The Not so Diplomatic Turn

The Continued Frailty of Iran-US relations and the Possibility of War


The Not so Diplomatic Turn
by sadegh

Last week Iran responded to the latest European proposal regarding its controversial nuclear program. The so-called “Iran Six” were however neither amused, nor heartened by the proposal’s apparent “ambiguity” or deafening silence regarding the demand that Iran cease it enrichment activities. Such ambiguity has not been received in the spirit of Kissingerian ‘constructive ambiguity’, whereby intractable sticking points are glossed over in a bid to further diplomatic progress and make negotiators lives slightly easier, but instead as effrontery and as a fundamental lack of will on the Iranian side. Tehran thus far has been non-committal vis-à-vis the offer of a six week long “freeze-for-freeze” deal which would see Iran temporarily halt its nuclear program while negotiations putatively ensued with the aim of finding a lasting solution to the nuclear dispute. As a quid pro quo, western states led by the US would hold off on pressing for a fourth round of sanctions.  

Hawks in both Washington and Tel Aviv have for some time been calling for a series of ‘targeted air strikes’ against Iranian nuclear facilities but also Revolutionary Guard positions in and around the country. Proponents of a unilateral attack claim Iran is less than two years away from achieving a nuclear weapons capability; that Iran is stirring up trouble in Iraq and fomenting unrest and providing succor to Iraqi insurgents. With more than a tad of irony it appears that Iran has emerged as Washington and Tel Aviv’s ‘Great Satan’; the puppet-master pulling all the strings and responsible for every act of malfeasance not matter how big or small. Shaul Mofaz, the current Israeli deputy prime minister, transport minister and Kadima Party leadership contender, has gone so far as to dub Iran the “root of all evil”. Sober and dispassionate talk, the very kind which makes diplomacy and negotiation possible seems to be in short supply.  

The minor diplomatic steps hitherto taken have been attacked and railed against by prominent hawks in both the American and Israeli foreign policy establishments. One time American ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, has been amongst the most gun-ho in calling for military action against Iran and never seems to tire of saber-rattling and finger waging. He has been consistent in lambasting Washington’s diplomatic efforts at every possibly turn. Most recently in a fiery and highly dubious article in the Wall Street Journal, While Diplomats Dither, Iran Builds Nukes

The pages of the New York Times have also been littered with calls for an attack on Iran before the hour glass is spent. A ticking time bomb scenario is carefully crafted and presented in which an attack isn’t deemed desirable, but necessary to prevent a wave of death and destruction of untold magnitude further down the line.  

Amongst the most ominous was an op-ed entitled Using Bombs to Stave off War by reputed “new” Israeli historian Benny Morris who argued in what can only be described as a torrent of fear-mongering and a transparent effort at justifying unilateral military action against Iran by the US and Israel, that a nuclear strike against Tehran might become necessary if Iran’s nuclear facilities were not bombed in the coming months.   

A recent report published by the Institute for Science and International Security states that even in the event of an attack it would unlikely succeed in definitively crippling Iran’s nuclear program. Hence on the basis of Morris’ logic Iran would need to bombed and then inevitably nuked at a later date because of the assured failure of the initial bombing campaign! The complete disregard for the human cost of such man-made destruction is frighteningly cast aside without a second thought; Morris in his benevolence however does at least concede that Iranians would prefer not to see their country turned into a “nuclear wasteland”.  

Finally, Daniel Pipes, a leading neoconservative has also openly called on the Bush administration to support of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), a cultish, schizophrenic and dictatorial organization which is featured on the US State Department’s very own list of foreign terrorist organizations. Pipes and other neoconservative-minded Iran commentators such as Patrick Clawson at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, harbor the belief that the MEK will be able to provide reams of intelligence and sow the seeds of anarchy and chaos that will precipitate the collapse of the clerical regime. They maintain this, despite the low regard in which the MEK is held inside Iran itself. Many Iranians even view the organization as culpable of treason because it allied itself with the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88).  

According to veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, Bush has already signed a Presidential Finding, authorizing up to $400 million to fund armed groups such as the MEK, Balochi Jundollah, Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) and Arab separatists in the southwestern province of Khuzestan. Whether this will metamorphose into a full-blown American attack in coordination with such groups looks unlikely. Washington is playing more a game of tit-for-tat, keeping the Iranian government busy with quelling internal dissent so it has less time and resources to further amplify its very real reach inside Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Though oil prices have dropped in recent weeks and at the time of writing this article stand at some $115 per barrel (09/08/08); they have been forecast to skyrocket to at least $500 per barrel in the advent of a military strike against Iran. Oil prices in concert with an already marked economic downturn might well spark a meltdown of global proportions, which at least for the moment the Bush administration is unwilling to risk. Experts say that $500 per barrel could quite easily be surpassed if Iran were to close the Strait of Hormuz through which some 40% of the world’s oil travels. The Strait forms part of Iranian territorial waters and Tehran could ensure its closure in the event of an US attack with relative ease.  

