JFP 3/27: Religious leaders on drone strikes; sanctions accelerating Iran nukes
Just Foreign Policy News, March 27, 2013
Religious leaders on drone strikes; sanctions accelerating Iran nukes
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Brave New Films Video: What Religious Leaders Want to Tell Obama on Easter
Religious leaders challenge the Obama Administration's "white paper" on drone strikes and its perversion of "just war" theory to try to justify the drone war.
TBIJ on "Out of Sight, Out of Mind"
TBIJ writes on the new graphic visualization of the CIA's drone war in Pakistan.
Flotilla 3.0: Redeeming Obama's Palestine Speech With Gaza's Ark
Whether you see Obama's Palestine speech as a great motivational speech or a white flag of surrender, the practical consequences for the public are largely the same: the initiative for justice is going to have to come from somewhere else.
1) President Obama's drone war has turned from asset to headache, writes Michael Crowley in Time Magazine. Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller recently demanded that Obama say why White House is refusing to show Congress legal memos justifying its drone campaign. Three Democratic Senators cast protest votes against the confirmation of Obama's new CIA director, John Brennan. Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon joined Republican Senator Rand Paul's filibuster. On March 18, Jeh Johnson, who stepped down in December as the Pentagon's chief counsel, warned that Obama's targeted-killing program risks "an erosion of support."
Members of Congress and legal scholars are asking whether it makes sense for U.S. counterterrorism policy to be guided by the 2001 AUMF - language hastily drafted as the wreckage of the World Trade Center still burned, Crowley writes. "I believe most everybody thought--certainly I thought--it was limited in time and space," says Jane Harman, a former Democratic Congresswoman from California. "I never imagined it would be around 12 years later." Legal debates aside, a big practical problem with the drone war is that the rest of the world hates it, Crowley writes.
2) Western sanctions have failed to slow Iran's nuclear progress, reports Scott Peterson in the Christian Science Monitor. A new NIAC report based on 30 in-depth interviews with Iranian officials, analysts, and businessmen suggests Western escalation of sanctions as a bargaining chip is causing Iran to advance its nuclear program for the same reason. It also suggests that rethinking the scale of sanctions relief on offer may be necessary if there is to be any progress towards a diplomatic agreement.
3) General John Allen, the recently retired US commander in Afghanistan, says US troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014, the Guardian reports. Allen said the Administration had never asked him to produce a report on the so-called "zero option" – the suggestion that no US troops would remain after 2014. "Sometimes this comes as a surprise when I say this: that on January 1 2015, there's still going to be fighting in Afghanistan," Allen said. Speculation on the size of the US/Western force ranges from about 6,000 through to 20,000, the Guardian says.
4) The acting director of the CIA's clandestine service helped run the CIA's detention and interrogation program after the Sept. 11 attacks and signed off on the 2005 decision to destroy videotapes of prisoners being subjected to treatment critics have called torture, the Washington Post reports. The question of whether to give her the job permanently poses an early quandary for CIA director Brennan, who is already struggling to distance the agency from the decade-old controversies, the Post says. As director, he is faced with assembling the CIA's response to a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that documents abuses in the interrogation program and accuses the agency of misleading the White House and Congress over its effectiveness.
5) The Gaza's Ark initiative aims to "challenge the blockade of Gaza from the inside out," Inter Press Service reports. By purchasing Palestinian exports from Gaza, buyers around the world can "bring critically-needed public attention to the blockade while supporting Palestinian businesses in Gaza," the initiative says.
6) A cyberattack widely attributed to the U.S. and Israel that sabotaged Iran's uranium enrichment program was an "act of force" and was likely illegal, according to research commissioned by a NATO defense center, Wired reports. Acts of force are prohibited under the UN charter, except when done in self-defense Michael Schmitt, professor of international law at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island and lead author of the study, told the Washington Times [unless they are authorized by the Security Council - JFP.]
7) Local police said four children were killed in a night raid in which US Special Forces participated, Reuters reports. Reuters television footage taken in the village, Sejewand, showed the bodies of at least three children.
8) The best outcome for the US, Israel and the region is a ceasefire in Syria and negotiated outcome to the war, as soon as possible, writes Andrew Parasiliti of Al-Monitor at CNN. Secretary of State Kerry has made a political solution in Syria a high priority, and knows that both the al-Assad government and the opposition must be on board to negotiate a ceasefire – a necessary step to anything else positive occurring, Parasiliti writes. But negotiations involving the Syrian government on a cease fire are unlikely to take place without the involvement of Iran. Diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear program should therefore include urgent talks on Syria, Parasiliti writes.
