Commentary Magazine


Topic: Catherine Ashton

Desperation Not a Good Negotiating Position

Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to the Sultanate of Oman this weekend, where he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and his European Union counterpart, Catherine Ashton.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to the Sultanate of Oman this weekend, where he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and his European Union counterpart, Catherine Ashton.

Kerry’s meeting comes against the backdrop of an extraordinary interview he gave to the press from Paris:

“I want to get this done,” Kerry said during a series of meetings in which the Iranian negotiations figured prominently. “And we are driving toward the finish with a view of trying to get it done.” Kerry said Iran is entitled to develop its nuclear program for civilian, not military, use. “They have a right to a peaceful program but not a track to a bomb,” Kerry said. “We believe it is pretty easy to prove to the world that a plan is peaceful.”

The Iranians have a right to a peaceful program? Well, the Islamic Republic’s politicians have made that their mantra. But then, they conducted nuclear-weapons research at least until 2003, and stonewalled the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which, in 2005, found Iran formally in non-compliance with its Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement. This, in turn, led to the United Nations Security Council taking up the Iran file, and in turn this led to at least six UN Security Council Resolutions which found that Iran did not have a right to a peaceful program given its previous violations.

It’s all well and good for Iranian negotiators to talk about the rights bestowed by the NPT, but they fail to acknowledge their violations voided those rights. For many activists and diplomats, the talks are a fiction meant to preserve the NPT rather than the means to resolve the nuclear impasse. In this, the world sees the same nod and wink that it saw in the lead-up to the Agreed Framework with North Korea two decades ago. That Iranian negotiators hold North Korea up as a model to emulate should set off alarm bells.

Back to Kerry: He is absolutely wrong to suggest that Iran has any right to a peaceful program. The only reason why he might utter such a mantra is because he and the administration he serves have become so unilateral that they are prepared to waive not only American sanctions but several unanimous or near-unanimous Security Council resolutions.

That he believes Iran’s program is peaceful beggars belief, for it ignores that peaceful programs are not built under mountains or in secret. It ignores that if Iran’s goal is indigenous energy security, the Islamic Republic doesn’t possess enough uranium to fuel eight civilian reactors for more than 15 years. And it ignores that if Iran’s goal was merely energy security, it could have rebuilt its refinery capability and pipeline network to power itself for more than a century at a fraction of its nuclear investment. It ignores the fact that the nuclear fatwa which Obama found so convincing apparently does not exist. Nor does he pay attention to President Rouhani’s history of deception and statements which suggest extreme insincerity.

Kerry is right that there is no reason for Iran not to reach an agreement by the November 24 deadline. There was, indeed, no reason for Iran not to reach an agreement with the IAEA in 2005, or with the international community upon receiving its first sanction. All Iran had to do was come clean about its past and comply with its international commitments.

The fact of the matter is that the more Obama and Kerry project desperation for a deal—and Kerry’s statement with regard to November 24 reflects that desperation—the more likely it is that Iran will retrench itself, as Supreme Leader Khamenei recently did with his declaration of redlines.

Let us hope that Kerry remembers that the purpose of the Iran talks was to address issues of Iran’s dishonesty and non-compliance with its agreements, not to paper over them. Just as with North Korea, a bad deal is far worse than no deal at all. Securing a legacy for Obama or being the center of international attention for a day or two is not worth the price to U.S. national security.

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About That Iran Talks Deadline?

Last year when the United States and its allies signed an interim nuclear accord with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear to the world that the subsequent round of talks to arrive at a final resolution of the problem would not be allowed to go on indefinitely. Unlike past diplomatic exchanges with Iran, the negotiations would be limited to a period of six months after which there would either be a satisfactory agreement to end the nuclear threat or Iran would face serious consequences. But a low-key announcement from the European Union about a diplomatic assignment demonstrates that what Kerry said would never be allowed to happen is exactly what will occur.

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Last year when the United States and its allies signed an interim nuclear accord with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear to the world that the subsequent round of talks to arrive at a final resolution of the problem would not be allowed to go on indefinitely. Unlike past diplomatic exchanges with Iran, the negotiations would be limited to a period of six months after which there would either be a satisfactory agreement to end the nuclear threat or Iran would face serious consequences. But a low-key announcement from the European Union about a diplomatic assignment demonstrates that what Kerry said would never be allowed to happen is exactly what will occur.

The announcement concerned European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton who will, we are informed, continue on in her role as chief negotiator for the P5+1 talks with Iran even after her term on the EU Commission expires in November. Rather than her designated successor, current Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, assuming the responsibility for leading the Western delegation in the negotiations, Ashton will soldier on in this thankless task. But aside from any qualms about Ashton’s past performance in the role, which inspires little confidence in either her willingness to press the Islamist regime or her commitment to ending the danger of an Iranian bomb, there is one other little problem.

If the final round of the P5+1 talks were only supposed to last six months, why will Ashton’s services still be required more than a year after the interim accord was signed?

The answer is all too obvious. Despite the pious promises from Kerry and all of the other defenders of the interim accord that the West had learned its lesson about being strung along by the Iranians, they have in fact fallen for the same trick again. Having been suckered into an interim deal that weakened sanctions on Iran just at the moment when the enormous economic and military leverage over the regime seemed to provide an opportunity to pressure it to come to terms without the use of force, Western negotiators have now found themselves trapped in a device of their own making. They gambled everything on the belief that Iran was ready to sign a final accord that would allow President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise to stop Iran. But after several months of talks that demonstrated anew that the Iranians will never give up their nuclear program or agree to any terms that will effectively prevent them from building a bomb, the U.S. and its allies feel they have no choice but to keep talking even if there is no end in sight.

The announcement about Ashton is significant because even when the P5+1 group formally extended the Iran talks after the six-month mark was passed this summer (Iran had already been allowed to delay the start of the clock), Congress and the public were assured that this would not mean they would go on indefinitely. But with the Iranians digging in their heels recently on a variety of issues, including inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and their uranium refinement and stockpile of nuclear fuel, there seems no chance that the next round of negotiations to be held in New York during the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations will be anything but a continuation of past frustration for the West and delaying tactics by the Iranians.

The notion of Iran running out the clock in these talks has always been crucial. That’s because for the last decade it’s been obvious that doing so merely gives them more time to reach their nuclear goal after which it will no longer be possible for the West to take meaningful action. That was the case when similar prevarications worked to allow the North Koreans to pass the nuclear threshold, something that should be painfully familiar to Wendy Sherman, the head of the U.S. delegation to the talks Ashton chairs, who was performing the same role with the North Koreans.

It is apt to remember that when critics of the interim accord raised questions about its lenient terms, the loosening of sanctions, and the Iranians’ stalling the West again, they were labeled “warmongers.” Attempts by a majority in both houses of Congress to enact new, tougher sanctions on Iran that would go into effect only when the next round of negotiations would be declared a failure were denounced by the administration as an unwarranted interference in what they considered to be a productive diplomatic stream.

Had those sanctions been enacted last winter rather than being spiked by procedural maneuvers by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama’s veto threats, Ashton and the P5+1 negotiators would have some real leverage over the Iranians at this point. But instead of allowing diplomacy to flourish, the defeat of sanctions was a gift to the Iranians who now feel empowered to return to the dilatory tactics of the past.

Iran’s position is further strengthened by the situation in Iraq and Syria where the rise of ISIS (due in no small measure to other foreign-policy blunders by the administration) has made the administration even more loath to offend Tehran. Having a common foe with the United States seems to have empowered the Iranians to think they have nothing to worry about. They also benefit from the conflict between the West and Russia over Ukraine, as Moscow now seems inclined to offer the Iranians an outlet that will render sanctions less effective.

Seen in that light, Ashton may have reason to believe that she will have more or less permanent employment in a P5+1 process that could drag out well into the future. But this admission not only gives the lie to Kerry’s promises about the interim accord’s time limits. It also gives the ayatollahs confidence that the West no longer is serious, if indeed it ever was, about preventing them from realizing their nuclear ambitions.

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Iran’s Diplomatic Quagmire

The Iranians have been loudly boasting about their role in arming Hamas for its latest war against the Jewish state. And now Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been using his lively Twitter account to call for the West Bank to be armed against Israel, much as Gaza is. Given that this is the man whose regime is responsible for the bulk of the weaponry that is currently being turned on Israelis, it would seem prudent to take such calls seriously. But if nothing else, this latest conflagration in Gaza has provided a wonderful distraction for the Iranians, ensuring that the world’s attention is elsewhere, while its own dubious agenda slips beneath the radar of public consciousness.

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The Iranians have been loudly boasting about their role in arming Hamas for its latest war against the Jewish state. And now Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been using his lively Twitter account to call for the West Bank to be armed against Israel, much as Gaza is. Given that this is the man whose regime is responsible for the bulk of the weaponry that is currently being turned on Israelis, it would seem prudent to take such calls seriously. But if nothing else, this latest conflagration in Gaza has provided a wonderful distraction for the Iranians, ensuring that the world’s attention is elsewhere, while its own dubious agenda slips beneath the radar of public consciousness.

Indeed, last weekend, the date by which Iran and the P5+1 nations were supposed to have reached an agreement on ending Iran’s illegal nuclear enrichment program was extended by another four months, all without much comment or notice. In part the lack of reaction can be attributed to the fact that this turn of events was already widely anticipated. After all, the EU’s foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton was talking about an extension to the talks before the first six months of negotiations had even started. But of course, events in Israel-Gaza have provided the perfect diversion for both the Obama administration and the Iranians to keep these talks going.

Extending the negotiations through to November suits almost everyone–everyone apart from those who are most concerned about the nuclear threat from Iran, that is. For the Obama administration in particular, reaching the July deadline empty-handed would have been a disaster. Obama’s only strategy on Iran’s nuclear program is now to try and talk the Iranians out of going for the bomb. If forced to walk away from the talks now Obama has left himself with no plan B. It seems clear that for this administration, the military option was never really on the table. What’s more, the sanctions regime painstakingly put in place by the international community has already begun to unravel as part of the P5+1 interim arrangements. It is hard to imagine that it would be possible to put the sanctions strategy back together again now, and at this late stage, when Iran is already on the cusp of nuclear breakout, putting sanctions back in place is unlikely to effectively deter the Iranians nor significantly slow them down at all.

After six months of trying to reach an agreement on Iranian nuclear enrichment it seems unlikely that another four months of talks are really going to make any difference. The sides seem about as far apart on the issue of Iran’s centrifuges as they were when talks began. The Iranians were always eager to have the negotiation period extended–hardly surprising, since an extension means further relief from sanctions and all the while Iran can push ahead with expanding its nuclear infrastructure. Under the terms of the interim agreement Iran is obliged to keep its enrichment at a lower level than before and must allow a continuation of the inspections of its facilities. But with Iran having successfully hidden major nuclear sites from Western intelligence in the past, it’s perfectly conceivable that in such a large country, inspectors could miss some of the most crucial areas.

