Pres. Obama’s phone call to Iran’s Rouhani ignites hope for peaceful relations

President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by phone on Friday, Sept. 28, the highest-level contact between the two countries since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and a sign that both sides are serious about reaching a pact on Iran’s nuclear program. Obama had hoped to meet with Rouhani earlier in the week while both men were in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, but Iran decided a meeting would be too complicated.

“I reiterated to President Rouhani what I said in New York. 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,” Obama said.

As president, Rouhani is the head of Iran’s government but has limited powers. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the ultimate authority in Iran with final say on domestic and foreign policy. Rouhani says he has been given full authority to negotiate on the nuclear issue.

Obama made reference to that power structure in his remarks. “Iran’s supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons. President Rouhani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons,” Obama said. “I’ve made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations. So the test will be meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions, which can also bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions that are currently in place.”

In Iran, many had been disappointed that Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Obama did not meet and shake hands. But the telephone call as Mr. Rouhani was heading to the airport to fly home to Iran, after four days of frenetic diplomacy in the United States, was almost as good as a handshake.

“This voice contact has for now replaced the actual shaking of hands, but this is clearly the start of a process that could in the future lead to a face-to-face meeting between both leaders,” said Amir Mohebbian, a political adviser close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Another analyst close to Mr. Rouhani praised the phone call by Mr. Obama as “the best thing he could have done.” The analyst, Nader Karimi Joni, who works as a journalist and has been jailed for opposing the interests of hard-liners, said the call was a “verbal farewell for a V.I.P. guest, similar to seeing Mr. Rouhani off personally.”

The government’s Islamic Republic News Agency prominently displayed the news on its website. Iran’s stock exchange reacted positively, with the index improving by 687 points, to 46,400 the following day. The rial, Iran’s national currency, strengthened slightly against the U.S. dollar as the news broke.

However, Mr. Rouhani’s visit to the United Nations and his outreach to the United States government were not greeted with universal approval in Iran, where suspicion toward Washington’s motives can always be found. Hard-liners opposed to any improved contact with Washington made their objections clear as several dozen protesters chanting “Death to America” tried to block Rouhani’s motorcade on his return to Tehran. Some demonstrators threw eggs at his car and at least one hurled a shoe — a common gesture of contempt in the Middle East — in Rouhani's direction.

Rouhani supporters, on the other hand, greeted him with placards thanking him for seeking peace instead of confrontation. One banner read: “Yes to peace, no to war.”

Upon returning home, Rouhani told reporters that the U.S. gave him a 2,700 year-old Iranian artifact, interpreted as a new token of friendship between the United States and Iran. The artifact had been in New York since 2003, when an art dealer smuggled it into the U.S.

President Rouhani now has the difficult mission of trying to unite the country behind his outreach to ease a three-decade-long estrange-ment with the U.S. and move toward a possible settlement to roll back sanctions imposed over Tehran’s nuclear program. The West has feared that Iran’s program aims at developing nuclear weapons technology, while Tehran says it is for peaceful purposes.

Any form of negotiated settlement will require sanctions relief, notably from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations Security Council. The most difficult sanctions to lift are those put in place by the U.S. Congress. Legislative action would be required to loosen or repeal those sanctions, which may prove difficult due not only to the arduous process involved in passing a bill in both chambers of Congress, but also to special interests’ influence inside the Washington Beltway, as well as hyper-partisanship on contentious issues such as Iran. If this were to happen, President Obama could privately and publicly pressure Congress to take action in the interest of U.S. national security.

President Obama can provide significant sanctions relief without Congress by repealing a number of executive orders. For instance, he could unfreeze Iranian assets that were frozen in the aftermath of the hostage crisis in 1979, estimated by some to be between $8 billion and $12 billion. He also could allow business transactions between the two countries, including the sale of spare aircraft parts for Iran’s aging fleet of American-built airliners.