1) So, Who Can We Kill?
Michael Crowley, Time Magazine, Monday, Apr. 01, 2013
Budget politics was topic a when President Obama met privately with Democratic Senators on Capitol Hill on March 12. But some of the President's hosts were determined to raise another issue: drones. Why, Senator Jay Rockefeller asked, was the White House refusing to show Congress legal memos justifying its drone campaign, including the killing of U.S. citizens overseas? Three Democratic Senators had been disturbed enough by the secrecy to cast protest votes against the confirmation of Obama's new CIA director, John Brennan. Another Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon, even joined Republican Senator Rand Paul's epic 13-hour filibuster the week before, in which Paul demanded--and later received--an assurance that Obama would not use drones to kill noncombatant Americans on U.S. soil. According to Politico, it was enough to make Obama defend himself in bracing terms. "This is not Dick Cheney we're talking about here," he pleaded.
But in political terms, it's getting hard to tell the difference. During the 2012 campaign, Obama's use of drones to kill terrorists without risking the lives of U.S. troops was a bragging point. But in the months since, his drone war has turned from asset to headache. Paul's filibuster, which ignited Twitter and made Paul a celebrity at this month's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), was just the crescendo of a growing chorus of complaints that have united left and right. (After his filibuster, Paul was given chocolates and flowers and serenaded by the left-wing antiwar group Code Pink.) Speaking at Fordham University on March 18, Jeh Johnson, who stepped down in December as the Pentagon's chief counsel, warned that Obama's targeted-killing program risks "an erosion of support."
Now Washington is rethinking some of its basic assumptions about the drone war. Congress and the White House are discussing ways to bring new legal clarity to targeted killing. And Obama, moved by the complaints about secrecy, is said to be planning public remarks on the subject soon. "I do think the Administration is feeling some anxiety about this," says Rosa Brooks, a former Pentagon official under Obama. "Over the last year, the shift in discourse on targeted killings has had an impact on some of the more thoughtful people in the Administration."
But one reason Obama's drone campaign is under pressure is that it is increasingly straining against its legal authority. The legal basis for Obama's targeted-killing operations (which can also involve strikes from manned airplanes, among other tactics) is the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a law passed by Congress three days after 9/11. The AUMF was as broad in meaning as it was concise in language--a 395-word measure whose key passage empowered the President "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the Sept. 11 attacks.
For years, only a handful of critics questioned whether the drone campaign begun by George W. Bush and Cheney and accelerated by Obama was operating outside the law. Now members of Congress and legal scholars are asking whether it makes sense for U.S. counterterrorism policy to be guided by language hastily drafted as the wreckage of the World Trade Center still burned. "I believe most everybody thought--certainly I thought--it was limited in time and space," says Jane Harman, a former Democratic Congresswoman from California with expertise in intelligence issues. "I never imagined it would be around 12 years later." In a speech last year, Johnson warned that the law "should not be interpreted to mean ... that we can use military force whenever we want, wherever we want."
But sometimes that's how it looks. In recent years, Administration lawyers have decreed that international law permits the U.S. to target "associated forces" of al-Qaeda. That has allowed for strikes against a broad range of individuals, most of whom have no real connection to the Sept. 11 attacks and may not even openly threaten the U.S. In some cases, U.S. drone strikes have targeted militants in Pakistan and Yemen who mainly threatened the governments of those countries. As Brooks puts it, "The enemy is inchoate and expanding ... We've gotten further and further from any sense of what, exactly, is the threat."
Legal debates aside, a big practical problem with the drone war is that the rest of the world hates it. Drone strikes and the unintended deaths of innocents they sometimes cause have fanned severe anti-Americanism in places like Pakistan. (One would-be terrorist, Faisal Shahzad, who was plotting to bomb New York City in 2010, even cited U.S. drone strikes as a motivator.) A 2012 Pew Research Center poll of international opinion found that American drone strikes are deeply unpopular around the world, not only in Muslim countries but also in such nations as Germany, Russia, Japan and China. "We're losing the argument," Harman says. In January, a U.N. special investigator from Britain kicked off a nine-month official inquiry into U.S. drone strikes to determine "whether there is a plausible allegation of unlawful killing."
