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  • 22 July 2014
  • Posted By Ryan Costello
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear file, US-Iran War

Strong Support for Iran Talk Extension

Extension

This weekend, the P5+1 and Iran announced an agreement to extend the deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement beyond July 20 to November 24, 2014. The new deadline, which falls on the one year anniversary of the P5+1 and Iran agreeing to the Joint Plan of Action in Geneva, provides four more months for negotiators to bridge remaining gaps at the negotiating table.

Thus far, support for an extension has been strong among members of Congress, non-governmental organizations and editorial boards. Below, you can find a compilation of both positive and negative reactions to the extension.

Support for Extension: Members of Congress

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)“The P5+1 negotiations with Iran represent our best chance to peacefully ensure Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, and I very much hope they are successful. While significant progress has been made, it is clear more time is needed to reach a final agreement. I strongly support an extension of these talks because a diplomatic agreement is far better than any alternative.”

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT)“It’s unclear what the alternative is right now. And I think there has been small but important progress made in the first round of negotiations…Clearly the request for an extension is going to provide room for those that want a new round of sanctions. That was a bad idea six months ago and it’s just as bad an idea today.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) – “I think we should, on Iranian sanctions, let the dust settle. I think we should all feel good that an agreement was reached to move further. Now, I don’t know if there’s going to be a final agreement. I certainly hope so, but I don’t know…But before we start talking about additional sanctions, let’s just let the dust settle for a little while.”

Representative John Conyers (D-MI) – “The temporary agreement reached last year has yielded real benefits for the US and the broader world. The choice is whether we continue to build on this success or return to mutually destructive confrontation. Americans know that we must give diplomacy a full opportunity to succeed so we can direct our limited resources towards urgently-needed rebuilding here at home.”

Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) – “With continued careful monitoring and more tough negotiating, this extension offers an opportunity to advance our security objectives by finalizing a solid alternative to war. Congress must not impede the progress.”

Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) - “We are on the edge of a significant moment in the history of diplomacy. If negotiators need more time to reach a comprehensive agreement, we should support them, not make it harder for them to do their jobs by passing more sanctions. It is in America’s best interest to continue on the path of diplomacy.”

Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) – “I believe that the Joint Plan of Action up until now has worked. Iran is adhering to its commitments. And the sanctions architecture continues to pressure the regime. And that’s why I’m prepared to support an extension if the negotiators need more time because the 20th is just this weekend.”

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) – “It means peaceful and normalized relations are well within the scope of possibility. I am encouraged to see all parties involved continue the momentum towards that goal, and encourage them to take the time, space, and steps needed to succeed where others have failed.”

Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) -“Today’s agreement to keep negotiating an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program will permit the Administration to continue its two-track approach to dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons capability and ensuring robust and aggressive verification of any agreement.”

Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) “This extension will continue to restrict Iran’s nuclear capability while creating the diplomatic space and time for a long-term deal that supports U.S. national security interests and a more peaceful and secure world.”

Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) – “It is critical that Congress take no action that undermines the Administration’s diplomatic efforts during this extension which was provided for under the Joint Plan of Action.”

Support for Extension: Organizations

National Iranian American Council (NIAC) – “It is clear that major progress has been made, creative solutions exist and a final agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran and averts war is within reach.”

American Jewish Committee (AJC) – “A limited extension of the negotiations makes sense. The preferred option to relieve the Middle East and the world of the threat of Iranian nuclear capability is a diplomatic one.”

American Security Project - [Former Senator Gary Hart, Lieutenant General Norman Seip, USAF (Retired), Brigadier General John Adams, USA (Retired), Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, USMC (Retired)] – “The P5+1 negotiations with Iran have made significant progress…We should make every effort to make sure it is successful for the sake of our national security and the security of our friends in the Middle East.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) – “We support the U.S. effort, along with the other nations of the P5+1, to negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. A negotiated agreement is the best solution for all parties and is worth the significant effort the U.S. and its partners are investing. Progress has been made…”

Arms Control Association – “It is our assessment that a comprehensive agreement to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful is still within reach if both sides remain focused and if both sides engage in creative, innovative, and smart diplomacy.”

Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation – “You don’t leave the game during overtime. We may not yet have this issue resolved, but negotiators are working hard to ensure that we will. And as it stands we’re far better off than we were six months ago.”

