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“The Art Of The Deal”: Congress Has A Clear Choice, Approve This Deal Or Watch Iran Grow Stronger

In the annals of nuclear arms control accords, the deal signed with Iran on Tuesday morning is a remarkably good deal. The 159-page document—titled “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”—is more elaborate, detailed, and allows for more intrusive inspections than any Soviet-American arms treaty completed during the Cold War.

Of course, to many, that’s not good enough. For some critics, any deal with Iran is a bad deal; the very act of negotiating with the Islamic Republic is seen as tantamount to appeasement. Other critics, though, have voiced reasonable concerns: whether a deal like this, with a regime like Iran’s, can be verified with any confidence; whether the West might end up lifting economic sanctions before Iran has truly abandoned its (presumed) ambitions to build nuclear weapons; and whether the sanctions can be restored, and other countermeasures be taken, if Iran is seen as cheating.

The main articles of the deal have been outlined elsewhere, and no serious critic can dispute their merits. If Iran observes the deal’s terms, all paths to a nuclear bomb—whether through enriched uranium or plutonium—will be cut off for at least 10 years. (Those who object that 10 years is like the blink of an eye have got to be kidding. These same people warn that Iran could build a bomb within one year from now. Which outcome is preferable?) The real question, then, is what the agreement does to help ensure that Iran observes the deal.

In fact, it does quite a lot. When this round of the talks got under way last month in Vienna, Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made some statements that raised a lot of eyebrows: He said that sanctions must be lifted upon the signing of a deal and that no international inspectors would be allowed on Iranian military sites. I’ve supported these negotiations, but even I wrote that if Khamenei’s words held sway, no final deal was possible.

As it turns out, whatever the supreme leader’s motive was in making those remarks, they are not reflected in the deal signed Tuesday morning.

The timing of sanctions-relief is addressed in Annex V of the document, and it’s very clear that nothing gets lifted right away. This is a step-by-step process.

The first step is “Adoption Day,” which occurs 90 days after the deal is endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. On that day, the United States and the European Union start taking legal steps to lift certain sanctions—while Iran must pass the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which allows for onsite inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency) and issue a statement on “Past and Present Issues of Concern,” acknowledging or explaining military aspects of its nuclear program in the past. (Many critics were certain that Iran would never own up to this obligation.)

The second step is “Implementation Day.” This is when the West really starts to lift sanctions, but only “upon the IAEA-verified implementation by Iran of the nuclear-related measures”—that is, only after international inspectors are satisfied that Iran has fulfilled its main responsibilities in freezing and reducing elements of its nuclear program. Section 15 of Annex V lists 11 specific requirements that Iran must have fulfilled, including converting the Arak heavy-water research reactor, so it can no longer produce plutonium; reducing the number of centrifuges and halting production of advanced centrifuges; slashing its uranium stocks; and completing all “transparency measures” to let the inspectors do their job.

The third step is “Transition Day,” when more sanctions are dropped. This happens eight years after Adoption Day, and even then only after the IAEA Board of Governors issues a report, concluding “that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities.”

Finally, there is “UNSCR [U.N. Security Council Resolution] Termination Day,” when the Security Council drops all of its remaining nuclear-related sanctions. This happens 10 years after Adoption Day.

In other words, sanctions are not lifted upon the signing of the deal or anytime at all soon—and when they are lifted, it’s only after inspectors signify that Iran is abiding by the terms of the deal, not simply that a certain date on the calendar has passed.

But how will the inspectors know this? The Advanced Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran must sign and ratify soon, allows international inspectors inside known nuclear sites. But what about covert sites? This has always been a knotty issue in arms control talks. No country would sign an accord that lets outsiders inspect any military site of their choosing simply because they “suspect” covert nuclear activity might be going on there. And yet covert nuclear activity might be going on somewhere. How to reconcile this genuine dilemma?

The deal’s section on “Access,” beginning with Article 74, lays out the protocols. If the inspectors suspect that nuclear activities are going on at undeclared sites, they will request access, laying out the reasons for their concerns. If access is denied, the matter can be turned over to a joint commission, consisting of delegates from the countries that negotiated the deal, which would have to rule on the request—either by consensus or majority vote—within seven days.

This may seem legalistic to some, but what are the alternatives? Meanwhile, under other articles of the deal, the inspectors will have access to the complete “supply chain” of Iran’s nuclear materials—from the production of centrifuges to the stockpile of uranium to such esoterica as all work on neutrons, uranium metallurgy, and multipoint detonation optics. For instance, centrifuge rotor tubes and bellows will be kept under surveillance for 20 years.

The point is, cheating—pursuing an atomic weapon covertly—requires a number of steps, at a number of complexes, some of which are very likely to be detected, given the IAEA’s rights of surveillance. If Iran suddenly denies IAEA those rights, if it ignores a decision by the joint commission, the United States and the European Union can pull out of the deal and reinstate the sanctions. Some fear that the Western leaders wouldn’t take that step, that they might put too much stake in the deal to let a few possible violations get in the way. The critics may have a point, but this is a matter to be settled politically and diplomatically. No treaty could survive the scrutiny of every what-if scenario.

