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US-Iran War

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.

  • 9 January 2014
  • Posted By Shervin Taheran
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Israel, US-Iran War

Hindsight is 20/20

Captain Hindsight on the new Senate sanctions bill

When the White House said that a new sanctions bill (S.1881) would “greatly increase the chances that the United States would have to take military action” against Iran, supporters of the bill bristled. Lead sponsor Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called the statement ”over the top” and accused the White House of “fear mongering.”

But a quick read of his bill makes clear that not only would it torpedo diplomacy by violating the interim deal with new sanctions, it even expresses support for the U.S. joining Israel in bombing Iran! The exact clause in question says, “if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.”

If you didn’t want people saying your bill could lead to war with Iran, you probably shouldn’t have pushed a bill that sabotages diplomacy and expressly threatens military engagement with Iran.

>>Don’t let your Senators rely on hindsight, contact them TODAY and tell them to OPPOSE this disastrous bill

  • 9 January 2014
  • Posted By Shervin Taheran
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, US-Iran War

Cruz-ing Towards Failed Diplomacy

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has become the latest Iran hawk to introduce a measure placing preconditions on negotiations designed to end the Iran talks.

Originally, there were Senators Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk, who introduced a Senate bill (S.1881) that has earned a veto threat from the President because it would invalidate the interim deal signed with Iran by passing new sanctions. That bill would also place unworkable demands on any final deal, including requiring full dismantlement of even a verifiable peaceful nuclear program.  And it would pledge U.S. support for Israeli strikes on Iran.

Now, Senator Cruz (R-TX) is joining forces with fellow hard-line conservative Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) to introduce a Senate resolution with their own demands that must be met before any bilateral negotiations continue with Iran.

The first precondition that must be met in Cruz’s world before the U.S. is allowed to engage in talks with Iran? Iran must first recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Cruz wants to cut off the talks that can end the Iranian nuclear standoff, deliver a transparent and verifiable non-military nuclear program, and prevent a disastrous war in which Israel would surely play a major role, to demand Iran do something America’s staunchest allies in the region have yet to do. This is just another precondition specifically designed to block engagement. Something Cruz and his right wing colleagues are failing to understand is how the success of negotiations with Iran is actually in Israel’s interest.

  • 11 December 2013
  • Posted By Ryan Costello
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Sen. Rockefeller Supports Deal, Opposes New Sanctions

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), a senior Democrat and the former Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, delivered a strong defense of the nuclear deal with Iran on the floor of the Senate this afternoon while warning that new sanctions would jeopardize the deal.

According to Sen. Rockefeller, “The question is how – not whether – we prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. For the first time in years, there is a real opportunity to verifiably eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons capability through tough negotiations rather than by acts of war.”

The speech comes at a critical time as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) are seeking to rally support to push new sanctions through next week — the last week the Senate will be in session in 2013.  The Obama administration has strongly warned against new sanctions, which would violate the terms of the nuclear deal, including in Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday.  Secretary Kerry also briefed Senators in a closed-door briefing today.

“The initial interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is an encouraging first step, and I urge my colleagues not to put it at risk by passing new sanctions right now,” Sen. Rockefeller warned. ”Instead, we should simply state the obvious: If Iran reneges or plays games, we will quickly pass new sanctions the very moment the need arises.”

New sanctions would also risk unraveling the sanctions regime by undermining international faith in the U.S. approach, according to the Senator.  ”New sanctions now could be criticized as a violation of the interim agreement. Such a move could separate us from our negotiating partners in the P5+1, and it could further complicate the already difficult negotiations of a final agreement.”

Raising the specter of military conflict as the likely outcome of failed diplomacy, Sen. Rockefeller asked his colleagues, “Why would we risk an opportunity that may well be the only chance we have to resolve this without using military force?”

“All of us have lived with war for the past 12 years. We have seen up close the incalculable financial and human cost that has come with these wars, and the burden that the wars now put on our troops, their families, and our economy.”