The major sticking point is the issue of the number of centrifuges that the international community will permit Iran to keep. Those in Iran’s immediate firing line—Israel and the Gulf states—would like to see an Iran that has no enrichment capabilities whatsoever. They’ve been told by the Obama administration that that’s “unrealistic.” Of course, it is unrealistic as long as Obama is unwilling to genuinely put all options on the table, but realistic or not, the fact is there are six United Nations Security Council resolutions in place that very clearly prohibit all nuclear enrichment by Iran.

What the powers seem to be haggling over now is how close to the nuclear precipice Iran should be allowed to step. Under such a strategy, whatever happens, the Iranian nuclear dagger is left hovering over the West and its allies; it’s just a question of how high. Watching all of this one can’t help but be reminded of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935. Strict controls had been set on limiting any German military build-up and with the rise of Hitler those controls became all the more warranted. Unwilling to take a concrete stand against the German breaches of international law, the British argument at the time essentially went: better to reach an agreement with the Germans that allowed them some limited rearmament than to have no agreement and for the Germans to simply pursue unlimited rearmament. British officials dismissed French disquiet at all this as being “short sighted.”  Or as you might say in the parlance of the Obama administration; “unrealistic.”

When it comes to a nuclear Iran, the Obama administration doesn’t expect America’s allies, Congress, or the public to swallow this hog whole. But the prolonged negotiation period, discussing just how many centrifuges the mullahs can keep, is a process of softening us up. We’re being fed the hog bit by bit.

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EU Doublethink on the Palestinians

That the European Union’s foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton should have come out reiterating her support for the U.S.-sponsored peace process is hardly surprising. The fact that she has chosen to do this in the wake of a Hamas-Fatah unity deal–at a time when even the U.S. has conceded there should be a letup in the talks–is a little more troubling. Out of Ashton’s refusal to see what even the Obama administration reluctantly acknowledges has come a statement filled with incomprehensible contradictions.

Ashton at once lauds the importance of democratic elections while also endorsing Palestinian head Mahmoud Abbas as having a mandate, insisting on the importance of non-violence and Palestinian recognition of Israel, and yet at the same time welcoming the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement. These various sentiments are simply incompatible with one another. So what is going on?

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That the European Union’s foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton should have come out reiterating her support for the U.S.-sponsored peace process is hardly surprising. The fact that she has chosen to do this in the wake of a Hamas-Fatah unity deal–at a time when even the U.S. has conceded there should be a letup in the talks–is a little more troubling. Out of Ashton’s refusal to see what even the Obama administration reluctantly acknowledges has come a statement filled with incomprehensible contradictions.

Ashton at once lauds the importance of democratic elections while also endorsing Palestinian head Mahmoud Abbas as having a mandate, insisting on the importance of non-violence and Palestinian recognition of Israel, and yet at the same time welcoming the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement. These various sentiments are simply incompatible with one another. So what is going on?

Coming from Brussels, that insistence upon Israel’s right to exist is no doubt supposed to be considered wildly pro-Israel, although there is of course no reference to anything about a Jewish state. But what is so strange is that in the very same speech, Ashton declares that the EU has always supported “intra-Palestinian reconciliation.” And yet to hold these two positions, Eurocrats are obliged to believe two contradictory things at once. Because Hamas, who this much favored intra-Palestinian reconciliation must necessarily concern, is innately the antithesis of all the things that Ashton outlined above.

Of course, it isn’t just Hamas that fails to meet the EU’s alleged criteria for participation in government and negotiations. Abbas’s sham-moderate Fatah movement has also struggled to live up to these “principles.” And yet Ashton’s repeated endorsement of Abbas is unequivocal. On the subject of reconciliation, Ashton stresses that the EU holds that this should take place under the authority of Abbas. But why? Abbas has no legitimacy. The Palestinian president is presently serving out the tenth year of what was supposed to have been a four-year term of office. Yet the contradiction here runs deeper still. 

The concluding part of Ashton’s announcement is by far the most problematic. Ashton states, “The EU welcomes the prospect of genuine democratic elections for all Palestinians. The fact that President Abbas will remain fully in charge of the negotiation process and have a mandate to negotiate in the name of all Palestinians provides further assurance that the peace negotiations can and must proceed.” This is astonishing. Not only is there no real prospect of free and fair elections for the Palestinians, either under Hamas in Gaza or Fatah in the West Bank, but the very fact that “President Abbas will remain fully in charge” is an affront to the very principle of democratic elections that Ashton has just invoked. Indeed, to speak of Abbas as having a mandate is farcical. If there really were the “genuine democratic elections” that Ashton claims she wants, it is impossible to imagine that Abbas would still be where he is today.

In one sense the attitudes displayed here are quite in keeping with the EU’s own conduct: to praise democracy in principle while performing precious little of it practice. But while the EU’s habit of only paying lip service to democracy no doubt makes it easier for Brussels to adopt this policy, it doesn’t explain why it would wish to do so in the first place. After all, if even the Obama administration, with all its investments and delusions, can take a reluctant step back from the negotiations at this point, why can’t the EU?

For Ashton and the EU to concede that in joining with Hamas Abbas has really gone too far this time, they would have to make their support for the Palestinians contingent upon what the Palestinians actually do. But the truth is that Palestinian conduct has nothing to do with European support for the Palestinians and their cause. European support for the Palestinians is simply innate. According to the EU’s own worldview, the Palestinians are third-world victims–of Western colonialism, of U.S. financial and military might, and yes, of the Jews and their Zionism.

And because the people who run the EU don’t much care for any of those just listed, in the Palestinians they find a pet cause like no other. And so the EU has poured millions of Euros into the Palestinian Authority when it knows full well that this money is used by Abbas to shore up his regime, to crackdown on political opposition, and to incite hatred against Jews and Israel among the Palestinian citizenry.

Of course, Ashton could never come out and say just what she and the European elites really think and feel about the Palestinian cause. EU high-minded moral superiority is predicated upon democratic and non-violent values. And so Ashton must talk as if she’s praising the Palestinians for embodying all the things the EU claims to love, while being well aware that they are the archetypes of everything enlightened Europe is supposed to oppose. 

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Should the European Union Be Armed?

Strategists have long been exasperated by the tendency of European countries to simply rely on American forces to keep their region safe for them. Protected under America’s military umbrella, European countries have annually slashed defense spending, diverting the savings to their ballooning and flabby welfare systems. Yet, the prospect of a European Union army, directed by federalist bureaucrats in Brussels, may not quite be what U.S. analysts had in mind. Had the EU been equipped with a large and well-armed fighting force, it is hardly likely that Russia would have been anymore deterred from its recent invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, were the European Union ever to acquire real military might, there is no guarantee that these forces would be used in a way that aligns solely with American interests.

This issue returned to the agenda on account of a high-profile televised debate that took place in Britain on the matter of that country’s membership in the EU. Last week the UK’s deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg took part in the second of two debates with the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party Nigel Farage, during which the prospect of an EU military force was one of several highly contested topics. The very fact that a senior member of the government would even be seen debating Farage is a reminder of how this formerly fringe party has recently exploded into the limelight. This has been driven by a growing anger that much of the British public feels about the fact that when they voted to join the European Economic Community back in 1975 they believed they were simply signing up for a trade agreement.   

The debate about the prospects of the EU acquiring a military revolves around the crucial issue of whether this is primarily a trading block oriented around a peace treaty or whether this is actually a nascent super-state, as federalists wish it to be. If the EU is going to be the latter then it is certainly moving in the right direction, with a flag, a currency, ambassadors, and perhaps next a full blown army. That is what has been agitating Farage and an ever more Euro-skeptic British public willing to support his agenda.

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Strategists have long been exasperated by the tendency of European countries to simply rely on American forces to keep their region safe for them. Protected under America’s military umbrella, European countries have annually slashed defense spending, diverting the savings to their ballooning and flabby welfare systems. Yet, the prospect of a European Union army, directed by federalist bureaucrats in Brussels, may not quite be what U.S. analysts had in mind. Had the EU been equipped with a large and well-armed fighting force, it is hardly likely that Russia would have been anymore deterred from its recent invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, were the European Union ever to acquire real military might, there is no guarantee that these forces would be used in a way that aligns solely with American interests.

This issue returned to the agenda on account of a high-profile televised debate that took place in Britain on the matter of that country’s membership in the EU. Last week the UK’s deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg took part in the second of two debates with the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party Nigel Farage, during which the prospect of an EU military force was one of several highly contested topics. The very fact that a senior member of the government would even be seen debating Farage is a reminder of how this formerly fringe party has recently exploded into the limelight. This has been driven by a growing anger that much of the British public feels about the fact that when they voted to join the European Economic Community back in 1975 they believed they were simply signing up for a trade agreement.   

The debate about the prospects of the EU acquiring a military revolves around the crucial issue of whether this is primarily a trading block oriented around a peace treaty or whether this is actually a nascent super-state, as federalists wish it to be. If the EU is going to be the latter then it is certainly moving in the right direction, with a flag, a currency, ambassadors, and perhaps next a full blown army. That is what has been agitating Farage and an ever more Euro-skeptic British public willing to support his agenda.

As things stand the EU is not entirely without the option of military recourse. It already has an External Action Service busy masterminding a Common Security and Defense Policy along with the European Union Military Committee that brings into coordination forces of individual member states undertaking joint operations under the EU insignia. Indeed, in recent days the EU has dispatched a task force for peace keeping to the Central African Republic. From the point of view of Brussels, however, the limitation of this arrangement is that it is reliant on how much of their own armed forces the individual member states are willing to contribute to any given mission.

During Britain’s recent televised debate, the deputy Prime Minister dismissed as fanciful Nigel Farage’s suggestion that the EU has been pushing for its own independent military capabilities. Yet, here he is in direct contradiction with what his own prime minister said, when in December of last year, David Cameron demanded full credit for vetoing moves to equip the EU with an air force. The proposals raised during an EU summit, backed by both Europe’s Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton and the European Commission, sought to equip Brussels with a fleet of drones and an Air Force comprised of heavy transport and air-to-air refueling planes. Meanwhile, the head of the European parliament Martin Shulz called for the creation of a fully-fledged European army.

NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen backed the British position, accepting the need for Europeans to invest in military capabilities but opposing the idea of the EU having its own separate military. Nevertheless, a report at the time revealed that Ashton’s External Action Service had already begun work in preparation for acquiring remotely piloted aircraft systems.