CREDO - “Extending negotiations with Iran is the right thing to do. CREDO applauds President Obama for standing up to the reckless saber-rattlers in both parties and continuing to pursue the path of diplomacy.”

The Iran Project -“We are encouraged by the sense of optimism implicit in the agreement to continue these talks. Success would represent a victory of America’s 35-year bipartisan policy toward Iran, be a triumph of America’s commitment to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and eliminate one of most serious potential threats to the security of our friends in the region.”

J Street – “It’s far better to give our negotiators the time they need to secure a good deal than to let the interim agreement expire and allow Iran to unfreeze its nuclear program.”

MoveOn.org – “President Obama made the right call: continue diplomacy to secure a final deal with Iran and keep America off the path to war. Diplomacy must be given every opportunity to work, so while negotiations continue, Congress needs to avoid any new sanctions or other measures that would undermine President Obama’s diplomacy.”

National Security Network – “This will allow negotiators to continue to build on the progress that has been made toward a comprehensive agreement that could ensure Iran’s nuclear program will remain peaceful. The extension is a good deal, and those who have voiced opposition to it fail to understand the issues at hand.”

Ploughshares Fund – “Diplomatic efforts have made more progress on Iran’s nuclear program in the last six months than we have in the past 35 years. The finish line is within our sights. It’s time to let diplomacy work.”

Truman National Security Project – “Today’s announcement is a win for American security. Iran’s nuclear program has been frozen for six months and today’s extension keeps us on the path to a deal that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and prevents another war in the Middle East. The only good outcome will be won at the negotiating table.”

Win Without War - “Negotiations between the international community and Iran have already made more progress in six months than a decade of sanctions and the threat of military action. We are pleased to see that negotiators are going to stay at the table and finish the job of peacefully solving one of America’s most pressing national security threats.”

Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) – “After decades of hostility between Iran and the West, the first step agreement and nuclear negotiations have been welcome developments. While the initial six-month deadline to reach a comprehensive agreement was a laudable goal, it was also an arbitrary time frame. All parties to these talks understand the implications of getting them wrong – without diplomacy, a path to war becomes much more likely.”

Support for Extension: Editorial Boards

The Baltimore Sun – “It is essential that they [extend current talks] and that hard-line voices on both sides continue to give negotiators the space they need to find a mutually acceptable deal that offers long-term assurances that Iran will not and cannot develop nuclear weapons…The risks of continued negotiations are minimal, but the potential benefits — both in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and opening the door for cooperation on other issues — are tremendous.”

Bloomberg – “So, are the negotiations worth extending? That’s an easy call. Even though the two sides remain far apart, its valuable to keep the talks going for a few more months to keep working toward a deal.”

Los Angeles Times – “An extension of the arrangement past Sunday is amply justified both by the progress that has been made in the negotiations and by Iran’s adherence to the terms of the interim deal.”

New York Times – “The whole point of this exercise is to ensure that Iran cannot produce a nuclear weapon. That goal is within reach, and it would be irresponsible not to make the maximum effort to bridge the final gaps…There are risks in any deal. But there are many more if there is no deal, Iran’s nuclear program resumes unchecked and an opportunity to work with Iran on other regional challenges slips away.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – “It was not an ideal outcome that the two sides had been unable during the five months they had been talking to reach an agreement. On the other hand, throwing in the towel on efforts to reach accord would have been a very bad outcome and extending talks by four months, to seek to mend a rift that has existed for 35 years, was certainly not a bad thing to do.”

USA Today – “Diplomats working for a negotiated end to Iran’s nuclear program say they need a little more time. We should give it to them. Talking longer to close the remaining gaps and secure a lasting deal is certainly better than letting the talks collapse.”

The Washington Post – “In our view, prolonging the negotiations is better than declaring a breakdown, which could lead to a military conflict at a time when the United States is already juggling multiple crises in the region and beyond.”

Neutral on Extension: Members of Congress

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) – “Every diplomatic effort should be pursued vigorously to reach an acceptable conclusion and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI) – “If the nuclear talks are to be extended, I would have a difficult time accepting this as progress because Iran continues to unjustly imprison my constituent, Amir Hekmati.”

Opposed to Extension: Members of Congress

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – “The Iranians are pursuing a nuclear weapon, not peaceful nuclear power. The last thing the world needs is an agreement with Iran that allows them to maintain their nuclear breakout capability. This agreement should be sent to the Congress for review and Congress should have the ability to vote it down.”

