Monday, November 25, 2013

Interim nuclear deal with Iran and continuing negotiation

The agreement with Iran over their nuclear program is really good news. It's long past time for the US to move toward more peaceful relations with Iran. The Cheney-Bush Administration passed up the substantial opportunity to do so after the 9/11 attacks because Cheney didn't want peace with Iran, he wanted war.

John Judis discusses the agreement in Obama's Iran Nuclear Deal Could Be a Major Triumph New Republic 11/24/2013:

While negotiations over a final agreement take place, the current deal stops Iran from using its nuclear facilities to make bombs. It allows the International Atomic Energy Commission to conduct rigorous daily inspections. Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, says, “The limits on Iran's nuclear program are, unequivocally, a major success in reining-in Iran's nuclear potential and an essential stepping stone toward the negotiation of an even more effective, final agreement.”

The agreement also continues a welcome thaw in American relations with Iran. Some hardliners in Congress like to present America as the wounded party in the longstanding quarrel between the two nations, but that is simply not the case. This August, the Central Intelligence Agency finally unclassified documents that revealed its role in the overthrow of Iranian nationalist Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. That act, and America's continuing support for the Shah's dictatorship, figured prominently in the minds of the Iranian revolutionaries who held American diplomats hostage in 1979.
That 1953 coup against Mossadegh was one the legendary successes of CIA black-ops - and its still causing trouble for the United States!

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has been bitterly critical of the agreement. But Israel has hundreds of nuclear arms and the most powerful military in the Middle East. It can defend itself against any likely threat from Iran.

Earlier in November as the formal negotiations were getting underway, Stephen Walt wrote in Let's Make a Deal.... Foreign Policy 11/08/2013 about how supporters and opponents of a deal lined up:

The battle lines on this issue are now easy to identify. On one side are Obama and Kerry, the U.S. negotiating team, most of the arms control community, and much of America's national security apparatus, including seventy-nine well-connected former officials who endorsed the administration's efforts yesterday. This broad group understands that Iran is not going to accept zero enrichment and that the United States cannot physically prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon if it really, really, wants to get one. Even if the US used force to damage Iran's nuclear infrastructure, they could rebuild it and disperse it and we would have to keep attacking them forever. This group believes -- correctly, in my view -- that Iran is not currently trying to build a nuclear weapon and that a deal can be struck that makes it hard for Iran to sprint toward a bomb if it ever changes its mind. This group recognizes that another Mideast war would be a disaster for us and for others and would merely increase Iran's desire to acquire an effective deterrent. Finally, this group understands that the deal is likely to get worse the longer we delay.

On the other side are Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who has already denounced the interim deal), Saudi Arabia, the hardline elements within the Israel lobby, extremist journalists like Jennifer Rubin, and various Congresspersons who are overly beholden to some or all of the above. Despite a dearth of genuine evidence, they believe Iran is hell-bent on getting a bomb and that this development would have far-reaching negative effects on world politics. They think Iran is only negotiating now because we tightened sanctions, and that tightening the screws some more will get Tehran to say "uncle" and give us everything we want. Perhaps they haven't noticed that the United States could have gotten a better deal in 2006 -- before the latest round of sanctions was imposed -- but the Bush administration foolishly spurned Iran's offer. The opponents have a lot of energy and fervor on their side, but logic and evidence doesn't seem to be their strong suit.
And in U.S. Middle East Strategy: Back to Balancing Foreign Policy 11/21/2013, argues that the United States' strategically high advantageous position in the world has (perhaps paradoxically) lead the US to grossly overstate relatively minor dangers to US security, including that from Iran:

One consequence of this favorable position, by the way, is that the country routinely blows minor threats out of all proportion. I mean: Iran has a defense budget of about $10 billion (less than 1/50th of what the United States spends on national security), yet we manage to convince ourselves that Iran is a Very Serious Threat to U.S. vital interests. Ditto the constant fretting about minor-league powers like Syria, North Korea, Muammar al-Qaddafi's Libya, and other so-called "rogue states." [my emphasis]
People who want war instead of a peaceful agreement would like to sabotage the currently-promising staged negotiating process by tightening international sanctions against Iran. You don't have to be a professional negotiator to see that punishing the other side when they agree to what you want is unlikely to be conducive to further agreements. Kingston Reif, of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation observes (Making a nuclear deal with Iran Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 11/20/2013):

... doubling down on sanctions in the middle of a promising negotiation could blow up the talks by undercutting Iranian moderates and empowering hardliners. Furthermore, it’s not clear how more sanctions would collapse Iran’s economy fast enough to prevent the regime from achieving a breakout nuclear weapons capacity. While Iran’s economy is suffering under the weight of existing sanctions, Kahl writes, it does not appear to be on the verge of imminent collapse. Additional penalties could also undermine the international cooperation that has been essential to the effective implementation of existing sanctions. For example, Turkey has indicated that it will not make further reductions in oil imports from Iran. A premature US rush to pass more sanctions might cause other countries to take similar steps or even increase Iranian imports, especially if the United States rejects a deal that the rest of the international community views as reasonable.