It is this looming possibility which has caused Washington to temporarily soften its position and tame the trigger-happy element held up in vice-president Cheney’s office. This new sense of caution (though we should be careful not to overstate it) also owes something to what Tom Engelhardt has fittingly called the ascendancy of the “adults in the room”. Figures such as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and even Condi Rice have managed to enter the breach and deter Bush from unthinkingly pursuing the line expounded by the hardline Cheney faction.  

A fundamental change in relations and détente is not in offing any time soon and many commentators have prematurely jumped the gun as a result of Under Secretary of State, William J. Burns, presence at the recent talks in Geneva and the announcement of a US interests section possibly opening in Tehran (the US and Iran haven’t had official diplomatic relations since the 1979 revolution). 

A number of Iran analysts and acute observers have already suggested that forgoing enrichment constituted a red line as far as the Iranians were concerned and it seems they have been proven right. The International Herald Tribune recently featured an op-ed by Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian-American Council and Anatol Lieven of the New America Foundation in which they argued that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and not the Washington-led consensus should act as the sole criterion by which Iran's compliance or non-compliance with its international obligations vis-à-vis its nuclear program are evaluated.  

Tehran is adamant on protecting its rights as enshrined in Article IV of the NPT and at least for the time being remains unwilling to bow to international pressure. The reasons why are fairly straightforward:  

1) Iran previously suspended uranium enrichment between late 2003 and mid-2005, to allow for negotiations with the European Union. No tangible benefits were accrued and Tehran’s program was merely retarded as a result. Dr. Akbar Etemad who previously ran the Shah’s nuclear program pointedly told Time that the last freeze yielded “nothing” and even added that ‘with its bellicose behavior the West is pushing Iran towards nuclear weapons, even if they don't want them now”. Present Iranian leaders view the whole matter in a similar light and see little incentive for Iranian leaders to repeat what they see as an exercise in futility.  

2) Tehran is counting on Beijing and Moscow to ‘impede’ the imposition of further sanctions due to the close political and economic ties Tehran enjoys with them. Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, director of Global Interfaith Peace, has pointed out that trade talks continue to progress between Moscow and Iran with little fear evinced by the Russians about the impact of damaging sanctions. Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, has also in effect undermined the supposed ‘unified front’ conjured up by the US and Britain by opining that there’s no consensus regarding a fourth round of sanctions.  

3) According to analysts, Iran’s relations with the IAEA are improving and lingering issues have been resolved. The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) deputy director, Ollie Heinonen’s recent trip to Tehran has been interpreted as confirming the alleviation of prior tensions.   

4) The nuclear program is a symbol of national pride. Despite the Iranian public’s many issues and internal struggle with its theocratic and authoritarian government there is overwhelming support for the pursuit of a peaceful nuclear energy program. According to a 2006 World Public Opinion poll 9 out of 10 Iranians reckon it “important” for Iran to have a full-fuel-cycle program. Though sanctions are certainly beginning to pinch, as anyone who has recently been to Tehran can tell you, such sentiment is unlikely to change significantly; if anything, the perception of ‘western bullying” only goes to consolidate it.  

In short, Tehran will continue to refuse to forgo its right to uranium enrichment and the Bush administration despite the very loud protestations of hawks will continue along the path of ‘aggressive diplomacy’ i.e. more sanctions in a bid to break the back of the Islamic republic. The possibility of full-blown military conflict remains real, but is presently tempered by energy prices and the global economic downturn. Rapprochement however is a distant prospect and the NPT remains the only genuine alternative by means of which a resolution to the ongoing crisis can be found.

Originally publishbed on


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How to Topple the Mullahs
By Kenneth R. Timmerman | January 18, 2007

For now, the nutty recommendation of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group that the United States should engage in direct talks with Syria and Iran appears to have been mooted by events on the ground.

U.S. military forces have caught Iran red-handed – twice – over the past few weeks in Iraq, No one can possibly doubt any longer what I and many others have been saying for some time: that Iran is involved on the ground in Iraq and is aiding both Sunni and Shia insurgents in an effort to blow that country apart.

But like all bad ideas in Washington, rest assured that the Baker-Hamilton recommendation of direct talks will come back. Study group members can be counted upon to argue that the capture of top Iranian Revolutionary Guards and intelligence officials in Iraq only proves their point that Iran has real influence and thus must be dealt with directly, to prevent them from playing the spoiler’s role.¬Ý

And by the way, they will argue, what’s the alternative? Nuke Iran?

