[Reprinted with author’s permission.]
Will the election of Iranian president Hassan Rowhani encourage Washington and its European allies to abandon thoughts of regime change and move towards a resolution of their dispute with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program? While Rowhani will not take office until August, he has already indicated that he welcomes renewed engagement with “the West.” At the same time, he has made it clear that Iran will not be deflected from pursuing what it sees as its right to develop a civilian nuclear energy program. The ball is thus in President Obama’s court; and the options under consideration now in Washington are reflected in some of the essays linked below that assess the meaning of the Iranian election.
Whether or not a settlement with Iran is actually within reach will also depend on the course President Obama sets for US policy toward the conflict in Syria. It will obviously not be conducive to building diplomatic confidence if the United States carries out its plans to arm the Syrian rebels, or moves to establish a “no-fly zone” over some or all of Syria, or insists that peace negotiations at Geneva are only possible if Iran is refused a place at the table. Yet all of these negative developments (and more) now seem likely, and the possibility, portended by Rowhani’s election, of ending the US conflict with Iran over its nuclear could easily be lost.
Yet the concept of “likely” seems to be vanishing from the political scene. Who would have predicted that our political landscape would be so altered by Rowhani’s election, by Edward Snowden’s revelations, by the uprisings against Turkey’s Erdogan or Egypt’s Morsi, etc.? As “unlikely” as it may seem, perhaps the great many rational reasons why it is in the interests of the leaders of the United States to reverse course and work for a peaceful outcome in Syria and with Iran may prevail. Stranger things have happened.
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OVERVIEWS AND PERSPECTIVES
“Diamonds for Peanuts” and the Double Standard
By Marsha B. Cohen, Lobe Log [June 30, 2013]
—- One of the most overlooked and under-discussed aspects of the Iranian nuclear program, at least from an Iranian point of view, is the double standard that’s applied to it: while Israel has an estimated 100-200 nuclear weapons that it has concealed for decades, Iran is treated like the nuclear threat — and Iran doesn’t possess a single nuclear weapon. Adding insult to injury, Israel is usually the first, loudest and shrillest voice condemning Iran and demanding “crippling sanctions” while deflecting attention away from its own record.
(Video) Why the United States Can’t Have an Effective Iran Policy Without Accepting a Truly Independent Islamic Republic
By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, Going to Tehran [June 30, 2013]
—- A 2-part video interview with Gareth Porter
Iran nuclear chief: Tehran will press ahead with uranium enrichment program
From Reuters [June 28, 2013]
—- Iran will press ahead with its uranium enrichment program, its nuclear energy chief said on Friday, signaling no change of course despite the victory of a relative moderate in the June 14 presidential election.
INTERPRETING IRAN’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Real politics in Iran?
By Daniel Brumberg and Farideh Farhi, Foreign Policy [June 25, 2013]
—- Some 10 days after the June 14 election of Hassan Rowhani as president, Iran watchers are still debating what his victory means, and whether Iran’s politics might hold other new and intriguing surprises. The debate is not merely an academic exercise. On the contrary, in a town where analysis, advocacy, and prescription are often tightly bound, it should come as no surprise that that post-election effort to make sense of Iran’s perplexing politics has become an analytical football. One casualty of this situation is the misguided conclusions that are now being drawn in some circles about the supposed link between sanctions, Iranian internal politics, and the prospects for a negotiated solution to conflict over Iran’s nuclear program.
(Audio) An Interview with Ervand Abrahamian
From Madison, Wisconsin NPR [June 18, 2013]
—- Following a short segment with the AP’s Brian Murphy, Prof. Abrahamian talks about the election and answers caller’s questions. (Abrahamian’s latest book is on the 1953 coup in Iran.)
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM ROWHANI’S PRESIDENCY
Iran’s new president looks westward for nuke talks
By Brian Murphy, Associated Press [June 26, 2013]
—- Rouhani’s repeated emphasis on direct outreach to Washington may now have a chance for real traction among the ultimate decision-makers in Iran — the ruling clerics and the powerful Revolutionary Guard. They have long opposed bilateral talks, insisting they would do no good. But the lack of major blowback to Rouhani’s speech in mid-May signaled that the idea is no longer a taboo for the establishment, even if it is not yet entirely convinced. Another sign came from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who in March hinted he would not stand in the way.
