JFP 2/23: Capability red line recipe for long war; US-trained Afghan police back call for revenge
Just Foreign Policy News, February 23, 2012
Capability red line recipe for long war; US-trained Afghan police back call for revenge
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
AntiWar Radio Interview with Scott Horton
Just Foreign Policy talks to Scott Horton about AIPAC and the Lieberman resolution push to redefine the "red line" for war with Iran to "nuclear weapons capability."
March 2: Occupy AIPAC
Under the banner of Occupy AIPAC, this long weekend will include a policy summit with panels on Iran, the Arab uprisings, Palestine/Israel and AIPAC, film screenings, mass protests, a teach-in on diplomacy and alternatives to war, creative actions, a cultural night, workshops, and a Capitol Hill policy briefing on the impact of U.S. military aid to Israel on Palestinians.
Arizona Republican Debate: The Middle East
Transcript of the Middle East-related portions of the CNN Republican debate in Arizona. Gingrich, channeling N'yahu, slams General Dempsey for saying Iran is a "rational actor." Romney says Americans should accept higher gas prices to confront Iran.
Video: Brave New Films: Don't Get Fooled Again on Iran
The Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, has stated twice already this year that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon. So why are so many voices clamoring for war?
Baltimore Sun: Bradley Manning charged in WikiLeaks case
"If Manning had been a member of the U.S. Marine squad that admitted to systematically murdering two dozen innocent Iraqi men, women, and children in Haditha, Iraq, he'd be walking free today," Baltimore peace activist Max Obuszewski said. "Instead, he faces the real prospect of life in prison for telling the truth."
Army Spc. Daniel Birmingham wins honorable discharge
Refused to deploy to Afghanistan based on moral objection to the war; has won honorable discharge as a conscientious objector.
1) The good news about the Lieberman Iran "nuclear weapons capability red line" resolution is that it has "provoked jitters among Democrats anxious over the specter of war," writes Robert Wright for The Atlantic. The bad news is that "AIPAC is expected to make the resolution an 'ask' in three weeks when up to 10,000 activists culminate its annual conference with a day of Capitol Hill lobbying."
The "capability" language is meaninglessly vague, Wright notes. Does "capability" mean the ability to produce a bomb within two months? Two years? If two years is the standard, Iran has probably crossed the red line already. By the two-year standard, Iran might well be over the red line even after a bombing campaign--which would at most be a temporary setback, and would remove any doubt among Iran's leaders as to whether to build nuclear weapons, and whether to make its nuclear program impervious to future American and Israeli bombs. The "nuclear weapons capability" threshold is a recipe not just for war, but for ongoing war.
2) The failure of an IAEA mission to get Iranian permission to visit a military testing site has been interpreted in media coverage as a stall to avoid the discovery of confirming evidence of past work on nuclear weapons, notes Gareth Porter at Inter Press Service. But the history of Iranian cooperation with the IAEA on carrying out inspections at the Parchin military testing centre suggests that Iran is keeping permission for such a visit as bargaining leverage to negotiate a better deal with the agency - one in which answering the IAEA's questions would lead to some resolution.
3) An Afghan official said two U.S. troops have been shot to death and four more wounded by an Afghan solider in apparent anger over the burning of Korans at a U.S. military base, CBS News reports. There have been violent anti-U.S. protests for three days across Afghanistan, since the "improper disposal" of religious materials, including Muslim holy books, at Bagram.
4) U.S.-trained Afghan police say they agree with protesters' call for revenge against Americans for burning the Koran, the Washington Post reports. It has been Afghan civilians, not Taliban insurgents, who have taken the lead in the protests, the Post notes. Afghan employees at Bagram base chanted "Death to America" and lobbed rocks at gates some had entered for years, the Post says.
5) Israeli critics of sanctions on Iran almost certainly are right in one respect: that sanctions could work and nonetheless fail, inflicting harsh economic pain yet unable to produce a genuine policy change, writes the International Crisis Group in a policy brief. There is no evidence that Iran's leadership has succumbed or will succumb to economic hardship; the outlook of its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, rests on the core principle that yielding to pressure only invites more. Seen through the regime's eyes, the measures taken by its foes – including attacks on its territory, physical and cyber sabotage, U.S. bolstering of the military arsenals of its Gulf enemies and, perhaps most damaging, economic warfare – can only mean one thing: that Washington and its allies are dead set on toppling it. Under such conditions, why would the regime volunteer a concession that arguably would leave it weaker in a hostile neighborhood?
