The Daily Talking Points

News and views relevant to U.S.-Iran relations for November 19, 2010.

  • The Washington Post: The Post‘s increasingly neoconservative editorial board, led by Fred Hiatt, is challenging Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s opposition to a military strike on Iran. “To be clear: We agree that the administration should continue to focus for now on non-military strategies such as sanctions and support for the Iranian opposition. But that does not require publicly talking down military action,” writes the Post. The editorial notes that Gates’s comments are widely viewed as pushback against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that a “credible military threat” is a necessary component of diplomacy with Iran. To pushback against Gates, the Post employs the exact same talking point Netanyahu used: “[W]e do know for sure is that the last decision Iran made to curb its nuclear program, in 2003, came when the regime feared – reasonably or not – that it could be a target of the U.S. forces,” said the editorial. Eleven days ago, Netanyahu said: “The only time that Iran suspended its nuclear program was for a brief period during 2003 when the regime believed that it faced a credible threat of military action against it.” A report from the Stimson Center and the U.S. Institute of Peace recently said that pressure “should be pursued through prudent actions rather than through a language of confrontation, threats, or insults. Threats and coercion will be far more effective if they are implicit rather than explicit: a key element of over-all US policy, but not the sole basis of that policy.”
  • The Washington Times: Ben Birnbaum reports on the efforts of Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), head of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism, to get a State Department briefing on why the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) remains on the U.S. list of foreign terror organizations. MEK activists have a well-known presence on Capitol Hill, and members of Congress have as recently as this week taken up their cause. “This isn’t the same MEK that was assassinating people during the shah’s regime and was committed to Marxism,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). He  added  the organization was not the same as 30 or 40 years ago despite its leadership has remaining constant since 1979 and only publicly renouncing violence in 2001. Abbas Milani of the Hoover Institution tells Birnbaum that members of Iran’s Green Movement have a “range of views” on whether the MEK should be brought back into the fold. But Omid Memarian, a dissident journalist who served time in an Iranian prison, said: “Politically, they are dead. They have no place in Iran’s politics.” Most analysts believe this to be the overwhelming view of Iranians in Iran because the MEK fought for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, and continued to take money from him until 2003. Nonetheless, Miliani casts doubt on this view as nearly unanimous, saying only that “some people” believe it.
  • The Wall Street Journal: Iran has given Germany “a lesson in the futility of appeasement,” writes the WSJ editorial board. Following the return from the trip of five German law makers promoting “cultural exchange”, Iranian authorities moved forward on Tuesday and charged two German reporters with espionage.” The editorial writers suggest that as long as Iran holds the two journalists, German politicians will find it very difficult to impose harsh sanctions against Iranian banks which do business in Germany. “If having their journalists treated as hostages is what Germany gets for its ‘critical dialogue’ and ‘cultural exchange’ with Iran, then maybe it’s time for her government to take a tougher line,” concludes the WSJ.
  • Foreign Policy: Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) Visiting Fellow Michael Singh writes on Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government blog that Iran’s public campaign of expanding diplomatic and trade relations in Africa is really an extension of its “shadowy network of arms smuggling, support for terrorism, and subversive activities.” Singh warns these activities “paint a picture of a regime which pursues its own security by flouting international rules and norms of acceptable behavior.” He concludes that vigilance will be required in finding “new points of pressure” and enforcing existing sanctions against Iran while, at the same time, “even a resolution of the nuclear issue would only begin to address the far broader concerns about the regime and its activities, making a true U.S.-Iran reconciliation far away indeed.”

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.