July 17, 2015
Number 07/15 #04
US President Barack Obama gave a long media conference on Wednesday (Washington time) on the Iran nuclear deal announced Tuesday, in which he defended the deal, while admitting it had some shortcomings and would have some negative consequences, such as boosting Iranian support for Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria. His key point was this, “There really are only two alternatives here. Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war” while insisting that no better deal than the one reached was achievable. This Update is devoted to some replies to that claim (which is also the key claim generally made by most advocates of the agreement.)
First up is an editorial in the Wall Street Journal which directly takes on Obama’s claim in the press conference that none of his critics “have presented to me or the American people a better alternative.” The paper argues the alternative is “coercive diplomacy” – including imposing more sanctions, as the US Congress wanted to do, more tightly enforcing the existing ones, and placing pressure on Iran by supporting the Syrian opposition and enforcing UN resolutions against arming Iranian proxy Hezbollah. The paper also notes that war becomes less likely when diplomacy is accompanied by the credible threat of war, but Obama’s backdown on Syrian chemical weapons totally eviscerated the credibility of US talk of using force as a last resort. For the paper’s full argument, CLICK HERE. Another explanation of why Obama’s argument that there is no alternative breaks down comes from Council on Foreign Relations strategic analyst Max Boot.
Next up, Times of Israel Editor David Horovitz strongly confronts the implication by Obama, and also by UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, that Israel simply wants war, is opposed to “any deal” and has failed to offer any viable alternative. Horovitz pointed out that Israel absolutely does not want more conflict in their already violent region and did offer specific critiques of elements of the deal back in April – suggesting improvements on inspections, on Iran coming clean about past nuclear work, and curtailing ongoing research into new enrichment technology by Iran. He then discusses Obama’s promise that Iran “will be and should be a regional power” while urging them to stop their antisemitic, anti-Israel and regionally destablising behaviour – arguing the US should be demanding Iran stop this behaviour before anointing them a “regional power.” For Horovitz’s discussion in full, CLICK HERE. More on Israeli government claims to be offering a viable alternative is here.
Finally, American legal academic Anne Bayefsky, in the context of exploring the Obama Administration’s dash to get the Iran deal endorsed by the UN Security Council – and thus remove all UN sanctions – discusses another aspect of President Obama’s claims about the lack of an alternative to this agreement. Specifically, she takes on his claim that without this agreement there will be “no limits on Iran’s nuclear program, no inspections. She then examines the history of UN Security Council Resolutions on Iran and the limits they do impose – and which the US Administration proposes to surrender – and also addresses some misrepresentations being circulated about the UN resolutions and the lifting of the arms embargoes on Iran as part of the deal. To read all that Bayefsky has to say about the UN side of this deal and the existing constraints on Iran, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Veteran American diplomat and official Aaron David Miller is critical of Obama’s ” I know best and youre irresponsible if you dont agree approach to selling the deal, arguing it may be counter-productive.
- Ilene Pruscher of Haaretz notes significant retreats in Obama’s recent comments on inspections and speaks to former IAEA official Efraim Asculai about the problems with the inspections regime in the deal. Israeli officials have also focused on the major flaws they see in the inspection regime.
- Israeli opposition leader Itzhak Herzog speaks out strongly against the Iran nuclear deal in an interview with American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg.
- Proliferation specialist William Tobey says that in addition to the problems with inspections, the provisions of this deal which effectively allow Teheran to avoid detailing their past nuclear work are among the most troubling.
- A very hard-hitting critique of the deal from American columnist Charles Krauthammer.
- Analyst Danielle Pletka suggests that, contrary to popular belief, this deal may actually facilitate as much as constrain Iran’s nuclear weapons plans, given Teheran’s plans to rush to build an arsenal of nuclear bombs – not just one or two – when they are ready.
- Some predictions of the potential effects of the deal on US future strategy in the region from Michael Singh and David Frum.
- Dennis Ross, a former Administration senior official dealing with Iran, calls for efforts to put in place preparations for Iranian cheating, which he views as virtually inevitable.
- AIJAC’s Miriam Smallman offers some hard figures to correct misconceptions about responsibility for the slow pace of Gaza’s reconstruction.
There was a better alternative to his deal. He never pursued it.
Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2015 4:43 p.m. ET
The debate is raging over President Obamas nuclear deal with Iran, and Mr. Obama held a rare press conference Wednesday to say that 99% of the world community agrees with him. Then why bother with a press conference? Mr. Obama made other claims well address in coming days, but for today its worth rebutting his assertion that none of his critics have presented to me or the American people a better alternative.
Specifically, Mr. Obama resorted to his familiar default of the false political choice. There really are only two alternatives here. Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation or its resolved through force, through war. Those are the options, Mr. Obama said. He added that no better deal was or is possible than the one he has negotiated.
Mr. Obama knows there has always been an alternative to his diplomacy of concessions because many critics have suggested it. It’s called coercive diplomacy, and it might have worked to get a better deal if Mr. Obama had tried it.
Take the sanctions regime, which finally started to get tough in December 2011. By 2013 Iran had an official inflation rate of some 35%, its currency was falling, and its dollar reserves were estimated to be down to $20 billion. Mr. Obama had resisted those sanctions, only to take credit for them when Congress insisted and they began to show results in Tehran.
Yet Mr. Obama still resisted calls to put maximum pressure on Iran. He gave waivers to countries like Japan to import Iranian oil. He was reluctant to impose sanctions on global financial institutions that did business with Iran (especially Chinese banks that offered Tehran access to foreign currency). The U.S. could have gone much further to blacklist parts of Irans economy run by the Revolutionary Guard Corps. A bipartisan majority in Congress was prepared to impose more sanctions this year, but Mr. Obama refused as he rushed for a second-term deal.
Mr. Obama now argues that the sanctions could not have been maintained, and that they are sure to collapse if Congress scuttles his deal. But there was no sign sanctions were collapsing as long as the U.S. continued to keep the pressure on. And to the extent support did weaken, one reason was the momentum of Mr. Obamas negotiations. The more the U.S. gave the impression that it desperately wanted a deal, the more other countries and businesses began to maneuver for post-sanctions opportunities.
This is the opposite of coercive diplomacy, which shows determination so an adversary under pressure concludes that it must make more concessions. This is the diplomacy Ronald Reagan practiced with the Soviets, refusing to budge on missile defenses at the 1986 Reykjavik Summit despite pressure from 99% of the world to do so. The Soviets were soon back at the negotiating table.
Mr. Obama could also have pressured Iran on other fronts, the way Reagan did the Soviets by arming enemies of its proxies. The U.S. could have armed the Free Syrian Army to defeat Irans allied Assad regime in Damascus, and it could have helped Israel enforce U.N. Resolution 1701 that imposes an arms embargo on Hezbollah in Lebanon.
On Wednesday Mr. Obama conceded that Iran supplies Hezbollah and Assad, while implying he could do nothing about it. The truth is that he chose to do nothing because he didnt want to offend Iran and jeopardize his nuclear talks. Instead he should have increased the pressure across the board to assist the negotiations and get a better deal.
As for Mr. Obamas false choice of war and diplomacy, the truth is that war becomes less likely when diplomacy is accompanied by the credible threat of war. The President removed that credible threat from Iran by insisting war was the only (bad) alternative to his diplomacy, as well as by threatening force against Syria only to erase his own red line. In May Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei boasted that the U.S. military cant do a damn thing against Iran. He understood his negotiating partner all too well.
Mr. Obama is now presenting his deeply flawed deal to Congress and the public as a fait accompli that must be embraced or war will result. Congress shouldnt be any more impressed by his false ultimatums than the Iranians were by his weak diplomacy.
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Op-ed: Having fouled up their Iran negotiations, the US and UK are now compounding their failure by peddling a false narrative about Israel
In the House of Commons on Wednesday, a day after the US-led world powers had signed their comprehensive accord with the Islamic extremists who rule Iran, Britains Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond escalated that false narrative by another few degrees. The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of a deal would have been welcomed in Tel Aviv, Hammond said in Parliament, and then continued, despicably, The answer of course is that Israel doesnt want any deal with Iran.
Finally, later Wednesday, Obama cemented the foul misrepresentation of Israels stance. There really are only two alternatives here, the president correctly asserted at a press conference. Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation, or its resolved through force, through war. Those are the options. So far, true enough. But he went on to claim that the accord signed Tuesday was the best that could have been achieved and that critics such as Netanyahu had failed to present viable alternative conditions. What I havent heard is, what is your preferred alternative? claimed the president, his voice full of injured good intention.