All of this raises the question of what exactly a militarized EU would do with a newly found army. Given the pacifistic sentiments of many European countries and the EU’s lack of resolve in what little it dose have in the way of a foreign policy–think Ashton’s role in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran–it is easy to imagine the European army being utterly impotent. Something similar to the United Nations’ ineffectual peacekeeping forces that go around the world observing and recording atrocities, pulling out the moment they fear they might come under fire themselves. After all, are Europe’s men going to lay down their lives in the name of Brussels’ federal project?

Yet, it may well be that the only thing worse than an inactive EU army would be active one. The thought of Catharine Ashton armed with drones, or Martin Shulz–the man who came to Israel’s parliament to lecture in German on Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians–having access to ground forces isn’t exactly comforting. Given the anti-Israel mood on European streets could the day come, during another conflagration in Gaza, when the EU might send forces to “restrain” “both sides,” or to “secure the borders” of a self-declared Palestinian state? These scenarios are quite improbable, but given that only last year a French diplomat was caught on camera scuffling with an IDF soldier in the West Bank, one gets the sense that there is a fringe that wouldn’t be opposed to intervening on behalf of the Palestinians.

Certainly Western nations need to pull their weight in keeping the world safe for democracies, but European federalists have their own unique worldview. With a military at their disposal there’s no guarantee as to quite what they might use it for. 

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Iran Nuclear Deal Looks Weaker Than Ever

Few will have been surprised by the announcement by the State Department that it believes the Iranians have been using the black market to purchase components necessary for the expansion of their nuclear infrastructure. More remarkable, on the other hand, was the way the State Department’s Vann Van Diepen apparently casually explained that these moves are not explicitly in contravention of the existing P5+1 interim agreement that Iran is signed up to. Indeed, it is being widely reported that Iran has been complying with the terms of the agreement. Yet, this fact says little in defense of the Iranians and much to condemn Secretary of State Kerry and the EU’s Catherine Ashton for having been complicit in formulating a deal that is so ineffectual as to permit this kind of thing.

We have been repeatedly assured by the administration that they had achieved some great feat, a diplomatic triumph, in getting the Iranians to sign onto the interim agreement. Yet, surely it is now obvious to any serious observer that an agreement so flimsy that it permits Iran to purchase new parts for the very nuclear infrastructure that this deal is supposed to work toward dismantling isn’t fit for purpose. This is the embodiment of the bad deal that Kerry assured us we wouldn’t get. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” or so we were told. If this deal isn’t bad, then it certainly sets the benchmark for good pretty low.

Not only does the interim agreement permit the continuation of nuclear enrichment, albeit at a lower level, but the fact that it allows for the Iranians to continue acquiring new nuclear parts is a reminder that this agreement is still more permissive than what had been agreed to even by the UN. Indeed, since 2006 the Security Council has placed sanctions on those selling such parts to Iran. The P5+1 interim agreement on the other hand has failed to proscribe such activity.

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Few will have been surprised by the announcement by the State Department that it believes the Iranians have been using the black market to purchase components necessary for the expansion of their nuclear infrastructure. More remarkable, on the other hand, was the way the State Department’s Vann Van Diepen apparently casually explained that these moves are not explicitly in contravention of the existing P5+1 interim agreement that Iran is signed up to. Indeed, it is being widely reported that Iran has been complying with the terms of the agreement. Yet, this fact says little in defense of the Iranians and much to condemn Secretary of State Kerry and the EU’s Catherine Ashton for having been complicit in formulating a deal that is so ineffectual as to permit this kind of thing.

We have been repeatedly assured by the administration that they had achieved some great feat, a diplomatic triumph, in getting the Iranians to sign onto the interim agreement. Yet, surely it is now obvious to any serious observer that an agreement so flimsy that it permits Iran to purchase new parts for the very nuclear infrastructure that this deal is supposed to work toward dismantling isn’t fit for purpose. This is the embodiment of the bad deal that Kerry assured us we wouldn’t get. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” or so we were told. If this deal isn’t bad, then it certainly sets the benchmark for good pretty low.

Not only does the interim agreement permit the continuation of nuclear enrichment, albeit at a lower level, but the fact that it allows for the Iranians to continue acquiring new nuclear parts is a reminder that this agreement is still more permissive than what had been agreed to even by the UN. Indeed, since 2006 the Security Council has placed sanctions on those selling such parts to Iran. The P5+1 interim agreement on the other hand has failed to proscribe such activity.

Negotiations for reaching an agreement that would definitively end Iran’s nuclear program resume once again this week. Yet, in recent weeks both Baroness Ashton and the Iranian foreign minister have expressed their skepticism about the likelihood of a deal being reached for the time being. Speaking from Tehran last week Ashton said that there was no guarantee that a final comprehensive deal would actually be reached. More recently Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has not only said that the Iranians do not expect to reach an agreement this time around; he has even claimed that a final agreement isn’t on the agenda for these talks.

With both parties in these talks apparently so unconvinced that these negotiations are leading anywhere, one has to ask what on earth they are doing taking part in them. The answer is that both sides are in these talks because they have to be, not because they want to. The sanctions regime that the West spent years meticulously constructing eventually forced the Iranians to the table. But Kerry and Ashton are only at that table because they must be seen to be doing something. The idea that the military option ever really existed for the Obama administration now looks completely implausible. Rather, both the Europeans and the administration knew that the military option was being seriously considered by Israel and others in the region. As such they are obliged to go through these diplomatic motions as a means of diverting anyone else from carrying out a strike on Iran which they no doubt fear would drag them into having to take a side in a conflict they wish to avoid at all costs.

With the threat of military action being more terrible in the eyes of both the Europeans and the Obama administration than the prospect of a nuclear Iran, its hard not to wonder what their true calculus is here. Presumably they are playing some kind of waiting game. With the sanctions now unraveling, and little hope of being able to reconstruct them in time to have any useful effect the possible trajectories seem clear. Either by some miracle the Iranians will lose all interest in their nuclear project, or, protected by the diplomatic process, Iran will cross the threshold of weapons capabilities by which point a military strike will become unthinkable in any case. The main objective for Obama and Kerry is to ensure that neither Israel nor the Saudis act on their threats of military action. And after that, Obama knows his time as president will be up, and the mess he has left becomes someone else’s problem.

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Holocaust Day Isn’t What it Used to Be

Across Europe, Holocaust Memorial Day just isn’t what it used to be. There are still the same sobering gatherings and television broadcasts reflecting on the horrors of a historical event, taking the opportunity to reaffirm the mantra of “Never Again.” Yet, at the same time there is a growing sense of a counter-movement to Holocaust Memorial Day. At times this takes the form of outright displays of Jew-hatred intentionally scheduled to coincide with the commemorations, as if in protest that murdered Jews should be mourned. More subtly there have also been concerted efforts to hijack and manipulate the message of the day.

Most sickening of all were the scenes from France. On the day prior to Holocaust Memorial Day Paris witnessed shocking scenes of open anti-Semitism during anti-government protests which police estimate to have been attended by some 17,000 people. The protest, titled by organizers the Day of Rage, witnessed crowds chanting “Jews out of France” and “The story of the gas chambers is bull****.” At around the same time social media sites were being flooded with pictures of individuals performing the quenelle, the modified Nazi salute, in front of Jewish and Holocaust-related sites. The quenelle was even performed in the Belgium Parliament, shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day, by MP Laurent Louis who also took the opportunity to state that the Holocaust had been setup and financed by Zionists.

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Across Europe, Holocaust Memorial Day just isn’t what it used to be. There are still the same sobering gatherings and television broadcasts reflecting on the horrors of a historical event, taking the opportunity to reaffirm the mantra of “Never Again.” Yet, at the same time there is a growing sense of a counter-movement to Holocaust Memorial Day. At times this takes the form of outright displays of Jew-hatred intentionally scheduled to coincide with the commemorations, as if in protest that murdered Jews should be mourned. More subtly there have also been concerted efforts to hijack and manipulate the message of the day.

Most sickening of all were the scenes from France. On the day prior to Holocaust Memorial Day Paris witnessed shocking scenes of open anti-Semitism during anti-government protests which police estimate to have been attended by some 17,000 people. The protest, titled by organizers the Day of Rage, witnessed crowds chanting “Jews out of France” and “The story of the gas chambers is bull****.” At around the same time social media sites were being flooded with pictures of individuals performing the quenelle, the modified Nazi salute, in front of Jewish and Holocaust-related sites. The quenelle was even performed in the Belgium Parliament, shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day, by MP Laurent Louis who also took the opportunity to state that the Holocaust had been setup and financed by Zionists.

Other efforts to challenge Holocaust Memorial Day have at least attempted to pass themselves off under the seemingly legitimate guise of political correctness. One of the most concerted campaigns has been that of Muslim groups to have Holocaust Memorial Day replaced with Genocide Memorial Day, which uncannily falls just days before Holocaust commemorations. Mehdi Hasan has written about his shame at his own community’s efforts to belittle the Holocaust, highlighting how in past years the Muslim Council of Britain has boycotted the memorial day. This year the Islamic Human Rights Commission has held Genocide Day events in London, Paris, and Amsterdam. But as became apparent at one such previous event organized by the IHRC, the focus was not other genocides, but primarily the crimes of Zionism. During the Q&A it was asserted that the “real” Holocaust had been the wartime bombing of German cities and that Anne Frank had not been murdered, but had merely died of typhus.

Another increasingly popular Holocaust Memorial Day activity is using the day to highlight the cause of the Palestinians and lambast Jews and Israel. Days before commemorations, British MP David Ward was once again doing just that. Last year he accused “the Jews” of not having learned “the lessons of the Holocaust.” This year, speaking in Parliament, Ward asked if we should not use the day to remember “the millions of displaced Palestinians, still denied their right, to return to their homes.” This effort to sublimate the memory of murdered Jews beneath the political cause of the Palestinians was most overtly manifested in 2009 when a Swedish city canceled its Holocaust commemorations, with one organizer explaining, “We have been preoccupied and grief-stricken by the war in Gaza.”

There has also been the bizarre phenomenon of selecting what would seem to be the most unsuitable people for participation in the commemorations. At this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day it was announced that Prime Minister Cameron has established a new Holocaust Commission, but on that commission will sit Labour’s Ed Balls, who was exposed for dressing as a Nazi in his spare time. Meanwhile, London’s 2013 Holocaust Memorial Ceremony, attended by Mayor Boris Johnson and former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, featured as a speaker Muslim activist Hassan Farooq–a curious choice given that Farooq is on record praising Hitler and calling for the murder and gassing of Jews.

