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Stormy U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Iran Nuke Deal

The Administration rolled out its “A Team” of witnesses at the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on July 29th, chaired by Chairman Arizona Republican Senator John McCain. The Hearing addressed national security issues arising from the Iran nuclear pact scheduled by a Congressional vote on or before September 17th under the term of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Yesterday’s hearing was the last in a series of House and Senate sessions prior to the summer recess  adjournment starting Thursday, July 31st. Congress reconvenes following the Labor Day holiday giving less than 10 days for additional hearings before the vote to either accept or reject the Iran nuclear pact. Public opinion poll taken during the current series of Congressional shows a majority of Americans tilting towards asking Congress to reject the pact. The issue is how many of the undecided 13 Democratic Senators and over 30 Democratic Representatives will decide if a negative vote will be veto proof, given a threat by President Obama.

The panel of witnesses included, Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. While questions naturally arose about the credibility of maintaining a military option, there was a tough grilling of Secretary Kerry and Secretary Moniz by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton on the secret side deals between the UN nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the Islamic Republic of Iran over prior military developments.

DefenseNews reported  the comments of Secretary Carter and Gen. Dempsey on military capabilities:

“It’s important that we have an agreement and it be verifiable, and that we keep doing what we need to do: Defend our friends and allies, remain strong in the Gulf — frequent navigation, ballistic missile defense, all the things that we’re doing, and the agreement doesn’t limit us in any way,” Carter said.

Indeed, “military options remain,” Dempsey said, though a negotiated settlement provides a more “durable” solution, as well as time to work with local partner nations to address Iran’s activities. Dempsey said there are a series of initiatives with Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council to that effect.

Exercising airstrikes to take out Iran’s nuclear capability would disrupt its program by several years, Dempsey said. However analysis suggests it would also provoke Iran to “counter our presence in the region at every opportunity and use these other malign activities they have.”

That led to exchanges with Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Joni Ernst (R-NE). Ernst like Senate panel colleague Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) is a former combat veteran who served in Iraq:

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., characterized Dempsey’s brief opening statement, as a “tepid endorsement” of the accord and “damning disagreement with faint praise,” which Dempsey disputed, saying he agreed with the deal.

His statement was neither “tepid nor enthusiastic, but pragmatic,” Dempsey said. His input in the deal was sought “episodically,” his final recommendation given weeks before negotiations concluded. At least in part, his recommendation was to keep pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missiles and arms trafficking for as long as possible.

Challenged by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, over the president’s assertion that the US faces a choice between an Iran deal or a resolution by force — which Ernst characterized as “war” — Dempsey said he had not said anything to that effect to the president.

“We have a range of options, and I hope to present them,” Dempsey said. “As long as we agree, military strikes on a sovereign nation are an act of war, but there are things between here and there.”

Sen. Cotton was on top of his game engaging in the most withering  Q&A  with  Secretary Kerry and  Energy Secretary Moniz  about their knowledge or the lack thereof  concerning the so-called secret IAEA side deals on prior  military nuclear developments (PMD).  Late he engaged Gen. Dempsey during a discussion of exhibits to corroborate the lethality of Iranian IEDS used to kill American service personnel in Iraq. Dempsey lent the impression he was less inclined to be a booster of the Iran nuke deal. Cotton is both a veteran of combat in Iraq as a former U.S. Army officer and a Harvard Law School graduate and admitted lawyer

Cotton, like any good prosecutor, secured the facts that bolstered his line of questioning to elicit a response he was seeking for the Committee record. Prior to this Armed Services Hearing, Cotton and Kansas Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo had flown to Vienna to confer with IAEA officials uncovering the alleged secret side deals on investigation of Iranian compliance with prior military developments in their nuclear program (PMD).

schultz i know nothingKerry and Moniz, when queried about whether they had either knowledge of or read the IAEA secret side deals on PMD, adopted what in TV land is the fabled Sergeant Schultz defense from the 1960’s TV WWII Nazi prison camp comedy series, “Hogan’s Heroes” – “I know nothing” They simply fobbed it off saying that someone like Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman may have glanced through these documents. Just indicates that the Administration either elected not to conduct due diligence or used the ploy that those agreements were confidential between the IAEA and Iran, that as Cotton pointed out “the Ayatollah read”.