Of course, it might seem easier to simply wind down the drone war entirely. When he departed the Pentagon counsel's office last year, Johnson caused a stir with an exit speech that envisioned a "tipping point" at which America might declare the war on al-Qaeda over. After that, the U.S. might lean more on regional allies to round up (or kill) terrorism suspects and turn to traditional criminal-justice methods to pursue terrorist operatives. Some found support for this scenario in the Administration's recent decision to arraign bin Laden's captured son-in-law in a Manhattan court rather than send him to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp. As a 2008 candidate, Obama repeatedly vowed to close Gitmo, but resistance from Congress stymied him. "It's not a forgotten issue," says one Administration official.
It may also be notable--and surprising--that the pace of drone strikes has slowed. The 48 strikes in Pakistan last year were less than half the 2010 total, which, according to the New America Foundation, was 122. There have been no strikes in Yemen since Feb. 1 of this year. Whether that's a breather or a strategic shift remains to be seen. It probably also depends on how successful African forces are at fighting al-Qaeda when French troops withdraw from Mali in April. Northern Africa could be an inflection point for Obama to choose between a renewed killing campaign--one that might require new legal authority--or a less kinetic effort that relies on a combination of indigenous forces, foreign aid and arrests instead of guided missiles.
2) Report: Sanctions may be speeding Iran's nuclear advancement
Interviews with Iranian officials and others reveal that tough sanctions are hurting Iran's economy – but may also be encouraging defiance by a regime more worried about any appearance of capitulation.
Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, March 26, 2013
Istanbul - Even Iranian officials now admit that the US-led sanctions regime against Iran is damaging its economy.
But the pressure has failed in its primary aim: to slow Iran's nuclear progress. That has become obvious to the US and European officials imposing crippling sanctions, as has the fact that sanctions may have even sped up Iran's nuclear advancement.
A report released today – based on 30 in-depth interviews with Iranian officials, analysts, and businessmen – explains that dilemma and Iran's determined defiance to Western policymakers, who will conduct a fifth round of nuclear negotiations with Iran in Kazakhstan next week.
The report's conclusions provide a rare glimpse from high levels in Iran of how sanctions have and have not worked, which could directly affect decisions by Western nuclear negotiators, and a US Congress keen on adding more sanctions, but reluctant to offer enough sanctions relief to convince Iran to stop its most sensitive nuclear work.
"It's critical to understand how massive pain is being channeled and absorbed in Iran, because just sitting there expecting pain to deliver results is somewhat naive," says coauthor Trita Parsi, president of the Washington-based National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which produced the report.
"Putting pressure is just half of the equation; [US and European officials] have succeeded with that, undoubtedly the pain on Iran is immense," says Mr. Parsi. "But to channel the pain is a very, very different task."
Sanctions now include a European oil embargo, exclusion from the SWIFT international banking system that enables Iranian banks to transfer money, and US measures that target Iran's central bank.
These measures have begun to bite, causing economic isolation and a precipitous fall in both oil revenues and the value of the Iranian currency. But Iran has still added thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium, and deployed a more efficient, second-generation centrifuge model; stepped up uranium enrichment levels from 5 percent to 20 percent, which is technically not too far from weapons-grade; and moved its most sensitive work to a deeply buried site impregnable to air attack.
Those results so far indicate that pressure is not working, according to the NIAC report, because "escalating sanctions as a [Western] bargaining chip also gives Iran the incentive to advance its program for the same reason."
It also suggests that rethinking the scale of sanctions relief on offer may be necessary when the P5+1 group (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) sits down to nuclear talks with Iran next week, if they are to have any chance of success.
The NIAC study concludes that "it is highly unlikely that the regime will succumb to sanctions pressure … [when] no proportionate sanctions relief is put on the table by the P5+1, and capitulation is seen as a greater threat to the regime's survival than even a military confrontation with the United States."
The report states that "individuals close to the core of Iran's power structure are relishing the narrative of resistance" because although there is economic suffering, Iran "is also gaining newfound respect on the international stage due to its refusal to succumb to Western pressure."
A senior Iranian parliamentarian "influential in the top layers of the regime" told NIAC that Iran's resistance had even become a "role model" for developing countries – a view echoed by a number of other Iranian officials.
