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Former Insiders Criticise Iran Policy as U.S. Hegemony
WASHINGTON, 25 Feb (IPS) - "Going to Tehran" arguably represents the
most important work on the subject of U.S.-Iran relations to be
published thus far.
Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett tackle not only U.S. policy
toward Iran but the broader context of Middle East policy with a
systematic analytical perspective informed by personal experience, as
well as very extensive documentation.
More importantly, however, their exposé required a degree of courage
that may be unparalleled in the writing of former U.S. national
security officials about issues on which they worked. They have chosen
not just to criticise U.S. policy toward Iran but to analyse that policy
as a problem of U.S. hegemony.
Their national security state credentials are impeccable. They both
served at different times as senior coordinators dealing with Iran on
the National Security Council Staff, and Hillary Mann Leverett was one
of the few U.S. officials who have been authorised to negotiate with
Both wrote memoranda in 2003 urging the George W. Bush
administration to take the Iranian “roadmap” proposal for bilateral
negotiations seriously but found policymakers either uninterested or
powerless to influence the decision. Hillary Mann Leverett even has a
connection with the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee
(AIPAC), having interned with that lobby group as a youth.
After leaving the U.S. government in disagreement with U.S. policy
toward Iran, the Leveretts did not follow the normal pattern of settling
into the jobs where they would support the broad outlines of the U.S.
role in world politics in return for comfortable incomes and continued
access to power.
Instead, they have chosen to take a firm stand in opposition to U.S.
policy toward Iran, criticising the policy of the Barack Obama
administration as far more aggressive than is generally recognised. They
went even farther, however, contesting the consensus view in Washington
among policy wonks, news media and Iran human rights activists that
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in June 2009 was fraudulent.
The Leveretts’ uncompromising posture toward the policymaking system
and those outside the government who support U.S. policy has made them
extremely unpopular in Washington foreign policy elite circles. After
talking to some of their antagonists, The New Republic even passed on
the rumor that the Leveretts had become shills for oil companies and
others who wanted to do business with Iran.
The problem for the establishment, however, is that they turned out
to be immune to the blandishments that normally keep former officials
either safely supportive or quiet on national security issues that call
for heated debate.
In "Going to Tehran", the Leveretts elaborate on the contrarian
analysis they have been making on their blog (formerly “The Race for
Iran” and now “Going to Tehran”) They take to task those supporting U.S.
systematic pressures on Iran for substituting wishful thinking that
most Iranians long for secular democracy, and offer a hard analysis of
the history of the Iranian revolution.
In an analysis of the roots of the legitimacy of the Islamic regime,
they point to evidence that the single most important factor that swept
the Khomeini movement into power in 1979 was “the Shah’s indifference
to the religious sensibilities of Iranians". That point, which conflicts
with just about everything that has appeared in the mass media on Iran
for decades, certainly has far-reaching analytical significance.
The Leveretts’ 56-page review of the evidence regarding the
legitimacy of the 2009 election emphasises polls done by U.S.-based
Terror Free Tomorrow and World Public Opinon and Canadian-based Globe
Scan and 10 surveys by the University of Tehran. All of the polls were
consistent with one another and with official election data on both a
wide margin of victory by Ahmadinejad and turnout rates.
The Leveretts also point out that the leading opposition candidate,
Hossein Mir Mousavi, did not produce “a single one of his 40,676
observers to claim that the count at his or her station had been
incorrect, and none came forward independently".
"Going to Tehran" has chapters analysing Iran’s “Grand Strategy” and
on the role of negotiating with the United States that debunk much of
which passes for expert opinion in Washington's think tank world. They
view Iran’s nuclear programme as aimed at achieving the same status as
Japan, Canada and other “threshold nuclear states” which have the
capability to become nuclear powers but forego that option.
The Leveretts also point out that it is a status that is not
forbidden by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty – much to the chagrin
of the United States and its anti-Iran allies.
In a later chapter, they allude briefly to what is surely the
best-kept secret about the Iranian nuclear programme and Iranian foreign
policy: the Iranian leadership’s calculation that the enrichment
programme is the only incentive the United States has to reach a
strategic accommodation with Tehran. That one fact helps to explain most
of the twists and turns in Iran’s nuclear programme and its nuclear
diplomacy over the past decade.
One of the propaganda themes most popular inside the Washington
beltway is that the Islamic regime in Iran cannot negotiate seriously
with the United States because the survival of the regime depends on
hostility toward the United States.
The Leveretts debunk that notion by detailing a series of episodes
beginning with President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s effort to improve
relations in 1991 and again in 1995 and Iran’s offer to cooperate
against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and, more generally after 9/11, about
which Hillary Mann Leverett had personal experience.
Finally, they provide the most detailed analysis available on the
2003 Iranian proposal for a “roadmap” for negotiations with the United
States, which the Bush administration gave the back of its hand.
The central message of "Going to Tehran" is that the United States
has been unwilling to let go of the demand for Iran’s subordination to
dominant U.S. power in the region. The Leveretts identify the decisive
turning point in the U.S. “quest for dominance in the Middle East” as
the collapse of the Soviet Union, which they say “liberated the United
States from balance of power constraints”.
They cite the recollection of senior advisers to Secretary of State
James Baker that the George H. W. Bush administration considered
engagement with Iran as part of a post-Gulf War strategy but decided in
the aftermath of the Soviet adversary’s disappearance that “it didn’t
Subsequent U.S. policy in the region, including what former national
security adviser Bent Scowcroft called “the nutty idea” of “dual
containment” of Iraq and Iran, they argue, has flowed from the new
incentive for Washington to maintain and enhance its dominance in the
The authors offer a succinct analysis of the Clinton
administration’s regional and Iran policies as precursors to Bush’s Iraq
War and Iran regime change policy. Their account suggests that the role
of Republican neoconservatives in those policies should not be
exaggerated, and that more fundamental political-institutional interests
were already pushing the U.S. national security state in that direction
They analyse the Bush administration’s flirtation with regime change
and the Obama administration’s less-than-half-hearted diplomatic
engagement with Iran as both motivated by a refusal to budge from a
stance of maintaining the status quo of U.S.-Israeli hegemony.
Consistent with but going beyond the Leveretts’ analysis is the Bush
conviction that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq had shaken the
Iranians, and that there was no need to make the slightest concession
to the regime. The Obama administration has apparently fallen into the
same conceptual trap, believing that the United States and its allies
have Iran by the throat because of its “crippling sanctions”.
Thanks to the Leveretts, opponents of U.S. policies of domination
and intervention in the Middle East have a new and rich source of
analysis to argue against those policies more effectively.
*Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist
specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based
Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in
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Academy Awards and the Failure of Truth
One year ago, after his breathtakingly beautiful Iranian drama, "A
Separation," won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film,
writer/director Asghar Farhadi delivered the best acceptance speech of
"[A]t the time when talk of war, intimidation, and aggression is
exchanged between politicians," he said, Iran was finally being honored
for "her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been
hidden under the heavy dust of politics." Farhadi dedicated the Oscar
"to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and
civilizations and despise hostility and resentment."
Such grace and eloquence will surely not be on display this Sunday,
when Ben Affleck, flanked by his co-producers George Clooney and Grant
Heslov, takes home the evening's top prize, the Best Picture Oscar, for
his critically-acclaimed and heavily decorated paean to the CIA and
American innocence, "Argo."
Over the past 12 months, rarely a week - let alone month - went by
without new predictions of an ever-imminent Iranian nuclear weapon and
ever-looming threats of an American or Israeli military attack. Come
October 2012, into the fray marched "Argo," a decontextualized,
ahistorical "true story" of Orientalist proportion, subjecting audiences
to two hours of American victimization and bearded barbarians,
culminating in popped champagne corks and rippling stars-and-stripes
celebrating our heroism and triumph and their frustration and defeat.
Salon's Andrew O'Hehir aptly described the film as "a propaganda fable,"
explaining as others have that essentially none of its
edge-of-your-seat thrills or most memorable moments ever happened.
O'Hehir sums up:
The Americans never resisted the idea of playing a film crew, which is
the source of much agitation in the movie. (In fact, the “house guests”
chose that cover story themselves, from a group of three options the CIA
had prepared.) They were not almost lynched by a mob of crazy Iranians
in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, because they never went there. There was no
last-minute cancellation, and then un-cancellation, of the group’s
tickets by the Carter administration. (The wife of Canadian ambassador
Ken Taylor had personally gone to the airport and purchased tickets
ahead of time, for three different outbound flights.) The group
underwent no interrogation at the airport about their imaginary movie,
nor were they detained at the gate while a member of Iran’s
Revolutionary Guard telephoned their phony office back in Burbank. There
was no last-second chase on the runway of Mehrabad Airport, with
wild-eyed, bearded militants with Kalashnikovs trying to shoot out the
tires of a Swissair jet.