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)  – “We should immediately reinstate the full sanctions — and consider additional sanctions — and I have supported legislation to do just that.”

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) – “We can’t let Iran buy more time to make a nuclear bomb…It’s time for expanded non-military pressure to back up our diplomatic outreach to Iran. It’s time to support the Menendez-Kirk bill for more non-military pressure on Iran.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) – “We need to increase pressure on Iran on all fronts. This means increasing, not halting, sanctions, including those related to terrorism and human-rights abuses.”

Representative Ed Royce (R-CA)- “I don’t see an extension of funding to Iran as progress.  It looks like the Iranians won extra time with a good cop-bad cop routine, backing off the Supreme Leader’s absurd claim for 190,000 centrifuges. This tells me Iran, with centrifuges spinning, thinks time is on its side.”

Opposed to Extension: Organizations

American Israel Public Affairs Committee – “We are concerned that rather than coming into compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, Iran will try to use the recently announced extension of talks to break the international coalition and advance its nuclear weapons program.”

The Foreign Policy Initiative – “As the July 20 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran is delayed four months, the United States should expand non-military pressure on Iran to boost the chances of a breakthrough…With Iran unwilling to make significant nuclear concessions, the Obama administration has decided to put more time on the clock for a deal. But if that’s all it does, it’s almost certain to fail.”

United Against A Nuclear Iran – “The course of the negotiations has revealed a clear gap on the most important issue – the number and type of centrifuges.”

Opposed to Extension: Editorial Boards

Chicago Tribune – “Iran’s nuclear negotiators, skilled at stalling for time, seem only too happy to talk and talk…while their nuclear program gains momentum and their march to the bomb acquires an aura of inevitability. The U.S. and its partners should make it clear: This extension won’t be open-ended, and it will come with a price: tougher economic sanctions.”

The Post and Courier – “So now the tough question for the Obama administration is how much longer Iran can be allowed to benefit from relaxed economic sanctions while playing the West for time. Because as long as Iran’s stall game keeps working, it can keep advancing toward its longtime goal of a nuclear arsenal.”

The Wall Street Journal – “Negotiating with Tehran is often compared to haggling in a Mideast bazaar, and after Friday’s decision to extend talks over the country’s nuclear program we’re reminded why…the administration was right in January when it said that six months was more than enough time to test Iran’s sincerity. The main point of the extension seems to be to give the U.S. and Europe more time to dress up the concessions that Iran is demanding to continue its program while claiming it isn’t.”

  • 16 July 2014
  • Posted By Nishaat Shaik
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions

New Poll: Majority of Americans Favor Iran Nuclear Deal

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A wide majority of Americans favor a nuclear deal with Iran that limits Iran’s nuclear enrichment in return for phased sanctions relief, according to a new poll conducted by the Program for Public Consultation and the Center for International & Security Studies at the University of Maryland.

Following extensive briefing on the arguments for and against a nuclear deal with Iran, 61% of those polled – including 62% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats – signaled “support [for] a U.S. decision to reach a long-term [nuclear] deal” with Iran.” Such a deal would include limits to Iran’s uranium enrichment; an intrusive inspections regime of Iran’s nuclear program; and the gradual easement of U.S. sanctions on Iran. The United States and Iran are in the midst of marathon talks to reach such a nuclear deal right now.

Far fewer Americans – 35% — favored the imposition of “additional sanctions” at this time and an end to negotiations that would permit limited enrichment in Iran. This position is endorsed by hawks in Congress, who have long favored to cut off the present negotiations and impose new sanctions on Iran. The White House has so far been successful in blocking the push for new sanctions.

Beyond the nuclear issue, the poll also highlighted how Americans favor greater outreach and increased ties to Iran. Asked whether they would support the “U.S. government engag[ing] in direct talks with Iran on issues of mutual concern,” 82% of those polled favored such engagement. Moreover, 61% of Americans favored increased cooperation with Iran in Iraq, especially to fight back against the gains of the Islamic extremist group, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams.

According to the poll, Americans also support increased trade and cultural ties with Iran. Despite a two-decade-old trade embargo with Iran, 55% of Americans favored “greater trade” between the two countries, and 71% of Americans supported “greater cultural, educational, and sporting exchanges” with Iran. Increasing trade and expanding cultural and educational ties have long been contemplated as a means to bridge the divide that has separated the US and Iran these past three-plus decades.

