Currently Browsing

Nuclear file

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

Reuters Corrects False Claim Iran Enriching Weapons-Grade Uranium

In response to a request from NIAC as part of our 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

  • 10 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 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*

  • 4 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • Israel, Nuclear file, US-Iran War

Shredding the NPT

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty gets bandied about on both sides of the Iran negotiations. Iranian officials often use the fact that Israel is not a signatory of the treaty to question Israel’s nuclear arsenal while defending their own right to a civilian enrichment program.  At the same time, U.S. and Israeli politicians use it much like Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat did today, at an Atlantic Council event, Rethinking Policy Toward Iran:

“[If Iran obtained a nuclear weapon it] would shred what remains of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. If a country can ignore a half-dozen UN resolutions with impunity and continue down this road then there is very little left of the Nonproliferation Treaty.”

This position is certainly not wrong. A treaty that continues to be left or broken on a regular basis will shortly lose its meaning. But there’s yet another side to this coin, which Ali Vaez, Senior Iran Analyst at the International Crisis Group, illuminated later in the event:

“I often hear this argument in Washington, that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, it would be disastrous for the integrity of the NPT. But another thing that would be disastrous for the NPT is actually attacking Iran. Because just imagine that a country that is not an NPT member, and has nuclear weapons attacking a country that is an NPT member and does not have nuclear weapons. I think that would equally undermine the NPT. And my biggest fear is the day that the Iranians, in the aftermath of an attack, just turn off the lights, and start building a nuclear weapon, and weld on it the same thing that the Israelis wrote on their first nuclear warhead, which is ‘Never Again.’”

  • 18 September 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • Election 2012, Nuclear file

Romney confused about “dirty bombs”

It’s hard to know where to begin when pointing out flaws in Mitt Romney’s recent comments on Iran’s nuclear program. A secretly recorded video, which was released by Mother Jones early this morning, portrays Mr. Romney channeling his inner role-playing geek, playing the part of Iran:

If I were Iran, if I were Iran—a crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we’ll just say, “Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we’re going to let off a dirty bomb.” I mean this is where we have—where America could be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people. So we really don’t have any option but to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

As many have pointed out, “fissile material,” or the uranium that Iran is enriching, is an incredibly poor material for a dirty bomb. It released its radiation incredibly slowly, meaning that you’d need to vaporize well over one thousand metric tons to contaminate Manhattan. To put that in perspective, according to the latest IAEA figures, in the past decade Iran has accumulated less than 7 metric tons of LEU, or .4% of what they’d need.  Clearly Mr. Romney is confusing the science.

  • 13 July 2012
  • Posted By Milad Jokar
  • discrimination, Events in Iran, Nuclear file, Sanctions

Why Iran’s Hardliners Love the iPhone and McDonalds Sanctions

Iran's Mash Donalds (Mash refers to Mashhadi or Mashtee--someone who has made the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mashhad)

If you’re an Iranian who wants to get the latest iPhone, iPad or Macbook, it may just be easier for you to purchase one in Iran than in the U.S.

Apple Store in Sa’dat Abad, Tehran

New pressures to “tighten the noose” on Iran through sanctions have indeed led to discrimination against Persian-speakers at Apple Stores.  One has to wonder how banning Iranians from having access to iPods on which they can listen to Rihanna’s latest hit (yes, Rihanna’s latest hit is available in Iran) will “change Iran’s behavior” concerning its uranium enrichment program.

But despite the sanctions and the draconian ways they’re being enforced, in Iran, iPhones are everywhere.  And the way they get to Iran, far from “squeezing the regime” actually benefits smugglers linked to the state and the IRGC (Revolutionary Guard).

To purchase the latest Apple products, Iranians just have to go to their local “Apple Store” in Iran. They can choose their items online or in person, and can definitely speak Farsi when purchasing an iPad without worrying about whether the salesperson will take their money.

Indeed, everything is available in Iran for a price. Many Iranians still walk down Africa Street, known as Jordan Street  before the revolution, in their Air Jordans, gel in their hair, while perusing DVDs of the latest Hollywood movies starring Will Smith, Matt Demon or Angelina Jolie on display by street vendors.