One of the actual diplomats, Mark Lijek, noted that the CIA's fake
movie "cover story was never tested and in some ways proved irrelevant
to the escape." The departure of the six Americans from Tehran was
actually mundane and uneventful. "If asked, we were going to say we
were leaving Iran to return when it was safer," Lijek recalled, "But no
one ever asked!...The truth is the immigration officers barely looked at
us and we were processed out in the regular way. We got on the flight
to Zurich and then we were taken to the US ambassador's residence in
Berne. It was that straightforward."
Furthermore, Jimmy Carter has even acknowledged that "90% of the
contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian
[while] the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA...Ben
Affleck's character in the film was only in Tehran a day and a half and
the real hero in my opinion was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian
ambassador who orchestrated the entire process."
O'Hehir perfectly articulates the film's true crime, its deliberate
exploitation of "its basis in history and its mode of detailed realism
to create something that is entirely mythological." Not only is it "a
trite cavalcade of action-movie clichés and expository dialogue," but
"[i]t’s also a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to
be innocent of all ideology."
Such an assessment is confirmed by Ben Affleck own comments about the
film. In describing "Argo" to Bill O'Reilly, Affleck boasted, "You
know, it was such a great story. For one thing, it's a thriller. It's
actually comedy with the Hollywood satire. It's a complicated CIA movie,
it's a political movie. And it's all true." He told Rolling Stone
that, when conceiving his directorial approach, he knew he "absolutely
had to preserve the central integrity and truth of the story."
"It's OK to embellish, it's OK to compress, as long as you don't
fundamentally change the nature of the story and of what happened,"
Affleck has remarked, even going so far as to tell reporters at Argo's
BFI London Film Festival premier, "This movie is about this story that
took place, and it's true, and I go to pains to contextualize it and to
try to be even-handed in a way that just means we're taking a cold, hard
look at the facts."
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Affleck went so far as to
say, "I tried to make a movie that is absolutely just factual. And
that's another reason why I tried to be as true to the story as possible
-- because I didn't want it to be used by either side. I didn't want it
to be politicized internationally or domestically in a partisan way. I
just wanted to tell a story that was about the facts as I understood
For Affleck, these facts apparently don't include understanding why
the American Embassy in Tehran was overrun and occupied on November 4,
1979. "There was no rhyme or reason to this action," Affleck has
insisted, claiming that the takeover "wasn't about us," that is, the
American government (despite the fact that his own film is introduced by
a fleeting (though slightly inaccurate) review of American complicity
in the Shah's dictatorship).
Wrong, Ben. One reason was the fear of another CIA-engineered coup
d'etat like the one perpetrated in 1953 from the very same Embassy.
Another reason was the admission of the deposed Shah into the United
States for medical treatment and asylum rather than extradition to Iran
to face charge and trial for his quarter century of crimes against the
Iranian people, bankrolled and supported by the U.S. government. One
doesn't have to agree with the reasons, of course, but they certainly
Just as George H.W. Bush once bellowed after a U.S. Navy warship
blew an Iranian passenger airliner out of the sky over the Persian Gulf,
killing 290 Iranian civilians, "I'll never apologize for the United
States of America. Ever. I don't care what the facts are." Affleck
appears inclined to agree.
If nothing else, "Argo" is an exercise in American exceptionalism -
perhaps the most dangerous fiction that permeates our entire society
and sense of identity. It reinvents history in order to mine a tale of
triumph from an unmitigated defeat. The hostage crisis, which lasted
444 days and destroyed an American presidency, was a failure and an
embarrassment for Americans. The United States government and media has
spent the last three decades tirelessly exacting revenge on Iran for
"Argo" recasts revolutionary Iranians as the hapless victims of
American cunning and deception. White Americans are hunted, harried
and, ultimately courageous and free. Iranians are maniacal, menacing
and, in the end, infantile and foolish. The fanatical fundamentalists
fail while America wins. USA -1, Iran - 0. Yet, "Argo" obscures the
unfortunate truth that, as those six diplomats were boarding a plane
bound for Switzerland on January 28, 1980, their 52 compatriots would
have to wait an entire year before making it home, not as the result of a
daring rescue attempt, but after a diplomatic agreement was reached.
Reflecting on the most troubled episodes in American history is a
time-honored cinematic tradition. There's a reason why the best Vietnam
movies are full of pain, anger, anguish and war crimes. By contrast,
"Argo" is American catharsis porn; pure Hollywood hubris. It is
pro-American propaganda devoid of introspection, pathos or humility and
meant to assuage our hurt feelings. In "Argo," no lessons are learned
by revisiting the consequences of America's support for the Pahlavi
monarchy or its creation and training of SAVAK, the Shah's vicious
On June 11, 1979, months before the hostage crisis began, the New
York Times published an article by writer and historian A.J. Langguth
which recounted revelations relayed by a former American intelligence
official regarding the CIA's close relationship with SAVAK. The agency
had "sent an operative to teach interrogation methods to SAVAK"
including "instructions in torture, and the techniques were copied from
the Nazis." Langguth wrestled with the news, trying to figure out why
this had not been widely reported. He came to the following conclusion:
We – and I mean we as Americans – don’t believe it. We can read the
accusations, even examine the evidence and find it irrefutable. But, in
our hearts, we cannot believe that Americans have gone abroad to spread
the use of torture.
We can believe that public officials with reputations for
brilliance can be arrogant, blind or stupid. Anything but evil. And when
the cumulative proof becomes overwhelming that our representatives in
the C.I.A. or the Agency for International Development police program
did in fact teach torture, we excuse ourselves by vilifying the
Similarly, at a time when the CIA is waging an illegal, immoral,
unregulated and always expanding drone execution program, the previous
administration's CIA kidnappers and torturers are protected from
prosecution by the current administration, and leaked State Department
cables reveal orders for U.S. diplomats to spy on United Nations
officials, it is surreal that such homage is being paid to that very
same organization by the so-called liberals of the Tinsel Town elite.
Upon winning his Best Director Golden Globe last month, Ben Affleck
obsequiously praised the "clandestine service as well as the foreign
service that is making sacrifices on behalf of the American people
everyday [and] our troops serving over seas, I want to thank them very
much," a statement echoed almost identically by co-producer Grant Heslov
when "Argo" later won Best Drama.
This comes as no surprise, considering Affleck had previously
described "Argo" as "a tribute" to the "extraordinary, honorable people
at the CIA" during an interview on Fox News.
The relationship between Hollywood and the military and
intelligence arms of the U.S. government have long been cozy. "When the
CIA or the Pentagon says, 'We'll help you, if you play ball with us,'
that's favoring one form of speech over another. It becomes propaganda,"
David Robb, author of "Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and
Censors the Movies" told The Los Angeles Times. "The danger for
filmmakers is that their product — entertainment and information — ends
up being government spin."
Awarding "Argo" the Best Picture Oscar is like Barack Obama winning
a Nobel Peace Prize: an undeserved accolade fawningly bestowed upon a
dubious recipient based on a transparent fiction; an award for what
never was and never would be and a decision so willfully naïve and
grotesque it discredits whatever relevance and prestige the proceedings
might still have had.*
So this Sunday night, when "Argo" has won that coveted golden
statuette, it will be clear that we have yet again been blinded by the
heavy dust of politics and our American mantra of hostility and
resentment will continue to inform our decisions, dragging us closer and
closer to the abyss.
* Yes, in this analogy, the equivalent of Henry Kissinger is obviously 2004's dismal "Crash."
Nima Shirazi is co-editor of the Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the
online magazine Muftah. His political analysis can also be found on his
blog, Wide Asleep in America. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima
U.S., Israel, Iran work to build better relationship: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/190467961.html
David E. Sanger and William J. Broad continue their obsession with the Fordo nuclear enrichment facility in Iran in their Thursday, October 25 article "Iran Said to Nearly Finish Nuclear Enrichment Plant" <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/26/world/middleeast/iran-said-to-complete-nuclear-enrichment-plant.html?_r=1>.
They are more careful in hedging their commentary by
comparison with other reporting, but the implication is still that Iran
is on the road to manufacturing nuclear weapons. "The installation of
the last of nearly 3,000 centrifuges at a site called Fordo, deep under a
mountain inside a military base near the holy city of Qum, puts Iran
closer to being able to build a nuclear weapon, or come up to the edge,
if its leaders ultimately decide to proceed." This continues the
right-wing denizens' mantra in which, failing to provide any evidence
whatever that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, they condemn Iran
developing a "capacity" for producing a nuclear weapon. Later in the
article, they throw caution aside and assert: "The fact that the Fordo
plant is approaching full operation, shortening the amount of time it
would need to build a weapon, gives Iran added ability to exert pressure
on the United States and its allies."
It is hard to know why this story is appearing now.
The Fordo plant is no news. It was announced by Iran and has been
regularly monitored by the IAEA. Moreover, as Sanger and Broad report,
". . . as Mr. Vietor (Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the U.S. National
Security Council, and the only official quoted by name) noted, with
inspectors visiting, 'We are in a position to closely observe Iran’s
program and detect any effort by Iran to begin production of
weapons-grade uranium.' "
The Fordo plant has produced some 20% enriched
uranium, some of which has been converted to plates for use in an
isotope-generating medical reactor, thus reducing the stock of 20%
enriched uranium available for any other purpose. So, Fordo has been
"functioning" all this time. What is the point now of announcing that it
is "approaching full operation" if not simply to provide another
alarmist report exaggerating the already over-hyped brouhaha about
Iranian danger? Sanger and Broad's attempt to fan the dying embers of
hair-on-fire reporting on Iran's nuclear danger is all the more strange
given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's retreat from threats to attack
Iran over the issue.
