'We Agree': Iran and P5+1 Announce Consensus on Nuclear Framework
also read US & Isreal & Iran & History
President Obama hails agreement as Iran Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif says deal shows his nation's nuclear program 'has always been and always will remain exclusively peaceful'
by Common Dreams staff
A nuclear framework agreement was reached after eight days of negotiations between six world powers and Iran in the Swiss town of Lausanne. (Photo: CBS News)
After days of marathon negotiations in Switzerland, foreign ministers from the U.S., the U.K., Russia, China, France, plus Germany (known as the P5 + 1 nations) and Iran emerged from closed-door talks on Thursday to announce they have reached an 'historic' framework agreement regarding Iran's nuclear program and the lifting of international sanctions.
Reading out a joint statement, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini hailed the framework agreement as a "decisive step" which sets the stage for an ultimate deal which the parties hope to finalize in June. As summarized by the Guardian, Mogherini said:
• “Today we have taken a decisive step. We have reached solutions on key parameters for a comprehensive future nuclear deal.”
• She said the solutions agreed at Lausanne create the basis of a future comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the six powers - to be concluded by 30 June.
• She said the EU and US will terminate the implementation of all nuclear-related economic sanctions.
• She said the deal could not have gone forward without the political determination and goodwill of all parties.
• There will be limited enrichment capacity at the Fordow uranium enrichment site. It will be converted into a nuclear physics site, with no fissile material present on premises and international cooperation for R&D is encouraged.
• The international monitoring agency will have enhanced access to technologies to clarify past and present issues.
• A future deal between Iran and P5+1 powers will include UN security council endorsement.
• Another important area of cooperation will be in the field of nuclear safety and security.
• “We will now work to write the text of a joint comprehensive plan of action.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif followed by reading the same statement in Farsi.
The text of the agreement—officially titled "Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program"—covers four key areas: Enrichment, Inspections and Transparency, Reactors and Processing, and Sanctions.
As the Associated Press reports:
Mogherini said the seven nations would now start writing the text of a final accord. She cited several agreed-upon restrictions on Iran's enrichment of material that can be used either for energy production or in nuclear warheads.
Crucially for the Iranians, economic sanctions related to its nuclear programs are to be rolled back after the U.N. nuclear agency confirms compliance.
Zarif told reporters the agreement would show "our program is exclusively peaceful, has always been and always will remain exclusively peaceful," while not hindering the country's pursuit of atomic energy for civilian purposes.
"Our facilities will continue," he said. "We will continue enriching, we will continue research and development." He said a planned heavy water reactor will be "modernized" and that the Iranians would keep their deeply buried underground facility at Fordo.
"We have taken a major step but are still some way away from where we want to be," Zarif said, calling Thursday's preliminary step as a "win-win outcome."
Following the announcement, President Obama emerged from the White House and made the following statement championing the diplomatic accomplishment and the deal itself. "The issues at stake are bigger than politics," Obama said. "These are matters of war and peace."
Watch his remarks (which begin at 21:00):
Peace groups responded positively to Wednesday's announcement.
"The success of these talks, again proves that diplomacy works,"said Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action. "Instead of isolation, sanctions that don’t affect leaders or military intervention that costs vast amounts of blood and treasure and untold longterm costs and unintended consequences, the U.S. used dialogue, negotiations and the international community to solve conflict."
Calling the negotiations "notable," Martin expressed optimism that the talks could "pave the way for more discussions on issues like human rights and regional security that will further reduce Middle East tensions."
Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action, said the framework was "perhaps the most significant foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama presidency, and offers the promise of a peaceful path with Iran, rather than a rush into an unnecessary war."
However, she noted, "Republican war hawks—and too many Democrats who are siding with them—are continuing their crusade against the president and trying to sabotage this deal."
As a counter to such attempts, the Win Without War coalition on Thursday unveiled a national campaign "to support President Obama and the historic framework for a comprehensive agreement that has been announced between the so-called P5+1 and Iran."
The No War With Iran campaign's stated goal is "to defeat the vigorous efforts of opponents to sabotage diplomacy and the emerging nuclear agreement before it can be finalized at the negotiating table," according to a press release.
"We—and the vast majority of the American people—stand with President Obama in the knowledge that a nuclear weapon-free Iran will be forged with diplomacy, not war," said Win Without War advocacy director Stephen Miles. "We demand that Congress take yes for an answer, stand with the President, and win without war with Iran."
Why Iran Distrusts the US in Nuke Talks
The mainstream U.S. media portrays the Iran nuclear talks as "our good guys" imposing some sanity on "their bad guys." But the real history of the West’s dealings on Iran’s nuclear program shows bad faith by the U.S. government
by Ray McGovern
The Iranians may be a bit paranoid but, as the saying goes, this does not mean some folks are not out to get them. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his knee-jerk followers in Washington clearly are out to get them – and they know it.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the surreal set of negotiations in Switzerland premised not on evidence, but rather on an assumption of Iran’s putative “ambition” to become a nuclear weapons state – like Israel, which maintains a secret and sophisticated nuclear weapons arsenal estimated at about 200 weapons. The supposed threat is that Iran might build one.
Iranian women attending a speech by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Iranian government photo)
Israel and the U.S. know from their intelligence services that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program, but they are not about to let truth get in the way of their concerted effort to marginalize Iran. And so they fantasize before the world about an Iranian nuclear weapons program that must be stopped at all costs – including war.
Among the most surprising aspects of this is the fact that most U.S. allies are so willing to go along with the charade and Washington’s catch-all solution – sanctions – as some U.S. and Israeli hardliners open call for a sustained bombing campaign of Iranian nuclear sites that could inflict a massive loss of human life and result in an environmental catastrophe.
On March 26, arch-neocon John Bolton, George W. Bush’s Ambassador to the United Nations, graced the pages of the New York Times with his most recent appeal for an attack on Iran. Bolton went a bit too far, though, in citing the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of November 2007, agreed to unanimously by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. Perhaps he reasoned that, since the “mainstream media” rarely mentions that NIE, “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” he could get away with distorting its key findings, which were:
“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. … We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons. …
“Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.”
An equally important fact ignored by the mainstream media is that the key judgments of that NIE have been revalidated by the intelligence community every year since. But reality is hardly a problem for Bolton. As the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, Bolton made quite a name for himself by insisting that it was the proper function of a policy maker like him – not intelligence analysts – to interpret the evidence from intelligence.
So those of us familiar with Bolton’s checkered credibility were not shocked by his New York Times op-ed, entitled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” Still less were we shocked to see him dismiss “the rosy 2007 National Intelligence Estimate” as an “embarrassment.”