The nuclear talks that appear set to resume could offer a chance to avoid military confrontation, the ICG says. For that to happen, however, Iran has to be presented with a realistic proposal. The ICG suggests a revived nuclear fuel swap, Iran's signing and compliance with the NPT Additional Protocol, and Western recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium.
6) Amnesty International says that every day, 400 people join the ranks of half a million displaced by fighting and natural disaster in Afghanistan, AP reports. An estimated 91,000 Afghans fled their homes because of the conflict in the first six months of 2011 - up 46 percent from the 42,000 displaced in the first half of 2010.
7) Colombia's government said it will withdraw its proposal to expand military jurisdiction over cases of abuses by Colombian security forces after human-rights groups opposed the measure, Bloomberg reports. A justice reform bill that had been promoted by the government to expand the role of military courts would "dramatically reverse" progress made in investigating human-rights violations, Human Rights Watch said in December.
1) AIPAC and the Push Toward War
Robert Wright, The Atlantic, Feb 21 2012, 6:48 PM ET 223
Late last week, amid little fanfare, Senators Joseph Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and Robert Casey introduced a resolution that would move America further down the path toward war with Iran.
The good news is that the resolution hasn't been universally embraced in the Senate. As Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, the resolution has "provoked jitters among Democrats anxious over the specter of war." The bad news is that, as Kampeas also reports, "AIPAC is expected to make the resolution an 'ask' in three weeks when up to 10,000 activists culminate its annual conference with a day of Capitol Hill lobbying."
In standard media accounts, the resolution is being described as an attempt to move the "red line"--the line that, if crossed by Iran, could trigger a US military strike. The Obama administration has said that what's unacceptable is for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. This resolution speaks instead of a "nuclear weapons capability." In other words, Iran shouldn't be allowed to get to a point where, should it decide to produce a nuclear weapon, it would have the wherewithal to do so.
By itself this language is meaninglessly vague. Does "capability" mean the ability to produce a bomb within two months? Two years? If two years is the standard, Iran has probably crossed the red line already. (So should we start bombing now?) Indeed, by the two-year standard, Iran might well be over the red line even after a bombing campaign--which would at most be a temporary setback, and would remove any doubt among Iran's leaders as to whether to build nuclear weapons, and whether to make its nuclear program impervious to future American and Israeli bombs. What do we do then? Invade?
In other words, if interpreted expansively, the "nuclear weapons capability" threshold is a recipe not just for war, but for ongoing war--war that wouldn't ultimately prevent the building of a nuclear weapon without putting boots on the ground. And it turns out that the authors of this resolution want "nuclear weapons capability" interpreted very expansively.
The key is in the way the resolution deals with the question of whether Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium, as it's been doing for some time now. The resolution defines as an American goal "the full and sustained suspension" of uranium enrichment by Iran. In case you're wondering what the resolution's prime movers mean by that: In a letter sent to the White House on the same day the resolution was introduced, Lieberman, Graham and ten other senators wrote, "We would strongly oppose any proposal that recognizes a 'right to enrichment' by the current regime or for [sic] a diplomatic endgame in which Iran is permitted to continue enrichment on its territory in any form."
This notwithstanding the fact that 1) enrichment is allowed under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; (2) a sufficiently intrusive monitoring system can verify that enrichment is for peaceful purposes; (3) Iran's right to enrich its own uranium is an issue of strong national pride. In a poll published in 2010, after sanctions had already started to bite, 86 percent of Iranians said Iran should not "give up its nuclear activities regardless of the circumstances." And this wasn't about building a bomb; most Iranians said Iran's nuclear activities shouldn't include producing weapons.
Even Dennis Ross--who has rarely, in his long career as a Mideast diplomat, left much daylight between his positions and AIPAC's, and who once categorically opposed Iranian enrichment--now realizes that a diplomatic solution may have to include enrichment. Last week in a New York Times op-ed, he said that, contrary to pessimistic assessments, it may still be possible to get a deal that "uses intrusive inspections and denies or limits uranium enrichment [emphasis added]..."