Romney, citing President Obama's supposed "weakness" on Iran, asserted
in the recent Presidential Debates that Iran had enough enriched uranium
to make "five bombs." This is a total fantasy fabrication, and
misleading as well, since low-enriched uranium cannot be weaponized
without further enrichment. Reporters are not supposed to engage in
partisan advocacy, but it seems Messrs Sanger and Broad in issuing this
total non-story are trying to tip the scales in Mr. Romney's favor.
University of Minnesota
the widely touted shift in the public opinion polls after the first
presidential debate, Mitt Romney is no longer an underdog. That being
the case, his pronouncements are attracting some well-deserved scrutiny
from mainstream media sources. Romney’s major foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute on Oct. 8 is being fact-checked — and castigated — by the Associated Press, CNN, and even by Fox News.
Among the more egregious calumnies in the speech is Romney’s
mischaracterization of Obama’s response to the 2009 election in Iran.
… when millions of Iranians took to the streets in June
of 2009, when they demanded freedom from a cruel regime that threatens
the world, when they cried out, “Are you with us, or are you with
them?”—the American President was silent.
CNN has done a remarkably good job of laying out and scrutinizing
Romney’s accusations, and the harsh Republican and neoconservative
criticism of President Obama’s response to the Iranian election in
mid-June 2009. Are Romney’s accusations factual? No, according to CNN:
“During the first couple of days of the protests and violence, Obama did
not weigh in publicly, but by a few days in, he was not “silent”– and a
week later, took a tougher stance.”
As Glenn Kessler pointed out in a Washington Post article
from June 19, 2009, “President Obama and his advisers have struggled to
strike the right tone, carefully calibrating positive messages about
the protests in an effort to avoid giving the government in Tehran an
excuse to portray the demonstrators as pro-American.” Iranian human
rights activist Shirin Ebadi told Kessler in a telephone interview that
she had no complaints about Obama’s response. “What happens in Iran
regards the people themselves, and it is up to them to make their voices
heard,” she said.
This past January, former GOP-nomination
contender Rick Santorum also assailed Obama’s response to the
post-election protests in Iran, as 2008 presidential rival John McCain
had. Santorum’s Jan. 1, 2012 exchange with David Gregory on Meet the Press
provides the blueprint for the charges Romney hurled at Obama at VMI.
Whoever is prepping the President for the upcoming foreign policy debate
might find Gregory’s tough, pointed and well-informed questions a
useful model for dealing with Romney’s dissembling:
MR. GREGORY: Before you go, I want to ask you about
foreign policy. You’ve been very critical of the president, particularly
on the issue of Iran, which has been a big issue of debate here in
Iowa. Let me play a portion of that.
(Videotape, December 7, 2011)
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: And this president, for every thug and hooligan,
for every radical Islamist, he has had nothing but appeasement. We saw
that during the lead up to World War II. Appeasement.
MR. GREGORY: How can that possibly be accurate, if you’ve taken an
objective look at the foreign policy of this administration? What on
Iran specifically separates the approach that President Obama has taken
and that of President Bush?
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Number one, he didn’t support the pro-democracy
movement in Iran in 2009 during the Green Revolution. Almost immediately
after the election, I mean, excuse me, like with hours after the, the
polls closed, Ahmadinejad announced that he won with 62 percent of the
vote. Within a few days, President Obama basically said that that
was–election was a legitimate one.
MR. GREGORY: But what would that have done specifically to disarm Iran?
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, well, I understand why the president would,
would understand that, you know, someone announcing the minute after
the polls closed that he won, I mean, he comes from Chicago, so I get
it. But the problem is that this was an illegitimate election. The
people in the streets were rioting saying, please support us, President
Obama. We are the prodemocracy movement. We want to turn this theocracy
that has been at war with the United States, that’s developing a nuclear
weapon, that’s, that’s killing our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq with
IEDS. And the president of the United States turned his back on them. At
the same time, a few years–a year later, we have the same situation
where Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists are in the streets of, of Egypt
opposing an ally of ours, not a sworn enemy like Iran, but an ally of
ours in Mubarak…
MR. GREGORY: I’m sorry. The question I asked you…
MR. SEN. SANTORUM: …and he joins the radicals instead of…
MR. GREGORY: Wait a second.
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: …standing with our friends.
MR. GREGORY: The–first of all, that’s patently contradictory. If you
say you support democracy, there was a democratic movement in Egypt and
the Muslim Brotherhood got elected. So how could you be for democracy in
some countries and not others?
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I don’t, because, because…
MR. GREGORY: Which is inconsistent.
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No. The Muslim Brotherhood is not–is not about
democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood are Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood
are going to impose Sharia law.
MR. GREGORY: They were popularly elected, I think. Isn’t that what democracy is about?
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No. No.
The day after Santorum’s appearance on Meet the Press, FactCheck critiqued his claims:
Iran’s presidential election was June 12, 2009, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared victory — triggering protests in Tehran. On June 15, Obama said at a press conference:
“We weren’t on the ground, we did not have observers there, we did not
have international observers on hand, so I can’t state definitively one
way or another what happened with respect to the election. But what I
can say is that there appears to be a sense on the part of people who
were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy who now
feel betrayed. And I think it’s important that, moving forward, whatever
investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in
bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing
Obama issued a statement
five days later again condemning Iran’s post-election “violent and
unjust actions against its own people” and asserting that the U.S.
“stands with all who … exercise” the “universal rights to assembly and
free speech.” It was one of many such statements.
FactCheck also noted that the Washington Times had reported
on June 27, 2009 that Obama was being cautious in what he said about
the election results because he didn’t want to be accused of interfering
and providing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a propaganda “tool.”
While other leaders have been more out front in their
criticism, Mr. Obama has taken pains not to appear to meddle in the
debate on the actual election results, arguing he doesn’t want his words
to become propaganda for the Iranian regime. “Only I’m the president of
the United States, and I’ve got responsibilities in making certain that
we are continually advancing our national security interests and that
we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries,” he said
at a press conference Tuesday.
Fact checkers Brooks Jackson and Eugene Kiely concluded that, in
comparing Obama’s handling of the elections in Iran and Egypt, “Obama
treated both cases similarly: condemning the governments’ use of
violence against their own citizens and supporting the protesters right
Progressives and conservatives can find many faults with the Obama’s
administration’s handling of foreign policy in general and dealings with
Iran in particular. The question in the upcoming election is whether
Mitt Romney could or would do any better. Daniel Larison, a staunch
conservative, doesn’t seem to think so. In “Mitt Romney’s Vapid, Misleading Foreign Policy Speech” Larison writes:
The failings of Romney’s foreign policy arguments are not
entirely his. Boxed in by his party’s hawks and most Republicans’
unwillingness to acknowledge Bush administration blunders, Romney’s
script was to some extent written for him before he became a candidate.
Not being in a position to lead his party in a new direction on this or
any other issue, he had already embraced the worldview that he found
among Republican hawks in an effort to become acceptable to them.
Unfortunately for the country, Americans could have used a credible
opposition party and presidential candidate to hold the administration
accountable for its real mistakes.
U.S. to Take Iran Anti-Regime Group Off Terrorism List
By [G2K members] Jim Lobe and Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Sep 22 2012 (IPS) - In a move certain to ratchet up
already-high tensions with Iran, the administration of President Barack
Obama will remove a militant anti-regime group from the State
Department’s terrorism list, U.S. officials told reporters here Friday.
The decision, which is expected to be formally announced before Oct. 1,
the deadline set earlier this year by a federal court to make a
determination, was in the process of being transmitted in a classified
report to Congress, according to the Department’s spokeswoman, Victoria
The decision came several days after some 680 members of the
Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), or People’s Mojahedin, were transferred from
their long-time home at Camp Ashraf in eastern Iraq close to the Iranian
to a former U.S. base in at Baghdad’s airport in compliance with
Washington’s demands that the group move. The transfer leaves only 200
militants at Camp Ashraf out of the roughly 3,200 who were there before
the transfers began.
Most analysts here predicted that the administration’s decision to
remove the MEK from the terrorism list would only worsen already abysmal
relations with Iran and possibly make any effort to defuse the
gathering crisis over its nuclear programme yet more difficult.
“Delisting will be seen not only by the Iranian regime, but also by
most Iranian citizens, as a hostile act by the United States,” Paul
Pillar, a former top CIA analyst who served as the National Intelligence
Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, told IPS.
“The MEK has almost no popular support within Iran, where it is despised
as a group of traitors, especially given its history of joining forces
with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War,” Pillar, who now teaches
at George Washington University, added.