Actually, an embarrassment it was, but not in the way Bolton suggests. Highly embarrassing, rather, was the fact that Bolton was among those inclined to push President Bush hard to bomb Iran. Then, quite suddenly, an honest NIE appeared, exposing the reality that Iran’s nuclear weapons program had been stopped in 2003, giving the lie not only to neocon propaganda, but also to Bush’s assertion that Tehran’s leaders had admitted they were developing nuclear weapons (when they had actually asserted the opposite).
Bush lets it all hang out in his memoir, Decision Points. Most revealingly, he complains bitterly that the NIE “tied my hands on the military side” and called its findings “eye-popping.”
A disgruntled Bush writes, “The backlash was immediate. [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad hailed the NIE as a ‘great victory.’” Bush’s apparent “logic” here is to use the widespread disdain for Ahmadinejad to discredit the NIE through association, i.e. whatever Ahmadinejad praises must be false.
But can you blame Bush for his chagrin? Alas, the NIE had knocked out the props from under the anti-Iran propaganda machine, imported duty-free from Israel and tuned up by neoconservatives here at home.
In his memoir, Bush laments: “I don’t know why the NIE was written the way it was. … Whatever the explanation, the NIE had a big impact — and not a good one.”
Spelling out how the Estimate had tied his hands “on the military side,” Bush included this (apparently unedited) kicker: “But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”
It seems worth repeating that the key judgments of the 2007 NIE have been reaffirmed every year since. As for the supposedly urgent need to impose sanctions to prevent Iran from doing what we are fairly certain it is not doing – well, perhaps we could take some lessons from the White Queen, who bragged that in her youth she could believe “six impossible things before breakfast” and counseled Alice to practice the same skill.
Sanctions, Anyway, to the Rescue
Despite the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community, the United States and other countries have imposed unprecedented sanctions ostensibly to censure Iran for “illicit” nuclear activities while demanding the Iran prove the negative in addressing allegations, including “intelligence” provided via Israel and its surrogates, that prompt international community concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
And there’s the rub. Most informed observers share historian/journalist Gareth Porter’s conclusion that the main sticking point at this week’s negotiations in Lausanne is the issue of how and when sanctions on Iran will be lifted. And, specifically, whether they will be lifted as soon as Iran has taken “irreversible” actions to implement core parts of the agreement.
In Lausanne, the six-nation group (permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) reportedly want the legal system behind the sanctions left in place, even after the sanctions have been suspended, until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officially concludes that Iran’s nuclear activities are exclusively peaceful – a process that could take many years.
Iran’s experience with an IAEA highly influenced by the U.S. and Israel has been, well, not the best – particularly since December 2009 under the tenure of Director-General Yukiya Amano, a Japanese diplomat whom State Department cables reveal to be in Washington’s pocket.
Classified cables released by Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and WikiLeaks show that Amano credited his success in becoming director-general largely to U.S. government support – and promptly stuck his hand out for U.S. money.
Further, Amano left little doubt that he would side with the United States in the confrontation with Iran and that he would even meet secretly with Israeli officials regarding their purported evidence on Iran’s hypothetical nuclear weapons program, while staying mum about Israel’s actual nuclear weapons arsenal.
According to U.S. embassy cables from Vienna, Austria, the site of IAEA’s headquarters, American diplomats in 2009 were cheering the prospect that Amano would advance U.S. interests in ways that outgoing IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei never did.
In a July 9, 2009, cable, American chargé Geoffrey Pyatt – yes, the same diplomat who helped Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland choose “Yats” (Arseniy Yatsenyuk) to be the post-coup prime minister of Ukraine – said Amano was thankful for U.S. support for his election,” noting that “U.S. intervention with Argentina was particularly decisive.”
A grateful Amano told Pyatt that as IAEA director-general, he would take a different “approach on Iran from that of ElBaradei” and that he “saw his primary role as implementing” U.S.-driven sanctions and demands against Iran.
Pyatt also reported that Amano had consulted with Israeli Ambassador Israel Michaeli “immediately after his appointment” and that Michaeli “was fully confident of the priority Amano accords verification issues.” Pyatt added that Amano privately agreed to “consultations” with the head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission.
In other words, Amano has shown himself eager to bend in directions favored by the United States and Israel, especially regarding Iran’s nuclear program. His behavior contrasts with that of the more independent-minded ElBaradei, who resisted some of Bush’s key claims about Iraq’s supposed nuclear weapons program, and even openly denounced forged documents about “yellowcake uranium” as “not authentic.” [For more on Amano, see Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Debt to Bradley Manning.”]
It is a given that Iran misses ElBaradei; and it is equally clear that it knows precisely what to expect from Amano. If you were representing Iran at the negotiating table, would you want the IAEA to be the final word on whether or not the entire legal system authorizing sanctions should be left in place?
Torpedoing Better Deals in 2009 and 2010
Little has been written to help put some context around the current negotiation in Lausanne and show how very promising efforts in 2009 and 2010 were sabotaged – the first by Jundullah, a terrorist group in Iran, and the second by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. If you wish to understand why Iran lacks the trust one might wish for in negotiations with the West, a short review may be helpful.
During President Barack Obama’s first year in office, the first meeting of senior level American and Iranian negotiators, then-Under Secretary of State William Burns and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, on Oct. 1, 2009, seemed to yield surprisingly favorable results.
Many Washington insiders were shocked when Jalili gave Tehran’s agreement in principle to send abroad 2,640 pounds (then as much as 75 percent of Iran’s total) of low-enriched uranium to be turned into fuel for a small reactor that does medical research.
Jalili approved the agreement “in principle,” at a meeting in Geneva of representatives of members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. Even the New York Times acknowledged that this, “if it happens, would represent a major accomplishment for the West, reducing Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon quickly, and buying more time for negotiations to bear fruit.”
The conventional wisdom in Western media is that Tehran backed away from the deal. That is true, but less than half the story – a tale that highlights how, in Israel’s (and the neocons’) set of priorities, regime change in Iran comes first. The uranium transfer had the initial support of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And a follow-up meeting was scheduled for Oct. 19, 2009, at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
The accord soon came under criticism, however, from Iran’s opposition groups, including the “Green Movement” led by defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has had ties to the American neocons and to Israel since the Iran-Contra days of the 1980s when he was the prime minister who collaborated on secret arms deals.
At first blush, it seemed odd that it was Mousavi’s U.S.-favored political opposition that led the assault on the nuclear agreement, calling it an affront to Iran’s sovereignty and suggesting that Ahmadinejad wasn’t being tough enough.
Then, on Oct. 18, a terrorist group called Jundullah, acting on amazingly accurate intelligence, detonated a car bomb at a meeting of top Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders and tribal leaders in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan in southeastern Iran. A car full of Guards was also attacked.
