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JFP News 5/18: Parsing the White House Statement on the Iran Fuel Swap Deal
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 18 May 2010 - 4:06pm
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May 18, 2010
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Parsing the White House Statement on the Iran Nuclear Fuel Swap Deal
Unlike many commenters - such as the German government - the White House response leaves the door open for a negotitated deal, by focusing its objection on 20% enrichment, rather than enrichment per se; unlike the response of other critics, the White House response is at least consistent with the original spirit of the deal, the whole point of which was to open up a road for dealing with international concerns about Iran's nuclear program without recourse to the non-starter demand of suspension of all enrichment.
1) House Democrats are preparing to pass an Afghanistan war-spending bill on a party-line vote as Republicans balk at extra provisions the White House wants in the measure, the Hill reports.
2) If the West accepts the deal as worked out by Brazil and Turkey, and if a new round of negotiations begins - on both the nuclear and other major issues - then this could be a breakthrough, writes former National Security Council member Gary Sick. If the West turns it down, or if the two sides do not use it to negotiate some of the major issues that separate them, then nothing much will have been accomplished. The next step is up to the US and its negotiating partners. One way to respond may be to declare our threat of sanctions worked: we accept yes as an answer...are we that smart?
3) Turkey and Brazil seem to have succeeded in resolving the most critical obstacle in the Iranian nuclear stand-off: the issue of trust, writes Trita Parsi for Foreign Policy. Unlike its well-grounded suspicion of the big powers, Iran has reason to trust Turkey and Brazil.
4) The US said it would continue to press for sanctions against Iran, the New York Times reports. White House officials were clearly angered at the leaders of Turkey and Brazil, the Times says. Turkey's ambassador to the US described the agreement as a "confidence-building measure," and said he was disappointed in the Obama administration's reaction. "I would have expected a more encouraging statement," he said.
5) A night raid Friday by U.S. Special Operations forces left at least nine Afghan men dead in the Surkhrod district of Nangahar province in eastern Afghanistan, the Washington Post reports. NATO describes it as a successful mission. Relatives at the house said it was a slaughter of civilians. Afghan officials denounced the lack of coordination by U.S. forces with local authorities, who said they were left in the dark about both the target and the timing of the operation.
6) Michael Intriligator, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute, argues the real, long-term cost of the war in Afghanistan may reach 1.5 to 2 trillion dollars, Inter Press Service reports.
7) The toll of American dead in Afghanistan passed 1,000, the New York Times reports. Having taken nearly seven years to reach the first 500 dead, the war killed the second 500 in fewer than two.
8) A new analysis suggests that the "success" of antimissile defenses in tests have been wildly overstated by the Pentagon, the New York Times reports.
9) NATO's supreme commander said Iran's agreement to swap the bulk of its enriched uranium for nuclear fuel in Turkey was "a potentially good development," AFP reports.
10) China welcomed a nuclear fuel swap deal Iran announced after talks with Brazil and Turkey and urged negotiations over the dispute, Reuters reports.
11) A UN study showed said Pakistan had the highest number of internally displaced people in 2009 because of the Taliban insurgency and the country's military response, Reuters reports. Some 3 million Pakistanis were displaced last year, out of a population of 170 million. That was three times more than the second-place country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
12) Elvis Costello has called off planned gigs in Israel, citing what he called the "intimidation" and "humiliation" of Palestinians, AFP reports. Costello is the latest music star to cancel performances in Israel after Carlos Santana and Gil Scott-Heron called off their shows.
13) President Fernandez says Argentina's experience shows austerity measures are exactly the wrong medicine in a debt crisis, which is why Europe's rescue plan is "condemned to failure," AP reports. By boosting government spending to stimulate the economy, Argentina increased its GDP by more than 50 percent since 2003, and now plans to emerge from default by resolving the last of its bad debts. "You don't need to be an economist to know that if you reduce the flow of economic activity, you reduce even more the capacity to pay the debt," Fernandez said. "It's clear that you won't be able to pay what you're being lent." Even supporters of Europe's rescue package say Greece, Portugal, Spain and other overly indebted European countries now face years of wage cuts, increased taxes and living with less to have a chance of avoiding national bankruptcy.