The resolution plays down its departure from current policy by claiming that there have been "multiple" UN resolutions since 2006 demanding the "sustained" suspension of uranium. But the UN resolutions don't actually use that term. The UN has demanded suspension as a confidence-building measure that could then lead to, as one resolution puts it, a "negotiated solution that guarantees Iran's nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes." And various Security Council members who voted on these resolutions have made it clear that Iranian enrichment of uranium can be part of this scenario if Iran agrees to sufficiently tight monitoring.
Indeed, that Iran's right to enrich uranium could be recognized under those circumstances is, Hillary Clinton has said, "the position of the international community, along with the United States." If the Lieberman-Graham-Casey resolution guides US policy, says George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, that would "preclude" fulfillment of the UN resolutions and isolate the US from the international coalition that backed them.
The Congressional resolution goes beyond the UN resolutions in another sense. It demands an end to Iran's ballistic missile program. Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association notes that, "Even after crushing Iraq in the first Gulf War, the international coalition only imposed a 150-kilometer range ceiling on Saddam's ballistic missiles. A demand to eliminate all ballistic missiles would be unprecedented in the modern era--removing any doubt among Iranians that the United States was interested in nothing less than the total subjugation of the country."
On the brighter side: Maybe it's a good sign that getting significant Democratic buy-in for this resolution took some strong-arming. According to Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now, the resolution got 15 Democratic supporters only "after days of intense AIPAC lobbying, particularly of what some consider 'vulnerable' Democrats (vulnerable in terms of being in races where their pro-Israel credentials are being challenged by the candidate running against them)." What's more, even as AIPAC was playing this hardball, the bill's sponsors still had to tone down some particularly threatening language in the resolution.
But, even so, the resolution defines keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapons "capability" as being in America's "vital national interest," which is generally taken as synonymous with "worth war." And, though this "sense of Congress" resolution is nonbinding, AIPAC will probably seek unanimous Senate consent, which puts pressure on a president. Friedman says this "risks sending a message that Congress supports war and opposes a realistic negotiated solution or any de facto solution short of stripping Iran of even a peaceful nuclear capacity."
What's more, says Friedman, the non-binding status may be temporary. "Often AIPAC-backed Congressional initiatives start as non-binding language (in a resolution or a letter) and then show up in binding legislation. Once members of Congress have already signed on to a policy in non-binding form, it is much harder for them to oppose it when it shows up later in a bill that, if passed, will have the full force of law."
No wonder Democrats who worry about war have the "jitters."
2) Iran Holds Up Access to Parchin for Better IAEA Deal
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Feb 23
Washington - The failure of a mission by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to get Iranian permission to visit a military testing site mentioned in its latest report has been interpreted in media coverage as a stall to avoid the discovery of confirming evidence of past work on nuclear weapons.
But the history of Iranian cooperation with the IAEA on carrying out inspections at the Parchin military testing centre, as well as a previous IAEA-Iran work programme agreement, suggests that Iran is keeping permission for such a visit as bargaining leverage to negotiate a better deal with the agency.
The IAEA statement Wednesday emphasised the fact that the mission to Tehran had been denied permission to visit the site at Parchin. That prompted Associated Press correspondent in Vienna George Jahn to call Iran's refusal to agree to an IAEA visit to Parchin "stonewalling" and evidence of "hard line resistance" to international pressure on its nuclear programme.
But access to Parchin was discussed as part of broader negotiations on what the IAEA statement called a "document facilitating the clarification of unresolved issues" in regard to "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program. The negotiations were focused on what cooperation the IAEA is demanding and what the agency is ready to offer in return for that cooperation.
Judging from past negotiations between Iran and the IAEA, Iran is ready to offer access to Parchin as well as other sites requested by the agency as part of an agreement under which the IAEA would stop accusing Iran of carrying out covert nuclear weapons experiments.
The IAEA wants to visit a specific site at Parchin because of information from an unnamed member state, cited in its November 2011 report, that Iran had "constructed a large explosives containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments" – tests of nuclear weapons designs without the use of fissile material.
