News and Views Relevant to U.S.-Iran relations for August 5th, 2010:
- Washington Post: Columnist David Ignatius sat in on a journalists’ session with President Barack Obama. Obama related that he was ready to resume negotiations with Iran over the nuclear issues as well as the situation in Afghanistan, albeit on different diplomatic tracks. Background briefers from the administration who followed Obama’s chat with reporters said the renewed U.S. enthusiasm for talks is due to an intelligence perception that, as Ignatius put it, sanctions are “beginning to bite” and that Iran may be having technical troubles with it’s nuclear program, therefore buying time for diplomacy. Obama restated his policy that he is not opposed to a peaceful Iranian nuclear program so long as there are “confidence-building measures” that show there are no moves towards weaponization.
- The Atlantic: Marc Ambinder was in the same session with Ignatius, and posted a lengthy account to his blog. Obama said that if “national pride” doesn’t allow Iran to give up an alleged nuclear weapons program, then there will be a “cost.” The use of “all options available to us to prevent a nuclear arms race in the region and to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran,” Ambinder reports Obama as saying, pointing out that this is a euphemism for military strikes. Obama also spoke frankly about his difficulties getting Russia and China on board for sanctions, but said that the Iranians were “surprised by how successful” the U.S. push for international sanctions has been. Ambinder quoted an unnamed senior official who acknowledged that Obama intends to pursue a dual track in dealings with Iran: “Given the technical problems they’re running into, I think we have time to play out the diplomatic strategy that the president laid out, both engagement and pressure.”
- The Atlantic: Jeffery Goldberg was also in on the surprise presidential briefing (Obama’s presence was not announced in advance). Goldberg interprets the session as a “victory lap” for the U.S.’s effectiveness in passing sanctions, but remains personally skeptical that they will work to dissuade Iran from its nuclear program. In his interpretation of Obama’s mention of “all options” remaining available, Goldberg writes, “There is no chance Obama will take the military option off the table; there is a small chance, in my opinion, that he would one day resort to the use of military force against Iran’s nuclear facilities.” Goldberg also notes that, despite Obama’s upbeat presentation, negotiations might not work both because, “one of the pillars of Islamic Republic theology is anti-Americanism,” and because the Iranian leadership has effectively suppressed the opposition Green Movement, removing a threat from within that might have caused the regime there to bend to economic pressure.
- Commentary: On the Contentions blog, Max Boot picks up on Goldberg’s skepticism (quoting him at length) and lambastes the notion of a “victory lap.” Boot blames Obama for the intransigence of the Iranian leadership in negotiations thus far, proclaiming that they won’t deal “especially because Obama continues to talk of his burning desire to strike a deal with the mullahs, which only encourages their sense of invulnerability.” Boot suggests that negotiations should be abandoned because three decades of dealing with Iran have demonstrated that “that the mullahs aren’t misunderstood moderates who are committed to “peaceful co-existence.”
- Washington Post: The Washington Post published an unsigned editorial which appears to echo the recent White House talking points which were also mentioned by Geoffrey Goldberg, Marc Ambinder and Max Boot. Obama is eager to show that the multilateral sanctions for which he finally gained Chinese and Russian support in June are bearing fruit. But the Post’s editorial was quick to mention that “all options” are still on the table. “Yet, as Mr. Obama acknowledged, Iran is still pursuing nuclear weapons,” and “changing their calculations is very difficult. . . . It may be that their ideological commitment to nuclear weapons is such that they are not making a cost-benefit analysis,” the president said. That, he added, is why the administration continues to say that “all options” for stopping an Iranian bomb are on the table,” the editorial reported.
- National Review Online: Cliff May, at NRO, reviews a new report from the hawkish neocon-associated American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC). A task force there, which includes two staffers from May’s own Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, among other neoconservatives, recently came out with a report that calls for “An Economic Warfare Strategy Against Iran” (PDF). May calls the program “sanctions plus.” While the report was being drafted, May says task force participants briefed members of Congress, resulting in some of the report’s recommendations already being codified in the latest round of U.S. sanctions signed into law last month. May concludes that the Iranian leadership is “no more eager to attend diplomatic soirees than Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri,” and therefore the report’s path of “economic warfare” is “the only chance we have to avoid more ‘kinetic’ and lethal forms of conflict later.” (Ed.’s note: Expect more from LobeLog on the AFPC report in the coming days.)
- Weekly Standard: Gabriel Schoenfeld gets all his facts wrong. He blames Hamas for a late July rocket strike on Askhelon in southern Israel, then blames Hezbollah for the latest clash at the Lebanese border between the IDF and Lebanese Army troops. “Hamas and Hezbollah are Iranian proxies. […] Are the ayatollahs preparing preemptive action of their own, taking the battle to the borders of the Zionist enemy?” he asks tendentiously.
- Associated Press (via WaPo): George Jahn of the AP, writing from Vienna, gets an exclusive look at two letters that Iran sent out to diplomats. Iran’s head nuclear negotiator wrote the EU foreign policy chief, saying that the imposition of a fourth round of UN sanctions during diplomatic talks on Iran’s nuclear program was “astonishing,” U.S. and EU sanctions “even more astonishing,” and the whole situation “absolutely unacceptable.” Iran’s International Atomic Energy Agency representative wrote a second letter to the IAEA demanding, among other things, that Israel’s covert nuclear arsenal be publicly discussed.
- The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: Patrick Clawson reports on claims that both Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff have publicly mentioned plans to pursue 100-percent enrichment — the level required for a nuclear weapon. According to Clawson, the lack of a western response to these remarks has reinforced the Iranian leadership’s belief that they are changing “world management.” Clawson then goes on to report on unsubstantiated reports that Ahmadinejad intends to usurp the Supreme Leader with his hardliner movement. Clawson suggests that now is the time for the U.S. to encourage Green Movement leaders to debate Ahmadinejad and show that his hardline policies have only brought greater isolation for the Islamic Republic. While the WINEP scholar makes a good point that Iran’s domestic politics are more complex than many westerners understand, he fails to consider that Ahmadinejad’s boastful remarks may have exaggerated Iranian enrichment capabilities in order to mobilize domestic political support. On a day when reports are suggesting that Iran — partly due to technical difficulties with their nuclear program — is interested in restarting negotiations with the U.S., it’s unclear how Clawson’s claim that Iran can enrich to 100-percent can be explained.