This year, however, the person who perhaps did the most for subtly perverting the meaning and spirit of Holocaust Memorial Day was the EU’s foreign-affairs representative Baroness Ashton. Ashton’s Holocaust Memorial Day statement took the opportunity to condemn racism, to praise those who had protected “their fellow citizens” and to declare that “respect of human rights and diversity lies at the heart of what the European Union stands for.” Yet, Jews and anti-Semitism were not mentioned once. Chilling to see the Jews erased from a statement that supposedly commemorates the event that attempted to erase them altogether.

Perhaps many Europeans have gotten tired of feeling guilty about the Holocaust, being reminded of their own societies’ participation, collaboration, or indifferent inaction to the murder of not just any people, but specifically the Jews. And remembering the Jews of World War Two only serves to remind them of the Jews still around today, and to remind them that they don’t much like these Jews either.  

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Did Yanukovych Relent? Does it Matter?

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton made news today by declaring that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “intends” to finally sign a free-trade agreement with the European Union after weeks of protests. It’s unclear, however, if Yanukovych can end the standoff.

If the message was intended to get the protesters to back off, it might not be nearly enough. As the Washington Post reports, “protesters weren’t buying it and spent the day bolstering the five formidable snow and ice barricades that protect their long-running encampment.” No surprise there: Yanukovych has been too fickle to be trusted, having spent years gesturing toward Europe and working toward an agreement only to bail at the eleventh hour. Yet that’s exactly what his government is asking for: trust. As the Post reports:

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EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton made news today by declaring that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “intends” to finally sign a free-trade agreement with the European Union after weeks of protests. It’s unclear, however, if Yanukovych can end the standoff.

If the message was intended to get the protesters to back off, it might not be nearly enough. As the Washington Post reports, “protesters weren’t buying it and spent the day bolstering the five formidable snow and ice barricades that protect their long-running encampment.” No surprise there: Yanukovych has been too fickle to be trusted, having spent years gesturing toward Europe and working toward an agreement only to bail at the eleventh hour. Yet that’s exactly what his government is asking for: trust. As the Post reports:

“This is real, this is absolutely real,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara, told the Interfax news agency Thursday, adding that Ukraine might sign on with Europe as early as next spring.

That suggests a long winter ahead for the opposition, which has shown no signs of flagging. “Both sides are playing on time and trying to wear the other side down,” Jan Techau, an analyst with the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brussels, said during a conference call Thursday.

In fact, the climb-down from Yanukovych shows just how much trouble he found himself in when he spurned Europe seemingly for Putin’s Eurasian customs union. To wit: if his agreement to sign with the EU some time next year was intended for Putin as a hardball negotiating tactic, he’s probably not scaring anyone in the Kremlin. Ukraine is heading into the winter now without a deal with either side and in debt, still dependent on Russian gas. Where’s Yanukovych’s leverage with Russia?

If, on the other hand, the pronouncement that he’s ready to deal with Europe was intended for the West in general and the United States in particular to ward off American sanctions, it won’t matter much either. The U.S. raised the issue of sanctions (with the State Department’s Victoria Nuland conspicuously on the ground in Kiev) in response to Yanukovych’s heavyhanded deployment of riot police to attempt to clear the protests. If he wants to avoid sanctions, he should resist the use of force against the opposition. If he doesn’t, vague promises to one day sign a deal with the EU won’t change anybody’s mind.

Similarly, if he was trying to get Ukraine a better deal from the EU, his sudden determination to reopen negotiations reeks of desperation and will most likely be greeted with the reminder that beggars cannot be choosers. One suspects that Yanukovych knows all this, and that the prevailing explanations for Yanukovych’s behavior are just a bit too pat. Maybe it’s not really about Russia, or Europe, or the U.S., or even Ukraine; maybe it’s about Viktor Yanukovych.

Now you’re getting somewhere, says the Kiev-based Andrey Slivka:

With Yanukovych, it’s always best to assume the worst. Ukraine has always been a kleptocracy, but “the family,” as it is known, has raised the thievery to new heights. The President’s older son, Oleksandr, a dentist, has become one of Ukraine’s richest men since the start of his father’s Presidency. Yanukovych himself—an actual ex-con, who did jail time in his youth for robbery and assault—has built himself an estate the size of Monaco on the outskirts of Kiev; access to the area is now restricted. “Raider” attacks, in which regime-connected businessmen deploy extortion to literally steal other people’s businesses, are notorious. Leery of mixing with the population, Yanukovych has taken to helicoptering into work from his estate, landing at a helipad he built in one of Kiev’s lovely riverside parks.

None of independent Ukraine’s earlier Presidents were prizewinners, but Yanukovych has been particularly brazen in his provocations. In addition to the theft, he’s centralized power according to a system that one political scientist has termed “sultanism,” and he has harassed the media. So when the beatings on the Maidan gave Ukrainians an excuse to come out on the streets, the protests turned from a cry against the loss of the “European choice” into something far more visceral: an expression of hatred for Yanukovych and everything he represents—basically, the mean reality of life in a post-Soviet strongman state.

Yanukovych’s decision to spurn Europe wasn’t a betrayal so much as a confirmation. Ukrainians did not think they were being governed by European-style democrat. Yanukovych’s reversal was simply a product of what Ukrainians who didn’t like him already didn’t like about him.

In that light, a new turn back to the EU won’t change much. It may help the country–though if a deal doesn’t happen until mid-2014 at the earliest it will first come at great cost. Yanukovych has misread his country’s mood–as Slivka notes, Kiev’s statue of Lenin survived the Orange Revolution, but didn’t survive this populist outburst. Perhaps Yanukovych will have better luck, but he increasingly can’t count on being thrown a lifeline from abroad.

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Iran’s Lies Are Matched by Obama’s

Yesterday, we discussed the latest attempt by the West to entice Iran to resume negotiations over the future of their nuclear program. Those talks, being conducted by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the head of the P5+1 group that includes the United States, were described as “useful and constructive” and were thought to be the prelude to further efforts to break the impasse over Tehran’s push for nuclear weapons later this month in New York, when the United Nations General Assembly convenes. But the same day that Lady Ashton was breaking bread with a representative of the Islamist regime in Istanbul, the head of Iran’s nuclear project was quoted in the London daily Al Hayat as confessing, or should we say bragging, that his country has repeatedly lied to the West in past exchanges about the subject.

As Haaretz reports, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran told Al Hayat that the regime had provided false information to the International Atomic Energy Agency in order to protect their “nuclear facilities and achievements.”

“Sometimes we provided false information since there was no other choice but to mislead other intelligence agencies; sometimes we made ourselves appear weak and at other times we reported issues that made us appear strongly than we really were, he said, adding: “Ultimately it became exposed when inspectors directly asked us about these issues.”

He said such deceptions were necessary in order to prevent the IAEA’s investigation from aiding efforts to isolate and sanction Iran. These motivations are quite obvious and even understandable. The Iranians know the world is on to their plans for nuclear weapons and wish to do everything they can to throw the IAEA off the scent. What isn’t understandable is why the United States and its European partners would choose to enter into any diplomatic process with Iran that is predicated on Iran telling the truth about its facilities and keeping their word should any compromise deal ever be reached. That is why the insistence of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton that diplomacy be given even more time is inexplicable if they mean what they say about wanting to stop Iran.

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Yesterday, we discussed the latest attempt by the West to entice Iran to resume negotiations over the future of their nuclear program. Those talks, being conducted by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the head of the P5+1 group that includes the United States, were described as “useful and constructive” and were thought to be the prelude to further efforts to break the impasse over Tehran’s push for nuclear weapons later this month in New York, when the United Nations General Assembly convenes. But the same day that Lady Ashton was breaking bread with a representative of the Islamist regime in Istanbul, the head of Iran’s nuclear project was quoted in the London daily Al Hayat as confessing, or should we say bragging, that his country has repeatedly lied to the West in past exchanges about the subject.

As Haaretz reports, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran told Al Hayat that the regime had provided false information to the International Atomic Energy Agency in order to protect their “nuclear facilities and achievements.”

“Sometimes we provided false information since there was no other choice but to mislead other intelligence agencies; sometimes we made ourselves appear weak and at other times we reported issues that made us appear strongly than we really were, he said, adding: “Ultimately it became exposed when inspectors directly asked us about these issues.”

He said such deceptions were necessary in order to prevent the IAEA’s investigation from aiding efforts to isolate and sanction Iran. These motivations are quite obvious and even understandable. The Iranians know the world is on to their plans for nuclear weapons and wish to do everything they can to throw the IAEA off the scent. What isn’t understandable is why the United States and its European partners would choose to enter into any diplomatic process with Iran that is predicated on Iran telling the truth about its facilities and keeping their word should any compromise deal ever be reached. That is why the insistence of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton that diplomacy be given even more time is inexplicable if they mean what they say about wanting to stop Iran.

Davani’s taunting of the West reflects an interesting dynamic in the ongoing negotiations with Iran. In a diplomatic dance that started before President Obama took office, we have repeatedly seen Western efforts to broker an agreement with Iran on nuclear issues founder on this same problem. Iran pretends to want to talk. Iran lies to the West about what it is doing on the ground and about what it may be willing to agree to and then reneges on any agreement and announces further progress toward its nuclear goal.

In the course of just the last year, the IAEA has found that Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges enriching uranium that can be used for a bomb and that these machines are now operating in hardened underground bunkers that may be invulnerable to attack. This “achievement” was bought with Iranian lies and Western diplomacy that allowed the process to be strung along while Western leaders said they were working to end the nuclear threat.

Even now, as Iran again starts the dance with Ashton and Obama, they are refusing to give the IAEA permission to inspect their nuclear weapons research site at Parchin and as, Davani noted, “obstruct efforts to bar aerial or satellite photos of these sites.”

But as outraged as the world should be about Iran’s brazen deceptions, it must be admitted that the ayatollahs’ representatives are not the biggest liars in this drama. Western leaders who continue to insist they are working to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons but nevertheless play along with Iran’s deceptions are the real deceivers here.

It is one thing for Iran to tell open and obvious lies about what all the world knows to be true about their nuclear project. It is quite another for President Obama and Secretary Clinton to play along while telling the American people that a “window of diplomacy” still exists to end the nuclear threat, or to chide Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for sounding the alarm about the refusal of the United States to declare “red lines” that will trigger action rather than further talk about the problem.

The longer the United States allows its representatives and surrogates to play a part in this diplomatic farce, the less likely it is that there is any chance to stop Iran. The falsehoods being pronounced on this issue in Washington by leaders who pretend to be steadfast in their determination to halt the nuclear threat are no less reprehensible than those emanating from Tehran.

