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.
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 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
Last week, I called attention to the fact that in printing an op-ed by Olli Heinonen (co-authored by Michael Hayden and Ray Takeyh), the Washington Post failed to disclose Heinonen’s position on the advisory board of the anti-Iran group United Against Nuclear Iran. One week later, the Post still has not corrected its identification of Heinonen. Today, we see that Heinonen’s deceptive anti-Iran campaign continues, where he appears as a key expert quoted in a front page New York Times article by David Sanger and Michael Gordon. Once again, Heinonen is only identified by his previous IAEA and current Harvard roles, ignoring his more relevant current role with UANI.
Ironically, today’s Times story is a follow-up to a story in November in which Sanger committed a glaring error which still has not been noted by the Times. Heinonen’s co-conspirator from the Post op-ed, Ray Takeyh, also makes an appearance in today’s Sanger and Gordon article, suggesting that their propaganda will remain as a package deal for the duration of the P5+1 negotiations.
Note also that last Monday, the defamation case by Victor Restis against UANI was thrown out by a district court after the Department of Justice successfully intervened to have the case quashed under a claim that state secrets would have been divulged. Writing in Bloomberg View, Noah Feldman mused:
What makes matters worse is the lingering possibility, indeed probability, that what the government fears is not a true threat to national security, but a severe case of embarrassment. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that United Against is a front organization for U.S. intelligence, possibly acting in conjunction with other foreign intelligence services. The allegation that Restis was doing business in Iran seems almost certain to have come from one of these intelligence services. Would acknowledging cooperation between, say, the Central Intelligence Agency and Mossad regarding Iran really upend national security? True, it’s a delicate time in the Iran nuclear negotiations. But no one, least of all the Iranians, doubts that U.S. and Israeli intelligence collaborate.
Though Feldman notes that it seems obvious there is an intelligence conduit between the CIA and/or Mossad and UANI and he even notes that disclosing this now would be awkward for the P5+1 negotiations, he should have gone further to note that this intelligence link, and the subsequent selective leaks, seem aimed to disrupt those negotiations and prevent an agreement.
In that same vein, it should be noted that the Sanger and Gordon article focuses only on barriers to an agreement. In addition to Heinonen and Takeyh, the article also sought out comment from John Boehner. No comment was offered in the article from anyone favoring an agreement or suggesting that Iran has abided by the terms of the interim agreement (although they do note IAEA has reported this cooperation) despite Boehner’s protestation that the Iranians don’t keep their word.
Further, Sanger and Gordon write that Heinonen published a paper on the breakout time needed for Iran to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade to produce a bomb. As a scientist, when I read that someone has published a paper, I assume that means it has appeared in a peer-reviewed journal. Following the link in the Times article for Heinonen’s “paper”, though, brings one to the website for a think tank, where Heinonen’s piece is only referred to as a fact sheet. [And, true to form, the site mentions Heinonen’s former IAEA role but not his current UANI role.]
It is impossible for me to escape the conclusion that Olli Heinonen and Ray Takeyh are part of an organized propaganda campaign aimed at disrupting the P5+1 talks and preventing an agreement. This propaganda is eagerly published by a compliant press, with the New York Times, Washington Post and AP among the most recent examples I have noted.
It is long past time for Heinonen to list his UANI affiliation in all his public pronouncements. His refusal to do so can only be seen as deception on his part and an effort to lend IAEA and Harvard credence to UANI propaganda.
Update: The US has disputed the central claim of the Sanger and Gordon article at the heart of this post. Sanger and Gordon report on that here.
We are now in the “final” week of negotiations to set the framework for the P5+1 long-term agreement on Iran’s nuclear technology. With so much in the balance, voices are popping up from every direction to offer their opinions on what constitutes a good or bad deal. While Netanyahu’s address to Congress dominated the headlines in that regard, other sources also have not held back on offering opinions. In the case of Netanyahu, informed observers considering his remarks knew in advance that Netanyahu considers Iran an “existential threat” to Israel and that violent regime change in Iran is his preferred mode of addressing Iran’s nuclear technology. When it comes to other opinions being offered, it is important to also have a clear view of the backgrounds of those offering opinions so that any biases they have can be brought into consideration.
With that in mind, the Washington Post has committed a gross violation of the concept of full disclosure in an Iran op/ed they published yesterday. I won’t go into the “substance” of this hit piece on Iran, suffice it note that the sensationalist headline (The Iran time bomb) warns us that the piece will come from an assumption that Iran seeks and will continue to seek a nuclear weapon regardless of what they agree to with P5+1.
