Commentary Magazine


Topic: pence

‘Spontaneous Eruption of Pro-Mubarak Sentiment’

Here’s America’s best satirist, Jon Stewart, on the “spontaneous eruption of pro-Mubarak sentiment from everyday Egyptians trained in the art of whip-based crowd control.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mess O’Slightly-to-the-Left O’Potamia – Pro-Mubarak Demonstrators
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

Here’s America’s best satirist, Jon Stewart, on the “spontaneous eruption of pro-Mubarak sentiment from everyday Egyptians trained in the art of whip-based crowd control.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mess O’Slightly-to-the-Left O’Potamia – Pro-Mubarak Demonstrators
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

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Morning Commentary

On Saturday, P5+1 officials will meet with Iranian leaders to push them to ensure that their nuclear program is peaceful. But it looks like Iran is doing everything in its power not to cooperate: “Iran, however, is coming to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. ‘There is nothing to discuss’ about Iran’s nuclear program, an Iranian official said. ‘In Istanbul, we will speak about something else.’”

The day after President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner by President Obama, the Chinese leader met privately with lawmakers who pressed him on China’s poor record on human rights: “Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu’s recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.”

Richard Falk, the UN’s Palestine investigator, once again came out as a supporter of the 9/11 “Truth movement” on his blog last week (he’s been making “truther” statements since 2004). UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire Falk, especially in light of Ki-moon’s condemnation of Ahmadinejad for endorsing similar theories: “The effect of Mr. Falk’s conspiracy-mongering is to deny and excuse the terrorist acts committed by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It insults the memories of those who perished on 9/11, and deeply offends their families and loved ones — as well as all decent men and women worldwide. Mr. Falk’s repulsive comments violate UNHRC Resolution 5/2, which require U.N. experts to uphold the highest standards of integrity, probity, and good faith. Indeed, they shame the United Nations.”

Rep. Steve Cohen should probably avoid making any more public statements for the next few days, because he just keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. Cohen, who compared Republicans to Nazis earlier this week, apologized that his words are being used as a “distraction” by his political opponents, in a statement he released yesterday afternoon: “It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand — health care for 32 million Americans.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, Mike Pence talked to National Review about how the former president inspired him: “Reagan is the reason I’m a Republican. … I was active in local Democratic politics when I was a teenager in Columbus, Indiana. Then I started to hear the voice of a B-movie actor, turned governor, turned candidate. He gave voice to the ideals and values that I was raised to believe in.”

On Saturday, P5+1 officials will meet with Iranian leaders to push them to ensure that their nuclear program is peaceful. But it looks like Iran is doing everything in its power not to cooperate: “Iran, however, is coming to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. ‘There is nothing to discuss’ about Iran’s nuclear program, an Iranian official said. ‘In Istanbul, we will speak about something else.’”

The day after President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner by President Obama, the Chinese leader met privately with lawmakers who pressed him on China’s poor record on human rights: “Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu’s recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.”

Richard Falk, the UN’s Palestine investigator, once again came out as a supporter of the 9/11 “Truth movement” on his blog last week (he’s been making “truther” statements since 2004). UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire Falk, especially in light of Ki-moon’s condemnation of Ahmadinejad for endorsing similar theories: “The effect of Mr. Falk’s conspiracy-mongering is to deny and excuse the terrorist acts committed by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It insults the memories of those who perished on 9/11, and deeply offends their families and loved ones — as well as all decent men and women worldwide. Mr. Falk’s repulsive comments violate UNHRC Resolution 5/2, which require U.N. experts to uphold the highest standards of integrity, probity, and good faith. Indeed, they shame the United Nations.”

Rep. Steve Cohen should probably avoid making any more public statements for the next few days, because he just keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. Cohen, who compared Republicans to Nazis earlier this week, apologized that his words are being used as a “distraction” by his political opponents, in a statement he released yesterday afternoon: “It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand — health care for 32 million Americans.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, Mike Pence talked to National Review about how the former president inspired him: “Reagan is the reason I’m a Republican. … I was active in local Democratic politics when I was a teenager in Columbus, Indiana. Then I started to hear the voice of a B-movie actor, turned governor, turned candidate. He gave voice to the ideals and values that I was raised to believe in.”

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Morning Commentary

I’m going to guess that, for President Obama, getting praised by Dick Cheney is a whole lot worse than being criticized by him. During an interview that aired on the Today show this morning, the former vice president noted that Obama has continued many of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies (“I think he’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate”). Cheney also spoke about how he was perceived by the public during his last few years in office (“I was there to do a job. And if it meant I had to break some china to get the job done, I did it”).

Does Hillary Clinton’s speech on Tunisia last Thursday indicate a return of the freedom agenda? Lee Smith wonders whether her tough talk on human rights helped bring down Ben Ali: “Over the last two years the Obama administration has rightly been excoriated for ignoring human rights issues throughout the Arabic-speaking Middle East. … But Thursday afternoon in Doha Secretary Clinton fired a shot across the bow of the Arab political order.”

Ahead of Saturday’s nuclear talks between P5+1 and Tehran, Iran’s nuclear negotiator has accused the U.S. of launching a “cyberattack” against the country’s facilities and claims to have documentation of U.S. involvement in Stuxnet (where would he have gotten that impression?): “‘Those who have done that could see now that they were not successful in that and we are following our success,’ he said. He added that Iran is not the only country vulnerable to cyberattacks, as evidenced by the WikiLeaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables. ‘They are also weak and vulnerable,’ he said of the United States.”

In an interview with Just Journalism, Dr. Avner Cohen took a swipe at Jeffrey Goldberg’s Iran article from last summer, which estimated that Israel had more than a 50 percent chance of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities by next July: “I never believed the alarmist story by Jeffrey Goldberg in July — I thought that he was speculating (or led by others to advance a highly speculative view) about issues that were not decided then, and surely much less so today.” Cohen also criticized the recent suggestion that Iran won’t be capable of building a bomb until 2015: “I think that anybody who suggests a concrete timetable is a fool. I do not take seriously any timetable.”

National Review’s Katrina Trinko explains why you should take those two new ObamaCare polls with a grain of salt: “Take the AP poll, which shows that 40 percent of adults support Obamacare and 41 percent oppose it. In November, the last time the AP polled this question, 38 percent supported Obamacare and 47 percent opposed it.  But the sample in November was very different: 38 percent Republican and 39 percent Democrat. The sample in January wasn’t so balanced, with 42 percent of the responders Democrat and 36 percent Republican.”

I’m going to guess that, for President Obama, getting praised by Dick Cheney is a whole lot worse than being criticized by him. During an interview that aired on the Today show this morning, the former vice president noted that Obama has continued many of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies (“I think he’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate”). Cheney also spoke about how he was perceived by the public during his last few years in office (“I was there to do a job. And if it meant I had to break some china to get the job done, I did it”).

Does Hillary Clinton’s speech on Tunisia last Thursday indicate a return of the freedom agenda? Lee Smith wonders whether her tough talk on human rights helped bring down Ben Ali: “Over the last two years the Obama administration has rightly been excoriated for ignoring human rights issues throughout the Arabic-speaking Middle East. … But Thursday afternoon in Doha Secretary Clinton fired a shot across the bow of the Arab political order.”

Ahead of Saturday’s nuclear talks between P5+1 and Tehran, Iran’s nuclear negotiator has accused the U.S. of launching a “cyberattack” against the country’s facilities and claims to have documentation of U.S. involvement in Stuxnet (where would he have gotten that impression?): “‘Those who have done that could see now that they were not successful in that and we are following our success,’ he said. He added that Iran is not the only country vulnerable to cyberattacks, as evidenced by the WikiLeaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables. ‘They are also weak and vulnerable,’ he said of the United States.”

In an interview with Just Journalism, Dr. Avner Cohen took a swipe at Jeffrey Goldberg’s Iran article from last summer, which estimated that Israel had more than a 50 percent chance of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities by next July: “I never believed the alarmist story by Jeffrey Goldberg in July — I thought that he was speculating (or led by others to advance a highly speculative view) about issues that were not decided then, and surely much less so today.” Cohen also criticized the recent suggestion that Iran won’t be capable of building a bomb until 2015: “I think that anybody who suggests a concrete timetable is a fool. I do not take seriously any timetable.”

National Review’s Katrina Trinko explains why you should take those two new ObamaCare polls with a grain of salt: “Take the AP poll, which shows that 40 percent of adults support Obamacare and 41 percent oppose it. In November, the last time the AP polled this question, 38 percent supported Obamacare and 47 percent opposed it.  But the sample in November was very different: 38 percent Republican and 39 percent Democrat. The sample in January wasn’t so balanced, with 42 percent of the responders Democrat and 36 percent Republican.”

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Morning Commentary

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

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RE: Curb Your Enthusiasm

I agree with Jonathan Tobin: the predicted delay in Iran’s achievement of a working nuclear weapon is the mildest of good news. For one thing, the year 2015 has figured in the CIA’s outside projection for over a decade. U.S. intelligence estimates have hewed to a time frame of 2009-2015 since 1999. Even the infamous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate used that as the projected period in which Iran was most likely to succeed in weaponizing a nuke.

This means that reference to the year 2015 has been a factor in every step taken by the U.S., the P5+1, and the UN over the past decade. We have made our policy on the basis of that year. It’s not a new planning factor or a signal that our basis for policy should change. We have always assumed it could take Iran until 2015 to have a working nuke. And even when it became clear that a working nuke wouldn’t emerge in 2009, the year 2015 nevertheless justified urgent concern. We will only get closer to it from here.

It also bears reiterating that Stuxnet is irrelevant to Iran’s progress toward weaponization. The assassination of nuclear scientists is on point when it comes to weaponization; the operation of Stuxnet is not. The virus can delay the accumulation of an arsenal, but its design and purpose are not geared to the weaponization process.

It’s not clear to me why Meir Dagan’s summary was made available to the media. Outgoing leaders usually celebrate the successes of their organizations as they take their leave, but the risk is high that these particular successes, as framed in the Dagan report, will be misinterpreted. Complacency about the time available to us is dangerously misguided: to date, delaying our decision deadline for effective action has only allowed Iran to achieve greater success and self-sufficiency in its nuclear pursuits.