"Stark divisions among the Iranian elite are unmistakable," notes the NIAC report. "[But] if the testimony of elite insiders is to be believed, sanctions have helped strengthen cohesion rather than intensify rifts."
One current Iranian official told NIAC that Western governments expected Iran's economy to collapse: "Well, now they know that they have failed. If they continue this way, it will just strengthen Iran's resolve to confront the West."
Describing regime thinking, a former deputy foreign minister said, "It was obvious to us that the sanctions pressure will increase and … the main target was to weaken the regime, but that compelled us to stay strong, work together, and prove the Western strategy wrong."
This is likely to be food for thought on Capitol Hill, at the White House, and among European Union officials, who have so far offered Iran only modest sanctions relief – and none at all on oil or financial sanctions – in exchange for capping its most sensitive nuclear work. Iranian sources have told the Monitor the current offer has "no balance."
The report's conclusions echo another detailed sanctions analysis from the International Crisis Group (ICG) in February.
"Compliance with Western demands, in Ayatollah Khamenei's mind, likely will not result in alleviation of pressure" because it would project weakness, noted the ICG. "Under this view, the [nuclear] deal, not its absence, could be the poison that brings down the Islamic Republic."
The sanctions juggernaut against Iran "illustrates the risk that, precisely due to their inability to secure their primary goal, sanctions may turn into an end in and of themselves," reports the ICG. "That such [economic] pain does not translate into the desired policy change becomes … almost an afterthought."
3) US troops will stay in Afghanistan to support local forces, Allen insists
Recently retired general says reports of 'zero option' are untrue and expects US and allies to stick in Afghanistan for long haul
Ewen MacAskill, Guardian, Monday 25 March 2013
Washington - The US and its allies will retain a presence in Afghanistan big enough to bolster Afghan forces after the withdrawal of international combat troops at the end of 2014, the recently retired commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, said on Monday.
Speaking in Washington, Allen said he had never been asked to produce a report on the so-called "zero option" – the suggestion that no American troops would remain after the 2014 deadline, floated by one White House adviser in January.
Instead, Allen said that he expected that Obama would approve a force that would be commensurate with ensuring that the Afghan security forces could be properly supported.
Obama is currently considering how many troops are to be left behind, mostly in an advisory capacity, after the official withdrawal in 2014.
Speculation on the size of the force ranges from about 6,000 through to 20,000. Allen offered Obama various options about force size before retiring last month. He ruled out a full pullout, an option the White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes had said in January was on the table.
"I was never asked to conduct any analysis with respect to the zero option," Allen told a meeting at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Monday.
Relations between the US and the Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai have been strained since he accused Washington two weeks ago of colluding with the Taliban, prompting questions in America about why it bothered to keep any troops in the country.
"Sometimes this comes as a surprise when I say this: that on January 1 2015, there's still going to be fighting in Afghanistan," Allen said.
4) CIA director faces a quandary over clandestine service appointment
Greg Miller and Julie Tate, Washington Post, March 26
As John Brennan moved into the CIA director's office this month, another high-level transition was taking place down the hall.
A week earlier, a woman had been placed in charge of the CIA's clandestine service for the first time in the agency's history. She is a veteran officer with broad support inside the agency. But she also helped run the CIA's detention and interrogation program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and signed off on the 2005 decision to destroy videotapes of prisoners being subjected to treatment critics have called torture.
The woman, who remains undercover and cannot be named, was put in the top position on an acting basis when the previous chief retired last month. The question of whether to give her the job permanently poses an early quandary for Brennan, who is already struggling to distance the agency from the decade-old controversies.
Brennan endured a bruising confirmation battle in part over his own role as a senior CIA official when the agency began using water-boarding and other harsh interrogation methods. As director, he is faced with assembling the CIA's response to a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that documents abuses in the interrogation program and accuses the agency of misleading the White House and Congress over its effectiveness.
5) Now Gaza's Ark Prepares to Dare Israel
Eva Bartlett, Inter Press Service, Mar 27 2013
Gaza City - "An ark is literally a large floating vessel designed to keep its passengers and cargo safe," say the group preparing 'Gaza's Ark'. But their ark, they say, is "a vessel that embodies hope that the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip can soon live in peace without the threat of the Israeli blockade."
An initiative by Palestinians in Gaza and international solidarity activists, Gaza's Ark entails "purchasing a run-down boat from a local fishing family," says Michael Coleman, a member of Free Gaza Australia and on the Gaza's Ark steering committee.
