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VIDEO: The Iran Nuclear Negotiations — Critical Issues

The United West presents a Special National Security Event, live from the Heritage Foundation – The nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5 plus 1 have entered a crucial phase ahead of the March 30 deadline for a framework agreement.

A distinguished panel of experts examines some of the key issues involved in the negotiations and assess some of the pitfalls that must be avoided if an acceptable agreement is to be reached by the June 30th deadline for a final agreement.

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is courtesy of the Center for Security Policy.

Denouement on P5+1 Iran Nuclear Deal?

Yesterday, President Putin was up to his usual antics lifting the 2010 moratorium on sale of the Russian S-300 advanced air defense system.  This was exquisitely timed to  consternate  the  efforts  of President Obama and  Secretary of State Kerry in the midst of trying to sell Congress  today on the merits of  the inchoate  P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran. In diplo-speak the most the White House and State Department could say in response was that Putin’s action was “unhelpful”.   State Department spokesperson Marie Harf in response to questions raised in yesterday‘s Daily Press Briefing said:

“We think given Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region, in places like Yemen or Syria or Lebanon that this isn’t the time to be selling these kind of systems to them.” But she added: “We don’t think this will have an impact on unity in terms of inside the negotiating room.”

For Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu it was evidence that Russia, as we wrote in January may have signed on to the Axis of Resistance . At the time on January 20th, smiling Russian and Iranian Defense Ministers met in Tehran, shook hands and publicly announced that the moratorium was passé. The $800 million paid by Iran for the S-300 air defense system   would finally be honored and the new toys delivered to protect Iran‘s nuclear and military development centers from an air assault by Israel.  We wrote:

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu signed an “cooperation” agreement with Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan in Tehran.  Both countries are the targets of Western and US Sanctions. Both countries are afflicted with erosion of oil and energy revenues.  Both countries are seeking to blunt opposing US interests in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.  That is reflected in a comment of Iranian State television by Dehghan reported by AFP, that Iran and Russia had a “shared analysis of US global strategy, its interference in regional and international affairs and the need to cooperate in the struggle against the interference of foreign forces in the region.”  There is also the matter of weapon systems deals with proceeds which might bolster Russia’s depleting foreign currency reserves, while combating America’s ally in the Middle East, Israel.

Iranian Defense Minister   Dehghan in light of Putin lifting the moratorium on the S-300 sale said: “Extra-regional threats and the spread of terrorism by (insurgent) groups have increased the need to further expand cooperation.”  Note this Wall Street Journal comment about who directly benefits in Russia from the sale of the Antey S-300 System to Iran:

Rostec Corporation Chief Executive Officer Sergei Chemezov said in February that Iran was still considering Russia’s offer to supply Antey-2500 missile systems, with a range of about 200 kilometers (125 miles), according to Russian state news agency TASS. Rostec didn’t immediately respond to questions about the status of the offer on Monday.

Mr. Chemezov, who became friends with Mr. Putin when the two worked for the KGB in the 1980s, is among those sanctioned by the U.S. over the crisis in Ukraine.

That was a prelude to yesterday’s announcement from the Kremlin. Putin purposefully chose yesterday to rattle the West Wing, Foggy Bottom and Jerusalem by proving that  sanctions, whether UN, EU or Congressional are next to useless when it comes to dealing with rogue regimes. The only thing these masters of disinformation and mischief understand is the willingness to back up words with commitment to us military power.  Something lacking in the backbone of the P5+1 cabal lusting after exchanges with the Mahdist Mullahs in Tehran with visions of billion dollar and Euro development deals dancing in their minds.   Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), unlike the Metternichean Munchkins in the West Wing said it best in today’s Wall Street Journal:

“Before a final nuclear deal is even reached, [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has started to demolish international sanctions and ignore the U.N. arms embargo,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), who sponsored legislation that seeks to impose new sanctions on Iran if a final deal isn’t reached by June 30.

