Should We Beware Iran’s “Charmer in Chief”?

by Peter Jenkins

Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake starts an attack on the trustworthiness of Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohamed Javad Zarif, with the words: “Now is the time to praise Javad Zarif.”

Well, now is also the time to praise Lake—for the subtlety and cunning of his attack. Not for him the crude bombast of so many opponents of a nuclear agreement with Iran. His article shows that he is a master of insinuation and innuendo. In offering seemingly to praise Zarif, he comes instead to bury him.

In the process he takes as many liberties with the truth as the crudest of bombasts. He must have taken lessons at the feet of Israel’s Prime Minister. Here are some of those liberties.

“The Islamic revolutionaries make war and build nuclear weapons, while the diplomats can say they are seeking peace.”

The US National Intelligence Estimate since late 2007, based in hard intelligence, has been that Iran halted a nuclear weapon research program in 2003. There is no evidence whatsoever that Iran is building nuclear weapons. If there were evidence, the current nuclear negotiations would not be taking place.

Nor is Iran currently at war with any state. In Iraq, a small Iranian force is helping to contain and roll back the terrorist group known as the Islamic State (ISIS or IS). In Syria, Iranian advisers have been helping a friendly government to contain opposition forces that include a large contingent of al-Qaeda-affiliated and Saudi-backed jihadis. In the Yemen there is as yet little evidence of more than moral support for the Houthi tribesmen, who have scared a Saudi-imposed head of state into taking refuge in Riyadh.

“Earlier this month, [Mr Zarif] told NBC’s Ann Curry that Iran—throughout its history—has been a savior of the Jewish people. This would seem more credible if Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wasn’t tweeting out his fervent wish to see the world’s only Jewish state destroyed.”

Iran’s quarrel is with the exclusivity of the Israeli state, not with the Jewish people. Iran seeks the elimination of discrimination against and ill treatment of the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine. It does not seek any form of “final solution.”

“[In 2003] Iran admitted to having hid a secret uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.”

In early 2003, Iran formally declared the Natanz facility to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran was under no obligation to declare Natanz any earlier. The facility has since been subject to intrusive IAEA inspections. The IAEA has never accused Iran of originally intending the facility to be secret.

“[Iran] still won’t allow IAEA inspectors access to any military installations.”

Iran allowed access to military installations when it was applying the IAEA’s Additional Protocol (2004-05). We can be sure that re-application of the protocol subsequent to a nuclear agreement will entail renewed access to military installations.

“Between 2008 and 2012, the United Nations Security Council passed five resolutions sanctioning Tehran for violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by operating centrifuges at facilities it had not bothered to tell the IAEA about.”

Only one Iranian centrifuge facility has not been declared to the IAEA before centrifuges started spinning. This was a very small uranium enrichment research facility in the suburbs of Tehran, so small that it could never have been used to produce a significant quantity of weapon-grade uranium (and never was). It was closed in 2003.

“[Iran’s 2003 offer to provide assurances that its nuclear program was peaceful] was not a serious piece of diplomacy, and was not made through the channels by which the Bush administration communicated with Iran.”

The offer was communicated through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which the US had formally designated as a substitute for a US embassy there. The offer envisaged a resolution of US concerns that has much in common with the agreement emerging in Lausanne. It was the absence of any suggestion of Iranian readiness to abandon enrichment that caused the rejection of the offer (not to mention administration dreams of using Iran’s recently uncovered IAEA non-compliance as a pretext to invade and impose regime change).

I suspect that Zarif would admire Lake’s subtlety as he himself has a very subtle mind. He would be less impressed, though, by Lake’s indifference to truth. Zarif knows that credibility is a prize asset for any diplomat, and sloppiness when it comes to the facts is fatal to credibility.

Peter Jenkins

Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years, following studies at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard. He served in Vienna (twice), Washington, Paris, Brasilia and Geneva. He specialized in global economic and security issues. His last assignment (2001-06) was that of UK Ambassador to the IAEA and UN (Vienna). Since 2006 he has represented the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, advised the Director of IIASA and set up a partnership, The Ambassador Partnership llp, with former diplomatic colleagues, to offer the corporate sector dispute resolution and solutions to cross-border problems. He was an associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy from 2010 to 2012. He writes and speaks on nuclear and trade policy issues.



  1. Peter Jenkins , Thank you ! Not a word wasted !!
    I would like to add, the Jewish population of Iran is greater than Israel(according to some Iranian jewish sources about 10% of Iranian population) , and there is no case of animosity towards the Jews by the regime or the people of Iran.Iranian jews are perfectly simulated into Iranian society with Iranian & Muslim names,marriages,and full participation in all Iranian national celebration ,including the New Year celebration which is currently in progress.During Iran-Iraq war twenty thausand Israelis of Iranian origin volunteered to come to Iran and fight in defence of Iran. By any standard, Iranian Jews are one of the several Iranian ethnic groups with thousands of years of history of existence in Iran. Iran has always been the safe hidden heaven for the jews and still is.Great majority of Iranian Jews are still staying in Iran and those who immigrated to Israel kept some bases in Iran and come back frequently because they feel much more at home in Iran than in Israel.
    The open seriouse threats of air attack to Iran, with operational plans ,come from Israel and the U.S. to Iran not from Iran to Israel. Thus it is perfectly normal that Iran seeks high tech weaponry as a means of defence not aggression.
    While the open and serious threats to Iran is ignored why the general rhetorics by some Iranian officials is taken so seriously ? Iranians are good in defence but never engaged in aggression through the history. Even the rare occasions of entering other kingdoms borders was either by invitation from the people fed up with their tyranic rulers(Babylonia) or for securing peace and security in their borders(Nader Shah’s invasion of India).
    Even if Iran possessed A-Bomb it could never use it against Israel, firstly because more than 1/3 of Israeli population are non-Jews.Even the 2/3 who are Jews are registered as Israeli nationals but a considerable number of them live in US,EU and elsewhere .Secondly because such an act would provoke a retaliation from the U.S. that,as Chomsky puts it, Iran would evaporate in no time.
    Similarly Israel would never use A-Bomb against Iran either.For as mentioned ,there is such a concentration of Jews in Iran that inevitably Israel would risk mass killing of Jews .They,however, have the means and intention of destroying Iranian military installations but in the fear of Iranian retaliation they would never do that alone. They are doing their best to get their powerful big brother,the US,involved which they so far have not succeeded.

    There is ,of course,the possibility of an amicable relation between Iran and Israel, as we know such relation and even cooperation existed during Iran-Iraq war. Only if Israel decides to be just and fair with the Palestinians she will win the good will of not only Iran but also all the Arab countries,Muslim countries ,and the concehencios objectors to Israel all over the world. Why not ?

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