Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, October 2012
On US Dealing With Iran
By David Morrison
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, October 8, 2012
US antagonism towards Iran does NOT stem from a conviction that Iran is developing nuclear weapons or may do so in future.
Anybody who believes that should read President George Bush’s memoir Decision Points, which was published in November 2010, two years after he left office.
To be specific, they should read his account of how he reacted when the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities landed on his desk in November 2007. This concluded that Iran hadn’t got an active nuclear weapons programme – which was a very awkward conclusion for him, so awkward that it made him “angry”.
NIEs are formal assessments on specific national security issues, expressing the consensus view of the 16 US intelligence agencies, which are signed off by the Director of National Intelligence. NIEs are typically requested by senior civilian and military policymakers or by Congressional leaders.
This one was requested by Congress. Key judgments of it were made public and they stated, inter alia:
“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program … We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007 …” 
The reaction of President Bush to this extraordinarily good news is instructive. One might have thought that a President, who was ostensibly dedicated to preventing Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, would have been very pleased to receive intelligence that Iran hadn’t got an active nuclear weapons programme.
But instead he was “angry” – because it cut the ground from under his efforts to gain and maintain international support for what he termed “dealing with Iran”, which clearly went beyond ensuring that it did not possess nuclear weapons. In January 2008, he took a trip to the Middle East, where according to his memoir he “tried to reassure leaders that we remained committed to dealing with Iran”.
Crucially, the NIE made it impossible for him to take military action against Iran:
“The NIE didn’t just undermine diplomacy. It also tied my hands on the military side. There were many reasons I was concerned about undertaking a military strike on Iran, including its uncertain effectiveness and the serious problems it would create for Iraq’s fragile young democracy. 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?”
“I don’t know why the NIE was written the way it was. I wondered if the intelligence community was trying so hard to avoid repeating its mistake on Iraq, that it had underestimated the threat from Iran. I certainly hoped that intelligence analysts weren’t trying to influence policy. Whatever the explanation, the NIE had a big impact – and not a good one.”
(The full text of the President’s comments on the NIE can be read at ).
Iran has not made a decision, says Clapper
So, it was the judgement of the US intelligence community in 2007 that at that time Iran wasn’t actively trying to build nuclear weapons. At the time of writing (September 2012), that is still the judgement of the US intelligence community – successive annual reports to Congress by the Director of the National Intelligence Agency on threats to the US have restated the judgement that Iran hasn’t got an active nuclear weapons programme.
On 16 February 2012, the present Director, James Clapper, reported as follows to the Senate Armed Services Committee:
“We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons … . We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.” 
That was in the Director’s prepared statement. During the taking of oral evidence, the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Carl Levin, asked:
“Director Clapper, I understand then that what you have said … is that they have, that Iran has not yet decided to develop nuclear weapons. Is that correct? Is that still your assessment?” 
The Director replied unequivocally:
“That is the intelligence community’s assessment …”
Iran has not made a decision, says Panetta
On the same day, 16 February 2012, US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, gave the same assessment to another Congressional committee, saying that Iran has not made a decision on whether to proceed with development of an atomic bomb. See Washington Post report headed Panetta says Iran enriching uranium but no decision yet on proceeding with a nuclear weapon .
A month earlier, on 8 January 2012, Panetta was asked about Iran’s nuclear programme on Face the Nation on CBS. He replied:
“Are they [the Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.” 
Israeli intelligence “largely agree”, says Clapper and Burgess
Do the Israeli intelligence services disagree with this assessment? Not significantly, judging by other oral evidence given to the Committee by Director Clapper and by General Ronald Burgess, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who also appeared before the Committee.
Asked by Senator Richard Blumenthal
“whether there are differences from our threat assessments of Iran’s nuclear capability and the potential response to Israeli intervention there and the Israelis’ intelligence assessments?” 
“If your question is: do we and the Israelis largely agree then the answer’s yes”.
Senator Blumenthal asked General Burgess if he agreed. The General’s reply was as follows:
“Sir, I do. And we’ve been in these discussions for many years. I personally have been involved in them in both my previous life and in this life and generally speaking our assessments track with one another, they comport.”