Congress now has 60 days to examine this deal. Its leaders, who distrust Iran (with some reason) and want to deny President Obama any diplomatic triumph (especially in an election season), will pry open every crevice for ambiguities and loopholes, and they will no doubt find a few.

But here’s the proper question: Which state of affairs is better for national and international security: an Iran, even a gradually more economically robust Iran, that’s constrained in its nuclear program and bound by international inspectors or an Iran with growing nuclear capability and no diplomatic obligations, burdened with no foreign watchdogs on the ground? It’s worth noting that the economic sanctions have held in place for as long as they have only because they were seen as incentives to drive Iran to the negotiating table—as a bargaining chip to get a nuclear deal. If the deal falls apart, especially if it falls apart because the U.S. Congress makes it fall apart, the sanctions will collapse as well. Then Iran will grow in strength—and be unconstrained by restrictions, foreign inspectors, and the rest.

The details are worth examining, but the choice is clear.

 

By: Fred Kaplan, Slate, July 14, 2015

 

July 15, 2015 Posted by | Congress, European Union, Iran Nuclear Agreement | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Netanyahu Directly Challenges Official U.S. Policy”: Republicans Are Approaching A Very Dangerous Line On This One

Under the leadership of President Obama, the official United States position is to attempt to negotiate an agreement with Iran to stop their development of nuclear weapons. We are currently engaged in those negotiations in concert with the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council (Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France) plus Germany.

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu recently said this at his weekly Cabinet Meeting:

We will do everything and will take any action to foil this bad and dangerous agreement.

As the elected leader of Israel, it is his right to take that position. But it puts him at direct odds with official U.S. policy and members of the Security Council. In the above statement, he is being perfectly clear about that – regardless of the outcome of the negotiations.

It is in light of that position that we should view, not just the recent Republican invitation for Netanyahu to address the members of Congress, but this statement from Sen. John Cornyn.

Senate Republicans on Thursday moved to officially welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the U.S. ahead of his planned speech to Congress next month, the latest development in a saga that has roiled politics in both countries.

Almost all GOP senators were listed as co-sponsors of a resolution by Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) saying the Senate “eagerly awaits the address of Prime Minister Netanyahu before a joint session of the United States Congress” and reaffirms the U.S. commitment to standby Israel in “times of uncertainty.”

“During this time of such great instability and danger in the Middle East, the United States should be unequivocal about our commitment to one of our closest and most important allies,” Mr. Cornyn said in a statement.

When the Prime Minister of Israel publicly promises to do anything he can to foil the official policy of the United States, it is our duty to be equivocal in our support of him. Republicans are approaching a very dangerous line on this one.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 14, 2015

February 16, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, John Cornyn | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama’s First New War: The New Paradigm For Middle East Conflicts

As a fleet of French airplanes lacerated a column of Libyan army vehicles near Benghazi on Saturday, President Obama stuck to his prearranged schedule in Brazil, receiving whispered updates from his aides. Within three hours, more than 100 cruise missiles had hit two dozen targets in Libya. That’s just “the first phase,” William Gortney, the director of the Joint Staff, told reporters.

What he didn’t say: It’s the first phase of what will become Barack Obama’s first new war. By directing the military to hit targets inside Libya, the Obama administration is trying to strike an incredibly delicate balance between a strong disinclination to invade a Muslim country and their determined desire to avoid looking like they’re walking away from the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents.

When Muammar el-Qaddafi first struck back against protesters, Obama hoped that tough sanctions and material support to the opposition would be enough to force the dictator from power. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned him that a “no fly zone” would be ineffective and essentially commit the country to war. By Monday night, it was clear to Obama that this policy wasn’t working. Countries like Iran were getting the wrong message. The Libyan military was selectively testing the patience of the world by striking opposition strongholds. The opposition was pinned down in the port city of Benghazi, swelled by tens of thousands of refugees. Qaddafi kept using a phrase that stuck in Obama’s head: “no mercy.” And France, smarting from seeming to abandon Egyptians during their time of trouble, along with the U.K., were champing at the bit to use force. The Arab League had kicked Libya out and was closer to the French position. It risked its own legitimacy, already questioned by many in the region, if it didn’t side with the rebels.

On Tuesday, during a meeting of his national security team, Obama said he wanted a new policy. “Clearly, what we’re doing is not enough,” he said, according to contemporaneous notes kept by a participant. A “humanitarian disaster” was imminent unless something was done. He wanted more options.

Gates wanted to game out scenarios, knowing that any effective no-fly zone would necessitate a cascade of other military actions that would look a heck of a lot like an invasion, no matter how carefully it was done.