A brigadier general who was deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards ground forces, the Revolutionary Guards brigadier commanding the border area of Sistan-Baluchistan, and three other brigade commanders were killed in the attack; dozens of other military officers and civilians were left dead or wounded.
Jundullah took credit for the bombings, which followed years of lethal attacks on Revolutionary Guards and Iranian policemen, including an attempted ambush of President Ahmadinejad’s motorcade in 2005.
Tehran claims Jundullah is supported by the U.S., Great Britain and Israel, and former CIA Middle East operations officer Robert Baer has fingered Jundullah as one of the “good terrorist” groups benefiting from American help.
I believe it no coincidence that the Oct. 18 attack – the bloodiest in Iran since the 1980-88 war with Iraq – came one day before nuclear talks were to resume at the IAEA in Vienna to follow up on the Oct. 1 breakthrough. The killings were sure to raise Iran’s suspicions about U.S. sincerity.
It’s a safe bet that after the Jundullah attack, the Revolutionary Guards went directly to their patron, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, arguing that the bombing and roadside attack proved that the West couldn’t be trusted. Khamenei issued a statement on Oct. 19 condemning the terrorists, whom he charged “are supported by certain arrogant powers’ spy agencies.”
The commander of the Guards’ ground forces, who lost his deputy in the attack, charged that the terrorists were “trained by America and Britain in some of the neighboring countries,” and the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards threatened retaliation.
The attack was front-page news in Iran, but not in the United States, where the mainstream media quickly consigned the incident to the memory hole. The American media also began treating Iran’s resulting anger over what it considered an act of terrorism and its heightened sensitivity to outsiders crossing its borders as efforts to intimidate “pro-democracy” groups supported by the West.
Despite the Jundullah attack and the criticism from the opposition groups, a lower-level Iranian technical delegation did go to Vienna for the meeting on Oct. 19, but Jalili stayed away. The Iranians questioned the trustworthiness of the Western powers and raised objections to some details, such as where the transfer should occur. The Iranians broached alternative proposals that seemed worth exploring, such as making the transfer of the uranium on Iranian territory or some other neutral location.
But the Obama administration, under mounting domestic pressure to be tougher with Iran, dismissed Iran’s counter-proposals out of hand, reportedly at the instigation of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and neocon regional emissary Dennis Ross.
If at First You Don’t Succeed
Watching all this, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saw parallels between Washington’s eagerness for an escalating confrontation with Iran and the way the United States had marched the world, step by step, into the invasion of Iraq.
In spring 2010, hoping to head off another such catastrophe, the two leaders dusted off the Oct. 1 uranium transfer initiative and got Tehran to agree to similar terms on May 17, 2010. Both called for sending 2,640 pounds of Iran’s low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for nuclear rods that would have no applicability for a weapon. In May 2010, that meant roughly 50 percent of Iran’s low-enriched uranium would be sent to Turkey in exchange for higher-enriched uranium for medical use.
Yet, rather than embrace this Iranian concession as at least one significant step in the right direction, U.S. officials sought to scuttle it by pressing instead for more sanctions. The U.S. media did its part by insisting that the deal was just another Iranian trick that would leave Iran with enough uranium to theoretically create one nuclear bomb.
An editorial in the Washington Post on May 18, 2010, entitled “Bad Bargain,” concluded wistfully/wishfully: “It’s possible that Tehran will retreat even from the terms it offered Brazil and Turkey — in which case those countries should be obliged to support U.N. sanctions.”
On May 19, a New York Times’ editorial rhetorically patted the leaders of Brazil and Turkey on the head as if they were rubes lost in the big-city world of hardheaded diplomacy. The Times wrote: “Brazil and Turkey … are eager to play larger international roles. And they are eager to avoid a conflict with Iran. We respect those desires. But like pretty much everyone else, they got played by Tehran.”
The disdain for this latest Iranian concession was shared by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was busy polishing her reputation for “toughness” by doing all she could to undermine the Brazil-Turkey initiative. She pressed instead for harsh sanctions.
“We have reached agreement on a strong draft [sanctions resolution] with the cooperation of both Russia and China,” Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 18, making clear that she viewed the timing of the sanctions as a riposte to the Iran-Brazil-Turkey agreement.
“This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide,” she declared. Her spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, was left with the challenging task of explaining the obvious implication that Washington was using the new sanctions to scuttle the plan for transferring half of Iran’s enriched uranium out of the country.
Secretary Clinton got her UN resolution and put the kibosh on the arrangement that Brazil and Turkey had worked out with Iran. The Obama administration celebrated its victory in getting the UN Security Council on June 9, 2010, to approve a fourth round of economic sanctions against Iran. Obama also signed on to even more draconian penalties sailing through Congress.
It turned out, though, that Obama had earlier encouraged both Brazil and Turkey to work out a deal to get Iran to transfer about half its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for more highly enriched uranium that could only be used for peaceful medical purposes. But wait. Isn’t that precisely what the Brazilians and Turks succeeded in doing?
Da Silva and Erdogan, understandably, were nonplussed, and da Silva actually released a copy of an earlier letter of encouragement from Obama.
No matter. The tripartite agreement was denounced by Secretary Clinton and ridiculed by the U.S. mainstream media. And that was kibosh enough. Even after Brazil released Obama’s supportive letter, the President would not publicly defend the position he had taken earlier.
So, once again. Assume you’re in the position of an Iranian negotiator. Trust, but verify, was Ronald Reagan’s approach. We are likely to find out soon whether there exists the level of trust necessary to start dealing successfully with the issue of most concern to Iran – lifting the sanctions.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
The Pentagon Plan to ‘Divide and Rule’ the Muslim World
Yemen is the latest casualty of a neoconservative strategy commissioned by the US Army to ‘capitalise on Sunni-Shia conflict’ in the Middle East - the goal is nothing short of ‘Western dominance’
Yemen is on the brink of “total collapse” according to the UN high commissioner for human rights. Saudi Arabia’s terror from the air, backed by Washington, Britain, and an unprecedented coalition of Gulf states has attempted to push back the takeover of Yemen’s capital Sanaa by Shiite Houthi rebels.
As Iran-backed Houthi forces have pressed into Aden, clashing with Yemeni troops loyal to exiled President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, the US has provided live video feeds from US surveillance drones to aid with Saudi targeting. The Pentagon is set to expand military aid to the open-ended operation, supplying more intelligence, bombs and aerial refuelling missions.
Yet growing evidence suggests that the US itself, through its Gulf allies, gave the northern Houthis a green light for their offensive last September.
