The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged nuclear
Look who's talking

Can Iran and the US reach a nuclear deal in the coming months, one that preserves Iran's enrichment program yet satisfies the US's sanctions regimen against the Islamic Republic? It is possible, but the pressure for the current negotiations between Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif to fail is immense, and comes from multiple domestic actors in both countries, as well as from American allies in the Middle East.

Obama's biggest stumbling block domestically is Congress, and the myriad lobbying groups opposed to a negotiated solution with Iran as long it remans an Islamic Republic. There are some Iranian associations (like the former terrorist organization MEK), but most of the pressure comes from Israel advocacy organizations like AIPAC, along with neoconservative think tanks such as the FDD or AEI. These groups - except for AIPAC - cannot really push Obama, but they can and have been pushing Congress. Republicans, especially, want to claim credit for sanctions bringing the Iranians to the UN with all this talk of cooperation and hints of nuclear concessions - but then, the issue arises of who is willing to say: "the sanctions have worked, let's talk concessions" instead of "Iran is bleeding white financially, tighten the screws and go for broke." And procedurally, this spider's web - as the International Crisis Group calls it - of sanctions cannot just be overridden by the President. Already, the Senate is mulling whether or not to enact even more sanctions, and this is no bluff. This is a concerted effort to pull Obama away from diplomacy and send Rouhani back empty-handed.

There are also other competing interests on the US side: Israel and the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia. All are united by their fear and animus towards Iran's regional ambitions.  


Netanyahu warned the UN of the Iranian nuclear duck peril. 

Netanyahu warned the UN of the Iranian nuclear duck peril. 

It is hard to tell if PM Netanyahu is bluffing about war to extract maximum concessions from both the US and Iran, or if he will only accept Iran's unconditional surrender. In any event, Israel will not go it alone in Iran - there are too many dispersed, hardened targets over distance to strike, unlike in Iraq and Syria. If Israel really does want to set the program back, its leaders would not risk taking action without the US's participation - this is why these generals and former spymasters keep painting talk of a unilateral attack as madness, because the risk of retaliation and international censure is too great. Concerns about state-sponsored terrorism and support for Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, or Islamic Jihad are also present in this debate. But the Nuclear Question is the overriding issue.

Even though he has been crying wolf for years, Netanyahu is not stupid enough to think he can go it alone on Iran. What he is now doing, partly, is hoping that he can regain the initiative in Israeli domestic politics over his Iran critics by castigating anything Obama and Rouhani do to bring down barriers between the two countries. There is a big difference between what the Prime Minister's Office and the Israeli military-intelligence community want on Iran, because the latter sees Netanyahu as a bull in a china shop making the case for military action harder than it needs to be. Israel does not want to lose its unique strategic deterrent in the region. And it needs the US to prevent that from happening. A deal that leaves Iran wiggle room for a nuclear weapons capability is unacceptable, because even that - in the Israeli view - balances the equation between the two countries, emboldening Iran. Netanyahu sees Syria as a test-run for Iran: will the US go all in - increasingly unlikely - or will it give "advantage" to Assad, Putin, and Khameini by supporting a difficult to enforce WMD search and seizure?

The Saudi royal family remains very apprehensive about any deals with Iran as well, in part because of a similar calculus. As with Israel, Iran is a country which a much larger land area and population than them. Iran's leaders have called for their deposal and been linked to terrorist attacks on them. Saudi Arabia worries about Iranian instigations in its Eastern Province and in Bahrain, specifically. Aside from these ideological differences, the Saudis do not want to see a nuclear-weapons capable Iran because that could negate the Kingdom's qualitative military advantage over Iran, given that Iran's military is running on aging American arms and some newer Russo-Chinese equipment while the Saudis have the run of General Dynamics, Dassault, and BAE's catalogs. Geopolitically, the Kingdom is playing for keeps in Syria - they are making unhappy noises about the CW deal that tabled an American air strike, which they had been lobbying very heavily for. Rapprochement with Iran that holds out the prospect of a negotiated solution for Assad would diminish Saudi influence in postwar Syria, and is not welcome because the Saudis have long sought to bring that country closer to Riyadh.

Returning to the US-Iranian dynamic, the language barrier is immense - in the sense that both powers talk past each other (supervised enrichment versus no enrichment), and both are afraid of giving something and gaining nothing. Yet not a decade ago, Iran was helpful on Afghanistan - the pre-Operation Enduring Freedom period saw the best cooperation among the two countries' officials in years. But the Bush Administration's 2002 "Axis of Evil" speech deeply embarrassed Iranian moderates urging reconciliation. More significantly, American mistakes in Iraq emboldened the Iranian military, which saw an opportunity to compete against the clerical establishment for postwar influence - remember that some of the returning Iraqi clerics and parliamentarians, including PM Nouri al-Maliki and the founder of the Badr Organization, the late Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, spent years in exile in Iran - by arming militias. 

Surprisingly, one of the least-cited reasons by Western critics opposing detente with Iran is that Secretary Kerry should not be sitting across a table from people who green-lit the transfer of weapons used to kill American soldiers between 2003 and 2011. Of course, such critics would have a very weak leg to stand in the historical context: Nixon went to China and opened detente with the USSR while weapons supplied by these two countries had  been used to kill thousands of American servicemen in Vietnam and Korea. But US critics of talking to the Soviets simply could not beat the people who felt talk was necessary to avoid WWIII. Whereas, because of US actions against Iran, because the Islamic Republic is not so vital to US interests, because there is nothing so concrete to cooperate on as anti-fascism, and because the Iranian Hostage Crisis is within living memory (no such event defined the Chinese or Russian Revolutions for Americans), a working relationship has been much harder to sell in either nation. 

Iran sees itself as encircled by US bases and allies, has undergone two foreign-backed regime changes - during WWII, to remove the then pro-German Shah, and more famously in 1953. Westerners then trained SAVAK, the pre-Islamist secret police force, and were always the most visible supporters of the Shah from the 1950s to the 1980s. Iran's current leaders also do not forget what happened in the Iran-Iraq War when the US (with the USSR) sided with Saddam Hussein - even going so far as to give Iraq intelligence that the CIA knew would be used to help carry out chemical warfare. Since 2000, there have been cyber attacks, assassinations of nuclear scientists, and even more sanctions - all of which are either directly tied to the US, or ascribed to its Israeli allies. To shift course is difficult not simply because of public opinion, but because so much of the establishment cut its teeth on anti-Americanism and still sincerely feels the US wishes to strangle them by pursuing regime change. After all, dual containment of Iran and Iraq in the 1990s only came to an end with the invasion of Iraq. Though the current crisis in Iran is also the result of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's fiscal policies and economic authoritarianism, there is the expectation that Iran will be allowed back into the world energy and banking community in exchange for nuclear concessions.