Thomas Donilon, the national security adviser and one of the gatekeepers of Obama’s foreign policy, was worried about the strategic implications of both allowing Qaddafi to succeed in retaking control of Benghazi as well as what would happen down the road in other countries if a successful military response ousted him from power with a minimum of bloodshed. Even the lightest military footprint would result in civilian casualties, he warned. Almost as inevitable would be the death of a coalition soldier or the downing of an airplane.

Hillary Rodham Clinton said instability in Libya threatened to clip the democratic aspirations of its two neighbors, Egypt and Tunisia. She was also worried about the message to Iran if the U.S. and its allies did nothing in Libya: America was so afraid of committing its military to protect Muslims and Arabs that it would allow virtually anything to happen.

The meeting broke up.

Donilon would take charge of a rapid-fire series of conference calls and meetings and would, by that night, bring to the president three new policy proposals, each of which would call for a mix of diplomatic, military and intelligence actions against Libya. Obama had dinner with his combat commanders, and solicited their input about what challenges the military would face. At 9 p.m. that night, he reconvened only his principals. (Clinton was represented by her deputy, James Steinberg.) Donilon laid out his proposals. After about an hour, the Situation Room had come to a rough consensus: a no fly zone wouldn’t work, but more words would not work either. Obama instructed his U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, to inform the Security Council that France’s resolution, which called for a no fly zone and little else, was insufficient. He asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, to turn into him by the next evening a Concept of Operation Plan, or CONPLAN, for a NATO-executed military campaign in Libya that would be assisted by Arab countries.

In closed session at the U.N., Rice laid out the U.S. position. The situation was urgent and dire. But the world had to know precisely what it would mean to keep Libyan troops from murdering their own citizens. Any resolution would have to include language authorizing strikes against Libyan military infrastructure on the ground to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. “We are not going to hide pooch,” Rice said in the meeting, according to a U.S. official. “We must be completely clear about what we are going to do and why.” And Arab countries must participate, she insisted, in some visible way, in the campaign. She proposed a number of amendments that added significant heft to the resolution.

For the next 24 hours, Clinton and Rice tag-teamed Arab countries and members of the Security Council. They argued that if nothing was done, despots and beleaguered leaders everywhere would vow never to repeat the “mistake” of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who yielded power without foreign military intervention. Iran, in particular, would find itself with an incentive to continue to spread its proxy forces to other countries and further repress its own citizens. And Rice has made the reinvigoration of the United Nations one of her prime goals as ambassador. The legitimacy of that body was at stake too, she argued.

On Wednesday, at about 6:30 p.m., Mullen and Donilon presented Obama with their CONPLAN for Libya. Its contents are mostly classified; an official said the air strikes on Saturday were one part of a larger campaign that includes a variety of overt and covert actions. Published reports suggest that U.K. special operations forces were secreted in the country, scouting out the battlefield in preparation for air strikes. The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command moved several tactical air teams to a small base on Crete. In order to try and disguise their movements, the U.S. planes changed their call signs once they entered airspace over the Mediterranean, but commercial software that tracks their transponders revealed the shift, and word leaked out on Twitter. These teams would coordinate the air assault but are capable of parachuting into a region and directing them from the ground.

On Friday, the U.S. moved a Rivet Joint signals intelligence plane to Souda Air Base on a Greek Island, bearing the provocative call sign of “SNOOP 55.” Subs capable of launching Tomahawk missiles idled near Italy. The USS Florida, armed with more than 100 Tomahawks, moved into firing range. Twenty four hours after the U.S. introduced its amendments, it got its resolution, 10-0. Obama spoke with his counterparts in France and the UK and agreed that they’d give Qadaffi 24 hours to turn heel and retreat. If he didn’t, France would begin the bombardment.

It was important to the U.S. that Libyans and the world understand that this coalition of the willing was more than a U.S. rhetorical construct. An hour before bombing began Saturday, Clinton spoke to the press in Paris. Asked why military action was in America’s interest, she gave three reasons and implied a fourth. A destabilizing force would jeopardize progress in Tunisia and Egypt; a humanitarian disaster was imminent unless prevented; Qaddafi could not flout international law without consequences. The fourth: there’s a line now, and one that others countries had better not cross.

The development of a new doctrine in the Middle East is taking form, and it could become a paradigm for how the international community deals with unrest across the region from now on. The new elements include the direct participation of the Arab world, the visible participation of U.S. allies, as well as a very specific set of military targets designed to forestall needless human suffering. Though the Libyan situation is quite unique – its military is nowhere near as strong as Iran’s is, for one thing – Obama hopes that a short, surgical, non-US-led campaign with no ground troops will satisfy Americans skeptical about military intervention and will not arouse the suspicions of Arabs and Muslims that the U.S. is attempting to influence indigenously growing democracies.

By: Marc Ambinder, Contributing Editor, The Atlantic, March 20, 2011

March 20, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Dictators, Foreign Policy, Libya, No Fly Zones, Obama, Qaddafi, United Nations, War | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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