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.
Very high level US diplomats, including William Burns and Wendy Sherman, are in Geneva for talks today and tomorrow (for the second time in a month) with an Iranian delegation headed by Abbas Araghchi, whose position in Iran’s Foreign Ministry is similar to theirs. This meeting follows one on Monday between the EU’s chief negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif. Reuters has more on today’s meetings, informing us that they are a prelude to the resumption of P5+1 negotiations (which now have a November 24 deadline when the interim deal expires):
Iran and the United States met in Geneva for bilateral talks on Thursday as international diplomacy intensifies to end a decade-old dispute over Tehran’s atomic activities by a new deadline in late November.
The office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton confirmed Iran and six world powers would hold their first negotiating round since they failed to meet a July 20 target date for an agreement in New York on Sept. 18.
It is a wonder that Iran continues negotiations, as the US blacklisted a new group of companies last week that it accused of trying to help Iran work around sanctions. More from the Reuters article:
State news agency IRNA and a U.S. official confirmed the discussions were underway. “If there is good will and a constructive approach, we can reach a desired result before Nov. 24,” IRNA quoted Iran’s deputy foreign minister Majid Takht-Ravanchi as saying late on Wednesday. The United States last week penalized a number of Iranian and other foreign companies, banks and airlines for violating sanctions against Tehran, saying it was sending a signal that there should be no evasion of sanctions while talks continue. Rouhani said on Saturday the sanctions were against the spirit of negotiations, but added he was not pessimistic about the viability of the talks.
There is a very interesting backstory on parts of the blacklisting process. A seemingly “independent” group, United Against Nuclear Iran, has been very active in the process of “naming and shaming” individuals, companies and organizations that it accuses of violating the spirit of the sanctions against Iran. Despite the fact that they are supposed to be independent, the US has stepped into a lawsuit brought against UANI by a businessman claiming he was defamed (I owe Marcy a big thank you for alerting me to this part of the story). The government is specifically intervening to keep the funding of UANI secret:
The Obama administration has gone to court to protect the files of an influential anti-Iran advocacy group, saying they likely contain information the government does not want disclosed.
The highly unusual move by the Justice Department raises questions about the connections between the American government and the group, United Against Nuclear Iran, a hard-line voice seeking to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The group has a roster of prominent former government officials and a reputation for uncovering information about companies that sometimes do business with Iran, in violation of international sanctions.
The Justice Department has temporarily blocked the group from having to reveal its donor list and other internal documents in a defamation lawsuit filed by a Greek shipping magnate the group accused of doing business with Iran. Government lawyers said they had a “good faith basis to believe that certain information” would jeopardize law enforcement investigations, reveal investigative techniques or identify confidential sources if released.
Wow. So this “independent” group seems to be getting intelligence directly from the government, if we are to believe what the US said in its filing. So just who are the “former government officials” in UANI? A look at their “Leadership” page is nauseating. The first entry in the section for “Advisory Board” is none other than war hawk Joe Lieberman. Next to him is Fran Townsend and directly below him is a former director of the Mossad. The Advisory Board photos go on and on, a virtual “Who’s Who” of pro-war, pro-Israel media darlings. There also is a former Deputy Director of the IAEA even though it is supposed to be apolitical. Intellectual luminaries Mike Gerson and Mark Salter appear much lower on the list, perhaps out of a semblance of embarrassment. So, regarding those “investigative techniques” and “confidential sources” that the government doesn’t want to reveal in how UANI gets its information, consider this tidbit we got recently from David Albright, another player in the Iran-smearing business, this time branching out to comment on the recent tensions over US spying on Germany (also brought to my attention by Marcy): Continue reading
On Wednesday night, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif was interviewed by Iranian state television. Reports about what he said in the interview provided quite the adventure yesterday. Here is Reuters this morning trying to sort out just what took place:
On Thursday a story from the official Iranian News Agency (IRNA) cited by several news organizations including Reuters reported Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as saying that if Iran agreed to “do something in Iraq, the other side in the negotiations will need to do something in return”.
“All the sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear activities should be lifted in return for its help in Iraq,” it quoted him as saying.
But later on Thursday IRNA reported foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as dismissing “reports by some news agencies about Iran and U.S. cooperation in Iraq”.