The poll comes at a timely moment in US-Iran relations. As the July 20 deadline for P5+1 and Iran talks rapidly approaches, the White House will need to sell any prospect nuclear deal to a skeptical Congress. Based on this polling data, that sell might be a lot easier than imagined.

  • 31 January 2014
  • Posted By Shervin Taheran
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file

The Impracticality of the Zero Enrichment Stipulation

The Israel Project has recently launched a website which aims to convince the public that if Iran is allowed to enrich uranium at all, then Iran will certainly develop a nuclear weapon. However, holding on to such notions is a fallacy that will undermine diplomatic progress. While it would be great to have zero risk of Iranian proliferation, which the zero enrichment proposal seeks to attain, such a situation is neither attainable nor necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Further, with sufficient safeguards in place, risks of Iranian weaponization can be diminished to reasonable and acceptable levels. Therefore, it is in America’s interest to sacrifice the long-gone idea of “zero enrichment” and instead focus on securing concrete and verifiable transparency from the Iranian regime. Insisting on unprecedented monitoring of the Iranian nuclear program, rather than deal-killing stipulations such as “zero enrichment,” will ultimately prove more effective in guarding against an Iranian nuclear weapon.

The expectation and the feasibility of a zero-enrichment clause in any final deal with Iran is not realistic. As George Perkovich said, “Iran has already paid tens of billions of dollars in direct costs; lost more than $100 billion in sanctions; and suffered a cyberattack, the assassination of key scientists and engineers, and the perpetual threat of war to protect its self-proclaimed right to enrich uranium. There is no reason to think that more sanctions or military strikes would change Tehran’s stance now.” Further, an insistence on zero enrichment has precluded the possibility of viable nuclear deals in the past, including in a potential 2005 bargain with European powers that would have capped Iran’s enrichment at 3,000 centrifuges.

Moreover, Iranians frequently bring up the argument that they want to have the capability to enrich their own nuclear fuel because they don’t want to be dependent on other nations whom they don’t trust. For example, Iranians mention the event in which France reneged on a deal with Iran after Iran had already provided a billion-dollar investment in the multinational enrichment consortium, Eurodif. France refused to deliver the nuclear fuel previously promised to Iran, thus giving the Iranians ammunition to strengthen their own nuclear program.

Additionally, Iran is currently one of fourteen countries that enrich uranium on their own soil, including non-nuclear weapon states like Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands. Under the NPT, parties are recognized as having the “inalienable right…to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.” Any enrichment capabilities – which are neither granted nor denied by the NPT – are subject to full and thorough inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And under the NPT and IAEA inspection, no country has ever obtained a nuclear weapon.  This is why it is a more valuable use of our time to expand the access of international inspectors than insisting on “zero enrichment”.

As far as the interim agreement, as signed by the P5+1, enrichment is actually explicitly defined and permitted. The preamble of the agreement says, “[T]his comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program.” Even in a final deal, enrichment would not violate the intent of the Security Council resolutions. As Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball said, “the first step Geneva deal effectively accomplishes the original goal of the U.N. Security Council resolutions by capping the total amount of 3.5% material [low-enriched uranium] and it goes further by requiring Iran to neutralize its 20% stockpiles and to cease all enrichment to 20% levels while a comprehensive agreement that further limits Iran’s enrichment capacity below current levels is negotiated.”

Since a final agreement with Iran would likely include the ratification and implementation of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol and potentially further voluntary measures, insisting on zero enrichment while the Iranians hold firm in their opposition against the demand is a waste of time, diplomatic energy, and political capital. We should be focusing our energies into creating practical demands which we can get the Iranians to agree to in order to ensure Iranians cannot develop a nuclear weapon. And this is a fact that America’s highest ranked diplomats and politicians have already recognized.

In 2009, when current Secretary of State John Kerry was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said, “The Bush administration [argument of] no enrichment was ridiculous… it was bombastic diplomacy. It was wasted energy. It sort of hardened the lines, if you will. They have a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose.” Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has traditionally held a hard line in regards to Iran, said to BBC while she was American’s top diplomat that once Iran has shown that their nuclear program is thoroughly responsible, peaceful and in accordance to international standards, they can possibly enrich for civilian purposes in the future. And just on Tuesday, Senator Angus King [I-MI] said at a Council of Foreign Relations event that, “some of our allies want success to be no nuclear capacity at all, no enrichment capacity at all. The indication from Iran is that they’re not going to accept that, so the question is, what between zero and something is going to be acceptable in the agreement.”