It is regrettable and truly astonishing that President Bush has not applied to Iran and to Syria the same global vision he has so eloquently displayed in regards to Iraq and other fronts in the global war against the Islamic jihad. Because there is a clear alternative to the capitulation offered by Baker, Hamilton, and their advisors.

Instead of rewarding these regimes, the United States should use its tremendous resources to contain Syria and to undermine the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such a policy is not far-fetched, nor is it based solely on ideology, although compelling moral arguments can be made in its favor. Instead, it serves the national and historic interests of the United States.

Syria is a weak and failing state, that survives largely because it goes unchallenged.

After the assassination in Feb. 2005 of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese people revolted against Syrian interference in their country. The brave and persistent demonstrations of the Cedars Revolution forced Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. The failure of the United Nations and the international community to keep pressure on the Syrian regime encouraged Syria to creep back in through the back door.

The lessons just of these past two years are crystal clear: pressuring Syria works; acquiescing to Syria does not. And yet, the Baker-Hamilton group chooses acquiescence. When Syria sins, force Israel to make concessions, the ISG recommends. If there is logic here, it is not of the sort to make Americans proud.

Instead, the United States should make the Syrian regime understand that it will pay a real price for its transgressions. Serious economic sanctions on Syria for its continued support of Hezbollah, in defiance of UN Security Council resolution 1701, would have a devastating impact on the minority Alouite regime. And targeted military strikes on Syrian border outposts and military units caught red-handed aiding Iraqi insurgents would send a clear warning to Syria’s military leaders. If Syria did not get the message, the United States could step up the pressure by targeted air strikes on Damascus safehouses where Iraqi insurgent leaders continue to hide.

Syria has always backed down when challenged. If Mr. Baker were truly the “realist” he claims to be, he would acknowledge this and propose policies accordingly.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, however, is made of different stuff. This is a regime that over the past twenty-seven years has been willing to pay a tremendously high price in blood and treasure to pursue its radical policies. Since the 1979 revolution, the United States has repeatedly attempted to “influence the behavior” of the regime, without success.

As I wrote in these pages just last month, the Baker-Hamilton proposal is a warmed rehash of the same failed policy we’ve been trying since 1979.

There is only one approach that will get the attention of the Tehran’s revolutionary and clerical leaders; and this is the one approach that Baker and Hamilton – and the foreign policy Establishment - have rejected: support for regime change.

This is the one approach that the United States and its allies have never tried. Short of an all-out U.S. military assault on Iran, it is the only approach that can avoid a future Persian Gulf region dominated by a radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons. Saying pretty-please, as the Baker-Hamilton group proposed, just isn’t going to work.

The Plan

Empowering Iranians to change their regime will be costly. From having worked with opponents to the Iranian regime over the past twenty years, and studied the requirements of opposition groups currently working inside Iran, I believe the United States should be prepared to commit a minimum of $300 million over an initial six month period if we are to have any hope of a successful outcome.

The very first step must be the appointment by the President of a Special Envoy for Iran, with full presidential authority to convene a loya jirga type meeting of several hundred prominent Iranian leaders. The majority of those able to attend such a meeting will of necessity come from the diaspora; some will come secretly from the inside.

That meeting should focus on establishing a broad declaration of principles around which the various opposition factions can unite, and then electing an executive committee that will include authorized spokespersons for the pro-freedom movement. (Much of the ground work for such a broad meeting of Iranians has already been accomplished over the past two years, thanks to the Iranians themselves).

Over the next six months, the following tasks must be accomplished:

• Drafting a detailed game plane for organizing massive non-violent protests against the regime in Tehran. This game plan must include strategies for neutralizing the Revolutionary Guards, the bassij corps, and paramilitary gangs loyal to extremists in the current regime, and for preventing the Islamic-Marxist Mujahedin Khalq, which worked with the regime during the early years of the revolution, from exploiting the situation and seizing power in a putsch. It must also include a strategy for providing financial support to striking workers and professionals;
• Specific policy recommendations for the United States and our allies, so we can best leverage tools available to governments and international organizations for delegitimizing and destabilizing the Tehran regime. (The U.S. Department of the Treasury has made a modest start here).
• Identify, contact, and train key operations officers on the ground in Iran;
• Identify and pre-position secure communications and other equipment needed to coordinate operations inside Iran; and
• Establish a finance committee tasked with harnessing the tremendous resources of the Iranian diaspora, who have withheld major support to the pro-freedom movement because they rightly judged that the movement lacked U.S. support.