The report said the construction had been carried out at Parchin military complex in 2000 and that the IAEA had satellite imagery that was "consistent with" that information, meaning only that there were structures that could have housed such a vessel at Parchin in 2000.
The previous history of IAEA inspections at Parchin make it clear, however, that Iran knew it had nothing to hide at Parchin after 2000.
In 2004, John Bolton, the point man in the George W. Bush administration on Iran, who coordinated closely with Israel, charged that satellite imagery showed a bunker at Parchin appropriate for large-scale explosives tests such as those needed to detonate a bomb that would use a neutron trigger.
Bolton put heavy pressure on the IAEA to carry out an investigation at Parchin. A few months later, Tehran agreed to allow the agency to select any five buildings and their surroundings to investigate freely.
That gave U.S. and Israeli intelligence, as well as IAEA experts, an opportunity for which they would not have dreamed of asking: they could scan satellite imagery of the entire Parchin complex for anything that could possibly suggest work on a nuclear weapon, including a containment vessel for hydrodynamic testing, and demand to inspect that building and the grounds around it at their leisure.
In January 2005, an IAEA team visited Parchin and investigated the five areas they had chosen, taking environmental samples, but found nothing suspicious. In November 2005, Iran allowed the IAEA to do the same thing all over again on five more buildings of its own choice.
The Iranian military and nuclear establishment would never have agreed to such terms for IAEA inspection missions at Parchin - not once but twice - if they had been concealing a hydrodynamic test facility at the base.
Other information suggests that no such vessel ever existed at Parchin. The November report claimed the IAEA had obtained information on the dimensions of the containment vessel from the publication of a foreign expert identified as someone who worked "in the nuclear weapons program of the country of his origin".
That was a reference to Vlachyslav Danilenko, a Ukrainian scientist who has acknowledged having lectured in Iran on theoretical physics and having helped the country build a cylinder for production of nano-diamonds, which was his research specialty. However, Danilenko has firmly denied ever having done any work related to nuclear weapons.
The claim that the dimensions of the putative bomb test chamber at Parchin could be gleaned from a publication by Danilenko is implausible.
The report said the bomb containment chamber at Parchin was "designed to contain the detonation of 70 kilograms of high explosives". Danilenko's patented 1992 design for a cylinder for nano-diamond production, however, was built to contain only 10 kg of explosives.
Former IAEA weapons inspector and nuclear weapons expert Robert Kelley has pointed out, moreover, that a container for only 70 kg of explosives could not possibly have been used for hydrodynamic testing of a nuclear weapon design.
The negotiations on a "framework" for Iran's cooperation with the IAEA recall the negotiation of a "work programme" in August 2007 aimed at resolving a series of issues on which the IAEA Safeguards Department suspected links to nuclear weapons. The issues included experiments involving the extraction of polonium-210, plutonium experiments and possible military control of the Gchine uranium mine.
In previous years, Iran had failed to provide sufficient information to overcome those suspicions. But after the negotiation of the "work programme", Iran began to move with dispatch to provide documentation aimed at clearing up the six remaining issues.
The IAEA acknowledged that all six of the issues had been effectively resolved in two reports in late 2007 and early 2008.
The reason for the dramatic change in cooperation was simple: the IAEA had pledged that, in return for Iran's resolving the six issues, "the implementation of safeguards in Iran will be conducted in a routine manner." That was seen as a significant step toward finally getting a clean bill of health from the agency.
But the IAEA instead then began focusing its questioning entirely on the purported Iranian documents of unknown origin and doubtful authenticity which the IAEA called the "alleged studies".
3) 2 U.S. troops killed in Koran backlash
CBS News, February 23, 2012 3:15 p.m. Eastern.
Two U.S. troops have been shot to death and four more wounded by an Afghan solider who turned his gun on his allies in apparent anger over the burning of Korans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, an Afghan official tells CBS News.
A statement from the International Security Assistance Force - Afghanistan, the international coalition in the country, confirmed that two troops were killed in Eastern Afghanistan on Thursday by "an individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform."
ISAF does not typically give the nationality of casualties until family members have been notified, but the CBS News source in the Afghan government said those killed and injured in the attack in the eastern Ningarhar province, along the border with Pakistan, were Americans.