14) The president of Colombia's General Confederation of Workers union met with President Uribe to express concern that seventeen trade unionists have been murdered so far this year in Colombia, writes Alex Hocking for Colombia Reports.
1) Dems Prepare To Pass War Funding Bill Without Republican Support
Walter Alarkon, The Hill, 05/17/10 07:32 PM ET
House Democrats are preparing to pass an Afghanistan war-spending bill on a party-line vote as Republicans balk at extra provisions the White House wants in the measure.
Passing such a spending bill through the lower chamber will be difficult because some anti-war Democrats routinely vote no on war bills. Moreover, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has vowed not to lean on her caucus on this year's war supplemental after whipping the measure in 2009.
House Democratic leaders are planning to take up the package funding President Barack Obama's troop increase in Afghanistan after it passes the Senate. Senior Democrats in the upper chamber and the Obama administration are looking to attach to the war bill a $23 billion fund to help state and local governments stave off teacher layoffs.
House Republicans have strongly criticized the effort to tack on the education funding, suggesting that they could oppose a war-spending bill for the second year in a row. Some Republicans have called the education funding another "bailout" that will add to the country's $13 trillion debt.
2) Iran Agrees to Nuclear Fuel Swap
Gary Sick, May 17, 2010
[Sick served on the National Security Council under Ford and Carter.]
What to make of the new nuclear agreement by Turkey and Brazil with Iran?
We should all be reminded of the original purpose of the agreement. It was intended as a confidence-building measure that would open the way to more substantive discussions of other issues. The original offer that Iran provisionally accepted in October tacitly accepted Iran's right to enrich uranium; in return Iran would give up control over a significant portion of its existing stash of LEU. Even low enriched uranium can be further enriched to create bomb-grade (roughly 90+ percent) highly enriched uranium (HEU) that is required for a bomb. The October agreement would have created an environment conducive to at least minimal mutual trust and the beginning of serious negotiations.
Note to negotiators: In the past six months, Iran has not used its LEU to build a bomb, even without an agreement.
Iran has set up a special line of centrifuges to enrich uranium to the 20 percent required for the TRR. But that line is small, separated from its other enrichment facilities, and under inspection of the IAEA. The move to enrich some uranium to 20 percent was obviously intended as a pressure tactic to drive the West back into negotiations, since Iran does not have the capability to manufacture fuel cells for the TRR.
We should also be reminded that Iran did not reject the original deal: they proposed amending it. Basically, when the Iranian negotiators came home with the proposed deal, they were attacked from all sides - including members of the Green Movement - for being suckers. Their opponents pointed out that they were going to rely on the word and good will of Russia (where the LEU would be enriched to 20 percent) and France (where the fuel cells would be fabricated). Iranians from left to right argued that both of these countries had repeatedly cheated Iran on nuclear issues: Russia by delaying endlessly the completion of the nuclear power plant at Bushehr, and France by refusing to grant Iran rights to the Eurodif enrichment facility partially owned by Iran since the days of the shah. Why, they asked, should we believe that this agreement will be any different?
Instead, they proposed that the swap of LEU for the fuel cells should happen on Iranian soil, probably in stages and within a fixed period of time. That idea was rejected by the United States and its negotiating partners.
The new bargain appears to be a compromise in which the LEU would physically be removed from Iran and held in escrow in Turkey for up to a year, in which time the fuel cells would be manufactured and delivered to Iran. The new bargain also appears to go much further in formally recognizing the legitimacy of Iran's independent enrichment program. That should not be a surprise given the fact that Brazil, one of the parties to the bargain, has its own enrichment facility similar to Iran's and in fact concealed its details for some time.
So where does that leave us? Essentially, it takes us back to last October. The one big difference is that Iran has more LEU now than it did then. But the reality is that Iran will keep producing LEU unless a new agreement is reached to persuade them to stop. If we had completed the agreement of a swap in October, Iran would have the same amount of LEU as it has now. If we wait another six months for negotiations, Iran will have still more LEU.