I agree with Jonathan Tobin: the predicted delay in Iran’s achievement of a working nuclear weapon is the mildest of good news. For one thing, the year 2015 has figured in the CIA’s outside projection for over a decade. U.S. intelligence estimates have hewed to a time frame of 2009-2015 since 1999. Even the infamous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate used that as the projected period in which Iran was most likely to succeed in weaponizing a nuke.

This means that reference to the year 2015 has been a factor in every step taken by the U.S., the P5+1, and the UN over the past decade. We have made our policy on the basis of that year. It’s not a new planning factor or a signal that our basis for policy should change. We have always assumed it could take Iran until 2015 to have a working nuke. And even when it became clear that a working nuke wouldn’t emerge in 2009, the year 2015 nevertheless justified urgent concern. We will only get closer to it from here.

It also bears reiterating that Stuxnet is irrelevant to Iran’s progress toward weaponization. The assassination of nuclear scientists is on point when it comes to weaponization; the operation of Stuxnet is not. The virus can delay the accumulation of an arsenal, but its design and purpose are not geared to the weaponization process.

It’s not clear to me why Meir Dagan’s summary was made available to the media. Outgoing leaders usually celebrate the successes of their organizations as they take their leave, but the risk is high that these particular successes, as framed in the Dagan report, will be misinterpreted. Complacency about the time available to us is dangerously misguided: to date, delaying our decision deadline for effective action has only allowed Iran to achieve greater success and self-sufficiency in its nuclear pursuits.

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Morning Commentary

Assange arrested in London, but extradition to Sweden “could take months,” reports the BBC. Despite the development, a WikiLeaks spokesman says the site will continue to release cables.

During nuclear talks this week, Iran showed a willingness to further discuss its program with P5+1 officials, reports the Los Angeles Times: “Though Iran’s position was a sign of progress, it was about the minimum the six powers could accept after a 14-month stalemate. Pressed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council tightened economic sanctions against Iran in June. The U.S. and European Union added their own tougher sanctions the following month. The U.S. and its allies have threatened further action if Iran does not commit to serious negotiations.”

Nineteen governments have joined a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that will give the award to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, indicating increased pressure from Beijing. Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion.” China’s foreign minister claimed that Nobel officials “are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. …We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

In the December issue of COMMENTARY (behind our pay wall), Ron Radosh dissected Walter Schneir’s attempt to backtrack from his bid to exonerate Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He now does the same (with co-author Steven Usdin) for another Rosenberg apologist: “Now, so many years later, when the intellectual community largely acknowledges the Rosenbergs’ guilt—a 2008 public confession by former Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs, made continued denial impossible—[Victor] Navasky has written what is possibly the last-ditch attempt to redeem the Rosenbergs.”

The New York Times claims that a letter from lawmakers indicates “bipartisan” support for Obama’s nuclear strategy. Reality seems to disagree.

Looks like President Obama’s counter-attack against the U.S. Chamber of Conference is paying dividends. Dozens of local chapters of the Chamber have distanced themselves from or quit their associations with the national body due to its support of Republican candidates during the 2010 midterms. “Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office,” reports Politico.

Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, but has this move alienated his liberal base? New York Times analyst Peter Baker writes: “For President Obama, this is what bipartisanship looks like in the new era: messy, combustible and painful, brought on under the threat of even more unpalatable consequences and yet still deferring the ultimate resolution for another day.”

Assange arrested in London, but extradition to Sweden “could take months,” reports the BBC. Despite the development, a WikiLeaks spokesman says the site will continue to release cables.

During nuclear talks this week, Iran showed a willingness to further discuss its program with P5+1 officials, reports the Los Angeles Times: “Though Iran’s position was a sign of progress, it was about the minimum the six powers could accept after a 14-month stalemate. Pressed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council tightened economic sanctions against Iran in June. The U.S. and European Union added their own tougher sanctions the following month. The U.S. and its allies have threatened further action if Iran does not commit to serious negotiations.”

Nineteen governments have joined a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that will give the award to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, indicating increased pressure from Beijing. Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion.” China’s foreign minister claimed that Nobel officials “are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. …We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

In the December issue of COMMENTARY (behind our pay wall), Ron Radosh dissected Walter Schneir’s attempt to backtrack from his bid to exonerate Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He now does the same (with co-author Steven Usdin) for another Rosenberg apologist: “Now, so many years later, when the intellectual community largely acknowledges the Rosenbergs’ guilt—a 2008 public confession by former Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs, made continued denial impossible—[Victor] Navasky has written what is possibly the last-ditch attempt to redeem the Rosenbergs.”

The New York Times claims that a letter from lawmakers indicates “bipartisan” support for Obama’s nuclear strategy. Reality seems to disagree.

Looks like President Obama’s counter-attack against the U.S. Chamber of Conference is paying dividends. Dozens of local chapters of the Chamber have distanced themselves from or quit their associations with the national body due to its support of Republican candidates during the 2010 midterms. “Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office,” reports Politico.

Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, but has this move alienated his liberal base? New York Times analyst Peter Baker writes: “For President Obama, this is what bipartisanship looks like in the new era: messy, combustible and painful, brought on under the threat of even more unpalatable consequences and yet still deferring the ultimate resolution for another day.”

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Morning Commentary

Chas Freeman’s New York Times column “Why Iran Loves WikiLeaks” is as scary as it sounds.

Obama finally speaks with China about North Korea, nearly two weeks after the North’s attack on South Korea. Some experts see this as a sign of strained relations between the U.S. and China.

New WikiLeaks dump reveals list of international facilities vital to U.S. security. There are concerns that these locations may become targets of terrorist attacks.

The New York Times’s public editor on why he’s glad the paper published WikiLeaks: “The Times, like other serious news organizations in democracies, exists to ferret out and publish information — most especially information that government, business and other power centers prefer to conceal. Arming readers with knowledge is what it’s about, and journalists are motivated to pursue that end.”

The Iranian foreign minister snubs Hilary Clinton in Bahrain as the heat turns up on Iran’s nuclear program. Talks between Tehran and P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear ambitions begin today.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about John Boehner can be found in an extensive New Yorker profile out today. The congressman takes over as speaker of the House on January 5.

Afghani confidence with the U.S. is faltering, according to a new poll: “[T]he results … lay bare the challenge that remains in encouraging more Afghans to repudiate the insurgency and cast their lot with the government.”

Chas Freeman’s New York Times column “Why Iran Loves WikiLeaks” is as scary as it sounds.

Obama finally speaks with China about North Korea, nearly two weeks after the North’s attack on South Korea. Some experts see this as a sign of strained relations between the U.S. and China.

New WikiLeaks dump reveals list of international facilities vital to U.S. security. There are concerns that these locations may become targets of terrorist attacks.

The New York Times’s public editor on why he’s glad the paper published WikiLeaks: “The Times, like other serious news organizations in democracies, exists to ferret out and publish information — most especially information that government, business and other power centers prefer to conceal. Arming readers with knowledge is what it’s about, and journalists are motivated to pursue that end.”

The Iranian foreign minister snubs Hilary Clinton in Bahrain as the heat turns up on Iran’s nuclear program. Talks between Tehran and P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear ambitions begin today.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about John Boehner can be found in an extensive New Yorker profile out today. The congressman takes over as speaker of the House on January 5.

Afghani confidence with the U.S. is faltering, according to a new poll: “[T]he results … lay bare the challenge that remains in encouraging more Afghans to repudiate the insurgency and cast their lot with the government.”

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The Latest Excuse to Do Nothing About Iran’s Nuclear Plans

You could spot this one coming:

The Obama administration is pushing to revive a failed deal for Iran to send some of its nuclear stockpile overseas in exchange for assistance with peaceful uses of nuclear technology, according to senior U.S. officials. The aim is to try to reduce Tehran’s ability to quickly produce an atomic weapon.

Washington and other Western capitals are hoping Tehran will return to the negotiating table because they believe a fresh round of international economic sanctions against Iran—put in place after the previous fuel-swap deal fell apart last year—has begun to bite hard.

This, of course, is an act of pure desperation by the Obama administration, which assured us that Iran would have to demonstrate some seriousness about giving up its nuclear ambitions before it would resume talks. But the administration now faces a choice: military action (by the U.S. or Israel) or acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran. So they look for a smoke screen — another round of gamesmanship and stalling by the mullahs, who all the while work steadily toward their dream of becoming a nuclear power. And recall that in the original deal, the proposed idea of shipping an undetermined fraction of Iranian enriched uranium elsewhere was hardly a guarantee that Iran would not proceed with its nuclear plans. Even the current scheme recognizes that the problem has gotten worse with the passage of time:

Iran has grown its supply of low-enriched uranium over the past year to roughly 2,800 kilograms from around 1,800 kilograms as of September, according to the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog body, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran has also begun producing low-enriched uranium at levels closer to weapons-grade.

U.S. officials said the current talks are focused on securing a much larger amount of Iran’s nuclear-fuel stockpile. The U.S. also is seeking to build on the fuel-swap arrangement that Iran reached with Turkey and Brazil in May. That called for Iran to ship out 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for conversion into fuel rods for the Tehran reactor, but didn’t address U.S. fears about Iran enriching uranium further. “Any revised approach would have to address the deficiencies that the U.S. and other P5+1 countries have pointed out in the proposal made by Iran, Turkey, and Brazil in May,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy.

Are you comforted that we’ll get a verifiable, enforceable mechanism that will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons? Me neither. But it is potentially an effective blocking technique — blocking not the mullahs but the Israelis from taking military action to defang the Iranian regime. We will see if the new Congress and pro-Israel groups go along with this latest gambit in a never-ending series of maneuvers, the sole purpose of which is to avoid a confrontation with Iran. That this approach may also guarantee continued progress by the Iranians is seemingly of lesser importance to the Obama team.

You could spot this one coming:

The Obama administration is pushing to revive a failed deal for Iran to send some of its nuclear stockpile overseas in exchange for assistance with peaceful uses of nuclear technology, according to senior U.S. officials. The aim is to try to reduce Tehran’s ability to quickly produce an atomic weapon.