Notice the assist that Foreign Minister Lavrov provided as rational for his boss’ latest chess move:

“At this stage, we believe the need for this kind of embargo, and a separate voluntary Russian embargo, has completely disappeared,” Mr. Lavrov said Monday, citing the recent progress in nuclear talks. He called the missile system “exclusively of a defensive nature” and said it “doesn’t threaten the security of any governments in the region, including, of course, Israel.”

Not trusting these fine words from Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said:

“It’s proof that the economic momentum that will come for Iran after lifting sanctions will be exploited for an arms buildup and not for the welfare of the people of Iran,” Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said.

That must have garnered more respect from Secretary Kerry poised to brief House and Senate members this week on the nuclear deal with no content announced in Lausanne 12 days ago.  Kerry had the cupidity to praise Russia for its constructive stand, a reference to a Foreign Ministry announcement allegedly saying that the State Department Fact Sheet on the parameters for a final agreement to be reached by June 30th was “accurate”.  Note what Josh Earnest , White House Press Spokesperson said; “That underscores the kind of unity around the specific agreement that we believe has been critical to our success.” President Obama hedged his bets this weekend reiterating “the possibility of backsliding” before the June 30 deadline.

 Something that both Supreme Ruler Ayatollah Khamenei and Foreign Minister Zarif suggested was simply “spin.”  Then, last Thursday, Khamenei demanded that all sanctions be lifted upon signing of an agreement with the P5+1 and hands off our national security and military developments.  Not to worry, said President Obama, Khamenei was simply grandstanding before his hard liners on their version of National Nuclear Development Day celebrations following their perceived victory on April 2nd in Switzerland.  The deal with no content was still on despite the tough slog to create definitive terms by the deadline of June 30th.  That the Congress shouldn’t interfere with what he deemed the “best bet” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear device to complement its rising hegemony in the troubled Levant.  He was like the Looney Tunes cartoons character Yosemite Sam suggesting to both Congress and Israel to “back off”. You will get your chance to learn about the final deal if and when it occurs.   Not exactly confidence building steps.

President Obama stoked the disquiet over the P5+1 deal with remarks in both his New York Times and NPR interviews suggesting that Iran would be prevented from achieving nuclear breakout in the remaining months of his second and final term in office and that 10 to 15 years out, all bets were off about Iran’s ability to create nuclear weapons.  President Obama always point to IAEA’s track record to conduct “robust intrusive” inspections.  Weapons and the means of delivering them that some believe may have been covertly developed in cooperation with the DPRK.  North Korea  was beyond the ability of the IAEA to verify military  nuclear development s  as evidenced by  the  failure of  a more worthy framework developed by the Clinton Administration that  North Korea breached and was sanctioned by the Un repeatedly while relentlessly  developing and testing nuclear weapons and the ICBMs  to deliver them. Thereby putting the lie to President Obama’s assertion that “if Iran cheats, the world will know”.  Rogue regimes, whether in Moscow, Pyongyang, or Tehran are your basic sociopaths. They believe that agreements are simply black dots on white paper, meaningless. Or as Humpty Dumpty said to Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:

When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

The Administration is rolling its big guns in briefings to both the House and Senate. Besides Kerry, Energy and Treasury Secretaries, Ernest Moniz and Jack Lew will be sent to the Hill to make the case for the P5+1 deal to proceed. Notwithstanding  that Congress is poised for legislative action this week in a possible denouement with the White House.   Embattled  Democrat  New Jersey U.S. Senator  Bob Menendez , targeted with corruption charges by  the Obama Justice Department, suggested he wasn’t “backing  off” from  his  co-sponsorship with  Republican colleague, Tennessee  Senator Bob Corker , chair of  the Senate Foreign  Relations committee,  of  Iran nuclear deal review legislation. A vote is scheduled this week that may determine whether the bill is veto-proof, given a threat from President Obama. It appears from a Politico report today that Corker and the Democrats may have reached a compromise enabling passage by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday of the pending legislation.  Given the emerging Iranian and now Russian defiance of sanctions and previous military developments inspections, the vote may be within striking distance of becoming veto proof on the Senate version of the pending legislation. Evidenced by comments from both House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) that the GOP majority could deliver a veto proof vote on the Senate version.