In Iran, the domestic calculus for whether a deal should be reached or not is more opaque, but two very important groups of people constrain Rouhani's hand. Rouhani can count on the support of the reformist press - some of those "Green Movement" outlets not shuttered since 2008, and some past notables like former President KhatamiIran's international traders, and most of the Majles. Iranian social media has lit up in support of Rouhani's moves -- Netanyahu's clumsy, condescending attempt to speak directly to the Iranian public has backfired in these same forums. The hardliners, however, count players like the former nuclear negotiator and war hero Saeed Jalili, and the veteran diplomat Ali Velayati. If Rouhani is seen to be underperforming abroad, Khameini will want to have a back-up plan - in the form of pronounced skepticism about trusting the US's sincerity - to wash his hands of the president's work, and will use one of the president's rivals to lead the denunciation campaign. 

Khameini, who puts his own credibility on the line by advancing talks, wants to reserve the option to blame the new president and the US if the talks tank - he does not want to get caught out by the US by offering concessions for no concrete gains. So he states that he approves Rouhani's efforts but finds some aspects of them troublesome. When the Grand Ayatollah talked about flexibility, he might as well be referring to his own position within Iran's domestic scene. 

As for the IRGC, it remains the single most powerful institution in the country, because of its military reputation, forays into politics, and its revenue streams from the factories and trading companies it runs. Corrupt officials constitute the economic foil to sanctions-lifting. Rouhani received a relatively triumphant welcome back home - but not wholly triumphant, as the security services allowed hawkish protestors to jeer at and egg his motorcade. It has used sympathetic media to castigate Rouhani, and is making a big play rhetorically by opposing the idea of ending the regime's "Death to America" rallies. It sees itself as the guardian of a revolution - ossified as that revolutionary is in 2013 - and welcomes opportunities to confront the US and Israel in Iraq and the Levant, and to keep Assad in power despite exasperation with his military performance.

Press statements, editorials, and tweets are the tea leaves by which such factional scorekeeping can be discerned: which editorials are the most vituperative about conciliation, which reports offer praise of Obama, which date and place a speech praising or criticizing Rouhani was given at. Rouhani certainly has a strong position - perhaps stronger than Obama's, because no one has Obama's back while Rouhani has his powers conferred upon him in these talks by Khameini. The downside of that is that Rouhani has more to lose if he slips up, because without getting demonstrable relief from the sanctions, he risks having his mandate to negotiate revoked by Khameini. Obama is in a position to offer much, and has made major steps by allowing Secretary of State Kerry to negotiate directly with Foreign Minister Zarif, but will feel constrained by so many past failures in his and other administrations to take bigger risks.


Israel vs. Iran: the lolcats wars

The cat pictures are the newest permutations of a social media campaign started over the weekend by two Israeli graphics designers that is called “We Love Iranians,” aimed at raising public awareness against the steady march to war the Likud government has been taking Israel on towards Iran.

The meme has “gone viral” in Israel, and while it’s spawned a number of sensible parodies (such as noting that the same tone was on display for Iraqis to hear - if they could hear over the ack-ack - by George W. Bush in 2003) and is inevitably going to lead to a “slacktivism” discussion, at least it’s demonstrating that public opinion against war with Iran in Israel is growing. Israel is ostensibly a democracy, so the best case outcome is that all those national security specialists and “cultural icons” who have been keeping quiet realize there is a base of domestic support for them to tell Bibi to can the Holocaust references.

More comforting, though, has been news that 1) Mossad once again concludes with the U.S’s intelligence services that Iran has neither the capability nor political will to pursue weaponization now, 2) some Iranian leaders are saying they’re willing to make concessions at the new P5+1 roundtable, and 3) Netanyahu has failed to convince his kitchen cabinet that he knows what he is talking about on Iran, and considering some of the people in that cabinet, that is saying something — not least because one of the skeptics is in fact the Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister, a post Netanyahu’s Likud party established in 2009 to have a kind of go-to-guy looking over Shin Bet and Mossad, a la Dick Cheney.

Still, no one is out of the woods yet, Mossad assessment and grinning Israeli couples’ pinterest tags aside. Netanyahu has deliberately set the bar for Iranian concessions so high it’s difficult to believe progress can be made in talks1 - i.e., asking the Iranians to do things no other NPT signatory is expected to do when Israel itself isn’t even an NPT signatory - and the U.S. has made it pretty clear it will take military action if it feels “compelled” to do so in the region by either an Israeli or Iranian “action.”

  1. Worse, he is now trying to play the 2005 Gaza withdrawal card against what passes as the Israeli political left over Iran - clearly, he wants to shut their tepid criticism down by any means at his disposal.  ↩

The Economist says US should give Middle East a nuclear umbrella against Iran

I could not disagree further with this (the bold bit):

If Iran does not halt its nuclear programme, its rulers should expect their country to be treated as an international pariah. That means not just pushing for more serious sanctions, but also stepping up the covert campaign to disrupt Iran’s nuclear facilities. It also means preparing for the day when Iran deploys nuclear weapons. To that end, America must demonstrate to its allies who feel threatened by Iran—not just Israel, but Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states too—that its commitment to extending nuclear deterrence to them is as firm as it was to Europe at the height of the cold war. America must also be willing to make available to its allies advanced ballistic missile defences.

Iran must be made to understand that owning nuclear weapons is a curse for it rather than a blessing. And Israel must be persuaded that striking Iran would be far more dangerous than living with its nuclear ambitions.

Overall this leader strikes the right tone, although it inverses the seriousness of the crimes: a nuclear Iran would be a breach of the NPT, but a strike on Iran is an act of war that strikes at the very foundation of the international legal system. In any case, the suggestion that the US should extend a Cold War style nuclear umbrella over the Middle East is pure folly, the exact opposite of the disengagement from the region by the US that is now necessary. Iran's nuclear program does not represent a threat in itself (few think Iran would use the bomb) but rather an increase of Iran's regional prestige and influence. It is also a reaction to a long threat of regime change against it (and the case of Libya must not be giving it confidence that giving up nuclear weapons is the right choice.)

