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Iran-U.S. Relations

Tag Archives | Iran-U.S. Relations

At Saban Center, Obama Offers Clearest Defense of Iran Nuclear Deal

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President Barack Obama speaks with Saban Forum Chairman Haim Saban on December 7, 2013. Photo: Ralph Alswang

President Barack Obama speaking on Saturday at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution to an influential audience of Israeli supporters and journalists offered his best defense, so far, of the Iranian nuclear agreement reached in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1.

President Barack Obama speaks with Saban Forum Chairman Haim Saban on December 7, 2013. Photo: Ralph Alswang

As part of the six-month agreement, the United States would allow Iran some enrichment capabilities. While critics of the agreement and any agreement for that matter argue that Iran should not have any enrichment capabilities, the president accurately pointed out that that’s not feasible given the technology behind enrichment. “Theoretically, they (Iran) will always have some, because, as I said, the technology here is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around the world.”

While Obama gave the agreement a fifty percent chance of success he nonetheless insisted that the diplomatic effort is worth it. If a long-term agreement isn’t reached, the international community is “no worse off” then when it started. “If at the end of six months it turns out that we can’t make a deal, we’re no worse off, and in fact we have greater leverage with the international community to continue to apply sanctions and even strengthen them,” Obama said.

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Geneva Agreement will lead to Regional Disunity

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Israeli Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu.  J Carrier/UN

This past week a new agreement between the P5+1 (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany) and Iran was reached in Geneva. Although a permanent agreement is still in the works, the deal so far essentially allows Iran the right to enrich uranium while at the same time loosening international sanctions on its economy.

Israeli Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu. J Carrier/UN

Not surprisingly it received with unabashed euphoria in Tehran. While President Barack Obama welcomed the deal, saying it would “help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the interim deal a “historical mistake,” and warned that Israel “will not allow a regime that calls for the destruction of Israel to obtain the means to achieve this goal.”

Israel and the Gulf countries have consistently voiced their displeasure regarding any potential agreement. Their disapproval, coupled with the disorder emanating from Syria, may portend a period of instability surrounding Iran. The destabilizing impact of these factors was evident in the November 19 bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut, which was carried out by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. The attack was viewed as partially being a response to this latest session of nuclear rapprochement between Iran and the West.

Strategic Interests

Saudi Arabia joined Israel and other Gulf countries, including the UAE, in voicing its opposition to the agreement. The Telegraph reports that Saudi Arabia claims they were kept in the dark by Western allies over the Iran nuclear deal. They said they may have to start dealing with the issue on their own. Their fear lies in the belief that any potential deal will not impose the necessary conditions to disable Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons. The Sunday Times confirms that Israel and Saudi Arabia have begun to develop a tactical relationship regarding any future military engagement with Iran. An unnamed diplomatic source told the paper, “once the Geneva agreement is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs.”

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Is this Rouhani’s Gorbachev Moment?

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Pictured: Mikhail Gorbachev and Hassan Rouhani

Iran and the United States have reached an agreement. There are many opinions and analysis about this historic event: Israel calls it a mistake of gigantic proportions, US and Iran claim it to be a step toward resolution and most of the world is watching.

Pictured: Mikhail Gorbachev and Hassan Rouhani

Commentators and “experts” are either cautiously optimistic or concerned depending on their political ideology. It is too early to judge whether the nuclear agreement is a positive development. One thing is certain: Rouhani’s government is making some noticeable changes.

A Small Comparison

In 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev tried to open up and reform the Soviet system. The outcome remains debatable. Is Rouhani attempting to do the same in Iran? Can Iran’s recent nuclear agreement with the US be viewed in this light? Of course, there remain striking differences between Gorbachev and Rouhani. To begin with, Gorbachev was sitting at the helm of political power of the Soviet Union, whereas Rouhani, although technically the elected president, does not possess ‘supreme’ authority. In fact, Rouhani came to power primarily because of the fragmented state of Iran’s conservatives during the previous election.

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Deal Making in Geneva

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Secretary of State John Kerry

With likely convergence on some of the controversial issues regarding Iran’s on-going nuclear weapon’s program, which has long haunted the West, both Iran and the six global powers have struck an historic agreement in Geneva.

Secretary of State John Kerry

The foreign ministers of the United States, Russsia, Britain, China and Germany and Iran met in the historic city to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. The lengthy negotiations between the six nations and Iran have culminated in tough constraints imposed by the West for the first time in a decade in lieu of a partial relief, which Iran very much needed, from continuing harsh sanctions.

