers.
Reuters clearly was unmoved by the accusation, as they immediately pointed out that NCRI is biased and politically motivated. However, even in pointing out the bias of NCRI, Reuters perpetuates a myth that has been disproven:
The dissident National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) exposed Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water facility at Arak in 2002. But analysts say it has a chequered track record and a clear political agenda.
Uhm, yes. Having your major group spend decades on the list of terrorist organizations (before eventually buying their way off the list and registering as a lobbying group) would indeed qualify as “a chequered track record”. But Reuters insists on repeating the falsehood that the NCRI and MEK were responsible for exposing the underground enrichment site at Natanz. That myth has been thoroughly debunked by Jeffrey Lewis:
The debate about whether Iran has constructed a clandestine centrifuge program drives me nuts.
You mean other than the one we already found?
And by we, I mean the United States—or at least its intelligence community. As I understand the sequence of events, the United States—knowing full well that Iran had a clandestine centrifuge program—watched Iran dig two MASSIVE HOLES near Natanz (see the big picture), then ratted the Iranians out to the IAEA. About the same time, someone leaked that information to an Iranian dissident group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which then released the second-hand dope in a press conference where they got the details wrong.
Lewis goes on to cite multiple independent sources to confirm that the intelligence community, not the NCRI, was responsible for discovering the Natanz facility. [It is also instructive to note the role ISIS played in the charade of promoting NCRI responsibility.]
Aside from that major error on attribution of the discovery of Natanz, Reuters was so unmoved by the newest ploy from NCRI that they didn’t even rewrite today’s article very much from the last wild NCRI accusation in July (the link here is to CBC carrying the Reuters story):
But analysts say it has a mixed track record and a clear political agenda.
But in that July story, Reuters went further in linking that accusation to a desire to derail diplomacy:
The latest allegation comes less than a month after the election of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as Iran’s new president raised hopes for a resolution of the nuclear dispute with the West, and might be timed to discredit such optimism.
Yes, the MEK clearly sees diplomacy as the real enemy. That article also rehashed the abject failure of an accusation NCRI and MEK made in 2010:
In 2010, when the group said it had evidence of another new nuclear facility, west of the capital Tehran, U.S. officials said they had known about the site for years and had no reason to believe it was nuclear.
It would appear that NCRI and MEK need to step up their acts. They have reached a level of incompetence that is barely worthy of rewriting the standard dismissal that Reuters keeps on file.
The US grand strategy of arming moderate groups within Syria’s opposition in the ongoing civil war (remember, we only arm folks so moderate that they eat enemies’ hearts) took a huge blow yesterday, as several groups previously aligned with the moderates threw their support into a group including the Islamist group Jabhat al Nusra, which has affiliations with al Qaeda. With the moderate coalition in disarray, it occurred to me to wonder whether al Nusra will now undergo a reputation-scrubbing and a lobbying campaign similar to that applied to MEK, which has been removed from the official list of terrorist organizations and continues to support US politicians who are willing to sell their services to any group with enough funding. There is hope for the future, though, as a UN treaty that would take significant steps toward stemming the flow of conventional weapons is gathering steam and has now been signed by more than half of the members of the UN.
The Washington Post brings us the news of the fractured moderate coalition:
American hopes of winning more influence over Syria’s fractious rebel movement faded Wednesday after 11 of the biggest armed factions repudiated the Western-backed opposition coalition and announced the formation of a new alliance dedicated to creating an Islamic state.
The al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is the lead signatory of the new group, which will further complicate fledgling U.S. efforts to provide lethal aid to “moderate” rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The defecting groups are blaming the US for failing to come through with promised arms and for not bombing Assad after the August 21 chemical weapons attack:
Abu Hassan, a spokesman for the Tawheed Brigade in Aleppo, echoed those sentiments, citing rebel disappointment with the Obama administration’s failure to go ahead with threatened airstrikes to punish Assad for using chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus last month, as well as its decision to strike a deal with Russia over ways to negotiate a solution.
“Jabhat al-Nusra is a Syrian military formation that fought the regime and played an active role in liberating many locations,” he said. “So we don’t care about the stand of those who don’t care about our interests.”
Toward the end of the New York Times story on this development, we see the al Nusra group being described as less radical than the new kid on the block, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS): Continue reading
Despite the best efforts of those who want a military attack on Iran to paint Iran as hiding attempts to develop a nuclear weapon, cooler heads appear to be prevailing as yesterday’s talks in Tehran produced reports of a likely agreement and a follow-up meeting between the IAEA and Iran in only a month. One of the most important signs of progress is that the AP’s George Jahn, who has served as a conduit for many of the most flimsy charges against Iran even gave space at the end of his report today to provide an alternate viewpoint that calls most of his reporting for the past year into significant question.
From Reuters, Fred Dahl (who at times has dabbled in the same rumor-mongering as Jahn, but not as blatantly) reports on the progress made yesterday:
The U.N. atomic agency failed to gain access to a military site in talks with Iran this week but expects to reach a deal in January to resume a stalled nuclear probe, the chief U.N. inspector said after returning from Tehran on Friday.
Even though the International Atomic Energy Agency was not allowed to see the Parchin complex during Thursday’s visit to the Iranian capital, IAEA team leader Herman Nackaerts said progress had been made in the meeting.
“We expect to finalize the structured approach and start implementing it then shortly after that,” he said, referring to a framework agreement that would enable the IAEA to restart its investigation into suspected atomic bomb research in Iran.