This idea of a US nuclear umbrella, though, strikes me as deeply flawed. Who is going to pay for this nuclear umbrella? What risks will it expose the US to? What kind of overstretch will it be getting into? What does it mean in terms of the number of ships, submarines, bases, aircraft, etc. affected to the region? There were dozens of US bases across Europe providing a nuclear umbrella there. Do we really need more in the Middle East?

On the IAEA's report on Iran

So the IAEA has a new report on Iran that reveals a lot of dodgy stuff by Tehran between 1997 and 2003 and says it's quite possible work continued after 2003. At the same time we've been seeing Israeli agitation, conveniently timed to just before the report, about a pre-emptive strike. There's a lot of heat generated about this report, and it's also an occasion to revisit less-discussed aspect of this crisis: assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists (surely equally condemnable as any Iranian assassination attempts against Saudi ambassadors?), Stuxnet, Iranian deterrence options, how Iranian allies in Iraq and elsewhere might react to a crisis, etc.

I don't have anything particular to add to this debate, as my views are pretty fixed on this. Iran should respect the NPT, and me made to do so through diplomatic means. A regional grand bargain is necessary that involves the nuclear disarmament of Israel and the Middle East free of WMDs many major regional actors have advocated. Any infringement of Iranian sovereignty — missile strikes, invasion, assassinations — is unaceptable. We should also think of the consequences of the Libya war — whether it might make some "rogue states" reconsider giving up their nuclear arsenal considering what happened to Qadhafi.

Below are some links to various pieces on the issue.  

✪ U.N. Agency Says Iran Data Points to A-Bomb Work - - David Sanger has led the NYT's coverage of the Iranian nuclear issue, notably with a long essay in last Sunday's paper. Some criticize him as too bellicose, and the NYT's track record is not great on these issues. Like it or not this is pretty much of main way the story is covered in the US media.

✪ Invading Iran: Lessons from Iraq | Hoover Institution - As might be expected, the Hoover Institution is already making contingency plans. "Invading Iran", really? Is anyone even talking about that, as opposed to missile strikes?

✪ Memo to Iran: Obama Won’t Let It Go | The Diplomat - Meir Javedanfar says that chances of war are small and diplomacy the best way, and that Iran would be willing.

✪ Iran nuclear report: Why it may not be a game-changer after all - - Scott Peterson interviews nuclear experts skeptical about the latest IAEA report.

✪ International Institute for Strategic Studies - IISS Experts' Commentary - IAEA report puts Iran on back foot - Mark Fitzpatrick highlights that most of the IAEA report covers up to 2003, and that Iran has not yet mastered the weaponization stage of creating a nuclear device.

✪ Iran’s Nuclear Program and China - - Neocon voice calls for pressure on China to lean on Iran.

✪ ISIS Analysis of IAEA Iran Safeguards Report - top experts look at the report (PDF). Key excerpt:

A key detail in the report is an assessment that certain activities taking place under the organization in Iran responsible for various nuclear weaponization work resumed at some point after a 2003 “halt order” issued by senior Iranian officials. The IAEA also reports that Mohsen Fakrizadeh, the longstanding director of nuclear weaponization activities in Iran, remains as the director of these efforts at a recently re-named organization. In early 2011, Fakhrizadeh moved the organization to a new compound in Tehran, known as Mojdeh. The IAEA notes that it “is concerned because some of the activities undertaken after 2003 would be highly relevant to a nuclear weapons program.”

If true, the evidence of weaponization activities that took place before and after 2003 constitute a major violation of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.

Notably absent, however, is any assessment by the IAEA of Iran’s capability to make a nuclear explosive device based on what it learned through these activities. The IAEA made such an assessment in a 2009 working document that was to become an annex on weaponization evidence to an earlier Safeguards report, but which the Agency never published. The working document assessed that, based on a review of the evidence, “Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device based upon HEU [highly enriched uranium] as the fission fuel.” The IAEA has also assessed in this working document that Iran still had work to do before it could build a reliable warhead for the Shahib III missile.

✪ U.S. mulls Iran sanctions but not on oil, central bank | Reuters

✪ IRAN: Nuclear Watchdog Details Pre-2003 Weapons Research - IPS - By longtime Iran-watcher Barbara Slavin.


Review of ElBaradei's "The Age of Deception"

I must have been traveling when it came out, but I have a  review of Mohammed ElBaradei's new book, The Age of Deception, out in The National. The book is entirely about his time at the IAEA, so don't look for commentary on Egyptian politics here, but it does tell us about the man's character. That character has undergone several waves of assassination, from the propaganda of the Mubarak-controlled press in 2010 to those who see ElBaradei as some kind of Trojan horse for secularism post-revolution. Consider the lawyer who is currently trying to strip him of his Egyptian nationality (alongside Gamal Mubarak):

Meanwhile the lawsuit accuses ElBaradei of turning a blind eye to Israel's nuclear weapons during his term as IAEA director. “ElBaradei had a stake in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which makes him unworthy of carrying Egyptian nationality”, it said.

ElBaradei's book is not the most riveting read — at the end of the day, it's a company man's diary — but it certainly puts to rest any notion that ElBaradei did not try to prevent (within his abilities as IAEA chief) the invasion of Iraq and the sexing up of its WMD dossier, or try to broker a negotiated outcome to the Iranian nuclear issue. From the review:

"Early on, I often got the feeling that the Arab world - and many westerners - expected me, as an Egyptian Arab and a Muslim, to show bias in favour of Iraq. Of course, I also heard that I was being tough on Iraq to prove my lack of bias. My only bias was that of an international civil servant: an insistence on independence, professionalism and treating all parties with equal respect."
Although ElBaradei's views are fairly well known among those who followed the last decade of nuclear diplomacy, he reiterates them in this book lest there be any doubt. He was adamantly opposed to the invasion of Iraq even as the agency came under extreme pressure to find evidence of a non-existent nuclear programme. He could not intervene on the matter of Israel's nuclear arsenal because it is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, although he raised the issue nonetheless. On Iran, he felt that Tehran was ready to negotiate on its nuclear programme in exchange for economic and political concessions from the West, but that mistrust reigned and the domestic politics of Iran and the United States perpetually vexed a resolution.
In one particularly memorable incident, shortly before he meets the president, George W Bush, Cheney informs him matter-of-factly that if he doesn't lean towards the US position on Iraq, the administration will personally discredit him in the media. Bush comes across as affable but not particularly sharp - in meetings, they talk about baseball. At a later point, ElBaradei states his belief that the former president and his administration should face charges of war crimes at the International Criminal Court and is criminally responsibly for manipulating the WMD dossier to provide a pretext for the war.
Read the rest here.