“Any effect of the delisting on nuclear negotiations will be negative;
Tehran will read it as one more indication that the United States is
interested only in hostility and pressure toward the Islamic Republic,
rather than coming to terms with it.”
The decision followed a high-profile multi-year campaign by the group
and its sympathisers that featured almost-daily demonstrations at the
State Department, full-page ads in major newspapers, and the
participation of former high-level U.S. officials, some of whom were
paid tens of thousands of dollars to make public appearances on behalf
of the MEK.
Officials included Obama’s first national security adviser, Gen. James
Jones, former FBI chief Louis Freeh, and a number of senior officials in
the George W. Bush administration, including his White House chief of
staff, Andrew Card, attorney general Michael Mukasey, and former U.N.
ambassador John Bolton.
Created in the mid-1960s by Islamo-Marxist university students, the MEK
played a key role in the 1979 ouster of the Shah only to lose a bloody
power struggle with the more-conservative clerical factions close to
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The group went into exile; many members fled to Iraq, which they used as
a base from which they mounted military and terrorist attacks inside
Iran during the eight-year war between the two countries. Its forces
were also reportedly used to crush popular rebellions against President
Saddam Hussein that followed the 1991 Gulf War.
During a brief period of détente between Washington and Tehran, the
administration of President Bill Clinton designated the group as a
Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) in 1997 based in part on its murder
of several U.S. military officials and contractors in the 1970s and its
part in the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover, as well as its alliance with
When U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2001, the MEK declared its neutrality
and eventually agreed to disarm in exchange for Washington’s agreement
that its members could remain at Camp Ashraf as “protected persons”
under the Geneva Convention, an arrangement that expired in 2009.
The government of President Nour Al-Maliki, however, has been hostile to
the MEK’s continued presence in Iraq. Two violent clashes since 2009
between Iraqi security forces and camp residents resulted in the deaths
of at least 45 MEK members.
Last December, the UN reached a U.S.-mediated accord with the MEK to
re-locate the residents to “Camp Liberty” at Baghdad’s airport, which
would serve as a “temporary transit station” for residents to resettle
in third countries or in Iran, if they so chose, after interviews with
the UN High Commission on Refugees.
Until quite recently, however, the group — which Human Rights Watch
(HRW) and a significant number of defectors, among others, have
described as a cult built around its long-unaccounted-for founder,
Massoud Rajavi, and his Paris-based spouse, Maryam — has resisted its
wholesale removal from Ashraf. Some observers believe Massoud may be
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s increasingly blunt suggestions that
the MEK’s failure to co-operate would jeopardise its chances of being
removed from the terrorism list, however, appear to have brought it
The MEK claims that it halted all military actions in 2001 and has
lacked the intent or the capability of carrying out any armed activity
since 2003, an assertion reportedly backed up by the State Department.
Earlier this year, however, NBC News quoted one U.S. official as
confirming Iran’s charges that Israel has used MEK militants in recent
years to carry out sabotage operations, including the assassination of
Iranian scientists associated with Tehran’s nuclear programme.
“The Iranian security establishment’s assessment has long believed that
foreign intelligence agencies, specifically the CIA, Israeli Mossad, and
the UK’s MI6 utilise the MEK for terror attacks on Iranian nuclear
scientists, nuclear sabotage and intelligence gathering,” noted Seyed
Hossein Mousavian, a former senior Iranian diplomat and nuclear
negotiator currently at Princeton University.
“Therefore, the delisting of MEK will be seen in Tehran as a reward for
the group’s terrorist actions in the country,” he wrote in an email
exchange with IPS. “Furthermore, Iran has firmly concluded that the
Western demands for broader inspections (of Iran’s nuclear programme),
including its military sites, are a smokescreen for mounting increased
cyber attacks, sabotage and terror of nuclear scientists.
“Delisting MEK would be considered in Tehran as a U.S.-led effort to
increase sabotage and covert actions through MEK leading inevitably to
less cooperation by Iran with the IAEA (the International Atomic Energy
He added that government in Tehran will use this as a way of
“demonstrating to the public that the U.S. is seeking …to bring a
MEK-style group to power” which, in turn, “would strengthen the Iranian
nation’s support for the current system as the perceived alternative
advanced by Washington would be catastrophic.”
That view was echoed by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC),
which noted that the decision opens the doors to Congressional funding
of the MEK and that leaders of the Iran’s Green Movement have long
repudiated the group.
“The biggest winner today is the Iranian regime, which has claimed for a
long time that the U.S. is out to destroy Iran and is the enemy of the
Iranian people,” said NIAC’s policy director, Jamal Abdi.
“It will certainly not improve U.S.-Iranian relations,” according to
Alireza Nader, an Iran specialist at the Rand Corporation, who agreed
that the “delisting reinforces Tehran’s longstanding narrative regarding
U.S. hostility toward the regime.
“Nevertheless,” he added, “I don’t think it is detrimental to U.S.
interests as Tehran suspects U.S. collusion with the MEDK anyhow,
whether this perception is correct or not.”
Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace, said the move was unlikely to be “game-changer” in that “the MEK
will continue to be perceived inside Iran as an antiquated cult which
sided with Saddam Hussein during the (Iran-Iraq) war, and U.S. Iran
relations will remain hostile.”
“It doesn’t help (Washington’s) image within Iran, certainly, and some
Iranian democracy activists may misperceive this as a U.S. show of
support for the MEK, which could have negative ramifications,” he noted.
Another casualty of the decision may be the credibility of the FTO list
itself, according to Mila Johns, a researcher at the National Consortium
for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University
“The entire atmosphere around the MEK’s campaign to be removed from the
FTO list – the fact that (former) American government officials were
allowed to actively and openly receive financial incentives to speak in
support of an organisation that was legally designated as a Foreign
Terrorist Organization, without consequence – created the impression
that the list is essentially a meaningless political tool,” she told
“It is hard to imagine that the FTO designation holds much legitimacy
within the international community when it is barely respected by our
own government,” she said.
No other group, she noted, has been de-listed in this way, “though now
that the precedent has been set, I would expect that other groups will
explore this as an option.”
The Supreme Leader of Iran's
Islamic Revolution inaugurated the 16th summit of Non-Aligned Movement
(NAM) on August 30 delivering a speech that voiced the country's view
points on key regional and international issues.Here if the full text:http://isna.ir/en/news/91060905090/Supreme-Leader-s-Inaugural-Speech-at-the
While I have
fequently been asked about his Fatwa on ban of nuclear weapon, the
following is the full text of Ayatollah Khamenei’s inaugural address on
Nuclear Bomb and Weapons of Mass Distruction:
Honorable audience, international peace and security
are among the critical issues of today’s world and the elimination of
catastrophic weapons of mass destruction is an urgent necessity and a
universal demand. In today’s world, security is
a shared need where there is no room for discrimination. Those who
stockpile their anti-human weapons in their arsenals do not have the
right to declare themselves as standard-bearers of global security.
Undoubtedly, this will not bring about security for
themselves either. It is most unfortunate to see that countries
possessing the largest nuclear arsenals have no serious and genuine
intention of removing these deadly weapons from their military doctrines
and they still consider such weapons as an instrument
that dispels threats and as an important standard that defines their
political and international position. This conception needs to be
completely rejected and condemned.
neither ensure security, nor do they consolidate political power,
rather they are a threat to both security and political power.
The events that took place in the 1990s showed
that the possession of such weapons could not even safeguard a regime
like the former Soviet Union. And today we see certain countries which
are exposed to waves of deadly insecurity despite possessing atomic
Republic of Iran considers the use of nuclear, chemical and similar
weapons as a great and unforgivable sin. We proposed the idea of “Middle
East free of nuclear weapons” and we are committed
to it. This does not mean forgoing our right to peaceful use of
nuclear power and production of nuclear fuel. On the basis of
international laws, peaceful use of nuclear energy is a right of every
country. All should be able to employ this wholesome
source of energy for various vital uses for the benefit of their
country and people, without having to depend on others for exercising
this right. Some Western countries, themselves possessing nuclear
weapons and guilty of this illegal action, want to monopolize
the production of nuclear fuel. Surreptitious moves are under way to
consolidate a permanent monopoly over production and sale of nuclear
fuel in centers carrying an international label but in fact within the
control of a few Western countries.
A bitter irony of our era is that the U.S. government,
which possesses the largest and deadliest stockpiles of nuclear arms
and other weapons of mass destruction and the only country guilty of its
use, is today eager to carry the banner of
opposition to nuclear proliferation. The U.S. and its Western allies
have armed the usurper Zionist regime with nuclear weapons and created a
major threat for this sensitive region. Yet the same deceitful group
does not tolerate the peaceful use of nuclear
energy by independent countries, and even opposes, with all its
strength, the production of nuclear fuel for radiopharmaceuticals and
other peaceful and humane purposes. Their pretext is fear of production
of nuclear weapons. In the case of the Islamic Republic
of Iran, they themselves know that they are lying, but lies are
sanctioned by the kind of politics that is completely devoid of the
slightest trace of spirituality. One who makes nuclear threats in the
21st century and does not feel ashamed, will he feel ashamed
I stress that the Islamic Republic has never been
after nuclear weapons and that it will never give up the right of its
people to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Our motto is:
“Nuclear energy for all and nuclear weapons for none.”