In short, this agreement is largely symbolic and limited in its practical effects. If the West accepts the deal as worked out by Brazil and Turkey, and if a new round of negotiations begins - on both the nuclear and other major issues - then this could be a breakthrough. If the West turns it down, or if the two sides do not use it to negotiate some of the major issues that separate them, then nothing much will have been accomplished.
The next step is up to the United States and its negotiating partners. Although angst is high among the sanctions-at-all-costs crowd, this path to a nuclear swap deal was fully endorsed by the United States and was the centerpiece of the justification for sanctions. One way to respond at this point may just be to declare that our threat of sanctions worked: Iran has capitulated and we accept yes as an answer. Hmmm…are we that smart?
3) The Turkey-Brazil-Iran deal: Can Washington take 'yes' for an answer?
Trita Parsi, Foreign Policy, Monday, May 17, 2010 - 8:57 PM
The Brazilian-Turkish diplomatic breakthrough with Iran has taken Washington by surprise. Clearly, the geopolitical center of gravity has shifted-five years of EU-led negotiations led nowhere while the new emerging powers Brazil and Turkey only needed a few months to produce a breakthrough. Now, the West needs to pull off some political acrobatics to avoid being on the diplomatic defensive.
Before Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's trip to Iran this past weekend, few among the permanent members of the UN Security Council were optimistic about his chances of success. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was charitable when he put Lula's odds at 30 percent. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly called her Brazilian counterpart to discourage Brazil from undertaking the diplomatic mission. And few in Washington seemed to have been prepared for a diplomatic breakthrough.
But against all odds, Turkey and Brazil seem to have succeeded in resolving the most critical obstacle in the Iranian nuclear stand-off: the issue of trust. Both through the modalities of the new deal as well as by virtue of who they are, Turkey and Brazil have succeeded in filling the trust gap.
For the Iranians - beyond their political paralysis of last year - the issue of trust was the primary flaw of the October 2009 proposal. As the Iranians saw it, the deal would have required that Iran place disproportionate trust in the Western powers by agreeing to give up its low-enriched uranium stockpile in one shipment, only to receive fuel rods for Iran's research reactor nine to twelve months later. This would have required a significant leap of faith on their behalf.
While Iran has been suspicious of European and American maneuvers and proposals, out of a fear that the ultimate objective of the West is to eliminate Iran's enrichment program, that suspicion is unlikely to arise in a Brazilian-sponsored deal due to Brazil's own nuclear program and self-interest in ensuring that Iran's nuclear rights aren't inhibited and turned into a legally binding precedent.
In fact, the Turkish-Brazilian-Iranian agreement explicitly endorses Iran's right to enrichment, a position the US has refused to officially accept.
4) U.S. Is Skeptical On Iranian Deal For Nuclear Fuel
David E. Sanger and Michael Slackman, New York Times, May 17, 2010
Washington - The United States, Europe and Russia responded with extreme skepticism to Iran's announcement on Monday that it had reached an agreement to ship roughly half of its nuclear fuel to Turkey, saying they would continue to press for new sanctions against Tehran.
Nonetheless, officials from several countries said that the deal, negotiated with the leaders of Turkey and Brazil, was a deftly timed attempt to throw the sanctions effort off track.
The terms were similar to those of an accord made with the West last October that fell apart when Iran backtracked. Since then, Iran has added considerably to its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, meaning that it would keep on Iranian territory about half of its current supply - or about enough fuel for one nuclear weapon if it chose to make one. The earlier deal was attractive to Washington because it would have deprived Tehran of enough known fuel to make a weapon, leaving breathing space for negotiations.
Rejecting the new deal, however, could make President Obama appear to be blocking a potential compromise. And the deal shows how Brazil and Turkey, which for their own economic interests oppose sanctions, may derail a fragile international consensus to increase pressure on Iran.
The deal agreed to Monday in Tehran calls for Iran to ship 2,640 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, where it would be stored for one year. In exchange, Iran would have the right to receive about 265 pounds of uranium enriched to 20 percent by other countries for use in a reactor that makes isotopes for treating Iranian cancer patients.
