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Iran

Brazil says “no” to Iranian sanctions

So far this South American swing has been a real tour de force for Hillary Clinton – first she manages to anger one of our more stalwart allies by giving false Argentine claims legitimacy and now Ms. Clinton has managed to get Brazil to publicly refuse our attempt to increase sanctions on Iran.

Brazil.

We can’t even get Brazil to go along with us:

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pre-empted Clinton even before she could make the case for new United Nations Security Council penalties. Silva is an outspoken opponent of sanctions, and his country currently sits on the Security Council, which will be asked to approve its toughest-ever penalties on Iran later this year.

“It is not prudent to push Iran against a wall,” Silva told reporters hours before meeting with Clinton. “The prudent thing is to establish negotiations.”

Clinton told a news conference she respects Brazil’s position but thinks if there is any possibility of negotiating with Iran, it would happen only after a new round of sanctions.

So that’s at least one no vote on the UN’s Security Council. China and Russia are no fans of the idea. That could mean up to 3 no votes. Yup, this sanctions thing is really taking off.

The U.S. officials said that despite clear differences at the moment, the Brazilians assured Clinton their current position was not “etched in stone.”

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private diplomatic exchange.

That’s diplo speech for “yeah, had a great time and I promise I’ll call you tomorrow”.

~McQ

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Russia: How’s that “reset button” working?

The push for international support for tougher sanctions against Iran seem to be going well with our good friends in Russia:

Russia will not support “crippling” sanctions against Iran, including any that may be slapped on the Islamic Republic’s banking or energy sectors, a senior Russian diplomat said Wednesday.

[…]

“We are not got going to work on sanctions or measures which could lead to the political or economic or financial isolation of this country,” Oleg Rozhkov, deputy director of the security affairs and disarmament department at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters.

“What relation to non-proliferation is there in forbidding banking activities with Iran? This is a financial blockade. And oil and gas. These sanctions are aimed only at paralyzing the country and paralyzing the regime.”

Well, yeah – that’s sort of the point of sanctions. Short of that, there are few options left to force Iran to comply with the will of the international community – such that it is. And this is one of the failings of the Obama administration’s approach.

You have to sort of root around to find that approach spelled out, but the clearest indication of how the administration approaches foreign policy is actually found in the DoD’s recently released Quarterly Defense Review. One sentence tells it all:

“America’s interests are inextricably linked to the integrity and resilience of the international system.”

In the past, US presidents have realized that, “the integrity of the international system depends upon the resilience of American power.”

The Obama administration (and this explains much of his world apology tour) has flipped that now putting “American power” second to the will and “integrity” of the “international system”.  As the article cited notes, Obama wants a “quiet world” so he can concentrate on his domestic agenda.  One way to do that is cede the US’s leadership role.

You can see how well that approach is working. Russia has just demonstrated the “integrity” of the “international system” by saying “no”. I wonder if Obama will call them obstructionists and “the country of ‘no’.”

Seriously though, this is quite a step back from the American leadership of the past, and it will have consequences. That statement in the QDR cedes our former position as the supposed leader of the free world to organizations like the UN. That has been a dream of the liberal left for decades. And as you read through the article I’ve cited for the QDR quote, look at the analysis that says that the plan reduces the American role in world by “disarming” us and structuring our military for a lesser role.

Russia is just the first of many nations which are going to defy the US’s attempts at pushing its foreign policy throughout the world because, essentially, there is no down side to doing so. We’re a weakened debtor nation (Putin recently consoled EU economic basket case Greece by pointing out the US is in the same boat) that has made it pretty clear that it won’t act without clear consensus from the “international system” this administration seems to love. Russia is obviously a part of that system and doesn’t mind at all stepping up and saying no. And China? Well, if Russia is this blatant and blunt about denying what the US wants, you can imagine China’s position.

Like I said, 2009 was the year of taking this administration’s measure on the foreign policy front. 2010 is the year that those sensing a power/leadership vacuum inherent in this US pullback attempt to fill it. Russia’s just the first to step up to the plate. We’ll hear from China soon.

~McQ

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Iran: Foreign Policy Naivete Yielding To Reality?

Apparently “engagement”, at least when it comes to Iran, seems to be headed to the scrap heap of foreign policy ideas. That’s primarily because such a policy requires both sides to be willing to engage, something many experts tried to point out that Iran has never shown any willingness to do in the past. Candidate Obama wanted to point the finger of failure at the previous administration. But his administration has fared no better. Now, it appears, that administration has finally realized confrontation with Iran serves it best:

Ray Takeyh, a former Iran adviser to the Obama administration, said administration officials were learning from experience.

“There was a thesis a year ago that the differences between the United States and Iran was subject to diplomatic mediation, that they could find areas of common experience, that we were ready to have a dialogue with each other,” Mr. Takeyh said, but “those anticipations discounted the extent how the Iranian theocracy views engagement with the United States as a threat to its ideological identity.”