Washington and other Western capitals are hoping Tehran will return to the negotiating table because they believe a fresh round of international economic sanctions against Iran—put in place after the previous fuel-swap deal fell apart last year—has begun to bite hard.

This, of course, is an act of pure desperation by the Obama administration, which assured us that Iran would have to demonstrate some seriousness about giving up its nuclear ambitions before it would resume talks. But the administration now faces a choice: military action (by the U.S. or Israel) or acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran. So they look for a smoke screen — another round of gamesmanship and stalling by the mullahs, who all the while work steadily toward their dream of becoming a nuclear power. And recall that in the original deal, the proposed idea of shipping an undetermined fraction of Iranian enriched uranium elsewhere was hardly a guarantee that Iran would not proceed with its nuclear plans. Even the current scheme recognizes that the problem has gotten worse with the passage of time:

Iran has grown its supply of low-enriched uranium over the past year to roughly 2,800 kilograms from around 1,800 kilograms as of September, according to the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog body, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran has also begun producing low-enriched uranium at levels closer to weapons-grade.

U.S. officials said the current talks are focused on securing a much larger amount of Iran’s nuclear-fuel stockpile. The U.S. also is seeking to build on the fuel-swap arrangement that Iran reached with Turkey and Brazil in May. That called for Iran to ship out 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for conversion into fuel rods for the Tehran reactor, but didn’t address U.S. fears about Iran enriching uranium further. “Any revised approach would have to address the deficiencies that the U.S. and other P5+1 countries have pointed out in the proposal made by Iran, Turkey, and Brazil in May,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy.

Are you comforted that we’ll get a verifiable, enforceable mechanism that will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons? Me neither. But it is potentially an effective blocking technique — blocking not the mullahs but the Israelis from taking military action to defang the Iranian regime. We will see if the new Congress and pro-Israel groups go along with this latest gambit in a never-ending series of maneuvers, the sole purpose of which is to avoid a confrontation with Iran. That this approach may also guarantee continued progress by the Iranians is seemingly of lesser importance to the Obama team.

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Middle East Realists vs. Middle East Fabulists

There is a clear division not only between politicians but also Middle East hands on the UN sanctions. The Washington Post sets the table. On one side is the reality-based community (not to be confused with “realists,” who aren’t at all):

“It is ironic that Bush had a far better record at the U.N. than Obama, as there was a unanimous UNSC vote under Bush, and Obama has lost it,” said Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under Bush. He said the reason is not that the Iranians’ behavior has improved, because “the clock keeps ticking, and Iran gets closer and closer to a bomb.” The reason, Abrams said, “is simply that American weakness has created a vacuum, and other states are trying to step into it.”

[John] Bolton argues that the administration’s willingness to operate within the U.N. system left it at a negotiating disadvantage. “Everyone believes the Obama administration is joined at the hip to the council, which is a position of negotiating weakness,” he said. “Weakness produces today’s result.”

(In the category of “elections have consequences,” imagine if a Republican were in the White House taking advice from these two.)

And then there is the fabulist Martin Indyk:

But Martin Indyk, vice president for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said that the no votes were “a product of the shifting templates in international affairs that is in part a result of Bush’s policies that squandered American influence when it was at its height, allowing for regional powers to emerge with greater ambitions and independence.”

Indyk said that the fact that Russia and China — two of the five permanent Security Council members with veto power — have yet again joined in new sanctions “should serve to underscore the Obama administration’s considerable achievement in maintaining P5 consensus in a new era in which the United States can no longer dictate outcomes.”

I don’t know what the heck he is talking about. Obama is in office two years and has produced an incoherent and ineffective Iran policy, but the no votes from two nations (whose drift into Iran’s orbit has been accelerated by this administration) are George W. Bush’s fault. Even for Indyk this is lame. But you have to hand it to him: he simultaneously touts the loophole-ridden sanctions as a great achievement and then concedes that America is in retreat (“the United States can no longer dictate outcomes”). For those who root for Hillary Clinton’s departure, or George Mitchell’s, it is useful to remember that those who would fill the spots are going to sound like Indyk and not Abrams or Bolton.

Made obvious by Indyk’s gobbledygook, there really is no credible defense for Obama’s diplomatic malpractice. Kori Schake, writing in Foreign Policy, sums up:

he Obama administration is doing its best to put a good face on a major disappointment: After sixteen months’ effort, they have succeeded in delivering less international support than did the Bush administration for a problem everyone agrees is growing rapidly worse. … Sanctions aren’t a strategy, they’re a tool for achieving the strategic objective of preventing Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state. We’re over-reliant on sanctions to deliver that weighty objective and need to be thinking much more creatively about how to impose costs on the Iranian government — internationally and domestically — for their choices.

In the absence of anyone in the administration willing to press this point with Obama, we are headed for a nightmarish choice. We will either have a war or see a nuclear-armed Iran. Either way it will be the greatest foreign-policy disaster since, well, maybe ever. The tragedy is that we had the chance to follow a different strategy and avoid the Hobson’s choice.

There is a clear division not only between politicians but also Middle East hands on the UN sanctions. The Washington Post sets the table. On one side is the reality-based community (not to be confused with “realists,” who aren’t at all):

“It is ironic that Bush had a far better record at the U.N. than Obama, as there was a unanimous UNSC vote under Bush, and Obama has lost it,” said Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under Bush. He said the reason is not that the Iranians’ behavior has improved, because “the clock keeps ticking, and Iran gets closer and closer to a bomb.” The reason, Abrams said, “is simply that American weakness has created a vacuum, and other states are trying to step into it.”

[John] Bolton argues that the administration’s willingness to operate within the U.N. system left it at a negotiating disadvantage. “Everyone believes the Obama administration is joined at the hip to the council, which is a position of negotiating weakness,” he said. “Weakness produces today’s result.”

(In the category of “elections have consequences,” imagine if a Republican were in the White House taking advice from these two.)

And then there is the fabulist Martin Indyk:

But Martin Indyk, vice president for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said that the no votes were “a product of the shifting templates in international affairs that is in part a result of Bush’s policies that squandered American influence when it was at its height, allowing for regional powers to emerge with greater ambitions and independence.”

Indyk said that the fact that Russia and China — two of the five permanent Security Council members with veto power — have yet again joined in new sanctions “should serve to underscore the Obama administration’s considerable achievement in maintaining P5 consensus in a new era in which the United States can no longer dictate outcomes.”

I don’t know what the heck he is talking about. Obama is in office two years and has produced an incoherent and ineffective Iran policy, but the no votes from two nations (whose drift into Iran’s orbit has been accelerated by this administration) are George W. Bush’s fault. Even for Indyk this is lame. But you have to hand it to him: he simultaneously touts the loophole-ridden sanctions as a great achievement and then concedes that America is in retreat (“the United States can no longer dictate outcomes”). For those who root for Hillary Clinton’s departure, or George Mitchell’s, it is useful to remember that those who would fill the spots are going to sound like Indyk and not Abrams or Bolton.

Made obvious by Indyk’s gobbledygook, there really is no credible defense for Obama’s diplomatic malpractice. Kori Schake, writing in Foreign Policy, sums up:

he Obama administration is doing its best to put a good face on a major disappointment: After sixteen months’ effort, they have succeeded in delivering less international support than did the Bush administration for a problem everyone agrees is growing rapidly worse. … Sanctions aren’t a strategy, they’re a tool for achieving the strategic objective of preventing Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state. We’re over-reliant on sanctions to deliver that weighty objective and need to be thinking much more creatively about how to impose costs on the Iranian government — internationally and domestically — for their choices.

In the absence of anyone in the administration willing to press this point with Obama, we are headed for a nightmarish choice. We will either have a war or see a nuclear-armed Iran. Either way it will be the greatest foreign-policy disaster since, well, maybe ever. The tragedy is that we had the chance to follow a different strategy and avoid the Hobson’s choice.

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White House Seriously Considering Ludicrous Iran Agreement

We knew this was coming. The White House has issued a statement — the perfect mix of gobbledygook and bureaucratic-speak. You have to read it in full to fully appreciate Obama’s desperation for a deal — any deal — that would avoid a confrontation with Iran:

We acknowledge the efforts that have been made by Turkey and Brazil. The proposal announced in Tehran must now be conveyed clearly and authoritatively to the IAEA before it can be considered by the international community. Given Iran’s repeated failure to live up to its own commitments, and the need to address fundamental issues related to Iran’s nuclear program, the United States and international community continue to have serious concerns. While it would be a positive step for Iran to transfer low-enriched uranium off of its soil as it agreed to do last October, Iran said today that it would continue its 20% enrichment, which is a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions and which the Iranian government originally justified by pointing to the need for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Furthermore, the Joint Declaration issued in Tehran is vague about Iran’s willingness to meet with the P5+1 countries to address international concerns about its nuclear program, as it also agreed to do last October.

The United States will continue to work with our international partners, and through the United Nations Security Council, to make it clear to the Iranian government that it must demonstrate through deeds — and not simply words — its willingness to live up to international obligations or face consequences, including sanctions. Iran must take the steps necessary to assure the international community that its nuclear program is intended exclusively for peaceful purposes, including by complying with UN Security Council resolutions and cooperating fully with the IAEA. We remain committed to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program, as part of the P5+1 dual track approach, and will be consulting closely with our partners on these developments going forward.

So the deal simply raises “concerns” — and Obama is not giving up on engagement (“a diplomatic solution”). The next phase (it’s really the same phase we’ve been in for the last 16 months — engage and stall) will consist of diplomatic forays to test how “sincere” the mullahs are and whether we can verify the “progress.” Obama, you see, has thrown in the towel on every effective measure (i.e., military action, crippling sanctions, and regime change) that could prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons. Now it’s all about devising a strategy whereby Obama can claim diplomatic “success.”

But here’s the hitch: Israel isn’t going to buy this nonsense. So we return to what is becoming the only meaningful question: will Obama support Israeli military action?  American Jewish “leaders” should press Obama to answer that question now. After all, the survival of the Jewish state hangs in the balance and their muteness, like that of American Jewish leaders of the 1930s, will be remembered quite unkindly by history.