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Iran Talks Give Hint of Obama Betrayal

Give the Islamist regime in Iran some credit. They can read between the lines as easily as anyone in Washington. Having seen the spectacle of the Obama administration’s refusal to set red lines about Iran’s nuclear program despite impassioned pleas from Israel to do so, the ayatollahs understand they have been sent a signal that the president is open to another round of hopeless negotiations over the issue. That’s the upshot of the informal meetings taking place in Istanbul between the Iranians and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Ashton headed up the West’s delegations in the P5+1 talks held earlier this year but, like President Obama, appears to have learned nothing from the experience. As Laura Rozen reports in The Back Channel blog, the Iranians may have again convinced the West that they should give the talks yet another try. According to Rozen, “The path going forward is ‘open,’ one western diplomat said.”

That’s excellent news for the Iranians, who may now be able to look forward to more negotiating sessions with the Western consortium at which they can drag out the process even further without giving an inch. But it’s bad news for anyone who wants to actually stop the Iranians from achieving their nuclear ambition.

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Give the Islamist regime in Iran some credit. They can read between the lines as easily as anyone in Washington. Having seen the spectacle of the Obama administration’s refusal to set red lines about Iran’s nuclear program despite impassioned pleas from Israel to do so, the ayatollahs understand they have been sent a signal that the president is open to another round of hopeless negotiations over the issue. That’s the upshot of the informal meetings taking place in Istanbul between the Iranians and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Ashton headed up the West’s delegations in the P5+1 talks held earlier this year but, like President Obama, appears to have learned nothing from the experience. As Laura Rozen reports in The Back Channel blog, the Iranians may have again convinced the West that they should give the talks yet another try. According to Rozen, “The path going forward is ‘open,’ one western diplomat said.”

That’s excellent news for the Iranians, who may now be able to look forward to more negotiating sessions with the Western consortium at which they can drag out the process even further without giving an inch. But it’s bad news for anyone who wants to actually stop the Iranians from achieving their nuclear ambition.

The P5+1 talks earned the Iranians several months more during which their centrifuges could keep spinning and turning out more enriched uranium for their weapons project. This illustrates why the Israelis are so intent on red lines.

This year’s diplomatic minuet over the Iranian nuclear program wasn’t the first time Tehran played the West for suckers.

The Bush administration vetoed any Israeli attack on Iran and outsourced diplomacy on the question to the Europeans. But despite the warm relations that France and Germany supposedly had with their Iranian business partners and their offer of a deal that would have allowed Tehran to have a nuclear program, no deal was ever struck.

President Obama came into office acting as if the Bush attempt at diplomacy never happened and wasted a year on a foolish attempt at “engagement” with Iran and two more on assembling a weak international coalition in favor of loosely enforced sanctions on Tehran. Talks were held and deals even struck, but the Iranians always reneged on any deal. The president’s fourth year in office was marked by more sanctions that had no effect on Iran and the P5+1 talks that merely bought Iran’s scientists more time.

The Israelis and other savvy observers understand that Iran’s goal in the talks is not even a favorable agreement that would enable them to finesse their way to a bomb the way the North Koreans did. Rather, their intention is to stall until their stockpile of nuclear material is large enough and stored in invulnerable underground bunkers that would render any attack pointless.

That’s why what is needed now is a presidential statement about red lines rather than another P5+1 fool’s errand. Anything other than a warning that force will be used if Iran doesn’t halt its enrichment program is a sign not so much of patience but that the president will go back on his pledge not to “contain” a nuclear Iran.

No one who is not an Iran apologist can possibly argue — at least not with a straight face — that more talks with Iran under these circumstances will serve anyone’s interests but that of the Islamist regime. Those who have argued that the administration should be trusted to stop Iran must speak out urgently about what another round of P5+1 talks will mean: more months for Iran to get closer to a bomb and a bridge to a second term reversal of policy on the issue by President Obama.

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Who’s Holding the Cards in Iran Talks?

The P5+1 talks resumed today in Moscow, and the only news filtering out of the negotiations is that Iran has been even more insistent than in past meetings about getting the West to drop the economic sanctions that have been imposed on the Islamist regime. The general assumption is that this is a sign of weakness that shows the Iranians are wearying of the pain the sanctions have imposed and are liable to abandon their nuclear ambitions. But despite the hardships the sanctions have caused the Iranian people, Tehran’s bargaining position may be stronger than some Western optimists have assumed.

Iran has not budged from its demand for recognition of its right to right refine uranium while also continuing to increase the ongoing rate of production and stonewalling inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. So there is little doubt Iran is playing the same game in Moscow as it did in earlier negotiating sessions in Ankara and Baghdad. Far from displaying weakness, the Iranians may still be operating on the belief that both President Obama and his European partners are more desperate for a deal — any deal — that will allow them to walk away from a confrontation on the nuclear issue.

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The P5+1 talks resumed today in Moscow, and the only news filtering out of the negotiations is that Iran has been even more insistent than in past meetings about getting the West to drop the economic sanctions that have been imposed on the Islamist regime. The general assumption is that this is a sign of weakness that shows the Iranians are wearying of the pain the sanctions have imposed and are liable to abandon their nuclear ambitions. But despite the hardships the sanctions have caused the Iranian people, Tehran’s bargaining position may be stronger than some Western optimists have assumed.

Iran has not budged from its demand for recognition of its right to right refine uranium while also continuing to increase the ongoing rate of production and stonewalling inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. So there is little doubt Iran is playing the same game in Moscow as it did in earlier negotiating sessions in Ankara and Baghdad. Far from displaying weakness, the Iranians may still be operating on the belief that both President Obama and his European partners are more desperate for a deal — any deal — that will allow them to walk away from a confrontation on the nuclear issue.

As William J. Broad wrote yesterday in the New York Times, “The Iranians have managed to steadily increase their enrichment of uranium and are now raising their production of a concentrated form close to bomb grade.” That they have managed to do this while surviving cyberattacks and sanctions is a notable achievement and is important to understanding their approach to the talks. Rather than the vaunted Western cyberwarfare and the possibility of an oil embargo having disabused them of the idea that they can prevail in this struggle, the failure of either approach to halt their progress may have only reinforced their sense that they are in a very strong position.

Thus, rather than a plea for help, the demand for an end to sanctions is really just more Iranian maneuvering to get the West to agree to a deal that can be easily violated. As Ray Takeyh noted in the Washington Post on Friday, the Iranians also know that even if the West was able to get Iran to agree to a compromise that would force them to export the refined fuel that could be used to make a weapon, there is no reason to suppose they couldn’t violate any accord with impunity. Once a treaty is in place, the instinct of both the Obama administration and the Europeans will be to defend the agreement, not to junk it once it has been proved to be worthless.

As Takeyh writes:

As Iran’s nuclear facilities grow in scope and sophistication, the possibility of diverting material from them increases regardless of the parameters of an inspection regime. Any large-scale nuclear facility involves moving hundreds of containers of uranium from various stations every day. No monitoring measure can account for every container. Moreover, under the auspices of an agreement Iran will have access to nuclear technologies such as advanced centrifuge models. Should Iran perfect centrifuges that operate with efficiency at high velocity, then it will require only a limited number of such machines to quickly enrich weapon-grade uranium. Such cascades can easily be concealed in small-scale, surreptitious installations that may avoid detection.

That makes even compromise proposals such as Dennis Ross’s idea that the U.S. should offer Iran the right to a civil nuclear program a pathway to failure rather than an end to the crisis. Moreover, at every step of this process, the Iranians have seen Western positions eroded and weakened as they moved ever closer to the day when their program can achieve its goal of a weapon.

The Iranians know the only reason the P5+1 talks were ever started was to create a diplomatic process aimed more at stopping Israel from acting on its own against Iran. What they have been waiting for is an indication that the West means what it says about getting tough on them rather than an excuse to keep talking. Right now, they believe their nuclear advances coupled with the West’s unwillingness to use force are all they need to guarantee their march to nuclear capability will be unhindered. Unless President Obama or EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton does something this week to change their minds, the Iranians will leave Moscow still thinking they are winning.

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Can Obama Solve Iran By “Going Big?”

Since the P5+1 negotiations with Iran began much of the speculation about the diplomatic activity centered on the fact that it was clearly in the interests of both sides to keep talking for as long as possible rather than to allow an impasse to break talks off. The Iranians, the Obama administration and its diplomatic partners share a desire to keep diplomacy alive so as to make it impossible for Israel to launch an attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. But even if a deal is possible, the incremental arrangement offered by the West is worrisome for those who fear any such agreement will almost certainly be evaded and ultimately lead to a nuclear Iran.

The Iranians have balked at the West’s terms that would have allowed them to keep their nuclear program. However, as Laura Rozen reports on Al Monitor, there is another possibility in the works that may present an even greater danger of letting Iran off the hook. Rozen writes that the Obama administration is considering putting forward a grand proposal that would try for a permanent fix rather than a gradual process that might put in place an interim deal that could never be followed up. But it is far from clear whether “going big” with Iran will get the United States any closer to permanently removing the nuclear threat than the less ambitious P5+1 approach.

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Since the P5+1 negotiations with Iran began much of the speculation about the diplomatic activity centered on the fact that it was clearly in the interests of both sides to keep talking for as long as possible rather than to allow an impasse to break talks off. The Iranians, the Obama administration and its diplomatic partners share a desire to keep diplomacy alive so as to make it impossible for Israel to launch an attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. But even if a deal is possible, the incremental arrangement offered by the West is worrisome for those who fear any such agreement will almost certainly be evaded and ultimately lead to a nuclear Iran.

The Iranians have balked at the West’s terms that would have allowed them to keep their nuclear program. However, as Laura Rozen reports on Al Monitor, there is another possibility in the works that may present an even greater danger of letting Iran off the hook. Rozen writes that the Obama administration is considering putting forward a grand proposal that would try for a permanent fix rather than a gradual process that might put in place an interim deal that could never be followed up. But it is far from clear whether “going big” with Iran will get the United States any closer to permanently removing the nuclear threat than the less ambitious P5+1 approach.

As Rozen presents the debate within the administration, the Defense Department is pushing for presenting a final proposal to Iran that would be accompanied by a military threat that would be the alternative if Tehran balked. The State Department wants to stick with the existing process. The argument for the “go big” approach is that even if Iran went along with the West’s current offer via the P5+1 group, such a deal would not be definitive and would probably never be followed up as the circumstances that brought the West together for the talks will not be replicated. Once there is an agreement in place the urgency that led to increased sanctions and diplomacy will be lost, and the West will probably go to sleep on the issue in the same manner that allowed the North Koreans to exploit the six-party talks on their program into a path to nuclear capability.