Obama can consult with and influence America’s international allies that have imposed their own sanctions against Iran to begin reversing and lifting them. He also can work to remove Security Council resolutions against Iran. These actions would provide Tehran with significant sanctions relief following a negotiated settlement to the nuclear dispute.

Iranians are desperate for a removal of the sanctions, which have devastated the economy, with unemployment and inflation sky-high as a result of them. Ordinary tasks such as banking and getting medicine for sick patients are next to impossible. And Iran’s oil output has plummeted, costing the country millions per year.

– compiled and edited from Reuters, The New York Times, The Associated Press and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2013

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Chorus grows against Obama administration’s sanctions-heavy Iran policy

America’s nuclear negotiators with Iran got it all wrong, according to a growing chorus of critics arguing that over-reliance on pressure and sanctions may be jeopardizing a diplomatic deal. The Obama administration has implemented a host of crippling sanctions on Iran, targeting its central bank and lifeblood oil exports. The goal has been to pressure Iran into giving up its most sensitive nuclear work, which could be a pathway to an atomic bomb.

But a year of high-profile talks between Iran and world powers has yielded little progress. Now a number of senior former U.S. officials and analysts say a White House obsession with the pressure track may be backfiring, and are calling for a turn toward the diplomatic track.

“I was in the [State] Department when they kept talking about the so-called two-track policy, and it was clear the whole thing was nonsense; there never were two tracks,” says John Limbert, the former-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran from 2009 to 2010. “The sanctions took all the air out of the room. It was 95 percent sanctions....”

One reason for the sanctions focus is “we know how to do them. It’s familiar. And to do them, we don’t have to deal with the Iranians; we deal with the British, the United Nations, the Russians, the Chinese,” says Limbert, who was also held captive in Iran during the 1979-81 hostage crisis, and speaks fluent Persian.

Limbert, who now teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy, is among a growing number of people calling for a recalibration of the American strategy on Iran — a greater emphasis on diplomacy and real incentives, like substantial sanctions relief, in exchange for real concessions by Iran.

“It is time for the administration to make the sweat equity investment in negotiations equal to what it has done on sanctions and the potential to use military force,” Tom Pickering, the former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, said at the April launch in Washington of a report by The Iran Project, an independent group of former officials and professionals that seeks to improve official U.S.-Iran ties.

Calling for “strengthening the diplomatic track in order to seize the opportunity created by the pressure track,” The Iran Project notes that while U.S. policies “possibly slowed the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program,” they also “may have narrowed the options for dealing with Iran by hardening the regime’s resistance to pressure.”

Another risk of current policy, warns the report: “Sanctions-related hardships may be sowing the seeds of long-term alienation between the Iranian people and the United States.”

The current offer by the P5+1 group (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) calls upon Iran to halt enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity — which is a few technical steps away from bomb-grade of more than 90 percent — and “reduce readiness” of a deeply buried enrichment facility by disconnecting and removing key equipment. After those steps, the P5+1 would provide partial sanctions relief on gold transfers and petrochemical exports, but not on far more painful financial or oil sanctions. Iran says the offer is unbalanced, and wants a more “reciprocal” approach.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated in February that pressure and sanctions are akin to the U.S. “pointing a gun at Iran and say[ing] either negotiate or we will shoot.” In March, Mr. Khamenei said, “if the Americans sincerely want” to resolve the nuclear issue “they should stop being hostile towards the Iranian nation in words and in action.”

Both sides in the nuclear negotiations have staked out positions unacceptable to the other. Iran has signaled repeatedly in the past two years a willingness to cap its uranium enrichment at 20 percent, but has balked at the low compensation offered.

At The Iran Project report launch, James Dobbins, former-Assistant Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration and veteran troubleshooter, said, “I think the answer is probably pretty simple. We’re going to have to sweeten the offer on sanctions relief.” Sanctions should be suspended, not dropped, he said, until Iran also demonstrates it can hold to its side of any bargain.