We knew this was coming. The White House has issued a statement — the perfect mix of gobbledygook and bureaucratic-speak. You have to read it in full to fully appreciate Obama’s desperation for a deal — any deal — that would avoid a confrontation with Iran:

We acknowledge the efforts that have been made by Turkey and Brazil. The proposal announced in Tehran must now be conveyed clearly and authoritatively to the IAEA before it can be considered by the international community. Given Iran’s repeated failure to live up to its own commitments, and the need to address fundamental issues related to Iran’s nuclear program, the United States and international community continue to have serious concerns. While it would be a positive step for Iran to transfer low-enriched uranium off of its soil as it agreed to do last October, Iran said today that it would continue its 20% enrichment, which is a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions and which the Iranian government originally justified by pointing to the need for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Furthermore, the Joint Declaration issued in Tehran is vague about Iran’s willingness to meet with the P5+1 countries to address international concerns about its nuclear program, as it also agreed to do last October.

The United States will continue to work with our international partners, and through the United Nations Security Council, to make it clear to the Iranian government that it must demonstrate through deeds — and not simply words — its willingness to live up to international obligations or face consequences, including sanctions. Iran must take the steps necessary to assure the international community that its nuclear program is intended exclusively for peaceful purposes, including by complying with UN Security Council resolutions and cooperating fully with the IAEA. We remain committed to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program, as part of the P5+1 dual track approach, and will be consulting closely with our partners on these developments going forward.

So the deal simply raises “concerns” — and Obama is not giving up on engagement (“a diplomatic solution”). The next phase (it’s really the same phase we’ve been in for the last 16 months — engage and stall) will consist of diplomatic forays to test how “sincere” the mullahs are and whether we can verify the “progress.” Obama, you see, has thrown in the towel on every effective measure (i.e., military action, crippling sanctions, and regime change) that could prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons. Now it’s all about devising a strategy whereby Obama can claim diplomatic “success.”

But here’s the hitch: Israel isn’t going to buy this nonsense. So we return to what is becoming the only meaningful question: will Obama support Israeli military action?  American Jewish “leaders” should press Obama to answer that question now. After all, the survival of the Jewish state hangs in the balance and their muteness, like that of American Jewish leaders of the 1930s, will be remembered quite unkindly by history.

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Iran’s Game of Negotiations

One unanswered question about the nuclear-swap deal: who provides the 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods to Iran? Because that is what swapping means — Iran gives Turkey 1,200 kilograms; the 1,200 kilograms sit in Turkey under IAEA, Iranian, and Turkish supervision for a month and then either they are swapped or they return home. Under the original agreement, there was no swapping — Iran would transfer 1,200 kilograms, Russia and France would reprocess them, and the resulting product (20 percent enriched fuel rods) would then return to Iran.

By negotiating a swap with Turkey, Iran adds a step to the process — 1,200 kilograms go to Turkey. They are swapped with 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods; the 1,200 kilograms go to Russia and France to be reprocessed and then they return to Iran.

You can see this as a bazaar trick to get a discount — for the same price, now Iran gets 240 kilograms of fuel rods instead of 120. Or you can see it as an exchange of hostages — you take our fuel, we take yours.

Still, the question remains unanswered — who supplies 120 kilograms to Iran within a month of delivery?

Turkey? Brazil? The original Vienna group of France, Russia, and the United States?

And while we are at it: who ensures the safety of the nuclear material once it reaches Turkish territory? Turkey is not known to have the facilities to do so.

So let me make a guess. The deal goes nowhere. It falls through. But for a good six to eight weeks, the Iranians are the good guys, the ball is in the West’s court, the sanctions’ effort in New York loses steam, Turkey and Brazil vote against any sanctions’ resolution, and Moscow urges France and the United States to consider the swap deal as a good bridging proposal to “build upon.”

That’s the beauty of the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil. It puts the West into a corner for two reasons: first, because it allows Iran to break its isolation — with Turkey and Brazil now having negotiated a deal independently of the U.S., the Security Council, the IAEA, or the P5+1, it’s the U.S. and the EU that look isolated.

And second, because now President Obama, President Sarkozy, and President Medvedev (or Prime Minister Putin, who knows?) — the original promoters of the transfer deal from last October — will have to say whether they are prepared to go the extra mile and do what Iran demands in exchange for transferring its uranium to Turkey — something they were not prepared to do back in October. My guess is that Russia will go one way, France and the U.S. the opposite way. So here’s the master stroke: in one fell swoop, Iran managed to create a rift inside the UN Security Council and the Vienna Group at the same time.

Give Iran credit then, as Jennifer and Jonathan note — it has just gained another few months.

One unanswered question about the nuclear-swap deal: who provides the 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods to Iran? Because that is what swapping means — Iran gives Turkey 1,200 kilograms; the 1,200 kilograms sit in Turkey under IAEA, Iranian, and Turkish supervision for a month and then either they are swapped or they return home. Under the original agreement, there was no swapping — Iran would transfer 1,200 kilograms, Russia and France would reprocess them, and the resulting product (20 percent enriched fuel rods) would then return to Iran.

By negotiating a swap with Turkey, Iran adds a step to the process — 1,200 kilograms go to Turkey. They are swapped with 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods; the 1,200 kilograms go to Russia and France to be reprocessed and then they return to Iran.

You can see this as a bazaar trick to get a discount — for the same price, now Iran gets 240 kilograms of fuel rods instead of 120. Or you can see it as an exchange of hostages — you take our fuel, we take yours.

Still, the question remains unanswered — who supplies 120 kilograms to Iran within a month of delivery?

Turkey? Brazil? The original Vienna group of France, Russia, and the United States?

And while we are at it: who ensures the safety of the nuclear material once it reaches Turkish territory? Turkey is not known to have the facilities to do so.

So let me make a guess. The deal goes nowhere. It falls through. But for a good six to eight weeks, the Iranians are the good guys, the ball is in the West’s court, the sanctions’ effort in New York loses steam, Turkey and Brazil vote against any sanctions’ resolution, and Moscow urges France and the United States to consider the swap deal as a good bridging proposal to “build upon.”

That’s the beauty of the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil. It puts the West into a corner for two reasons: first, because it allows Iran to break its isolation — with Turkey and Brazil now having negotiated a deal independently of the U.S., the Security Council, the IAEA, or the P5+1, it’s the U.S. and the EU that look isolated.

And second, because now President Obama, President Sarkozy, and President Medvedev (or Prime Minister Putin, who knows?) — the original promoters of the transfer deal from last October — will have to say whether they are prepared to go the extra mile and do what Iran demands in exchange for transferring its uranium to Turkey — something they were not prepared to do back in October. My guess is that Russia will go one way, France and the U.S. the opposite way. So here’s the master stroke: in one fell swoop, Iran managed to create a rift inside the UN Security Council and the Vienna Group at the same time.

Give Iran credit then, as Jennifer and Jonathan note — it has just gained another few months.

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Iran Draws Closer to Nuclear Capability as World Watches

Last Friday, the New York Times ran an interesting piece by David Sanger about a puzzling element that emerged in the latest IAEA report on Iran — namely Iran’s decision to bring most of its LEU stockpile to the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment to 19.75 percent levels. The move was puzzling for the simple reason that Iran did not need to feed its entire stockpile for further enrichment in order to address its shortage of 19.75 percent uranium needed at the Tehran Research Reactor for medical isotopes. But the transfer of so much uranium to the surface gave rise to wild theories: why would Iran put its entire stockpile at risk? Would Israel not be tempted to attack and destroy the likely source of Iran’s future nuclear weapons, thus delaying Iran’s nuclear quest? And why would the regime expose itself to such a risk? Perhaps it was a clever ploy by the Revolutionary Guards, who may have wished to get the country attacked so as to rally the restive population around a regime with a dwindling popular support?

Iran has put the matter to rest by removing much of the stockpile from the surface site and sending it back to underground storage, but the episode has urged some fresh thinking about Iran’s capabilities as well as its intentions. In a freshly released report by ISIS, David Albright and Christina Walrond discuss the puzzling transfer decision in relation to the overall centrifuge performance at the Natanz site, where IAEA reports have indicated a steady decrease of active centrifuges alongside an increase in monthly output of LEU from the dwindling number of functioning centrifuges. Nobody knows why Iran has fewer and fewer centrifuges working — are they malfunctioning, is it maintenance? — and Iran is not about to tell. But the move of its LEU (3.5 percent) to produce higher enrichment grade uranium (19.75) while few centrifuges work at all may have troubling implications for its military program. In particular, Albright and Walrond note that,

Iran’s recent decision to start producing 19.75 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) in the pilot plant from 3.5 percent LEU, ostensibly for civil purposes, is particularly troubling.  If Iran succeeds in producing a large stock of 19.75 percent LEU, in a worst-case scenario, the FEP is large enough to turn this LEU into sufficient weapon-grade uranium for a weapon within a month.  Its production could even occur between visits by IAEA inspectors, a time period that Iran could easily lengthen by positing some emergency or accident that requires a delay in permitting the inspectors inside the plant.

The important caveat for this scenario to play out, from a technical point of view, is that Iran has enough 19.75 percent uranium stockpiled to go to higher enrichment levels. This is not the case yet, at least not as far as declared stockpiles are concerned. But that could change.

Albright and Walrond note other possibilities. First of all, weapon-grade uranium could be produced in parallel, clandestine sites — the Fordow site exposed in September might have been designed precisely for that purpose. Though it was discovered, there is no guarantee that Iran has no other such facility around the country. According to Albright and Walrond, “the discovery of Fordow eliminates its usefulness in producing weapon-grade uranium in a parallel secret program starting with uranium hexafluoride made outside of safeguards. Its potential role in a breakout strategy using 3.5 percent LEU is also diminished, since Iran is likely to want a secret site if it pursues nuclear weapons.” But their assessment is that a facility like Fordow could serve that purpose — and if Fordow had twins buried elsewhere around the country, then Iran could be close to breakout capacity in more than one way. As Albright and Walrond add,

A major unknown is how much dedicated enrichment capacity Iran has established in secret outside Natanz and Fordow.  Available, albeit limited, evidence about clandestine activities, the discovery of the incomplete Fordow site, and the struggles Iran is encountering with cascades at Natanz would suggest that Iran has not completed a centrifuge facility operating with a nuclear-weapons significant number of P1 centrifuges.  However, it may well be building one now.