Sen. Rockefeller also implied that more of his colleagues should take to the floor in support of the agreement.  A number of lawmakers have issued positive statements, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), though Sen. Rockefeller is the first to do so on the Senate floor.

You can view a video of the speech below and and the full text of his speech here.

  • 26 September 2013
  • Posted By Mina Jafari
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Neo-Con Agenda, US-Iran War

Congress races to distort facts and kill Iran opening

From IranFact.org

At the UN this week, the world saw a very different exchange between the U.S. and Iran than in the past years. Iranian President Rouhani declared that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons and seeks to remove “mutual uncertainties with full transparency,” saying Iran “does not seek to increase tensions with the United States.” President Obama welcomed recent positive signals from Iran and said, “We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful.”

Yet some in Congress are saying something much different. Since Rouhani and Obama’s speeches, those who are not interested in peace with Iran have been warning against any change in relations, and have often resorted to many false arguments  to maintain that Iran is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” to use President Netanyahu’s description of the newly elected President.

Shortly after Rouhani’s speech, during an interview with CNN, Mike Rogers (R-MI) expressed his skepticism towards further nuclear talks and demanded that Iran first end its production of “over 20% enriched uranium.” The demand was odd given that Iran is not enriching above 20%. As is well documented by the IAEA, Iran has produced only low-enriched uranium (between 3.5%-19.75% concentration). Anything beyond 20% would be news indeed, and Rogers should present his evidence to the IAEA, ASAP.

But I suspect that Rogers, as the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has more than sufficient understanding of what levels Iran is enriching to, and merely misspoke on this point. Yet, in the same sentence, Rogers also demanded that –before any talks continue–Iran must open the Fordow plant for inspection. This again is odd. While Fordow facility may be deeply fortified against potential military strikes, there are indeed UN inspections there. The IAEA visits the Fordow plant almost weekly and knows well what is going on in there. A quick glance at any of the IAEA’s quarterly reports on Iran’s nuclear program will tell you as much. Shouldn’t the head of the House Intelligence committee be aware of these simple and well documented facts?

Meanwhile, the heads of the House Foreign Affairs Committee–Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Elliot Engel (D-NY)–responded to Rouhani’s speech by setting an arbitrary deadline of 100 days for Iran to fix the nuclear issue. To put this in perspective, even Royce and Engel were unable to get sanctions legislation marked up in a committee very amendable to such bills in their first 100 days as its chairs. Yet they want Rouhani to fix all of the problems with Iran’s nuclear program in 100 days.

Then there is Senator Bennett of Colorado, who in a letter to a constituent stated, “Iran recently installed 180 advanced centrifuges at its production-scale uranium-enrichment plant in Natanz… [which] could be used to produce enriched uranium suitable for nuclear reactors.” Yes, that is in fact what centrifuges do. That’s what we want to make sure Iran is doing–instead of potentially using enriched uranium for weapons. The level of confusion on this fundamental point is embarrassing.

And then you have Ted Cruz (R-TX). Further complicating potential peace negotiations between Presidents Obama and Rouhani, the Senate’s new maverick introduced a  resolution which sets pre-conditions for such a meeting. In the text, Cruz misquotes Rouhani, claiming the Iranian President referred to Israel as a “a wound…on the body of the Muslim World.” This well documented false translation came from Iranian news sources that embellished a segment of Rouhani’s speech in which he said “Quds day […] is a day that people present the unity of Islam against any type of oppression or aggression. And in any case, in our region, it is an old wound that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world, in the shadow of the occupation of the holy land of Palestine and the dear Quds.” He made no direct mention of Israel or Zionism–in fact, even Obama has referred to the lack of Israel-Palestine peace as a wound in the region. The misquote, however, has been exploited by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who does not want the U.S. to fall for Rouhani’s “charm offensive” and is desperate to get back to the days when he could claim Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the map.”