"The refurbishing will be done by Palestinians in the port of Gaza, and the sailing will be with a mixed crew of Palestinians and internationals," says David Heap, spokesperson for Gaza's Ark in Canada and Europe. The sailing date has not been announced yet.
Pointing to a weathered fishing trawler with a 'for sale' sign painted on it, Mahfouz Kabariti, president of Gaza's Fishing and Marine Sports Association, points to fishers' poverty.
"Why sell?" he asks. "Because of years of poor incomes from Israeli restrictions on sea, many fishers have debts they cannot pay off. Fishers were optimistic when the Israelis re-extended the fishing limit six miles. We hoped that maybe it would be extended to 12 miles."
The Ark initiative includes exporting a token amount of trade goods from Palestinian artisans, an act which Coleman admits is "symbolic" but necessary. Exports will include date goods, embroidery, and crafts from the Aftfaluna society for Deaf Children and other associations in Gaza.
The steering committee for Gaza's Ark comprises mainly well-respected Palestinian scholars, doctors and rights activists from Gaza. International supporters include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, various UK and Canadian former and current members of parliament, two former UN assistant secretaries general, and Hedy Epstein and Suzanne Weiss, both Holocaust survivors.
"Gaza's Ark is the evolution of the flotilla movement. We've moved away from sailing into Gaza with aid," says Coleman. "We now focus on sailing trade out, because it's quite clear that if the Palestinians were able to trade, their dependence on aid would be diminished quite significantly."
The Ark website emphasises the need for trade, their slogan is "trade, not aid."
Aid, the website notes, "does not address the root cause of why the Palestinians of Gaza are in need: the Israeli blockade. We believe that aid provides a 'cover' for the actions of the Israeli government against the people of Gaza, alleviating the consciences of international powers while leaving the blockade in place."
The Gaza's Ark initiative aims to "challenge the blockade of Gaza from the inside out. By purchasing Palestinian exports from Gaza, buyers around the world can bring critically-needed public attention to the blockade while supporting Palestinian businesses in Gaza," reads the Ark website.
The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights notes that "it is common for the (Israeli) navy to open fire on fishermen, pursue them in Gazan waters, and destroy and confiscate their equipment, including their nets and boats. Such acts constitute flagrant violations of Israel's legal obligations as an occupying power under international law, and violate the fishermen's rights to life and work."
Gaza's fishers once numbered over 10,000, but under the Israeli siege and assaults, the vast majority have given up on a trade that was passed down to them by their fathers and grandfathers.
With the siege, Israel has also enforced no-go zones along the Green Line border separating Gaza and Israel, and in Gaza's sea, to which Palestinians under the Oslo accords have the right to fish as far as 20 nautical miles from the coast.
Since 2008, Israel has unilaterally enforced a limit of between six and three miles. Although Israeli authorities expanded this limit back to six miles following the cessation of Israel's November 2012 attacks on Gaza, in March 2013 Israel again unilaterally declared Palestinians can go no further than three miles.
Fishers and human rights groups report that the Israeli navy shoots on, harasses and abducts Palestinian fishers even within three miles, as close at times as less than a mile from Gaza's coast. The Israeli navy has killed and injured numerous fishers while shooting at their boats.
6) Legal Experts: Stuxnet Attack on Iran Was Illegal 'Act of Force'
Kim Zetter, Wired, 03.25.1312:53 PM
A cyberattack that sabotaged Iran's uranium enrichment program was an "act of force" and was likely illegal, according to research commissioned by a NATO defense center.
"Acts that kill or injure persons or destroy or damage objects are unambiguously uses of force" and likely violate international law, according to the Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare, a study produced by a group of independent legal experts at the request of NATO's Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Estonia.
Acts of force are prohibited under the United Nations charter, except when done in self-defense, Michael Schmitt, professor of international law at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island and lead author of the study, told the Washington Times.
The 20 experts who produced the study were unanimous that Stuxnet was an act of force, but were less clear about whether the cyber sabotage against Iran's nuclear program constituted an "armed attack," which would entitle Iran to use counterforce in self-defense. An armed attack constitutes a start of international hostilities under which the Geneva Convention's laws of war would apply.