This possibility might explain the lull in the centrifuge-spinning frenzy at Natanz that characterized the early phases of the site, when every few months Iran would announce many more cascades being installed, in defiance of UN resolutions.

It now looks ominous to see all the installed centrifuges sitting idle — some are new, and never once were fed uranium hexafluoride; a significant number have been disconnected from their module; and a number of new cascades were either removed from their module or are in the process of being removed. Where will they be transferred?

But fear not. The UN is about to spring into action — and thanks to China’s constructive role, the Security Council seems set to produce at best another spineless resolution adding a name or two to the already short list of sanctioned Iranian entities and individuals, and at best a presidential statement that will do little to stop Iran’s march to the ultimate weapon.

Congratulations to the Iranians then: their diplomacy, alongside their subterfuge and acts of nuclear brinkmanship playing with the IAEA and its safeguards, may be gaining them a few more weeks, if not months, in a year that, by everyone’s judgment, may be the critical one for their nuclear ambitions.

Last Friday, the New York Times ran an interesting piece by David Sanger about a puzzling element that emerged in the latest IAEA report on Iran — namely Iran’s decision to bring most of its LEU stockpile to the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment to 19.75 percent levels. The move was puzzling for the simple reason that Iran did not need to feed its entire stockpile for further enrichment in order to address its shortage of 19.75 percent uranium needed at the Tehran Research Reactor for medical isotopes. But the transfer of so much uranium to the surface gave rise to wild theories: why would Iran put its entire stockpile at risk? Would Israel not be tempted to attack and destroy the likely source of Iran’s future nuclear weapons, thus delaying Iran’s nuclear quest? And why would the regime expose itself to such a risk? Perhaps it was a clever ploy by the Revolutionary Guards, who may have wished to get the country attacked so as to rally the restive population around a regime with a dwindling popular support?

Iran has put the matter to rest by removing much of the stockpile from the surface site and sending it back to underground storage, but the episode has urged some fresh thinking about Iran’s capabilities as well as its intentions. In a freshly released report by ISIS, David Albright and Christina Walrond discuss the puzzling transfer decision in relation to the overall centrifuge performance at the Natanz site, where IAEA reports have indicated a steady decrease of active centrifuges alongside an increase in monthly output of LEU from the dwindling number of functioning centrifuges. Nobody knows why Iran has fewer and fewer centrifuges working — are they malfunctioning, is it maintenance? — and Iran is not about to tell. But the move of its LEU (3.5 percent) to produce higher enrichment grade uranium (19.75) while few centrifuges work at all may have troubling implications for its military program. In particular, Albright and Walrond note that,

Iran’s recent decision to start producing 19.75 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) in the pilot plant from 3.5 percent LEU, ostensibly for civil purposes, is particularly troubling.  If Iran succeeds in producing a large stock of 19.75 percent LEU, in a worst-case scenario, the FEP is large enough to turn this LEU into sufficient weapon-grade uranium for a weapon within a month.  Its production could even occur between visits by IAEA inspectors, a time period that Iran could easily lengthen by positing some emergency or accident that requires a delay in permitting the inspectors inside the plant.

The important caveat for this scenario to play out, from a technical point of view, is that Iran has enough 19.75 percent uranium stockpiled to go to higher enrichment levels. This is not the case yet, at least not as far as declared stockpiles are concerned. But that could change.

Albright and Walrond note other possibilities. First of all, weapon-grade uranium could be produced in parallel, clandestine sites — the Fordow site exposed in September might have been designed precisely for that purpose. Though it was discovered, there is no guarantee that Iran has no other such facility around the country. According to Albright and Walrond, “the discovery of Fordow eliminates its usefulness in producing weapon-grade uranium in a parallel secret program starting with uranium hexafluoride made outside of safeguards. Its potential role in a breakout strategy using 3.5 percent LEU is also diminished, since Iran is likely to want a secret site if it pursues nuclear weapons.” But their assessment is that a facility like Fordow could serve that purpose — and if Fordow had twins buried elsewhere around the country, then Iran could be close to breakout capacity in more than one way. As Albright and Walrond add,

A major unknown is how much dedicated enrichment capacity Iran has established in secret outside Natanz and Fordow.  Available, albeit limited, evidence about clandestine activities, the discovery of the incomplete Fordow site, and the struggles Iran is encountering with cascades at Natanz would suggest that Iran has not completed a centrifuge facility operating with a nuclear-weapons significant number of P1 centrifuges.  However, it may well be building one now.

This possibility might explain the lull in the centrifuge-spinning frenzy at Natanz that characterized the early phases of the site, when every few months Iran would announce many more cascades being installed, in defiance of UN resolutions.

It now looks ominous to see all the installed centrifuges sitting idle — some are new, and never once were fed uranium hexafluoride; a significant number have been disconnected from their module; and a number of new cascades were either removed from their module or are in the process of being removed. Where will they be transferred?

But fear not. The UN is about to spring into action — and thanks to China’s constructive role, the Security Council seems set to produce at best another spineless resolution adding a name or two to the already short list of sanctioned Iranian entities and individuals, and at best a presidential statement that will do little to stop Iran’s march to the ultimate weapon.

Congratulations to the Iranians then: their diplomacy, alongside their subterfuge and acts of nuclear brinkmanship playing with the IAEA and its safeguards, may be gaining them a few more weeks, if not months, in a year that, by everyone’s judgment, may be the critical one for their nuclear ambitions.

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Stick a Fork in It

The Jan. 16 meeting of the P5+1 ended ingloriously. The U.S. representative said the P5+1, which will confer again by phone this month, remains committed to the “dual track” approach, in which the possibility of sanctions on Iran is part of the “pressure track.” Western media uniformly characterize the meeting’s outcome as indecisive; but although Russia’s envoy made no definitive pronouncements, the headline at state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti was categorical: “Iran Six decides [sic] against new sanctions on Tehran.”

China, meanwhile, created impressive diplomatic theater by shifting veteran P5+1 negotiator He Yafei to a new post just before the Jan. 16 meeting, sending a low-ranking functionary in his stead and failing to provide contact information for Mr. He’s replacement. According to the UK Times, the P5+1 negotiators don’t know whom to contact in Beijing to schedule the phone conversation proposed for later this month.  The Washington Post reports that “diplomats said they did not know China’s motive” for these measures, but it cites the diplomats’ speculating — with straight faces, as far as we know — that “it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.” China’s obstructionist behavior effectively ended any hope for progress on Saturday.

This meeting, of course, was the threat hanging over Iran if it elected not to comply with President Obama’s Dec. 31 deadline. As Rick Richman pointed out last week, Obama’s State Department was already soft-peddling the deadline in mid-December, an approach unlikely to impress Iran with our seriousness. In fairness, however, making such an impression would require overcoming the relentless countersignals coming from our negotiating partners, whose businesses have spent recent months deepening their commercial ties with Iran. Whether it’s France’s Total SA bidding with China to develop Iranian gas fields or German port operator HPC contracting to manage the container port in Iran’s Bandar Abbas complex, our P5+1 partners are engaging themselves to make a lot of money from precisely the commercial activities we would have to sanction to affect Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Recent summaries like the ones here and here recount the many ways in which commerce is outrunning the political sentiment for sanctions. That sentiment is by no means strong or unified to begin with: Russia has been extraordinarily consistent in its position that there’s no evidence Iran is even pursuing nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin reiterated that position on Jan. 7 after two previous Russian assertions to the same effect in December (here and here). Indeed, Putin said it in 2008, 2007, and 2005, a record we have heroically disregarded in our eagerness to negotiate alongside Moscow.

Obama’s effort, launched in September with the dramatic revelation about the nuclear site near Qom, is done. On assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on Jan. 5, China announced that sanctions against Iran will not be on the council’s agenda for January — a promise more credible than Obama’s December deadline. Either we change the pace of our diplomacy right now, or the nations concerned will conclude that U.S. diplomacy is irrelevant. Procrastination at this point means certain failure.

The Jan. 16 meeting of the P5+1 ended ingloriously. The U.S. representative said the P5+1, which will confer again by phone this month, remains committed to the “dual track” approach, in which the possibility of sanctions on Iran is part of the “pressure track.” Western media uniformly characterize the meeting’s outcome as indecisive; but although Russia’s envoy made no definitive pronouncements, the headline at state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti was categorical: “Iran Six decides [sic] against new sanctions on Tehran.”

China, meanwhile, created impressive diplomatic theater by shifting veteran P5+1 negotiator He Yafei to a new post just before the Jan. 16 meeting, sending a low-ranking functionary in his stead and failing to provide contact information for Mr. He’s replacement. According to the UK Times, the P5+1 negotiators don’t know whom to contact in Beijing to schedule the phone conversation proposed for later this month.  The Washington Post reports that “diplomats said they did not know China’s motive” for these measures, but it cites the diplomats’ speculating — with straight faces, as far as we know — that “it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.” China’s obstructionist behavior effectively ended any hope for progress on Saturday.

This meeting, of course, was the threat hanging over Iran if it elected not to comply with President Obama’s Dec. 31 deadline. As Rick Richman pointed out last week, Obama’s State Department was already soft-peddling the deadline in mid-December, an approach unlikely to impress Iran with our seriousness. In fairness, however, making such an impression would require overcoming the relentless countersignals coming from our negotiating partners, whose businesses have spent recent months deepening their commercial ties with Iran. Whether it’s France’s Total SA bidding with China to develop Iranian gas fields or German port operator HPC contracting to manage the container port in Iran’s Bandar Abbas complex, our P5+1 partners are engaging themselves to make a lot of money from precisely the commercial activities we would have to sanction to affect Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Recent summaries like the ones here and here recount the many ways in which commerce is outrunning the political sentiment for sanctions. That sentiment is by no means strong or unified to begin with: Russia has been extraordinarily consistent in its position that there’s no evidence Iran is even pursuing nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin reiterated that position on Jan. 7 after two previous Russian assertions to the same effect in December (here and here). Indeed, Putin said it in 2008, 2007, and 2005, a record we have heroically disregarded in our eagerness to negotiate alongside Moscow.