But the White House noted that even while striking the deal, Iran insisted on Monday that it would continue its new effort to enrich fuel at a higher level, taking it closer to bomb-grade material. "While it would be a positive step for Iran to transfer low-enriched uranium off of its soil as it agreed to do last October, Iran said today that it would continue its 20 percent enrichment, which is a direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions," Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said in a statement.
Mr. Gibbs made clear that the administration would continue to press forward with sanctions until, as he said, Iran demonstrates "through deeds - and not simply words - its willingness to live up to international obligations or face consequences, including sanctions."
White House officials were clearly angered at the leaders of Turkey and Brazil, whom Mr. Obama had met personally in Washington during last month's Nuclear Security Summit to urge them to be careful not to give the Iranians a pretext to avoid complying with United Nations demands. Mr. Obama followed up those meetings with detailed letters in the last week of April outlining specific concerns, a senior administration official said. But those letters appeared to have limited influence on the outcome.
Turkey's ambassador to the United States, Namik Tan, described the agreement as a "confidence-building measure," and said he was disappointed in the Obama administration's reaction. "I would have expected a more encouraging statement," he said. "We don't believe in sanctions, and I don't believe anybody can challenge us, and certainly not the United States," Mr. Tan said. "They don't work."
Iranian officials said they would send a letter confirming the deal to the International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations within a week.
Diplomats in Vienna said the atomic agency had not been formally notified about the deal, but added that Tehran's agreement to a swap outside its own territory was potentially significant.
The earlier agreement fell apart under political pressure in Iran when nearly every political faction criticized it as compromising Iran's right to nuclear energy. Then and now, Iran's negotiating team argued that the deal was in the nation's interest because it effectively confirmed Iran's right to enrich uranium.
If successful, the agreement would enhance and underscore the continued rise of Turkey and Brazil as global forces. Ferai Tinc, a political analyst writing in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, said, "Ankara was neither a full supporter of Iran nor an advocate of violence and sanctions against it, but stood strongly for promoting a diplomatic resolution."
5) Night Raid Blamed For Civilian Deaths
NATO says night raid killed Afghan insurgents; residents say it killed civilians
Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Tuesday, May 18, 2010; A10
Surkhrod, Afghanistan - District police chief Abdul Ghafour woke to a cellphone call after 1 a.m. Friday: There was gunfire at Rafiuddin Kushkaki's home. Ghafour put on his uniform, sent two police trucks ahead and followed in a third. "I thought that the Taliban must have attacked this man's house," he said.
He was wrong. It was a raid by U.S. Special Operations forces and their Afghan colleagues, and it left at least nine Afghan men dead in the Surkhrod district of Nangahar province in eastern Afghanistan. NATO describes it as a successful mission that took out ruthless Taliban insurgents. Relatives at the house said it was a slaughter of civilians.
Whatever the real answer, the raid demonstrated to Afghan officials a lack of coordination by U.S. forces with local authorities, who said they were left in the dark about both the target and the timing of the operation. Afghan police said they were prevented from getting within 200 yards of the house until hours after the raid began and were even shot at when they tried to move closer.
The operation Friday prompted a violent protest and denunciations from tribal elders. It also raised questions among Afghans about the counterinsurgency value of such lethal operations.
"I'm the responsible person here - I have to know what's going on," said Ghafour, the police chief. "In all our intelligence reports, in everything, we don't have a single piece of information about these people. Do the coalition forces have it?"
On Monday, Kushkaki walked around his property showing the bloodstains of his slain relatives and friends. His son, 16-year-old Habibuddin, and Kushkaki's brother, Hafizuddin, were both shot and killed, he said. An elderly farmer who lived at the house, Sayid Rahim, and four of his sons were also killed, as were two drivers, he said. He said all the home's residents were Tajiks with no links to the insurgency, which is composed primarily of Pashtuns.
Kushkaki described himself as a wealthy man and landowner. He works as a driver for Zahir Qadir, a former Afghan general and the son of a famous tribal leader, Abdul Qadir, who fought the Taliban alongside President Hamid Karzai.