US advanced warningAs David Hearst reported in October 2014, the Houthi offensive was “conducted under the nose of a US military base in Djibouti” from where CIA drones operate. “The Houthis are even protecting the US embassy in Sanaa.”
Hearst revealed that the Houthis had been emboldened by a quiet nod from Saudi Arabia, under the watchful eye of US intelligence.
A year earlier, then Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar met with Houthi leader Saleh Habreh in London. The Saudis wanted to mobilise the Houthis against the Islah Party, Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood branch that shared power with President Hadi, so that they “cancel each other out” in conflict.
But Islah refused to confront the Houthis, and Riyadh’s green light backfired, allowing the Iran-backed militia to march unhindered to the capital.
The US was involved. Sources close to Hadi say they were told by the Americans about a meeting in Rome between Iranian officials and the son of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to secure his assurances that government units loyal to Saleh would not oppose the Houthi advance.
Three years ago, Ali Abdullah Saleh was replaced by Hadi in US-Saudi backed negotiations that granted him immunity from prosecution. Audio leaks and a UN Security Council report prove Saleh’s extensive collusion with the Houthis to the extent of supervising their military operations.
Yet President Hadi, who fled in the wake of the Houthi offensive, “said he was informed of the meeting in Rome by the Americans, but only after the Houthis had captured Sanaa.” [emphasis added]
The US, in other words, despite being aware of the impending Iran-backed operation, did not pass on intelligence about this to its own asset in Yemen until after the Houthis’ success.
Double gameAccording to another source close to President Hadi, the UAE also played a key role in the Houthi operation, providing $1 billion to the Houthis through Saleh and his son Ahmad.
If true, this means in sum that US intelligence had advanced warning of the Houthi offensive and Saleh’s role in it; the UAE had reportedly provided funding to Saleh for the operation; and the Saudis had personally given the Houthis the green light in hope of triggering a fight to the death with Yemen’s Brotherhood.
According to Abdussalam al-Rubaidi, a lecturer at Sanaa University and chief editor of the Yemen Polling Center’s “Framing the Yemeni Revolution Project,”
local reports in Yemen refer to “an alliance… between the Houthis, the United States, and Saleh’s Republican Guard,” to counter Ansar al-Sharia, the local al-Qaeda branch. Some Yemeni politicians also said that “the Americans gave a green light to the Houthis to enter the capital and weaken Islah”.
Why would the US do nothing to warn its Yemeni client-regime about the incoming Houthi offensive, while then rushing to support Saudi Arabia’s military overreaction to fend off the spectre of Iranian expansion?
Divide and ruleThe escalation of the crisis in Yemen threatens to spiral into a full-scale Sunni-Shia regional war-by-proxy.
Since 9/11, every country in the region touched by major US interference has collapsed into civil war as their social fabric has been irreversibly shattered: Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya.
The ensuing arc of sectarian warfare bears uncanny resemblance to scenarios explored in a little-known study by an influential Washington DC defence contractor.
Schumer's Choice: To Succeed Reid, He Must Back Iran Deal
By Robert Naiman, Truthout | Op-Ed
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) speaks to reporters in New York, October, 26, 2014. (Photo: James Estrin / The New York Times)
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has announced that he will not run for re-election. Reid has endorsed Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) to succeed him as Democratic leader.
But in order to succeed Reid as Senate Democratic leader, Schumer is going to have to pay a price: he's going to have to back President Obama's multilateral diplomacy with Iran, which Bloomberg reports could produce a "framework agreement" this weekend. Some of Senator Schumer's New York constituents might not like that, but as the soldiers say, they'll just have to "embrace the suck." Senate Republicans may think it's ok for them to try to undermine a diplomatic agreement. But the prospective leader of Senate Democrats isn't allowed to do that.
On Thursday, Schumer officially became a co-sponsor of the main Republican bill in the Senate designed to blow up the Iran talks: the Corker-Menendez bill. The Corker-Menendez bill would give the Republican Congress an immediate veto over any deal with Iran, which everyone understands would kill any deal. The administration has threatened to veto the Corker-Menendez bill if it is passed by Congress. Republicans who want to derail the talks have been seeking a veto-proof majority for the Corker-Menendez bill, which means they are trying to get a bunch of Senate Democrats - like Schumer - to agree to help them undermine President Obama.
Schumer will have to make a choice. If he maintains his support for the Corker bill, he would help kill the talks. But then he would never be the leader of Senate Democrats. If he wants to be leader of Senate Democrats, Schumer will have to support President Obama on Iran diplomacy.
When the news broke that Reid was retiring and Schumer was being considered to replace him as Senate Democratic leader, Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action, said, "Supporting reckless legislation that undermines President Obama's diplomacy with Iran and risks a dangerous, unnecessary war in the Middle East should disqualify anyone from leading the Senate Democratic caucus. Sen. Schumer needs to withdraw his support from the Corker and Menendez legislation."
You can add your voice to MoveOn's here.
Robert Naiman is policy director at Just Foreign Policy and president of Truthout's board of directors.
US-Israel-Iran Triangle's Tangled History
By Robert Parry
Iran and world powers have gone into double-overtime in negotiations to ensure that Iran doesn't build a nuclear bomb, but the shadow over the talks is darkened by decades of distrust and double-dealing, a dimly understood history of the U.S.-Israeli-Iranian triangle, reports Robert Parry.
read entire article
For US Neocon Nazis and Israel's Crazed Netanyahu
By Paul Craig Roberts
The neocon scum and crazed Israeli government have worked for years, together with the idiot Republican Party, to create a false reality about Iran and nonexistent nuclear-weapons program in the hope of starting a war with Iran.
Now these war hopes are defeated by the nuclear-energy agreement worked out with Iran by Obama and Putin.
What will the crazed Netanyahu, the neocon scum, and the crazed John McCain do now? Will they create a false-flag event? Will they somehow start a war anyhow?
The world will not be safe until the warmongers are removed from the American and Israeli governments.
See here and here for details of the Iran nuclear agreement.
Dr. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan Administration. He was associate editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal, columnist for Business Week and the Scripps Howard News Service. He is a contributing editor to Gerald Celente's Trends Journal. He has had numerous university appointments. His book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is available here. His latest book, How America Was Lost, has just been released and can be ordered here.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, who is also Iran's top nuclear negotiator, speaks with media, as head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi listens, upon their arrival at the Mehrabad airport in Tehran, Iran, from Lausanne, Switzerland, Friday, April 3, 2015. Iran and six world powers reached a preliminary nuclear agreement Thursday outlining commitments by both sides as they work for a comprehensive deal aiming at curbing nuclear activities Tehran could use to make weapons and providing sanctions relief for Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
This Deal Is
a Big Deal
by Trita Parsi
Today, the U.S. and its partners secured a commitment from Iran to significantly constrain its nuclear program and subject it to intrusive inspections in order to prevent a path to an Iranian nuclear weapon. If these commitments are converted into a final comprehensive deal over the next three months, President Obama and Secretary Kerry and their partners will have secured through diplomacy what neither war nor sanctions could ever have accomplished.