The consequence of all this disingenuous oratory: The United States and its partners have concluded a dreadful agreement with a treacherous regime in Tehran an agreement that places Israel, but emphatically not only Israel, in considerable danger. And they are now busily compounding their failure by misrepresenting what has unfolded, and pointing some of the blame, thoroughly unjustifiably, at what Hammond so charmingly called Tel Aviv.
Elements of a better, viable alternative deal
Well, heres the truth.
First, Israel certainly does not favor the option of war over diplomacy in thwarting the ayatollahs patient march to the bomb. The last thing this country, this little sliver of decency on the edge of the brutal Middle East, wants or needs is more conflict. What it wanted, what it wants, is diplomacy that would effectively halt and reverse that Iranian nuclear march.
So, no, President Obama, Netanyahu does not disagree with you about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue.
And second, of course there was a better deal to be done, and of course Netanyahu and Israel offered alternatives. Three prime examples:
The United States would not have alienated its P5+1 partners if it had insisted that Iran, dragged to the table under economic pressure, acknowledge its previous illegal military nuclear activities as the crucial basis for any agreement. The Iranians built entire secret facilities in violation of their international obligations, and yet they were not held accountable. The failure to hold Iran to account impacted the entire negotiating process, allowing Iran to assert that it was innocent, well-intentioned and unfairly persecuted, and should not be constrained.
A more robust US-led negotiation would have ensured as administration officials acknowledged until very recently was necessary that IAEA inspectors have immediate access to any suspect Iranian site, not just known nuclear facilities, as a central element of preventing further Iranian duplicity.
A better deal would not have allowed Iran to continue R&D and testing of ever-more advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium centrifuges that can dramatically speed Irans breakout to the bomb. Irans enrichment R&D with uranium for 10 years will only include IR-4, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges, the deal states, language designed to imply that these terms represent some kind of concession by Iran to international pressure. Only the IR-4s, 5s, 6s, and 8s? The IR-8, which is still being perfected, is the most advanced centrifuge in Irans nuclear armory. There is nothing more sophisticated. And the terms of the deal enable Iran to legitimately perfect it.
Despite being slapped down intermittently by Secretary Kerry when it criticized the emerging deal, despite being told that it didnt know what it was talking about and that specific objections to various clauses were based on inaccurate information, Israel most certainly did highlight these and other gaping holes in a deal that actually turned out to be still more flawed than anticipated. Israel most certainly did detail key changes that would render a deal more effective. (In April, the Israeli government made publicly available a document highlighting key areas of vital focus. Doubtless a great deal more Israeli input all too evidently discarded input was delivered in private.)
So, Secretary Hammond, it is simply false to claim that there was no deal that would have been acceptable to Israel. And, President Obama, it is false to claim that there was no viable better deal and that Israel did not detail viable alternatives.
The legitimizing and funding of a vile, dangerous regime
Leaving aside for a moment the bid by the president and some of his P5+1 allies to misrepresent Israels stance, and leaving aside the particular flaws of the accord itself, the wider catastrophe here is the legitimization and economic bonanza being granted to so rapacious a regime.
Iran will be and should be a regional power. They are a big country and a sophisticated country in the region, the president told the New York Times Thomas L. Friedman on Tuesday. He then creditably added, They dont need to invite the hostility and the opposition of their neighbors by their behavior. Its not necessary for them to be great to denigrate Israel or threaten Israel or engage in Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic activity.
But therein lies the problem. As a big, sophisticated country, Iran could indeed be a regional power. But so long as the current regime rules Iran, the free world, led by the president of the United States, should be ensuring that it does not attain that status.
A country led by a regime that secretly pursued nuclear weapons, that fosters unrest across the region, that calls for the elimination of Israel, that finances, arms and trains terrorist armies in Lebanon and Gaza, that orchestrates terrorism worldwide, that works to bring Europe and North America into the range of its missiles, that criminalizes homosexuality, that discriminates against women, that jails, tortures and executes political opponents, that executes more juvenile offenders than any other country on earth that Iran must not be allowed to become a more dominant regional power.