Iranian Foreign Policy After the Election: Realists and Islamic Idealists Face Off [pay wall]
By Farideh Farhi and Saideh Lotfian, Foreign Affairs [June 13, 2013]
—- As Iranians head to the polls today, much of the world is focused on the country’s domestic politics, particularly given the unrest that followed the last presidential election. A question that has gotten less attention is how the choice of president will impact the country’s foreign policy. But in Iran, like in other countries, domestic politics play a big role in foreign policy. The election has exposed the choices available to decision-makers and the political limits they face.
President-Elect of Iran Says He Will Engage With the West
By Thomas Erdbrink, New York Times [June 29, 2013]
Also useful – Peter Jenkins, “Did Hassan Rowhani Dupe Europe in 2003?” Lobe Log [June 30, 2013]; and Seyed Hossein Mousavian, “It is time for security cooperation between the Gulf states and Iran,” Asharq Al-Awsat [UK] [June 28, 2013]
US RESPONSES TO ROWHANI’S ELECTION
What Are Rouhani’s Critics Afraid of?
By Barbara Slavin, Al-Monitor [June 23, 2013]
—- In the aftermath of Hassan Rouhani’s surprise victory in the Iranian presidential elections, there has been a cascade of pessimistic commentary suggesting that the replacement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by the former senior nuclear negotiator will not stop Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. Rouhani has made a start by promising greater transparency for the Iranian nuclear program and will hopefully take pro-active steps such as finally opening the military site at Parchin to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The P5+1, for its part, should be using the time before Rouhani’s inauguration on Aug. 14 to prepare a new detailed offer trading verifiable limits on the nuclear program for step by step sanctions relief. The US Congress should refrain from passing new legislation until Rouhani has had time to influence Iran’s negotiation strategy; there will always be opportunities to impose new penalties if, after six months, the talks remain stalled. The focus now should be on increasing negotiating flexibility on both sides instead of what appears to be a concerted campaign to disparage Rouhani politically and personally.
Giving Advice to President Obama
Why D.C. is wrong to discredit Iran’s new president
By Trita Parsi, Reuters [June 28, 2013]
—- America finds itself exactly where Iran was four years ago. Back then, America had just elected a new, articulate president who offered hope and promised a new approach to the world and Iran. His election was a direct rejection of the foreign policy of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, whose favorite tools of statecraft appeared to be military force and confrontational rhetoric. The question Iran grappled with in 2009 was whether this new president — Barack Obama — really represented change or if it was merely an act of electoral deception. Today, the roles are reversed. Iranians have elected a new, articulate president who is promising both the Iranian people and the world community hope and a new approach. His election is seen as a direct rejection of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s confrontational policies and rhetoric. Iranians wanted hope and change and they went to the ballot boxes to obtain it.
U.S. should tread lightly on Iran
By Matthew Duss and Lawrence Korb, Politico [June 28, 2013]
—- One shouldn’t have any illusions about what the election of Rohani represents. He is a dedicated member of the Iranian regime, and a strong supporter of Iran’s nuclear rights. Negotiations between the Iran and the P5+1 will not suddenly become easy. But the fact that the most moderate choice prevailed in Iran’s presidential election reveals that there is an important debate taking place amongst Iran’s ruling elite over the nature of Iran’s relations with the world. Given the level of distrust that still exists between the U.S. and Iran, there’s little the U.S. can do to empower its favored interlocutors. But, as the past has shown, there’s a lot the U.S. can do to empower those most opposed to conciliation and compromise. Given the high stakes, the U.S. should be as careful as possible to do no harm, as a heightened congressional debate over the use of force against Iran would almost certainly do.
ISRAEL’S RESPONSE TO ROWHANI’S ELECTION
Israel and the War Party Have Panicked over Rowhani’s Election as Iran’s President
By Muhammad Sahimi, Antiwar.com [June 29, 2013]
—- Rowhani won the election in a landslide. Suddenly, the War Party and Israel had to face an Iranian president whose specialty is national security and Iran’s nuclear program. A president who, as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003-2005, reached an agreement with the European Union for suspending Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which Iran carried during that period, only to be scuttled by the Europeans because they got greedy and wanted an end to the program altogether; a President-elect who as a candidate declared on national television that it is possible for Iran to keep its nuclear program and negotiate a deal with the West and that, unlike what the Iranian hardliners had claimed, the crippling economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and its allies are harming Iran and the Iranian people, and a moderate cleric who speaks about the release of the political prisoners, and a more open society. The War Party, Israel, and their Iranian allies panicked, and began a smear campaign.
Rise of new Iran president delays Israel’s military option by at least another year
By Amos Harel, Haaretz [June 18, 2013][pay wall]
Retired U.S. General Is Focus of Inquiry Over Iran Leak
By The New York Times [June 28, 2013]
—- The former second-ranking officer in the United States military, retired Gen. James E. Cartwright of the Marines, is a target of an investigation into the leak of classified information about American cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program, a person familiar with the investigation confirmed Thursday night.