The source also said the shooting appeared to be motivated by the burning of Korans at the sprawling U.S. Bagram air base, north of Kabul, but he did not provide additional details as to what led him to that conclusion.
The suspect apparently joined other protesters already demonstrating against the U.S. at an American military outpost and opened fire with an automatic weapon, according to the Afghan source.
There have been violent anti-U.S. protests for three days across Afghanistan, since the American military apologized for what it said was the accidental "improper disposal" of religious materials, including Muslim holy books, at Bagram.
4) In Kabul, Afghan police sympathize with protesters angry over Koran burning
Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, Thursday, February 23, 3:45 PM
Kabul - The police officers had been told to be vigilant. They had been warned that protests could occur spontaneously and could again turn deadly, as they had for two days after U.S. military officials burned a pile of Korans.
But some of those same Afghan police officers showed few qualms on Thursday in telling a foreign reporter that their mission left them deeply uneasy. What their government was asking, they said, was for Afghan police officers to quell protesters whose cause they fully shared.
"Afghans and the world's Muslims should rise against the foreigners. We have no patience left," said one police officer in central Kabul, who has worked at the same checkpoint since he joined the force seven months ago. He looked at his colleague who stood next to him, nodding. "We both will attack the foreign military people."
Interviewed at four different posts in the Afghan capital, the police voiced the anti-American sentiments on the same day that two U.S. soldiers in eastern Afghanistan were shot dead by a man wearing an Afghan army uniform. The killings were the latest apparent incident of fratricide aimed at Americans within a nominally united U.S.-Afghan force, and they have added to uneasiness among many U.S. troops about the loyalty of their Afghan counterparts.
In the wake of the Koran burning that came to light Tuesday at the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, some uniformed Afghan officers have worked tirelessly to keep the peace through three days of demonstrations and riots. At least three demonstrators were killed during the day, bringing the week's death toll to 10, as some police were ordered to fire on protesters.
But it has been Afghan civilians, not Taliban insurgents, who have taken the lead in the violence, and in five separate interviews on Thursday, members of the Afghan police force made clear that they and others in positions of authority share in the anger and resentment.
"Those behind the act should be asked about their deed and must be punished," said an officer near a U.S. military base in Kabul. "If I find the opportunity, I would shoot them in the head."
The police officers would discuss their sentiments only on the condition of anonymity, saying they would risk their livelihoods if they were to sympathize publicly with those fomenting violence. But their comments left little doubt that the fallout over the U.S. military's mishandling of the Korans includes fresh hostility among a crucial population of workaday Afghans, including some who man security checkpoints near Western installations.
With tensions still high, however, the U.S. Embassy remained on lockdown for a second day and extended its travel restrictions to a typically peaceful part of northern Afghanistan.
In a meeting with Karzai ahead of Friday prayers, some members of the Afghan parliament demanded harsh retribution, while religious officials spoke of jihad and the urgent need to respond with violence. At the same time, the Taliban issued a harshly worded new statement encouraging Afghan security officials to take up arms against Western forces.
On the streets of Kabul, police officers said they didn't care about the flurry of American apologies, including the one Thursday from Obama, or the demands of Afghan politicians. The offense was personal, most said, not diminished by contrition or inflamed by hostile rhetoric.
"It is difficult sometimes to convince people not to resort to protest," said Qaseem Jangalbagh, the police chief of Panjshir. Asked whether that included his own officers, he said, "It is a problem."
Junior officers spoke more bluntly, saying they would shirk their duties rather than quash demonstrations and referring often to their own violent impulses.
"We should burn those foreigners," said a police officer in his early 30s who has been in the force for almost 2 1 / 2 years. Like most of the country's security officials, he was trained by NATO soldiers.
Police officers weren't the only Afghans assumed to be American allies who spoke of mounting friction. The first early morning protests on Tuesday were led by Afghan employees of the Bagram air base, where the religious materials were burned accidentally, according to public statements from NATO military officials.
Bagram employees - who often face threats for aiding the United States - waved the charred books in the air, demanding a response.
Those employees, among the 5,000 Afghans who support the base's operations, chanted "Death to America" and lobbed rocks at gates some had entered for years. Some cursed their bosses and promised never to return to work at Bagram.