The Washington think tank Atlantic Council in April called for the U.S. to prepare a road map that clarifies a “step-by-step reciprocal and proportionate plan” to lift sanctions as Iran makes its own moves. “To make meaningful concessions, Iran needs to see off-ramps and an endgame,” the policy group concluded.

Likewise, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Federation of American Scientists in April determined: “Washington’s overwhelming focus on coercion and military threats has backed U.S. policymakers into a rhetorical corner.”

Yet a further report, published by the International Crisis Group in February, noted how Iran and the West “view the sanctions through very dissimilar prisms.” While the U.S. and Europe count on a “cost-benefit analysis” such that Iran will eventually cave in to hardship, “the world looks very different from Tehran [where] the one thing considered more perilous than suffering from sanctions is surrendering to them.”

In a book published in April, “The Dispensable Nation,” former administration official Vali Nasr writes: “In the end, Obama’s Iran policy failed. He pushed ahead with sanctions for the same reason Lyndon Johnson kept up the bombing of North Vietnam — neither could think of anything else to do. Obama’s sanctions-heavy approach did not change Iranian behavior; instead it encouraged Iran to accelerate its race to nuclear capability.”

There are signs that the message is getting through. Despite a strong desire on Capitol Hill and in Israel for more sanctions against Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry has asked Congress to hold off: “We don’t need to spin this up at this point in time…. You need to leave us the window to try to work the diplomatic channel,” he said.

– edited from The Christian Science Monitor, April 25, 2013
PeaceMeal, July/August 2013

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Iran’s feared SAVAK was sired by Gen. Schwarzkopf’s father

Retired general Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., who commanded U.S. and coalition troops against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War in 1990-1991, has died at the age of 78. Widely praised for driving Saddam out of Kuwait’s rich oilfields, Schwarzkopf became an American hero and the most celebrated figure of Operation Desert Shield/Storm.

Perhaps forgotten after so many decades, however, the general’s father, also named Norman Schwarzkopf, had a more profound impact on another troubled spot in the Middle East — an impact that has reverberated to the present day more than fifty years after his death. Major-General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, a New Jersey state policeman who became famous for his involvement in the Lindbergh kidnapping case, later rose to the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Army. But Schwarzkopf Sr.’s biggest (some would say, most infamous) accomplishment would come a years after World War II in Iran.

In August 1953, through the machinations of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and British intelligence, in cooperation with forces loyal to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, the popularly-elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was forcibly removed from power.

Mossadegh’s “crime” had been to support the nationalization of Iran’s key oil industry — a grave affront to British oil companies, who were taking 84 percent of the oil profits. The 1953 coup not only ended Iran’s attempt to control its own hugely lucrative petroleum sector, but also killed any chances for Iran to continue its development as the first democratic country in the Middle East. Schwarzkopf Sr. played a major role in that forcible “regime change.”

Under a CIA operation called “Operation Ajax,” Schwarzkopf Sr. had been sent to Iran to encourage the Shah to return to power and, most crucially, helped him in the quest by forming and training security forces that would be loyal to him. Those security agents would eventually metamorphose into the dreaded and feared SAVAK secret police, one of the most brutal foundations of the Shah’s power. Israel’s Mossad spy agency also assisted the CIA in training SAVAK agents in methods of interrogation and sickeningly inhuman torture.

SAVAK basically served as an intelligence agency with unlimited police powers — and as a very effective deterrent to any opposition to the Shah. Officers of the organization could spy on or arrest almost anybody at will and frequently used torture to gain information or to simply intimidate the populace.

SAVAK’s presence deepened in the 1960s and 1970s, when it arrested, tortured and killed untold thousands of Iranians — anyone who was perceived to be a threat to the Shah’s one-party rule. In the eyes of the Iranian public (and especially to those who engineered the 1979 revolution that finally toppled the Shah from power), SAVAK was viewed as inseparable from U.S. and British) interference in Iran’s affairs and the Tehran government’s brutally repressive control.

