JFP News 10/16: Iran Ready for Nuclear Deal?
Just Foreign Policy News
October 16, 2009
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1) Iran experts and regional analysts say that Iran finally may be ready to make a deal on its nuclear program, less because it is under pressure than because it has already achieved what it set out to do, the New York Times reports. The point when both sides have a chance to declare victory may have been reached. "If the Iranian endgame is to keep enrichment, and if the United States' endgame is to make sure there are no nuclear weapons in Iran, then it can be a win-win," said Trita Parsi of NIAC. Experts say Iran's intention all along was to strengthen its hand in dealing with the West, to achieve legitimacy, security and recognition of its leadership in the region. Iran's meeting with the US and Western powers in Geneva brought it within reach of those goals. The US negotiated directly with Iran and, perhaps more important, Iran walked away with an implicit acceptance of its right to continue enrichment on its own soil, which it considers a matter of national sovereignty.
2) Sen. Levin's plan to speed the training of Afghan security forces is drawing growing support within the White House and the Pentagon, the Wall Street Journal reports. Officials said Levin's proposal is attracting high-level backing and could form the core of a compromise approach to the conflict. Levin wants to send as many as several thousand additional U.S. military trainers to Afghanistan while refocusing the broader U.S. mission there on mentoring the Afghan army and national police.
3) U.S. intelligence agencies are considering whether to rewrite a controversial 2007 intelligence report that asserted Iran halted efforts to build nuclear weapons in 2003, the Wall Street Journal reports. Pressure is mounting on Capitol Hill, and among U.S. allies, for the Obama administration to redo the 2007 assessment, after a string of recent revelations about Iran's nuclear program. So far, intelligence officials are not "ready to declare that invalid," a senior U.S. intelligence official said, emphasizing that the judgment covered the 2003-2007 time frame only. That leaves room for a reassessment of the period since the December 2007 report was completed, the official suggested. If undertaken, a new NIE likely wouldn't be available for months.
4) The Pentagon is reviewing the Bush administration's doctrine of preemptive military strikes with an eye to modifying or possibly ending it, Bloomberg reports. The doctrine is being reassessed as part of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review, which will be given to Congress in February. In September 2002, the Bush doctrine expressed the right to attack a threat that was gathering, not just imminent. "That doctrine was always at odds with international law and norms," said James Lindsay, of the Council on Foreign Relations. [The terminology can be confusing, in part because the Bush Administration deliberately obfuscated it. International law always accepted the right to "preempt" an "imminent" attack; the Bush Administration extended "preemption" to include "prevention" of an attack that was not "imminent"- JFP]
5) Secretary of State Clinton announced that the US is prepared to begin negotiations on a global treaty regulating trade in conventional weapons but said Washington would sign the accord only if all other states agreed, the Washington Post reports. "This is totally about international transfer of arms so that they don't go to human rights abusers," said Scott Stedjan of Oxfam. Arms control experts welcomed the U.S. commitment to participate, but expressed concern the U.S. insistence on consensus would provide any state with the power to veto such a treaty. "The U.S. goal to raise global standards is laudable, but its insistence on consensus is likely to prove counterproductive," said Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association. "It will give any country that wants to derail the process an opportunity to do so."
6) Officials familiar with results said an investigation of allegedly fraudulent ballots in Afghanistan's election has reduced President Karzai's vote to about 47 percent, an outcome that will trigger a runoff, the Washington Post reports. The US and its NATO allies agreed last month that if there was to be a runoff, it would have to be held by the first week in November to avoid a turnout that would almost certainly be low because of the harsh winter.
7) The trade publication Nucleonics Week reported that Iran's supply of low-enriched uranium appears to have "impurities" that "could cause centrifuges to fail" if the Iranians try to boost it to weapons grade, writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. That suggests may be more time on the Iranian nuclear clock than some analysts had feared.
8) Plans to hold a referendum that could have accelerated the withdrawal of US forces have been shelved, as Iraqi politicians who were pushing for the poll conclude that it no longer would be a useful exercise, Liz Sly reports for the Los Angeles Times. "The Iraqis in general are no longer asking for a referendum because we see positive signs, namely the withdrawing of American troops," said a spokesman for Iyad Samarrai, speaker of parliament, who had supported the referendum. The security pact was negotiated during the Bush administration amid widespread Iraqi suspicions that U.S. forces had no intention of leaving. Indications that the Obama administration is serious about getting out have soothed those concerns, officials say. [This suggests that the Iraqi parliamentarians who added this provision really knew what they were doing in giving themselves future leverage against the US - JFP.]