The list of authors for this op/ed is an anti-Iran neocon’s wet dream. First up is Michael Hayden. The Post notes that Hayden led the CIA from 2006-2009 and the NSA from 1999 to 2005. I guess they don’t think it’s important to note that he now is a principal with the Chertoff Group and so stands to profit from situations in world politics that appear headed toward violence.
The third of the three authors is perhaps the least known, but he’s a very active fellow. Here is how Nima Shirazi describes Ray Takeyh:
Takeyh is a mainstay of the Washington establishment – a Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow before and after a stint in the Obama State Department and a founding member of the neoconservative-created Iran Strategy Task Force who has become a tireless advocate for the collective punishment of the Iranian population in a futile attempt to inspire homegrown regime change (if not, at times, all-out war against a third Middle Eastern nation in just over a decade). Unsurprisingly, he dismisses out of hand the notion that “the principal cause of disorder in the Middle East today is a hegemonic America seeking to impose its imperial template on the region.”
The Post, of course, doesn’t mention Takeyh’s association with the group Shirazi describes, nor his membership in another Iran Task Force organized by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
Sandwiched between Hayden and Takeyh, though, is the Post’s biggest failure on disclosure. Olli Heinonen is described by the Post simply as “a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency”. As such, uninformed readers are likely to conclude that Heinonen is present among the authors to serve as a hefty dose of neutrality,given his background in the IAEA. Nothing could be further from the truth. What the Post fails to disclose is that Heinonen is also a prominent member of the Advisory Board of United Against Nuclear Iran.
Not only is UANI an advocacy group working against Iran, but they are currently embroiled in litigation in which it has been learned that UANI has come into possession of state secrets from the United States. The Department of Justice has weighed in on the UANI case, urging the judge to throw the case out on the grounds that continuing to litigate it will disclose the US state secrets that UANI has obtained. Since the litigation involves UANI actions to “name and shame” companies it accuses of violating US sanctions against Iran, one can only assume that the state secrets leaked to UANI involve Iran.
How in the world could the Washington Post conclude that Heinonen’s role on the Advisory Board for United Against Nuclear Iran would not be something they should disclose in publishing his opinion piece entitled “The Iran time bomb”?
Oh, and lest we come to the conclusion that failing to note Heinonen’s UANI connection is a one-off thing in which Heinonen himself is innocent, noted AP transcriptionist of neocon anti-Iran rhetoric George Jahn used Heinonen in exactly the same way a month ago.
We can only conclude that Heinonen is happily doing the neocons’ bidding in their push for war with Iran.
From the nature of the political feeding frenzy surrounding the ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran on Iran’s nuclear technology, it is hard to believe that the Joint Plan of Action under which the countries are now operating was extended last November through the end of June of this year. At the time of that extension, the US announced a goal of having the political framework of the final agreement worked out by March 1. That date has now slipped to March 31, but current negotiations are still aimed at getting the political framework in place before the final details get ironed out. But with Benjamin Netanyahu making a speech to a Joint Session of Congress next week and other assorted madness, one would think that we are in the last few hours of the negotiating window.
Of course, one of the groups most upset by the possible outcome of removing the US sanctions against Iran is the MEK. Their latest tantrum, yesterday, in which they tried to claim that they had discovered a new, secret uranium enrichment site, was mostly ignored by the world. Jeffrey Lewis was quick to dismiss the accusation.
I had noted yesterday that Dianne Feinstein and Richard Durbin had tried to give Netanyahu some bipartisany-ness during his visit by inviting him to a closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats, but Netanyahu declined the invitation, inexplicably claiming that meeting would lend a partisan nature to his nonpartisan appearance before Congress. Bibi also got slapped down, though, as his bid to get several Arab ambassadors to show up for his speech has been rejected outright.
Just as the US military hates to see peace break out somewhere where they could otherwise be arming and training freedom fighters, Iran’s military seems especially upset by the prospect of a deal with the West. The IRGC is so upset about what is going on that today they broke one of their biggest toys in a fit of rage. Just under a year ago, word came out that Iran was building a replica of a Nimitz-class US aircraft carrier:
Intelligence analysts studying satellite photos of Iranian military installations first noticed the vessel rising from the Gachin shipyard, near Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf, last summer. The ship has the same distinctive shape and style of the Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers, as well as the Nimitz’s number 68 neatly painted in white near the bow. Mock aircraft can be seen on the flight deck.