According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), details on SAVAK’s membership and the extent of its activities remain blurry. However, documents produced after the 1979 Iranian revolution suggest that the intelligence agency employed more than 15,000 full-time agents and thousands of other informants. SAVAK also sent operatives overseas to spy on Iranian students and business in foreign countries, particularly in the U.S., France and Britain.

Schwarzkopf Sr.’s complete role in the development of what would become SAVAK largely remains classified, but there is no doubt that, without his involvement, the Shah’s brutal regime might not have maintained its dominant power for decades.

Schwarzkopf Sr. died in 1958 — five years after the coup — at the age of 63.

Editor’s note: When the Shah fled for his life in 1979, it was said there was no one left in Iran who had not lost someone to the SAVAK. The Shah’s overthrow left a power vacuum in Iran because no opposition political organization existed during his 26 years of repression. The only authority left in the country was the religious authority of the ayatollahs. They stepped into the vacuum to maintain order and remain in power today. The current situation that exists in Iran is one of our own making.

– edited from International Business Times, December 28, 2012
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2013

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Window of opportunity may open in U.S.-Iran nuclear standoffCarol J Williams.jpg (15676 bytes)

Carol J. Williams

A multi-front campaign to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon has been stalled for months by the distractions of a U.S. presidential campaign, Tehran’s stop-and-go negotiating tactics, and its role in deadly clashes in Syria and Gaza. Now that President Obama has a fresh four-year mandate and Iran’s influence with Middle East neighbors seems to be fading, Tehran is expected back at the negotiating table soon and, some observers believe, in a more constructive mood to resolve the nuclear standoff.

The Obama administration now has wider latitude for tackling one of its most complicated relationships. No longer shackled by the hawkish politicking of Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, Obama could make an overture to Tehran to get negotiations back on track at a time when Iranian leaders need a face-saving escape from withering sanctions.

Multinational talks with Iran on its nuclear ambitions have been idle since June, as Tehran has refused to accede to the demands of foreign diplomats that it cease enriching uranium even for peaceful purposes like power generation and production of medical isotopes. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, met Nov. 21 with diplomats from the six powers involved in the talks — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — and was exchanging missives with Tehran about a possible resumption of talks in December, reported Friday.

“If Obama wants to create a legacy in foreign policy, he has an opportunity to do that if he can resolve the Iran dilemma,” said Iranian exile Najmedin Meshkati, a University of Southern California engineering professor and former advisor to the U.S. State Department office responsible for technology issues. Even as Iran may be pushed by sanctions that have halved oil exports and sent the rial currency into a freefall, the all-stick and no-carrot approach to negotiations isn’t likely to succeed, Meshkati predicted.

The ruling elite in Iran is untouched by the food shortages and soaring prices making life for average Iranians miserable, Meshkati said of his homeland, where he has maintained ties with family and academic colleagues during 30 years in exile.

“Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology and its advancement of enrichment are not based on calculated economic study,” he said. “It’s based on very complicated security calculations and other factors, like national pride.”

Tehran is unlikely to engage in direct talks with U.S. diplomats without some inducement, he said. For example, he said, Washington could suspend the sanction preventing Iran from buying spare parts and maintenance services from U.S. suppliers for its aging fleet of Boeing aircraft. That would make civilian air travel safer, boost U.S.-made component sales and keep Iran as a U.S. aviation customer rather than driving it to convert to an Airbus fleet.

“Iran has said some element of enrichment is nonnegotiable, that it’s permitted under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty for civilian uses,” Meshkati said. “They feel if they let that chip go that they will lose face. What do they have to show the Iranian people, who are struggling, if they come to the table to negotiate away something that is their right?”