“We had good meetings,” Nackaerts added. “We were able to make progress.”
It is not just the IAEA who characterized the meeting as productive. From PressTV, we also get positive news from the Iranian side of the meeting:
Earlier, Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA Ali-Asghar Soltanieh told Press TV that Tehran and the UN nuclear body agreed at the end of the one-day meeting to hold a next round of talks in January.
“This round of talks was constructive and good progress was made,” Soltanieh added.
Adding to the possible momentum generated yesterday, both the Reuters article linked above and this Fars News piece from Iran report that a new round of the P5+1 talks also could be taking place soon.
But perhaps the most encouraging news of all comes from what appears in today’s report from the AP’s George Jahn, who has been at the center of controversy many times during the last year because of the way he publishes “leaked” material coming from countries that favor military action in Iran and who want to disrupt diplomatic negotiations. In today’s story, he does recite some of his litany of charges against Iran and the claims that work at the Parchin military site may have been carried out to develop an explosive trigger device for a nuclear weapon. He also relates that David Albright emailed to AP a “series of commercial satellite photographs of the Parchin site” detailing activities at the site that Albright and Jahn have been hyping as aimed at “cleansing” the site of radioactive signatures of the trigger development work. Presumably, Albright had to email the photos to Jahn because Jahn is not able to find them on Albright’s website where he posted them along with a “they’re still at it” type of “analysis” earlier this week.
However, after giving space for more information from Albright, Jahn makes the remarkable move of providing an alternate viewpoint from an authoritative source [emphais added]:
But a former IAEA inspector questioned what the information shown on the satellite photos actually mean.
“This ‘sanitization story’ is an old wives’ tale,” said Robert Kelley, in an email Friday to the AP. “It is clear from examination of the satellite images that there is no concerted effort to disguise possible uranium contamination outside the building.”
Kelley said the activities at Parchin reflected “a construction project, not a demolition effort,” adding: “This is clearly not a sanitization.“
Seeing his last year of work on behalf of war mongers dismissed as “an old wives’ tale” and then including it in his report had to hurt Jahn. He is due a bit of respect for reporting it, even if he did hide it at the very end of his report.
It seemed that David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security had reached a new low when on August 24 they wowed the world with their analytical powers by explaining to us the meaning of Iran draping buildings at the disputed Parchin military site with pink tarpaulins. Yesterday, Albright and associates did their best to keep the Pink Panic at Parchin going, as they breathlessly revealed that Iran is now actually REMOVING THE TARPS!
As I have maintained all along, if Iran has carried out work at this site to develop a neutron trigger based on high explosives, as they have been accused, then the steel chamber in which the work was carried out is quite likely to have been rendered radioactive through the process of neutron activation and no amount of cleaning the chamber or the surrounding building or surrounding soil can hide that. That means that the tarps themselves (along with the earlier soil-moving exercises) have been a feint to give Albright and the press something to chase while those who favor an attack on Iran continue to agitate for “action”. We see from the most recent photos that the building in which the explosives chamber is believed to be housed still stands after the tarp has been removed from its roof. Should inspectors gain access to the site, their primary objective remains unchanged from pre-tarp days. They first need to determine if the chamber is still inside the building. If the chamber is still present, they need to examine it for evidence of neutron activation or any other radioactive contamination arising from the research the Iranians have been accused of carrying out.
Because there hasn’t been an immediate, multinational hue and cry to bomb Iran over the leaked IAEA report, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and David Albright, the designated point person for fomenting fears over Iran’s nuclear program in the United States, have been reduced to using their best Billy Mays voice to boom out “But wait, there’s more!” Netanyahu’s blathering has been dutifully written down and published by Reuters while Albright has found a willing mouthpiece in the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick
Netanyahu told his cabinet yesterday that Iran is closer to getting the bomb than the IAEA report suggests. Here is how Reuters reported his remarks:
“Iran is closer to getting an (atomic) bomb than is thought,” Netanyahu said in remarks to cabinet ministers, quoted by an official from his office.
“Only things that could be proven were written (in the U.N. report), but in reality there are many other things that we see,” Netanyahu said, according to the official.
The Israeli leader did not specify what additional information he had about Iran’s nuclear program during his cabinet’s discussion on the report by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released last week.
Yup, Netanyahu is telling us he knows more about Iran’s nuclear technology than the rest of the world knows, but he won’t give us details and he can’t prove it. And, of course, it is important to believe everything Netanyahu says.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Joby Warrick saw fit this morning to devote an entire article to building the case that Vyacheslav Danilenko was transferring crucial nuclear technology to Iran rather than helping Iran to develop nanodiamond technology. The accusations against Danilenko come almost exclusively from David Albright and a “report” on Danilenko prepared by Albright’s Insitute for Science and International Security. Warrick does include one brief quotation from a former CIA Iran analyst on how analysts characterize the flow of information into potentially covert programs and a statement from Josh Pollack of Arms Control Wonk. I will return to the Pollack quote below.
Now that Danilenko’s work on controlled high explosives detonations creating nanodiamonds has been put forward as a potentially peaceful use of the technology he was helping to develop in Iran, those who promote the view that Iran is working hard now to develop a nuclear weapon find it necessary to provide a stronger connection between Danilenko’s work and development of a bomb trigger device. At the same time, Danilenko has responded to press inquiries with a direct “I am not a father of Iran’s nuclear program” and “I am not a nuclear physicist.” Continue reading