"How could we ever work for someone who could do this?" asked a 21-year-old man who said he had worked for two years in a warehouse on the base. "This couldn't have happened by accident. This was meant to offend us."
Taliban officials, who are in the middle of tenuous peace talks with the United States, had initially condemned the burning but stopped short of advocating violence - an uncharacteristically muted response. But in the written statement released Thursday, the insurgent group took a tougher stance.
The statement described the burning as a "deliberate" act, despite repeated statements by top U.S. officials that the books were sent to the incinerator by mistake. It said Afghans and Muslims should not be placated by the U.S. apologies and declared that protests and "mere slogans" were not enough of a response.
"For the defense of our holy book, we . . . must target the invaders' military centers, their military convoys and their invading forces . . . so that they can never dare to desecrate the holy Koran again," the statement said.
5) In Heavy Waters: Iran's Nuclear Program, the Risk of War and Lessons from Turkey
International Crisis Group, 23 February 2012
Middle East and Europe Report No. 11623 Feb 2012
Istanbul/Washington/Brussels - The dramatic escalation in Israel's rhetoric aimed at Iran could well be sheer bluff, a twin message to Tehran to halt its nuclear activities and to the international community to heighten its pressure to that end. Or not. As Israel sees it, the nuclear program represents a serious threat; the time when Iran's putative efforts to build a bomb will become immune to a strike is fast approaching; and military action in the near future – perhaps as early as this year – therefore is a real possibility. While it is widely acknowledged in the West that war could have devastating consequences, and while U.S. and European efforts to restrain Israel are welcome, their current approach – ever-tightening economic sanctions designed to make Tehran bend – has almost no chance of producing an Iranian climbdown anytime soon. Far from a substitute to war, it could end up being a conduit to it. As 2012 begins, prospects of a military confrontation, although still unlikely, appear higher than ever.
The nuclear talks that appear set to resume could offer a chance to avoid that fate. For that to happen, however, a world community in desperate need of fresh thinking could do worse than learn from Turkey's experience and test its assumptions: that Iran must be vigorously engaged at all levels; that those engaging it ought to include a larger variety of countries, including emerging powers with which it feels greater affinity; that economic pressure is at best futile, at worse counterproductive; and that Tehran ought to be presented with a realistic proposal. If it is either sanctions, whose success is hard to imagine, or military action, whose consequences are terrifying to contemplate, that is not a choice. It is an abject failure.
The picture surrounding Iran, rarely transparent, seldom has been more confusing or worrying. One day Israel issues ominous threats, hinting at imminent action; the next it announces that a decision is far off. Some of its officials speak approvingly of a military strike; others (generally retired) call it the dumbest idea on earth. At times, it appears to be speaking openly of a war it might never wage in order to better remain silent on a war it already seems to be waging – one that involves cyber-attacks, the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists and mysterious explosions. U.S. rhetoric, if anything, zigs and zags even more: the secretary of defense devotes one interview to listing all the catastrophic consequences of war and another to hinting a military confrontation cannot be ruled out.
Israelis, not for the first time, could be exaggerating the threat and its imminence, a reflection of their intense fear of a regime that has brazenly proclaimed its unending hostility. But they almost certainly are right in one respect: that sanctions could work and nonetheless fail, inflicting harsh economic pain yet unable to produce a genuine policy change. There is no evidence that Iran's leadership has succumbed or will succumb to economic hardship; the outlook of its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, rests on the core principle that yielding to pressure only invites more. Seen through the regime's eyes, such apparent stubbornness is easy to understand. The measures taken by its foes – including attacks on its territory, physical and cyber sabotage, U.S. bolstering of the military arsenals of its Gulf enemies and, perhaps most damaging, economic warfare – can only mean one thing: that Washington and its allies are dead set on toppling it. Under such conditions, why would the regime volunteer a concession that arguably would leave it weaker in a hostile neighbourhood?
Europeans and Americans offer a retort: that only now have sanctions with real bite been adopted; that their impact will be felt within the next six to eighteen months; and that faced with an economic meltdown – and thus with its survival at stake – the Islamic Republic will have no choice but to finally engage in serious negotiations on the nuclear agenda. Perhaps.