Also useful – Robert Windrem, “The worm that turned: How Stuxnet helped heat up cyberarms race,” NBC News [June 27, 2013] ; and Shane Harris and Noah Schachtman, “Obama administration’s infighting suddenly goes public,” [June 28, 2013]
CIVIL WAR/INTERVENTION IN SYRIA
Dangerous Inaccuracies: The Media and Syria
By Patrick Cockburn, Counterpunch [July 1, 2013]
—- Every time I come to Syria I am struck by how different the situation is on the ground from the way it is pictured in the outside world. The foreign media reporting of the Syrian conflict is surely as inaccurate and misleading as anything we have seen since the start of the First World War. I can’t think of any other war or crisis I have covered in which propagandistic, biased or second-hand sources have been so readily accepted by journalists as providers of objective facts. A result of these distortions is that politicians and casual newspaper or television viewers alike have never had a clear idea over the last two years of what is happening inside Syria. Worse, long-term plans are based on these misconceptions.
Syria’s proxy war: Internal conflict turns into regional power play
By Alain Gresh – July 2013
—- As a US official wrote in a report by the International Crisis Group, “a Syrian war with regional consequences is becoming a regional war with a Syrian focus.” A new cold war is dividing the region, like the original, which set Nasser’s Egypt, allied with the USSR, against Saudi Arabia and the US in the 1950s and 60s. But times have changed. Arab nationalism has declined, sectarian positions are hardening, and there is even doubt over the future of the states and frontiers created after the First World War.
(Video) Irish Politician: Stop ‘Slobbering Over’ Obama, the ‘War Criminal’
By John Glaser, Antiwar.com [June 28, 2013]
Hopes for Syria Talks Hinge on Kerry-Lavrov Meeting
By Nick Cumming-Bruce and Michael R. Gordon, New York Times [June 25, 2013]
—- The issue of who attends the conference has proved a sticking point, with the United States opposed to participation by Iran. A thornier problem is the role, if any, of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Both sides agreed the peace conference should lead to the formation of a transitional government with full executive powers over all institutions of state, but the United States interprets that to mean a full transfer of powers from Mr. Assad. Russia, however, has insisted that only Syrians can decide his role.
Also useful – International Crisis Group, “Syria’s Metastasising Conflicts,” [June 2013]; Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Interview on the Syria Crisis,” The National Interest [June 24, 2013] ; and James Carden, “A Syria ‘No-fly Zone’ and Just War Theory,” Antiwar.com [July 1, 2013] . The website Syria Comment has just posted two useful articles on Syria’s economic crisis:
Return to Homs: An Atmosphere Poisoned By Fear
By Patrick Cockburn, Counterpunch [June 28, 2013]
—- The Syrian conflict is a civil war with all the horrors traditionally inflicted in such struggles wherever they are fought, be it Syria today or Russia, Spain, Greece, Lebanon or Iraq in the past. For the newly appointed American National Security Adviser Susan Rice, David Cameron or William Hague to pretend that this is a simple battle between a dictatorial government and an oppressed people is to misrepresent or misunderstand what is happening on the ground. Evidence that both sides have committed supporters prepared to fight to the death is borne out by the estimate of some 100,000 dead published this week by the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It concludes that fatal casualties come almost equally from the two sides in the civil war: broadly 25,000 of them government soldiers, 17,000 pro-government militia, 36,000 civilians and 14,000 rebel fighters, though the last two figures in particular are probably understated.
Also – Patrick Cockburn, “Death comes to Straight Street in Damascus,” The Independent [UK] [June 27, 2013]
Al Qaeda’s Syria rift may lead to open conflict among jihadis
By Mariam Karouny, Reuters [June 24, 2013]
—- A rift between Syrian jihadis and their fellow fighters from al Qaeda’s Iraqi wing may lead to internecine war among some of the most effective rebel groups in combating President Bashar al-Assad.
Trouble has been brewing since April over what Syria’s Nusra Front regards as a power grab by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. Now, Baghdadi’s insistence that he will keep fighting as head of a united jihadi brigade in Syria, defying orders from al Qaeda chief Ayman Zawahri, has brought the two groups close to turning on each other.