As Rozen’s sources note, the P5+1 deal offered the Iranians involves “reversible steps” that would be no bar to a determined effort to go nuclear. But missing from the story is any idea of how much tougher the “go big” solution would be. The notion of scrapping the current process is tempting because it would mean a direct U.S.-Iran negotiation rather than the dance being led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Yet if the “big” American proposal also lets the Iranians keep their nuclear program and grants them the right to go on refining uranium, albeit at low rates, then it may turn out to be just as reversible as the P5+1 diplomacy.

Even more to the point, going big is just as dependent on a belief that Iran would ever be willing under any circumstances to give up hope of attaining a nuclear weapon. If the pace of the current talks and the willingness of the Europeans to settle for an unsatisfactory deal frustrate U.S. officials, there is no guarantee they can do better themselves. It is just as easy to imagine the Iranians snookering the Obama administration in direct talks as it is to see them doing so to Ashton.

With Tehran stalling the International Atomic Energy Agency on inspections again and with the P5+1 talks giving every impression they are merely a delaying tactic, a change in diplomatic tactics is clearly necessary. A U.S. ultimatum to Iran is a good idea in principle. If the president embraces such a strategy once it is widely apparent (as it is already to anyone who’s really paying attention), it might provide the shock treatment the Iranians need. The problem is, they don’t believe the president is any more willing to credibly threaten a military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities than the Europeans. And with divided counsels in Washington making it unlikely that the president will go big anytime soon on Iran, the prospect of a year of ineffective diplomacy that will only bring us closer to the day when the ayatollahs have a nuke is still the most likely outcome.

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Iran Isn’t Taking the West’s First Offer

To their credit, Western negotiators at the P5+1 talks in Baghdad did not completely fold before the negotiations began. They presented a proposal that, while still granting legitimacy to the Iranian nuclear program, did not remove existing sanctions or the threat of an oil embargo in advance of Tehran’s agreement to stop refining weapons-grade uranium and to ship their stockpile out of the country. The Iranian reaction to this mild offer was predictable. They claimed it was not only unreasonable but that it violated what the Islamist regime says was agreed to at the previous meeting in Istanbul.

That means those who feared the Baghdad meeting would lead to an unsatisfactory agreement that could be represented as ending the crisis but by no means removing the Iranian nuclear threat can exhale. But that does not mean the danger of an Iranian diplomatic victory is averted. Quite the contrary, the Iranians view their indignant refusal as just the start of the bargaining process by which they will ultimately get what they want: the West’s endorsement of their right to a nuclear program and removal of sanctions. The question here is whether the negotiators, led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and backed up by political leaders such as President Obama and French President Hollande, have the will to stick to this position rather than being enticed into a bazaar-style barter in which the Iranians are bound to win. If, as is reported, the West’s stance is just a preliminary bid, then we will soon know the answer.

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To their credit, Western negotiators at the P5+1 talks in Baghdad did not completely fold before the negotiations began. They presented a proposal that, while still granting legitimacy to the Iranian nuclear program, did not remove existing sanctions or the threat of an oil embargo in advance of Tehran’s agreement to stop refining weapons-grade uranium and to ship their stockpile out of the country. The Iranian reaction to this mild offer was predictable. They claimed it was not only unreasonable but that it violated what the Islamist regime says was agreed to at the previous meeting in Istanbul.

That means those who feared the Baghdad meeting would lead to an unsatisfactory agreement that could be represented as ending the crisis but by no means removing the Iranian nuclear threat can exhale. But that does not mean the danger of an Iranian diplomatic victory is averted. Quite the contrary, the Iranians view their indignant refusal as just the start of the bargaining process by which they will ultimately get what they want: the West’s endorsement of their right to a nuclear program and removal of sanctions. The question here is whether the negotiators, led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and backed up by political leaders such as President Obama and French President Hollande, have the will to stick to this position rather than being enticed into a bazaar-style barter in which the Iranians are bound to win. If, as is reported, the West’s stance is just a preliminary bid, then we will soon know the answer.

The trouble is both sides in this negotiation have a common goal: keeping Israel from launching a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities and avoiding an oil embargo. Yet, while both the possibility of an Israeli attack and increased Western sanctions worry the Iranians, they appear to have great confidence in their ability to talk their way out of what seems on the surface to be a perilous position. If, as reports indicate, the West doesn’t merely leave their proposal on the table but holds out the possibility of future sessions without Iran’s compliance with even these first steps, then Tehran has good reason to believe they have Ashton, Obama and Hollande right where they want them.

It must be understood that even if Iran agreed to the current Western proposal that would by no means alleviate worries about the regime going nuclear. So long as the Iranians are refining uranium — even with the permission to do so only at lower rates of refinement — there is no reason to believe they will give up their quest for a bomb. Indeed, giving their facilities a Western seal of approval under any circumstances will facilitate the continuance of their military project by less public means. Putting this approval on the table now only means that the final agreement, if Iran ever consents to an accord, will be even more generous. And because, as the AP reported yesterday, Iran has already started transferring uranium refined at a weapons grade level of 20 percent to their reactors, there is no way of telling whether they can even be made to comply with the terms Ashton laid on the table.

Nevertheless, if the West is more desperate than Iran to keep the talks going, there is little doubt the terms will start to be sweetened. It takes quite a leap of faith to imagine President Obama won’t fall for Iran’s negotiating ploys.

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Iran Provides New Test of Obama’s Mettle

Just hours after an announcement that an agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency on access for inspectors was imminent comes a new bit of news that could render the entire diplomatic process moot. As the Associated Press reports via the Times of Israel:

Iran announced Tuesday that it had delivered its first two batches of domestically produced nuclear fuel to a Tehran research reactor. The move comes on the eve of talks between Tehran and six Western powers over the future of the country’s nuclear program. The move is widely seen as an attempt by Iran to boost its bargaining position by exaggerating its nuclear technology.

Tehran had tentatively agreed to ship its enriched uranium abroad in order to produce such fuel in 2009. By moving the fuel rods to its own reactors, Iran will effectively put the kibosh on a deal by which it would send the fuel abroad.

While one has to applaud the sheer chutzpah of the Iranians in conducting this maneuver on the very day that IAEA chief Yukio Amano was in Tehran to negotiate with them, it does speak volumes about their utter contempt for their Western negotiating partners. Do they really think they can get away with this? But an even better question would be to ask whether the P5+1 negotiators led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are so desperate for an accord as to go forward with the talks even as the Islamist regime contradicts the terms of the proposed deal.

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Just hours after an announcement that an agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency on access for inspectors was imminent comes a new bit of news that could render the entire diplomatic process moot. As the Associated Press reports via the Times of Israel:

Iran announced Tuesday that it had delivered its first two batches of domestically produced nuclear fuel to a Tehran research reactor. The move comes on the eve of talks between Tehran and six Western powers over the future of the country’s nuclear program. The move is widely seen as an attempt by Iran to boost its bargaining position by exaggerating its nuclear technology.

Tehran had tentatively agreed to ship its enriched uranium abroad in order to produce such fuel in 2009. By moving the fuel rods to its own reactors, Iran will effectively put the kibosh on a deal by which it would send the fuel abroad.

While one has to applaud the sheer chutzpah of the Iranians in conducting this maneuver on the very day that IAEA chief Yukio Amano was in Tehran to negotiate with them, it does speak volumes about their utter contempt for their Western negotiating partners. Do they really think they can get away with this? But an even better question would be to ask whether the P5+1 negotiators led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are so desperate for an accord as to go forward with the talks even as the Islamist regime contradicts the terms of the proposed deal.

As this report reminds us, the West has actually been down this same road in 2009 when the Iranians agreed to a flimsy deal to ship out their nuclear fuel only to refuse to back away from the agreement once the West signed off on it. By moving the fuel to one of its reactors in this fashion, the Iranians are not just advancing their nuclear agenda. They are testing the mettle of President Obama and the international coalition he takes such pride in having put together.

That this would happen now when Western negotiators were attempting to pressure Israel to pipe down about its cynicism about the P5+1 talks is telling. The point of the leaks coming from both Washington and the negotiators is to signal Israel that it and not Iran will be the party that will be isolated in the coming months if it doesn’t stop criticizing the talks. But the fact that Israel’s cynicism is being justified by Iran’s actions may count for nothing if the West simply accepts this Iranian insult and proceeds to Baghdad for more negotiations as if nothing had happened.

Unless the president or Ashton publicly call out the Iranians on this treachery immediately, the ayatollahs will assume they will be able to do as they like no matter what deals they sign in the future. Despite the West’s optimism about a deal and the breakthrough with the IAEA, silence on the matter will be a virtual guarantee that Iran will move ahead toward a weapon regardless of the result of the diplomatic process.

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Iran’s Nuclear Shell Game

Iran took another step toward convincing the West it is showing flexibility about its nuclear program this week by inviting the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Tehran. IAEA chief Yukio Amano has been a thorn in the side of the Iranians as his agency has reported clear evidence of their work on military applications of nuclear power and their refusal to allow inspectors access to vital sites. But by signing an agreement with Amano to belatedly allow IAEA personnel entry into their facilities, the Islamist regime is creating the impression that it has turned over a new leaf of cooperation that will make it easier for the West to allow it to keep its nuclear program. Though the talks with the IAEA are separate from the P5+1 negotiations that will soon resume in Baghdad, by seeming to give in to the international community on inspection issues, Iran is hoping to strengthen those in the West who are inclined to ease up on them.

But this move, like other alleged concessions on Iran’s part, must be viewed with extreme suspicion. Like the idea of removing their stockpile of refined uranium to another country, the new inspections cannot conclusively allay our fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Deceptions are possible on both scores, especially as long as Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is left intact. Given the limited and belated nature of these alleged compromises, it is impossible to disregard or discount the very real possibility that the West is once again being played for suckers by Iran.

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Iran took another step toward convincing the West it is showing flexibility about its nuclear program this week by inviting the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Tehran. IAEA chief Yukio Amano has been a thorn in the side of the Iranians as his agency has reported clear evidence of their work on military applications of nuclear power and their refusal to allow inspectors access to vital sites. But by signing an agreement with Amano to belatedly allow IAEA personnel entry into their facilities, the Islamist regime is creating the impression that it has turned over a new leaf of cooperation that will make it easier for the West to allow it to keep its nuclear program. Though the talks with the IAEA are separate from the P5+1 negotiations that will soon resume in Baghdad, by seeming to give in to the international community on inspection issues, Iran is hoping to strengthen those in the West who are inclined to ease up on them.