But so much could go wrong. Confronting what it can only view as a form of economic warfare and feeling it has little to lose, Iran could lash out. Its provocative actions, in turn, could trigger retaliatory steps; the situation could well veer out of control, particularly in the absence of any meaningful channel of communication. Israel's and the West's clocks might not be synchronised: the West's sanctions timetable extends beyond the point when Iran will have entered Jerusalem's notional zone of immunity, and Israel might not have the patience to stand still.
Placing one's eggs almost exclusively in the sanctions basket is risky business. There is a good chance they will not persuade Iran to slow its nuclear efforts, and so – in the absence of a serious diplomatic option including a more far-reaching proposal – the U.S. might well corner itself into waging a war with high costs (such as possible Iranian retaliatory moves in Iraq, Afghanistan and, through proxies, against Israel) for uncertain gains (a delay in Iran's nuclear progress countered by the likely expulsion of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, intensified determination to acquire a bomb and accelerated efforts to do so).
Among countries uneasy with this approach, Turkey notably has stood for something different. It is highly sceptical about sanctions and rules out any military action. It believes in direct, energetic diplomatic engagement with a variety of Iranian officials. It is of the view that Tehran's right to enrich on its soil ought to be acknowledged outright – a nod to its sense of dignity. And it is convinced that small steps that even marginally move the ball forward, even if far from the finish line, are better than nothing.
Ankara is not a central player, and its opposition to broad sanctions and support of dialogue are not dissimilar to the views of key actors such as Russia and China. But Turkey knows Iran well – an outgrowth of its long, complex relationship with a powerful neighbour. As a non-traditional power, anchored in Western institutions but part of the Muslim world, it can play to Tehran's rejection of a two-tiered world order. This is not to say that Turkey is amenable to a nuclear-armed Iran. But it is far more sympathetic to the view that the West cannot dictate who can have a nuclear capacity and who cannot; is less alarmist when it comes to the status of Iran's program; and believes that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is both distant and unsure.
Even if a relative newcomer to the nuclear issue, Turkey also has useful experience. In 2010, together with Brazil – another rising new power – it engaged in intensive talks with Iranian officials and, much to the West's surprise, reached a deal on the Tehran Research Reactor. Iran would deposit 1,200kg of low enriched uranium (LEU) in Turkey and, in return, would receive 120kg of 20 per cent enriched fuel for its reactor. The deal was far from perfect; although it mirrored almost exactly an earlier proposal from the P5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany), time had passed; Iran's LEU stockpile had grown, and it had begun to enrich at 20 per cent itself, an important though not definitive stage toward possibly enriching to weapons grade. But it could have been an important start; had it been accepted, Iran presently would have 1,200kg less of LEU and a step would have been taken towards building trust. However, the P5+1 quickly dismissed the agreement and turned to tougher sanctions instead.
Today, with news that Iran has responded to the P5+1's offer of talks, a new opportunity for diplomacy might have arisen. It should not be squandered. That means breaking with the pattern of the past: tough sanctions interrupted by episodic, fleeting meetings with Iran which, when they fail to produce the desired Iranian concession, are followed by ratcheted-up economic penalties. Instead, the parties would be well inspired to take a page out of Turkey's playbook and pursue a meaningful and realistic initiative, possibly along the following lines:
- Iran's ratification and renewed implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Additional Protocol to its comprehensive safeguards agreement, thereby accepting a more rigorous monitoring system; enhanced IAEA inspection rights for non-nuclear alleged weaponisation testing sites (Additional Protocol Plus); and resumed implementation of the IAEA's modified Code 3.1, ensuring that the decision to build any new nuclear facility is immediately made public;
- Iran's decision to clear up outstanding issues regarding alleged pre-2003 nuclear weaponisation experiments referred to in IAEA reports;
- recognition by the P5+1 of Iran's right in principle to nuclear research, enrichment, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in conformity with its NPT obligations, subject to its having settled outstanding issues with the IAEA;
- agreement by the P5+1 and Iran to a revised Tehran Research Reactor deal, pursuant to which Iran would trade its current stockpile of 20 per cent uranium for fuel rods and temporarily cap its enrichment at the 5 per cent level, while the P5+1 would agree to freeze implementation of new EU and U.S. sanctions. In return for some sanctions relief, Iran could agree to limit enrichment activities to its actual fuel needs (one-year backup for the Bushehr reactor). Any excess amount could be sold on the international market at competitive prices. Broader sanctions relief would be tied to Iran's cooperation with the IAEA regarding its presumed past weaponisation efforts, implementation of the rigorous IAEA inspections regime and other steps described here; and
- in parallel to nuclear negotiations, the U.S. and Iran would enter into discussions on other issues of mutual concern and interest, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
Of course, this would have to be accompanied by an end by all parties to the kind of hostile behaviour and provocative rhetoric, including threats to attack and involvement in bombings or assassinations, that risk derailing the entire process.