Then we have legislators who are just plain freaking out. Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are pushing for a bill which declares war on Iran. Franks even claims Iran has enough low enriched uranium that (if Iran kicked out IAEA inspectors and rapidly enriched it to weapons grade) could produce 20 nuclear bombs. I have no idea where he gets this number. The IAEA’s accounting of Iran’s total enriched uranium, according to the latest Arms Control Association brief, is that Iran has enough low enriched uranium for four bombs–though building a bomb would require many, many more steps. Franks made the exact same exaggerated claim in 2010. So by his estimate, Iran has not enriched any uranium since 2010.

These Congressional hawks apparently have no qualms taking extreme liberty with the facts, all in an unabashed effort to drag the country into another unwanted, unnecessary war.

  • 23 September 2013
  • Posted By Bharat Vasudevan
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Iran Election 2013, US-Iran War

Iran and the Unthinkable

At a forum at the Brookings institution on Monday, September 16, Kenneth Pollack discussed his new book, “Unthinkable” with Robin Wright, addressing prospects for Iran’s nuclear program, Israeli security, and American strategy. The book, mostly written before the election of Rouhani, focuses primarily on the question of what to do if diplomacy fails to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon.  At such a juncture, the United States would be forced to choose between military strikes aimed at destroying Iran’s nuclear program or containment of a nuclear-armed Iran. “When I weigh the costs and risks”, Pollack asserts, “the costs and risks of containment are more bearable and more practical than the costs and risks if we do military strikes.”

Given that one of Pollacks previous books, “The Threatening Storm,” helped build the case for the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Pollack is considered somewhat of a unique messenger to push back against military options against Iran.

Pollack argued that diplomacy is the far superior choice for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. However, he identified two major reasons to be skeptical about the prospects for a diplomatic solution. First, hardliners in Iran could block Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, from obtaining a nuclear deal. Second, America has overwhelmingly relied on sticks over carrots in diplomatic negotiations. The only carrot the Obama administration has offered is to “stop using sticks.” Without a significant carrot for Rouhani to sell a nuclear deal as a win, a deal cannot be achieved. More significant concessions need to be put on the table.

However, if diplomacy fails, Pollack asserted that containment would be far more prudent than military action.  Strikes would be costly and would only, at best, delay Iran’s nuclear program and increase the likelihood that they pursue one. Meanwhile, containment carries far fewer risks – the United States has, in essence, been doing it since 1979 by limiting Iran’s influence and power through isolation and ensuring that the costs of military escalation are too high.  If Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, additional steps would be needed to shore up regional allies and prevent further proliferation. The United States would also need to prevent perverse incentives for nuclear escalation from emerging, as happened during the Cold War when hawks on both sides pushed for first strikes to knock out their adversary’s nuclear arsenal.

According to Pollack, Iran would continue to demonstrate rational behavior if it obtains a nuclear weapon, meaning that Iran could be deterred from using them. Contrasted with Pakistan, which became more aggressive after gaining the bomb, and Israel, which showed more restraint, Iran would largely behave the same way. Despite support for groups including Hezbollah, Iran has never toppled foreign governments.  Further, Iran is in a weak state given the impact of sanctions on its economy and currently has few reliable allies: Hamas has turned away from Iran and Syria is embroiled in a civil war.

Israel has a military option as well, but Pollack asserted that it is not a good one.  Israel could attempt to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, as it did in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. However, neither America nor Israel would prefer such an option. Israel, which typically pursues a military option when it is viable, has proven that it wants to leave military strikes to the United States by debating the option publicly for the last fifteen years.

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.”

Rouhani Raises Hopes for Diplomacy at First News Conference as President

By Samira Damavandi and Caroline Cohn

At his first press conference as Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani indicated his willingness to reengage in diplomatic talks with the West, raising hopes for finding a solution to the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Rouhani replaced outgoing President Ahmadinejad, whose bellicose anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric only exacerbated the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Iran. The election of Rouhani, a centrist candidate who pledged “constructive interaction” with the world, was a rare positive sign for a potential easing of tensions between the two estranged nations.