The Iranian mock-up, which American officials described as more like a barge than a warship, has no nuclear propulsion system and is only about two-thirds the length of a typical 1,100-foot-long Navy carrier. Intelligence officials do not believe that Iran is capable of building an actual aircraft carrier.
Navy and other American intelligence analysts surmise that the vessel, which Fifth Fleet wags have nicknamed the Target Barge, is something that Iran could tow to sea, anchor and blow up — while filming the whole thing to make a propaganda point, if, say, the talks with the Western powers over Iran’s nuclear program go south.
Marcy had a bit of fun with the barge at the time, comparing it to our F-35 program.
But now, instead of waiting for the P5+1 talks to “go south”, the IRGC has chosen to destroy their target barge in war games that were launched today. And, just as predicted a year ago, the destruction of the barge was televised. From AP via the Washington Post:
State TV showed footage of missiles fired from the coast and the fast boats striking the mock U.S. aircraft carrier. The drills, which also included shooting down a drone and planting undersea mines, were the first to involve a replica of a U.S. carrier.
“American aircraft carriers are very big ammunition depots housing a lot of missiles, rockets, torpedoes and everything else,” the Guard’s navy chief, Adm. Ali Fadavi, said on state TV, adding that a direct hit by a missile could set off a large secondary explosion. Last month Fadavi said his force is capable of sinking American aircraft carriers in the event of war.
Here is a PressTV segment on the war games, complete with some footage of torpedoes hitting the barge:
Additional footage with more direct hits on the barge can be seen in this PressTV story.
The US Navy has now been sternly warned not to tow any barges into the Strait of Hormuz.
Meanwhile, more negotiations are scheduled for Monday.
Benjamin Netanyahu overstated Iran’s nuclear technology in 2012 when he used his bomb cartoon in an address to the United Nations. The Guardian and Al Jazeera have released a trove of documents relating to Iran’s nuclear program and one of the key documents was prepared by Mossad to brief South Africa just a few short weeks after the famous speech. From The Guardian:
Binyamin Netanyahu’s dramatic declaration to world leaders in 2012 that Iran was about a year away from making a nuclear bomb was contradicted by his own secret service, according to a top-secret Mossad document.
Brandishing a cartoon of a bomb with a red line to illustrate his point, the Israeli prime minister warned the UN in New York that Iran would be able to build nuclear weapons the following year and called for action to halt the process.
But in a secret report shared with South Africa a few weeks later, Israel’s intelligence agency concluded that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons”. The report highlights the gulf between the public claims and rhetoric of top Israeli politicians and the assessments of Israel’s military and intelligence establishment.
As The Guardian notes, although Bibi’s darling little cartoon makes little to no distinction between the steps of enriching uranium to 20% and enriching it to the 90%+ needed for a bomb, the Mossad document (pdf) states that Iran “is not ready” to enrich to the higher levels needed for a bomb:
Despite that clear information that Mossad surely already had at the time of the UN speech (h/t Andrew Fishman for the link), Netanyahu chose to portray Iran as ready to zip through the final stage of enrichment:
Now they’re well into the second stage. And by next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.
So Netanyahu described a step that the Mossad described Iran as not even ready to start and turned it into something Iran was eager to accomplish in a few weeks. Simply put, that is a lie.
Of further note in the document is information relating to the heavy water reactor under construction at Arak. Although it doesn’t appear that Netanyahu mentioned it in the UN speech, it often is portrayed as another rapid route to a nuclear weapon for Iran, because, when finally functioning, it could produce plutonium that could be used in a bomb. Mossad found, however, that Iran was still a couple of years away from having the reactor functioning. Further, Mossad realized that Iran needs a fuel reprocessing facility (that it does not have) in order to use the plutonium in a bomb:
It should also be noted that those two years have elapsed and the reactor still has not been powered up. Further, there are proposals that the reactor can be modified to make it produce a dramatically lower amount of plutonium.
These documents have been released with very important timing. As I noted last week, Netanyahu aims to destroy the P5+1 negotiations with Iran. By pointing out his lies two years ago, we should be in a better position to see through whatever obfuscation he delivers next week. But with a new air of bipartisany-ness, to his visit, don’t look for Washington politicians to be the ones to point out his next round of lies.