To make matters worse, passing more sanctions now in the hopes of collapsing Iran’s economy could convince Khamenei that the United States isn’t actually interested in a negotiated settlement but rather desires regime change. This could prompt Iran to decide to acquire nuclear weapons. In the event that diplomacy fails or Iran does not make good on its commitments, passing more sanctions will still be an option.
The generally liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz gives editor Seth Lipsky of the rightwing online tabloid New York Sun the chance to trash the agreement in an op-ed, absurdly arguing that this deal is the prelude to a new Holocaust, Obama and Kerry's betrayal of 'never again' 11/24/2013:

In plain English, the best that could be said of it is that — for the time being — the mullahs can keep their crematoria, so to speak, on standby.

That may sound harsh. But feature the fact that President Obama has been saying for years that he has Israel’s back. What this turns out to mean is that he will treat with Israel’s enemies behind Israel’s back, enter a partnership with them on terms to which the freely elected government in Jerusalem objects, and in boasting about the betrayal declare that Israel has good reason to be skeptical of Iran’s intentions.
For the neocons, it's always 1938 and the West is always on the verge of selling out Czechslovakia:

Neither Kerry nor Obama were alive at the time of Munich. But the catastrophe of 1938 was well marked on Sunday by Israeli MK Moshe Feiglin, who called the handshake at Geneva this weekend “the Iranian version of the Munich Agreement.” He noted that like the doughty Czechs in 1938, Israel was not a party to the parley. “Israel today watches from the sidelines,” is the way he put it.

One could but add that there was one difference between Geneva today and Munich in 1938. The envoys of the free European governments knew deep down that they had blundered at Munich. "Imbeciles" was the word Prime Minister Daladier of France famously muttered when, on his arrival back at Paris, he was cheered by throngs of his countrymen. Where is the self-awareness in the Western leadership today?
The fact that the argument is frivolous doesn't stop prominent people who want war with Iran from making it.

And what good Republican could resist the temptation to invoke St. Reagan to make the case? "Reagan would have long since either found a way to bolster Iran's democratic opposition or helped found a government-in-exile of Iran that could have levied a revolution."

Because, you know, that's been so brilliantly successful other places we've tried. Heck, we overthrew Mossadegh in 1953, didn't we? Awesome.

Jeffrey Lewis takes note of the argument that sanctions should be tightened (Our Last, Best Chance Foreign Policy 11/25/2013):

... the usual suspects will complain that we've given away too much in terms of sanctions relief, but there are three things to keep in mind. (1) Much of the sanctions relief is temporary. If the Iranians collapse the deal, there will be plenty of takers for imposing tougher sanctions. (2) It isn't clear to me that the sanctions regime is indefinitely sustainable. The Iranians have had quite a bit of luck challenging sanctions in European courts, and Washington doesn't have quite the same pull in Moscow and Beijing these days. Sanctions have always been a wasting asset. It makes sense to get something for them now. (3) Moreover, if the Iranian economy starts to recover, that might be a good thing. There is a whole field of research into something called "prospect theory" that more or less boils down to a profound insight into the irrationality of human beings: we tend to fear losses more than we value gains, even if they are numerically the same. This is why your favorite basketball team waits too long to trade that promising draft pick who'll never be more than a rotation player. If the Iranian economy starts to recover, that will probably increase the pressure on Rouhani to make a deal, not decrease it.

Jasmin Ramsey in (Historic Iran Deal Aims at Final Nuclear Resolution IPS News 11/24/2013 describes the terms of the agreement this way:

“All sides would gain [from this deal], except those few who believe that it’s feasible to expect that Iran could be sanctioned enough to give up enrichment entirely,” George Perkovich, a nuclear non-proliferation and strategy expert focused on Iran at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told IPS.

Under the six-month phase of the deal, Iran is expected to halt uranium enrichment above five percent; convert its existing stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium to fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor or dilute it to five percent grade; halt "further advances of its activities" at its Natanz and Fordow Fuel Enrichment facilities and at its Arak reactor; and implement further, advanced monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In return Iran will gain approximately 7 billion dollars of sanctions relief; Iran will be given relief from U.S. sanctions on its auto industry as well as spare parts and repairs for its aviation industry; no further U.N., EU or U.S. nuclear sanctions will be issued; and a channel will be established to better facilitate humanitarian trade.

But any gains would be "provisional," cautioned Perkovich, adding that "the ultimate measure will be in a final agreement."

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