This has been a tough negotiation, and a final nuclear deal will bring a hard-fought peace. But the progress that has been achieved is substantial and was at one time unthinkable.
When this negotiation started in November 2013, hundreds of disagreements separated the U.S. and its P5+1 partners from Iran. Today, we have only three or four remaining gaps to bridge. Some of the toughest and most intractable of issues now have a solution. We have never been closer to a final deal.
Small minds will obsess over what has been given. Great minds will celebrate what has been gained. We are steering a clear path to a peaceful resolution to the nuclear dispute – averting both war and an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Not long ago, few thought this was possible. But, thanks to the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Kerry, peace is not only possible; it is now probable. By following through on the courage of their convictions, they have achieved more progress on the Iranian nuclear issue in 16 months than we’d achieved altogether over the past 15 years.
Now is not the time to undo all of this progress or to see this chance for peace escape. Now is the time to translate this historic moment into a historic achievement and show the world that peace can prevail.
Some in Congress and elsewhere will seek to undermine this process and scuttle an agreement altogether. They were wrong before on Iraq; they are wrong today on Iran. Only diplomacy can resolve the nuclear dispute and calm this crisis. It is important that the negotiations be insulated from those who fear peace more than they fear war.
Trita Parsi is founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East. He is author of A Single Roll of the Dice - Obama's Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press, 2012) and Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States.
Iran Deal: A Game-Changer for the Middle East
Negotiators in Switzerland just won a huge victory for diplomacy over war. Now we've got to protect it.
by Phyllis Bennis
Negotiators in Lausanne, Switzerland just won a huge victory for diplomacy over war.
The hard-fought first-stage negotiations resulted in the outlines of an agreement that will significantly limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for significant relief from crippling economic sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations.
Both sides made major concessions, though it appears Iran’s are far greater.
Tehran accepted that U.S. and EU sanctions will not be lifted until after the UN’s watchdog agency verifies that Iran has fully implemented its new nuclear obligations — which could be years down the line. It agreed to severe cuts in its nuclear infrastructure, including the reduction of its current 19,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium to just over 6,000.
Tehran also consented to rebuild its heavy water reactor at Arak so that it will have no reprocessing capacity and thus cannot produce plutonium. Its spent fuel will be exported. The Fordow nuclear plant, moreover, will be turned into a technology research center without fissile material. And crucially, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency will be allowed to conduct unannounced inspections.
In return, the United States and its partners — the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China — agreed that the UN resolution imposing international sanctions on Iran would be replaced by a new resolution that would end those sanctions but maintain some restrictions.
The framework didn’t specify whether the new resolution would be enforceable by military force, but it did reject an earlier demand by the United States and some of the Europeans for a “snap-back” trigger that would automatically re-impose sanctions if they claimed Iran wasn’t keeping its part of the bargain. Without that, a new Security Council decision — one subject to potential vetoes by at least Russia or China — will have to be voted on.
Additionally, while it didn’t explicitly reaffirm Iran’s explicit rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue “nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination,” the agreement did acknowledge Iran’s “peaceful nuclear program” and sought to limit, not to end, Iran’s enrichment capacity.
Most importantly for skeptics of the talks, there’s no question that the broad parameters announced in Lausanne would qualitatively prevent any future Iranian decision — which all U.S. intelligence agencies still agree Iran hasn’t ever made — to try to build a nuclear bomb.
The restrictions impose a year-long “break-out” period, meaning it would take at least that long for Iran to even theoretically enrich enough uranium to build a bomb. And, as my colleague Stephen Myles at Win Without War reminds us, “The Iranians would still have to, ya know, build a bomb, figure out a way to hide it all from the inspectors all over their country, and convince the international community to sit idly by without responding while they broke the terms of a deal for one whole year.”
Reshaping the Middle East
Hardliners in both the United States and Iran opposed the agreement, but so far it appears that the pro-war faction in the U.S. Congress (mainly though not only Republicans) poses a far greater threat to the survival of the accord than the hawkish factions in Iran — especially since Ayatollah Ali Khameini, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has continued to support the nuclear negotiators.
For some of the U.S. opponents, the issue is purely partisan. They want President Obama to fail, and they’ll oppose anything he supports.
For many others, military intervention and regime change remain the first choice towards Iran — Senator John McCain already urged Israel to “go rogue” and attack Iran. Republicans in the Senate, following their 47-strong letter to Iran threatening to undermine any agreement signed by Obama, continue to lead efforts to impose new sanctions and to demand a congressional vote to accept or reject the agreement.
But the global potential for this agreement is far more important than the partisan posturing of right-wing militarists and neoconservative ideologues. If it holds — and if the final agreement, with all its technical annexes, can be completed as scheduled in three months — Lausanne can set the stage for an entirely new set of diplomatic relationships and alliances in the Middle East.
Indeed, the region could be significantly transformed by an end to the decades of U.S.-Iran hostility. With Washington and Tehran maintaining normal if not chummy diplomatic relations, joint efforts to end the fighting in Iraq, stop the catastrophic escalation underway in Yemen, and create a real international diplomatic campaign to end the Syrian civil war all become possible. A U.S. diplomatic posture that recognizes Iran as a major regional power would make a whole set of current challenges much easier to resolve.
Regardless of whether that kind of grand bargain in the Middle East becomes possible, the current diplomatic initiative must be defended.
Efforts to undermine the Lausanne agreement are already underway.
Senate Republicans are hoping to win over enough Democrats to override Obama’s certain veto of a bill that would let Congress vote to reject the agreement. Fortunately, Democratic opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s blatant campaign to undermine the Iran negotiations has made that Republican effort more difficult. Defense of President Obama’s diplomacy by the Black Caucus and Progressive Caucus of Congress has pulled more Democrats away from the anti-negotiations, pro-war position.
But at the end of the day it will be public opinion that matters. A Washington Post poll in the last days before the agreement found 59-percent support for a negotiated settlement — with 70 percent of liberals, two-thirds of Democrats, and at least 60 percent of independents and self-described “moderates” all supporting a deal. Even Republicans — divided more or less evenly — are far more supportive than their party’s war-boostering representatives in Congress.
What’s required now is mobilizing that public support. That means strengthening the backbone of uncertain or wavering members of Congress, challenging extremist anti-diplomacy positions in the media, and most of all reminding everyone of the consequences of failure.