1) Some See Iran as Ready for Nuclear Deal
Michael Slackman, New York Times, October 15, 2009
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - Iran says it has no plans to build nuclear weapons. Western nations say they do not believe Iran and periodically release intelligence reports that they say prove Iran has been working on building a bomb. For years, that has been the point of contention in an intractable international dispute.
But as the United States and its Western allies prepare for a second round of direct negotiations with Tehran this month, that may no longer be the central question. The more pertinent point, Iran experts and regional analysts say, is that Iran finally may be ready to make a deal.
The analysts cite a confluence of factors, from Iran's internal political crisis to the change in leadership in Washington, and one overriding point: Iran's leadership may have achieved much of what it set out to accomplish when it stepped up its clandestine nuclear program in 1999.
In contentious, high-stakes negotiations, deals are possible when both sides have a chance to declare victory, and that point may have been reached.
"If the Iranian endgame is to keep enrichment, and if the United States' endgame is to make sure there are no nuclear weapons in Iran, then it can be a win-win," said Trita Parsi, author of a book on Iran and president of the National Iranian American Council, an independent advocacy group in Washington. "Those who have been criticizing the administration for compromising or giving Iran a concession, they are wrong. It is not a concession to adjust to an unchanging reality."
For Iran, this is not exactly about compromising - which it has shown little appetite for - as much as cooperating. For the West, it is not about winning concessions but about developing verifiable assurances that Iran is not producing weapons.
Tehran knows that actually deploying a weapon could undermine its regional strength by driving smaller oil-rich neighbors to seek their own nuclear umbrella, presumably from the United States. Rather, experts say, Iran's intention all along was to strengthen its hand in dealing with the West, to achieve legitimacy, security and recognition of its leadership in the region. Iran's meeting with the United States and Western powers in Geneva brought it within reach of those goals.
The United States negotiated directly with Iran and, perhaps more important, Iran walked away with an implicit acceptance of its right to continue enrichment on its own soil, which it considers a matter of national sovereignty. "They are already where they wanted to be," said Abbas Milani, head of Iranian studies at Stanford, even before the Geneva meeting. "They are virtually a nuclear state; the issue of national pride is resolved."
Hassan Rowhani, a cleric who served for years as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and the head of its Supreme National Security Council, published in 2005 a private speech he gave a year earlier. While there have been tactical disagreements over the years between hard-liners and pragmatists like Mr. Rowhani, the speech indicated that there was no dispute over the end goal.
"The world did not want Pakistan to have an atomic bomb or Brazil to have the fuel cycle, but Pakistan built its bomb and Brazil has its fuel cycle, and the world started to work with them," he said. "Our problem is that we have not achieved either one, but we are standing at the threshold. As for building the atomic bomb, we never wanted to move in that direction and we have not yet completely developed our fuel cycle capability."
When Iran met with Western powers in Geneva, it offered what appeared to be a compromise. It said that it would allow inspectors into a recently disclosed enrichment facility near the holy city of Qum and it agreed to send its modestly enriched fuel to Russia to be processed further. Tehran also agreed to keep talking, which seemed to contradict President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's insistence that Iran would deal only with the I.A.E.A. about its nuclear program.
But back at home, the hard-liners declared success. "Prior to the talks, they used to speak of suspension and sanctions against Iran, but after the talks there has not been any word of suspension or sanctions. Rather, Iran's package of proposals was the focus," said Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami, a conservative cleric, during a Friday Prayer sermon at Tehran University last week.
2) Sen. Levin Crafts Afghan Compromise
Yochi J. Dreazen, Wall Street Journal, October 16, 2009
Washington - Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin is emerging as a pivotal player in the debate over Afghanistan, with the lawmaker's plan to speed the training of Afghan security forces drawing growing support within the White House and the Pentagon.
Three U.S. officials familiar with the Obama administration's deliberations over Afghanistan said Sen. Levin's proposal is attracting high-level backing and could form the core of a compromise approach to the conflict.
Sen. Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wants to send as many as several thousand additional U.S. military trainers to Afghanistan while refocusing the broader U.S. mission there on mentoring the Afghan army and national police.
The lawmaker says he believes his approach could be incorporated into either of the two strategies being debated by President Barack Obama's war council: a counterinsurgency campaign that would try to protect the Afghan population with greater troop numbers, and a narrower counterterror push that would aim to kill or capture individual militants.
"You can talk to people who believe in counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, a blend of the two, a fourth approach, and every single one says build up the Afghan army faster," Sen. Levin said. "It's a common thread."