Obama’s effort, launched in September with the dramatic revelation about the nuclear site near Qom, is done. On assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on Jan. 5, China announced that sanctions against Iran will not be on the council’s agenda for January — a promise more credible than Obama’s December deadline. Either we change the pace of our diplomacy right now, or the nations concerned will conclude that U.S. diplomacy is irrelevant. Procrastination at this point means certain failure.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Noemie Emery says the elite pundits blew it in hawking Obama’s candidacy: “Could it be that The One has misjudged both the times and the country?; that he made a strategic mistake in pushing for health care (and a tactical one in trusting the Congress)?; that he created a nightmare for most in his party, who face epic losses this year? … To acknowledge this is to indict their own judgment, to face the fact they themselves may be less than insightful, that ‘talking like us’ means next to nothing, and that writing for magazines doesn’t equip one for greatness, or leadership. In fact, it only equips one to write for more magazines.”

Rep. Bart Stupak is holding firm for now. He isn’t buying the Reid–Ben Nelson abortion compromise language, “arguing that the Senate bill would effectively allow millions to buy insurance plans covering abortion because of federal subsidies and break the long-standing Hyde rule preventing federal funding of abortions — even if the federal government isn’t signing the checks directly, as it would have with the now-dead public insurance option.” The Democrats claim they have enough votes even without Stupak and pro-life Democrats. Really? We’ll find out.

Talking Points Memo or American Spectator? “Most campaign-type Democrats think Coakley will pull out a victory Tuesday despite a lackluster campaign and independents and undecideds rapidly slipping from their column, but some openly warn that a close race in the Bay State is a real warning sign for November’s mid-term elections.”

Barack Obama or Newt Gingrich? “That’s what’s been lost this year … that whole sense of changing how Washington works.”

A former Justice Department official doesn’t think much of the Obama team’s flurry of excuses for not responding to discovery requests in the New Black Panther Party case: “They are relying on privileges that the Office of Legal Counsel says do not exist. … There is no privilege, for instance, saying that the Justice Department will not identify personnel working on the case. … Generally, a number of these privileges [are ones] I’ve literally never heard of.” Well, who ever heard of executive privilege for a social secretary?

New Hampshire once looked like a potential lost seat for the GOP. Not anymore. The Republican front-runner, Kelly Ayotte, leads Paul Hodes by 9 points in the latest poll.

Good for him: “The top Senate Democrat in charge of military affairs on Wednesday ended a three-day trip to Afghanistan with a message of optimism that the U.S. mission can still succeed. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he sees a higher confidence among U.S. military leaders and Afghan leaders that the war against insurgents can be successful.” And a lesson for Obama: if he leads on national security, his base will follow.

Politico has a forum on: “Massachusetts: Does the closer-than-anyone-expected race jeopardize the Democratic agenda?” If you have to ask, the answer is yes.

All that groveling for nothing: “Although a State Department China hand described constructive U.S.-China cooperation on Iran in Hill testimony today, there are more signs that China is trying to put the breaks on moving forward with new Iran sanctions at this time. … But a diplomatic source tells POLITICO that China is saying its political director may not necessarily be able to come to a meeting of the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — that is scheduled for next weekend in New York.”

Noemie Emery says the elite pundits blew it in hawking Obama’s candidacy: “Could it be that The One has misjudged both the times and the country?; that he made a strategic mistake in pushing for health care (and a tactical one in trusting the Congress)?; that he created a nightmare for most in his party, who face epic losses this year? … To acknowledge this is to indict their own judgment, to face the fact they themselves may be less than insightful, that ‘talking like us’ means next to nothing, and that writing for magazines doesn’t equip one for greatness, or leadership. In fact, it only equips one to write for more magazines.”

Rep. Bart Stupak is holding firm for now. He isn’t buying the Reid–Ben Nelson abortion compromise language, “arguing that the Senate bill would effectively allow millions to buy insurance plans covering abortion because of federal subsidies and break the long-standing Hyde rule preventing federal funding of abortions — even if the federal government isn’t signing the checks directly, as it would have with the now-dead public insurance option.” The Democrats claim they have enough votes even without Stupak and pro-life Democrats. Really? We’ll find out.

Talking Points Memo or American Spectator? “Most campaign-type Democrats think Coakley will pull out a victory Tuesday despite a lackluster campaign and independents and undecideds rapidly slipping from their column, but some openly warn that a close race in the Bay State is a real warning sign for November’s mid-term elections.”

Barack Obama or Newt Gingrich? “That’s what’s been lost this year … that whole sense of changing how Washington works.”

A former Justice Department official doesn’t think much of the Obama team’s flurry of excuses for not responding to discovery requests in the New Black Panther Party case: “They are relying on privileges that the Office of Legal Counsel says do not exist. … There is no privilege, for instance, saying that the Justice Department will not identify personnel working on the case. … Generally, a number of these privileges [are ones] I’ve literally never heard of.” Well, who ever heard of executive privilege for a social secretary?

New Hampshire once looked like a potential lost seat for the GOP. Not anymore. The Republican front-runner, Kelly Ayotte, leads Paul Hodes by 9 points in the latest poll.

Good for him: “The top Senate Democrat in charge of military affairs on Wednesday ended a three-day trip to Afghanistan with a message of optimism that the U.S. mission can still succeed. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he sees a higher confidence among U.S. military leaders and Afghan leaders that the war against insurgents can be successful.” And a lesson for Obama: if he leads on national security, his base will follow.

Politico has a forum on: “Massachusetts: Does the closer-than-anyone-expected race jeopardize the Democratic agenda?” If you have to ask, the answer is yes.

All that groveling for nothing: “Although a State Department China hand described constructive U.S.-China cooperation on Iran in Hill testimony today, there are more signs that China is trying to put the breaks on moving forward with new Iran sanctions at this time. … But a diplomatic source tells POLITICO that China is saying its political director may not necessarily be able to come to a meeting of the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — that is scheduled for next weekend in New York.”

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Scoffed Power

Noah Pollak has at least found some comic relief in Obama’s “Israel ploy” with China. The old “my buddy here is crazy, don’t know if I can hold him back” routine is as well-worn a device in the soft-power toolkit as it is in Hollywood scriptwriting. We should not, however, buy the credulous, one-dimensional implication of the Washington Post story that a veiled threat to unleash Israel got the Chinese on board for censuring Iran. In Beijing they have plenty of their own intelligence on the Middle East, and they also know a ploy when they see one.

We find a much better explanation for China’s cooperation in this November 19 piece from Reuters on the prognosis for sanctions. It didn’t get much play in the mainstream media, possibly because of the title, “West lowers sights for new Iran sanctions at UN.” It clarifies quite baldly how the cost of bringing East and West together in the P5+1 is being lowered: by accommodating Russia and China and dropping the idea of targeting Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Out in the real world, China is obviously not taking a harder line with Iran. The day before joining the censure motion, the Chinese inked a $6.5 billion gasoline refinery contract with Tehran, the fourth major oil-and-gas contract between the two countries in 2009. China continues to supply gasoline to Iran, as it has been doing openly since September. Beijing’s actual trade posture with Iran has not shifted by even an inch.

Trade may be involved in this drama in another form, however: deal-making with U.S. tariffs. President Obama, under pressure from the unions, has been threatening China with punitive tariffs on key imports, including auto tires and manufactured steel pipes. China strenuously opposes the tariffs, of course, and relief from them is a high priority. In what was very possibly a quid pro quo, the approved tariff schedule for steel pipes — announced simultaneously this past week with China’s agreement to censure Iran — reflected a top rate of only half what the Department of Commerce had proposed in September.

Soft power is all about the horse-trading, of course. But it’s hard to find the “smart” power in this deal. If it was a horse trade, we paid too much. Whether the bait we used was the “Israel threat” or U.S. tariffs, the deal was ultimately set up by lowering to zero the cost of China’s participation. The censure motion is a meaningless gesture that carries no guaranteed consequences, a concession so costless to China that we should have paid nothing for it.

Undeterred, Iran is doubling down on its recalcitrance by announcing plans for new uranium-enrichment sites. We might almost suppose that the Iranian regime was scoffing at all this fascinatingly clever soft power — or at least smirking a little.

Noah Pollak has at least found some comic relief in Obama’s “Israel ploy” with China. The old “my buddy here is crazy, don’t know if I can hold him back” routine is as well-worn a device in the soft-power toolkit as it is in Hollywood scriptwriting. We should not, however, buy the credulous, one-dimensional implication of the Washington Post story that a veiled threat to unleash Israel got the Chinese on board for censuring Iran. In Beijing they have plenty of their own intelligence on the Middle East, and they also know a ploy when they see one.

We find a much better explanation for China’s cooperation in this November 19 piece from Reuters on the prognosis for sanctions. It didn’t get much play in the mainstream media, possibly because of the title, “West lowers sights for new Iran sanctions at UN.” It clarifies quite baldly how the cost of bringing East and West together in the P5+1 is being lowered: by accommodating Russia and China and dropping the idea of targeting Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Out in the real world, China is obviously not taking a harder line with Iran. The day before joining the censure motion, the Chinese inked a $6.5 billion gasoline refinery contract with Tehran, the fourth major oil-and-gas contract between the two countries in 2009. China continues to supply gasoline to Iran, as it has been doing openly since September. Beijing’s actual trade posture with Iran has not shifted by even an inch.

Trade may be involved in this drama in another form, however: deal-making with U.S. tariffs. President Obama, under pressure from the unions, has been threatening China with punitive tariffs on key imports, including auto tires and manufactured steel pipes. China strenuously opposes the tariffs, of course, and relief from them is a high priority. In what was very possibly a quid pro quo, the approved tariff schedule for steel pipes — announced simultaneously this past week with China’s agreement to censure Iran — reflected a top rate of only half what the Department of Commerce had proposed in September.