Postscript: I am significantly behind on my homework. I owe Marcy a careful reading of the technical documents from the Sterling trial and need to follow up more fully on the suggestions that false documents (including the Laptop of Death?) were planted with Iran for the IAEA to discover. Now with this new trove of documents and the looming date of Netanyahu’s visit, I need to get busy (on something other than planting blueberries)!
I must confess that I repeatedly put off writing this post. Similarly, the P5+1 countries and Iran now have repeatedly put off finalizing a deal that assures the West that Iran’s nuclear program has no chance to quickly move to a nuclear weapon. I had been operating under the assumption that a final deal would be announced at the November 24 deadline. After all, everything seemed aligned to make a deal seem necessary for both sides. Iran’s economy has been reeling under sanctions for years, but Rouhani’s push for “moderation” had silenced hardliners in his country who see any deal as capitulation. How long Rouhani can hold them back, however, seems to be the biggest mystery. Barack Obama has been waging war seemingly all over the planet, so a deal to avoid another one would be a huge accomplishment for him. And with a new Republican majority set to take over the Senate, meddling by Senate hawks is assured.
But no agreement was reached on Monday’s deadline. Even worse, rumblings that at least a “framework” would be announced also proved to be false. In fact, the framework target is now four months away, with another three months built in to iron out the technical details within that framework.
Jeffrey Lewis sees this long timeframe as delusion:
One wonders what the parties are thinking. Is there any reason to believe that this problem will be easier to solve in four months’ time? Is there any reason to think that, in fact, the parties have four months? Allow me to be the bearer of two items of bad news.
First, the 114th Congress will pass new sanctions legislation. This year, the White House held off the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill in the Senate by the narrowest of margins. (The House passing sanctions is a formality at this point.) Proponents had the votes — 60 co-sponsors, including 16 Democrats — but then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to let it come to the floor.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t be so accommodating.
Second, Iran is continuing research and development on a new generation of centrifuges. A few weeks ago, there was a minor kerfuffle when the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was test-feeding a new centrifuge under development called the IR-5. The issue was that Iran had not previously fed uranium hexafluoride into that type of machine. The Iranians denied this was a violation. (The definitive answer depends on “technical understandings” in the implementation agreement that the EU will not make public.)
With another extension, though, Iran is free to continue its R&D work on new generations of centrifuges — including resuming testing of the IR-5 and eventually the IR-8.
Oh, yes, the IR-8. The IR-5 is a prelude to this much bigger problem. Iran has declared a new centrifuge model called the IR-8 to the IAEA. (One of these bad boys is sitting at the “pilot” enrichment facility, saying, “Feed me, Seymour.”) The IR-8 is about 16 times more capable than the existing centrifuge types installed at the Natanz fuel enrichment plant.
Monday is the deadline set by the P5+1 group of nations and Iran for achieving a final agreement on steps to assure the world that Iran’s nuclear program is only aimed at the civilian uses of producing electricity and providing isotopes for medical use. With that deadline rapidly approaching, those who take a more hawkish view toward Iran and wish to see no agreement are doing their best to disrupt the negotiations as they enter the home stretch to an agreement or another extension of the interim agreement, which is nearing a year under which Iran has met all of its obligations.
A primary tool used by those who prefer war with Iran over diplomacy is Yukiya Amano, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Keeping right on schedule, Amano has interjected himself into the story on the final stage P5+1 talks (in which IAEA has no role) and one of his chief transcribers, Fredrik Dahl of Reuters, has fulfilled his usual role of providing an outlet for those wishing to disrupt a deal. Today’s emission from Amano [Note: During the time that this post was being written, Reuters changed the Fredrik Dahl piece that is being referenced. Here is an upload of the version of the story as it appeared with an 8:09 am Eastern time stamp. Usually, Reuters just sends new stories out with new url’s, but the url under which the 8:09 version loaded for me now loads a 10:09 story by different reporters discussing a likely extension of negotiations to March.]:
Iran has yet to explain suspected atomic bomb research to the U.N. nuclear agency, its head said on Thursday, just four days before a deadline for a comprehensive deal between Iran and six world powers to end the 12-year-old controversy.
After nearly a year of difficult diplomacy, Washington is pushing for agreement on at least the outline of a future accord and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will attend talks with Iran, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China on Friday.
But Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made clear it was far from satisfied, saying it was not in a position to provide “credible assurance” Iran had no undeclared nuclear material and activities.
