More commentary on the Iranian nuclear negotiations
Mar 31, 2015
Update from AIJAC
March 31, 2015
Number 03/15 #06
This Update looks at the latest commentary regarding the Iranian nuclear program, under the backdrop of the negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran in Lausanne.
First up, in the Washington Post, senior fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Ali Alfoneh and Reuel Marc Gerecht ask the question regarding what nuclear weapon technologies have been secretly transferred from North Korea to Iran – an aspect of the Iranian nuclear issue that is rarely mentioned but could mean that the P5+1 has been seriously underestimating Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Alfoneh and Gerecht say that it is unlikely that even the US Central Intelligence Agency knows today what sort of nuclear technology transfer has taken place between the two countries. For more insights into this troubling issue, CLICK HERE.
Meanwhile, for all the talk of progress in negotiations, Yigal Carmon, President of MEMRI and Ayelet Savyon, director of MEMRI’s Iranian Media project have pointed out that Iran has not backed down on any part of its initial negotiating positions. Referring to a speech by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on February 18, Carmon and Savyon also show that Iran never accepted the P5+1’s desire for a two-stage agreement (beginning with a framework agreement by the end of March, followed by a second agreement within three months that would hammer out the technical details of the agreement). In contrast, Iran only sees the June deadline as relevant. Carmon and Savyon’s translation of Khamenei’s speech from February shows a great deal of contempt towards any effort to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions in any meaningful way. Meanwhile, it’s hard not to notice how Khamenei’s belligerent stance against nuclear compromise has been entirely ignored by the White House, which has curiously, at the same time, placed so much weight on public comments made by other world leaders. To learn more, CLICK HERE.
Also, another article by Carmon and Savyon looks at how the formation of a new Sunni Arab military coalition fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen reflects an unprecedented step from the Arab world to stop Iranian expansionism, while the US declaration of support for the Sunnis has quieted somewhat growing concern in the Persian Gulf that the US has adopted a pro-Iran policy. (By contrast, Avi Issacharoff at the Times of Israel downplays US support for the Sunni Arab coalition and says that this Arab coalition grew out of deep frustration over US inaction on Iranian expansionism.)
Finally, writing in the Weekly Standard, editor William Kristol offers insights into the mindset of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu regarding the dangers should Iran agree to the reported terms of the American-led P5+1’s offer on a nuclear deal, which Netanyahu has long warned would leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact and permanently legitimise its nuclear program. Kristol also offered his own critical perspectives, recalling the words of Winston Churchill on Neville Chamberlain’s capitulation to Hitler at Munich in 1938: ‘ ‘You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.’ For more from Kristol, CLICK HERE.
Meanwhile, even coming from a very different side of politics than Kristol, the Times of Israel‘s David Horovitz also sees echoes of Chamberlain in the impending nuclear deal.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Olli Heinonen, former deputy director-general for safeguards at the IAEA, has produced a fact sheet on nuclear breakout times that challenges some of the assumptions that have been made by the US and P5+1 regarding this crucial aspect of negotiations.
- Middle East expert Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute talks to C-Span about a wide variety of regional issues.
- Writing in Ha’aretz (subscription required), veteran American editor Seth Lipsky recalls the first Gulf War in showing how the Israeli right to defend herself was sacrificed for American interests, but says the impending Iranian nuclear deal would be a far worse betrayal.
- Emanuele Ottolenghi and Saeed Ghasseminejad from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies write that, while the US has insisted that if an agreement is not reached, sanctions on Iran will be tightened, the fact is that since the interim agreement, respect for existing sanctions has been steadily falling apart.
- At the Gatestone Institute, Malcolm Lowe charts a path for the West back towards a ‘good deal’ with Iran, in comparison to the current deal being negotiated, which he sees as a very bad deal.
- Seth Mandel writes that, even if Obama doesn’t reach a deal with Iran, the damage he has caused in the Middle East in placating Iran can’t be undone.
- Jordan Chandler Hirsch argues that even if the deal manages to ensure that Iran needs a year to produce a nuclear weapon, this may not be long enough to prevent it doing so, especially bearing in mind Iran’s long history of subterfuge around its nuclear program.