Former IAEA deputy director Olli Heinonen, who is now a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, provided the answers in a report by Armin Rosen of Business Insider.  Heinonen in an email said:

“According to the IAEA rules and practices such documents could be made available to the members of the IAEA Board”. Heinonen said the IAEA secretariat could not divulge these side agreements to other member states on its own initiative. But there are two ways US diplomats could access them. In one scenario, Iran would agree to divulge the documents: “Iran can make it available by asking to distribute it as an [Information Circular] document to all IAEA member states as they did with the 2007 Work Plan,” Heinonen said, referring to a publicly available agreement between the IAEA and Iran on nuclear safeguards.

US diplomats could also view these side agreements if a member state of the IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors requests their distribution.

Such a move would stand a decent chance of success: “If a board member asks it and others resist the distribution … this can be overcome by a vote,” Heinonen said. “Simple majority is enough, and no vetoes exist in the IAEA system. The board can also request the whole document to be made public. Such a request could be best done by a country which is not part of the JCPOA process; my favorite is Canada.”

Cotton showed   the witness panel two exhibits graphically portraying the effects of an Iranian developed shaped charge IED that were used to kill 500 American service personnel in Iraq. Gen. Dempsey acknowledged what they were and the devastating effects on Humvees, their occupants and other vehicles. Cotton then asks Kerry for his reaction. While, expressing appropriate sorrow for the loss of American lives, Kerry   told the Senate panel that Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani who developed the shaped charge IEDs would not have sanctions removed.  Reports by both ABC news and the Iranian FARS news agency  have confirmed  that Gen.Soleimani has been confirmed among a list   of Iranian persons and institutions included in an annex to the JCPOA who will have both travel bans and asset restrictions lifted.

Watch this YouTube video of Senator Cotton’s Q&A at the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Senator Tom Cotton’s grilling of Kerry and Moniz revealed their lax conduct of due diligence on the IAEA side deals. They spent too much time being hounded with repeated demands for concessions by Javad Zarif in negotiations in Vienna. Instead, they should have sent aides over to the IAEA headquarters to ask about the side deals to provide a road map on prior military developments of Iran nuclear program. Senator Cotton and Rep. Pompeo did just that. Instead Kerry and the negotiating tea m basically said in so many words, we already know what Iran did, let’s move on and get with the program by approving the Iran nuclear pact. The video of Senator Cotton  Senate  Armed Services Committee Q&A should be widely shared  on social media  to inform  undecided  Congressional Democrats about why the Iran nuclear pact  should be rejected.

Hearing by hearing testimony by the Administration “A Team” on the Iranian nuclear pact demonstrates how bad a deal Kerry and the Obama negotiating team crafted with the experts in playing multi-dimensional chess, the Islamic Regime in Tehran.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in 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.

The Military Option may be the Only Way to Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program

The other night I attended a Shiva (Memorial Service) for a revered member of the local Jewish community here in Pensacola. During the collation that followed I was approached by two acquaintances, and asked for my views on the US engagement with Iran.  There was a lunch and learn session sponsored by the local Federation the following day on the Iran P5+1 interim agreement to halt its nuclear program. In response to this question from my acquaintances, I said I believed in the reverse of the Reagan doctrine, i.e., “verify then trust’”. I cautioned one of my acquaintances how can you trust a country whose Islamic extremist rulers never miss an opportunity to spout propaganda to wipe the Zionist enterprise off the map of the world.

What I also expressed is that the US and the West has been consistently deceived about the Iranian  nuclear program and intentions. Witness the infamous National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 that noted Iran’s temporary stoppage of their nuclear program when the US and Coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003. Or the trumpeting by current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that he fooled the West in the period from 2003 to 2005 when he was the Islamic Regime’s  chief nuclear  negotiator.  “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”.  Perhaps multiple times given what has been revealed in the wake of the roll back in sanctions, part and parcel of the P5+1 agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.

US and EU Sanctions may have worked to bring Iran to the table given estimates that the Iranian economy suffered a 1% drop in GDP, and nearly a halving of its oil revenues.  While the Obama Administration said that sanctions relief for Iran was in the neighborhood of $6 to 7 Billion, according to independent estimates by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) it may exceed $20 billion.  Let’s take one example, the lifting of auto trading sanctions.  Mark Dubowitz and Dr. Jonathan Schanzer of FDD in an Iran Sanctions Analysis noted:

The White House fact sheet on the JPA notes that this relief, plus the easing of “certain sanctions” on gold, other precious metals and petrochemicals, will provide Tehran with “approximately $1.5 billion in revenue.” Of those funds, the White House projects that easing auto industry sanctions will yield only $500 million over the six-month interim period.