This was confirmed by the Israeli Chief of Staff, General Benny Gantz, in an interview with Haaretz on 25 April 2012 , who expressed the view that Iran hadn’t decided to develop nuclear weapons and probably wouldn’t decide to do so. The Haaretz report of the interview was headed IDF chief to Haaretz: I do not believe Iran will decide to develop nuclear weapons.
A Reuters Special Report, dated 23 March 2012, entitled Intel shows Iran nuclear threat not imminent , came to the following conclusions:
“The United States, European allies and even Israel generally agree on three things about Iran's nuclear program: Tehran does not have a bomb, has not decided to build one, and is probably years away from having a deliverable nuclear warhead.”
No diversion of nuclear material, says IAEA
Unlike Israel, Iran has signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) . As a “non-nuclear-weapon” state party to the Treaty, Iran is obliged under Article II “not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons” – which it hasn’t done – and, under Article III, to subject its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection to ensure that nuclear material is not diverted for the production of weapons – which it has done.
As regards the latter, Iran has declared to the IAEA 15 nuclear facilities, including its uranium enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow, and 9 other locations (LOFs) where nuclear material is customarily used. All these sites are being monitored by the IAEA. In his latest report to the IAEA Board on 30 August 2012 , the IAEA Director General confirmed for the umpteenth time that there was no diversion of nuclear material from these facilities:
“… the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared material at these facilities and LOFs.” (Paragraph 9)
The IAEA has never found any evidence of a nuclear weapons programme in Iran.
US antagonism towards Iran
US antagonism towards Iran does not stem from a conviction that Iran is developing nuclear weapons or may do so in future. It is about the US determination to prevent Iran becoming a major power in the Middle East in opposition to the US. A change in regime to one that is prepared to do US bidding would be ideal, but that is probably outside the realms of possibility.
For now, the name of the game is to keep the pressure on Iran by ferocious economic sanctions and other means, leaving open the option of military action, justified as a measure to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons.
To construct and maintain a coalition for this purpose, Iran has been portrayed as a dangerously aggressive state, despite the fact it hasn’t started a war in the past 200 years, has no nuclear weapons and has only modest conventional military capacity.
Iran spends perhaps $10 billion on arms annually; the US spends $700 billion, about 40% of the total world expenditure on arms . According to a Washington Post article of 4 June 2010 , at that time the US had special forces deployed in 75 countries and in August 2011 the Pentagon said that this number was likely to go up to 120, that is, 60% of the states in this world . Iran has no special forces deployed outside its territory.
Iran open to unconditional talks
As we will see, for a decade or more, Iran has been open to unconditional talks with the US to normalise relations between them. The specific issue of Iran’s nuclear activities could have been resolved in 2005 when Iran offered to provide unprecedented guarantees that its nuclear activities had no military purpose – the US refusal to countenance Iran having any uranium enrichment at all on its own soil prevented the issue being resolved.
Since the Islamic revolution in 1979 and the seizure of US embassy staff in Tehran, the US has had no diplomatic relations with it and has applied rigorous economic sanctions against it. The US did sell Iran military equipment in 1985, in exchange for Iran’s help in freeing American hostages in Lebanon (and the funds so generated were used to supply the right-wing Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua with arms, contrary to US law).
In the late 90s, at the end of the Clinton administration, there was a degree of diplomatic contact between them about Afghanistan through the UN-sponsored Six Plus Two group – the six states bordering Afghanistan, one of which is Iran, plus the US and Russia. In September 2010, US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, met the Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharazi, in this forum .
Contact continued in the early Bush years. A series of secret meetings took place at the UN in New York beginning in early 2001. The US representative at these meetings was Hillary Mann, who eventually resigned from US government service over US policy on Iran, having served from 2001 to 2003 on the US National Security Council as an adviser on Iran to Condoleezza Rice.
In an interview with Esquire magazine in October 2007 , she recalled how at one of these meetings her Iranian counterpart offered “unconditional talks” with the US, which the US had been demanding for official diplomatic contact between the US and Iran. The Bush administration didn’t take it up.