The Arabs and nuclear energy

A few years ago, nuclear power was all the rage in the Arab world. Gamal Mubarak tried to boost his own statesman credentials by announcing that Egypt would build its first commercial nuclear plant. Soon most of the GCC followed suit, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria began feasibility studies, and it looked like the entire region would get on the nuclear bandwagon. Much of this nuclear talk had a whiff of nationalism about it, as if nuclear plants were as much prestige projects as an answer to skyrocketing electricity consumption (that for instance caused rolling brownouts last summer in Egypt and could very well do so again). The context of Iran's nuclear weapons program led to a spate of stories about how this was a preliminary to a region-wide nuclear arms race, even though the two issues are quite separate.

The US and other Western powers, as well as countries with solid nuclear experience like Russia, Kazakhstan or South Korea, generally rejoiced at this news because the Arab countries would be concluding juicy contracts with their firms. They began to compete for who would get the contracts. When Egypt's own $160m feasibility study was carried out by an Australian firm called WorleyParsons rather than Bechtel, as initially planned, it was said it was because the firm's local consultant was Mounir Thabet, the brother of Suzanne Mubarak (others joked it was because Bechtel had recently hired David Welch, a former US Ambassador in Cairo that Mubarak could not stand.) The US in particular was hoping to sell General Electric and Westinghouse's latest type of nuclear reactor, which they said made the misuse of spent fuel to generate weapons-grade material impossible and would grant control of the fuel cycle to the West. (This may or may not have been a selling point of the reactors for a depressed American nuclear industry had lobbied for with Dick Cheney's secretive energy task force and produced the Bush administration nuclear-pushing GNEP.)

Then the revolutions came. It's not clear whether Egypt or other countries outside the GCC will pursue their nuclear policies anymore. For one, they are facing serious fiscal problems and may not have the resources to invest in plants that cost multiples of billions of dollars. The political (and economic) motives for the nuclear project may also change. And of course, there's Japan. I don't know enough about what happened in Japan to tell whether it's a universal risk: the plants affected, after all, were all 1970s models and it's been reported newer models do not have their safety flaws. Nonetheless, it's quite a warning for those of us who thought nuclear energy, overall, was fairly safe.

I have been a big fan of nuclear energy, as used by France for instance. It makes sense for Middle Eastern states to develop electricity production that does not rely on burning fossil fuels they could be exporting or using in plastics plants or refineries. Of course that could be renewables — if you can eventually get them to be more productive. There remains a strategic argument for developing the indigenous technology know-how behind nuclear power, too: it will make a nuclear weapons program substantially easier to start. Any country would bear that in mind, especially in a region a war-prone as this one and in which a theological state already has a substantial arsenal which the current foreign minister has threatened to use (i.e. Israel.) 

The Heinrich Boll Stigtung, the think-tank and NGO arm of the German Green party, has recently translated a book on the risks of nuclear energy into Arabic. You can get it here (as well as in English). The latest issue of their magazine, Perspectives, has a debate on the issue of nuclear energy in the Arab world (again from the critical angle.) I'm not sure that it's worth abandoning nuclear power altogether (that's a debate the world is having post-Japan) but it's an issue that is worth having a wider debate about in the Arab world, learning from the evolution of the debate in Europe and elsewhere since the 1950s. 

Rattling the saber on Iran
The Atlantic magazine is one of the slightly subtler stalwart supporters of Zionism in the American media, taking a gentler approach than, say, the New Republic or its conservative doppelganger Commentary or The Weekly Standard. (It's also, in terms of editorial quality speaking, a far superior magazine.)
Which is why it is far more deadly when it pushes out a piece of propaganda like James Fallows' odious 2002 piece Who Shot Muhammad al-Dura, which tried to impute blame on Palestinians without talking to a single one of them, or the currently much-talked about Jeffrey Goldberg article on why Israel is almost certainly to bomb Iran. The aim of the piece is pretty clear from the get-go: it tries, not always directly but always implicitly, to argue that since Israel is about to strike Iran, the US may as well back it in the endeavor or carry the deed itself. This may very well be the beginning of the campaign for a US attack on Iran, not just an apology for an Israeli attack.
I won't discuss the article at length here because others have done a pretty good job. But I urge others to read it, and perhaps marvel with me how much of it is suffused with talk of the Holocaust and how much sympathetic justification it contains for what would be, after all, an unprovoked attack on a UN member by a nation that already has a considerable nuclear arsenal outside of the international non-proliferation framework. The case for Israel putting a stop to Iran's nuclear program is quite dubious, as most experts and Goldberg concede. The US is both much better able to carry out such a strike, and deal with the long-term conflict that might ensue. Hence the need for this article and a campaign to manipulate US public opinion into thinking that striking Iran is unavoidable. And why would it be unavoidable? Because Iran is being sold as a potential Nazi Germany,  even though Iran — as Stephen Walt argues — is not much of a threat to the US. (See also Walt's thoughts on Goldberg mainstreaming the idea of war with Iran in the US.)
You must do what we can’t, because if you don’t, we will, is the gist of what Goldberg is doing, argues Paul Woodward.

Worried about an Israeli attack on Iran? That’s the idea.

You must do what we can’t, because if you don’t, we will.

This is how some Israelis are trying to twist Washington’s arm to get the US to attack Iran.

A more honest way of making the argument would be to say this: If the US won’t attack Iran, then Israel will — even though it won’t accomplish its military objectives and it will open Pandora’s box. Desperate nations sometimes do desperate things. You have been warned.

Another name for this: blackmail.

It’s hard to counter an irrational argument when the irrationality is intentional. Such are the means by which someone like erstwhile Israeli army corporal and current Atlantic commentator, Jeffrey Goldberg, attempts to persuade his readers — not through cogent reasoning based on clear evidence, but by an insidious form of argument that has the clarity of slime.

Consider the way he tries to close his case for an attack on Iran — even while avoiding saying straight out that he supports such a course of action.