We will insist on each of these two precepts, and we know that breaking
the monopoly of certain Western countries on production of nuclear
energy in the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty is in the
interest of all independent countries, including the
members of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The Islamic Republic's successful experience in
resistance against the bullying and comprehensive pressures by America
and its accomplices has firmly convinced it that the resistance of a
unified and firmly determined nation can overcome all
enmities and hostilities and open a glorious path to its lofty goals.
The comprehensive advances made by our country in the last two decades
are facts for all to see, as repeatedly attested by official
international observers. All this has happened under sanctions,
economic pressures and propaganda campaigns by networks affiliated with
America and Zionism. The sanctions, which were regarded as paralyzing
by nonsensical commentators, not only did not and will not paralyze us,
but have made our steps steadier, elevated
our resolve and strengthened our confidence in the correctness of our
analyses and the inborn capacities of our nation. We have with our own
eyes repeatedly witnessed divine assistance in these challenges.
William O. Beeman
Professor and Chair
Department of Anthropology
University of Minnesota
395 HHH Center
301 19th Avenue S.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
What about Israel’s nuclear weapons?
Readers periodically ask me some
variation on this question: “Why does the press follow every jot and
tittle of Iran’s nuclear program, but we never see any stories about
Israel’s nuclear weapons capability?”
It’s a fair question. Going back 10 years into Post archives, I
could not find any in-depth reporting on Israeli nuclear capabilities,
although national security writer Walter Pincus has touched on it many times in his articles and columns.
Patrick B. Pexton
As ombudsman, Pexton serves as a reader representative and The Post’s internal critic.
I spoke with several experts in the nuclear and
nonproliferation fields , and they say that the lack of reporting on
Israel’s nuclear weapons is real — and frustrating. There are some
obvious reasons for this, and others that are not so obvious.
Israel refuses to acknowledge publicly that it has nuclear weapons. The
U.S. government also officially does not acknowledge the existence of
such a program. Israel’s official position, as reiterated by Aaron
Sagui, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy here, is that “Israel will not
be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.
Israel supports a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction
following the attainment of peace.” The “introduce”
language is purposefully vague, but experts say it means that Israel
will not openly test a weapon or declare publicly that it has one.
According to Avner Cohen, a professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California who has written two books about this subject,
this formulation was born in the mid-1960s in Israel and was the
foundation of a still-secret 1969 agreement between Israeli Prime
Minister Golda Meir and President Richard Nixon, reached when the United
States became sure that Israel possessed nuclear bombs.
John Kennedy vigorously tried to prevent Israel from obtaining the
bomb; President Lyndon Johnson did so to a much lesser extent. But once
it was a done deal, Nixon and every president since has not pressed
Israel to officially disclose its capabilities or to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In return, Israel agrees to keep its nuclear weapons unacknowledged and low-profile.
Israel has not signed the treaty, it is under no legal obligation to
submit its major nuclear facility at Dimona to International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. Iran, in contrast, did sign the treaty
and thus agrees to periodic inspections. IAEA inspectors are regularly in Iran,
but the core of the current dispute is that Tehran is not letting them
have unfettered access to all of the country’s nuclear installations.
although Israel has an aggressive media, it still has military censors
that can and do prevent publication of material on Israel’s nuclear
forces. Censorship applies to foreign correspondents working there, too.
problem, Cohen said, is that relatively few people have overall
knowledge of the Israeli program and no one leaks. Those in the program
certainly do not leak; it is a crime to do so. The last time an Israeli
insider leaked, in 1986, nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu
was kidnapped by Israeli agents in Italy, taken home to trial,
convicted and served 18 years in jail, much of it in solitary
And perhaps most important, Americans don’t leak
about the Israeli nuclear program either. Cohen said information about
Israeli nuclear capabilities is some of the most compartmentalized and
secret information the U.S. government holds, far more secret than
information about Iran, for example. U.S. nuclear researchers, Cohen
said, have been reprimanded by their agencies for talking about it
director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, said there are benign and not-so-benign reasons
that U.S. officials are so tight-lipped. The United States and Israel
are allies and friends. “Do you ‘out’ your friends?” he asked.
not being open about Israel’s nuclear weapons serves both U.S. and
Israeli interests, Perkovich noted. If Israel were public about its
nukes, or brandished its program recklessly — as North Korea does every
time it wants something — it would put more pressure on Arab states to
obtain their own bomb.
Among the less benign reasons U.S. sources
don’t leak is that it can hurt your career. Said Perkovich: “It’s like
all things having to do with Israel and the United States. If you want
to get ahead, you don’t talk about it; you don’t criticize Israel, you
protect Israel. You don’t talk about illegal settlements on the West
Bank even though everyone knows they are there.”
I don’t think
many people fault Israel for having nuclear weapons. If I were a child
of the Holocaust, I, too, would want such a deterrent to annihilation.
But that doesn’t mean the media shouldn’t write about how Israel’s
doomsday weapons affect the Middle East equation. Just because a story
is hard to do doesn’t mean The Post, and the U.S. press more generally,
shouldn’t do it.
Patrick B. Pexton can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at email@example.com.
Sanctions And The Shaping Of Iran’s “Resistance Economy”
July 27th, 2012
The International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) has published a
useful brief aptly subtitled, “Killing them softly”, about the impact of
sanctions on the lives of ordinary people who live in Iran,
particularly women and other vulnerable groups such as Afghan refugee
women and children. I recommend it to everyone who thinks that sanctions
can be potential instruments for positive change in Iran.
To be sure, most individuals and organizations that push for “crippling”
sanctions do so in the name of Israeli security and/or
non-proliferation with little or no regard for the resulting impact on
Iran’s population and civil society. In a world where economic warfare
is considered diplomacy, more sanctions will apparently be the name of
the game “until Iran begins to negotiate seriously” or “chooses a
different path” — whatever that means. Pretensions or hope regarding the
utility of blunt and wide-ranging sanctions for changing the way the
hardline leadership in Iran treats its population, or, even better, for
bringing about a change of regime in a “peaceful” way, are also out
The ICAN brief, while using the words of activists in Iran, does a good
job of explaining how draconian sanctions imposed by the United States
and the European Union ultimately harm Iranians who are caught in a
battle that has very little do with their dreams of living decent lives
and impacting their government’s policies through civil activism. But
this is not to suggest that the Iranian government has escaped the
impact of sanctions unscathed.
The leadership is held responsible for the mishandling of an economy
which, by all accounts, is faced with both stagnation and
hyperinflation. And, if we take at face value the words of parliamentary
speaker Ali Larijani, 20 percent of Iran’s current problems can be
attributed to sanctions that have limited Iran’s access to the foreign
exchange needed for the import of strategic goods from abroad due to the
reduction of oil exports and Iran’s inability to acquire exchangeable
currency for the exported products. Larijani attributed the remainder of
the problems, mostly related to rampant inflation, to the poor
implementation of a subsidy reform plan that did not give enough
attention to production in all industries including agriculture.
The right or wrong belief that better economic management can help Iran
overcome the impact of sanctions perhaps explains why
internationally-imposed draconian pressure has not led to a change in
the leadership’s calculations regarding the nuclear program.
In fact, according to Iran’s Leader Ali Khamenei, Western governments
…openly say that it is necessary to force the Iranian
government officials to revise their calculations by
intensifying pressures and sanctions, but looking at the
existing realities causes us not only to avoid revising our
calculations, but it also causes us to continue the path of
the Iranian nation with more confidence.
In other words, instead of a recalculation on the part of the Iranian
government, the Iranian population is going to have to get used to a
“resistance economy”. What does that entail? Mr. Khamenei’s answer:
Putting the people in charge of our economy by implementing
the general policies specified in Article 44 of the
Constitution, empowering the private sector, decreasing the
country’s dependence on oil, managing consumption, making
the best of the available time, resources and facilities,
moving forward on the basis of well-prepared plans and
avoiding abrupt changes in the regulations and policies are
among the pillars of an economy of resistance.
Considering how these objectives have been in the books since at least
2006 when privatization, empowerment of the private sector and
efficiency became official policy — and produced little in the way of
concrete results — it’s not clear what an administration that is working
through its last year can achieve beyond perhaps “managing
A few steps have already been taken towards that goal. This week,
several economy-related ministers as well as the head of the Central
Bank of Iran (CBI) met with members of parliament in a closed session.
Parliamentary meetings are by law open and publicly broadcasted. Article
69 of the Constitution only allows for closed sessions under “emergency
conditions, if it is required for national security”. This closed
meeting and Khamenei’s words clearly suggest an understanding of the
emergency situation that Iran is facing.