- Charles Krauthammer expresses concern about some of the excuses the Obama Administration is resorting to in its desperation for a nuclear deal.
- In a similar vein, Jonathan Tobin sets out how Iran is continuing to test Obama to see how far he’ll go in his desperation for a deal.
- Tobin also argues that the US is now doing more harm than good at the UN Human Rights Council simply by continuing its membership of the farcically anti-Israel body.
- In other news, regarding Obama’s stated intention to ‘reassess’ US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians, Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl gives some hints of what Obama has in mind.
- The‘ Jerusalem Post‘ queries whether the pushback by some Democrat lawmakers against Obama’s anti-Netanyahu rhetoric can make the differences between them go away.
- The blogger Elder of Ziyon notes that there is a strong focus on Netanyahu’s regrettable comments about Arab voters, but a further comment from Netanyahu stating that his concern was with the tactics of foreign funded NGOs has been all but ignored.
- Ben Cohen argues that it is Obama, not Netanyahu, who is killing the two-state solution.
- In her lengthy analysis of Israel’s coalition negotiations, Ynet’s Sima Kadmon writes that Netanyahu would have preferred a unity government with the Zionist Union, but his win was too clear-cut to make that a realistic option.
- Israel has agreed to release Palestinian tax revenues it had held up until now and, in response, it appears the Palestinian Authority will hold off pursuing its case against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
Ali Alfoneh and Reuel Marc Gerecht
The Washington Post
March 29, 2015
We don’t know all that has transpired in the talks on Iran’s nuclear program being conducted in Switzerland, but we do know that the White House has shied away from a potentially paralyzing issue: the ‘possible military dimensions’’ the PMDs of the regime’s program. As Olli Heinonen, a former No. 2 at the International Atomic Energy Agency, has warned, outsiders really can have no idea where and how fast the mullahs could build a nuclear weapon unless they know what Iranian engineers have done in the past. Without ‘go anywhere, anytime’ access for IAEA inspectors and a thorough accounting of Tehran’s weaponization research, we will be blind to the clerics’ nuclear capabilities.
And one of the most important issues – probable North Korean nuclear cooperation with the Islamic Republic – deserves special scrutiny. This disturbing partnership casts serious doubt on the Obama administration’s hope that President Hassan Rouhani and his team have any intention of limiting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The unfinished North Korean-designed reactor that was destroyed by Israeli planes on Sept. 6, 2007, at Deir al-Zour in Syria was in all likelihood an Iranian project, perhaps one meant to serve as a backup site for Iran’s own nuclear plants. We draw this conclusion because of the timing and the close connection between the two regimes: Deir al-Zour was started around the time Iran’s nuclear facilities were disclosed by an Iranian opposition group in 2002, and the relationship between Shiite-ruled Syria and Shiite Iran has been exceptionally tight since Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000. We also know - because Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former Iranian president and majordomo of the political clergy, proudly tells us in his multivolume autobiography – that sensitive Iranian-North Korean military cooperation began in 1989. Rafsanjani’s commentary leaves little doubt that the Iranian-North Korean nexus revolved around two items: ballistic missiles and nuclear-weapons technology.
In his memoirs, the bulk of which is composed of journal entries, Rafsanjani openly discusses Iran’s arms and missile procurement from North Korea. However, from 1989 forward, his entries on Pyongyang become more opaque ‘ a change, we believe, indicating emerging nuclear cooperation. By 1991, Rafsanjani discusses ‘special and sensitive issues’ related to North Korea in entries that are notably different from his candid commentary on tactical ballistic missiles. Rafsanjani mentions summoning Majid Abbaspour, who was the president’s technical adviser on ‘chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear industries,’ into the discussions. Rafsanjani expresses his interest in importing a ‘special commodity’ from the North Koreans in return for oil shipments to Pyongyang. He insists that Iran gain unspecified ‘technical know-how.’