It is being characterized as a significant foreign policy achievement for President Obama and a major success for both Washington and Teheran. A six-month period agreed to in Geneva deal is intended to be used to negotiate a comprehensive and permanent settlement that would permit Iran to pursue a peaceful nuclear energy program.

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Iran is Driving the Bus, so Why is the West Celebrating?

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Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva for the P5+1 talks

Supreme Iranian leader Khameini spent much of last week lambasting the U.S. and Israel, as the Iranian negotiating team worked their magic in Geneva.

Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva for the P5+1 talks

Given the rhetoric spewing from Tehran, it was hard to tell that Ahmadinejad was no longer president. The P5+1 negotiating team didn’t seem too concerned, however, being hell bent on sealing a deal with Tehran — even one that required only cosmetic concessions from Tehran.

It is hard to understand what all the celebrating in the West is about. Simply that there is an agreement where there had been none? The Iranians should be doing the celebrating — and they are.

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Saudi, Israeli and French Anxiety over U.S.-Iran Rapprochement

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

As US-Iran rapprochement inches toward at least partial consummation in Geneva, I wish to offer a few observations. The Iran nuclear weapons threat has always been a McGuffin, an excuse for various powers to advance an anti-Iran agenda.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

Chief among the usual suspects is, of course, Israel under PM Netanyahu. If the Israeli government is able to spin Iran as a nuclear (almost) capable existential threat to Israel, then Israel can make an absolute claim on US sympathy, support, and protection. If Iran returns to good relations with the United States, the US will arguably become less willing to bear the sizable political, diplomatic, and economic cost of deferring to Israel’s priorities—on the Palestinian question, on regional security, and its obstinate refusal to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal and integrate it into the international arms control regime.

The other regional power most interested in thumping the Iran-threat drum is Saudi Arabia. However, I would argue that the high-profile anti-Iran stance of the Kingdom (probably symbolized but not necessarily created by the notorious Prince Bandar) has little to do with the threat of “Iran hegemonism” (a canard frequently retailed in the big-name press) and a lot to do with Saudi Arabia’s decision to go pro-active against the popular democratic agitation expressed by the Arab Spring uprisings by supporting conservative Sunni theology and governance, not just in Shi’ite inflected countries like Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, but also in nations like Libya (where Saudi Arabia and its creature, the Gulf Co-Operation Council were the primary motive force in demanding intervention against Gaddafi) and Egypt.

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With Iran Negotiations Ongoing, Is there Still a Risk of War?

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel testifying  before the House Armed Services Committee

“So there should not be a shred of doubt by now…When the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.” – President Obama, address to AIPAC

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel testifying before the House Armed Services Committee

Is Israel really planning to attack Iran, or are declarations about the possibility of a pre-emptive strike at Teheran’s nuclear program simply bombast? Does President Obama’s “we have your back” comment about Israel mean the U.S. will join an assault? What happens if the attack doesn’t accomplish its goals, an outcome predicted by virtually every military analyst? In that case, might the Israelis, facing a long, drawn out war, resort to the unthinkable: nuclear weapons? Such questions almost seem bizarre at a time when Iran and negotiators from the P5+1—the U.S., China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany—appear to be making progress at resolving the dispute over Teheran’s nuclear program. And yet the very fact that a negotiated settlement seems possible may be the trigger for yet another war in the Middle East.

A dangerous new alliance is forming in the region, joining Israel with Saudi Arabia and the monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council, thus merging the almost bottomless wealth of the Arab oil kings with the powerful and sophisticated Israeli army. Divided by religion and history, this confederacy of strange bedfellows is united by its implacable hostility to Iran. Reducing tensions is an anathema to those who want to isolate Teheran and dream of war as a midwife for regime change in Iran. How serious this drive toward war is depends on how you interpret several closely related events over the past three months.

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Torpedoing the U.S.-Iran Nuclear Talks

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President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 30, 2013.  Pete Souza/White House

As Western powers prepare for another round of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, powerful and wealthy opponents—from the halls of Congress to Middle East capitals—are maneuvering to torpedo them.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 30, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

At stake is the real possibility of a war with consequences infinitely greater than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. When the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany—the so-called “P5+1”—sit down with Iran’s negotiators in Geneva on Nov. 7, those talks will be shadowed by an alliance of hawkish U.S. Congress members, an influential Israeli lobby, and a new regional alliance that upends traditional foes and friends in the Middle East. The fact that the first round of talks on Oct.15 was hailed by Iran and the P5+1 as “positive” has energized opponents of the negotiations, who are moving to block any attempts at softening international sanctions against Teheran, while at the same time pressing for a military solution to the conflict.