It’s been three months since the International Atomic Energy Agency gave up on its separate effort to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful. IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts expressed frustration after the last meeting in August failed to secure access for United Nations inspectors to the Parchin facility. Satellite surveillance of the base suggests Iran has been trying to clean up traces of a nuclear bomb test there nearly a decade ago. The Vienna- based agency reported, though, that Nackaerts would be meeting Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator on Dec. 13.

The moves to resurrect negotiations may have been spurred by recent reports that Tehran has doubled the number of centrifuges for uranium enrichment, though not all are operational. It has also stepped up processing to accumulate 110 kilograms (220 pounds) of the nuclear fuel enriched to 20 percent U-235, putting Iran about halfway to the 200-250 kilograms that nuclear experts say would have to be enriched further to 90 percent U-235 to make a single bomb.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in a report last week that the harsh economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union appeared to be having no effect on Iran’s pace of fuel production.

Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, sees a promising convergence of influences that could lead to more productive talks on the future course of nuclear development in Iran.

“The timing might be right now,” said Mukhatzhanova, pointing to what she sees as Iran’s conscious decision to keep enrichment stable and well below the volumes needed for weapons production. “There are signs within Iran that negotiations with the United States are not anathema. The head of the judiciary said recently that Iran should negotiate for its own benefit.”

She referred to Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, who said this month that direct talks with the United States shouldn’t be ruled out if 30-plus years of accumulated grievances are to be resolved.

– edited from the Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2012
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

U.S. strikes on Iran would risk a major war

United States military strikes on Iran would shake the regime’s political control and damage its ability to launch counterstrikes, but the Iranians probably would manage to retaliate, directly and through surrogates, in ways that risk igniting all-out war in the Middle East, according to an assessment of an attack’s costs and benefits. The assessment says extended U.S. strikes could destroy Iran’s most important nuclear facilities and damage its military forces but would only delay, not stop, the Islamic republic’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb — if such is their intent.

“You can’t kill intellectual power,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney, who endorsed the report. He is a former deputy director at the National Counterterrorism Center and former deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.

The report compiled from publicly available documents, including unclassified intelligence reports, and endorsed by more than 30 former diplomats, national security experts and retired military officers was released on September 13. It says achieving more than a temporary setback in Iran’s nuclear program would require a military operation — including a land occupation — more taxing than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

The assessment emerges against the backdrop of escalating tensions between Israel and the U.S. over when a military strike on Iran might be required. The Israelis worry that Iran is moving more quickly toward a nuclear capability than the United States believes. The U.S. has not ruled out attacking but has sought to persuade Israel to give diplomacy more time.

An oft-stated argument against striking Iran is that it would add to a perception of the U.S. as anti-Muslim — a perception linked to the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. That perception was hardened by Internet-based video excerpts of an anti-Muslim film that fueled a ferocious attack September 11 on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

“Planners and pundits ought to consider that the riots and unrest following a Web entry about an obscure film are probably a fraction of what could happen following a strike — by the Israelis or U.S. — on Iran,” retired Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, an endorser of the Iran report and a former operations chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview.

“The report is intended to have what we call an informing influence and hopefully something of a calming influence, but that’s something readers will have to answer for themselves,” said Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has held informal contacts with Iranian officials as recently as the past few months.

Other endorsers of the report include Brent Scowcroft, who was President George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser, former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, former Sens. Sam Nunn and Chuck Hagel, and two retired chiefs of U.S. Central Command, Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni and Navy Adm. William J. Fallon.

The report says an extensive U.S. military assault could delay Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon for up to four years . It also could disrupt Iranian government control, deplete its treasury and raise internal tensions. But such an attack would increase Iran’s motivation to build a bomb, in part because the Iranian leadership would see building a bomb as a way to inhibit future U.S. attacks “and redress the humiliation of being attacked.”

The Obama administration’s stated objective — shared by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney — of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb is unlikely to be achieved through military force, the report says, if action is limited to a combination of airstrikes, cyberattacks, covert operations and special operations assaults. A more ambitious military campaign designed to oust the Iranian regime of hardline clerics or force an undermining of Iran’s influence in the Middle East would require the United States to occupy part or all of the country.