Stuxnet was launched in 2009 and 2010, and possibly 2008 as well, and targeted cascades and centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant in Iran. The cyberweapon was reportedly designed by Israel and the U.S. in an effort to set back Iran's ability to produce a nuclear weapon, though the U.S. has not officially acknowledged its role in the attack. Until the attacks occurred, intelligence agencies speculated that Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon by 2010. The attacks by Stuxnet are believed to have set back the program by an estimated three years.
The 300-page legal manual was produced by 20 researchers, including legal scholars and senior military lawyers from NATO countries, with assistance from cybersecurity analysts.
7) Four children killed in Afghan-coalition operation: police
Samiullah Paiwand, Reuters, Wed Mar 27, 2013 10:47am EDT
Kabul - Afghan and international special forces staged a night raid in the country's restive east, with police on Wednesday saying five civilians died in the operation, four of them children.
While the defense ministry said there had been no civilian deaths in the overnight operation in Logar province, Reuters television footage taken in the village, Sejewand, showed the bodies of at least three children.
Logar police official Rais Khan Seddiq said the operation was undertaken by Afghan commandos, assisted by international special forces, in order to rescue two Afghan soldiers captured the previous day by the Taliban.
"Two civilians were killed and three were wounded," Seddiq said, adding that those wounded had later died. Four of the dead were children, he said.
The defense ministry rejected any notion of civilian deaths. The ministry's head of operations, Afzal Aman, told Reuters that all those killed or detained had been carrying weapons.
"We ... do not accept the claim of civilian casualties. All those killed or detained were armed, but an investigation is occurring and it will become clear if there are any civilians among the dead," he said.
8) U.S. should talk with Iran about Syria
Andrew Parasiliti, CNN, March 26th, 2013
[Parasiliti is editor and CEO of Al-Monitor.com.]
U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Israel secured perhaps a year more for diplomacy with Iran and a chance for a political solution in Syria – if the United States is willing to seize it.
Recent incidents on the Israel-Syria border foreshadow the potential for more trouble as the Syrian war continues. As Ben Caspit noted for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse , the "Somalization" of Syria "will provide fertile ground for the growth of al Qaeda, a global jihad movement, and all kinds of afflictions and misfortunes that will make Israel's life pure hell. Take Afghanistan, place it on the northern border in the Golan Heights, and see what happens."
The longer the civil war continues, the greater the risk of chemical weapons use and their proliferation to terrorist groups, the greater the problems for all of Syria's neighbors, including Israel, and the longer the humanitarian tragedy of Syria itself will persist, including the already 70,000 killed, 3 million displaced, and 1.1 million refugees.
The best outcome for the United States, Israel and the region is a ceasefire and negotiated outcome to the war, as soon as possible.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has made a political solution in Syria a high priority, and knows that both the al-Assad government and the opposition must be on board to negotiate a ceasefire – a necessary step to anything else positive occurring.
Negotiations involving the Syrian government on a cease fire are unlikely to take place, however, without the involvement of Iran, Syria's most important ally.
Diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear program should therefore include urgent talks on Syria. Iran has formally proposed strengthening joint cooperation with the P5+1 (the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany) on Syria. The U.S. and its allies should pick up on this offer. Such a negotiation could provide the foundations for a solid start for confidence building measures among Syria's neighbors and interested parties, such as the P5+1 countries and the United Nations. In an odd twist, Israel and Iran seem to share a common interest in preventing Salifi terrorists from gaining a foothold in Syria and acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
The old saying that there can be opportunity in crisis should now be tested, and Kerry might even propose a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to begin a direct conversation about Syria as soon and as far as is practical.
This is not to say that Iranian involvement guarantees a positive outcome, especially with the Syrian opposition's leadership in disarray over the resignation of Moaz Al-Khatib, in part over divisions within the opposition about negotiations with Damascus. But Tehran's participation is an essential prerequisite for any chance of a ceasefire involving the Syrian government.
On March 21, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, in response to a request from Syria's government, said the United Nations would investigate the possible use of chemical weapons near Aleppo two days earlier. But the justified alarm over chemical weapons in Syria should not simply be seen as an opportunity for U.N. investigative teams and muscular warnings. Rather, now is also the time for a bold diplomatic initiative to end the war. This would be the best means for securing chemical weapons in Syria and preventing their use and transfer to terrorist groups.
To top it all, negotiations over Syria could also be a means to jumpstart U.S.-Iran relations and improve the prospects for progress in talks with Iran on its nuclear program.
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