In Lausanne we saw a crucial victory of diplomacy over war. Now we’ve got to protect it.
Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer, Understanding the U.S.-Iran Crisis: A Primer, Ending the Iraq War: A Primer, and most recently Ending the Us War in Afghanistan: A Primer.
If you want to receive her talking points and articles on a regular basis, click here and choose "New Internationalism." You can find her on Facebook
A Good Deal, a Long Time Coming
by Scott Ritter
The deal recently concluded between Iran and the so-called "P-5 plus 1" nations (the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) is designed to prevent Iran from being able to rapidly acquire fissile material in quantities suitable for use in a nuclear weapon. According to President Obama, the agreement is a "good deal" that "shuts down Iran's path to a bomb." The devil is in the details, of course, which won't be finalized until June 30, but at first blush the deal emerging out of Switzerland accomplishes that which it was intended to. Critics maintain that Iran will be able to readily defeat restrictions imposed by the deal in order to realize its nuclear aspirations. The key to any agreement will lie in the verification measures implemented to ensure compliance. But the fact remains that the technical framework put in place by this deal severely constrains Iran's ability to enrich uranium which, while falling short of an outright ban on enrichment (something Iran would never agree to), more than meets the goals and objectives set by the United States and the other nations involved in the negotiations.
The main worry among those fixated on Iran's nuclear program is the so-called "breakout" time needed by Iran to convert a permitted "peaceful" nuclear enrichment program into one capable of producing sufficient fissile material for use in a nuclear weapon. According to Iran's critics, the 19,000 centrifuges operated by Iran today give Tehran a "breakout" window of 2-3 months. Under the terms of the deal just recently finalized, Iran would reduce its holdings of operational centrifuges to 6,104, of which only 5,060 could be used for enrichment (the remaining would be used for research and development purposes.) The remaining 12,000-plus centrifuges would be placed in storage monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), charged with overseeing Iran's nuclear programs, and used as replacements as needed. More importantly, Iran will be limited to using first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, which are inefficient in terms of their enrichment capability, further retarding any potential Iranian nuclear "breakout" scenario. Likewise, the amount of low enriched uranium Iran would be able to keep on hand has been capped at 300 kilograms, a meaningless figure when it comes to producing fissile material for a bomb.
Restricting Iran to the IR-1 centrifuge is a major concession on the part of Iran, and goes far in making this a viable deal when it comes to any "breakout" scenario. Determining the enrichment level achieved in a given centrifuge operation involves a process which combines the amount material being fed into the centrifuge, the amount of energy used to separate the usable U235 isotope from the U238 isotope found in natural uranium. This energy is calculated in terms of separative work units, or SWU's. The IR-1 centrifuge operates at around .7 SWU (the more advanced designs operated by Iran which are prohibited by the deal operate at between 3-6 SWU's.) This means that the Iranians must insert an even greater amount of natural uranium feed in order to achieve their intended level of enrichment, which in the case of Iran's declared nuclear energy requirements, is a level of 3.7%, the amount allowed by the new deal. The inefficiency of the IR-1 centrifuge, combined with the limits on the number of centrifuges Iran will be able to operate, all but guarantee Iran will not be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for use in a nuclear weapon.
The key to verifying the nuclear deal lies in the implementation of the so-called "Additional Protocol" governing enhanced safeguards inspections and the "Modified Code 3.1" governing declarations of nuclear activity required by Iran. As part of the deal, Iran has agreed to ratify and implement both of these measures, as well as other verification enhancements, such as monitoring of its centrifuge production and uranium mining and processing, that fall outside the scope of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, or NPT, which governs the peaceful use of nuclear energy. In exchange for adhering to these stringent verification measures, Iran's nuclear program will be treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapons state party to the NPT.
This has been the goal of Iran since December 2003, when it signed a similarly negotiated deal -- the "Tehran Declaration" -- with the EU-3 (France, Germany and Great Britain.) The "Tehran Declaration" certified Iran's right under Article IV of the NPT to pursue the enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes. In exchange, Iran agreed to voluntarily suspend its enrichment activities while the IAEA conducted enhanced inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities for the purpose of establishing a "baseline" of declared nuclear activity, after which Iran would resume its enrichment activities under full IAEA safeguards inclusive of an "Additional Protocol" and "Modified Code 3.1" -- the very monitoring and verification conditions at the heart of the current negotiated deal.
Despite Iran's adherence to the terms of the "Tehran Declaration" and the IAEA's subsequent acknowledgement that it was able to monitor and account for the totality of Iran's declared nuclear material and activity, the order to lift Iran's voluntary suspension of enrichment activity never came. Instead, building upon documents obtained from a laptop computer of questionable providence, the United States created the specter of an undeclared Iranian nuclear weapons program, and parlayed this phantom menace into a decision by the IAEA to renege on the "Tehran Declaration" and instead declare Iran's temporary voluntary suspension of its enrichment activity to be permanent.
Iran withdrew from the "Tehran Declaration," citing the failure of the IAEA to live up to its commitment to lift the suspension of enrichment once an acceptable safeguards inspection regime was in place. Iran declared that its compliance with the suspension of enrichment was voluntary, inextricably linked to a larger framework agreement represented by the "Tehran Declaration." The IAEA's decision to permanently suspend Iran's enrichment activity, in Iran's view, violated the "Tehran Declaration." Iran then resumed its enrichment operations under the original safeguards regime. The IAEA has since insisted that Iran's signing of the "Additional Protocol" in December 2003 was legally binding, Iranian sovereignty and constitutional due process notwithstanding.
This disagreement, spurred on by allegations of an undeclared Iranian nuclear weapons program made by the United States, led to a cycle of diplomatic reproaches that ultimately saw the Iranian nuclear file passed from the IAEA to the United Nations Security Council. A series of stringent economic sanctions were imposed on Iran in an attempt to compel Iran to cease its enrichment activity. Iran has consistently refused to buckle under this pressure, and instead insisted on its right to enrich uranium under Article IV of the NPT. It is also important to point out that it was not Iran, but rather the EU-3 (duly prompted by the United States) that violated the "Tehran Declaration." The current nuclear negotiations not only bring Iran back to the status that existed at the time of the "Tehran Declaration's" brief period of implementation, but go beyond by monitoring Iran's centrifuge production and its entire uranium fuel cycle, from mining to reprocessing.