Zahir Qadir convened a gathering of tribal elders Monday in Jalalabad. He condemned the raid, said the slain men were civilians and demanded that the two detainees taken by U.S. forces be released. "They always get the wrong information. This is not acceptable," Qadir said of U.S. troops. "When they are killing our people, it's not possible to accept them as our friends."
6) Bill for Afghan War Could Run Into the Trillions
Eli Clifton, Inter Press Service, May 17
Washington - The U.S. Senate is moving forward with a 59-billion-dollar spending bill, of which 33.5 billion dollars would be allocated for the war in Afghanistan.
However, some experts here in Washington are raising concerns that the war may be unwinnable and that the money being spent on military operations in Afghanistan could be better spent.
"We're making all of the same mistakes the Soviets made during their time in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, and they left in defeat having accomplished none of their purposes," Michael Intriligator, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute, said Monday at a half-day conference hosted by the New America Foundation and Economists for Peace and Security. "I think we're repeating that and it's a history we're condemned to repeat," he said.
Intriligator also argued that the real, long-term cost of the war in Afghanistan may completely overshadow the current spending bill.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes estimated that the long-term costs - taking into account the costs of taking care of wounded soldiers and rebuilding the military - of the war in Iraq will ultimately cost three trillion dollars.
Intriligator suggested that a similar calculation for the costs of the war in Afghanistan would indicate a long-term cost of 1.5 to 2.0 trillion dollars. "Why are we putting money into Afghanistan to fight a losing war and following the Soviet example rather than putting money into [our] local communities?" he asked.
7) Grim Milestone: 1,000 Americans Dead
James Dao and Andrew W. Lehren, New York Times, May 18, 2010
On Tuesday, the toll of American dead in Afghanistan passed 1,000, after a suicide bomb in Kabul killed at least five United States service members. Having taken nearly seven years to reach the first 500 dead, the war killed the second 500 in fewer than two. A resurgent Taliban active in almost every province, a weak central government incapable of protecting its people and a larger number of American troops in harms way all contributed to the accelerating pace of death.
8) Review Cites Flaws in U.S. Antimissile Program
William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, New York Times, May 17, 2010
President Obama's plans for reducing America's nuclear arsenal and defeating Iran's missiles rely heavily on a new generation of antimissile defenses, which last year he called "proven and effective."
His confidence in the heart of the system, a rocket-powered interceptor known as the SM-3, was particularly notable because as a senator and presidential candidate he had previously criticized antimissile arms. But now, a new analysis being published by two antimissile critics, at M.I.T. and Cornell, casts doubt on the reliability of the new weapon.
Mr. Obama's announcement of his new antimissile plan in September was based on the Pentagon's assessment that the SM-3, or Standard Missile 3, had intercepted 84 percent of incoming targets in tests. But a re-examination of results from 10 of those apparently successful tests by Theodore A. Postol and George N. Lewis, being published this month, finds only one or two successful intercepts - for a success rate of 10 to 20 percent.
Most of the approaching warheads, they say, would have been knocked off course but not destroyed. While that might work against a conventionally armed missile, it suggests that a nuclear warhead might still detonate. At issue is whether the SM-3 needs to strike and destroy the warhead of a missile - as the Pentagon says on its Web site.
"The system is highly fragile and brittle and will intercept warheads only by accident, if ever," said Dr. Postol, a former Pentagon science adviser who forcefully criticized the performance of the Patriot antimissile system in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
9) New Iran Nuclear Swap Accord 'Potentially Good': NATO
AFP, Mon May 17, 11:24 am ET
Washington - NATO's supreme commander said Iran's agreement Monday to swap the bulk of its enriched uranium for nuclear fuel in Turkey was "a potentially good development."
"I think that's an example of what we all look for, which is a diplomatic system that encourages good behavior on the part of the Iranian regime," said US Admiral James Stavridis.
Stavridis, the supreme allied commander, said the agreement struck by Turkey, Brazil and Iran was "a potentially good development," adding that "obviously we have a million miles to go." His positive reaction contrasted with the generally chilly response by the West, which is pressing the UN Security Council to approve a tough new set of sanctions against Iran.