The Iranian-North Korean contacts intensify in 1992, the year that Rafsanjani, with Rouhani at his side, launches a policy of commercial engagement with the Europeans. On Jan. 30, Rafsanjani receives intelligence minister Ali Fallahian and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the ministry’s director of foreign espionage, to discuss ‘procurement channels for sensitive commodities.’ On Feb. 8, Rafsanjani writes, ‘The North Koreans want oil, but have nothing to give in return but the special commodity. We, too, are inclined to solve their problem.’ Rafsanjani orders defense minister Akbar Torkan to organize a task force to analyze the risks and benefits of receiving the ‘special commodity.’ This task force recommends that the president accept the ‘risk of procuring the commodities in question.’ Rafsanjani adds that ‘I discussed [this] with the Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] in more general terms and it was decided to take action based on the [task force’s] review.’
It’s most unlikely that the ‘special commodity’ and the technical know-how surrounding it have anything to do with ballistic missiles; Rafsanjani expresses anxiety that the ‘special commodity’ could be intercepted by the United States, but doesn’t share this worry about missile procurement. In a March 9, 1992, journal entry, the cleric gloats about the U.S. Navy having tracked a North Korean ship bound for Syria but not two ships destined for Iran. Two days later, when the ‘special commodity’ is unloaded, he writes: ‘The Americans were really embarrassed.’
Odds are high that even today the Central Intelligence Agency doesn’t know what Rafsanjani got from Pyongyang, but it is safe to surmise that the North Koreans weren’t clandestinely building a peaceful nuclear reactor at Deir al-Zour. CIA Director John Brennan has often asserted that U.S. intelligence doesn’t believe that the clerical regime is on the verge of making atomic weapons, and he further claimed that Langley could detect any Iranian decision to sneak toward the bomb. But Washington hasn’t guessed correctly once since World War II about the timing of nuclear weaponization by foreign powers (the A-bombs of close allies Britain and France don’t count). Odds are good that North Korea helped to jump-start Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. If so, how long did this nefarious partnership continue?
Rouhani was Rafsanjani’s alter ego. He’s undoubtedly the right man to answer all of the PMD questions that the IAEA keeps asking and the Obama administration keeps avoiding.
Ali Alfoneh and Reuel Marc Gerecht are senior fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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March 30, 2015
In light of their November 2014 failure to bridge the gaps and arrive at an agreement, Iran and the P5+1 group together decided to extend the validity of the November 24, 2014 Geneva Joint Plan of Action by an additional six months, to June 2015.
Following this agreement, the U.S. planned a two-stage continuation of the talks, as follows:
1. Three months (by the end of March 2015) to reach a framework agreement
2. Three additional months (by the end of June 2015) to agree on the technical specifications of this agreement.
However, in a February 18, 2015 speech, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced that he completely disagreed with this procedure, and determined that an agreement would be arrived at not in two stages but in one stage to be completed by the end of June 2015, and that the agreement would include the removal of all sanctions on Iran. This means that the March 31, 2015 deadline is completely unimportant to Khamenei.
The U.S. is disregarding Khamenei’s announcement, and is attempting, without success, to force Iran into the two-stage process that it set out. Iran is refusing to sign any interim document, and for this reason Western foreign ministers involved in the negotiations, such as U.K. Foreign Minister Phillip Hammond, are saying that understandings which might be reached at this stage will only be oral ones.
It should be emphasized that Iran has not backed down in any way, at any stage, from the positions with which it began the talks:
1. Tehran rejects the removal of its enriched uranium from Iran.
2. Tehran rejects a gradual lifting of the sanctions.
3. Tehran rejects restriction of the number of its centrifuges.
4. Tehran rejects intrusive inspections and snap inspections.
5. Tehran rejects any halt to its research and development activity.
6. Tehran rejects any change to the nature of its heavy water reactor at Arak.
7. Tehran rejects any closure of its secret enrichment site at Fordow.
8. Tehran rejects all restrictions to its nuclear activity following the agreement’s expiration.
9. Tehran rejects the inclusion of its long-range missile program in the negotiations.
10. Tehran rejects reporting on its previous clandestine military nuclear activity.
11. Tehran rejects allowing inspections of military sites suspected of conducting nuclear activity.
In his February 18, 2015 announcement, Khamenei specified that he would accept only a single-stage agreement, and that this agreement must include the lifting of all sanctions on Iran and that it must clearly state that the West may not take advantage of the framework agreement in order to force its position on Iran in the second stage when the details are discussed.