Broadcasting must be an integral part of any comprehensive political plan to challenge the legitimacy of the Iranian regime and promote non-violent regime change. However, none of the $300 million fund should go to expanding the Persian language service of Voice of America or Radio Farda, the Persian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Both have failed utterly to live up to the goal for which they were established.

Rather than communicate an American viewpoint during Iran’s proxy war against Israel this past summer, for example, VOA television sent reporters to Beirut to interview top Hezbollah leaders – the same Hezbollah leaders Iranian state television was treating as rock stars.

As for Radio Farda (“Tomorrow”), established to be a “surrogate” for the free media Iranians could not access inside their own country, it became a laughing stock by championing Iran’s failed reformist president, Mohammad Khatami.

Since Ahmadinejad took over as president in 2005, Radio Farda has adopted the “music-first” model of Westwood One and become simply irrelevant. Both are a waste of U.S. taxpayer dollars and should be downsized or eliminated altogether.

Instead, funding should be provided to private Iranian broadcasters who understand the political thirst of their compatriots and know how to package a compelling message in a professional format. The allotment of the broadcasting budget should be determined by the Executive Committee, with a preference to pluralism and professionalism.

The U.S. intelligence community can play a support role in this effort, but should not take the lead. The last thing we need is to ask the Central Intelligence Agency to organize the Iranian opposition.

On the contrary, much of this program can – and must – be accomplished overtly. Having the President of the United States openly support the aspirations of the Iranian people, at the same time devoting $300 million to back the effort, will have a tremendous impact on pro-democracy forces inside Iran, without yet putting lives at risk.

At the end of the initial six month period, the President can then decide if he believes the program is viable. If so, he can pull the trigger on the plan devised by the pro-freedom groups in coordination with his Special Envoy. The U.S. will need to commit another $500 million or so to the effort of organizing and supporting the massive non-violent protest movement throughout Iran. This will be supplemented by another $500 million or more raised from the Iranian diaspora.

This is expensive, for sure. But it is far less costly than the alternatives of facing a nuclear-armed Iran, or having to send in U.S. troops to prevent Iran from deploying or firing nuclear weapons.

The Baker-Hamilton approach of engaging the terror-masters brings great risks and few rewards. It sends a clear message that terrorism, even conducted against the world’s sole superpower, is a strategy that works. Engagement with Iran and Syria will foster more terror, not curtail it.¬Ý

Furthermore, engaging regimes that systematically repress their own people and seek to destroy a bold democratic experiment on their borders, sends a clear message to pro-democracy forces inside those countries that their efforts can never succeed.

In one simple stroke, the Baker-Hamilton approach will have emboldened our enemies, and deterred our potential allies. And yet, for reasons that only the chattering classes can explain, this goes by the name “realism.”

Supporting regime change by Iranians, while containing Syria, not only makes the best strategic sense for America. It is the right thing to do.¬Ý


Godd article. but it is the

by Hamid E (not verified) on

Godd article. but it is the israeli terror state iran needs to worry about!


Interesting article - i

by Israeli Iranian (not verified) on

Interesting article - i agree with virtually everything you have said. To be honest it is not the US Iran should worry about. Israel and the majority of Israelis back an attack against Iran. As far as the Israel elite are concerned Iran is a threat to our regional power.


Great article Sadegh jan.

by Peesh biad (not verified) on

Great article Sadegh jan. Well done. You always give me food for thought.

AmirAshkan Pishroo

Nuclearization Now: More Energy, More Power

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Machiavelli once noted that everyone always proclaims “how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith and to live with integrity and not with craft.”

But everyone is wrong, says Machiavelli. “A wise lord cannot, or ought not … to keep faith … when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer.” Nor, he adds, “will there ever be wanting to princes legitimate reasons to excuse this nonobservance.” That is, you can always plausibly claim to be keeping faith at the very moment you break it; but when you do so, Machiavelli counsels, you “must know well how to disguise this characteristic, and be a great pretender and dissembler.”


But it is the Wolves themselves who are crying Wolf!

by farokh2000 on

The problem is the ones who are crying Wolf, again!, are the ones who have the Nukes and have used it to murder other Human Beings, not a bunch of innocents fearing for their lives.

The only reason they are pushing all these buttons is the fact that the Puppets/Mullahs they brought from Iraq to set up Shop in Iran in 1979 are not obeying them anymore, at least not fully.

Israelies have enough Nukes to destroy the World and no one is worried about them.

They have invaded, occupied and killed their neighbors and no one has said anything. All UN Resolutions condemning their crimes have been vetoed by their Puppets here in U.S.

Is anyone asking what is wrong with this picture?