The first decision that resulted from this meeting was the CBI’s
elimination of what is called “travel currency”. Until now, Iranians
could get $1,000 a year at the lower government exchange rate of 12,260
Rials per dollar for their trips abroad (the lower $400 per year for
pilgrimage travel to Iraq and Saudi Arabia was maintained). According to
the head of the Majles’ Economy Commission, Arsalan Fathipour, the $10
billion worth of travel currency that leaves the country every year has
no economic justification and has been halted. Travelers now have to
rely on an unofficial, but not illegal, floating market rate that has
hovered between 19,000 and 20,000 Rials per dollar during the past
couple of months.
The lower official exchange rate will remain for the import of basic and
strategic goods from abroad in order to limit spiraling inflation. But
everything else will probably be imported at the higher rate. As pointed
out by Virginia Tech economist Djavad Salehi Isfahani, this multiple
exchange rate system, despite inefficiencies, makes some sense when a
country is being denied access to global markets, provided action is
also taken to:
…minimize misallocation and corruption, for example by publishing a
complete list of all official foreign exchange sold to private
importers along with the list of the items they import. The
alternative, which is to sell all currencies at the rate set in the
parallel market, is to give too much influence to sanctions and to
sentiments that underly capital flight.
Whether these steps will also be taken is yet to be seen. Another
announcement after the close of the Majles meeting was that some sort of
command center comprised of representatives from of all branches of
government has in effect been created for the resolution of economic
problems and will soon gain implementation powers through legislation.
According to Donyaye Eqtesad, the country’s most influential economic
daily, the push by some influential MPs is for this command center to
have “special powers so that in the coming year it can take the
necessary steps for the implementation of the strategy of resistance
To my mind, this also means that there is not much confidence among the
Iranian political class in the Ahmadinejad Administration’s ability to
steer the country in a positive direction during the last year of its
tenure. This political class holds President Ahmadinejad responsible for
his incompetent handling of the country, but due to the urgency of the
escalating sanctions regime, no longer considers challenging him and his
ministers a useful way of expending their energy.
Talk of “working together” and “unity” has permeated the language of the
conservative and hardline politicians who are currently running Iran.
This language is not meant to extend to the reformist and even centrist
politicians and technocrats who have been essentially purged since the
2009 presidential election, but does indicate a closing of ranks among
an even narrower circle of politicians in the face of adversity and in
the name of resistance.
If ICAN’s analysis is accurate, it also foretells harsher economic
realities for the most vulnerable elements of Iran’s population, a
harsher political environment for those agitating for change, and a more
hostile setting for those who have tried to maintain historical links
between Western societies and Iranian society.
Sanctions impact calculations, but usually not in the intended fashion.
William O. Beeman
Professor and Chair
Department of Anthropology
University of Minnesota
395 HHH Center
301 19th Avenue S.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Please take the time to
read this exceptionally important article by Gareth Porter. It is both
technical and long, but extremely informative. It calls into serious
question all of the current accusations leveled against Iran in the
current international discussions. It also shows the bias of IAEA Chief
Yukia Amano and the distorted and incorrect information provided by David
Albright and Paul Brannan of the Institute for Science and
International Security, two of the most virulent Iran detractors. Please
pass this on, but be sure to credit Truth Out and provide a link to the
Subject: How a Nonexistent Bomb Cylinder Distorts the Iran Nuclear Issue
This article is available for republication, with credit to Truthout, 24 hours after its original publication.
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)For
many months, the most dramatic media storyline on Iran's nuclear
program has been an explosives containment cylinder that the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says was installed at Iran's
Parchin military base a decade ago to test nuclear weapons. The coverage
of the initial IAEA account of the cylinder in its report last November
has been followed by a steady drip of reports about Iran refusing to
allow the agency's inspectors to visit the site at Parchin and satellite
photos showing what are said to be Iranian efforts to "sanitize" the
But unknown to consumers of corporate
news, the story of the Parchin bomb test cylinder has been quietly
unraveling. A former IAEA expert on nuclear weapons has criticized the
story as technically implausible; the account itself turns out to be
marked by a central internal contradiction, and even satellite images
published to the IAEA account have been found by experts to contradict
The evidence detailed below leaves little
room for doubt that the whole story of an explosives cylinder designed
with the help a former Soviet nuclear weapons scientist was a falsehood,
foisted on the world by a state that is never named, but with an
obvious political interest in promoting the idea of a covert Iranian
nuclear arms program. However, the IAEA, which is supposed to be a
politically neutral organization, appears to be committed to the
storyline as part of the political commitment to the anti-Iran coalition
that was pledged by its Director General Yukiya Amano. The tale of the
bomb test cylinder is an essential backdrop for the coming confrontation
I. An Implausible Account and Some Telling Admissions
In its November 2011 report, the IAEA said it had been given
"information from Member States" that in 2000, Iran had built a "large
explosive containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic
experiments." That is the term generally understood in the context of
the Iranian nuclear program to mean simulations of the initial phase of a
nuclear explosion using substitutes for fissile material. The agency
claimed it had "confirmed" that the cylinder had the capacity to contain
up to 70 kilograms (kg) of high explosives, based in part on a
publication by a former Soviet nuclear weapons specialist who had
allegedly helped Iran build the chamber. And it seemed to suggest that
there was satellite evidence to support the story, claiming that a
building had been "constructed at that time around a large cylindrical
object" at Parchin.
But those details of the alleged bomb test
chamber immediately struck former senior IAEA inspector Robert Kelley
as implausible from a strictly technical point of view. Kelley's
credentials for challenging the IAEA were second to none. He had been
project leader for nuclear intelligence at Los Alamos National
Laboratory before becoming the Director of IAEA's Action Team for Iraq
in 1992-93. He then served as director of the US Department of Energy's
(DOE) Remove Sensing Laboratory from 1996 to 1998, rejoining the IAEA to
head its Iraq Action Team again from 2001 to 2005.
Kelley told an interviewer with the Real News Network only a few days after the report: "You have to be crazy to do hydrodynamic explosives in a container.
There's no reason to do it. They're done outdoors on firing tables."
Any test of a nuclear weapon design would have involved "far more
explosives" than the 70 kg capacity claimed for the cylinder at Parchin,
said Kelley. The Bush administration had accused Iran of carrying out
hydrodynamic testing of nuclear weapons at Parchin as early as 2004, but
on the assumption that the tests had been done outdoors, on such a
firing table - not inside an explosive chamber.
The "foreign expert" whose publication was
said to have provided data on the containment chamber's dimensions was
identified in leaks to the news media as Vyacheslav Danilenko, a
Ukrainian who had worked in a Soviet nuclear weapons facility for most
of his career, but who is known to have specialized from the beginning
in the nascent field of nanodiamonds. Leaving the Soviet Union before it
collapsed, he sought to make a living based on his patented design for
an explosive chamber in which to produce those microscopic industrial
diamonds. In 1992, Danilenko joined the private company ALIT in Kiev,
Ukraine, which adopted his design for nanodiamond production.
The dimensions of the alleged bomb test
chamber said to have been built with Danilenko's help and installed in
Parchin were leaked to journalists Michael Adler and the Associated
Press's George Jahn In April and May. It is said to have been about 62
feet long and 14 feet tall, except for a reinforced midsection that is
25 feet tall.
Those dimensions, which would make the
bomb cylinder roughly 1,000 cubic feet in volume, were obviously based
on Danilenko's patented explosives chamber shown on a Power Point slide
presentation prepared by the Philadelphia-based NanoBlox corporation,
which works on explosive production of nanodiamonds. But that same Power
Point shows that the Danilenko cylinder was designed to contain only 10
kg of explosive - one-seventh as much as the 70 kg of explosives that
the Parchin chamber is said to have been capable of containing.
When he read that Iran had produced a
containment chamber that big and with such a large capability for
explosives containment, nuclear weapons specialist Kelley was
incredulous. "It's bigger than any bomb containment vessel the United
States has ever built," he told this writer. Kelley also noted that the
biggest explosive chamber at the purportedly"world class" weapons labs
at Los Alamos National Lab can only handle 10 kg of explosives.
A close reading of the IAEA November
report suggests that its authors were aware of the problems Kelley had
identified. The paragraph on the Parchin chamber says the 70 kg capacity
of the alleged cylinder at Parchin "would be suitable for carrying out
the type of experiments described in paragraph 43 above." But that
paragraph was not about hydrodynamic testing. It was about what it
called a "multipoint initiation concept." A "multipoint initiation"
system could be used for initiating an explosion related to either a
nuclear weapon or for a conventional explosive application.
As Kelley pointed out in an interview with
this writer, moreover, a "multipoint initiation" experiment "doesn't
use uranium, so there's no need for a bomb test chamber." And the
chamber described in the IAEA report is far too big for such an
experiment, Kelley explained. For both reasons, it would be done
The report says Iran carried out "at least
one large-scale experiment in 2003" on a multipoint initiation
technology. But rather than supporting the IAEA's case, that piece of
information makes it even murkier, because the report states that those
experiments were conducted "in the region of Marivan" - a location close
to the Iranian border with Iraqi Kurdistan and very far from Parchin.
The report makes no effort to claim that there was any such bomb containment chamber in Marivan.