Of Rouhani’s news conference on Tuesday, the Washington Post noted that  “It was certainly a remarkable tonal departure from Ahmadinejad, with lots of talk about compromising with the West.” As Rouhani fielded questions from the media – which included reporters from both inside and outside of Iran, including the U.S. – he made several positive remarks indicating his plans for steering Iranian foreign and domestic policy in a more conciliatory direction.

Diplomacy

In response to several questions about his plans for renewing nuclear negotiations, many posed by Western news correspondents, Rouhani reaffirmed his plans to pursue a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy, starkly opposite from the approach of his predecessor.  “As I have said earlier, our main policy will be to have constructive interaction with the world,” said Rouhani.

  • 19 March 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, US-Iran War

Pew’s False Choice Survey on Iran War

A recent national survey by the Pew Research Center included a question about the use of military action against Iran that distorts rather than reveals what people are thinking when it comes to the potential for war.

The question was posed as what the respondent deems more important: to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons even if means taking military action; to avoid military conflict even if Iran may develop nuclear weapons; or other/don’t know.

Within this framework, 64% of respondents said it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons even if this means taking military action against the country. Only 25% of respondents responded to this question by saying that it is more important to avoid a military conflict even if Iran may develop nuclear weapons.

The framing of this question–with respondents given a choice between two extremes of taking military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons to not taking military action even if Iran develops a nuclear weapon–is a false choice.

First, the fact is that according to the IAEA and U.S. intelligence, Iran is not currently developing nuclear weapons. If they stay on this course, they will never have a nuclear weapon because building a weapon requires they make a political decision to actually do so. There are of course concerns they will make that decision, and this–rather then whether or not we decide to bomb–is what the entire debate is hinged on. And the way to convince Iran to not make that decision, and to take verifiable steps to prove it, we need to be engaging diplomatically.

When presented with the diplomatic option, Americans overwhelmingly support it. An October 2012 poll asked respondents if they supported the UN Security Council continuing diplomatic efforts to get Iran to stop enriching uranium. The vast majority of those surveyed responded in the affirmative, with 79% of Republicans, 84% of Democrats, and 77% of Independents all saying “Yes”.

Furthermore, this question provides an inaccurate or incomplete representation of the two choices it does provide. Many former government and military officials actually believe that, while Iran is not developing nuclear weapons now, a military strike would actually push them to do so. According to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “An attack would make a nuclear armed Iran inevitable. They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert.” Former Director of the CIA Michael Hayden has echoed Gates, “[Bombing Iran] will actually push them to getting nuclear weapons.” So the notion that military action means Iran doesn’t get the bomb is actually contrary to what the military crowd is actually saying.

It is clear that ten years after the Iraq war, there is still a lot of misinformation about certain Middle Eastern countries and their supposed pursuit of “weapons of mass destruction.” The false choices and inaccurate representation embodied in the recent Pew Research Survey reflects this culture of misinformation, and can easily be used to nefarious ends such as pushing for war based on public support for it.

  • 15 March 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 0 Comments
  • US-Iran War

10 years later, is Iran replacing Iraq?

“There is no question whatsoever that [blank] is seeking and is working and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons — no question whatsoever. And there is no question that once he acquires it, history shifts immediately.”

If you automatically substituted in Iran for the blank here, you certainly cannot be blamed. The “no question about it” confidence and overly alarmist tone that underpins this quote embodies much of the rhetoric proliferated today in regards to Iran’s nuclear program. Furthermore, this quote even comes from perhaps the biggest purveyor of portraying the Iranian nuclear program in such terms, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. However, this is not from a speech Netanyahu made in 2013, but from one in 2002, and the blank here is not Iran, but Saddam Hussein.

On this tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, it is apt to review the frighteningly numerous parallels between the run up to that war and the current standoff with Iran. As the above quote demonstrates, many of the same people who warned so insistently about the “threat” from Iraq ten years ago are now warning just as insistently about the “threat” from Iran. In Netanyahu’s case, he has frequently been caught repeating verbatim the same things he said about Iraq over a decade ago about Iran today.