10) China welcomes Iran nuclear fuel swap deal
Chris Buckley, Reuters, Tue May 18, 2010 6:19am EDT
Beijing - China welcomed a nuclear fuel swap deal Iran announced after talks with Brazil and Turkey and urged negotiations over the dispute, but Western powers rejected the deal as too little to halt momentum for sanctions.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said he was encouraged. His reaction suggested Beijing and Western powers may part ways on how much weight to give Iran's offer. "China has noted the relevant reports and expresses its welcome and appreciation for the diplomatic efforts all parties have made to positively seek an appropriate solution to the Iranian nuclear issue," Yang said, according to the Foreign Ministry website.
Later on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said his government hoped the nuclear fuel swap agreement "will benefit the process of peacefully resolving the Iran nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiations".
11) Pakistan: U.N. Report Finds High Levels Of Displacement
Reuters, May 17, 2010
Pakistan had the highest number of internally displaced people in 2009 because of the Taliban insurgency and the country's military response, a United Nations study showed on Monday. Some 3 million Pakistanis were displaced last year, out of a population of 170 million. That was three times more than the second-place country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the study. The number of internally displaced people worldwide reached 27.1 million in 2009, the highest since records began in the mid-1990s.
12) Rocker Costello cancels Israel gig
AFP, Tue May 18, 8:02 am ET
Jerusalem - British rocker Elvis Costello has called off planned gigs in Israel, citing what he called the "intimidation" and "humiliation" of Palestinians. The singer-songwriter is the latest music star to cancel performances in Israel after rock guitarist Carlos Santana and rap forefather Gil Scott-Heron called off their shows.
13) Argentina: Greek financial rescue doomed to fail
Michael Warren, AP, May 15, 2010
Avellaneda, Argentina - Gregorio Lopez has a message for the Greek workers who are protesting deep cuts in salaries and pensions that come with an international, trillion-dollar rescue package: You're on your own.
Argentina also had to go it alone after failing to make the deep cuts demanded by the International Monetary Fund to secure more loans. The country in 2001 was in many ways where Greece and other southern European nations are today, with its economy sputtering, companies failing and huge debts coming due. But instead of a trillion-dollar rescue to keep Greece from defaulting, Argentina got a cold shoulder from lenders.
While Europe's rescue package announced this week has at least postponed the worst - a domino effect of defaults across Europe that could drag down the euro and even break up the European Union - Argentina ran out of options. It defaulted and had to figure out how to rebuild its economy without outside help.
But in its isolation, the country boomed. By boosting government spending to stimulate the economy, Argentina increased its GDP by more than 50 percent since 2003, and now plans to emerge from default by resolving the last of its bad debts.
President Cristina Fernandez says Argentina's experience shows that austerity measures are exactly the wrong medicine in a debt crisis, which is why Europe's rescue plan is "condemned to failure."
"You don't need to be an economist to know that if you reduce the flow of economic activity, you reduce even more the capacity to pay the debt," Fernandez said in a national address this week. "It's clear that you won't be able to pay what you're being lent."
Even supporters of Europe's rescue package say Greece, Portugal, Spain and other overly indebted European countries now face years of wage cuts, increased taxes and living with less to have a chance of avoiding national bankruptcy.
14) 17 Colombian trade unionists murdered in 2010
Alex Hocking, Colombia Reports, Friday, 14 May 2010 11:30
The president of Colombia's General Confederation of Workers union (CGT), Julio Roberto Gomez, met with President Alvaro Uribe to express concern that seventeen trade unionists have been murdered so far this year in the Andean nation, reports W Radio.
Uribe responded by ordering the Ministry for the Interior to speed up the judicial process and prevent the situation spreading, with a new strategy of offering rewards for information leading to the capture of trade unionists' murderers.
Gomez acknowledged that there have been improvements in fighting the impunity of those who attack trade unionists, and said that, according to figures from the prosecutor general, some 300 people are currently being detained for this type of crime.
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