April 2, 2015
Number 04/15 #01
This Update continues to follow the extended Iranian nuclear talks in Lausanne, as well as provide a timely overview of Israel’s situation in the United Nations.
First up, Washington Institute’s Mehdi Khalaji analyses the way the current nuclear talks have been reported within Iran, in Farsi. He says that the Iranian regime is raising expectations from Iranians for what they should expect from any acceptable deal, particularly concerning the removal of all sanctions - including those not directly related to Iran’s nuclear program. Khalaji concludes that, either the regime is preparing its people for the failure of negotiations, which it will blame on the US, or the regime will succeed in extracting from the US the concessions it is demanding – which would go far beyond what anyone has expected the US to be prepared to offer. For Khalaji’s unique insights, CLICK HERE.
Also from the Washington Institute is former US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, writing on the web site Politico about the changing goals of the US Administration regarding Iran’s nuclear program. While once the US demanded a dismantling of Irans nuclear infrastructure, and later insisted on a serious degrading of the nuclear program, the US now speaks only of achieving a deal structured to try to keep Iran a year away from building a nuclear weapon according to US intelligence estimates. The weakened US demand means that, should Iran agree to the terms, it would be legitimised as a nuclear threshold state and remain a permanent nuclear threat that would have to be intensely monitored on a continual basis. For more of Ross’ analysis of the diminishing US expectations of Iran in any deal, CLICK HERE.
Finally, in an op-ed in the New York Times, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor provides an overview of Israel’s situation in many organs of the UN, where it faces an automatic majority against it and is absurdly subject to condemnation in the forum at a rate higher by a level of multitudes – than any other country on earth. At the same time, he writes, countless other countries with far worse human rights records are getting a free pass from the UN, and some of those countries are even given positions of leadership to spearhead diplomatic attacks on Israel. Prosor’s words are especially timely, given reports that the US is considering weakening its support for Israel at the UN, and the fact that the Palestinian leadership has made the UN a major focus of its effort in recent years to isolate and delegitimise Israel. To read Prosor’s sobering op-ed, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Iran militia chief says destroying Israel is nonnegotiable.
- Israeli PM Netanyahu responds: Israel’s destruction is non-negotiable but evidently giving Iran’s murderous regime a clear path to the bomb is negotiable? This is unconscionable.
- Former US Middle East policy chief Elliott Abrams questions why the UN seems to care less about civilian deaths from airstrikes in Yemen than they do to airstrikes in Gaza.
- Washington Post poll: Americans disapprove of US President Barack Obama’s handing of relations with Israel, and are more wary of creating a Palestinian state today than they had been for the past 20 years.
- Amidst the fighting, turmoil and uncertainty about Yemens future, the Times of Israel interviews one of the 60 Jews remaining in the country.
- Also the latest from AIJAC, including:
- AIJACs’ Executive Director Colin Rubenstein warns of the dangers of a bad deal with Iran in Melbournes Herald Sun.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
April 1, 2015
By issuing blanket calls for the lifting of all sanctions, Tehran may undermine efforts to forge, implement, and enforce a viable nuclear deal.
On March 31, senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi told state television that “there will be no agreement without sanctions relief.” He expanded on this argument at length:
“All sanctions should be lifted . We insist that in the first phase of the agreement, all economic sanctions, oil sanctions, and sanctions on the banking system…should be lifted. And also for other sanctions, there should be a specific framework [for lifting them] in order to make clear [when they will end]. Without a clear and precise prospect for sanctions relief, we will not accept the agreement…We made progress in the negotiation on the sanctions relief, but it is not completed yet.”
This message — directed at a domestic Farsi-language audience rather than at Washington or the international community — suggests that the regime is presenting the Iranian people with an unrealistic image of the nuclear talks and their potential outcome. Perhaps more important, by preemptively putting the onus on the United States, such messages may give Tehran a means of minimizing political fallout at home if the negotiations fail. Whatever the case, these and similar statements could affect the ongoing dealmaking efforts.
Araqchi’s call for lifting all sanctions also indicates that the regime is negotiating beyond just the nuclear program, or at least portraying itself as doing so. After Iran was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984, Congress enacted a series of economic and political sanctions against the regime. Today, the Obama administration has repeatedly insisted that the current negotiations are confined to the nuclear program and will not address other issues or sanctions, including measures related to Tehran’s support for terrorist groups, its disruptive regional policies, or its human rights violations at home. Yet statements by Araqchi and other officials suggest that Iran has been trying to bring these issues up during the talks, perhaps using the nuclear program as leverage to end all of the economic and political sanctions imposed on it since 1979.
Given the intertwining nature of the sanctions, lifting any of them — let alone all of them — will be complicated. For example, some of the nuclear-related sanctions imposed by the 2010 Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) also target “transactions related to Iran’s support for terrorism.” Lifting certain sanctions may therefore require the U.S. government to determine that Tehran or specific Iranian officials/entities have ceased their support for acts of international terrorism. The regime is also under a series of sanctions for violating human rights. Lifting these would require strong guarantees that Iran will reform its legal system and adopt principles such as freedom of speech and political liberty. Tehran does not seem remotely prepared to countenance such a fundamental political transformation, so issuing blanket calls for the lifting of all sanctions could undermine efforts to forge, implement, and enforce a viable nuclear deal.