“Given Iran’s large size and population, and the strength of Iranian nationalism, we estimate that the occupation of Iran would require a commitment of resources and personnel greater than what the U.S. has expended over the past 10 years in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined,” the report says. The U.S. had as many as 170,000 troops in Iraq at the height of the 2003-10 war, and U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan peaked last year at 100,000. Eleven years into the Afghan war the U.S. still has about 74,000 troops there.

– edited from The Associated Press, September 12, 2012
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2012

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Nicholas_Kristof.jpg (16509 bytes)Western policy toward Iran threatens positive change

Nicholas D. Kristof

ALONG THE CASPIAN SEA, Iran – One of the most pernicious misunderstandings in the West about Iranians is that they are dour religious fanatics. But about half of Iranians are under the age of 25, and Iran has done a solid job of raising their education levels.

I was struck on my 1,700-mile road trip across Iran by how many of them share American values, seeking fun rather than fanaticism. They seem less interested in the mosques than in amusement parks, which are ubiquitous in Iran.

“Young people don’t really go to the mosques,” said a 23-year-old man in eastern Iran, cheerfully exaggerating. “We want more ways to have fun.” He said he drinks — alcohol is illegal everywhere — and, until recently, used drugs. Iranian officials have suggested that perhaps 10 percent of the population uses illegal drugs, traditionally opium and heroin but increasingly methamphetamines as well.

This man had joined the 2009 democracy protests, but then, he said, he was detained and beaten for several days, losing a tooth in the process. That soured him on political activism, and, like many others, he now just wants to go abroad.

In the northwest, that sense of hopelessness has led some young Iranians of ethnic Turkish origin to favor seceding and joining Azerbaijan. In soccer games in Tabriz, fans sometimes outrage the authorities by roaring secessionist slogans.

You wouldn’t think a New Yorker could be made to blush in Tehran, but I was taken aback by the hookup scene of one-night stands: young men with flashy cars troll for women, chat them up and then drive off with them. There is also prostitution, and Tehran’s former police chief was arrested in 2008 in a brothel together with six prostitutes.

Remember that Iran is the homeland not only of stern ayatollahs but also of the romantic hedonism of “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.” In Richard Le Gallienne’s verse translation: “Did God set grapes a-growing, do you think,/And at the same time make it sin to drink?”

In the 1970s, disgruntled young Iranians rebelled against a corrupt secular regime by embracing an ascetic form of Islam. Now they’re rebelling against a corrupt religious regime by embracing personal freedom — in some cases, even sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.

They often also look warmly on the United States, which is quite dizzying. In Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt, we Americans hand out billions of dollars in aid and are often hated. I come to Iran, and people hand me gifts!

This youth culture of Iran is nurtured by the Internet — two-thirds of Iranian households have computers — and by satellite television, which is banned but widespread. A BBG/Gallup phone survey conducted in March found that one-third of Iranians acknowledged watching satellite television in the previous week, and the real number may be much higher.

“The effect of satellite TV is very big,” said one young woman, who said that she was initially aghast when she saw fellow Muslim women in Turkey wearing bikinis but gradually decided that there was more than one way to live.

Police stage raids to confiscate satellite dishes and can fine homeowners as much as $400 for having them, but they’re not very efficient. “You recognize that it’s the police taking the dishes away, and you just don’t answer the door,” said a shop owner in Gorgan. “So they take the dish and just go away,” without imposing the fine.

Pirated music, videos and video games are widespread. One popular — but banned — game now is Battlefield 3, in which American military forces storm Tehran. In one home I visited, the kids were playing Grand Theft Auto.

These young people are Iran’s future, and they can be our allies. But while we have a strategy in nuclear negotiations, I’m not sure we in the West have a strategy for Iran itself.