Soft power is all about the horse-trading, of course. But it’s hard to find the “smart” power in this deal. If it was a horse trade, we paid too much. Whether the bait we used was the “Israel threat” or U.S. tariffs, the deal was ultimately set up by lowering to zero the cost of China’s participation. The censure motion is a meaningless gesture that carries no guaranteed consequences, a concession so costless to China that we should have paid nothing for it.

Undeterred, Iran is doubling down on its recalcitrance by announcing plans for new uranium-enrichment sites. We might almost suppose that the Iranian regime was scoffing at all this fascinatingly clever soft power — or at least smirking a little.

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Slow-Motion Train-Wreck Watch

If train wrecks really happened in slow motion, observers might have time to note carelessness and irrelevance in the human actors involved. Metaphorical train wrecks certainly afford us such opportunities. The State Department bracketed a busy weekend for the Iran problem with a bit of both. In the daily briefing on Friday, spokesman Robert Wood responded to a point-blank question on why we are stretching out the time line on negotiations with this affirmation:

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are — we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. Iran has had plenty of time to consider this proposal. We still hope that they will reconsider and give the IAEA Director General a yes. But that’s up to Iran.

Iran had already, last week, given the IAEA director general a “no,” rejecting the P5+1 proposal to ship Tehran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country and offering a counterproposal: to exchange higher-enriched uranium for Iran’s current stock, simultaneously and inside Iran. In support of this negotiating ploy, the regime launched a major joint-forces exercise over the weekend, punctuating it with air-defense drills around the nuclear sites. In case the message was unclear, a senior Revolutionary Guard official emphasized the “deterrence power” of Iran’s ballistic missiles and threatened Tel Aviv with them. Meanwhile, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, with Ahmadinejad at his side, affirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear technology and criticized “attempts to isolate Iran,” a condemnation that included the imposition of further sanctions.

So it’s not clear what gave Wood hope that Iran might reconsider. Monday’s laconic briefing from Ian Kelly projected a peculiar air of detachment, revealing mainly that there was no new policy guidance on Iran since Friday. There were some laughs, however. Kelly alluded, in suggesting that Iran seize a “fleeting opportunity,” to Friday’s thrice-repeated theme that the diplomatic window for Iran won’t be open forever. This led to a humorous exchange in which the word “fleeting” was suggested to amount to “new guidance.”

Surreal levity aside, Iran’s strategic wisdom in making a counterproposal, to which the P5+1 will have to take time in responding, has probably guaranteed that “fleeting” will not accurately describe the window bounded by negotiations. What the State Department has to show for eight years of business-as-usual negotiations is an Iran much closer to a working nuclear weapon. Robert Wood, in that sense, was exactly right: as long as we have a diplomacy-only approach, it is up to Iran. The only way to change that is to pose the credible threat of involving a different department of the U.S. government.

If train wrecks really happened in slow motion, observers might have time to note carelessness and irrelevance in the human actors involved. Metaphorical train wrecks certainly afford us such opportunities. The State Department bracketed a busy weekend for the Iran problem with a bit of both. In the daily briefing on Friday, spokesman Robert Wood responded to a point-blank question on why we are stretching out the time line on negotiations with this affirmation:

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are — we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. Iran has had plenty of time to consider this proposal. We still hope that they will reconsider and give the IAEA Director General a yes. But that’s up to Iran.

Iran had already, last week, given the IAEA director general a “no,” rejecting the P5+1 proposal to ship Tehran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country and offering a counterproposal: to exchange higher-enriched uranium for Iran’s current stock, simultaneously and inside Iran. In support of this negotiating ploy, the regime launched a major joint-forces exercise over the weekend, punctuating it with air-defense drills around the nuclear sites. In case the message was unclear, a senior Revolutionary Guard official emphasized the “deterrence power” of Iran’s ballistic missiles and threatened Tel Aviv with them. Meanwhile, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, with Ahmadinejad at his side, affirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear technology and criticized “attempts to isolate Iran,” a condemnation that included the imposition of further sanctions.

So it’s not clear what gave Wood hope that Iran might reconsider. Monday’s laconic briefing from Ian Kelly projected a peculiar air of detachment, revealing mainly that there was no new policy guidance on Iran since Friday. There were some laughs, however. Kelly alluded, in suggesting that Iran seize a “fleeting opportunity,” to Friday’s thrice-repeated theme that the diplomatic window for Iran won’t be open forever. This led to a humorous exchange in which the word “fleeting” was suggested to amount to “new guidance.”

Surreal levity aside, Iran’s strategic wisdom in making a counterproposal, to which the P5+1 will have to take time in responding, has probably guaranteed that “fleeting” will not accurately describe the window bounded by negotiations. What the State Department has to show for eight years of business-as-usual negotiations is an Iran much closer to a working nuclear weapon. Robert Wood, in that sense, was exactly right: as long as we have a diplomacy-only approach, it is up to Iran. The only way to change that is to pose the credible threat of involving a different department of the U.S. government.

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Re: Axis of Uranium Meets Middle East Peace Process

How many Middle Eastern leaders have to visit Brazil in one month for the U.S. State Department to figure out something’s going on? More than three, apparently. After I wrote Friday’s post on the serial visits of Peres, Abbas, and Ahmadinejad, Rick Richman called my attention to the exchange in the State Department briefing on Ahmadinejad’s visit:

QUESTION: Ahmadinejad is going to be visiting Brazil in a couple of days. Is the fact that a friendly government like that welcoming Ahmadinejad – does that tend to dilute international solidarity on the nuclear issue?

MR. WOOD: Well, President Ahmadinejad going to Brazil, that’s an issue between the Government of Brazil and the Government of Iran. What we would hope is that the Government of Brazil would raise some of these concerns that we have, many of which I’ve just laid out here, about Iran in those meetings. But beyond that, I don’t have anything to add to that.

So: Brazil is hosting the three major regional players in Middle Eastern dynamics this month. One of them is the president of Iran, the revolutionary, terrorist-sponsoring state Obama is trying to pressure on its nuclear program. Brazil – a nuclear client of Russia – has been following Venezuela’s path toward “increased economic ties” with Iran, which in literal terms means banking arrangements that circumvent sanctions, plus plenty of “legitimate” manufacturing and container shipping to obscure trade in prohibited goods. And the views of our State Department on these circumstances boil down to an absurdly banal bromide (the Ahmadinejad visit is “an issue between Brazil and Iran”) and a “hope” that Brazil will raise some of our concerns with the Iranian president.

Far from acting as our deputy, Brazil seems to be positioning itself to gain leverage with Iran regardless of how its policies undermine the P5+1’s threat of sanctions. Mahmoud Abbas probably overestimates the leverage Brazil already has with Iran, but in requesting Lula da Silva’s help with discouraging the Iran-Hamas link, he has shown a keener understanding of this month’s diplomatic flurry than Foggy Bottom.

One projection seems sound: if Brazil does go through with a line of credit for Iran, we should expect that move to bring Brazil into conflict with the U.S. Treasury Department, as Venezuela’s similar activities have in the past. What we do about such a financial arrangement between Iran and Brazil will tell both parties – and all our negotiating partners – everything they need to know about the credibility of Obama’s threats of sanctions.

How many Middle Eastern leaders have to visit Brazil in one month for the U.S. State Department to figure out something’s going on? More than three, apparently. After I wrote Friday’s post on the serial visits of Peres, Abbas, and Ahmadinejad, Rick Richman called my attention to the exchange in the State Department briefing on Ahmadinejad’s visit:

QUESTION: Ahmadinejad is going to be visiting Brazil in a couple of days. Is the fact that a friendly government like that welcoming Ahmadinejad – does that tend to dilute international solidarity on the nuclear issue?

MR. WOOD: Well, President Ahmadinejad going to Brazil, that’s an issue between the Government of Brazil and the Government of Iran. What we would hope is that the Government of Brazil would raise some of these concerns that we have, many of which I’ve just laid out here, about Iran in those meetings. But beyond that, I don’t have anything to add to that.

So: Brazil is hosting the three major regional players in Middle Eastern dynamics this month. One of them is the president of Iran, the revolutionary, terrorist-sponsoring state Obama is trying to pressure on its nuclear program. Brazil – a nuclear client of Russia – has been following Venezuela’s path toward “increased economic ties” with Iran, which in literal terms means banking arrangements that circumvent sanctions, plus plenty of “legitimate” manufacturing and container shipping to obscure trade in prohibited goods. And the views of our State Department on these circumstances boil down to an absurdly banal bromide (the Ahmadinejad visit is “an issue between Brazil and Iran”) and a “hope” that Brazil will raise some of our concerns with the Iranian president.

Far from acting as our deputy, Brazil seems to be positioning itself to gain leverage with Iran regardless of how its policies undermine the P5+1’s threat of sanctions. Mahmoud Abbas probably overestimates the leverage Brazil already has with Iran, but in requesting Lula da Silva’s help with discouraging the Iran-Hamas link, he has shown a keener understanding of this month’s diplomatic flurry than Foggy Bottom.

One projection seems sound: if Brazil does go through with a line of credit for Iran, we should expect that move to bring Brazil into conflict with the U.S. Treasury Department, as Venezuela’s similar activities have in the past. What we do about such a financial arrangement between Iran and Brazil will tell both parties – and all our negotiating partners – everything they need to know about the credibility of Obama’s threats of sanctions.

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Negotiating 101

Barack Obama complained yesterday that the Iranians “have been unable to get to ‘yes’” on his proposal that they send their low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment. It has evidently not occurred to him that his own behavior might have anything to do with that. In fact, thanks to the administration’s amateurish negotiating tactics, Tehran’s best move for now is to keep saying no even if it ultimately intends to say yes.

Though the official deadline for an Iranian response was supposed to be last month, administration officials have repeatedly said they will give Iran until the end of the year to make a decision. In other words, Iran can keep the centrifuges spinning for another two months risk-free merely by delaying its response. So why on earth wouldn’t it choose to do so?