It comes as no surprise that Amano would try to disrupt the talks at such a critical juncture. Recall that he replaced Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammad elBaradei in 2009. Amano laid low for a while, but in 2011 came out swinging against Iran. By moving in such a politically motivated way, I noted at that time that Amano was doing huge damage to the credibility of the IAEA after its terrific work under elBaradei.
Amano was carefully chosen and groomed for his role at IAEA.
Wikileaks documents revealed in 2010 showed how Amano assured US “diplomats” that he would be solidly in the US camp when it came to pursuing charges against Iran’s nuclear program:
Amano reminded [the] ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the developing countries group], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but 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.
More candidly, Amano noted the importance of maintaining a certain “constructive ambiguity” about his plans, at least until he took over for DG ElBaradei in December.
And what of these “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear work that Amano is holding against Iran? They are based on a total fabrication known as the laptop of death. Further, IAEA is not structured or staffed in a way for it to be the appropriate vehicle for determining whether work in Iran is weapons-related. It is, however, built for monitoring and accounting for enrichment of uranium, where it has found Iran to divert no material from its declared nuclear power plant fuel cycle.
Amano is far from alone in his campaign to disrupt the talks. Recall that a couple of weeks ago, David Sanger took to the front page of the New York Times to plant the erroneous idea the Iran was nearing an agreement to outsource its enrichment of uranium to Russia. The Times never noted nor corrected the error, which, conveniently for Sanger and other opponents of a deal, could give hardliners in Iran another opening for opposing any deal.
Sanger returned to the front page of the Times on Monday to gleefully list the forces he sees arrayed against any deal with Iran. Remarkably, Sanger did at least make an offhand correction to his earlier error (but of course there still is no note or change on the original erroneous report). He only does this, though, while also describing how he thinks Russia could undermine the breakthrough in which they have played a huge role:
Perhaps the most complex political player is Russia. It has remained a key element of the negotiating team, despite its confrontations with the West over Ukraine. It has been a central player in negotiating what may prove the key to a deal: a plan for Iran to ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Russian territory for conversion into fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
But Russian officials may want an extension of the talks that keeps any real agreement in limbo — and thus keeps Iranian oil off the market, so that it cannot further depress falling prices.
So, yes, Sanger finally admits the deal would be for Russia to convert low enriched uranium to fuel rods, not to do the enrichment itself, but only while also cheering on what he sees as a path for Russia keep Iranian oil off international markets.
Missing from Sanger’s list of forces lined up against a deal with Iran are those working behind the scenes in the US intelligence and “diplomatic” communities. Those forces gave state secrets to United Against Nuclear Iran to be used in false allegations against a Greek shipping firm providing goods to Iran that were not subject to sanctions. We still don’t know what that information was nor how UANI came into its possession because the Justice Department has intervened to quash disclosure in the lawsuit resulting from the false allegations.
As we enter what is slated to be the final weekend of the negotiations, the stakes are clear. Barack Obama has gladly jumped on board with most neocon dreams of open war in many of their target nations. Iran remains a huge prize for them, but so far Obama has shown remarkable resolve in pushing for an agreement that could avert a catastrophic war that would make the current ones look only like small skirmishes. I’m hoping for the best this weekend, but I also worry about what opponents of the negotiations may have in store for their final move.
Detailed information is not yet available, but by all accounts there was a very large explosion east of Tehran Sunday night, around 11:15 local time. Many believe that the explosion took place at Parchin, the military site that has been at the center of controversy raised by those who accuse Iran of carrying out work there to develop an explosive trigger for a nuclear bomb. Some of the most detailed information comes from Thomas Erdbrink of the New York Times:
A mysterious explosion at or near an important military complex rocked the Iranian capital on Sunday, lighting up the skies over the city.
Iranian official sources denied the explosion had taken place at the complex, the expansive Parchin military site east of the city, where international monitors suspect Iran once tested triggers for potential nuclear weapons. But the enormous orange flash that illuminated Tehran around 11:15 p.m. local time clearly came from that direction, several witnesses said.
Officials at Iran’s Defense Industries Organization, though also denying that the explosion took place at Parchin, confirmed that two people were missing after “an ordinary fire” caused by “chemical reactions of flammable material” at an unspecified production unit, according to the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency. There was no word on the location of the fire.
Witnesses in the east of Tehran said that windows had been shattered in the vicinity of the military complex and that all trees in a hundred-yard radius of two villages, Changi and Hammamak, had been burned. The villages are on the outskirts of the military site.