Now, if you have gotten this far in reading this, you might ask whether the sophisticated S-300 system that the Wall Street Journal said was capable of knocking down swarms of cruise and ballistic missiles, attacking aircraft. Aircraft like the aging B-2 Stealth bomber capable of carrying that new and more powerful Massive Ordnance Penetrator that Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said the USAF tested in January 2015. Think of what Israel did in 2008, a year following its destruction of a North Korean supplied nuclear reactor and bomb factory on the Euphrates River at al-Kibar in Syria in Operation Orchard.  As we wrote in our January 2015 Axis of Resistance Iconoclast post:

In June 2008, Israel’s air force undertook massive air training exercises involving more than 100 aircraft in the eastern Mediterranean against Greek S-300 Russian air defense systems. That effort demonstrated the canny effectiveness of swarming attacks against the S-300 and later versions that upset the Iranian military and Revolutionary Guards.

That was seven years ago. Perhaps, Israel has followed with keen interest the development of advanced versions of the S-300, the S-400 and might have something in mind to keep Iran’s Defense establishment worried.  Unlike their peers in the Pentagon, Israel doesn’t talk about such matters.

Meanwhile, will Congress act on Iran nuclear deal review legislation setting up a denouement with President Obama over his threat to veto it?  Stay tuned for developments.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Iran’s Cheating Heart

Country and Western Icon, Hank Williams wrote a ballad back in the 1950’s, “Your  Cheatin’ Heart”.  Perhaps there is a new version in the international arena, “Iran’s Cheating Heart”.  Iran’s track record of evading inspections by the IAEA under prior Additional Protocols has been, shall we say, less than fulsome. Add to that the Islamic Regime’s non compliance with requests by the IAEA for information on so-called previous military developments (PMD). Especially the barring of inspections at the military explosives test site of Parchin, where there appears to have been concealment  of  tests of nuclear triggers. We raise this because President Obama in his announcement of  the framework for a final agreement to be negotiated by June 30th had talked about “robust intrusive inspections.”  Moreover, he said, “ If Iran cheats, the world will know about it”. Further,  Secretary Kerry when asked during an NPR interview on April 8th about Iran’s PMD said that would be part of the negotiations.

Yesterday, Ayatollah Khamenei in his first public statement on the P5+1 Political Framework  stirred up a hornet’s nest of  controversy about major differences between the State Department Fact Sheet and Iran’s “understanding”.  Khamenei  said that all sanctions would be lifted  immediately upon signing of a definitive agreement, adding that PMD was off the table.  The Wall Street Journal  (WSJ) in its report on these latest disagreements over the political framework announced April 2nd drew attention to what Khamenei said:

It must absolutely not be allowed for them to infiltrate into the country’s defense and security domain under the pretext of inspections. Military officials must not allow strangers into this private domain under the pretext of supervision and inspection, or stop the defensive development of the country.

The WSJ noted this myopic comment of the eponymous senior administration  official:

We see the Iranians working to build support for the deal back home, which is a positive signal of their intent to complete the final agreement.

The Wall Street Journal cited  the usually clear-eyed Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), chief Congressional critic of the P5+1 framework, saying:

As each new day reveals a new disagreement, it’s increasingly clear that Iran, in fact, failed to reach agreement with the United States and its partners on a political framework.

michael-makovsky-Michael Makovsky, executive director of the Jewish Institute  for National  Security Affairs  (JINSA) in  the current  edition of The Weekly Standard dissected the reality of those ‘robust intrusive inspections’ under Additional Protocols between Iran and  the IAEA in an article, “Iran’s Cheating: Can’t Trust, Can’t Verify”. First off, Makovsky notes there is “no Additional  Protocol”:

There is a model Additional Protocol that the IAEA uses as a basis for negotiating a specific agreement with each individual country tailored to its situation. Indeed, this provision opens the door to yet another round of haggling with Iran, making it impossible to know what exact measures Iran will end up being bound by.