And yet, by concluding this weeks accord, and thereby sending hundreds of billions of dollars into that regimes coffers, the US-led negotiators have guaranteed this is precisely what will happen now.
Obama ostensibly addressed some of the free worlds concerns about the Iranian regime at his press conference on Wednesday. Even with this deal, we will continue to have profound differences with Iran its support for terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilize parts of the Middle East, he said. Therefore, the multilateral arms embargo on Iran will remain in place for an additional five years, and restrictions on ballistic missile technology will remain for eight years. In addition, the United States will maintain our own sanctions related to Irans support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and its human rights violations.
But all that is bunkum. The nuclear deal lets Iran off the hook financially. Ongoing sanctions because of Irans support for terrorism are rendered irrelevant by the unwarranted, premature dismantling of the sanctions regime so painstakingly imposed because of its nuclear drive. This regime, this nightmarish, bleak regime, with its global ambitions for a violent, revolutionary interpretation of Islam, is now back in international business, about to glory in a colossal cash influx to further those ambitions.
Day after day, the message from Tehran is Death to America and Death to Israel. The declared stance of Irans supreme leader, restated on Saturday, is that America, and everything that America stands for, is an embodiment of global arrogance with which the Islamic Revolution can never be reconciled. And yet Americas leadership insistently tunes out the message delivered by the Iranian leadership to its own people, and prefers to shake hands and joke with the Iranian foreign minister; the West willfully deceived because Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks good English and affects a pleasant demeanor. How dismal the sight of John Kerry, hobbled on crutches, handing international legitimacy to a regime that just four days earlier was inciting its people to rally in their masses and call for the destruction of Israel and America.
Obama acknowledged on Wednesday that he couldnt be sure his outreach to the ayatollahs was going to work. My hope is that, building on this deal, we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave, he said. But were not counting on it. So this deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior.
That, of course, is the tragedy of this unconscionable, wrongheaded agreement. It is an act of unwarranted accommodation with a dark, dangerous and unreformable regime, and it is going to cost the free world dearly. To see ourselves being misrepresented and unjustly criticized by disingenuous leaders as this tragedy plays out, while we in Israel brace to battle against the repercussions of their insistent incompetence, is a contemptible case of adding insult to looming injury.
David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel.
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As part of their attempt to sell the Iran deal as something other than a catastrophe for America international peace and security, President Obama and John Kerry are now invoking the United Nations. The Obama administration raced straight from Vienna to the Security Council, awaiting nothing from Capitol Hill. Whats going on?
It has now been 4,397 days dating to June 2003 since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) first reported that Iran was in breach of its legal obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
It took another three years for the United States to get the matter before the Security Council. What followed between 2006 and 2010 were six hard-fought Council resolutions that managed to avoid a Russian and Chinese veto. Four of those resolutions contained sanctions provisions.
These resolutions did not stop Iran from proceeding apace with its plan to acquire nuclear weapons. But they were a universal statement that Iran was a pariah state. It was in breach of fundamental international law duties essential for preventing nuclear war and legitimately subject to sanctions until such time as there was independent, reliable verification that it fully complied.
Obamas Iran deal changes all that. Why?
On July 14, the president explained, “Without this deal there would be no agreed-upon limitations for the Iranian nuclear program. And the next day, he ridiculed the alternative, no limits on Iran’s nuclear program, no inspections.
This is patently false. The last council Iran sanctions resolution, 1929, adopted on June 9, 2010, requires the IAEA to report on whether Iran has established full and sustained suspension of all activities that were set out in prior sanctions resolutions.
After receiving a report, Resolution 1929 set up the following scenario for lifting sanctions, temporarily or permanently. It says, the council:
shall review Irans actions in light of the report and: (a) it shall suspend the implementation of measures if Iran suspends all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, as verified by the IAEA, (b) it shall terminate the [sanction] measures as soon as it determines that Iran has fully complied with its obligations under the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and met the requirements of the IAEA Board of Governors
So has Iran satisfied the conditions for suspending or terminating the Security Council resolutions? The answer is a resounding no from the mouth of the IAEA itself.
On May 29, 2015, the IAEA produced a report on Iran that lays out for the umpteenth time Iran is conducting a number of activities which are in contravention of its obligations to suspend all enrichment related activities and heavy water related projects.