So, what the report actually tells us, by implication, is that the
cylinder supposedly installed for "hydrodynamic tests" was not really
appropriate for those tests at all.
An article by David Albright and Paul Brannan of the Institute for
Science and International Security (ISIS) on the organization's web site
on April 10 argued that the reason for doing a test on the "multipoint initiation concept" inside the alleged bomb container "would likely have been to hideits
activities from overhead observation." But that doesn't solve the
IAEA's problem either, because, as Kelley pointed out in an interview,
such an experiment could simply be covered by a tent to hide it from
II. What the Satellite Images Really Tell Us
Albright and Brannan cited two satellite images of the site at Parchin
published in the same article as evidence supporting the IAEA's claim
that a building at the site had been constructed "around a large
cylindrical object." The co-authors said one satellite image of the site
where the nuclear test vessel was allegedly located, dated March 14,
2000, "shows the foundation of the building that would contain the
explosive test," but was "not yet placed on the foundation in this
But Kelley and three former US
intelligence officers with long experience in image interpretation
consulted for this story all conclude from an examination of the March
2000 image that it does not show a foundation for a building that would
eventually be built around the bomb chamber as ISIS claimed. And Kelley
and three other experts on image interpretation expressed serious doubts
that the Parchin site shown in the images has characteristics that
would be associated with any high explosives testing site, let alone a
nuclear weapons testing site.
Kelley, who obtained the March 2000 image last January, told this writer, "You can see the roof is already on."
Retired Col. Pat Lang, who had been
defense intelligence officer for Middle East, South Asia and
counterterrorism at the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1985 to 1992,
also said that the image did not show a foundation. "The 'foundation'
casts a large shadow in the direction of the top of the picture as do
other structures," he said in an email to this writer. "Foundations do
not normally cast shadows."
Another former intelligence officer with
extensive experience in photographic interpretation, who asked not to be
named, told this writer, "The object looks elevated, like a roof."
A third former intelligence officer, who
also has many years of experience in image interpretation and who
requested anonymity, said the March 2000 image shows neither a
foundation for an eventual building, nor a roof, but simply a concrete
slab. He said he found "no evidence of trenching or refilling which is
necessary for a foundation footing."
The same officer said the structure shown
in images from 2004 and later years published by ISIS does not appear to
have been built on the same foundation as depicted in the 2000 image,
as claimed by Albright and Brannan. He said the structure was "much
larger than the slab imaged in 2001." But the same officer said it was
"not a substantial structure, like others at Parchin," suggesting it was
more like "a shed."
Further damaging the credibility of the
Parchin bomb chamber story, Kelley and the three former intelligence
officers consulted for this story said the 2004 image and later images
of the site at Parchin suggest that it has not been used for high
explosives testing at all. "The building in question is not a classical
HE [high explosives] building, that is for sure," Kelley told this
writer. And he noted that Parchin has many other buildings that do have
"classical high explosive signatures."
Two of the former intelligence officers
also said the site does not display any of the other characteristics
associated with high explosives testing, much less testing involving
nuclear weapons. Both officers said the building in question is far too
close to a major divided highway to be involved in such sensitive
testing activity. They also said there are no special security features
as would be expected of a top secret facility.
Former defense intelligence officer Lang
disagreed with the other former analysts on that point, suggesting that
normal security practices were not necessarily followed in the Middle
East. But Kelley pointed out that Iraq's Al Qaqaa facility, where high
explosives had been stored and tested, did have security features that
were missing at the site in question.
Brannan, who had directed a project at
ISIS using commercial satellite imagery to analyze nuclear sites in Iran
and elsewhere, left the organization in mid-May to work at the DOE. He
did not respond to a query to his personal email asking for further
explanation for the claim that the photograph shows a foundation rather
than a building with a roof already on it.
III. The Iranian "Clean-Up" at Parchin"
The tale of the Parchin bomb test chamber has been made even more
believable to the average newspaper reader or television news viewer by
persistent press reports claiming evidence of Iranian efforts to "clean
up" the site at Parchin. The stories all reinforced one another and fit
together with the basic narrative of an Iranian cover-up of nuclear-
The first such story appeared on November
22, just two weeks after the IAEA report was published. Associated Press
Vienna correspondent Jahn, who was the conduit for later leaks on the
same theme, reported that an official of an unidentified state had
"cited intelligence from his home country, saying it
appears that Tehran is trying to cover its tracks by sanitizing the
site and removing any evidence of nuclear research and development."
Albright and Brannan published a satellite
image dated April 9 which appears to show a stream of water from one
end of the building along its side. They wrote that the image "raises concerns that Iran may have been washing inside the building, or perhaps washing the items outside the building." The implication was that this could be an effort to wash away traces of radioactive material used in tests.
But again Kelley explained why that makes
no sense. "The Uranium signatures are very persistent in the
environment," he wrote in an article for the Stockholm International
Peace Research Institute in May. "If
Iran is using hoses to wash contamination across a parking lot into a
ditch, there will be enhanced opportunities for uranium collection if
teams are allowed access."
Albright was back again in June with a new satellite image taken May 25 showing
that soil had been moved from two areas north and south of the building
said to have held the explosive chamber and showing that two much
smaller buildings nearby had been demolished. But it also showed that
the same soil was dumped only a few hundred feet farther north of the
building, making environmental sampling quite simple. The fragments of
the two small buildings demolished at the site appear to have been left
intact on the ground, and the building where the chamber had allegedly
been located and the soil closest to it remained undisturbed.
In the context of obvious Iranian
knowledge that satellites are taking images of the site regularly and
that news headlines based on those images would certainly follow, the
images in question suggest something quite different from the "clean up"
of the site reported in global news media: an Iranian effort to
increase the value to the IAEA of visiting the site, so the agency would
be more open to compromise on its demand to be able to continue
investigating allegations of Iranian covert nuclear weapons work
indefinitely, regardless of the information provided by Iran in response
to its questions.
That Iranian strategy is unlikely to work,
however. The clean-up stories - obviously coming from the same sources
that provided the original information on the Parchin bomb test chamber -
appear to be efforts to prepare public opinion for the inevitable IAEA
finding after a visit to Parchin that there was no evidence of any such
bomb test chamber. The same diplomats will be quoted in the stories on
the IAEA visit explaining how the Iranians had merely washed or hauled
away the evidence of hydrodynamic testing at the site.
At a deeper level, the negotiations
between Iran and the IAEA over the terms of the investigation of the
alleged "military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program are hostage to
the higher level negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. Amano was
elected director general in 2009 thanks to US diplomatic support, and,
as an October 2009 WikiLeaks cable revealed, Amano reminded the US ambassador to the agency more than once that he was "solidly in the US court" on handling the Iranian file.
Clearly, the United States and its allies want Amano to keep Iran in
the position of being accused of such covert nuclear weapons work in
order to maximize the political-diplomatic pressure on Tehran.
political interests of the key players and the complicity of corporate
news media appear to guarantee that the Parchin explosives cylinder will
continue to dominate public consciousness, despite the fact that the
storyline around it has been thoroughly debunked. The persistent
narrative serves as yet another chilling indicator of just how far the
mass communications system in the United States and elsewhere has tilted
toward the Orwellian model.
“WE talk about generals fighting the last war,” said Tim McNulty, who served as foreign editor for The Chicago Tribune during the Iraq war. “I think journalists also do.”
Nine years after the start of the Iraq war, the scene has shifted to
Iran, and Mr. McNulty has a more detached view of events, as co-director
of the National Security Journalism Initiative
at Northwestern University. Now he cautions journalists against falling
again for a kind of siren song: “the narrative of war.”
“The narrative of war, or anticipating war, is a much stronger narrative
than the doubters have,” he said. “It is an easier story to write than
the question of, well, is it really necessary?”
In recent months I have heard from many readers
concerned that The New York Times is falling for this siren song, the
narrative of war, in its coverage of Iran’s nuclear program. Not
infrequently, readers and critics invoke Judith Miller’s now-discredited coverage in The Times of Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, as if to say it is all happening again.
Among the criticisms are that The Times has given too much space to
Israeli proponents of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities; has
failed to mention often enough that Israel itself has nuclear arms; has sometimes overstated the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency; has repeated the questionable assertion that Iran’s leaders seek the eradication of Israel; has failed to analyze the Iranian supreme leader’s statement that nuclear weapons are a “sin”; and has published misleading headlines.
William O. Beeman, author of “The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other,” told me he believes The Times’s coverage has contributed to a dangerous public misunderstanding of the situation.
“The conventional wisdom with regard to Iran is that Iran has a nuclear
weapons program and that they are going to attack Israel and going to
attack the United States,” said Mr. Beeman, who is chairman of the
anthropology department at the University of Minnesota. “But all these
things are tendentious and highly questionable.”
Mr. Beeman faulted The Times for mischaracterizing I.A.E.A. reports
and for a “disconnect between headline and the actual material in the
stories that really affects public opinion,” saying these problems
raised a question about the “civic responsibility of The Times.”