The nuclear deal as negotiated is a far cry from the kind of irresponsible capitulation critics of the negotiations charge. The high-profile criticism coming from Israel and Congressional Republicans channel the most extreme examples of the last weapons of mass destruction (WMD) witch-hunt -- involving Iraq -- which culminated in a war that killed thousands, cost trillions, and destabilized and further radicalized a region of the world essential to international prosperity. Armed with the knowledge that the case against Iraq's WMD was, at best illusory and, at worst, a complete fabrication, Americans should be hesitant about accepting at face value claims of Iranian nuclear malfeasance that are unsustained by fact and are at odds with history. History does matter, both in terms of how we got to where we are, and in predicting where we are going. When it comes to Iran and its nuclear program, the world would do well to take a different path than that chosen for Iraq, and let inspections, not bombs, do the work of disarmament.
Scott Ritter was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991 and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of numerous books, including Iraq Confidential (Nation Books, 2005), Target Iran (Nation Books, 2006) and Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement (Nation Books, April 2007).
For Better US-Iran Relations, the Iranian People Are the Key
by Trita Parsi
American neoconservatives, Israeli hawks, and Arab dictators alike are haunted by the same nightmare: After a nuclear deal, the US and Iran will gravitate toward an unspoken alliance, after which the US will betray its security commitments to historical allies in the Middle East.
No such thing will happen. The US and Iran have many common interests in the region, and while there is a desire for increased collaboration, neither side is ready for an alliance, unspoken or otherwise.
The Iranians prefer to maintain their role as the world’s chief critics of US policy. Open alliance with Washington would be to Tehran’s disadvantage, the regime believes. On the US side, antipathy toward Iran runs deep within the federal government and legislative bodies, and political resistance to anything resembling formal partnership with a clerical regime in Tehran would be overwhelming.
But Iran is more than just a government. At some point, Washington needs to look past the Islamic Republic’s current political system, an toward its vibrant society. Indeed, beyond the politics of the two governments, all the ingredients for strong cooperation are present.
If America’s interest lies in a stable Middle East that rejects radicalism and chooses the path of moderation and integration with the rest of the global system, then America needs to look not towards governments, but societies in the region that have exhibited such maturity. In spite of the government of Iran, there are few societies in the Middle East as as promising as Iran.
Most of America’s traditional allies in the Middle East are governed by regimes that are autocratic yet more modern and progressive—in relative terms—than the societies they rule. This has been America’s dilemma in the Middle East. Were it to genuinely push for greater representation and democracy amongst its allies, the result would likely be the election of more radical politicians, and the pursuit of policies more incompatible with American values and interests.
Undoubtedly, the Arab dictators are not innocent in these matters. They have deliberately undermined moderate oppositional movements in order to portray themselves as the West’s only option against a radical Islamic takeover. The Arab Spring showed that they had largely succeeded in weakening all but the extreme organized movements in their societies.
In Iran, the situation is quite the opposite. While the government, over the last 35 years, has espoused various degrees of radicalism, the Iranian society is overwhelmingly moderate, educated and forward-looking; despite the existence of a small but highly vocal element of religious radicals.
Consider the following: According to UNICEF, adult literacy rates in Iran are one of the highest in the region, hovering around 85%. For the younger demographic, 15 to 24-years-old, literacy rates are near universal for both men and women. Primary school enrollment is at 99.9%.
What’s more, Iran boasts a largely urban population, with 69% living in cities, and with a cell phone penetration rate of an estimated 125%.
While women continue to face many unjust restrictions, one-third of doctors, 60% of civil servants, 60% of university students, and 80% of teachers in Iran are women. By contrast, in Saudi Arabia—the US’s longtime regional ally—the current debate is whether women should be permitted to drive cars.
Iran is certainly not a bastion of religious freedom, but it has a society with a long history of religious coexistence between Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Zoroastrians. Despite venomous relations between Iran and Israel in the past three decades, Iran remains the home of the second-largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel itself, after Turkey.
In Tehran alone, there are 12 active synagogues. Around another 50 active synagogues can be found in the rest of Iran. In fact, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Iran is one of the least anti-Semitic, majority-Muslim countries in the world.
Compare that to Saudia Arabia. More than 30% of the population there are expatriates of various faiths. Yet, according to the CIA, “most forms of public religious expression inconsistent with the government-sanctioned interpretation of Sunni Islam are restricted; non-Muslims are not allowed to have Saudi citizenship, and non-Muslim places of worship are not permitted.”
Most notably, what sets Iran apart is the decisive role its society has played in its political evolution. Iran is not a liberal democracy, but it is an electoral state. The major shifts in Iran’s internal and external direction in the past 20 years have been a direct result of its presidential elections. From the opening to the West under reformist president Mohammad Khatami, to the confrontational direction of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his strengthening of the police state, to the moderate and pro-diplomacy course under current president Hassan Rouhani—all have reflected the ideals, to some extent, of the Iranian electorate.
It is a resilient electorate, too. Even when the Iranian people were beat down, as they were during 2009’s election--widely believed to have been fraudulent—they bounced back. They patiently resisted, and four years later, they went back to the ballot boxes—despite a deeply flawed voting system—and used their votes to change the course of the country, electing moderate Rouhani. Their participation in the elections was not an endorsement or legitimization of the regime; it was a concentrated effort to change the system from within.
Iranian society has grown up since the 1979 revolution. It has learned its lessons. Violent change rarely leads to the democracy people desire. Gradual, controllable reform—however slow and painful—simply has a far greater chance of true success. The populations who experienced the Arab Spring may be reaching similar conclusions now.
One of the biggest mistakes outside analysts have committed is to discount the power and maturity of Iranian society. That is why so many were taken by surprise by Rouhani’s election in 2013. Or why they thought that the pressure of sanctions would lead to mass demonstrations in Iran. Closer familiarity with Iranian society would have protected against such misjudgments.
Iran has changed dramatically over the course of the past three decades. Those changes have primarily been driven by pressures coming from inside, not abroad. It is these internal pressures from the Iranian people that is causing a convergence of values and interests between the United States and Iran. Once a nuclear deal has been struck, Iranian society is likely to be even bolder in its campaigns for change.
This is not an argument for the United States to drop its alliance with Saudi Arabia, or other governments in the region. It is simply a reminder that Iranian society need not be permanently, definitively opposed to American interests. Reduction of tensions and increased bilateral understanding between Washington and Tehran will lay the groundwork for the truest of all objectives: lasting peace.
Trita Parsi is founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East. He is author of A Single Roll of the Dice - Obama's Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press, 2012) and Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States.
Muslim world adversaries include “doctrinaire” Salafi-jihadists; “religious nationalist organisations” like “Hezbollah and Hamas that participate in the political process” but are also “willing to use violence”; secular groups “such as communists, Arab nationalists, or Baathists”; and “nonviolent organisations” because their members might later join “more radical organisations”.