The following is Khamenei’s February 18 announcement about the nuclear negotiations: 
“The hands of the Iranian nation and its senior officials were never tied, and we have shown this to be so. From now on, we will also demonstrate this with our initiatives and our courage. It is America that is stuck and entangled in a problem, and the entire reality inside and outside the region proves this.
“It is you [Americans] who have continually been defeated for these many years; it is the Islamic Republic of Iran that advances, and can in no way be compared to [to the Iran of] 30-some years ago’¦
“Iran is moving forward, while the Americans, who have not succeeded in uprooting [the Islamic Republic of Iran], are now forced to tolerate the regime of the Islamic Republic. Their political, security, economic and cultural plans will not stop us from advancing…
“[In the nuclear negotiations,] I will accept an implementable plan, but I will not accept a bad agreement. Like the Americans, I too believe that failing to reach an agreement is preferable to a bad agreement, and I believe that failure to reach an agreement is preferable to an agreement that will damage Iran’s national interests and pave the way for the humiliation of the Iranian nation.
“The conduct of the U.S. in the negotiations, and of some of the European countries that obey it, is illogical. Because of their many expectations, they think all their demands will be met ‘ but this is not how negotiations work. The Iranian nation will not tolerate bullying, greed, and irrational conduct. I agree to continue to advance in the negotiations in order to arrive at a good agreement’¦ The negotiations must maintain the honor of the Iranian nation, and the advancement [of its nuclear program]…
“A scenario of agreement on general principles, and shortly thereafter agreement on the details, is not recommended, because our experience with the opposite side’s conduct [in the negotiations shows] that a framework agreement will serve [them] as a tool for inventing a series of excuses in [the negotiations on] the details. If an agreement is to be reached, it must be a single-stage agreement, and it must include the general framework as well as the details. The agreement’s content must be clear, and not open to interpretation. The agreement’s sections must not be such that the opposing side, which is used to bargaining, will search for excuses on the various issues. The sanctions must be completely removed.”
Additionally, Khamenei threatens to impose natural gas sanctions, saying: “If there are to be sanctions, the Iranian nation can and will also impose sanctions.”
*Y. Carmon is President and Founder of MEMRI; A. Savyon is director of MEMRI’s Iranian Media project.
 Leader.ir, February 18. 2015.
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The Weekly Standard
April 6, 2015
Jerusalem – On Tuesday I spent some time with the reelected prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. I think he was happy to take a short break from his Herculean labors of putting together a government and dealing with controversies galore. So we engaged in some small talk and exchanged compliments and stories about our parents. I particularly enjoyed his fascinating account of his father’s work with the great Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the last year of Jabotinsky’s life, and his father’s subsequent efforts to rally support in the United States during World War II for European Jewry and for the creation of the state of Israel. His failure on the first front and his success in the second is a useful reminder of the extent to which, in politics, tragedy and triumph are not alternatives but cousins.
Speaking of triumphs, I did of course congratulate the prime minister on his reelection victory. But he had no interest in dwelling on that, and, indeed, his manner was in no way triumphalist or even exuberant. The prime minister was sober, and he was alarmed.
The main cause of his alarm wasn’t the host of attacks that have recently been launched against Israel by the administration in Washington. He simply expressed confidence in the underlying strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship and refused to engage, even in this private setting, in any reciprocal attacks on his American counterparts.
No, what alarmed the prime minister was Iran. The progress of the Iranian regime toward nuclear weapons is the threat, as he sees it, to the well-being of Israel, the overall success of American foreign policy, and any hopes for peace and stability in the Middle East. The nuclear arms deal the Obama administration seeks with Iran would secure Iran’s path to nuclear weapons capability and would strengthen a regime that not only proclaims death to Israel and death to America but shows by its behavior that it means both statements. And this is to say nothing of the likelihood of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East to follow.
