News and views relevant to U.S.-Iran relations for September 22.
- Politico: Former Amb. Stuart Eizenstat and Mark Brzezinski, a former Clinton NSC official and Obama campaign adviser, write an opinion piece raising the curtain on the upcoming National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran. They call the 2007 NIE, which said Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program, “a severe setback for U.S. efforts to isolate Iran,” and hope this year’s incarnation “answer the right questions and get the analysis straight.” They then launch into a series of those “right questions,” such as wondering just how big Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material is, what advances it makes toward potential weaponization, what Iran’s nuclear time frame is, and whether the IAEA would “be able to even detect a rapid push by Iran for a weapon” (the Arms Control Assoc.’s Peter Crail answered the last question with a definitive ‘yes’ a week ago). They also wonder if there is a consensus in Iran about acquiring nuclear weapons and ask if a “democratic Iran” would still pursue the alleged weapons program. They also ask questions about the sanctions-busting of Turkey and China; wonder about the prospects for the opposition Green Movement; and what type of regional role Iran seeks.
- Los Angeles Times: Paul Richter writes from New York that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that there is a “good chance” that Iran will come back to the negotiating table with the West over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. The talks are “bound to happen,” Ahmadinejad told a group of reporters who ate breakfast with him Tuesday morning. “What is left is talks…. There’s no other way,” he added, also saying, “there is no alternative.” Ray Takeyh, a former Obama administration and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that while Ahmadinejad has been a booster of engagement, Iran’s real head-of-state, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, remains opposed. Richter also reported other statements from Ahmadinejad where he warned that war “has no limits” — a reference to a potential U.S. or Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear sites. An Iranian political scientist traveling with the Iranian delegation to the UN General Assembly told Richter that “there had been behind-the-scenes diplomatic conversations and that a resumption of U.S.-Iran talks might be announced soon.”
- The Washington Post: In an interview with Lally Weymouth, Turkish president Abdullah Gul defended his country’s enforcement of sanctions against Iran and Ankarah’s relations with Israel and the U.S. Gul said that Turkey abides by binding sanctions against Iran and will not allow a controversial Iranian bank to operate within Turkey, called on Iran to be more transparent with its nuclear program and denounced Israel’s raid on the Gaza flotilla. Defending his willingness to meet with Ahmadinejad, Gul said, “We tell them to be more conciliatory,” and called on the U.S. to better understand the constructive role that Turkey plays in diplomatic negotiations with Iran. “[W]e have the capacity to help and I believe the U.S. administration has understood that, and they want us to continue to go that route,” he said.
- Foreign Policy: Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar writes about the Iranian perception of U.S. sanctions and warns that while “these ongoing pressures might bite, but they can also empower the IRGC and other institutions that are able to do an end run around the sanctions and get the country what it needs from the black market.” More importantly, says Tabaar, the sanctions reaffirm Ayatollah Khamenei’s strategy of portraying his country’s domestic policies through an ant-U.S. prism. With a sanctions regime, “Khamenei remains content with the status quo: more sanctions and isolation. It conforms to his worldview, his experience and his vocabulary,” but “if Khamenei sees a possible scenario that ensures his (and I emphasize his, not the moderates’, not the conservatives’, not the clerics’, not even Ahmadinejad’s, but his) grip on power, he may very well take it into consideration.” Tabaar reports that news sources traditionally aligned with Khamanei have indicated the Turkish-Brazilian mediated agreement on nuclear fuel shipment could offer a real opportunity for meaningful progress to be made towards a mutually acceptable negotiated agreement between the U.S. and Iran.