Mehdi Khalaji is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute.
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March 31, 2015
Even if much remains to be thrashed out, the tentative framework understanding that the P5+1 is trying to conclude with Iran would represent progress toward constraining the Iranian nuclear program. The claim of the Obama administration that any eventual agreement will block all pathways toward an Iranian nuclear weapon, however, is surely an overstatement. At best, a deal will create impediments for the life of the agreement but offer little afterward. At that point, the administration and its successors would need to make clear that should Iran seek to break out to the production of weapons-grade enriched uranium — or the preparation of nuclear weapons — it would trigger the use of force by us. But in that case, we would be acting to deter the Iranians from translating their sizable nuclear infrastructure into a nuclear weapon, not to dismantle the program.
It is noteworthy that the agreement the administration still hopes to finalize with the Iranians by June 30 does not reflect the objective we had hoped to achieve for much of President Barack Obama’s first term. At that point, when I was in the administration, our aim was to transform the character of the Iranian nuclear program so that the peaceful intent of its capabilities would be demonstrated unmistakably to the international community. Necessarily, that meant that Iran could not have a large nuclear infrastructure. If permitted enrichment, it would have to be highly circumscribed and limited to small numbers for the purposes of research or production of medical isotopes. If Iran wanted additional nuclear reactors to generate electricity, it would receive its fuel from international fuel banks, and its spent fuel would be sent out of the country — much like is done with the Bushehr reactor today. Similarly, there would be little or no stockpile of enriched uranium in the country that the Iranians might surreptitiously seek to purify to weapons grade. And, the questions about the “possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program” — a euphemism for Iran’s efforts to create a nuclear weapon — would have been satisfactorily answered.
At some point, the Obama administration changed its objective from one of transforming the Iranian nuclear program to one of ensuring that Iran could not have a breakout time of less than one year. The former was guided by our determination to press Iran to change its intent about pursuing or at least preserving the option of having a nuclear weapon. The latter clearly reflects a very different judgment: that we were not able to alter the Iranian intentions, so instead we needed to focus on constraining their capabilities.
By definition, when we speak about a one-year breakout time, we are accepting that Iran will have the means and infrastructure to produce nuclear weapons and we are trying to develop impediments to its doing so — even as we also create indicators that alert us to any such Iranian effort.
Clearly, during the course of negotiations, faced with Tehran’s unwillingness to dismantle any of its nuclear facilities, the administration came to the conclusion that we could not diplomatically roll back the Iranian nuclear infrastructure in any significant way. But we could diplomatically succeed in containing the Iranian nuclear program, putting limits on it and preventing its growth for the next 15 years. Moreover, during that time we could also create enough transparency to know whether the Iranians were moving toward a bomb — and whether the Iranian awareness of that would deter them from pursuing such a capability. Apparently, for the president, the secretary of state and our lead negotiators, other alternatives could not promise as good an outcome. Indeed, increased sanctions might pressure the Iranians but could not stop the acceleration of their nuclear program if diplomacy broke down. That might leave the use of force, with all its unintended consequences, as the only option, and that has little appeal for the administration, particularly if we can limit the Iranians through other means.
But if the measure of the negotiations is now about breakout time, then the administration needs to show convincingly that the verification regime will be far-reaching and capable of detecting whatever the Iranians are doing and whenever they do it. In fact, a one-year breakout time depends not just on the number and type of centrifuges, their output and the stockpile of enriched uranium — all of which can be calculated — but also on the administration’s ability to discover the moment at which the Iranians begin to sneak out, creep out or break out from the limitations placed on them.
Moreover, for those who say that one year is not enough time because even discovery of a violation does not ensure a response, the administration will need to explain why this agreement will not function like other arms control agreements, where questions related to noncompliance have historically bogged down in endless discussions. How will we respond if we detect a violation, particularly a serious one? Will the mechanism for response provide for a quick determination? What if the Russians and others don’t agree or insist that an extended discussion with the Iranians is required? How can we be sure that small violations don’t change the base line and shrink the breakout time? Under what circumstances might we act unilaterally?
Assuming an agreement is finalized by June 30, the administration may well be right that this was the best one possible — and that it is better than the other alternatives. That, of course, does not make it a good agreement. Even a bad agreement might be better than the available alternatives, but if the administration wants to prove that the eventual agreement is acceptable, it will need to show that it has produced the bare minimum of the outcome that we once hoped for: that there will be a breakout time of at least one year; that the Iranians cannot deny inspectors access to any site, including those on military or Revolutionary Guard facilities; and that it has anticipated a full range of different Iranian violations and won’t wait for others to respond to them. In reality, if we are to deter Iranian violations, they must know in advance what the consequences are and that they will be high.