“These reports are a misinterpretation of the foreign ministerˈs remarks and are ‘totally baseless’,” IRNA reported her as saying.
So what did Zarif actually say? Here is PressTV’s translation of the sentence in question:
“If we agree to do certain things at [the nuclear facility in the Iranian city of] Arak, then they should agree to do certain things in return; one of those things would be for them to go to the [UN] Security Council and lift the sanctions,” Zarif stated.
Wow. Arak is the site of the heavy water reactor that has been a point of contention in the nuclear negotiations from the start. If you watch the YouTube above, there is a translation of Zarif’s remarks that does seem to suggest that the context for the remark does not fit at all with a mention of Iraq. A similar translation appears in the video at the PressTV site linked above.
Further clarification of that point comes from a Foreign Ministry spokesperson at FarsNews:
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham categorically dismissed media reports about Tehran’s call on the US to remove the sanctions if it wants the former’s cooperation against ISIL in Iraq.
Afkham’s remarks came as certain foreign media outlets misquoted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying that Iran is ready to cooperate with the US in Iraq in return for lifting UN sanctions against Iran.
“These reports are a misinterpretation of Foreign Minister’s remarks and are totally baseless,” Afkham said on Thursday.
The Iranian foreign minister had called on the US to remove its unilateral sanctions against Iran in order to pave the way for Iran’s further cooperation with the West on nuclear issues, including Arak heavy water facility.
Several western news agencies, including AFP and Reuters, misquoted Zarif’s comments by substituting the word “Iraq” for “Arak”, which the foreign minister had actually used. The incorrect quote attributed to Zarif implied that Iran has conditioned its readiness to help tackle the Takfiri Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists in Iraq on the removal of the sanctions imposed on Iran by the West.
As I pointed out two weeks ago, US foreign and military policy is now so muddled that the primary response to any ongoing crisis is to choose a side to arm without thought to the inevitable blowback that will come from trying to pick winners and losers in otherwise internal affairs of far-flung countries. As the meltdown of the US-trained Iraqi military accelerates, we now see a situation whose supreme irony would be hilarious if only so many lives were not senselessly caught in the crossfire. Two developments of that sort stand out today.
First is the news that Syrian aircraft have carried out a strike against ISIS targets inside Iraq. Because Iraq has been pleading with the US to carry out attacks of this sort, it appears that early reports first assumed that US drones had been involved:
Syrian government aircraft bombed Sunni militant targets inside Iraq on Tuesday, further broadening the Middle Eastern crisis a day after Israeli warplanes and rockets struck targets inside Syria.
Iraqi state media initially reported that the attacks near Iraq’s western border with Syria were carried out by U.S. drones, a claim that was quickly and forcefully denied by the Pentagon.
Think about that one for a minute. Last fall, the US was agonizing over how to find and arm only those groups fighting the Assad government in Syria that are “moderate” so that we didn’t arm the then fledgling ISIS group. But now, inside Iraq, state media is initially unable to distinguish an action taken by Assad from one taken by the US. That is, Assad, whom we are fighting inside Syria, is on our side inside Iraq.
The second development is a pairing of US interests with one we have been fighting for a much longer time. The New York Times brings us the latest on Iranian assistance to Iraq in its struggle against ISIS. The initial part of the report seems routine:
Iran is flying surveillance drones over Iraq from an airfield in Baghdad and is secretly supplying Iraq with tons of military equipment, supplies and other assistance, American officials said. Tehran has also deployed an intelligence unit there to intercept communications, the officials said.
The secret Iranian programs are part of a broader effort by Tehran to gather intelligence and help Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government in its struggle against Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
But when the Times drills down to detail on how the assistance is being delivered, we get into more strange times:
Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, has visited Iraq at least twice to help Iraqi military advisers plot strategy. And Iran has deployed about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders, and help mobilize more than 2,000 Shiite militiamen from southern Iraq, American officials said.
Wait. Iran’s IGRC, and especially its Quds Force, is supposed to be still absolutely opposed to the US and even drops comments trying to disrupt the P5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program now and then. And yet, here they are, sending their head to Iraq to prop up al-Maliki as well as sending “about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders”. Hmm. Advisers. That sounds familiar. Returning to the Washington Post story cited above: Continue reading