The United States must not take the risk of letting Israel attack Iran because if President Obama orders US forces to attack instead, this would be the most patriotic thing to do. Obama would not be serving Israel’s interests; he would be defending Western civilization.

Goldberg, of course, operates with the conceit common to many access journalists, who assume that what they’re hearing from their sources is the unvarnished truth, told to the journalist because they presumably trust him as a confidante and recognize the value of his opinions and insights. Let’s just say that such is the conceit that makes it so easy for those in power in Washington to seduce marquee name journalists to carry water for them by anointing them as “special”, cultivating in the illusion that they’re insiders privy to the inner thoughts of the key power players.

In your dreams, Jeff: The Israelis talk to you because they want to convey a particular message in Washington; and the White House talks to you because they want you to convey a particular message to the Israelis and, more importantly, to some of their most powerful backers in America.

Making Aggression Respectable | The National Interest: Here Paul Pillar makes an important point:

Perhaps one reason a prospective launching of a war against Iran has not gotten the condemnation it deserves is that the one big recent exception to the American tradition of non-aggression—the Bush administration’s war in Iraq—has shifted the terms of reference and the definition of the mainstream so much that even an offensive war has come to be considered a policy option worthy of consideration. And this has happened despite the mess in Iraq that followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein and despite George W. Bush’s restraining (to his credit, as mentioned in Goldberg’s article) of hotheads in his administration who were itching to attack Iran.

Yes you can dispute America's tradition of non-aggression, at least in the postwar era, but the fundamental point that Iran shouldn't be attacked simply because it's against international law is crucial. We have yet to deal with the illegality of Iraq's war.

Other reactions worth reading:

Did top Obama donor carry Israeli message to W.H.? Here Justin Elliott picks up on a side revelation in Goldberg's article, that a senior Israeli military official traveled to Chicago to urge one of the most important early Obama backers in the Jewish community to have a word with him.

How propagandists function: Exhibit A Gleen Greenwald.

The Leveretts, whom I don't like on Iran's internal politics, catch the same thing: THE CAMPAIGN TO TURN IRAN INTO AN “EXISTENTIAL THREAT”

Steve Clemons points out the interesting stuff about Bush being against an Iran attack late in his presidency in Jeffrey Goldberg Probes Israel's Iran Strike Option: Is Netanyahu a "Bomber Boy"?

And finally, coming back to The Atlantic, it's worth highlighting this bizarre line in this Robert Kaplan article about how to deal with a nuclear Iran:

Indeed, I would argue that because Sunni Arabs from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Egypt perpetrated the attacks of September 11, 2001, and because Sunni hostility to American and Israeli interests remains a conspicuous problem, the United States should theoretically welcome a strengthened Shiite role in the Middle East, were Iran to go through an even partial political transformation.

Because, of course, all Shias and all Sunnis think alike. And this article's main argument is that the US should be more willing to consider a limited nuclear war with Iran, and limited wars in general. Chilling.

The Bomb Iran Crowd

Gregg Carlstrom, one-half of the dynamic duo over at The Majlis, brought attention to an article in Military Review — which as it sounds is a US Army publication — that advocates a military strike on Iran. I want to expand on that a little bit more.

Its basic argument is that engagement and sanctions are widely seen as ineffective, and that the received wisdom is that a deterrence strategy will work (from the perspective of the US) to keep a nuclear Iran from actually using the weapon, or perhaps even assembling one. It then goes on to argue against a deterrence strategy and insist that preventing Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons is a key priority, and one that is best achieved by military means. Accepting the common arguments that a military strike against the known nuclear installations would essentially only delay the nuclear program (and of course it would also add a reason to pursue it, although this is not mentioned) and that different military options must be pursued. Here's the scenario outlined:

 The basic approach seeks not to degrade Iran’s nuclear capaci- ties (the aim of bombing) but to compel the regime to change its behavior, by causing ever-higher levels of “pain.” It starts with demanding that Iran live up to its international obligations and open up its nuclear sites by a given date, to demonstrate that they are not serving a military program. If this demand is not heeded, the next step would entail bombing of Iran’s nonnuclear military assets (such as the headquarters and encampments of the Revo- lutionary Guard, air defense installations and radar sites, missile sites, and naval vessels that might be used against oil shipments). If such bombing does not elicit the required response, the bombing of select dual-use assets will be undertaken, includ- ing key elements of the infrastructure, like bridges, railroad stations, and other such assets, just the way the U.S. did in Germany and Japan in World War II. (The reference is to dual-use assets, that can be bombed at night, even after proper warning, to mini- mize civilian casualties, and not to purely civilian targets such as was done in Dresden and Tokyo.) If still more tightening of the screws is needed, Iran could be declared a no-fly zone, the way parts of Iraq were even before Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. This kind of military action is akin to sanctions—causing “pain” in order to change behavior, albeit by much more powerful means.

The article [PDF], as Gregg points out is basically a call to carpet-bomb Iran and adopt a method of collective punishment similar to the one pursued by Israel in its 2006 war in Lebanon and 2009 war in Gaza — the "Dahiya Doctrine." Gregg already covered the moral and other problems with this approach, so I just want to focus on who the author of the article is. David Kenner did a round-up of the "Bomb Iran" crowd in think tanks and the media, mostly neocons known for being "Israel Firsters" like Norman Podhoretz and Daniel Pipes. We can add a new name to the list: Amitai Etzioni, who is a surprisingly establishment figure as his website's bio shows:

He was a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in 1978 before serving as a Senior Advisor to the White House on domestic affairs from 1979-1980. In 1980, Etzioni was named the first University Professor at The George Washington University, where he is the Director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies. From 1987-1989, he served as the Thomas Henry Carroll Ford Foundation Professor at the Harvard Business School.

Etzioni served as the president of the American Sociological Association in 1994-95, and in 1989-90 was the founding president of the international Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics. In 1990, he founded the Communitarian Network, a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to shoring up the moral, social and political foundations of society. He was the editor of The Responsive Community: Rights and Responsibilities, the organization's quarterly journal, from 1991-2004. In 1991, the press began referring to Etzioni as the 'guru' of the communitarian movement.

. . . 

In 2001, Etzioni was named among the top 100 American intellectuals as measured by academic citations in Richard Posner's book, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline.