Regardless of whether you support the Geneva agreement or not, we will not obtain zero Iranian enrichment.  Military strikes can’t bomb away nuclear know-how and would only enhance desires for a nuclear deterrent.  Sanctions have failed to alter Iran’s nuclear calculus.  Diplomacy, however, can provide sufficient assurances so that Iranian enrichment is used for peaceful purposes, and that’s where the US and the rest of the P5+1 need to focus their efforts.

Feinstein Delivers Strong Defense of Diplomacy on Senate Floor

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) added to her credentials as a champion of diplomacy with Iran with a remarkable speech on the floor of the Senate last night. Sen. Feinstein warned that S.1881, a sanctions bill from Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that has garnered 59 cosponsors, would “collapse negotiations” and be a “march toward war.”

Her speech came at a critical time. On Sunday, the P5+1 and Iran announced an agreement to implement the first phase nuclear deal struck in November. Further, a number of Senators are voicing their strong opposition to the new Iran sanctions, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Despite the growing opposition, the bill still retains the support of a majority of U.S. Senators.

Feinstein began her speech by noting that countries can change direction, citing the examples of post-war Germany and Japan, Spain, Yugoslavia, Vietnam and South Africa. Further, she noted that several nations have abandoned the pursuit of nuclear weapons, including Sweden, Argentina and South Korea. Citing robust diplomatic engagement and steps to curb Iran’s nuclear program, Feinstein suggested that Iran could be on the cusp of a similar change “and that it is the job of diplomay to push for that change.”

Feinstein highlighted the strong security benefits of the first phase nuclear deal, including that it will require Iran to cap its enrichment at 5% and eliminate its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20%, all while instituting “the most intrusive international inspection regime ever” to verify compliance.

According to Feinstein, Senate passage of S.1881 would kill the deal and ongoing talks with Iran, “and, with it, the best opportunity in more than 30 years to make a major change in Iranian behavior—a change that could not only open all kinds of economic opportunities for the Iranian people, but help change the course of a nation. Its destiny in fact could be changed. “ Further, Senate passage would “play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see diplomacy fail.”  Those Iranian hardliners would argue that Rouhani and Zarif “exchanged a freeze of its nuclear program for additional and harsh punitive sanctions.”

“Above all,” Feinstein added, “they will argue that the United States is not interested in nuclear diplomacy–we are interested in regime change. “ Nuclear negotiations would collapse, Iran’s nuclear program would be unconstrained, and the U.S. would only be left with military options.

Feinstein, citing Secretary of State John Kerry’s formal request that the Senate hold off on new sanctions to allow the negotiators time and space to do their jobs, argued that the Menendez-Kirk bill “is an egregious imposition on the Executive’s authority to conduct foreign affairs.”

Citing the fact that new sanctions would collapse the agreement, Feinstein asked, “How does that (passing new sanctions) make any kind of common sense? It defies logic, it threatens instant reverse, and it ends what has been unprecedented diplomacy. Do we want to take that on our shoulders? Candidly, in my view, it is a march toward war.”

Sen. Feinstein concluded by stating that the first phase nuclear deal with Iran “is strong, it is tough, and it is realistic. It represents the first significant opportunity to change a three-decade course in Iran and an opening to improve one of our most poisonous bilateral relationships. It could open the door to a new future which not only considers Israel’s national security, but protects our own. To preserve diplomacy, I strongly oppose the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act (S.1881).”

Sen. Feinstein’s strong speech could weaken support for the sanctions bill at a critical time, encouraging other Senators to make their opposition to the bill public. Currently, two dozen Senators have yet to take a formal public position on the bill.

The House Gets Bad Advice

When it comes to crafting law, Congress seeks input from outside experts to help inform and guide their decisionmaking. The type of experts the body seeks out can say a lot about why Congress does what it does. Last Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee invited some particularly revealing “expert witnesses” that say a lot about the body’s priorities.

The Middle East Subcommittee held a hearing on the “Iran-Syria Nexus and its Implications for the Region,” featuring Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the Foundation of Defense and Democracies (FDD), a major pro-sanctions lobby that has  been in the spotlight thanks financial filings that indicate it is primarily sponsored by far-right wing millionaires like Sheldon Adelson. Also testifying was John Bolton, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has called for the U.S. to bomb Iran for years now, going back to his days as UN Ambassador under the Bush Administration.