The proposal could also give the administration a face-saving way to reject Gen. Stanley McChrystal's call for 40,000 new troops and instead choose to send a comparatively small contingent of American reinforcements to Afghanistan.
A Defense official noted that U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have long asked for thousands of additional Western military trainers, which meant that the White House could authorize 10,000-15,000 new troops and earmark them specifically for an expanded training mission.
Within the Pentagon, Sen. Levin's call to focus U.S. efforts on training the Afghan forces is increasingly seen as "the least-bad of a bunch of really bad options," the Defense official said.
Gen. McChrystal, who was chosen to be the U.S. commander in Kabul over the summer, has warned that the U.S. could fail in Afghanistan if it doesn't quickly adopt a new strategy and deploy tens of thousands of reinforcements to the country.
3) U.S. Considers A New Assessment Of Iran Threat
Amid Pressure After Latest Nuclear Revelations, Spy Agencies Rethink a 2007 Judgment That Weapons Effort Had Been Halted
Siobhan Gorman and Jay Solomon, Wall Street Journal, October 16, 2009
Washington - U.S. spy agencies are considering whether to rewrite a controversial 2007 intelligence report that asserted Tehran halted its efforts to build nuclear weapons in 2003, current and former U.S. intelligence officials say.
The intelligence agencies' rethink comes as pressure is mounting on Capitol Hill, and among U.S. allies, for the Obama administration to redo the 2007 assessment, after a string of recent revelations about Tehran's nuclear program.
German, French and British intelligence agencies have all disputed the conclusions of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, in recent months, according to European officials briefed on the exchanges.
Intelligence on the state of Iran's nuclear capabilities has for years been politically fraught within Washington and among U.S. allies and international institutions like the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Rewriting an NIE is a major undertaking because it is the most comprehensive of U.S. intelligence reports and reflects the combined judgment of all 16 American intelligence bodies.
The 2007 report created a political headache for the Bush administration when Republicans and some allied governments such as Israel criticized the broad public conclusion that Iran was backing off its nuclear ambitions.
The report reversed earlier findings that Iran was pursuing a nuclear-weapons program. It found with "high confidence" that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and with "moderate confidence" that it hadn't been restarted as of mid-2007.
So far, intelligence officials are not "ready to declare that invalid," a senior U.S. intelligence official said, emphasizing that the judgment covered the 2003-2007 time frame only. That leaves room for a reassessment of the period since the December 2007 report was completed, the official suggested.
The spy agencies "have a lot more information since we last did" a national intelligence estimate, the official said. Some of it "tracks precisely with what we've seen before," while other information "causes us to reassess what we've seen before," the official added.
If undertaken, a new NIE likely wouldn't be available for months. The U.S. and its allies have imposed an informal December deadline for Iran to comply with Western demands that it cease enriching uranium or face fresh economic sanctions.
A shift in the U.S. intelligence community's official stance - concluding Iran restarted its nuclear weapons work or that Iran's ambitions have ramped up - could significantly affect President Barack Obama's efforts to use diplomacy to contain Tehran's capabilities.
Any timeline for negotiations could be shortened if a new NIE concludes Tehran has restarted its atomic-weapons work, said officials involved in the diplomacy. But the White House could also use the new report to galvanize wider international support for sanctions against Tehran. "Countries would no longer be able to hide behind the NIE," said a European official working on Iran.
U.S. intelligence officials have been discussing whether to update the 2007 NIE on Iran's nuclear capabilities, though no decision has been made yet on whether to proceed, a senior U.S. intelligence official said.
"At some point in the near future, our analytic community is going to want to press the reset button on our judgments on intent and weaponization in light of Qom and other information we're receiving," the senior intelligence official said, referring to Mr. Obama's recent revelation that Tehran was secretly assembling a uranium-enrichment facility at a military base outside the holy city of Qom.
4) Bush Preemptive Strike Doctrine Under Review, May Be Discarded
Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg, Thu Oct 15, 12:31 pm ET
Oct. 15 - The Pentagon is reviewing the Bush administration's doctrine of preemptive military strikes with an eye to modifying or possibly ending it.
The international environment is "more complex" than when President George W. Bush announced the policy in 2002, Kathleen Hicks, the Defense Department's deputy undersecretary for strategy, said in an interview. "We'd really like to update our use-of-force doctrine to start to take account for that."