Also in 2001, Etzioni was awarded the John P. McGovern Award in Behavioral Sciences as well as the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was also the recipient of the Seventh James Wilbur Award for Extraordinary Contributions to the Appreciation and Advancement of Human Values by the Conference on Value Inquiry, as well as the Sociological Practice Association's Outstanding Contribution Award. 

Etzioni is Israeli-American, a former IDF soldier, and someone who escaped Nazi Germany as a young child. I can understand the concern about Iran's nukes, especially in the light of Ahmedinejad's moronic statements. But I don't understand how he can advocate a) a military approach that would inevitably target civilians and b) a course of action that would be so calamitous for the United States to pursue in terms of its own interests. Not to mention that, however accomplished Etzioni is as a sociologist, he is not — like the majority of the "Bomb Iran" gang — an expert on Iran, nuclear non-proliferation or even military strategy. In fact, I am not sure there is a single Iran expert who would advocate such a strategy, except perhaps Michael Rubin. Why does he have such an interest in this issue, aside from being Israeli, and why are his views aired in a magazine that is surely reserved for experts on military affairs? 

It is as if this "Bomb Iran" gang is entirely composed of people whose approach to the Iran problem is a mixture of demented paranoia and a radical commitment to preserving, through any means possible, Israel's military supremacy and expansionist agenda. Policymaking on issues like Iran will become much easier when these agitators are no longer such a politically powerful, irrational and disruptive voice in American politics. It's pretty clear that the Walt/Mearsheimer arguments about the Israel lobby's role in advocating for the invasion of Iraq are once again being repeated over Iran. Fool me once...

In honor of John McCain's infamous "Bomb Bomb Iran" statement, I once again give you the Beach Boys.

Nukes and regional security

A picture of the first ever nuclear explosion, 0.016 seconds after detonation.

I know I've been doing a lot of linking to Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel lately, but it's because they have so much good stuff. One item I'd really like to highlight in this piece on the nuclear question in the Middle East by Ezzedine Shukri-Fischere. It matches my thoughts exactly, and highlights a dimension of the current debate over Iran's potential nuclear program that is rarely touched upon in the American or European debate:

In the Middle East, however, the situation is more troubling and continues to generate serious risks for the world as a whole. Iran seems like the most compelling case at hand, but it is important to remember that Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity also stands in the way of establishing a regional security regime in the region. In the multilateral security talks that followed the 1991 Madrid Conference, Israel adamantly refused to discuss its nuclear program unless conventional and unconventional threats of its neighbors were addressed first (including those posed by Iran and Saddam's Iraq). Conversely, Arab states insisted on including Israel's nuclear weapons in the discussion before any security arrangement could be agreed. As a result, the talks collapsed and were never revived in the years since. Had the US intervened 15 years ago and led Arab states and Israel towards overcoming their tit-for-tat attitude, a Mideast security regime, with confidence-building measures, safeguards and verification mechanisms, would probably have emerged by now.

Both the US and actors in the region need to start a dialogue on all security concerns in the Middle East that includes the nuclear issues. And they need to start this dialogue now, and urgently.

Such a dialogue would help address a number of challenges at the same time. First, it would lay to rest the complaints about double standards in the nonproliferation community and relieve the US - and Israel - from the untenable claim that Israel's nuclear arsenal should somehow be treated as exceptional (a claim that nobody outside Washington and Tel Aviv gives serious consideration). The double-standard argument has been the most successful weapon against nonproliferation, especially in mobilizing public support for nuclear projects like those of Saddam's Iraq, Ghaddafi's Libya or Iran (and you will hear a lot about it in the coming weeks leading up to the NPT review). Second, such a dialogue would significantly decrease the pressure on Arab governments to start their own nuclear programs and abort what could be the beginning of a nuclear race in the region. Third, this dialogue would pave the way for the establishment of a Middle East security regime, which could be the vehicle for addressing a wide range of security hazards in this troubled and troubling region. Finally, such a dialogue might offer a framework for addressing Iran's problematic nuclear activities, especially if accompanied by a package of stabilizing confidence-building measures.

It's really a shame that al-Shorouk stopped running Ezzedine's columns, especially when they now instead have Fareed Zakariya and Thomas Friedman — who needs more of them?

China, Iran and the Saudis

All illustrations on this post are actual Iranian postage stamps.On some level, the debate over sanctioning Iran appears to boil down to what China's position will be — another sign of what one might call the slow but steady multi-polarization of Middle Eastern geopolitics. 

From Ben Simpfendorder's New Silk Road blog:

China’s foreign policy is at an inflexion point. The country is emerging as a major power, but that will require tough choices.
The toughest choices are usually found in the Middle East. The region doesn’t like major powers sitting on the fence, and it’s only time before China will be forced to climb down.
It is Iran that will likely force a decision. China has so far maintained its policy of non-intervention─as one Beijing-based policy advisor said to me, “if we intervene in Iran, it would set a bad precedent for our relations with other countries”.
Fair enough. But so would a failure to intervene. It would suggest that China isn’t concerned about its other regional partners, especially Saudi Arabia. Let’s not forget. Iran might supply 13% of China’s oil supply, but Saudi Arabia supplies an even larger 20%.
So what are the chances that China agrees to sanctions?
So far, it appears unlikely, at least to judge from media headlines. Yet, a recent article in Huanqiu, a hardline Chinese-language foreign affairs magazine, points to an increasingly nuanced positioned, and thus hints at the possibility of change.
The author, Yin Gang, works at the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences. His views aren’t official policy, but they are indicative of official thinking. The type of language he uses he is also refreshingly frank. So, I thought to highlight some of the more useful points.
First, the carrot.
“China understands Iran’s desire for nuclear deterrent capability. China’s nuclear deterrent capability was difficult to achieve under Western pressure. But times have changed. China and Iran are both signatories to the non-proliferation agreement. We should respect these principles”.
And, then the stick.
“China cannot ignore global opinion. It very well understands that its Arab and Jewish friends don’t want to see the Iranian nuclear problem end tragically”. He later continues, “Under no conditions will China accede to Iran’s demands, only to hurt the Arab and other countries feelings”.
How to explain the change? It appears to be Iran’s intransigence in the past year.
The International Crisis Group, which recently released a report on China's Iran policy, has more:
China will work to water down any Security Council resolution through a delay-and-weaken strategy that maximizes concessions from both Iran and the West.
For months, the United States and other countries have spent an enormous amount of diplomatic capital pressuring China to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran.
But this effort has yielded few results and merely serves to strengthen China’s strategic hand. The longer China holds out, the better treatment it gets from the West, which is hoping for sanctions that will likely do little to resolve the nuclear impasse anyway.
There are several reasons for Beijing not to impose meaningful sanctions.
Iran is China’s third-largest oil supplier and home to expanding Chinese energy and commercial enterprises. China and Iran also share a strong resentment of perceived American meddling in their domestic politics. The bond with Tehran helps counterbalance American interests in a region that some strategists in China consider part of its “grand periphery.”
Beijing has also led a charm offensive with Muslim countries since the Xinjiang riots in July 2009, partly in response to strong condemnations by top Iranian clerics of China’s administration of the restive western province.
Unlike the US and Europe, Beijing does not seem to see an urgent need to deal with the Iran nuclear issue. Trying to pressure Beijing by sharing Western intelligence on Iran is unlikely to have much effect.
Building an effective international coalition of countries – including Arab Gulf countries and those with Security Council membership – is a far better way to shape China’s Iran calculus.
So the calculation is that China is not so concerned about Iran's nuclear program, but concerned enough about its relationship with the US (and the leverage it can extract from the Iran issue) to avoid backing Iran. The alternative is then to weaken sanctions. There's been some agitation lately that Saudi Arabia wants Iran to act tough on Iran. Last week I cited a piece by David Ignatius