Why would the Security Council sanctions resolutions suddenly disappear when they specifically require Iranian compliance that has not been forthcoming? The answer is: they wouldnt. The council sanctions only disintegrate if the Obama administration does the leg work for Iran and has them rescinded.
And yet Secretary Kerry lectured the deals non-believers in Vienna: United Nations Resolution 1929 says specifically that if Iran comes to negotiate not even get a deal, but comes to negotiate sanctions would be lifted.
Sanctions Resolution 1929 says no such thing. Sanctions get lifted if, and only if, the IAEA verifies Iran has suspended all enrichment-related and other activities which the IAEA has not done (and will never do under the agreement).
But the misinformation campaign went on. Kerry told NBC following the deal that the Obama administration had no choice: the alternative is what, perpetual state of sanctions? Not going to happen. Our European and the Chinese and Russian friends are not going to do that.
Actually, they already did. They adopted the Security Council sanctions resolutions and, given the veto power, those laws cant be overridden without U.S. approval. The bottom line is that the United States held the cards. The Obama administration has just decided to throw them away.
The president has used the same sleight of hand on reversing the arms embargo and ballistic missile sanctions currently in effect. He told reporters on July 15, 2015:
under the terms of the original U.N. resolution, the fact is that once an agreement was arrived at that gave the international community assurance Iran didn’t have a nuclear weapon, you could argue just looking at the text that those arms and ballistic missiles prohibition should immediately go away. But what I said to our negotiators was let’s press for a longer extension of the arms embargo and the ballistic missile prohibitions. And we got that.
The original UN Council resolution governing arms and ballistic missile related activities, 1747, adopted March 24, 2007, uses the same formula as resolution 1929 the sanctions get lifted only if or as soon as Iran suspends all enrichment-related and other activities and has fully complied with its obligations.
And as IAEA director general Yukiya Amano told his governing board on June 8, 2015, the Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.
Obviously, arriving at an agreement doesnt give anybody any assurance about anything. One could argue just looking at the text that those arms and ballistic missiles prohibition should immediately go away, but then one would be a con artist.
Sanctions Resolution 1747 and the Security Councils open-ended arms embargo werent going anywhere. Five and eight year limits are a give-away in the Iran column, not an accomplishment for the United States.
To put this another way, when a state violates the law, the usual reaction is not to abolish the law, but to enforce it.
Shredding existing law has required the Obama administration to tie up one more loose end the inconvenient fact that the IAEA has never concluded that all nuclear material in Iran is for peaceful purposes. On the contrary, the May 2015 report reaffirms the that the agency has credible evidence to conclude that Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.
Consequently, in the agreement, President Obama has decided to wipe the slate clean of the worlds leading state sponsor of terrorism seeking the worlds most dangerous weapon. Notwithstanding decades of having been stymied and lied to by Iran, the IAEA now has until December 15, 2015 to produce the final assessment on the resolution of all past and present outstanding issues… and the IAEA Board of Governors (upon which the US sits) will take necessary action with a view to closing the issue.
As former head of the IAEAs verification office, Tariq Rauf, told the Guardian on July 14, this process is not normal IAEA procedure, there will be no conclusion only an assessment of the clarification of the issues, and the fix is in.
The president is therefore making a mad dash to the United Nations for the following reasons:
First, the agreement the administration just made with Iran violates the existing Security Council resolutions. Second, the administration hopes to subordinate U.S. lawmakers to the lawmakers at the U.N.
The direct inconsistency between the agreement and the U.N. laws is clear. The sanctions resolutions say Iran must suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities And the agreement gives Iran a right to enrich notwithstanding Secretary Kerrys fake-out in November 2013 that the administration had no right to enrich in mind.
Hence, the agreement cannot come into effect without rescinding the current obligations imposed on Iran.
Secondly, the council resolution is to be adopted under the U.N. charter section demanding U.N. members agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council. If Congress balks, Obamas threat goes, it will bring the U.S into violation of its legal duties.
After failing to hold Iran to its legal duties by revoking them, the President will create new ones with which to blackmail the representatives of the American people.
It is time to stop saying the rub is that Iran cant be trusted. It is the Obama administration that cant be trusted to put America first.