The Sept. 11 terrorist strikes prompted Bush to alter U.S. policy by stressing the option of preemptive military action against groups or countries that threaten the U.S. Critics said that breached international norms and set a dangerous precedent for other nations to adopt a similar policy.
The doctrine is being reassessed as part of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review of strategy, force structure and weapons programs. Hicks is overseeing the review. "We are looking very explicitly at use of force and use of forces," she said. "We are looking at how to articulate the use of the U.S. military instrument - how we use military force to achieve national objectives."
Congress requires the administration to report its national security strategy annually, and it requires the Pentagon to reassess its policies and war-fighting doctrine every four years.
The Obama administration will state its security doctrine for the first time as part of the Pentagon's review, which will be given to Congress in February along with the fiscal 2011 budget.
Bush outlined his doctrine of preemptive strike in a speech at West Point in June 2002. He elevated it to a formal strategy that September. For the first time in a doctrine, the U.S. expressed the right to attack a threat that was gathering, not just imminent.
The doctrine says the U.S. "will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively. "In an age where enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world's most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather," the doctrine says.
Some defense policy analysts say the doctrine should be amended or minimized. "That doctrine was always at odds with international law and norms," said James Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The doctrine is now "dead" after the invasion of Iraq, when the U.S. in March 2003 launched a "preventive war" to eradicate "the threat of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist," he said.
5) U.S. Is Open To Talks On Conventional Weapons
Colum Lynch, Washington Post, Friday, October 16, 2009
United Nations - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced late Wednesday that the United States is prepared to begin negotiations on a global treaty regulating trade in conventional weapons but said Washington would sign the accord only if all other states agreed.
The move marks a shift in policy from the Bush administration, which staunchly opposed U.N. negotiations to regulate the $55 billion-a-year arms trade. The Obama administration hopes it can use the talks to press other governments to adopt a rigorous system of export controls similar to one put in place to regulate U.S. arms exports.
"The United States is committed to actively pursuing a strong and robust treaty that contains the highest possible, legally binding standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons," Clinton said. But she said the United States would support the negotiations only if they are conducted under "the rule of consensus decision-making" needed to ensure universal compliance.
Argentina, Australia, Britain, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan and Kenya are drafting a U.N. General Assembly resolution that would call for formal negotiations on such a treaty, probably beginning in the spring. In a concession to the United States, the drafters have included language that would require the talks to proceed on a consensus basis. It would also leave it up to states to "exclusively" regulate the arms trade within their borders.
The provision was included to forestall criticism from U.S. conservatives that an arms trade treaty would be a first step toward regulating the U.S. arms trade.
John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the U.S. strategy is less about regulating the arms trade than building a case for restricting the domestic arms trade. "This has little or nothing to do with the international trade in conventional arms," he said. "This will strengthen the hand of a government that wants to regulate private ownership of firearms."
Supporters of the negotiations rejected Bolton's complaint. "No government is discussing a treaty that would ever impact the right to bear arms, nor require regulation of domestic sales of arms," said Scott Stedjan, a senior policy adviser at the relief group Oxfam America. "This is totally about international transfer of arms so that they don't go to human rights abusers."
The United States is the world's largest supplier of conventional weapons, accounting last year for nearly 70 percent of the global arms sales on contracts valued at $37.8 billion. Italy and Russia were second and third, with $3.7 billion and $3.5 billion in arms sales, according to figures compiled by the Congressional Research Service.
Arms control experts and rights advocates welcomed the U.S. commitment to participate in U.N. talks, saying the negotiations could help impose some basic rules in an industry that operates in the shadows, fuels conflicts and provides arms to terrorist groups and insurgents.
But they expressed concern that the U.S. insistence on consensus would provide any state in the world with the power to veto such a treaty. "The U.S. goal to raise global standards is laudable, but its insistence on consensus is likely to prove counterproductive," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "It will give any country that wants to derail the process an opportunity to do so."
6) Runoff Expected In Afghan Election
Fraud Probe Reduces Karzai's Share of Vote To About 47 Percent
Karen DeYoung and Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Friday, October 16, 2009
An investigation of allegedly fraudulent ballots in Afghanistan's troubled election has reduced President Hamid Karzai's portion of the vote to about 47 percent, an outcome that will trigger a runoff between him and his closest competitor, according to officials familiar with results.
The tally by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, which one official called "stunning," is due to be finalized Friday. Preliminary results by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission had given Karzai 54.6 percent of the Aug. 20 vote.