In the wake of 9/11 and the US invasion of Afghanistan, Iran co-operated extensively with the US. Mann was the lead person for the US in facilitating this co-operation. Here’s an account from the Esquire article on the extent of the co-operation:
“A few weeks later, after signing on to Condoleezza Rice's staff as the new Iran expert in the National Security Council, Mann flew to Europe with Ryan Crocker -- then a deputy assistant secretary of state -- to hold talks with a team of Iranian diplomats. Meeting in a light-filled conference room at the old UN building in Geneva, they hammered out plans for Iranian help in the war against the Taliban. The Iranians agreed to provide assistance if any American was shot down near their territory, agreed to let the U.S. send food in through their border, and even agreed to restrain some ‘really bad Afghanis’, like a rabidly anti-American warlord named Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, quietly putting him under house arrest in Tehran. These were significant concessions. At the same time, special envoy James Dobbins was having very public and warm discussions in Bonn with the Iranian deputy foreign minister as they worked together to set up a new government for Afghanistan. And the Iranians seemed eager to help in more tactical ways as well. They had intimate knowledge of Taliban strategic capabilities and they wanted to share it with the Americans.
“One day during the U.S. bombing campaign, Mann and her Iranian counterparts were sitting around the wooden conference table speculating about the future Afghani constitution. Suddenly the Iranian who knew so much about intelligence matters started pounding on the table. "Enough of that!" he shouted, unfurling a map of Afghanistan. Here was a place the Americans needed to bomb. And here, and here, he angrily jabbed his finger at the map.”
This was in late 2001. Then, out of the blue, in his State of the Union address in January 2002, President Bush linked Iran to Iraq and North Korea with the famous line:
"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world." 
This was an extraordinary remark for a US president given that Iran had been co-operating with the US over Afghanistan. Despite this, after an initial break, diplomatic contacts continued for over a year.
Mann returned to the State Department in early 2003. In early May, just after President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, a fax from the Swiss ambassador to Iran, Tim Guldimann, arrived on her desk. This wasn't unusual, since the Swiss ambassador represented American interests in Iran and often faxed over updates on what he was doing. A photocopy of the original fax can be found on the Washington Post website .
The Esquire account continues:
“This time he'd met with Sa-deq Kharrazi, a well-connected Iranian who was the nephew of the foreign minister and son-in-law to the supreme leader. Amazingly, Kharrazi had presented the ambassador with a detailed proposal for peace in the Middle East, approved at the highest levels in Tehran.
“A two-page summary was attached. Scanning it, Mann was startled by one dramatic concession after another – ‘decisive action’ against all terrorists in Iran, an end of support for Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, a promise to cease its nuclear program, and also an agreement to recognize Israel.”
This was an extraordinary offer. But the White House ignored it. Its only response was to lodge a formal complaint with the Swiss government about their ambassador's meddling.
Had the US wished to settle its differences with Iran in the early Bush years, there is little doubt that it could have done so. But it is clear that the Bush administration had other ideas for “dealing with Iran”.
(Hillary Mann and Flynt Leverett, who also served on US National Security Council around the same period and also resigned, contribute to the website Race for Iran , which provides interesting information and analysis about Iran and the Middle East in general today).
European negotiations with Iran (2003-5)
In 2002, the fact that Iran was constructing a uranium enrichment plant at Natanz became public knowledge. Under the terms of Iran's safeguards agreement with the IAEA, Iran was under no obligation to report the plant’s existence to the IAEA until 6 months before it planned to introduce nuclear material into it.
In October 2003, Iran agreed to begin discussions on a broad range of issues, including its nuclear programme, with the UK, France and Germany. In a statement issued along with Iran after the initial meeting, the three EU states said:
“Their governments recognise the right of Iran to enjoy peaceful use of nuclear energy in accordance with the NPT.” 
This was a clear statement that these EU states accepted that Iran had a right to uranium enrichment on its own soil like other parties to the NPT.
Article IV(1) of the NPT states:
“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.” 
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Netherlands and South Korea, which like Iran are “non-nuclear-weapon” state parties to the NPT, possess uranium enrichment facilities .
This clear statement of Iran’s right to uranium enrichment was repeated in the later Paris Agreement signed by Iran and the three EU states (aka E3/EU) on 15 November 2004 . This said:
“The E3/EU recognise Iran's rights under the NPT exercised in conformity with its obligations under the Treaty, without discrimination.”
