[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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Continue reading “Iran War Weekly | July 2, 2013”
This week’s edition of Frank Brodhead’s Iran War Weekly:
Iran’s presidential election offers “the West” an opportunity to extricate itself from the dangerous political and military logjam it has created with its opposition to Iran’s nuclear program. The question, therefore, is whether the Obama administration and its allies will grasp this chance for a diplomatic outcome that recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium, albeit under a rigorous regime of safeguards and inspections, or will it hew to the alternative path of using the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program as a wedge to push for regime change?
Needless to say, even if the Obama regime wishes to reverse course on Iran – which is far from certain – many obstacles remain. Israel has been outspoken in its claims that the Iran’s election has changed nothing, and that Iran’s nuclear program is intended to build weapons. The US Congress and its obsession with regime change is another challenge to a reverse-course strategy; and it would be only with great difficulty that Obama could reduce and eliminate many of the economic sanctions imposed by congressional legislation. Given President Obama’s political stalemate with Congress, it is hard to see him using his dwindling political capital to push back against the powerful forces working for confrontation with Iran.
Continue reading “Iran War Weekly | June 23, 2013”
From Frank Brodhead’s Iran War Weekly:
Negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program remain on hold, awaiting the outcome of Iran’s presidential election, which will take place on June 14th. But the related issue of Iran-Syria and Syria’s civil war threatens to boil over, expanding into Lebanon amidst claims by the French government that they have obtained “proof” that Syria used chemical weapons. Meanwhile the hoped-for peace negotiations initiated by the United States and Russia (“Geneva II”) may not happen at all, largely due to the disarray in the anti-Assad armed opposition. Now the $64 question is, What is the US strategy for the region? For the past year, the ruling views on both Syria’s civil war and Iran’s nuclear program have been those of Dickens’ Mr. Micawber: to await the future in the confidence “that something will turn up.” But what seems to be “turning up” are a string of false starts and disasters.
Towards Iran, over the last four years, the Obama administration has built its strategy around comprehensive economic sanctions (with several more rounds added this week). While sanctions have caused distress for ordinary Iranians, there has been no apparent weakening of the Iranian political elite’s determination to continue their nuclear program, and none of the candidates running for president have made the nuclear program/economic sanctions an issue. Though US intelligence reports and IAEA inspection reports are clear that Iran is not making and does not seem to want to make nuclear weapons, the US political and media elite has persuaded itself otherwise. There is no sign that, when nuclear negotiations are re-started after Iran’s presidential election, the Obama administration will significantly change its bargaining strategy that has so far proved useless. What then?
Continue reading “Iran War Weekly | June 4, 2013”
Per Frank Brodhead’s Iran War Weekly:
While huge majorities of the US public oppose war with Iran or US intervention in Syria, Congress and the mainstream US media have stepped up the pressure for a more aggressive stance on both fronts. With these factors in mind, we might ask whether President Obama’s speech this week at the National Defense University – in which he tried to dispose of liberal pressures on his policies re: drones, Guantanamo, and “the war on terror” – should be read as a move away from a confrontation in the Middle East, or as an attempt to secure his liberal base before more intense confrontations with Iran and Syria.
Following a series of generally unfruitful meetings regarding Iran’s nuclear program, further diplomacy is now on pause until after Iran’s presidential election, which will take place on June 14th. This week Iran’s Guardian Council disqualified the two presidential aspirants who might have challenged the policies of Iran’s Supreme Leader and the ruling conservative circles; but the fact that the candidate who has emerged as favored to win has been Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator may be significant in the future.
Continue reading “Iran War Weekly | May 26, 2013”
From Frank Brodhead’s Iran War Weekly:
After almost a year of no progress in negotiations between “the West” and Iran about Iran’s nuclear program, last week’s meetings in Istanbul confirmed that there would be, indeed, no progress until at least after Iran’s presidential election, which will take place on June 14th. Whatever the outcome of the election, it is likely that the post-election resumption of talks (if any) will take place in an international landscape greatly altered by the fighting in Syria.
First, Iran’s election. As detailed in some good/useful readings linked below, there are a great many “unknowns” and “too soon to tells” regarding the election, including who will be allowed to run and how the several “camps” will (or will not) consolidate around a single candidate. The last-minute entry of former president Rafsanjani into the race has raised a storm of questions in the Iran-expert blogosphere about the stance and political strength (or weakness) of Supreme Leader Khamenei. And the entry of current president Ahmadinejad’s protégé now raises questions about whether he will survive Tuesday’s “cut” by the Guardian Council, and if so, what then, and if not, what will Ahmadinejad do? A dominant motif of analysts is the likelihood of “surprise.”
The short-term fate of Syria may be determined this week by a slew of meetings that will address the US-Russian proposal for an international peace conference, now dubbed “Geneva II.” A useful guide to this week’s meetings (Kerry in Jordan, the EU on resuming arms to the rebels, the Syrian National Council, etc.) can be read here.
Continue reading “Iran War Weekly | May 20, 2013”
From Frank Brodhead’s Iran War Weekly:
While nuclear negotiators will meet Wednesday in Istanbul, little progress is expected in the diplomatic standoff about Iran’s nuclear program before Iran’s presidential election, which will take place on June 14th. With Iran’s reform movement still not recovered from its crushing defeat in 2009, until now the presidential election appeared to be a mere jockeying for power within conservative leadership circles, but it took on a more volatile character on Saturday, when both former president Rafsanjani and a protégé of current president Ahmadinejad registered their candidacies at the last minute. There are some very good articles about the election – both candidates and electoral procedures – linked below.
Whether Iran’s election will take place in greatly altered circumstances as a result of the escalation of the war in Syria is another question. The consequences of Israel’s two bombing attacks on Syria a week ago are still unfolding. The US- and Russian-sponsored “international conference” on Syria scheduled for sometime in late May or June appears to have been poorly thought out (or poorly reported). Among other questions, Who is invited? Iran? Israel? Lebanon (Hezbollah)? Or just the US/NATO plus Russia? And who among the warring parties? Armed Islamist groups, or just those included in the US-sponsored coalition? Already the US-supported Free Syrian Army has announced it will not negotiate with the Assad people, which of course is the point of the conference. Or is it? Is the conference merely a theatrical ploy, with its anticipated failure leading inexorably to military escalation and deeper US intervention?
Continue reading “Iran War Weekly | May 12, 2013”