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Regime Change Redux? Reading Tom Friedman in Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo - New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is on the warpath. Not only against his "Great Satan" of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also against Brazil's President Lula and Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan, because they had the temerity to succeed in negotiating an agreement with Iran to try to de-escalate the confrontation between the United States and Iran over Iran's nuclear program without the subsequent approval of Washington. [Apparently Brazil and Turkey had White House approval to try - a week before the effort, but it seems that they did not have White House approval to succeed.]

Friedman claims that a May 17 picture of Iran's president joining Lula and Erdogan "with raised arms" after their signing of a "putative deal" to defuse the crisis over Iran's "nuclear weapons program" [does the New York Times do fact-checking on Friedman?] was "about as ugly as it gets."

If it's literally true that that picture was "as ugly as it gets," then presumably that would imply that it was at least as ugly - if not more ugly - than, for example, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, an invasion which was clearly illegal under the U.N. Charter, as former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan affirmed in 2004, an invasion which likely resulted in the deaths of more than a million Iraqis - and an invasion which Tom Friedman supported, as he explained to Charlie Rose in May 2003:

 

It's "Gollllllll!" for Lula Against Western Push for Iran Sanctions


If I were in Washington this morning, I would run down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to Congress with a big Brazilian flag, as the young Brazilians run down the Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo during the the "football" match, shouting "Gollllllll!"

Because with the news this morning that Iran has agreed to ship most of its enriched uranium to Turkey, in a nuclear fuel swap deal reached in talks with Brazil and Turkey that could "deflate a U.S.-led push" for new sanctions against Iran, the President of Brazil has scored a goal against the neocons in the West who want to gin up confrontation with Iran towards a future military conflict.

AP reports:

 

Can Brazil Save the World from War with Iran?

Sao Paulo - For the last several decades, fundamental international issues of war and peace have been largely determined by a small group of countries, especially the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, with some input from the other so-called G7 industrial democracies: Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council each have a veto over UN Security Council resolutions; they are also the only countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

We are now at a new moment in international relations, in which countries outside of the permanent members of the Security Council and their handpicked allies are insisting on having some meaningful input into these issues, and are starting to have some success in pressing their case for inclusion. Brazil has been a leader in these efforts.

The most striking example of this shift is the recent willingness of Brazil and Turkey to challenge the leadership of the United States on the question of responding to Iran's nuclear program.

AWOL from the SOTU: Peace, Reconciliation, and Debt

On foreign policy, while the President said some good things, he missed key opportunities to say better things. In particular, he missed opportunities to promote reconciliation as an essential way of ending our wars and promoting peace. In speaking about U.S. domestic politics, the President is eloquent in his efforts to promote reconciliation, but he seems to have lost his voice in applying these ideas to our foreign policy.

The President renewed his promise to end the war in Iraq, including his promise to have all U.S. combat troops out by August, and to bring all of our troops home from Iraq. He also said we will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and partner with Iraqis to promote peace and prosperity. But there was a key omission here: the word "reconciliation." Hundreds of candidates have been disqualified from running in the March parliamentary election; Sunni and secular candidates have been particularly targeted. If this move is allowed to stand, reconciliation in Iraq will be imperiled, the civil war could be reignited, and Iraq's relationship with its predominantly Sunni Arab neighbors would be further strained. The U.S. is working to overturn the exclusion; by refering more explicitly to those efforts, the President could have promoted Iraqi reconciliation.

GObama! US Agrees to Talks with Iran

To any naysayers who say President Obama has broken all his promises, I say, with all due respect: "na na na na na":

AP reports:

The United States and five partner countries have accepted Iran's new offer to hold talks, even though Iran insists it will not negotiate over its disputed nuclear program, the State Department said Friday.

I realize that this may be cold comfort if you took Obama seriously when he said that he was going to renegotiate NAFTA. Okay, that promise was not for real, sorry.

But when he said he was going to talk to Iran, apparently he meant it. Who knew?