The Paris Agreement set the scene for negotiations between the E3/EU and Iran, which were supposed to lead to a long term comprehensive agreement.
In the Paris Agreement, Iran agreed “on a voluntary basis” to suspend “all enrichment related and reprocessing activities”. In turn, the E3/EU recognized that “this suspension is a voluntary confidence building measure and not a legal obligation”.
The final agreement was supposed to “provide objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes”, that is, arrangements over and above the requirements of the NPT for monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities in order to give confidence to the outside world that they are not for military purposes.
The UK, France and Germany published proposals for a final agreement on 5 August 2005 . These demanded that Iran make “a binding commitment not to pursue fuel cycle activities other than the construction and operation of light water power and research reactors”, in other words, all enrichment and related activities on Iranian soil had to cease for good. Iran was required to make permanent its voluntary suspension of these activities.
The UK, France and Germany had negotiated in bad faith and broken their commitment at the outset to “recognise the right of Iran to enjoy peaceful use of nuclear energy in accordance with the NPT”. Iran was to be the only party to the NPT that was forbidden to have uranium enrichment on its own soil.
The EU states made no attempt to devise “objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes”, as required by the Paris Agreement. In the course of the negotiations, Iran made a number of proposals in this regard , for example,
immediate conversion of all enriched uranium to fuel rods to preclude the possibility of further enrichment
continuous on-site presence of IAEA inspectors at the conversion and enrichment facilities to provide unprecedented added guarantees.
Iran also suggested that the IAEA be asked to devise appropriate “objective guarantees”. All of these suggestions were ignored by the EU states.
In a speech at the UN on 17 September 2005, President Ahmadinejad made a further proposal:
“As a further confidence building measure and in order to provide the greatest degree of transparency, the Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to engage in serious partnership with private and public sectors of other countries in the implementation of uranium enrichment program in Iran. This represents the most far reaching step, outside all requirements of the NPT, being proposed by Iran as a further confidence building measure.” 
This offer by Iran to have its enrichment programme managed by an international consortium was also ignored. US Under Secretary of State, Nicholas Burns, went so far as to describe Ahmadinejad’s speech as “excessively harsh and uncompromising” .
The EU states (and the US) were not interested in “objective guarantees that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes”. Their goal was to halt permanently the core elements of the programme – uranium enrichment and related activities.
Enrichment must be halted permanently, says US
That this was the goal of the US and its allies in 2005 was confirmed earlier this year by Peter Jenkins, who was the UK Ambassador to the IAEA from 2001 and 2006 and was involved in these negotiations. Looking back, he regrets that Iran’s offer of additional safeguards was not taken up. Writing in the Daily Telegraph on 23 January 2012, he said:
“My hunch is that this gathering crisis could be avoided by a deal along the following lines: Iran would accept top-notch IAEA safeguards in return for being allowed to continue enriching uranium. In addition, Iran would volunteer some confidence-building measures to show that it has no intention of making nuclear weapons.
“This, essentially, is the deal that Iran offered the UK, France and Germany in 2005. With hindsight, that offer should have been snapped up. It wasn’t, because our objective was to put a stop to all enrichment in Iran. That has remained the West’s aim ever since, despite countless Iranian reminders that they are unwilling to be treated as a second-class party to the NPT – with fewer rights than other signatories – and despite all the evidence that the Iranian character is more inclined to defiance than buckling under pressure.
“But that missed opportunity need not prove lethal if the West can pull back now and join the rest of the world in seeing an agreement of this kind as the prudent way forward.” 
(A comprehensive account of these negotiations is given by Seyed Hossein Mousavian, who had led Iran’s nuclear negotiating team in 2004-5, in his recently published book The Iranian Nuclear Crisis. See also Gareth Porter’s article US Rejected 2005 Iranian Offer Ensuring No Nuclear Weapons .)
This is persuasive evidence that the obstacle to a settlement with Iran on the nuclear issue in 2005 was the refusal of the US and its allies to recognise Iran’s right under the NPT to uranium enrichment on its own soil.
There is no reason to believe that this policy has changed.