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, traveled to China late last week to enlist its support against Iran. The Saudi message to Beijing, according to one U.S. official, is: "If you don't help us against Iran, you will see a less stable and dependable Middle East."

Sanctions do have the advantage for the Arab Gulf countries of increasing reliance on them for oil, as I wrote before. However, backing tough sanctions does not mean Saudi would back a strike on Iran, as some have intimated. Saudi expert Jean-Francois Seznec:

It seems that, in fact, the Saudis are more worried about potential U.S. military action against Iran than they are about the Iranians’ ability actually to obtain nuclear weapons.  The Saudis may not express this view clearly enough to change views on Capitol Hill, but the U.S. executive branch is probably quite aware of Saudi worries about the prospect of U.S. military intervention in Iran.

In a nutshell, and to paraphrase Talleyrand, U.S. military action in Iran would be more than a crime—it would be a mistake or, more precisely, a series of mistakes, which would quite rapidly lead to the United States losing its influence in the world.  The economic “blowback” from any U.S. military action against Iran would be enormous, causing great harm to the United States.  More generally, military strength is no longer the true basis of national power in the modern world.  In the aftermath of a U.S. military confrontation with Iran, the new economic powerhouses—China, India, and Saudi Arabia—would have a shared interest in constraining the United States so that it could not act again to cause such damage to their interests.  In acting to realize that shared interest, these states would effectively lock the United States out of both Asia and the Middle East.     

On the economic front, a U.S. attack on Iran would lead to a major increase in oil prices, whether the Straits of Hormuz get blocked or not.  If only Iranian exports were taken off line, prices could still reach $150 per barrel, as 3 million barrels per day would be removed from the market and insurance premiums would reach the levels seen during the “tanker war” of the early 1980s.  If the Straits were blocked for some time, prices could go above $200 per barrel, as 16 million barrels per day in exports from the Gulf as a whole would have to find new ways to get to international markets.  In this scenario, Saudi Arabia could export up to 5 million barrels per day through the Red Sea, which would still leave the markets short of 11 million barrels.  Within 18 months, it might be possible to lay new pipelines to the Gulf of Oman that would bypass the Straits of Hormuz (mainly for oil exports from the United Arab Emirates), and Iraq could repair its strategic North-South pipeline to export oil via the Mediterranean.  However, even with these extraordinary measures, international markets would still be short of about 6 million barrels per day, and the impact on Asian economies that rely very heavily on Gulf crudes would be extreme.

Although, as I will discuss in greater detail below, Saudi Arabia would see a dramatic increase in its oil export revenues in such a scenario, the Saudis are nonetheless opposed to U.S. military action against Iran because, in their view, it could unleash complete havoc in the region. 

Why do I mention Saudi Arabia's (and I think most or all of the Arab world's) opposition to a strike on Iran in context of the sanctions? These are after all two quite different things. The reason there is a link is that it's hard to see tough sanctions going through without China's backing, which does not appear forthcoming. And soft sanctions are unlikely to have much of an impact on the Iranian regime — and perhaps tough population-centric sanctions wouldn't either.

Despite the view in neocon circles that sanctions would somehow bring more Iranians to support for the Green Movement, internal regime change in Iran still seems pretty improbable, especially in the context of a confrontation with the West. I suspect the neocons know this, but need sanctions to be implemented and then fail to be able to make the argument for a US-backed strike. And if it does come to a strike, probably by Israel, then the question becomes whether a direct attack on a sovereign state is a greater violation of international law then Iran's violations of the NPT, especially in the context of Israel's own nuclear program.  

Links for 09.17.09 to 09.19.09

A few day's worth...

Orientalism’s Wake: The Ongoing Politics of a Polemic | Very nice collection of essays on Edward Said's "Orientalism" from a variety of supporters, critics, academics including Daniel Varisco, Robert Irwin, Roger Owen, etc.
The Sources of Islamic Revolutionary Conduct | I have not read in detail this small book by a US Air Force analyst, but scanning through it I see rather odd choices. For instance there are long chapters comparing Christianity and modern secularism to the Islamist outlook, except that it's never quite clear whether the latter means the outlook of engaged Islamist activists or ordinary Muslims. There is also copious quoting from Sayyid Qutb's "Milestones" as if it was representative of all Islamic thinking. Someone should give this a detailed look (and I'd be happy to post the result.) [PDF]
Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | A clean break | On Cairo's garbage collection crisis.
Irving Kristol, Godfather of Conservatism, Dies - Obituary (Obit) - | Leaving behind a disastrous intellectual, social, economic and political legacy: alleged liberalism on social issues that shirks from real change, supply-side economics, and of course an imperial war doctrine.
Are Morocco And Algeria Gearing Up For Arms Race? « A Moroccan About the world around him
Big mouth - The National Newspaper | Bernard Heykal on how the strength of al-Qaeda is impossible. Which makes sense, at least if you try to do it from the Bin Laden tapes as all the silly pseudo-analysis of last week showed.
Ikhwanweb :: The Muslim Brotherhood Official English Website | Very much like the new look of the Muslim Brothers' English website, which I hadn't checked in a while. They have a very useful "today's news" feature that can also be used for archives by date.
Al-Ahram Weekly | Economy | Depleting Egypt's reserves | A good article with details on the Egypt-Israel gas deal and why it may be a bad idea in terms of resource management, never mind political and financial sense.
Al-Qaradawi's Fatwa Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | The alleged liberal paid by intolerant Islamists in Riyadh attacks the alleged moderate Islamist paid by Doha:

A news item reported in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper revealed that Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi had issued a fatwa prohibiting Iraqis from acquiring US citizenship on the grounds that this is the nationality of an occupier nation. However this fatwa has nothing to do with the reality on the ground, and contains more political absurdity then it does religious guidance. Sheikh al-Qaradawi himself is an Egyptian who possesses Qatari nationality, which was given to him after he opposed the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. However when an Israeli office was opened in Doha, al-Qaradawi did not renounce his Qatari nationality.

Freed Iraqi shoe thrower tells of torture in jail | World news |

| "His brother Uday told Reuters: "Thanks be to God that Muntazer has seen the light of day. I wish Bush could see our happiness. When President Bush looks back and turns the pages of his life, he will see the shoes of Muntazer al-Zaidi on every page.""
BAE to axe 1,100 jobs and close site | Business | | So Tony Blair quashed the Yamama inquiry to save jobs (or so he says) but BAe still carries out layoffs?
Seinfeld, Sacha Baron Cohen and Natalie Portman slam Toronto Film Festival protest - Haaretz - Israel News| Some stars come to Israel's side in the tiff over TIFF.
GDC | Economist Conferences| Economist infographic shows public debt around the world. / Middle East / Politics & Society - Investors seek to revive faded glory of Cairo | On investment in Downtown Cairo properties and plans for gentrification. Look out for another article on this soon.
No concrete proof that Iran has or has had nuclear programme – UN atomic watchdog | Just a reminder that the press reports have spinned things wrongly - this comes straight from the UN: "17 September 2009 – Refuting a recent media report, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today reiterated that the body has no concrete proof that Iran has or has ever had a nuclear weapons programme."
Egypt Islamic Authority Says Women Can Wear Trousers - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - | The world is going to hell -- what next, capris?
BBC NEWS | Middle East | 'Many killed' in Yemen air raid | Serious turn in Yemen's trouble -- bombing a refugee camp!?

Links for 09.11.09 to 09.12.09
ANALYSIS / Clock is ticking for Iran as Israel appears ready for strike - Haaretz - Israel News | Amos Harel sees an Israeli strike in late 2009 / early 2010, with the goal being setting back the Iranian nuclear program.
Middle East Report Online: Dismantling the Matrix of Control by Jeff Halper | "Until the majority of Palestinians, and not merely political leaders, declare that the conflict is over, the conflict is not over. Until most Palestinians believe it is time to normalize relations with Israel, there will be no normalization. Israel cannot “win” -- though it believes it can, which is why it presses ahead to complete the matrix and foreclose the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. The failure of yet another peace initiative will only galvanize international efforts to achieve justice for the Palestinians. Only this time the demand is likely to be for a single binational state, the only alternative that fits the single-state, binational reality that Israel itself has forged in its futile attempt to impose an apartheid regime. "
Chakchouka tunisienne / Bakchich : informations, enquêtes et mauvais esprit blogs | Cool French language blog from on Tunisia. Note recent post had Ben-Ali's brother-in-law bill people for attending their wedding.
Who is Travis Randall: the lies from Egypt « Bikya Masr | Bikya Misr on Fahmy Howeidy's fabrications about Travis Randall.
MIT Press Journals - World Policy Journal | "Egypt’s Looming Succession Struggle" by Michael Hanna. [PDF]

Links for 09.09.09 to 09.10.09
The Reporter’s Account: 4 Days With the Taliban - At War Blog - |
ISRAEL: Prime Minister Netanyahu's secret trip to...where? | Although Arab press said he went to an unnamed Arab country, it's more likely that secret trip was to Russia to meet Putin over military cooperation with Iran.
RUSI The Gulf States and a fourth Gulf War | The GCC in the event of a confrontation with Iran.
Israeli rights group says 320 minors died in Gaza war
| Israel's "War on Kids".
Libyan Jihad Revisions — jihadica | Yet another jihadi revisionist book.

Baradei on Iran
I linked recently the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' special report on Muhammad al-Baradei's tenure at the IAEA. I thought I'd highlight the bit in the interview [PDF] with him where they get his position on Iran:

BAS: Is Iran minimizing the risk of its nuclear program—namely by keeping it purely civilian-oriented?

ELBARADEI: We have not seen concrete evidence that Tehran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program. But somehow, many people are talking about how Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest threat to the world. In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped. Yes, there’s concern about Iran’s future intentions and Iran needs to be more transparent with the IAEA and international community. We still have outstanding questions that are relevant to the nature of Tehran’s program, and we still need to verify that there aren’t un-declared activities taking place inside of the country. But the idea that we’ll wake up tomorrow and Iran will have a nuclear weapon is an idea that isn’t supported by the facts as we have seen them so far. It’s urgent, however, to initiate a dialogue between Washington and Tehran to build trust, normalize relations, and allay concerns as proposed by President Obama. To me, that’s the only way forward.

That’s not a popular position. I’m accused by some of politiciz- ing the evidence. About Iran, I’ve been told, “Mind your own busi- ness; you’re a technician.” And yet, at other times, on other matters, I have been told that I’m the custodian of the Nuclear Non-Prolif- eration Treaty—sometimes by the very people who tell me to mind my own business when it comes to Iran. I don’t put much stock in either designation. I’m neither a custodian nor a technician; I’m merely someone who is trying to do his job. And I know the world won’t be successful in achieving nuclear disarmament unless there’s an equitable universal arms control regime in place that deals with the root causes of proliferation such as poverty, conflicts, and vio- lence. So when I tell our member states, “If you want the agency to do a good job at stemming proliferation, you have to work on the root causes,” that’s not politicization; that’s looking at the big picture and being faithful to my job.

Worth keeping in mind as as reports of a "settlement freeze for being tough on Iran" deal between the US and Israel are going around, threats of new sanctions are made and new accusations over the Iranian weapons program are traded.