Skepticism about an agreement based on constraining Iranian capabilities, and not on demonstrating a shift in Iranian intentions, is understandable. Rather than questioning the motivations of the skeptics, the administration would be wise to demonstrate that it has compelling answers to their concerns about the possible vulnerabilities of the deal. It might just convince some of the skeptics that the agreement is acceptable.
Dennis Ross is the counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute.
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Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor
The New York Times
March 31, 2015
UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. It was intended to be a temple of peace, but this once great global body has been overrun by the repressive regimes that violate human rights and undermine international security.
In 1949, when the United Nations admitted Israel as a member state, it had 58 member countries and about half had a democratic orientation. Today, the landscape of the organization has changed drastically. From 51 member states at its founding in 1945, the institution has grown to 193 members fewer than half of which are democracies.
The very nations that deny democratic rights to their people abuse the United Nations democratic forums to advance their interests. The largest of these groups comprises members from the 120-member-strong bloc known as the Non-Aligned Movement. Since 2012, the bloc has been chaired by Iran, which has used its position to bolster its allies and marginalize Israel.
In March, the United Nations closed the annual meeting of its Commission on the Status of Women by publishing a report that effectively singled out just one country for condemnation: Israel. The commission apparently had nothing to say about the Sudanese girls who are subjected to female genital mutilation. It also had nothing to say about the Iranian women who have been punished for crimes of adultery by stoning. These oversights may have something to do with the fact that both Iran and Sudan sit on the 45-member commission.
Then there is the United Nations Human Rights Council (the body that replaced the Commission on Human Rights in 2006). Its membership includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Venezuela nations where you risk life and liberty if you express dissenting opinions. Yet these governments stand in judgment on the rest of us.
In 2007, Sudan chaired a committee overseeing human rights even as its president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, was being investigated for crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, for which the International Criminal Court later issued arrest warrants. Saudi Arabia a regime notorious for public executions and floggings like that, most recently, of the blogger Raif Badawi sits on the Human Rights Council, despite regularly receiving the worst possible ratings on civil liberties and political rights from the independent watchdog Freedom House.
In 2013, Iran was elected to the committee responsible for disarmament even as it continued its nuclear expansion, support for terrorism and the destruction of Israel. Last year, an Iranian served as a vice chair of the General Assemblys legal committee, an inexplicable choice given that Iranian citizens are routinely denied due process and fair trials.
Knowing this history, perhaps we shouldnt be surprised that, in the 2014-15 session alone, the General Assembly adopted about 20 resolutions critical of Israel, while the human rights situations in Iran, Syria and North Korea merited just one condemnation apiece. Day after day, member states turn a blind eye to the most deplorable crimes.
Iran? Just one hostile resolution for a nation that, on average, executes citizens at a rate of two a day for crimes that include homosexuality, apostasy and the vague offense of being an enemy of God.
North Korea? Just one negative resolution even though it has imprisoned more than 200,000 citizens, throws children into forced labor camps and subjects its population to food shortages and famine as a result of government policies.
Syria? Again, just one resolution for a government that has pursued a war against its own people that has caused the deaths of at least 220,000 men, women and children many by torture, starvation, chemical weapons and barrel bombs dropped on markets and schools.
Christians now number among the worlds most persecuted religious groups in Muslim countries, yet this human rights crisis is almost completely ignored by the United Nations. Instead, Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and an area in the region where the Christian population is actually growing, often seems to be the only nation the United Nations cares about.
Nowhere is anti-Israel bias more obvious than in the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. The council addresses the human rights abuses of all countries in the world under a program known as Agenda Item 4. That is, all countries but one. Israel is the only nation that is singled out for criticism by virtue of a special program, known as Agenda Item 7. A result, according to the Geneva-based monitoring group UN Watch, is that more than 50 percent of all condemnatory resolutions are directed at the Jewish state.
Following last summers conflict in Gaza, the Human Rights Council established a Commission of Inquiry and selected William Schabas, a Canadian law professor, to chair the investigation. In February, Mr. Schabas was forced to resign after documents came to light revealing that, in 2012, he had done consulting work for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Surprisingly, this fact slipped Mr. Schabass mind during his vetting process.
It was clear from the outset that Mr. Schabas was not an impartial arbiter since he had a record of public statements suggesting that Israels prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the former president, Shimon Peres, should face trial at the International Criminal Court. When Israel protested, however, the United Nations ignored it.
I am often asked how I can stand the tide of hatred aimed at Israel. Our response to the United Nations accusations is to speak tirelessly for those who are denied a voice in most of the Middle East women, minorities, the L.G.B.T. community and to fight daily efforts by totalitarian regimes to undermine democratic societies. Based on the fact that Israel is a thriving society, I believe we are winning.
Later this year, chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement will transfer to Venezuela, Irans ally. For the foreseeable future, we can expect more of the same.
The problem with the United Nations is that the leaders of many of its member states do not rule with the consent of the governed. Instead, they use the body as a forum to deflect attention from their own ruthless rule. In so doing, they turn a stage for courageous statecraft into a tragic theater of the absurd.
Ron Prosor is Israels ambassador to the United Nations.