Current international sanctions have halved the amount of oil Iran sells on the international market, blocked Teheran from international banking, and deeply damaged the Iranian economy. The worsening economic conditions are the backdrop for the recent election of pragmatist Hassan Rowhani as president of Iran. Hassan’s subsequent efforts to move away from the confrontational politics of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears a signal that Iran wants to peacefully resolve a crisis that has heightened tensions in the region and led to everything from the assassination of Iranian scientists to the world’s first cyber war.

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A View from Tehran, Iran’s Nuclear Program

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Secretary of State John Kerry

With the recommencement of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, hopes have been revived that after more than two decades of enmity between the two sides they can finally come to an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program.

Secretary of State John Kerry

International observers hailed the latest round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 on October 15 and 16 in Geneva as constructive, calling it a step forward on the path of finding a conclusive and definite resolution to Iran’s nuclear standoff.

The Iranian negotiators demanded that the contents of the talks remain undisclosed until an agreement is reached. Their demand sounds reasonable as it will prevent the mass media from spreading falsehoods regarding the details of the agreement yet to be reached and also impede the efforts made by neo-conservative elements in the West to bring the negotiations to a premature end without a negotiated settlement.

During the talks, Iran presented a three-phased proposal entitled “Closing an Unnecessary Crisis, Opening New Horizons” which drew a roadmap for the future of the talks. According to the proposal, Iran would remove the concerns of the P5+1 through confidence-building measures and increased transparency in its nuclear activities, and in return, the Western powers will offer incentives to Iran by lifting the sanctions on a step-by-step basis.

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U.S.-Iran Rapprochement is a Mixed Blessing for Regional Stability

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Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Due to recent developments, namely the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president, the start of talks in Geneva and the lifting of sanctions, Iran has been the subject of countless news headlines.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

This recent US-Iran rapprochement has, however, also raised many eyebrows in the region, and has left some international observers perplexed. Recent events, in addition to a series of diplomatic realignments in the region, suggest that Iran-related news will continue to be headline news in the near future – and not all of it will be good news.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany, otherwise known as the P5+1) are meeting in Geneva with Iranian authorities to negotiate over Iran’s nuclear program. While the meeting has been described as a “breakthrough,” two things were made clear. One rather visible, the other only implied. The first is that Iran has been struggling with an economic recession for the past years, and is now facing serious domestic pressure for the oil sanctions to be lifted. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s bid to reassure the world that its nuclear program is a harmless one was clearly done with domestic politics in mind.

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Iran-U.S. Honeymoon Likely to Decrease Tensions in Bahrain

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A protester wears a Guy Fawkes mask between clashes with police in Maqusha, west of the capital, Sept. 21, 2013. Hamad I. Mohammed/Reuters

Bahrain has seen a good deal of continued unrest amongst its Shiite Muslim majority since the government crushed the Arab Spring-inspired uprising in 2011.

A protester wears a Guy Fawkes mask between clashes with police in Maqusha, west of the capital, Sept. 21, 2013. Hamad I. Mohammed/Reuters

Last week tensions flared up again. The New York Times reported on Friday that tens of thousands marched in Bahrain in the largest antigovernment protest in months. These “mostly peaceful” marches – believed to have been approved by the country’s rulers – came in the wake of President Obama’s United Nations address, in which he compared the sectarian strife going on in Bahrain to that in Iraq and Syria. Bahraini protesters felt emboldened by the President’s remarks.

Demonstrations were also called to protest the arrest of ex-MP Khalil Marzooq, a leader in Bahrain’s mainstream opposition group, on charges of inciting terrorism. In nearby Shiite villages, people took to the streets demanding the release of political prisoners. Following the protests, on Sunday, the AFP reports that a Bahraini court sentenced 50 people to up to 15 years in prison for forming the “February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition.” The coalition was accused of being the main motor behind the uprisings that have stunned the country since 2011.

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Phone Diplomacy: Obama and Rouhani Speak by Phone

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President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

US President Barack Obama has spoken by phone to Iran’s Hassan Rouhani - the first such top-level conversation in more than 30 years.

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

Mr. Obama spoke of a “unique opportunity” to make progress with Iran’s new leadership, amid a flurry of diplomacy over its nuclear programme. Earlier, Mr Rouhani said Iran was keen to reach a deal soon. He also asserted that Iran did not seek a nuclear bomb, as Western powers have long suspected. Describing meetings at the UN this week as a “first step”, he said he believed the nuclear issue could be settled “within the not too distant future”. Mr. Rouhani said initial discussions had taken place in an environment that was “quite different” from the past. The call with Mr. Obama was made just before Mr. Rouhani left New York, where he has been attending the annual summit of the UN General Assembly, Iranian news agency Irna said. White House officials described the 15 minute conversation - apparently initiated by Mr. Rouhani - as cordial, the BBC’s Bridget Kendall reports from New York.