But this move, like other alleged concessions on Iran’s part, must be viewed with extreme suspicion. Like the idea of removing their stockpile of refined uranium to another country, the new inspections cannot conclusively allay our fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Deceptions are possible on both scores, especially as long as Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is left intact. Given the limited and belated nature of these alleged compromises, it is impossible to disregard or discount the very real possibility that the West is once again being played for suckers by Iran.

Getting the nuclear inspectors back into Iran is certainly a good thing and would never have happened without the tough sanctions that have been put in place and the threat of an oil embargo hanging over the ayatollahs. Yet no one should regard the mere presence of IAEA personnel on the ground as a panacea. Inspectors have been in Iran before and proved helpless to stop the growth of the program as nuclear facilities went on line, the centrifuges started spinning to create weapons grade uranium and work on military applications of the technology began. Even after the inspectors return, there is no guarantee the Iranians cannot shift their stockpiles or equipments to places not designated as searchable in their IAEA agreement.

Even more to the point, like the proposed agreements on the uranium and future refining that it appears EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is willing to allow, Iran’s primary goal is to drag out the diplomatic process. The long, drawn out negotiations not only serve to give the Iranians more time to get closer to their goal of a weapon. They also provide an opportunity to set in place deceptions that will allow them to claim they are complying with the West’s demands while actually flouting them. Given their history of mendacity when it comes to dealing with the West on this issue, the burden of proof should be on those who believe what the Iranians are saying now, not those who believe they are not to be trusted.

It should be remembered that both Iran and some members of the international coalition that President Obama has helped to assemble to stop their nuclear program have some common goals. The West and the Iranians are both desperate to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran that could set off a regional conflict. Even more to the point, both sides in the talks don’t want to see an oil embargo on Iran. An embargo could cripple the Iranian economy, but it would also cause a spike in oil prices that would upset the Europeans as well as harm President Obama’s chances of re-election. An agreement to end the crisis, even if it were one the Iranians could easily bypass in the coming years, would serve the president’s purposes as well as those of his European allies.

The administration’s optimism about the possibility of a deal with Iran can, if not checked by realism about the regime’s intentions, be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The president needs to be reminded that the objective is not so much the achievement of an agreement but the removal of the Iranian nuclear threat. So far there is not much indication that the Western optimists are intent on achieving that goal.

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Was Ambassador’s Iran Threat Credible?

America’s ambassador to Israel sounded a reassuring note today to Israelis and others wondering whether the direction of the West’s negotiations with Iran was leading inevitably to appeasement of Tehran. Ambassador Dan Shapiro seemed to be echoing the tough talk uttered by President Obama when he spoke to the AIPAC conference in March when, according to the AP, he made the following comments:

Shapiro told the Israel Bar Association the U.S. hopes it will not have to resort to military force.

“But that doesn’t mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it’s ready,” he said. “The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready” …

“We do believe there is time. Some time, not an unlimited amount of time,” Shapiro said. “But at a certain point, we may have to make a judgment that the diplomacy will not work.”

Though it would certainly be to the advantage of the West were Iran to believe it is in genuine peril of an attack if they refuse to abandon their nuclear ambitions, given the fact that it is EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton who is running the P5+1 talks, and not someone like Shapiro, Iran’s obvious confidence that it will prevail in the negotiations is hardly unfounded.

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America’s ambassador to Israel sounded a reassuring note today to Israelis and others wondering whether the direction of the West’s negotiations with Iran was leading inevitably to appeasement of Tehran. Ambassador Dan Shapiro seemed to be echoing the tough talk uttered by President Obama when he spoke to the AIPAC conference in March when, according to the AP, he made the following comments:

Shapiro told the Israel Bar Association the U.S. hopes it will not have to resort to military force.

“But that doesn’t mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it’s ready,” he said. “The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready” …

“We do believe there is time. Some time, not an unlimited amount of time,” Shapiro said. “But at a certain point, we may have to make a judgment that the diplomacy will not work.”

Though it would certainly be to the advantage of the West were Iran to believe it is in genuine peril of an attack if they refuse to abandon their nuclear ambitions, given the fact that it is EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton who is running the P5+1 talks, and not someone like Shapiro, Iran’s obvious confidence that it will prevail in the negotiations is hardly unfounded.

No one, not even the most sanguine leaders of the Iranian regime, doubt there are contingency plans in place for an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Unlike the difficulties that the Israeli Air Force would face in mounting such an operation, American forces in the Persian Gulf region are more than adequate to accomplish the task. But to say there are plans is one thing. To believe President Obama would order the use of force if Iran refuses to give ground in the talks is quite another.

Indeed, far from the Iranians doing the retreating, it has been the West that has, as the Iranians haven’t failed to note. Every red line set by the West on Iran’s nuclear program has been transgressed. From the putting of reactors on line to the construction of heavy water facilities and now to the refining uranium at a rate that is needed to produce a nuclear weapon, the Iranians acted and then waited for the West to eventually concede the point. That is why they are heading to Baghdad for the next round of talks so confident that the West will allow them to keep their nuclear toys that they are actually demanding the crippling international sanctions that were belatedly imposed on the regime be lifted.

We hope the Iranians are mistaken about President Obama’s resolve but nothing he has done — as opposed to the many things he has said about the topic — has led them to believe they can’t get away with building up their capability to the point where converting it to military uses will be quite simple. And because, as the International Atomic Energy Agency has noted, devices for testing military uses of nuclear power are already in place in Iran, they have every expectation that sooner or later they will be able to confront the world with a nuclear fact.

Like much of what the administration has said and done in recent months, Ambassador Shapiro’s comments seem to be geared more toward convincing Israel to refrain from its own strike on Iran — for which the IAF has proclaimed its readiness — than a genuine demonstration of an American will to act to forestall the threat.

But rather than judge the administration on its words, it is far wiser to judge them on what happens in the coming negotiations. If, as the Iranians expect, the EU, Russia and China, with President Obama, as always, leading from behind, make “progress” in the coming weeks toward a deal that will leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place, we will know the ambassador’s statement was merely an empty threat.

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Evidence of Iran Nuclear Arms Test Device Raises Stakes in Talks

The initiation by the West of a new round of talks with Iran about its nuclear program has had the effect of depressing interest in revelations about how much progress the Islamist regime has made toward its goal of a weapon. In recent months, skepticism about the Iranians has reigned but, as Ha’aretz reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency appears to be in possession of evidence that the widespread belief that the ayatollahs haven’t yet made a decision to weaponize their nuclear research is unfounded. Information obtained by the nuclear watchdogs seems to prove Iran is already testing equipment that demonstrates it is working on a military application of nuclear power.

According to the AP:

A drawing based on information from inside an Iranian military site shows an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests that UN inspectors suspect Tehran has conducted there. Iran denies such testing and has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such a chamber.

The computer-generated drawing was provided to The Associated Press by an official of a country tracking Iran’s nuclear program who said it proves the structure exists, despite Tehran’s refusal to acknowledge it.

That official said the image is based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site, adding that going into detail would endanger the life of that informant.

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The initiation by the West of a new round of talks with Iran about its nuclear program has had the effect of depressing interest in revelations about how much progress the Islamist regime has made toward its goal of a weapon. In recent months, skepticism about the Iranians has reigned but, as Ha’aretz reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency appears to be in possession of evidence that the widespread belief that the ayatollahs haven’t yet made a decision to weaponize their nuclear research is unfounded. Information obtained by the nuclear watchdogs seems to prove Iran is already testing equipment that demonstrates it is working on a military application of nuclear power.

According to the AP:

A drawing based on information from inside an Iranian military site shows an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests that UN inspectors suspect Tehran has conducted there. Iran denies such testing and has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such a chamber.

The computer-generated drawing was provided to The Associated Press by an official of a country tracking Iran’s nuclear program who said it proves the structure exists, despite Tehran’s refusal to acknowledge it.

That official said the image is based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site, adding that going into detail would endanger the life of that informant.

This latest piece of the Iranian nuclear puzzle to be revealed ought to put more pressure on the countries invested in the P5+1 talks not to allow Tehran to spend the next few months stalling as the centrifuges continue to spin. With the next round of talks set for later this month in Baghdad, the image of the testing device ought to serve as a reminder to President Obama and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that there will be a terrible price to be paid for allowing diplomacy to serve as a convenient method for the ayatollahs to run out the clock on efforts to prevent an Iranian nuke.

Though we can we expect that those who have rationalized every Iranian attempt to obfuscate the issue will dismiss this latest revelation, the evidence ought to be enough to scare those who have been throwing cold water on the immediacy of the Iranian threat. The existence of the testing chamber is consistent with previous information released by the IAEA:

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in March that his agency has “credible information that indicates that Iran engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosive devices” at the site. Diplomats subsequently told the AP that the experiments also appear to have involved a small prototype neutron device used to spark a nuclear explosion – equipment that would be tested only if a country was trying to develop atomic weapons.

The report goes on to state that it appears the chamber may have been built with Russian assistance. Iran’s apologists and critics of Israeli efforts to raise the alarm could argue that just because the Iranians have the device, it doesn’t mean they’ve used it. But it appears that’s not likely either:

The IAEA has voiced alarm at unexplained “activity” at the site — a term diplomats familiar with the agency’s concerns say stands for attempts to clean up any evidence of the kinds of experiments the agency suspects were carried out.

A second senior diplomat familiar with the investigation recently told the AP that spy satellite images shared with the agency show what seems to be water streaming from the building housing the chamber. He said it also depicts workers removing bags of material from that building and put on vehicles outside.

This information should raise the stakes for the West at the Baghdad talks. Though there are increasing reports that Ashton and the EU would happily settle for a compromise with Iran that would leave their program in place, the existence of a military testing device ought to mean the West’s goal must be the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, not just the removal of what the Iranians say is their supply of refined uranium. Because there is now even more credible evidence of weapons research, President Obama is obligated not to let Ashton allow the talks to drift for months while testing continues in Iran.

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No Iran Dissension Within Israeli Coalition

With the dust settling from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s brilliant political maneuver in which he vastly expanded his coalition and his power, the question remains what will he do with it in the next year? While Israelis seem more interested in domestic political implications of the move, not surprisingly, most foreign observers are focused on the impact of the new coalition on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. Some of Netanyahu’s frustrated critics are holding on to the hope that somehow the addition of Kadima head Shaul Mofaz will moderate the prime minister’s stand on the issue. But this is not only a misreading of Mofaz but of Netanyahu’s position.

As the prime minister demonstrated today in his meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, far from Mofaz’s entry into the Cabinet acting as a restraint on him, the creation of a government that can count on nearly 80 percent of the Knesset means that when Netanyahu speaks now there can be no doubt that he represents a strong consensus within his country on the issue. By bringing Mofaz as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to speak to Ashton, Netanyahu demonstrated that there is across-the-board support for his demands that Iran’s nuclear program be stopped dead in its tracks.