It could have gone the other way. The US could have said - we offered Iran talks on how Iran was going to stop enriching uranium, and Iran has clearly said that it has no intention of stopping the enrichment of uranium, therefore, Iran has not agreed to our offer of talks.

And therefore, we have no choice but to proceed with efforts to cut off Iran's access to gas imports.

As everyone knows, there are plenty of folks in Washington - and at least one other capital city - who would have applauded such a course.

But Obama decided to take the high road. We said we wanted talks, and Iran is saying that it wants talks, so let's talk. Why not?

Iran says it wants comprehensive talks. So? Who's against comprehensive talks? More US-Iran cooperation could help make the world a better place on a lot of fronts: Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Lebanon.

Making progress in negotiations on Iran's "nuclear file" will not be trivial. But there is a feasible solution, and everyone knows it. As Robert Dreyfuss wrote recently in The Nation:

Mr. Mousavi's Gas Embargo on Iran?

In serious contention for Dumbest Washington Consensus for September is the idea of cutting off Iran's gas imports to pressure Iran to stop enriching uranium. A majority of Representatives and Senators have signed on to legislation that seeks to block Iran's gas imports, a top legislative priority for the so-called "Israel Lobby." But it's a stupid idea. Let us count the ways.

One: there is no indication that Russia and China will go along with it. Even Europe is split, Reuters reports. Turkey is also likely to be unenthusiastic - a country that has good relations with Iran, has a long border with Iran, and is currently on the UN Security Council. A U.S.-sponsored gas embargo on Iran isn't likely to have much impact if Russia, China, Turkey and half of Europe aren't cooperating - after all, it's not the U.S. that's exporting gas to Iran - unless it is imposed by force.

Two: Iran has threatened to retaliate against a U.S.-sponsored gas embargo by stopping its oil exports to the West. There is a historical precedent that ought to give Americans and Britons some pause: when Britain wanted to punish the democratically elected Mossadegh government for nationalizing Iran's oil, Britain imposed an embargo on Iranian oil exports, enforced by the British Navy. Fine, Mossadegh said, we don't care. Let it stay in the ground. When the embargo failed, the British tried to overthrow Mossadegh in a coup. When that failed, the British asked the U.S. to intervene, and the CIA and British intelligence overthrew Mossadegh. How does returning to the British colonialism script for Iran fit in with the whole outreach to the Muslim world thing?

Habib Ahmadzadeh: Mousavi Must Say Which Ballot Boxes He Disputes

Last night, with the translation assistance of Leila Zand, director of the Iran program at the Fellowship of Reconcilation, I interviewed Habib Ahmadzadeh on the dispute over the Iranian election results from June 12. Perhaps you've heard of Habib Ahmadzadeh. He wrote the original short script for the Iranian movie "Night Bus," and wrote the short story "Eagle Feather," both drawing on his experiences as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war.

Like many Iranians, including many Iranians who didn't vote for Ahmadinejad and don't support Ahmadinejad, but whose voices have been largely absent from Western media, even progressive media, Habib is deeply skeptical of opposition claims that the Presidential election on June 12 was "stolen," and has demanded that the opposition provide specific evidence of its claims.

I have been reaching out to Iranians who have or can get specific information about what happened on June 12-13. That path led me to Habib.

Although Habib lives in Tehran, his hometown is in Abadan, and he has many connections there. He thought it would be easier to get a picture of a smaller province like Abadan, as an example, than a larger province. So ahead of our interview, he reached out to people in Abadan.

Habib talked to Mousavi's campaign manager in Abadan, Seyed Reza Tabatabaie. There were 142 ballot boxes in Abadan; Mousavi had 127 observers.

Mousavi's campaign manager in Abadan said: yeah there was a big fraud. Habib asked, was your number the same as the Interior Ministry? Yeah, he said, it was almost the same. But there was a big fraud.

Habib pressed him: what was the fraud? Be specific. No, Mousavi's guy said, before the election, they gave this guy money, they gave that guy money...