Dubowitz and Bolton, both representing the neo-conservative hawks in Washington, urged the Members of Congress in attendance to escalate sanctions, dismiss negotiations, and carry out preventative war on Iran.

Dubowitz called for “massively intensifying sanctions on Iran to bring it to the verge of economic collapse.” According to him, Washington was not doing enough to send the message to the Supreme Leader that the U.S. means business. He claimed that the U.S. has been granting sanctions relief to Iran through its “unwillingness to entertain new sanctions [and] non-enforcement of existing sanctions.”

Bolton sided with Dubowitz but added that negotiations with Iran are worthless and that the U.S. should ultimately aim for regime change within Iran. As predicted, Bolton argued yet again that the “only option is a pre-emptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear program.”

  • 21 June 2013
  • Posted By Layla Oghabian
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file

Does Iran’s president play a role in nuclear diplomacy?

With the new president elect Hassan Rouhani and his strong background in nuclear negations, many Iranians are hopeful that US-Iranian relations will take a turn for the better. As part of the pragmatic faction of Iran, which seeks to improve contact with the West, Rouhani claims he will work to bring Iran out of international isolation.

However, a major narrative among analysts and elected officials who have dismissed the election is that the Iranian president is merely a lap dog for the Supreme Leader and things will not change because Ali Khamenei holds the nuclear file.

Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, disagrees:

“The Presidents have had enormous impacts on Iran’s nuclear calculations and I would suggest between the years 2003 to 2010 some of the most important initiatives on the nuclear issue were actually initiatives of the Presidential office. The decision in 2003 to suspend the enrichment program was a Presidential initiative that the Supreme Leader agreed to. The decision in 2005 to resume enrichment was a Presidential decision–candidate Ahmadinejad had campaigned on it, obviously the Supreme Leader agreed to that. And much of the initiatives that we saw over the past couple of years including the Turkey-Brazil deal were the initiatives of the President that the Supreme Leader sometimes agreed to, or sometimes didn’t, but he went along with it.”

Speaking at a JINSA panel last week, Takeyh asserted the notion that the “role of the Iranian President is extraneous is flawed.” If Takeyh is correct, the new president-elect Rouhani will indeed play a major role in nuclear deliberations and will have his initiative, as have  previous presidents of Iran.

  • 11 February 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file

Iran’s nuclear missile threat: Perceived or Real?

A recent article published in the Roll Call newspaper sharply ratchets up the frenzy over Iran’s purported nuclear missile threat to make the case against looming cuts to the Pentagon’s budget. The author of the piece, retired Navy commander James Lyons, argues that the U.S. is vulnerable to an Iranian nuclear missile attack and urgently needs to upgrade its missile defense systems to defend against this supposed threat. “Iran has already tested intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) by using them to send satellites into space”, the author explains, and will have a nuclear weapon tipped ICBM “that could reach American shores in just three years or less.”

Fortunately for the U.S. budget, Iran is far from having such capabilities. The fact is that Iran has not even made a decision to build a nuclear weapon. This is corroborated by the IAEA and the U.S. and other intelligence agencies – who would also be able to detect a sudden effort by the Iranians to start building the bomb. Even if Iran were to start building a nuclear weapon today, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has stated that it would take two to five years for Iran to have a weapon and delivery vehicle.

In the hypothetical scenario where Iran chooses to start building the bomb and manages to complete one in a few years time, Iran still will not have the capability to reach the United States with such a weapon. The author’s claim that Iran has “already tested intercontinental ballistic missiles by using them to send satellites into space” is directly disputed by a recent report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, which states that it “seems clear that Iran has a dedicated space launch effort and it is not simply a cover for ICBM development.” This report additionally states that “it is increasingly uncertain whether Iran will be able to achieve ICBM capability by 2015” and that “Iran has not demonstrated the kind of flight test program many view as necessary to produce an ICBM.”

The United States undeniably faces real security challenges in the world, but a nuclear missile threat from Iran is simply not one of them. Iran is long way from posing any such threat to the United States, and to spend tax dollars on this largely imaginary threat would the ultimate exercise in squandering wealth.

  • 31 January 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions

What Obama’s new team may mean for diplomatic progress with Iran

The commencement of President Obama’s second term in office brings a whole host of updates to his administration. With old advisors and secretaries departing and a new national security team being formed, several of these changes may have direct implications on future talks with Iran.