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With the dust settling from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s brilliant political maneuver in which he vastly expanded his coalition and his power, the question remains what will he do with it in the next year? While Israelis seem more interested in domestic political implications of the move, not surprisingly, most foreign observers are focused on the impact of the new coalition on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. Some of Netanyahu’s frustrated critics are holding on to the hope that somehow the addition of Kadima head Shaul Mofaz will moderate the prime minister’s stand on the issue. But this is not only a misreading of Mofaz but of Netanyahu’s position.

As the prime minister demonstrated today in his meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, far from Mofaz’s entry into the Cabinet acting as a restraint on him, the creation of a government that can count on nearly 80 percent of the Knesset means that when Netanyahu speaks now there can be no doubt that he represents a strong consensus within his country on the issue. By bringing Mofaz as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to speak to Ashton, Netanyahu demonstrated that there is across-the-board support for his demands that Iran’s nuclear program be stopped dead in its tracks.

Ashton, a virulent critic of Israel who has been ceded control of the P5+1 talks with Iran by President Obama, may have intended her visit to Israel as an opportunity to mend fences so as to allow her to continue the diplomatic minuet she is dancing with the Islamist regime to continue unimpeded by Israeli actions. But Netanyahu used the meeting to lay down the guidelines for the upcoming negotiations in Baghdad. As Haaretz reported today:

During the meeting, the Israelis presented a rigid set of demands for the Iranians, a senior Israeli official said. Netanyahu and the three ministers told Ashton that Israel’s position leading up to the Baghdad talks is that the talks will be considered as progress only if they would yield an Iranian guarantee – with a clear timetable – to halt uranium enrichment, to remove all enriched uranium out of Iranian soil, and to dismantle the underground enrichment facility in Fordo, which is near Qom.

In doing so, Netanyahu is attempting to box in the Western negotiators who have given every indication that they will be happy to allow the Iranians to drag out the talks and would be satisfied with a deal that would leave their nuclear program intact. These terms were delivered to Ashton, but the real audience for Israel’s position is in Washington.

Three years ago, President Obama may have entertained hopes about toppling Netanyahu, but now he is faced with the fact that the Israeli is stronger than ever. Though fears about a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran are probably exaggerated — Netanyahu would almost certainly not contemplate such an option while Western talks with Iran are ongoing — the new coalition will force the administration to stop listening to dissident Israeli voices carping at Netanyahu for his tough stance on Iran. As Haaretz also notes, the idea that Mofaz disagrees with the prime minister on Iran is a misperception fueled by Israeli political maneuvering:

According to a report published by Israeli newspaper Maariv on Wednesday, several officials who took part in the coalitional negotiations between Mofaz and Netanyahu said the two are “coordinated” over the issue of Iran and are “of one mind” when it comes to stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

Netanyahu knows Iran has no intention of giving up its nuclear chips in the current talks. He now has a broad government that will back him on any decision to take action. That places more pressure than ever on Obama not to allow the U.S. to be dragged into an unsatisfactory deal by Ashton that will have negative political repercussions at home and might force Israel to act on its own. Though the president may hope to kick the Iranian can down the road until after the fall U.S. elections, Netanyahu’s coup may have made it more difficult for the president to do so.

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Obama Will Miss Sarkozy’s Stand on Iran

Much of the analysis of the victory of Francois Hollande and the Socialists in the French presidential election will focus on the impact of the change in power on the European economy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will probably miss Nicolas Sarkozy more than many of his compatriots as she attempts to hold the line for a fiscal policy that will try to save Europe and the euro from being dragged down by spendthrift nations like Greece. But President Obama may wind up missing him just as much if not more.

While some American liberals may assume that President Obama’s affection for the spirit of European social democracy will put him in natural sympathy with Hollande, there is no telling whether the chemistry between them will turn out to be positive. More important than that is the fact that Sarkozy’s leadership on the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat allowed Obama, as he said of his stance on Libya, to “lead from behind.” Without Sarkozy pushing the European Union toward tough sanctions on Tehran, the West would not have gone as far as it already has toward pressuring the Iranians. With Sarkozy gone that will put more pressure on Obama to assume a leadership role as the P5+1 talks proceed this summer that he would probably prefer not to take.

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Much of the analysis of the victory of Francois Hollande and the Socialists in the French presidential election will focus on the impact of the change in power on the European economy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will probably miss Nicolas Sarkozy more than many of his compatriots as she attempts to hold the line for a fiscal policy that will try to save Europe and the euro from being dragged down by spendthrift nations like Greece. But President Obama may wind up missing him just as much if not more.

While some American liberals may assume that President Obama’s affection for the spirit of European social democracy will put him in natural sympathy with Hollande, there is no telling whether the chemistry between them will turn out to be positive. More important than that is the fact that Sarkozy’s leadership on the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat allowed Obama, as he said of his stance on Libya, to “lead from behind.” Without Sarkozy pushing the European Union toward tough sanctions on Tehran, the West would not have gone as far as it already has toward pressuring the Iranians. With Sarkozy gone that will put more pressure on Obama to assume a leadership role as the P5+1 talks proceed this summer that he would probably prefer not to take.

The assumption up until now is that President Obama was going to spend the next six months hiding behind the ongoing negotiations with Iran and allow the EU to take the lead as it has throughout this process. To the surprise of many, the Europeans have been consistently ahead of Washington when it came to doing more than talking about stopping Iran. For this, Sarkozy deserved much of the credit. But his exit will create a void on the issue that Hollande is not likely to fill even if, at least on the surface, his position is not much different from that of his predecessor.

That will leave EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is already in charge of the P5+1 talks, with a much freer hand to craft a deal that will please the ayatollahs more than President Obama. Though few believe the Iranians would actually make good on any promises made in the talks, there is a strong possibility they would be willing to agree, at least in principle, to an accord that would satisfy Europeans who are eager to back down from their threat of an oil embargo later this year. No other European leader, including a beleaguered British Prime Minister David Cameron, is likely to fill Sarkozy’s shoes on this point and stop Ashton from playing the Iranians’ game.

A deal with Iran that leaves their nuclear program intact with only promises about the export of refined uranium might be something a re-elected Obama would approve but not while he is fighting for re-election. The president has been defending the “window of diplomacy” that he thinks has opened up with Iran, but it is doubtful he would want to defend a flawed or weak deal with Tehran on the campaign trail. It would serve his purposes far better for Ashton to keep talking than to be faced with her acceptance of something that he would be hard pressed to justify to the American public. If that happens, it will be Obama who is left holding the bag on a diplomatic disaster and ruing the day the French electorate sent Sarkozy packing.

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Iran Using Spin to Divide and Conquer

While President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have attempted to talk tough about the ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, by agreeing to the P5+1 talks that were launched last week in Istanbul, the administration has set in motion a process that is clearly lurching out of their control. The Iranians scored a not insignificant victory by convincing the West to wait several weeks until the next meeting in late May. And as Laura Rozen reported in Al Monitor last week, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, a fierce critic of Israel, is in clear charge of the negotiations and may be steering the talks toward a deal that will fall well short of an agreement that would force an end to the Iranian program. But a key element to the creation of such an unsatisfactory conclusion to this process will be to convince the West that the Iranians are genuinely interested in a deal. And as Rozen notes today, the Islamist regime is working hard to give onlookers the impression that accommodation is their priority.

If all this sounds to good to be true it’s because it almost certainly is. The spin coming out of Tehran is aimed at creating false confidence in their willingness to abandon their nuclear ambitions and sign a deal that would allow the Europeans, as well as Iran’s Russian and Chinese friends to pretend that worries about the ayatollahs getting their hands on a nuke are put to rest. But since the Iranians have already successfully played this cat and mouse game with Western negotiators before, the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the “positive signals” coming out Iran is that the regime is aiming at driving a wedge between the United States and the other members of the P5+1 delegation.

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While President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have attempted to talk tough about the ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, by agreeing to the P5+1 talks that were launched last week in Istanbul, the administration has set in motion a process that is clearly lurching out of their control. The Iranians scored a not insignificant victory by convincing the West to wait several weeks until the next meeting in late May. And as Laura Rozen reported in Al Monitor last week, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, a fierce critic of Israel, is in clear charge of the negotiations and may be steering the talks toward a deal that will fall well short of an agreement that would force an end to the Iranian program. But a key element to the creation of such an unsatisfactory conclusion to this process will be to convince the West that the Iranians are genuinely interested in a deal. And as Rozen notes today, the Islamist regime is working hard to give onlookers the impression that accommodation is their priority.

If all this sounds to good to be true it’s because it almost certainly is. The spin coming out of Tehran is aimed at creating false confidence in their willingness to abandon their nuclear ambitions and sign a deal that would allow the Europeans, as well as Iran’s Russian and Chinese friends to pretend that worries about the ayatollahs getting their hands on a nuke are put to rest. But since the Iranians have already successfully played this cat and mouse game with Western negotiators before, the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the “positive signals” coming out Iran is that the regime is aiming at driving a wedge between the United States and the other members of the P5+1 delegation.

These “positive signals” from regime figures about their desire for an end to the confrontation are exactly what those who were never really interested in pushing the Iranians hard want to hear. The Iranian happy talk is the bait needed to draw Ashton into prolonged negotiations that serve a double purpose for Tehran.

On the one hand, the effort to build confidence in Iran’s desire to peace helps undermine any sense of urgency on the part of the West as well as sapping support for increasing sanctions on the regime this summer. So long as the talks are being conducted the Iranians know they are safe from attack from Israel. But if they can convince gullible Western diplomats as well as the so-called experts about Iran that the process is leading toward an agreement, then it is possible the EU will back down on its promise to embargo Iranian oil. This holds out the hope that the West will gradually back away from sanctions and make it more difficult to make credible threats even after the Iranians inevitably disappoint their negotiating partners as they have repeatedly.

But the Iranian tactic has another more fundamental purpose. The Iranians benefit from dragging out the negotiations as long as possible since that allows their nuclear program extra time to keep refining uranium in order to get closer to their goal of a bomb. As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said this week, their centrifuges were spinning before the talks started, they were spinning during the talks and have not stopped since.

It is a hopeful sign that, as Rozen reports, the State Department is dismissing the Iranian signals that others are so determined to interpret positively. However, by going down the garden path with the P5+1 group, the Obama administration is no longer in control of the effort to pressure Tehran. If, as the Iranians not unreasonably believe, the Chinese and Russians can be wooed into supporting their stand in the talks, all the president’s “diplomatic window” will have accomplished will be to buy the Islamist regime more precious time to get closer to their nuclear goal as his shaky international coalition unravels.

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