Mr. Obama raised concerns about American prisoners in Iran, but the bulk of the call was about efforts to reach a solution on the nuclear issue, she says. Afterwards, Mr. Obama said: “While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution.” Mr. Rouhani, who is regarded as a moderate and was elected in June, has said he wants to reach a deal over the nuclear issue in three to six months. He says he is fully empowered by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to negotiate. On Friday, he told a press conference at the UN: “Whatever result we achieve through negotiations my government will have the full backing of all the main branches of power in Iran as well as the support of the people of Iran.” And he said he wanted a deal “within a very short period of time”.

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The Iran End Game: Nuclear Non-Ethics in Action

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressing the UN General Assembly.  Source: FARS

The latest UN General Assembly gatherings have served to reiterate the grand spectacle of what is wrong, and in some ways right, about world politics. The usual players have turned up to make a scene.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressing the UN General Assembly. Source: FARS

We have a vibrant Brazilian leader Dilma Roussef scolding the United States for its surveillance fetish. We have a bobbish Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani wishing to make his mark. And there is the large question mark over what is to be done about Syria.

President Barack Obama is seen to be in a bother. There is the issue of government shutdown at home. The Syrian outfoxing, even if exaggerated, was notable enough to get those on Capitol Hill huffing about American inadequacy. At the United Nations, the President has found himself having to insist he did, in all earnestness, want to bomb Syria, which is another example of how one good violation of international law deserves another. Now, he is insisting that the Assad regime hand over chemical weapons with speedy urgency. In this heady ride on the carousel of bad events, Obama needs a deal – fast. Iran, the great detractor, might just be an option, though its President may well prove too wily for the plodders of the American empire.

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Iran Ready for Nuclear Talks, says President Rouhani

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressing the UN General Assembly.  Sarah Fretwell/UN

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says he is prepared to engage in “time-bound and results-oriented” talks on his country’s nuclear programme. He told the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting in New York that sanctions against Iran were “violent”.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressing the UN General Assembly. Sarah Fretwell/UN

He also welcomed Syria’s acceptance of the Chemical Weapons Convention and condemned the use of such weapons. Earlier, US President Barack Obama said he was encouraged by Mr. Rouhani’s “more moderate course”. He told the General Assembly that the diplomatic approach to settling the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme must be tested. Mr. Rouhani, who was elected earlier this year, has pledged a more open approach in international affairs. Iran is under UN and Western sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme. Tehran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes but the US and its allies, including Israel, suspect Iran’s leaders of trying to build a nuclear weapon.

President Rouhani said the “so-called Iranian threat” was imaginary. “Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world or the region,” he said. “Nuclear weapon and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security and defence doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions. Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme.”

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2012 Gallup Poll on Iran Sanctions: Little Incentive, Little Support

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Timothy Geithner announcing new sanctions on Iran from the Treaty Room at the State Department in November 2011

“The majority of Iranians are so far seemingly willing to pay the high price of sanctions. Sixty-three percent say that Iran should continue to develop its nuclear program.” – Mohamed Younis, Gallup

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Timothy Geithner announcing new sanctions on Iran from the Treaty Room at the State Department in November 2011

International sanctions are often used as the stick component in a carrot and stick approach to resolve international diplomatic disputes, especially with non-compliant nation states that operate outside the normative behavioral standards. Iran has long flouted and disregarded international norms. In fact, it has come to relish its role as an uncooperative state, which views itself beyond reproach. Iran’s conduct, consequentially, has subjected it to increasing economic and military sanctions. Sanctions against Iran were initiated under President Carter and have been in place since the late 1970s. Additional sanctions on economic and military assets continued under President Reagan, and saw an increase under President Bush as well as President Obama. All the while, Iran has still refused to cave into demands by the international community to change its malicious behavior or become transparent about it nuclear weapons development effort.

A recent Gallup Poll taken in December 2012 regarding the impact of international sanctions on Iran is revealing. The data provided from the survey shows that although sanctions on Iran have significantly increased overall hardships and negative living conditions of the Iranian people, they have failed to significantly undermine popular support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions. As Gallup points out, “2012 was a disastrous economic year for Tehran: Oil and gas exports provide roughly 50% of Iran’s government revenue, but by October of last year, the country’s oil exports had dropped by more than 40%.” Additionally, in October of 2012, the poll shows that “the country saw its currency devalue by 40% from the previous week’s value.”

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