This bill of particulars against The Times’s coverage weighs heavily,
but it is clear to me that this is not a replay of the Judith Miller
episode. I do find examples that support the complaints mentioned above,
but also see a pattern of coverage that gives due credence to the
counternarrative — not of war but of uncertainty and caution.
executive editor of The Times, told me the paper is “certainly mindful
that some readers may see an echo of the paper’s flawed coverage of
Iraq,” but she also noted distinct differences. This time, she said, the
United States government is expressing doubts about weapons of mass
destruction, not leading the drumbeat for war. And there is no question
that Iran has a nuclear program; it’s just unclear whether it is for
civilian or military use.
Times journalists “are mindful of our responsibility to be vigilant,
skeptical and fair,” she said. “Last month, when the calls for striking
Iran began to grow louder, we brought together the foreign and
Washington desks and came up with a run of stories designed to examine
closely the statements made by those on both sides of the argument,
especially the rising calls for a military strike.”
“A central argument on that side,” she added, “is that sanctions were not working and never would; that an Israeli strike would be easy and effective and might not draw the U.S. into war; and that Iran was weak, and unlikely to retaliate in the event of a strike.”
She pointed to articles The Times has done on all those issues, plus one saying that American intelligence analysts continued to believe there was no hard evidence that Iran had decided to build a nuclear bomb.
These were all good articles, and all were played on Page 1. Getting the
Iranian point of view, though, has proved far more elusive and is
complicated by The Times’s difficulty gaining access to the country,
which carefully controls foreign news media. Although The Times’s Robert
F. Worth captured some Iranian voices in his Feb. 6 article on the impact of sanctions, The Times has not been able to report from within the country on a consistent basis.
The result is an asymmetry of perspective, something I heard frequently
in conversations with others about the coverage. The Times, for example,
ran a 7,627-word Sunday magazine article by the Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman about Israel’s calculations for a possible attack. No such word count can be tied to the Iranian point of view.
“There needs to be far more effort to get into the heads of Iranians,
the policy makers and their people, to understand how this chess game is
being played from their perspective,” said Tony Burman,
former head of Al Jazeera English and Canada’s CBC News, and now a
lecturer at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism in Toronto.
dean of journalism at the University of Maryland and former president
of NPR, called for an effort to “carefully parse” the public statements
of Iran’s leaders and publish analyses that capture the nuances.
Hooman Majd, an
Iranian-American journalist who spent much of 2011 in Iran, observed
that news coverage has left Americans with a caricatured understanding
not only of Iran’s leaders but of its people “as being completely
oppressed or completely lunatic.”
“Neither is accurate,” said Mr. Majd, author of “The Ayatollah Begs to Differ” and “The Ayatollahs’ Democracy.”
What is needed from The Times, he added, is more effort not only to get
ordinary Iranian voices into the coverage but also to reach across the
cultural divide to fully understand significant statements from the
Iranian leadership, like the fatwa against nuclear weapons by Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader.
I share this view and believe the West’s inability to understand the
other side’s leadership may have a parallel with the run-up to the Iraq
war. Once again, the stakes are high for all involved, including The
Times, which has an opportunity to get it right this time.
William O. Beeman / Professor and Chair
Department of Anthropology /University of Minnesota
395 HHH Center / 301 19th Avenue S. / Minneapolis, MN 55455
Ramping up for the next war?
U of M professor William Beeman sees the U.S. press, AIPAC and right-wing think tanks agitating for an attack on Iran
By DAVID RUBENSTEIN
The U.S. media is setting up the public for a
military attack on Iran in a way that recalls the months leading up the
Iraq war in 2003, according to Middle East expert William Beeman, chair
of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Anthropology.
Beeman spoke and answered questions for more
than two hours on Feb. 11, at the Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer
in Minneapolis. Middle East Peace Now sponsored the talk.
Speaking before a sympathetic audience, he
declared at the outset that an attack on Iran would be “madness,” and he
cited a number of Israeli authorities who more or less agree with him.
They include the former head of Mossad, Israel’s CIA, Meir Dagan, who
last year called an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran “the stupidest
thing I have ever heard.”
But right now, says Beeman, a wide swath of
the U.S. press is promoting the idea through continual repetition of the
claim that Iran’s nuclear industry is a potential stepping-stone to a
weapons program — even though there is no evidence that a weapons
program has been initiated.
“They have done very well,” he says,
regarding the mainstream news media’s campaign to vilify Tehran. “Sit
down next to someone on a plane, and ask what they think about Iran, and
it’s likely to be ‘Iran has nuclear weapons and they are going to bomb
- William Beeman: AIPAC has a completely unrealistic view of the interests of Israel. (Photo: David Rubenstein)
to realize that Iran’s nuclear industry goes back 40 years, Beeman
points out. “We sold it to them.” It took some arm-twisting, he adds.
“We went to the Shah and said if you want to be modern nation, you must
have nuclear power.”
Today there are compelling economic reasons
for Iran to continue its nuclear program, according to Beeman. He cites
800,000 as the number of cancer patients currently getting radiation
treatment in Iran. He notes, too, that Iran is the largest auto
manufacturer in the Middle East and a producer of steel, as well as
aluminum, which is particularly demanding of electrical power. At the
same time, according to Beeman, in the current market it’s making more
economic sense for Iran to sell natural gas to China than to use it for
domestic energy needs.
The major push for the attack-Iran campaign,
Beeman asserts, is coming from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and Ehud Barak, the defense minister, and their interest is, in part,
The Israeli coalition government, fragile
from the beginning, is now threatened by economic unrest, including
street protests, “and nothing works like an outside enemy.”
But Netanyahu’s interest goes much deeper
than electoral politics, according to Beeman. He sees in Netanyahu
something of a Churchill complex, in reference to the British wartime
leader standing up to a world of Chamberlains, or appeasers. Beeman
argues that Netanyahu’s thinking vis-à-vis Iran can be traced back to
1996, when he sought and received advice from American neoconservatives,
in the form of a document called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” It promoted regime change, starting with Iraq, then Syria and then Iran
A similar strategy, with many of the same authors, was resurrected a year or two later by way of the Project for a New American Century.
According to Beeman, the idea of promoting
regime change in Iran, whether by bombing or creating intolerable
economic conditions, is a naïve fantasy. The early leaders of the
Iranian revolution understood well that shakeups occur when dictators
are toppled. As a result, he says, they set up a government that is “a
miracle of baroque complexity,” with roughly 150 important
decision-makers, staggered elections and interlocking offices.
Ahmadinejad, Beeman says, is a cog in that
system; he should be regarded as something like a city manager, in a
town that is run by a mayor and city council. In any case, according to
Beeman, his threats have been overblown. Beeman maintains that the
Jewish community in Iran, the largest in the Middle East outside of
Israel, is relatively well off and free to travel, including to and from
Today in the United States, Beeman sees the push for an attack on Iran coming primarily from three groups: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the American Enterprise Institute and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
AIPAC has extraordinary power, he says, making it clear to lawmakers
that if they cross it they risk a frontal assault at election time, in
part by having campaign donations diverted to their opponents.
It’s not easy to say that, Beeman acknowledges, without opening yourself up to a charge of being anti-Semitic, or anti-Israel.
“My personal opinion,” he says, “is that
AIPAC has a completely unrealistic view of the interests of Israel. They
reflect only the views of its most rabid right-wing politicians.”
Beeman suggested that those in the audience support a better alternative to AIPAC: “It’s called J Street.”
He’s a member himself of the group that bills itself as “pro-Israel and
pro-peace,” he says, even though he is not Jewish; “because I believe
in J Street’s mission. I want the Israeli people to be happy and safe.”
(American Jewish World, 3.2.12)
is William O. Beeman's commentary on Bill Keller's New York Times column
"Bomb-bomb-Bomb, Bomb-Bomb-Iran?" (New York Times, Monday, January 23).
This comment is a "pick" of the NY Times editorial board. How many times do we have to remind ourselves that no one--no one has
any proof that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. Not the IAEA not our
own National Intelligence Estimate, not the Israeli military. Moreover
the U.S and its allies have been saying that Iran is one or two years
away from making a bomb every year since 1990. Iran has none of the
facilities needed to turn its current low enriched uranium into anything
weaponizable, nor does it have a delivery system. Even if it had such
facilities it would need to test its imaginary weapon, depleting its
stockpile of low enriched uranium.
is below Professor Beeman's commentary:
Let's consider that 19 other
nations--all signatories like Iran to the NPT--are enriching uranium
exactly as Iran is doing. Some, like Japan, have already declared that
they intend to make nuclear weapons in the future if they need to. So
why aren't we going after these nations with threats, sanctions and
plans for carpet bombing? The answer is clear: we are targeting Iran,
and using this non-existent issue as an excuse. The reason: a nuclear
threat is a plausible excuse for regime change--what the hawks and
neocons are really after!
Americans need to wake up and
understand that they are being flim-flammed in a huge way. We will wake
up in the middle of a massive conflagration and realize that the
ideologues did it again--got us into a gigantic foreign conflict that
will tie us and the world up for decades over a non-existent threat.
Fool me twice, shame on me.
University of Minnesota