But we do know, and this is the second concern, that no Additional Protocol contains the sort of “anytime, anywhere” inspections that UNSCOM provided for and that experts agree is necessary to police Iran’s program. What an Additional Protocol would likely contain, according to the framework agreement, is an expansion of the number of facilities subject to inspections—to include Iran’s uranium mines and centrifuge factories—and stricter requirements for advance notice of any nuclear facilities Iran plans to construct.

On why  the Military test site at Parchin is important:

If Iran decides to sprint for a nuke, however, it won’t do so in a uranium mine; it will do it at one of its enrichment plants, most likely a clandestine plant, potentially hidden on a military base. It is precisely such sites that the IAEA has been trying, unsuccessfully, to get access to for years. Of particular concern has been the Parchin military complex, where the IAEA suspects Iran tested high-explosives for a nuclear weapon. Yet inspectors have never been allowed to set foot on the site, watching instead as satellite imagery showed Iran demolishing the suspected site and paving it over to conceal any evidence of its cheating.

Then there is  Iran’s track record on ‘implementing “ Additional Protocols:

Third, there is the ambiguity of the term “implement.” Iran has previously “implemented” an Additional Protocol. In 2003, about the same time it was cheating on its agreement with the Europeans, Iranian leaders signed an Additional Protocol with the IAEA. Indeed, for the next two years they actually observed it. But in early 2006, Iran announced that it would no longer abide by the Additional Protocol and curtailed inspectors’ access. They could well try to pull the same stunt again. And according to a “fact sheet” released by the Iranian foreign ministry, Iran believes it has only committed “to implement the Additional Protocol on a voluntary and temporary basis for the sake of transparency and confidence building.”

Not only our intelligence but even Israel’s is deficient when it comes to  detecting Iran’s  covert  nuclear program:

U.S. intelligence services have a dismal track record of detecting clandestine nuclear efforts and predicting breakout—in North Korea, Pakistan, and India, for example. Israeli security officials have admitted in private that they too have significant gaps in their knowledge about Iran’s facilities. This is not an indictment of American or Israeli intelligence capabilities; it is simply very challenging to detect covert nuclear activities. Permitting Iran to keep its vast nuclear infrastructure largely intact, as the JCPOA does, only compounds the challenges the United States and the world will have in detecting Iranian cheating.

If Iran has been engaged in cooperative nuclear weapons development with North Korea, as we have written, that compounds the difficulty of detecting covert sites for storage of fissile material and research on nuclear warheads for those  ICBMs it is developing.

Makovsky concludes:

An intrusive inspections and verification regime is the sine qua non of any arms agreement, especially with a congenital cheater like the Islamic Republic of Iran. Unfortunately, the JCPOA fails on this crucial issue, by not demanding complete information about the extent of Iran’s past nuclear weapons research and eschewing “anytime, anywhere” inspections of all facilities. In other words, it is currently worth no more than the paper it might have been written on.

There’s an old Southern phrase in the U.S. that appears apt in the current controversy over what was intended in the P5+1 Political Framework  for a nuclear agreement  with Iran:  “this dog won’t hunt”.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is courtesy of Breitbart.

The Iran Framework Disagreement and 50/50 chance of U.S. China War

Last week we anticipated that no deal would be better than a bad deal. But this week it seems hard to know exactly what deal has been agreed. Each of the parties in the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear capability seems to have a different interpretation of what the much-heralded framework deal contains or means. But what is clear is that the framework is not only bad, but sloppy.