The prime minister made his points without hyperbole or bravado. None of them was new, as he himself stressed. After all, he has been as clear and outspoken as anyone could be about the threat of a bad deal, including in his remarks earlier this month to the United States Congress. His private arguments very much reflected his public ones, and the arguments other critics of the deal have been making. Indeed, on a couple of occasions the prime minister interrupted himself to say, ‘but of course you understand this point, you’ve published these arguments.’ And so we and others have. It’s not as if scholars at the American Enterprise Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Council on Foreign Relations and the Hudson Institute – to say nothing of senators and congressmen and former secretaries of state – haven’t explained that we are heading towards a bad deal with a bad regime.
It’s a bad deal for all the reasons experts have pointed out. It won’t disassemble Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, while it does disassemble the sanctions regime that finally had started to bite and that holds the best hope of peacefully stopping Iran’s nuclear program. It doesn’t deal with Iran’s weapons programs or force Iran to come clean about its military agenda. It has limits on inspections and verification, and a time limit on the restrictions on Iran’s capabilities to boot. It demands no promise of any change in Iranian behavior. So it’s a bad deal with a bad regime, one that is a leading sponsor of terror, an aggressor in the region, an enemy of the United States, and committed to the destruction of Israel. And it’s a bad deal that will strengthen a bad regime, that will encourage bad regimes elsewhere in the world to redouble their murderous pursuits, and thus will make war – no, wars – more likely.
I walked back to my hotel after the hour-and-a-half discussion thinking this was perhaps the most soberly alarming conversation I have ever had with a political leader in a position of responsibility. And in pondering the path of the Obama administration, I couldn’t get out of my mind Winston Churchill’s admonition to Neville Chamberlain after Munich: ‘You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.’
The next day, in my hotel room in Jerusalem taking a break from preparing the class I was here to teach, I read about Tuesday night’s Simon Wiesenthal Center annual gala tribute dinner at the Beverly Hilton hotel. The news from the dinner was the speech by Harvey Weinstein, recipient of the Center’s Humanitarian Award.
Weinstein spoke colorfully about the need to fight anti-Semitism: ‘We’re gonna have to get as organized as the mafia. We better stand up and kick these guys in the ass. .’’.’’. We just can’t take it anymore [from] these crazy bastards.’ He went on:
“I think it’s time that we, as Jews, get together with the Muslims who are honorable and peaceful’but we [also] have to go and protect ourselves... There’s gotta be a way to fight back. While we must be understanding of our Arab brothers and our Islamic brothers, we also have to understand that these crazy bastards [Arab and Islamic extremists] are also killing their own’they’re killing neighbors, they’re killing people from all sorts of different races.”
These seemed to me perhaps useful things to be said to a Hollywood audience – especially when said by a liberal who was a strong and vocal supporter of President Obama in both 2008 and 2012.
But reading about these remarks in Jerusalem, one couldn’t help but be put off, even embarrassed, by the bravado and tough talk. Fighting anti-Semitism is of course a good thing. But all the deplorable kinds of anti-Semitism, Weinstein is going to spend time fighting pale in importance next to the prospect of an anti-Semitic Iranian regime getting nuclear weapons with the acquiescence of the United States. And about that, Weinstein has been, so far as I know, silent. And Weinstein’s friends in American politics have mostly been silent.
Perhaps Weinstein will call Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, and persuade them to act to block a bad deal with the Iranian regime. Perhaps Weinstein will call his friend President Obama and ask him to stop participating in the delegitimization of Israel as he contributes to the legitimization of Iran. Perhaps Weinstein will even ask him to put the threat of military force back on the table.
But counting on prominent and wealthy Jewish liberals to speak up against their friends in the face of existential threats to the Jewish people has never been a good bet. Benzion Netanyahu saw this up close in June 1940, when mainstream American Jewish leaders boycotted his mentor Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s speech in New York when Jabotinsky sounded the alarm about what was happening in Europe.
Now his son, Benjamin Netanyahu, is sounding the alarm about what is happening today. He has made the case, in my view irrefutably, that no friend of Israel can support the forthcoming deal with the Iranian regime. Nor is such a deal in any way in the broader American national interest. Yet a misguided American administration is on a path to choosing dishonor and setting the stage for future wars. It is up to American leaders in both parties and all walks of life to do their best to avert this outcome. And if it is left to Israel to act, the least Americans can do is support our democratic ally, just as the least Americans could honorably do in 1940 was support Britain as, in her finest hour, she stood and fought alone.