Obama’s bad faith
So far, I have described the Bush administration’s failure to take up reasonable offers from Iran. Initially, Obama gave the impression that it was serious about reaching a settlement with Iran. In practice, he has not delivered.
It is true that a meeting took place between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council (plus Germany) in October 2009. At it, Iran agreed in principle to allow 1,200 kg of its low enriched uranium (LEU) – that is, around half of the LEU it had manufactured up to then – to be swapped for 120 kg of 20% enriched uranium fuel, which was needed for its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The latter is used for the manufacture of medical isotopes and the existing fuel, supplied by Argentina, was due to run out in a year or so.
This deal required that Iran export the LEU to a third country and get the fuel for its TRR in exchange later, perhaps a year later. The deal did not come to fruition because of domestic opposition in Iran (including from the Green movement), who suggested, not unreasonably, that powers unfriendly to Iran might see to it that the promised TRR fuel was never delivered.
So, an alternative plan was hatched, in which Turkey would act as middleman in the swap, holding on to the LEU until such times as the TRR fuel was available for transportation to Iran. Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey and President Lula of Brazil brokered a deal along these lines with Iran, which was signed in Tehran on 17 May 2010 .
Obama had encouraged Brazil and Turkey to broker the deal, writing a letter to President Lula a month earlier, the text of which is in the public domain . The deal fulfilled the criteria set out by Obama in his letter. For example, Obama wrote:
“For us, Iran’s agreement to transfer 1,200 kg of Iran’s low enriched uranium (LEU) out of the country would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s LEU stockpile. I want to underscore that this element is of fundamental importance for the United States. For Iran, it would receive the nuclear fuel requested to ensure continued operation of the TRR to produce needed medical isotopes and, by using its own material, Iran would begin to demonstrate peaceful nuclear intent.”
The deal did all that. Iran had demonstrated its peaceful intent by agreeing to dispense with about half its stock of LEU in order to get TRR fuel.
But Obama rejected the deal, on the grounds that it did not require Iran to halt its enrichment programme, a requirement that was not present in Obama’s letter. Quite the opposite: the letter had said:
“Notwithstanding Iran’s continuing defiance of five United Nations Security Council resolutions mandating that it cease its enrichment of uranium, we were prepared to support and facilitate action on a proposal that would provide Iran nuclear fuel using uranium enriched by Iran — a demonstration of our willingness to be creative in pursuing a way to build mutual confidence.”
In other words, prior to the deal being signed, Obama was prepared to be “creative” and accept a deal without requiring Iran to cease uranium enrichment. After it was signed, he rejected the deal on the grounds that it didn’t require Iran to cease uranium enrichment.
Lula and Erdogan were furious at this bad faith on the part of Obama, who proceeded to promote a Security Council resolution imposing further economic sanctions on Iran. The resolution (1929) was passed on 10 June 2010, Brazil and Turkey voting against because, in the words of the Brazilian representative,
“the adoption of sanctions at this juncture runs counter to the successful efforts of Brazil and Turkey to engage Iran in a negotiated solution with regard to its nuclear programme.” 
For the next two years no negotiations took place. Since then, Iran enriched uranium to 20% and successfully manufactured fuel for the TRR.
US imposed economic sanctions
The economic sanctions imposed by the Security Council from 2006-10 were relatively mild, thanks to Russia and China. However, in December 2011, the US Congress passed legislation at the behest of the Israeli lobby, and it was accepted by President Obama, who dare not offend the Israeli lobby. The economic sanctions as a result of this legislation may do significant damage to the Iranian economy.
The legislation requires the Obama administration to bully other states around the world to stop trading with Iran, specifically, to stop buying Iranian oil, by threatening to cut off foreign financial institutions from the US financial system, if they conduct transactions with the Central Bank of Iran or other Iranian financial institutions. Its own trade with Iran will be unaffected since it has been negligible since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
The EU followed the US lead with enthusiasm and EU states have ceased importing Iranian oil. And the US has managed to bully many other states into at least reducing their imports.
 c-spanvideo.org/program/ThreatstoUSN (39 minutes in)
 c-spanvideo.org/program/ThreatstoUSN (96 minutes in)
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