As HJS’s new briefing out this week makes clear, there is not even any single agreed upon framework proposal in the deal. Indeed, as our briefing outlines, the joint Iranian-EU statement made on 2 April had a number of differences to the one made by President Obama on the same day. Indeed the French fact-sheet on the framework contradicts the U.S. version, with the U.S. one appearing more stringent and implying sanctions relief would be staged – a claim that is, in turn, denied by Iran.

There seems to be an ongoing dispute over what has been agreed in regard to inspections. There is an ongoing lack of clarity on what this all now means for regional proliferation (in particular now that every other country will want to get their own nuclear assurance). And there is a deeply disconcerting anomaly about the number of centrifuges Iran needs. The framework deal seems to allow Iran to have 6,000 centrifuges, when it is generally agreed that the country would require no more than 2,000, if this were truly about the country’s search for nuclear technology limited solely for civilian use.

In all of its negotiations, Iran appears to have played a steady and consistent hand. But this is in stark contrast to the shifting moves by the P5+1. Only eighteen months ago President Obama agreed that the Fordow facility, its heavy water reactor and advanced centrifuges, were not necessary for the development of a civilian nuclear capability. Under the framework that seems to have been agreed in Switzerland, all of these capabilities remain in place.

So why the anomalies and why the uncertainties? Because it seems at present that the P5+1 agreement in Lausanne is aimed more at instilling confidence back home in the West than it is about coming to the best deal to prevent Iranian enrichment and development beyond civilian levels. There has been a steadily rising opposition to this deal from the general public in the U.S. and at the highest levels of experienced policy-makers, bolstered this week by the intervention of Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. The administration in Washington appears to be trying to placate this position while also trying to placate the Iranians. If there is a reason why the framework so far seems such a fudge it is because these two positions cannot be reconciled.

But neither can they both be danced around for long. The end aim of this process should not be to buy off critics of the Obama administration in Washington, but rather to prevent Iran from ever acquiring weapons grade nuclear capability. From the reaction to the agreement so far it seems that the Obama administration has achieved the impressive feat of failing in both these objectives.

Dr Alan MendozaFROM THE DIRECTOR’S DESK

There is a 50:50 chance of a war between the USA and China in the next 15 years. Not my words, but those of Professor Christopher Coker, the world’s leading international relations academic and a visiting speaker at HJS this week.

It would be fair to say that despite its size and growing importance on the world stage, China is a subject under-discussed in the UK. There are very few Sinologists located here, and political and media opinion on the subject tend to be dominated by the economic relationship – with the odd nod to human rights concerns when our leaders think they can get away with pointing out China’s many abuses without incurring its wrath in the form of trade restrictions in return. This is a pattern witnessed across Europe, where the relationship with China has become completely unbalanced in China’s favour, and our leaders are wary of speaking the truth for fear of offending a vital trading partner.

But as Professor Coker reminded us, ‘in times of peace, prepare for war’. China is the only real global challenger to the U.S., and therefore to our own liberal democratic and economic system, but it sees the international system today as made in America. This does not fit with the vision of a nation which was the world’s dominant power before 1820 and sees itself as returning to that trajectory.

Nothing is predetermined of course, and there are doves as well as hawks within the Chinese leadership. But the latter will have been emboldened and even inspired by Russia’s example of remaking the international system in its neighbourhood. Given the many tinderbox situations in East and South East Asia which have China as one of the potential protagonists, is it so far-fetched to assume that China will not at least try to probe the U.S. commitment of security guarantees for many of its neighbours in a bid to start supplanting U.S. influence in its own backyard?

As we have seen over the past few years, our leaders are often fixated by short-term threats rather than the ones just over the horizon. Coker’s analysis reminds us of the importance of vigilance in international affairs. And it deserves to be taken seriously.

Dr. Alan Mendoza
Executive Director of The Henry Jackson Society

Follow Alan on Twitter: @AlanMendoza

Only Fools Trust Obama or the Iranians

Only fools express any trust in Obama these days or the Iranians who have made him look the fool when no one in their neighborhood or the world trusts a thing they say or do.