Western policy makers see Iran as fanatical, the same way they saw China in the 1960s. There was talk back then of a military option against China, and if we had taken that route, Beijing might still be ruled by Maoists — a larger version of North Korea.

My road trip across Iran leaves me convinced that change will come here, too, if we just have the patience not to disrupt the subterranean forces at work: rising education, an expanding middle class, growing economic frustration, erosion of the government monopoly on information. My hunch is that if there is no war between Iran and the West — which would probably strengthen the regime — hard-liners will go the way of Mao, and Iran will end up looking something like Turkey.

I think of a young man I met who said wistfully: “It’s normal for a boy and a girl to want to hang out together. What’s wrong with that?” The romantics are on our side and far outnumber the fanatics. We should bet on them, not bombs, as agents of change.

Nicholas D. Kristof is is an American journalist and author who has won two Pulitzer Prizes. He has written an op-ed column for The New York Times for ten years. This op-ed was published in The New York Times on June 20, 2012, and reprinted in PeaceMeal, July/August 2012.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Noam Chomsky.GIF (8592 bytes)The Iranian threat

Noam Chomsky

The dire threat of Iran is widely recognized to be the most serious foreign policy crisis facing the Obama administration. General David Petraeus informed the Senate Committee on Armed Services in March 2010 that “the Iranian regime is the primary state-level threat to stability” in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, the Middle East and Central Asia, the primary region of U.S. global concerns. The term “stability” here has its usual technical meaning: firmly under U.S. control.

“They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran,” according to Dan Plesch, director of the Center for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London. “U.S. bombers and long range missiles are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours,” he said. “The firepower of U.S. forces has quadrupled since 2003,” accelerating under President Obama.

The increasing threats of military action against Iran are, of course, in violation of the United Nations Charter, and in specific violation of Security Council Resolution 1887 of September 2009, which reaffirmed the call to all states to resolve disputes related to nuclear issues peacefully.

Some analysts, who seem to be taken seriously, describe the Iranian threat in apocalyptic terms. Amitai Etzioni warns that “the U.S. will have to confront Iran or give up the Middle East,” no less, because a regional alliance might take shape independent of the United States. In the U.S. army journal Military Review, Etzioni urges a U.S. attack that targets not only Iran’s nuclear facilities, but also its non-nuclear military assets, including infrastructure — meaning the civilian society.

What exactly is the Iranian threat? An authoritative answer is provided by military and intelligence reports to Congress in April 2010. What concerns the military and intelligence assessments is an Iranian threat to the region and the world that is not military. Iran’s military spending is “relatively low compared to the rest of the region,” and of course minuscule as compared to the United States. Iranian military doctrine is strictly “defensive, designed to slow an invasion and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities.” Iran has only “a limited capability to project force beyond its borders.” With regard to the nuclear option, “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.”

But Iran’s threat goes beyond deterrence. It is also seeking to expand its influence. Iran’s “current five-year plan seeks to expand bilateral, regional and international relations, strengthen Iran’s ties with friendly states, and enhance its defense capabilities. Commensurate with that plan, Iran is seeking to increase its stature by countering U.S. influence and expanding ties with regional actors while advocating Islamic solidarity.”

In short, Iran is seeking to “destabilize” the region, in the technical sense of the term used by Petraeus, who is now Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the official doublespeak, U.S. invasion and military occupation of Iran’s neighbors is “stabilization,” while Iran’s efforts to extend its influence in neighboring countries is “destabilization,” considered an illegitimate exercise of sovereignty that interferes with U.S. plans for global domination.

Specifically, it threatens U.S. control of Middle East energy resources, a high priority of planners since World War II. As the late U.S. diplomat Adolph Berle advised, expressing a common understanding, control of these resources yields “substantial control of the world.”

No sane person wants Iran — or anyone — to develop nuclear weapons. One obvious way to mitigate or eliminate this threat is to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East. That issue arose again in May 2010 at the review conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at United Nations headquarters. Egypt, as chair of the 118 nations of the Non-Aligned Movement, proposed that the conference back a plan calling for the start of negotiations in 2011 on a Middle East NWFZ, as had been agreed by the West, including the U.S., at the 1995 NPT review conference.

