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Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes

Michael Rubin, former Bush era Pentagon official who is currently a Resident Scholar at the Washington, DC –based American Enterprise Institute(AEI), has been engaged in intense media interviews since the launch of his new book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue RegimesDancing with the Devil covers Rubin’s research on fifty years of US and Western experience with rogue regimes and terrorist groups. The Encounter Books release on the publication of Rubin’s book noted:

The American response of first resort is to talk with such rogues, on the theory that, “It never hurts to talk to enemies.” Seldom is conventional wisdom so wrong. It is true that sanctions and military force come at high costs. However, case studies examining the history of American diplomacy with North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, and Pakistan demonstrate that problems with both strategies do not make engagement with rogue regimes a cost-free option. Rogue regimes have one thing in common—they pretend to be aggrieved in order to put Western diplomats on the defensive. Whether they are in Pyongyang, Tehran, or Islamabad, rogue leaders understand that the West rewards bluster with incentives. The State Department, the process of holding talks is often deemed more important than results.

We met Rubin in 2005 when he returned to Yale to discuss his experience as a former Pentagon official on Iran and Iraq who also served as a political advisor to  the Provisional Coalition Authority. He spoke  about the emergence of the nuclear Iran threat under the ‘reformist’ regime in Tehran led by Ayatollah Khatami. See Rubin’s background and blog at the AEI website, here and here.

Our interview with Rubin ranged across an array of prevailing issues. Among these are the Iranian nuclear and ICBM threat and Putin’s great game of one sided politics in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. He also addresses Pakistan’s tolerance of terrorism and the  lack of US support for the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria. He criticizes the folly of the Administration’s support of Turkey under Premier Erdogan and the folly of its lead in the Final Status negotiations with the Palestinians imperiling Israel’s security.

Here are some of his observations.

Dr. Michael Rubin

Back in 2000 to 2005 the EU’s pursuit of engagement with Iran under President Khatami enabled the Islamic Republic to devote 70 percent of its hard currency reserves to both ICBM and nuclear weapons development. Moreover Rubin’s research on that period revealed that Iran took the lead from North Korea in its negotiating posture with the West alternating bluster with soothing words about the dialogue of civilizations. That raises the question of whether the present P5+1 negotiations backed by the US Administration with another reformist, President Rouhani, might be what  baseball legend Yogi Berra  called “déjà vu all over again”? Rouhani was Iran’s nuclear negotiator under former President Khatami. On Putin’s great game strategy in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, in the midst of the crisis in the Ukraine, Rubin had the following observations.

The Administration’s current negotiations posture with the Russian President is the equivalent of ”Chamberlain negotiating with Machiavelli, and Machiavelli always wins.” Rubin believes that Putin is “playing a zero sum game” in both the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Based on recent speeches by an Iranian Revolutionary Guards leader, Iran believes itself the head of the Islamic world.

The Administration’s outreach to Islamist non-state actors like the Muslim Brotherhood he considers a catastrophe reflected in recent conversations with senior leaders in Kuwait and the UAE. Rubin believes that the Administration has made a mistake not supporting secular Kurdish regimes in the Iraqi regional government and the virtual autonomous Kurdish region in the Northeastern province of Hazaka in Syria.  He believes this stems from our support of Turkey under the Erdogan government. Rubin suggests that Turkey’s embattled Premier Erdogan may be creating another rogue regime in Ankara.

We will be publishing both an article based on our interview with Rubin and a review of Dancing with the Devil in the March edition of the New English Review.

Listen to senior editor Jerry Gordon’s interview with Michael Rubin, here.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

Iran: P5+1 Reach Deal on Six Month Freeze

In separate announcements, Iran and the P5+1 reached agreement on the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) to begin on January 20, 2014.  The original announcement of the interim agreement between the P5+1 and the Islamic regime in Tehran had been made on November 24, 2013. Friday reports came that the JPA agreement was imminent.

APIRNA, and Deutsche Welle had reports on these developments with statements by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, EU Foreign Relations Commissioner Catherine Ashton, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.

Iran’s Araqchi announced, “The Joint Plan of Action reached between Iran and P5+1 in Geneva on November 24 will be implemented as of January 20.”However, he noted that uranium enrichment will continue at the 20% level until January 19th and that Iran fully expects the P5+1 to comply with agreed terms on the 20th.   Ashton, said, “The foundations for a coherent, robust and smooth implementation…have been laid.  She further noted,” We will ask the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to undertake the necessary nuclear-related monitoring and verification activities.”  Secretary of State Kerry commented that the agreement “represents the best chance we have to resolve this critical national security issue peacefully, and durably.” The White House verified the announcement saying, “Beginning January 20th, Iran will for the first time start eliminating its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium and dismantling some of the infrastructure that makes such enrichment possible.”  President Obama warned that the P5+1 would “move to increase [their] sanctions” if Iran didn’t comply with the terms.  However, he said the deal “will advance our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. I have no illusions about how hard it will be to achieve this objective, but for the sake of our national security and the peace and security of the world, now is the time to give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”

During the run up to today’s announcement differences between the Administration and Congress arose over pending new Iran sanctions legislation, the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act (NWFIA) that  the White House threatened to veto.  At one point during negotiations, the Iranian delegation headed by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif threatened to leave the Geneva meetings over the new US Sanctions initiative. In late December 2013, 230 members of Iran’s Parliament, the Majlis, signed legislation threatening to authorize uranium enrichment to 60% levels to counter the proposed NWFIA.

Among the terms agreed to was authority for the IAEA to conduct daily inspections of known Iranian nuclear facilities and supervise the neutralization of existing stock of enriched uranium at the 20% level, while Iran was granted permission to enrich to a 5% cap. However, a report from IRNA indicated that the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran had not received requests from the IAEA to open up a dedicated Tehran office, noting only that the UN agency had made frequent trips from its Vienna headquarters to conduct periodic inspections. That raises questions about the ability to enforce the provisions of the JPA.

The AP reported Iran’s Araqchi saying on national television that the Islamic Regime expects to receive release of $4 billion in frozen oil revenues versus upwards of $7 billion in relief the US had originally estimated with this interim pact.  Separately, Washington, DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies had estimated upwards of $20 Billion from the easing of sanctions. We have noted in Iconoclast posts recent visits by British parliamentary and French trade delegations. Further Turkey has confirmed an upcoming visit by embattled Turkish premier Erdogan to Tehran in late January or early February.  Erdogan is seeking to expand bilateral trade with Iran. According to experts cited in a Christian Science Monitor report Iran’s economy may have shrunk by an estimated 3% in 2012 and 2% in 2013.

Today’s announcement comes just prior to President Obama’s annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on January 28th. Further, it comes as momentum is building in the US Senate on a possible veto-proof bipartisan majority for passage of NWFIA.  It also comes prior to the scheduled January 22nd Geneva II talks on ending the 34 month long civil war in Syria. Secretary Kerry raised the prospect of inviting Iran to attend those sessions a week ago saying that the Islamic regime “might have a role to play on the sidelines.”

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.