The Colonel in Iran serves "Kabaaby" Fried Chicken

U.S. sanctions also prohibit U.S. fast food companies from opening in Iran. It is unclear what is the logic of banning McDonalds in Iran and how denying Iranians the pleasures of true American junk food will stop Iran’s nuclear program.  And yet, while it’s always nice to enjoy a good khoreshte bamie or ghorme sabzi, Iranians can still skip rice and go to a good KFC (kabaaby Fried Chicken), Mash Donald’s (Mash refers to one who has made the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mashhad) or simply grab a coffee at Raees—featuring a mustachioed version of Starbucks mermaid—on Seoul Street in Tehran.

Because of sanctions, most of these stores are knockoffs. However, all the soft drinks, clothes,
phones and other electronic devices are authentic. These goods come into Iran through Dubai, Iraq, and the shores of the Persian Gulf, and supply the Iranian Bazaari (merchants and shop keepers) who sell these items openly in their stores.

Salamatian on society, state, and sanctions in Iran

The following is a transcription from an interview with Ahmad Salamatian on the French radio France Culture (on February 20, 2012). Mr. Salamatian, a political analyst who served in the Islamic Republic’s first government under Bani Sadr and cofounded the Committee for the Defense of Freedom and Human Rights, explains the evolution of  Iranian society and the fracture between the State and the society that led to the 2009 massive demonstrations. According to him, Iranian society suffers from the populist mismanagement of the economy, but he argues that Western sanctions reinforce the Iranian State while slowing down the internal fracture between “the societal Iran” and “the Iranian State”.

Ahmad Salamatian: Iranian Society, Power and the West

Two sides of Iran: “societal Iran” Vs. “the Iranian State”

What happened in 2009 was the revelation of a situation which has been brewing for three decades in Iran.

What we have today is an Iran split in two parts. On the one hand, there is what I call a “societal Iran”. On the other hand, there is an “Iran of power”. They are increasingly far apart and they are increasingly anachronistic to one another.

In 1979 – with regard to his mental and his imaginary– Ayatollah Khomeini was the most in-phase with the Iranian society of that time. It was among those who were familiar with Khomeini that his slogans, symbols and discourses were the most in-phase with people’s imaginary because Iran was transitioning from a rural society to an urban one. The Iranian cities were filled with villagers and other people who lived in the country. They started the process of becoming literate, of learning politics; and with such violence! With a revolution! A fundamental change of everything!

In 2009, you have a society where the city is constituted and advanced. People did not only become literate; they have made steps forward in the shaping of the individual. Iran has somewhat entered history in 1979, with acceleration toward modernity. Though this move is jerky and from time to time shut-off, there is an incontrovertible and irreversible move toward modernity.

The different transitions – demographic, geographic, urban, economic, related to family ties, and cultural – have been accumulated and we have reached the threshold of democratic and political transition.

Transitionally, 2009 was important.

  • 15 June 2012
  • Posted By Roshan Alemi
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions, US-Iran War

If ECI, AIPAC, and Senate hawks think it’s time to launch a war, they should say so

Yesterday, the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) released a new ad (see the J Street response, above) rejecting diplomacy and calling for an immediate “action” with regard to Iran, further adding to the list of pro-war efforts to sabotage diplomacy and limit Obama’s maneuverability at the upcoming Moscow sessions. Although they never directly call for military action, ECI’s efforts to push for war with Iran are increasingly transparent.

The ad implies that an Iran with nuclear capabilities is around the corner, completely ignoring U.S, European and Israeli intelligence reports that say Iran has not decided to build a bomb and is years away from creating a nuclear warhead. Similarly, last week the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) released a memo saying, “Iran has taken advantage of the talks to advance its nuclear program.”

In a Senate letter AIPAC is sponsoring that is circulating in the Senate, Robert Menendez and Roy Blunt demand the most improbable ultimatums for Iran talks and tells President Obama to offer nothing in return, effectively killing any chance to negotiate a deal at Moscow.

However, neither ECI, AIPAC, nor Congressional hawks are directly calling for a war with Iran. A direct declaration of war would invite questions concerning the astonishing costs, the lack of achievable objectives, and why the country is being dragged into another war in the Middle East. In short, it would be political suicide. Instead, they choose the easier route of demanding Iran meet impossible red lines and blaming Iran when their demands are not met. 

As Obama has said, “If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.” They have rejected diplomacy, but are too cowardly to voice the only other option that they leave on the table- war.