The report suggests that the US Army sees all Muslim political groups in the region that challenge the prevailing geopolitical order as “adversaries” to be countered and weakened.
Among the strategies explored by the US Army-sponsored report is “Divide and Rule,” which calls for “exploiting fault lines between the various SJ [Salafi-jihadist] groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts,” for instance between “local SJ groups” focused on “overthrowing their national government” and transnational jihadists like al-Qaeda.
This appears to be the strategy in Libya and Syria, where local insurgents, despite affiliations with al-Qaeda, received covert US aid to overthrow Gaddafi and Assad.
The RAND report recommendeds that the US and its local allies “could use the nationalist jihadists to launch proxy IO [information operation] campaigns to discredit the transnational jihadists… the United States and the host nation could even help the nationalist jihadists execute a military campaign to stamp out al-Qaeda elements that are present locally.”
US support for such “nationalist jihadists” would, however, need to be packaged appropriately for public consumption. “Because of the nature of the nationalist terrorist groups, any assistance would be mainly covert and would imply advanced IO capabilities.”
This illustrates the confusion in US defence circles about the complex relationship between transnational and national jihadists. According to Dr. Akil Awan, an expert in jihadist groups at Royal Holloway, University of London, before 9/11 the concerns of national jihadist groups were “often very local and parochial”. This changed after 9/11, as al-Qaeda’s “brand value became irresistible to many local groups, who then pledged allegiance to bin Laden in savvy PR campaigns”.
“Funding national jihadist groups is not a particularly bright idea,” said Dr. Awan. “Yes it might undermine support for global jihadist groups like al-Qaeda, but whoever proposed it has a very poor memory in terms of recent US foreign policy by proxy warfare and the inevitable blowback effect - case in point: Afghanistan. Supporting violent groups for your own foreign policy objectives is also incredibly damaging to local democratic or peaceful voices, and other civil society actors.”
The US Army-backed report did show awareness of this risk of “blowback,” noting that the “divide and rule” strategy “may inadvertently empower future adversaries in the pursuit of immediate gains”.
Capitalising on sectarianismAccording to Dr. Christopher Davidson of Durham University, author of After the Sheikhs: the Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies, the current crisis in Yemen is being “egged on” by the US, and could be part of a wider covert strategy to “spur fragmentation in Iran allies and allow Israel to be surrounded by weak states”.
He suggests that the Yemen war serves US interests in three overlapping ways. It tests whether or not Iran will “ramp up support for Houthis”. If not, then Iran’s potential role “as a reliable, not expansionist regional policeman (much like the Shah) will seem confirmed to the US.”
The war could also weaken Saudi Arabia. Pushing the House of Saud into a “full-on hot war,” said Dr. Davidson, would be “great for the arms industry, [and] gives the US much needed leverage over increasingly problematic Riyadh… If the regime in Saudi Arabia’s time is up, as many in the US seem to privately believe, in the post $100 a barrel era, this seems a useful way of running an ally into the ground quite quickly”.
The Yemen conflict also “diverts global attention from IS [Islamic State] in Levant and the increasingly obvious uselessness or unwillingness of the US-led coalition to act against it”.
Davidson points out that there is precedent for this: “There have been repeated references in the Reagan era to the usefulness of sectarian conflict in the region to US interests.”
One post-Reagan reiteration of this vision was published by the Jerusalem-based Institute for Strategic and Political Advanced Studies for Benjamin Netanyahu. The 1996 paper, A Clean Break, by Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and Richard Perle – all of whom went on to join the Bush administration – advocated regime-change in Iraq as a precursor to forging an Israel-Jordan-Turkey axis that would “roll back” Syria, Lebanon and Iran. The scenario is surprisingly similar to US policy today under Obama.
Twelve years later, the US Army commissioned a further RAND report suggesting that the US “could choose to capitalise on the Shia-Sunni conflict by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes in a decisive fashion and working with them against all Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world… to split the jihadist movement between Shiites and Sunnis.” The US would need to contain “Iranian power and influence” in the Gulf by “shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan”. Simultaneously, the US must maintain “a strong strategic relationship with the Iraqi Shiite government” despite its Iran alliance.
Around the same time as this RAND report was released, the US was covertly coordinating Saudi-led Gulf state financing to Sunni jihadist groups, many affiliated to al-Qaeda, from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon. That secret strategy accelerated under Obama in the context of the anti-Assad drive.
The widening Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict would “reduce the al-Qaeda threat to US interests in the short term,” the report concluded, by diverting Salafi-jihadist resources toward “targeting Iranian interests throughout the Middle East,” especially in Iraq and Lebanon, hence “cutting back… anti-Western operations”.
By backing the Iraqi Shiite regime and seeking an accommodation with Iran; while propping up al-Qaeda sponsoring Gulf states and empowering local anti-Shia Islamists across the region - this covert US strategy would calibrate levels of violence to debilitate both sides, and sustain “Western dominance”.
The Pentagon’s neocon fifth columnThe concept of “the long war” was first formulated years earlier by a little-known Pentagon think-tank known as the Highlands Forum. The Forum regularly brings together senior Pentagon officials with leaders across the political, corporate, business and media sectors in secret meetings.
Formally founded under the authority of Bill Clinton’s then defence secretary William J. Perry, the Pentagon Highlands Forum was established to coordinate interagency policy on information operations. Originally run through the Office of the Secretary of Defence, the Forum now reports to the Office of the Undersecretary of Defence for Intelligence, the Defence Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA), the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), among other agencies.
The Highlands Forum also works closely with the Pentagon federal advisory committee, the Defence Policy Board, of which arch-neocon Richard Perle (co-author of the “Clean Break” strategy) was a member from 1987 to 2004.
Under the Obama administration, Defence Policy Board members have included leading neocon statesman, such as William Perry and Henry Kissinger.
RAND Corp. in particular is a longstanding Forum partner.
Despite its bipartisan pretensions, the Pentagon Highlands Forum is an overwhelmingly neoconservative network. Its acolytes, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, Deputy Defence Secretary Robert Work, and DoD intelligence chief Mike Vickers, hold the reigns of Obama’s military strategies.
Today, they are busily executing the US Army’s “divide and rule” strategy to forcibly reconfigure the Middle East by proxy sectarian violence. How much of the chaos is “blowback,” and how much of it is intended, is difficult to determine.
In any case, the latest casualty of this doomed strategy is Yemen.
Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is a bestselling author, award-winning investigative journalist, and noted international security scholar, as well as a policy expert, film maker, strategy and communications consultant, and change activist. His debut science fiction thriller novel, ZERO POINT, was released in August 2014. His previous non-fiction book was A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), which inspired the award-winning documentary feature film, The Crisis of Civilization (2011).