And then, of course, it can submit a “counterproposal” on December 31 — or more likely sometime in January, since it already knows that this administration isn’t too fussy about deadlines. That will necessitate a summit meeting among the six countries conducting the talks (the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany, known as the P5+1) so they can decide how to respond. In other words, more delay.

At best, the P5+1 will agree to negotiate, giving Tehran many more months of risk-free enrichment. From Tehran’s standpoint, that has to seem a likely outcome. Granted, U.S. officials claim they will not accept any amendment to the deal. But can anyone remember the last time Obama stuck to his guns when confronted by an autocrat who failed to be swayed by his charm?

Yet even if the counterproposal is unacceptable to the four Western countries, the ensuing wrangling is guaranteed to take weeks, if not months: Russia and China are sure to say the talks are worth pursuing no matter what the counterproposal consists of, and the West can be counted on to waste time trying to persuade them otherwise. So Tehran will still have bought more time.

Most likely, Iran has no intention of ever saying yes. Since there is no evidence that even the Western powers alone, much less Russia and China, will ever agree on a package of sanctions that would make it sit up and take notice, why should it?

But even if the powers ultimately did come up with a sanctions package intimidating enough to get Tehran to agree to the proposed deal, Obama’s negotiating method has ensured that, at the very least, Iran can gain many more months of punishment-free uranium enrichment just by dragging its feet. The mullahs would have to be idiots not to take advantage of the opportunity.

This really is Negotiating 101: no interlocutor will ever give you a prompt reply if you make it worthwhile for him to stall. Unfortunately, Obama and his team all seem to have skipped that class in college.

Barack Obama complained yesterday that the Iranians “have been unable to get to ‘yes’” on his proposal that they send their low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment. It has evidently not occurred to him that his own behavior might have anything to do with that. In fact, thanks to the administration’s amateurish negotiating tactics, Tehran’s best move for now is to keep saying no even if it ultimately intends to say yes.

Though the official deadline for an Iranian response was supposed to be last month, administration officials have repeatedly said they will give Iran until the end of the year to make a decision. In other words, Iran can keep the centrifuges spinning for another two months risk-free merely by delaying its response. So why on earth wouldn’t it choose to do so?

And then, of course, it can submit a “counterproposal” on December 31 — or more likely sometime in January, since it already knows that this administration isn’t too fussy about deadlines. That will necessitate a summit meeting among the six countries conducting the talks (the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany, known as the P5+1) so they can decide how to respond. In other words, more delay.

At best, the P5+1 will agree to negotiate, giving Tehran many more months of risk-free enrichment. From Tehran’s standpoint, that has to seem a likely outcome. Granted, U.S. officials claim they will not accept any amendment to the deal. But can anyone remember the last time Obama stuck to his guns when confronted by an autocrat who failed to be swayed by his charm?

Yet even if the counterproposal is unacceptable to the four Western countries, the ensuing wrangling is guaranteed to take weeks, if not months: Russia and China are sure to say the talks are worth pursuing no matter what the counterproposal consists of, and the West can be counted on to waste time trying to persuade them otherwise. So Tehran will still have bought more time.

Most likely, Iran has no intention of ever saying yes. Since there is no evidence that even the Western powers alone, much less Russia and China, will ever agree on a package of sanctions that would make it sit up and take notice, why should it?

But even if the powers ultimately did come up with a sanctions package intimidating enough to get Tehran to agree to the proposed deal, Obama’s negotiating method has ensured that, at the very least, Iran can gain many more months of punishment-free uranium enrichment just by dragging its feet. The mullahs would have to be idiots not to take advantage of the opportunity.

This really is Negotiating 101: no interlocutor will ever give you a prompt reply if you make it worthwhile for him to stall. Unfortunately, Obama and his team all seem to have skipped that class in college.

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What’s ElBaradei Up To?

IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei has again shown whose side he is on. Less than a week after the Permanent Five and Germany issued a statement announcing a new incentives’ package for Iran, ElBaradei called on the U.S. to show more flexibility with Iran. The details of the new offer are not publicly known, but French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner defined them as “very generous.”

This proposal expands on an already-generous offer made two years ago, which Iran turned down. One would hope that, this time, the P5+1 does not follow the same course of action–despite the fact that the 2006 offer was meant to expire, the P5+1 kept it alive in the hope that Iran would change its mind–only to produce a better package two years later. One can only assume that the terms are even more advantageous for Iran: more details on nuclear technology that the West would offer Tehran, more details of the security guarantees that Iran would get in the region, more assurances about the stability of Iran’s regime, more incentives on trade. One can also assume that in Tehran the lesson being learned is that by making no concessions and being stubborn much can be gained.

Now, aside from the fact that Iran has already dismissed the offer, this history of dialogue with Iran teaches us two things: one, that the international community, U.S. included, has shown great flexibility with Iran; and two, that Iran has systematically exploited this flexibility to gain time and advance its nuclear program. Any responsible representative of the international community should not call on the U.S. to be more flexible. It should call on Iran to be more reasonable and remind them that time is running out. That ElBaradei called on the U.S. to make more concessions at a time when the U.S. is already backing yet more concessions to an inflexible and uncompromising Iran indicates that maybe the IAEA–and certainly its director–are not doing their best to stem the tide of nuclear proliferation.

IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei has again shown whose side he is on. Less than a week after the Permanent Five and Germany issued a statement announcing a new incentives’ package for Iran, ElBaradei called on the U.S. to show more flexibility with Iran. The details of the new offer are not publicly known, but French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner defined them as “very generous.”

This proposal expands on an already-generous offer made two years ago, which Iran turned down. One would hope that, this time, the P5+1 does not follow the same course of action–despite the fact that the 2006 offer was meant to expire, the P5+1 kept it alive in the hope that Iran would change its mind–only to produce a better package two years later. One can only assume that the terms are even more advantageous for Iran: more details on nuclear technology that the West would offer Tehran, more details of the security guarantees that Iran would get in the region, more assurances about the stability of Iran’s regime, more incentives on trade. One can also assume that in Tehran the lesson being learned is that by making no concessions and being stubborn much can be gained.

Now, aside from the fact that Iran has already dismissed the offer, this history of dialogue with Iran teaches us two things: one, that the international community, U.S. included, has shown great flexibility with Iran; and two, that Iran has systematically exploited this flexibility to gain time and advance its nuclear program. Any responsible representative of the international community should not call on the U.S. to be more flexible. It should call on Iran to be more reasonable and remind them that time is running out. That ElBaradei called on the U.S. to make more concessions at a time when the U.S. is already backing yet more concessions to an inflexible and uncompromising Iran indicates that maybe the IAEA–and certainly its director–are not doing their best to stem the tide of nuclear proliferation.

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Too Many Lives at Stake

Yesterday, representatives from the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5 + 1, met but failed to agree on a new package of incentives for Iran. The most significant aspect of the meeting is not the result–it was clear from the get-go that the six nations would not immediately see eye-to-eye–but its location, Shanghai: China hosted the talks.

In one sense, it is a measure of progress that Beijing is helping to find a solution to the greatest security challenge of our times. As Guo Xian’gang, a former Chinese diplomat, told Reuters, “China wanted to show that it’s a mainstream member of the five plus one process.”

But should the United States be ceding even more initiative to the Chinese? In 2003 President Bush committed himself to multilateral diplomacy on North Korea, and he generously made China the centerpiece of global efforts to disarm Pyongyang.

The Chinese used their position to craft an arrangement, announced in September 2005, that permitted even more North Korean delaying tactics and bad faith negotiation. And why did the President accept an obviously deficient deal? Largely because Chinese negotiators presented their plan as take-it-or-leave-it and told their American counterparts that they would publicly blame them if they rejected it. In short, the United States generously gave Beijing a leading role on Korea-and the Chinese then turned around and used their new-found prominence to mug America. Now, North Korea is prevailing over United States, as Abe Greenwald suggested on Tuesday, largely because Pyongyang has Beijing on its side.

Yet the Bush administration is again trying to give the Chinese a leading role in international affairs, this time to stop Iran’s efforts to weaponize the atom. That’s why the place of yesterday’s meeting is so important. Working with China can hasten its integration into the global order, yet long before Beijing is ready to accept the role as a constructive power, the Iranians will have built an arsenal of nuclear warheads.

Whether or not it was wise for the White House to work with the Chinese over North Korea five years ago, it should not be doing so now with Iran. There are too many lives at stake for the Bush administration to continue its optimistic diplomacy experiment with China.

Yesterday, representatives from the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5 + 1, met but failed to agree on a new package of incentives for Iran. The most significant aspect of the meeting is not the result–it was clear from the get-go that the six nations would not immediately see eye-to-eye–but its location, Shanghai: China hosted the talks.

In one sense, it is a measure of progress that Beijing is helping to find a solution to the greatest security challenge of our times. As Guo Xian’gang, a former Chinese diplomat, told Reuters, “China wanted to show that it’s a mainstream member of the five plus one process.”

But should the United States be ceding even more initiative to the Chinese? In 2003 President Bush committed himself to multilateral diplomacy on North Korea, and he generously made China the centerpiece of global efforts to disarm Pyongyang.

The Chinese used their position to craft an arrangement, announced in September 2005, that permitted even more North Korean delaying tactics and bad faith negotiation. And why did the President accept an obviously deficient deal? Largely because Chinese negotiators presented their plan as take-it-or-leave-it and told their American counterparts that they would publicly blame them if they rejected it. In short, the United States generously gave Beijing a leading role on Korea-and the Chinese then turned around and used their new-found prominence to mug America. Now, North Korea is prevailing over United States, as Abe Greenwald suggested on Tuesday, largely because Pyongyang has Beijing on its side.

Yet the Bush administration is again trying to give the Chinese a leading role in international affairs, this time to stop Iran’s efforts to weaponize the atom. That’s why the place of yesterday’s meeting is so important. Working with China can hasten its integration into the global order, yet long before Beijing is ready to accept the role as a constructive power, the Iranians will have built an arsenal of nuclear warheads.

Whether or not it was wise for the White House to work with the Chinese over North Korea five years ago, it should not be doing so now with Iran. There are too many lives at stake for the Bush administration to continue its optimistic diplomacy experiment with China.

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