But Washington holds to a double standard, still formally agreeing but insisting that Israel be exempted, and has given no hint of allowing such provisions to apply to itself. Washington insisted that no proposal can be accepted that calls for Israel’s nuclear program to be placed under the auspices of the IAEA or that calls on signers of the NPT, specifically Washington, to release information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.”

President Obama’s technique of evasion is to adopt Israel’s position that any such proposal must be conditional on a comprehensive peace settlement, which the U.S. can delay indefinitely, as it has been doing for 35 years with rare and temporary exceptions.

Obama’s rhetorical commitment to non-proliferation has received much praise, even a Nobel Peace Prize. As often, however, rhetoric and actions are misaligned, in fact are in direct contradiction in this case. Instead of taking practical steps toward reducing the truly dire threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, the U.S. is taking major steps toward reinforcing its control of the vital Middle East oil-producing regions, by violence if other means do not suffice.

That is understandable under prevailing imperial doctrine, however grim the consequences — yet another illustration of “the savage injustice of the Europeans” that Adam Smith deplored in 1776, with the command center since shifted to their imperial settlement across the seas.

Noam Chomsky is a professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. He is an activist known for his critiques of U.S. foreign policy and contemporary capitalism. Chomsky is the author of over 100 books. This article is edited from Al Jazeera, November 24, 2011, and reprinted in PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2011.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Cyberwarfare reduces threat of military strike on Iran

Iran’s nuclear program has been hit by technical problems, and it could be three years away from making a nuclear bomb, according to Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon. The statement came a month after Iran said centrifuges used in its uranium enrichment program at Hatanz had been sabotaged, believed to be by an attack with the Stuxnet computer worm.

Stuxnet is a form of customized malware that selectively infects industrial control systems from Siemens, establishing a backdoor that enables reprogramming of the programmable logic controllers. Stuxnet caused the motors in Iran’s centrifuges to speed up out of control, causing destructive vibrations. The worm includes another component that recorded normal operations at the nuclear plant and played them back so that everything appeared normal while the centrifuges were tearing themselves apart.

It has been reported that Israel, with the help of U.S. researchers and intelligence agencies, had been spinning uranium enrichment centrifuges virtually identical to those of Iran to test a sophisticated destruction program. The work at Dimona, the Israeli nuclear weapons development center, was carried out over the last two years.

Israel considers Iran the greatest threat to its security, because of its nuclear program and anti-Israeli comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The U.S. also fears that Iran’s goal is to build nuclear weapons, but Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy use.

President George W. Bush, before leaving office in 2009, approved $300 million on joint covert projects aimed at Iran, and Stuxnet was apparently a priority. But neither Israel nor the U.S. has admitted a role in the sabotage. If true, it would be the biggest cyberattack yet launched anywhere in the world, outstripping those attributed to Russia and China.

Russian digital security company Kaspersky Labs described the Stuxnet worm as “a working and fearsome prototype of a cyber-weapon that will lead to the creation of a new arms race in the world.”

Last year, rumors of military action against Iran began to be heard louder around Washington DC, with diplomats and officials warning that 2011 would be the year of decision on whether to launch a military strike. But the mood has changed. An unnamed official stated that the military option is now less likely, citing not only the cyberattack, but also the synchronized assassination last year of two Iranian nuclear scientists, attributed to Israel.

The London-based think tank the Legatum Institute warned that a military strike against Iran could result in retaliation. “In any strike, Iran would likely retaliate against U.S. soldiers and assets in Afghanistan and Iraq, and might activate sleeper cells to launch al-Qaeda-like attacks against the U.S. homeland and in Europe.”

– edited from The Guardian (U.K.), British Broadcasting Corporation and other sources
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)