After more than six years of listening to President Obama’s unremitting lies, when he says of the latest “accord” with Iran, “It’s a good deal” and standing in the Rose Garden declares that the U.S. and Iran have reached “an historic understanding” the only history being made his own ignominy and idiocy.

It would be historic if anyone could extend either President Obama or the Iranians any trust. Indeed, since the U.S. created its first atomic bombs to end World War II, one nation after another has secured their own nuclear weapons, starting with the then-Soviet Union who built theirs with plans stolen from us!

We have been down this road before. On April 1st Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger offered an abridged look at the quarter-century of negotiations with North Korea which agreed to all manner of terms, signed all kinds of agreements, and joined various international organizations to assure everyone of their peaceful intent. He warned that “No agreement is going to stop Iran. Agreements, and a lot of talk, did not stop North Korea.”

“Iran,” said Henninger, “knows it has nuclear negotiators’ immunity: No matter how or when Iran debauches any agreement, the West, abjectly, will request—what else?—more talks. Iran’s nuclear bomb and ballistic missile programs will go forward as North Korea’s obviously did, no matter what.”

All the back-and-forth between the White House and Congress about the “accord” is essentially meaningless. It is mostly a debate about the treaty-making powers the Constitution extends to the executive branch and, at the same time, limits with legislative “advice and consent” of the Senate. For now the Senate can only wait for whatever is decided by June 30, but it is unlikely Obama will send it the text of the agreement.

To influence the outcome, Congress talks of the sanctions it has imposed on Iran and says it will impose again, but Obama has no legal authority to lift those sanctions, only Congress does.

AA - Javad

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

The same day the President made the announcement, Javad Zarif, the Iranian counterpart to Secretary of State John Kerry made his own announcement. The U.S. and Iran, he said, had agreed in principle to let Iran continue running major portions of its nuclear program. “None of those measures”, intended to slow Iran’s progress, “include closing any of our facilities. We will continue enriching; we will continue research and development.”

This is the result of 18 months of “negotiations” with Iran. In the same way the U.S. caved to North Korea since the 1990s, it has caved to Iran and it has done so with the blessing of the European Union and the other members of the P-5+1, France, Great Britain, Russia, China, and Germany.

For good measure, to show how wonderfully warm the relations between Iran and the U.S. are, within hours after Obama’s announcement, Foreign Minister Zarif accused the U.S. of lying about the details of the tentative framework—“the historic understanding”—saying that the U.S. had promised the immediate termination of sanctions.

The notion that we would know if Iran was continuing its nuclear program because the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would be inspecting its facilities is about as credible as similar inspections in North Korea when, in 2002, it cut the IAEA seals on its nuclear factories and withdrew from the non-Proliferation treaty, starting a nuclear reactor. It has pursued its nuclear weapons and missile programs ever since.

In the same fashion as the Soviet Union, China, and Israel, we didn’t know that either Pakistan or India had acquired nuclear capability until after they tested theirs. That’s how we will know when Iran has nuclear weapons. It already has intercontinental missiles with which to deliver them.

As quoted in an April 3 article by Mark Dubowitz, executive director, and Annie Fixler, policy analyst, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, they cite an unnamed “senior State Department official” as saying “The truth is, you can dwell on Yemen, or you can recognize that we’re one agreement away from a game-changing, legacy-setting nuclear accord on Iran that tackles what everyone agrees is the biggest threat to the region.”

Unless one believes in unicorns and other fantasies, this latest “accord” and what we are being told about it by the President and the State Department is not a great achievement. It is doomed to failure because Iran has had no intention of doing anything other than getting economic and other sanctions removed. Time is on their side as they work to develop their own nuclear weapons.

When Iran tests its first nuclear weapon, Obama should return his Nobel Peace Prize.

© Alan Caruba, 2015

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