The findings have major implications for the Obama administration's ongoing deliberations over Afghanistan war strategy and could eventually help remove the cloud of illegitimacy hanging over its partner government there. But a new election could also make a difficult situation worse, particularly if fraud is once again alleged or if the vote has to be delayed because of the onset of winter.
Karzai's ambassador in Washington, Said Tayeb Jawad, said Thursday that a second round of voting was "likely," although Karzai himself has never said he would accept the results of the complaints panel, which must be certified by Afghanistan's election commission.
Jawad, who spoke at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said it would be "impossible" to hold a runoff within two weeks of certification, as required by the Afghan constitution. But "to delay until spring is a recipe for disaster," he said, adding that a new vote would have to be held within a month to avoid prolonging the uncertainty.
The United States and its NATO allies in Afghanistan agreed last month that if there was to be a runoff, it would have to be held by the first week in November to avoid a turnout that would almost certainly be low because of the harsh winter.
7) A Hitch In Iran's Nuclear Plans?
David Ignatius, Washington Post, Friday, October 16, 2009
Since you're probably not a regular reader of the trade publication Nucleonics Week, let me summarize an article that appeared in its Oct. 8 issue. It reported that Iran's supply of low-enriched uranium - the potential feedstock for nuclear bombs - appears to have certain "impurities" that "could cause centrifuges to fail" if the Iranians try to boost it to weapons grade.
"The impurities, certain metallic fluoride compounds, would interfere with centrifuge enrichment" at Iran's facility at Natanz, reported the newsletter's Bonn correspondent, Mark Hibbs.
This news strikes me as a potential bombshell. If the Nucleonics Week report is accurate (and there's some uncertainty among experts about how serious the contamination problem is), the Iranian nuclear program is in much worse shape than most analysts had realized. The contaminated fuel it has produced so far would be all but useless for nuclear weapons. To make enough fuel for a bomb, Iran might have to start over - this time avoiding the impurities.
But hold the cheers, negotiators, and let's go back to the technical stuff. "If Iran's uranium feedstock must be decontaminated before it is re-enriched . . . that would suggest that the breakout scenario in Iran does not pose a near-term threat," Hibbs reported. "That is because re-enrichment by Iran of the LEU processed at Natanz without decontamination could destroy centrifuges used for this purpose." The Nucleonics Week story explained that the French company Areva "has uranium conversion-related technology and equipment that could decontaminate Iran's LEU."
Here's the bottom line: There may be more time on the Iranian nuclear clock than some analysts had feared. The fuel stock that the Iranians have worked so hard to produce might damage their centrifuges if they try to enrich it into a bomb. Making a deal with Iran to enrich nuclear fuel outside the country makes sense, so long as the international community can monitor where and how it's used - and learn whether there's a secret stash.
8) Iraqi Push Fades For Referendum On U.S. Troop Pullout
The vote could have hastened the withdrawal of American troops from the country, but many politicians have decided it's not worth it.
Liz Sly, Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2009
Baghdad - Plans to hold a referendum that could have accelerated the withdrawal of American forces have quietly been shelved, as even those Iraqi politicians who were pushing for the poll conclude that it no longer would be a useful exercise.
Sunni Muslim politicians had wanted the referendum on the U.S.-Iraqi security pact to be conducted in January, at the same time as national elections. But with the clock ticking on preparations for the elections and the parliament still deadlocked over a new election law, there no longer is time to also draft and approve the legislation required to simultaneously hold a referendum, legislators say.
Perhaps more significant, the political will to hold a referendum appears to have evaporated amid the realization that U.S. troops are leaving anyway, and that it may not be in Iraq's interests to have them pull out even sooner.
"The political blocs are no longer interested in this issue. They want to ignore it because they are busy with the elections. They don't see it as something they could use to their advantage," said Salim Jabouri, spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, which previously insisted on a referendum.
If the security pact were to be rejected by voters, U.S. troops would have to pull out of Iraq completely within a year, 11 months earlier than the deadline specified in the agreement. But American troops have already withdrawn from the cities, and all combat forces are to leave by August.
Troop levels have been reduced by 23,000 since January, to 120,000, and are scheduled to fall rapidly after the January elections, reaching 50,000 by August, U.S. officials say.
The security pact was negotiated during the Bush administration amid widespread Iraqi suspicions that U.S. forces had no intention of leaving. Indications that the Obama administration is serious about getting out have soothed those concerns, officials say.
"The Iraqis in general are no longer asking for a referendum because we see positive signs, namely the withdrawing of American troops," said Jaber Mashhadani, spokesman for Iyad Samarrai, the speaker of parliament. Samarrai also had supported the referendum.
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