The map below shows the area in question:
As seen on the map, Changi is very close to Parchin, but Hammamak is on the other side of Parchin and the two villages are over three miles from one another. A blast fireball that scorched trees over three miles apart must have been quite spectacular.
Many factors go into calculating the strength of blasts, including the type of explosive and what type of containment might have been present. However, FEMA provides (pdf) this rough guideline (via DTRA) of the radius over which various types of damage might be expected to occur as a function of the amount of explosive material used:
Because it relates to assessing damage from terrorist bombs, the FEMA figure breaks the amounts of explosives down into the amounts that can be carried by cars, vans and large trucks. The Times story doesn’t report on how far away from the complex windows were shattered, but the effect of burned trees in villages over three miles from one another suggests that such damage would reach quite a ways. At the very least, it would appear that the blast had the equivalent of more than 10,000 pounds of TNT, and perhaps significantly more than that.
NBC News’ Ann Curry interviewed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yesterday in her second extended interview with him. She had been the first Westerner to interview Rouhani after his election. Remarkably, the story put up by NBC on their website to accompany the video seen above did not mention the part of the interview that Mehr News chose to highlight in Iran. From Mehr News:
Iran’s president has denounced ISIL terrorist group for its savagery and said US presence in the region has exacerbates [sic] the terrorism crisis since 2001.
That comment about US presence in the region exacerbating the terrorism crisis appears nowhere in the NBC article. The article does, however carry Rouhani’s accusation that the US approach to fighting ISIS is cowardly:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Ann Curry, denounced ISIS for its savagery but also branded the U.S.-led coalition against the terror group as “ridiculous.” Speaking from the presidential palace in Tehran ahead of his visit to the United Nations, Rouhani questioned President Obama’s decision to go after ISIS with airstrikes.
“Are Americans afraid of giving casualties on the ground in Iraq? Are they afraid of their soldiers being killed in the fight they claim is against terrorism?” Rouhani said.
“If they want to use planes and if they want to use unmanned planes so that nobody is injured from the Americans, is it really possible to fight terrorism without any hardship, without any sacrifice? Is it possible to reach a big goal without that? In all regional and international issues, the victorious one is the one who is ready to do sacrifice.
Rouhani’s accusation that the US wants to carry out this fight without sacrifices seems to be a very accurate description of the approach by the Obama Administration.
Further evidence for the “ridiculous” charge comes in this Huffington Post story about a Congressional briefing on US strategy:
One Democratic member of Congress said that the CIA has made it clear that it doubts the possibility that the administration’s strategy could succeed.
“I have heard it expressed, outside of classified contexts, that what you heard from your intelligence sources is correct, because the CIA regards the effort as doomed to failure,” the congressman said in an email. “Specifically (again without referring to classified information), the CIA thinks that it is impossible to train and equip a force of pro-Western Syrian nationals that can fight and defeat Assad, al-Nusra and ISIS, regardless of whatever air support that force may receive.”
He added that, as the CIA sees it, the ramped-up backing of rebels is an expansion of a strategy that is already not working. “The CIA also believes that its previous assignment to accomplish this was basically a fool’s errand, and they are well aware of the fact that many of the arms that they provided ended up in the wrong hands,” the congressman said, echoing intelligence sources.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, already in New York for the beginning of talks on the nuclear deal and the opening of the UN General Assembly, told NPR that he still favors a deal with the P5+1 group of nations:
On the subject of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Zarif said all the “wrong options” have already been tried and that “we are ready” for an agreement.
Zarif is fully cognizant of the forces allied against reaching a deal, though:
“The only problem is how this could be presented to some domestic constituencies, primarily in the United States but also in places in Europe,” because “some are not interested in any deal,” he said.
“If they think any deal with Iran is a bad idea, there is no amount of — I don’t want to call it concession — no amount of assurance that is inherent in any deal because they are not interested in a deal, period,” Zarif said.
In sharp contrast with what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political leaders have said about no deal being better than a bad one, Zarif said: “I think if you compare any deal with no deal, it’s clear that a deal is much preferable.”
Gosh, considering how the US is working closely with anti-Iran groups, even to the point of interfering in lawsuits to prevent disclosure of how the government shares state secrets with them, Zarif seems to have a very clear grasp of the problem a deal faces.
Despite his harsh comments about the US (and harsh comments about ISIS, as well), Rouhani also held out hope that the P5+1 final agreement can be reached.