US Policy in/toward Syria
Obama’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Syria Strategy
BY Micah Zenko, Foreign Policy [June 25, 2013]
—- What was most troubling about this latest shift in U.S. policy was the absence of a speech or briefing by the president, or a cabinet official, to clearly articulate why America is deepening its involvement in this Middle East conflict, what U.S. interests are at stake in the civil war, and what strategic objective the United States hopes to achieve. While some of these partially overlap, administration officials have put forth over a dozen objectives for the United States and its partners in Syria — in just the last 12 days. Never in the history of third-party interventions in civil wars has so much been asked of so little. This combination of maximalist and minimalist goals without a single clearly articulated strategic objective, or any degree of prioritization, should be troubling to all Americans.
U.S. begins shipping arms for Syrian rebels
The Wall St. Journal [June 27, 2013][pay wall]
—- The Central Intelligence Agency has begun moving weapons to Jordan from a network of secret warehouses and plans to start arming small groups of vetted Syrian rebels within a month, expanding U.S. support of moderate forces battling President Bashar al-Assad, according to diplomats and U.S. officials briefed on the plans. The shipments, related training and a parallel push to mobilize arms deliveries from European and Arab allies are being timed to allow a concerted push by the rebels starting by early August, the diplomats and officials said, revealing details of a new covert plan authorized by President Barack Obama and disclosed earlier this month.
More on arming the Syrian opposition – Matthew Schofield, “Europe likely to stay on sidelines when U.S. ships arms to Syria rebels,” McClatchy [June 28, 2013] ; and Mark Mazzetti, et al., “Sending Missiles to Syrian Rebels, Qatar Muscles In,” New York Times [June 29, 2013]
On Syria: ‘Congress Must Accept Its Responsibility, Not Abdicate It‘
By John Nichols, The Nation [June 27, 2013]
Is the US Playing With Gas in Syria?
By Evan Taylor, Counterpunch [June 28, 2013]
Is the Eastern Mediterranean a new cockpit for conflict in this Long War? Since the start of this bonanza, NATO has toppled Libya, Syria is enflamed in civil war, and the longtime ruler of Egypt has fallen. Last year, Haaretz wrote that the Israeli Defense Force was quickly becoming the “Israeli Gas Defense Force,” and that was before the Netanyahu government asked for a budget increase of $800 million dollars to create a Naval task force to patrol the gas fields. … It appears that Damascus will soon finally feel the full impact of the Western fist. Turkey and Israel will be key partners in this effort. Gas may be the reason why.
Opposition to US Intervention/War
A Statement on Syria
By Thomas Harrison and Joanne Landy, Campaign for Peace and Democracy [June 2013]
—- We would welcome an end to the violence in Syria, but we strongly oppose any diplomatic, not to mention military, intervention by outside powers that tries to dictate the shape of a future Syria or prevents the Syrian people from overthrowing the Assad regime. It is the Syrian people themselves who must make the decision as to how to defend themselves and their basic human rights, and what kind of society they hope to build. We stand in solidarity with their struggle and our hearts go out to them in their suffering.
Syria: Ten Reasons Why We Oppose Intervention
From Stop the War Coalition [UK] [June 27, 2013]
10 Problems with the Latest Excuse for War
By David Swanson [June 20, 2013]
—- If you own a television or read a newspaper you’ve probably heard that we need another war because the Syrian government used chemical weapons. If you own a computer and know where to look you’ve probably heard that there isn’t actually any evidence for that claim. Below are 10 reasons why this latest excuse for war is no good even if true.
Voters disapprove of arming Syrian rebels
By Dana Blanton, Fox News [June 26, 2013]
—- A sizable majority of Americans disapproves of the Obama administration’s decision to send weapons to anti-government rebels in Syria. Overall, 66 percent of voters disagree with arming the rebels, according to a Fox News national poll released Wednesday. Twenty-four percent approve. The objection is widespread across demographic groups….
Also useful – Jeremy Herb, “Obama faces [congressional] backlash on Syria,” The Hill [June 30, 2013]
The Widening War
Jordanians ‘suspicious’ about U.S. troop movements
By Agence France-Presse [June 28, 2013]
—- Jordanians are suspicious about US weapons and troops being deployed to the kingdom, even if Washington seeks to help its ally protect itself from a possible spillover of Syrian violence, experts say.
Worried about the security of Jordan, which is already struggling to cope with around 550,000 refugees from its war-torn northern neighbour, the United States has kept F-16 warplanes and Patriot missiles in the country since a joint military exercise ended on June 20. A US defence official has told AFP that Washington has expanded its military presence in the country to 1,000 troops.
The Syrian War comes to Lebanon as Sidon Explodes into Violence
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment [June 24, 2013]