Note what Dubowitz and Schanzer reported happened after the lifting of the auto trade sanctions:

Shortly after the signing of the Joint Plan of Action, Iran held an international automotive conference attended by representatives from German, Indian, Japanese and South Korean auto companies. France’s PSA Peugeot Citroen and Renault SA have expressed optimism that they will be able to reap significant benefits in the coming months. A spokeswoman for Renault recently said, “Renault is satisfied by the signing of this accord… If the sanctions are lifted, our activity which is currently slowed could return to its normal course.” For Renault, this “normal course” could mean the sale of approximately 100,000 vehicles in Iran, while for Peugeot it could mean more than 450,000 vehicles.

The bottom line FDD estimate of auto trading relief in the six month time frame of the P5+1 is:

Even if Iran’s auto sector contributed only ten percent of the sector’s previous $50 billion annual contribution in GDP to Iran’s overall economy, that would be worth $2.5 billion in additional economic activity over the next six months not included in the White House’s calculations.

By helping to revive the auto industry, the most important economic sector after energy, the Obama administration may end up providing far greater economic benefits to the Iranian government, and to the IRGC, than previously believed.

Yesterday, the National Journal (NJ) drew attention to a new push for strengthened sanctions by US Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman, Robert Menendez (D-NJ), “Iran Sanctions Bill is Coming”. This despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and  Banking Chairman Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) acceding to White House and Secretary of State Kerry requests  to a ‘pause’ in new sanctions  legislation  until we see what eventuates in the P5+1 six month interim discussions with Iran.  The NJ noted:

Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois told reporters on Tuesday that he’s optimistic an Iran sanctions bill will come out soon and that members involved can push it forward.

Kirk said that the timing of a bill rollout and any consideration in the Senate will be up to his top Democratic partner on sanctions, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and of course Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“The timing will be up to Harry and Bob,” he said. “It’s coming up.”

[…]

Kirk sought to debunk perceptions that intense Obama administration lobbying has had a chilling effect on interested members, particularly Democrats.

Morton Klein and Dr. Daniel Mandel of The Zionist Organization of America in an Algemeiner op ed argued  in the opposite direction  that the P5+1  deal  and  a restart with strengthening of sanctions will simply afford time for Iran to reach nuclear breakout, “With Geneva, Military Force Only Remaining Option to Stop Iranian Nukes”.

Their principal argument was:

The Geneva interim agreement permits Iran to retain intact all the essential elements of its nuclear weapons program.

Klein and Mandel cite Emeritus Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton Bernard Lewis who said, “MAD, mutual assured destruction … will not work with a religious fanatic. For him, mutual assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement.”

They concluded:

It will be extremely hard now for President Obama to credibly threaten military action: if he failed to honor his red line and take military action when Syria actually murdered thousands with chemical weapons. Iran is unlikely to take seriously any red line he might lay down now on building nuclear weapons. Yet he should do so without delay. But even if he does, there is now probably no way Iran can be prevented from going nuclear, except through military action.

Even Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during a recent meeting in the Gulf Emirates indicated that diplomacy alone would not bring Iran to heel, without the equivalent of a steel fist in a velvet glove approach.

The realities of how rapier like military action can work against rogue nuclear powers is reflected in a Wall Street Journal Letter to the editor  today from the writer,  Bill Bloomfield of Manhattan Beach California,  “What’s Worked for Limiting Nukes?”:

What worked? Limited military action, in the case of Syria and Iraq. While both countries are still a hotbed of violence and political strife, fortunately they don’t have nuclear weapons to make matters much worse. Their reactors were destroyed by Israel. In the case of Ukraine, economic strangulation worked. The arms race bankrupted the Soviet Union, leading to its breakup. The newly independent Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, all former Soviet republics, gave up their nuclear weapons.

What didn’t work? Threats of economic retaliation, in the cases of India and Pakistan, and negotiation, in the case of North Korea. In 1994, the Clinton administration traded aid for a North Korean promise to give up its nuclear activity—a promise it did not keep. If history is our guide, it will take more than diplomacy to keep Iran free of nuclear weapons.

I hope this answers my acquaintances in Pensacola and across America asking why military force coupled with improved sanctions may be the only option that brings the Islamofanatics in Tehran to heel.  Israel demonstrated that in both Iraq (Operation Opera 1981) and Syria (Operation Orchard 2007). Despite initial criticism, the US subsequently showed begrudging respect. That is not lost on the worried Saudis and the Gulf Emirates, critical of US policies in the roiling Middle East.

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