I asked Habib: do we know which were the 15 ballot boxes in Abadan that Mousavi's people didn't observe?

$10,000 Reward: Show How the Iranian Election Was "Stolen"

I will pay $10,000 to the first person or organization that presents a coherent story for how the Iranian election was stolen that is consistent with knowable facts about the Iranian election process as it took place on June 12-13 and the information that has been published since, including the ballot box tallies that have been published on the web by the Iranian government.

In order to collect the reward, you don't have to prove your case beyond a shadow of a doubt. But your numbers have to add up. To collect your reward, it's not sufficient to cite press reports or anecdotal evidence of election irregularities, or to claim as authority Western commentators or NGOs who have not themselves put together a coherent story. To collect your reward, your story has to tell how on June 12, a majority of Iranian voters voted for other candidates besides Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yet this was transformed by the Iranian election authorities into a majority for Ahmadinejad.

Here are the numbers you have to explain. According to the official tally, Ahmadinejad got about 24.5 million votes. Mir Hossein Mousavi got 13.2 million votes. That's a difference of more than 11 million votes.

So, when I say your numbers have to add up, I mean your story of stolen votes has to overcome that 11 million vote gap. [The number would differ somewhat if you only want to say that Ahmadinejad didn't get a first round majority, as opposed to merely beating Mousavi, but it would not differ by much, since the third and fourth place candidates took such a small share of the vote.]

To illustrate: much has been made of the Guardian Council's "admission" that in about 50 cities or towns, the number of votes exceeded the number of people eligible to vote in that area. Note, first of all, that unlike in the United States, where in general you can only vote where you are registered, in Iran you can vote wherever you happen to be that day.

Berman, Pelosi Undermine Obama on Iran Diplomacy

It's interesting to observe when some Democratic Congressional leaders say Democrats have to be "loyal" to President Obama and when it's apparently OK to join Republicans in undermining him.

Earlier this week, Speaker Pelosi said progressive House Democrats said had to be "loyal" to President Obama in supporting more money to escalate war in Afghanistan, despite the lack of any strategy for how we are going to get out. And they had to be "loyal" to President Obama in supporting $108 billion for the International Monetary Fund, widely expected to be used largely to bail out European banks, even though modest Congressional demands for reforms at the IMF (the Fed publishes minutes of its meetings, why not the IMF?) had been rebuffed.

But when President Obama said, quite sensibly, that the U.S. should avoid the appearance of meddling in Iran's election dispute, Howard Berman and Nancy Pelosi decided to join with Republicans in undermining Obama's policy.

CQ Politics reports:

When House Republicans pushed a resolution supporting Iranian protestors Tuesday, critics said they were seeking political points against a circumspect President Obama. But when House Democrats signed onto the resolution (H Res 560) Thursday night, getting a green light for a Friday morning vote under suspension of the rules from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, critics said it seemed they were taking political cover. Backed by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard L.

Ron Paul Supports Obama Position on Iran

A House resolution supporting the protesters in Iran passed this morning 405-1. While the text of the bill is rather mild, doubtlessly it will be reported in Iran as evidence of US interference. The case is made even stronger by throwing in a few quotes from the debate that preceded the vote.

And the lone dissenter in this pageantry? Ron Paul.

In a statement released concerning the resolution, Paul said:

Of course I do not support attempts by foreign governments to suppress the democratic aspirations of their people, but when is the last time we condemned Saudi Arabia or Egypt or the many other countries where unlike in Iran there is no opportunity to exercise any substantial vote on political leadership? It seems our criticism is selective and applied when there are political points to be made. I have admired President Obama’s cautious approach to the situation in Iran and I would have preferred that we in the House had acted similarly.

I adhere to the foreign policy of our Founders, who advised that we not interfere in the internal affairs of countries overseas. I believe that is the best policy for the United States, for our national security and for our prosperity. I urge my colleagues to reject this and all similar meddling resolutions.

You can support President Obama's approach by signing our petition: http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/election