Foremost among these is the recent Senate confirmation of John Kerry as Secretary of State, as well as the appointment, if confirmed, of Chuck Hagel as the new Secretary of Defense. A key member of President Obama’s Iran negotiating team, Gary Samore, who was the White House White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism, is also leaving. Samore’s successor still has not been decided and his replacement will be one among many in President Obama’s Iran and Middle East teams that will shake out in the upcoming weeks and months.

There are indications that these changes, especially at the State Department and the Pentagon, will make way for an opportunity for serious engagement with Iran. Both John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are arguably less hawkish on Iran than their predecessors, and Kerry has in the past recognized Iran’s right to nuclear enrichment (a key Iranian demand).

If serious negotiations are to occur, they will have to be based on mutual, give and take compromise by both Iran and the U.S. Undoubtedly, Iran’s chief demand will be sanctions relief and a recognition of a right to enrichment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and for the U.S. it will be to reduce that enrichment to lower grades and hold Iran accountable to NPT obligations through increased inspections.

Former Ambassador William H. Luers and Thomas Pickering, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs, have outlined how a possible deal would work in their recent article for the San Francisco Chronicle:

“The shape of a deal on the nuclear issues is obliquely understood by both sides, but Iran has made clear it expects some specificity on this issue. Of course getting to a deal is a problem because of 30 years of mistrust between the two sides. So at the most basic level, Iran should agree to keep in full its nonproliferation treaty commitment and to provide for the greatest transparency so inspectors can monitor its nuclear program.

“On the U.S. side, there should be a plan to reduce the sanctions on nuclear development as well as recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes only. An early start would be for Iran to stop production of 20 percent-enriched uranium (which can shorten the time needed to produce weapons-grade uranium) in exchange for relaxed sanctions.”

Both sides have increasingly given signals of willingness to come to compromise, and even the principles of a compromise have also been established. As Obama’s second term changes shape out, there is reason to be hopeful for the upcoming nuclear talks with Iran. A hope that, for the million of Iranians currently bearing the brunt of US sanctions, cannot come to fruition soon enough.

  • 11 December 2012
  • Posted By Brett Cox
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file

Reuters Corrects False Claim Iran Enriching Weapons-Grade Uranium

In response to a request from NIAC as part of our Iranfact.org project, Reuters has corrected two articles containing inaccurate, misleading statements regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

December 6 article by Reuters claims, “Washington says Tehran is enriching uranium to levels that could be used in nuclear weapons.” And on December 10 Reuters wrote, “The West suspects Iran is enriching uranium to levels that could be used in weapons…”

Iran, under IAEA supervision, has enriched uranium to 5% and 20%, but not to the 90% required for a nuclear warhead. Uranium enriched to 5% or 20% is not usable in a nuclear weapon. Moreover, the Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence have both reiterated this year that the U.S. does not believe Iran has made the decision to build nuclear weapons, consistent with the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

To Reuters’ credit, they promptly updated their articles with the following prominent correction under the headline:

(Corrects 4th para to show Iran not making weapons-grade uranium)

NIAC will continue to hold the media accountable for incorrect reporting like the above. It is especially important to ensure that facts are checked on issues as controversial as the standoff between the US, Iran, Israel, and the rest of the world over Iran’s nuclear program.

Have you spotted an inaccurate statement in the media? Share it with us at Iranfact.org.

  • 10 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file, Panel Discussion, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Why is the pro-war crowd lying about their own studies?

Within 45 minutes of the release of the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s (BPC) report, “The Price of Inaction: Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran,” pro-war pundits were  spinning its results.

The neoconservative Washington Free Beacon breathlessly announced, “REPORT: Nuclear Iran would ‘double’ oil prices, cost millions of U.S. jobs.”

The problem here is that the BPC report doesn’t say this.  It says that if there were a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran or Saudi Arabia and Iran, oil prices would double.  Yes, it is shocking–if a nuclear war broke out in the Middle East it would likely cost more to fill up your tank.

Given the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s track record of pro-war hyperbole on all things Iran, its stunning to see neoconservative rags spinning the BPC’s message even further.  But the Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo  ignores the report’s findings and instead fabricates his own conclusions in an attempt to rebut warnings about the significant economic costs of military strikes on Iran (including $7 gas).

*Update: Now the Drudge Report has gotten into the act, reposting the Free Beacon piece with the same erroneous headline*