6) Amnesty: Every day, 400 more Afghans join ranks of nation's 500,000 displaced persons
Associated Press, Thursday, February 23, 2:10 AM
Kabul, Afghanistan - Every day, 400 people join the ranks of half a million displaced by fighting and natural disaster in Afghanistan and the country's government has been hampering international efforts to help them, Amnesty International said Thursday.
A new, disturbing report by Amnesty said more people have fled their homes as fighting has spread to areas of the country that had been relatively peaceful. According to the report, Afghan government has little political will or resources to help them find adequate shelter, food and water.
Many are left to starve and die, even in the capital Kabul.
"If you go to these informal settlements, the images will haunt you," said Michael Bochenek, legal and policy director for Amnesty, describing a shelter near a mosque in Herat province where latrines were leaking into the ground so that "people were walking and living on top of raw sewage."
Up to 35,000 of the internally displaced are living in temporary camps in the Afghan capital, according to the more than 100-page report. Their plight has been aggravated by the worst cold snap and heaviest snowfall Kabul has experienced in 15 years.
"Thousands of people are finding themselves living in freezing, cramped conditions and on the brink of starvation," said Horia Mosadiq, Amnesty's researcher in Afghanistan.
Displacements are on the rise, the report said, with an estimated 91,000 Afghans having fled their homes because of the conflict in the first six months of 2011 - up 46 percent from the 42,000 displaced in the first half of 2010.
Sayedullah, a 30-year-old man living in a makeshift settlement in Kabul, told reporters he fled his village in Surobi district of Kabul province because of fighting between insurgents and NATO troops.
"This year, one of my children died because of the cold weather," the man said "We have been told that we can stay in this camp until spring and then we have to leave. Where can we go?"
Another displaced man - 38-year-old Mir Alam who fled fighting in southern Afghanistan - described his dire living conditions in the capital.
"I don't think that any animal will be able to live where we live in Kabul," he said.
Throughout Afghanistan, humanitarian organizations cannot deliver effective aid to temporary camps because they are prohibited from assisting in ways that make the settlements more permanent, Mosadiq said. So instead of digging permanent wells, for instance, water must be delivered to the camps.
"This is a largely hidden, but horrific, humanitarian and human rights crisis," she said.
Afghans who have fled to the cities because of fighting in more remote areas face scarce food and expensive housing, the report said. They live on land they don't own in dwellings made from mud, poles, plastic, plywood and cardboard under an ever-present threat of eviction.
Crowded camps with poor sanitation and little access to health care promote the spread of disease and women often give birth in unsanitary conditions without skilled assistance, which only raises the risk of maternal and infant death in an already impoverished country, Amnesty said.
7) Colombia Will Withdraw Plan to Expand Military Jurisdiction
Blake Schmidt, Bloomberg, Feb 19, 2012
Colombia's government said it will withdraw its proposal to expand military jurisdiction over cases of abuses by Colombian security forces after human-rights groups opposed the measure.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said he'll instead ask Congress to make clear in the constitution that human-rights abuses including torture, extrajudicial killings, disappearances and rapes shouldn't go before military courts, according to a statement on the ministry's website late yesterday.
A justice reform bill that had been promoted by the government of President Juan Manuel Santos to expand the role of military courts would "dramatically reverse" progress made in investigating human-rights violations, Human Rights Watch said in December.
"By virtually guaranteeing impunity for human-rights violations committed by the security forces, it could ultimately expose Colombia to investigations by the International Criminal Court," the New York-based group's America's director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said in a letter addressed to Santos and released by e-mail in December.
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