That’s not to say the spin factory in the White House isn’t trying to claim it’s failure to engage Iran isn’t a “success”:

Instead, administration officials say, the biggest benefit of Mr. Obama’s engagement policy now is not dialogue or understanding with adversaries, but simply a defusing of a worldwide view that the United States is part of the problem, a demonstration that the problem is Tehran’s intransigence, not Washington’s pique.

“What the president has achieved is that he has outed Iran,” a senior administration official said Friday. He said Iran, by refusing to respond positively, had exposed itself as uninterested in a better relationship with the United States.

They honestly think any objective person would believe that the 31 year refusal to “engage” with the US and the rest of the world was the US’s fault? Really? A country which took hostages from an embassy and held them for 444 days while calling the US “the Great Satan” was seen as the “good guy” in this? The intransigence isn’t just a product of the last 8 years. It is a product of the last 31 years. No one with any sense has ever considered the problem there a result of “Washington’s pique”.

However, that brings us to how the term “engagement” is now redefined by the White House:

At a news briefing on Thursday, the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, presented this latest metamorphosis of the administration’s thinking: that engagement is not necessarily about the two adversaries, but rather, about the worldview on America.

Of course it is. That was clearly  what was meant in Obama’s “unclenched fist” speech, wasn’t it?  Apparently the administration’s gameplan is to refuse to admit the failure of its policy and instead just redefine words to fit the present situation.  I can’t say that comes as much of a surprise.

~McQ

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Where Is Our Secretary Of State On This?

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has spoken out about the violence in Iran and the repression of the protesters, calling the violence against them by the state “disturbing” and hailing the “great courage” the protesters have demonstrated.

He further stated:

“The tragic deaths of protesters in Iran are yet another reminder of how the Iranian regime deals with protest,” he said.

“Ordinary Iranian citizens are determined to exercise their right to have their voices heard. They are showing great courage.

“I call on the Iranian government to respect the human rights of its own citizens – rights which Iran has promised to respect.”

Of course speaking out like this in support of freedom and democracy – something US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said would remain the policy of the United States – has drawn an expected reaction from Iran’s Manouchehr Mottaki:

Mr Mottaki said the protesters “should not be encouraged by a few… statements by certain countries”.

He added: “They should not pin their hopes on them. Britain will get slapped in the mouth if it does not stop its nonsense.”

Mr Mottaki’s speech was broadcast on Iranian television with an English translation on screen.

“The lowly and downgrading remarks by some foreign officials show the black stain on their record in their… contradictory interactions.”

Oh, my. A “stern rebuke”. How ghastly. I’m sure Miliband is forever scarred.

Obviously, it is this horrific toll that is keeping our brave Secretary of State from speaking out on the violence and injustice now occurring in Iran. Instead it is left up to an NSA spokesman to make the denunciation.

NSA? So they’re now conducting our foreign affairs.

Where in the world is Carmen … er, Hillary Clinton?

~McQ

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Riots In Iran: Obama Administration Gets A Second Chance

What do I mean by that?  Well, the first time this happened when the elections were disputed during the summer, the administration was anything but supportive of the dissenters.  In fact, while it engaged in a full-up diplomatic attack on Honduras for doing what its Constitution demands, the administration all but ignored the turmoil in Iran.

Of course the excuse given by apologists for the administration claim that the administration felt there was more to be gained by “engaging” the rogue regime vs. backing a movement that may actually see that regime toppled.  Obviously, given what has happened this week in Iran, those dissenting there haven’t been waiting on Obama’s blessing or support.  The movement has been simmering since the election and again violence against the regime has broken out in the streets of the country in a battle against the oppressive mullocracy.

At least eight anti-government protesters, including a nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Iran’s opposition leader, were shot dead yesterday as the smouldering confrontation between the regime and the so-called Green Movement finally erupted.

Early reports put the number of dead at five, but as clashes continued late into the night, Iranian state television reported that the number of dead had risen. A report on the website of state television put the number of dead as high as 15 and quoted the Ministry of Intelligence that more than 10 were members of “anti-revolutionary terrorist” groups.

The other five who reportedly died during the bitter clashes in the Iranian capital were killed by “terrorist groups,” Iranian TV claimed.

Analysts heralded the start of what could be a bloody endgame as hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters poured on to the streets of Tehran and other cities and fought running battles with the security forces. Opposition websites claimed that some policemen had refused to fire on demonstrators.

This isn’t something which is happening in some isolated city in Iran, or just Tehran for that matter – this is a movement that has gone national and is gaining support.

Question: Wouldn’t it be in our best interest and the best interest of the region and world if the current regime fell? Obviously there’s some “what if” to be done here, like “what if the replacement regime is worse”? Hard to imagine given the supposed agenda of those now rioting in the street, but it is certainly remotely possible. But it would seem to me to be a risk well worth taking given the present regime.

So, of all people, that brings us to Hillary Clinton, a speech she recently gave in Georgetown and a “put your money where your mouth is” moment.

Ms. Clinton said that the administration, “like others before us, will promote, support and defend democracy.” She pledged that it would publicly denounce abuses by other governments and support dissidents and civil society groups.

Really? Well, here’s your chance, Ms. Clinton. Here’s a chance to positively effect the lives of an oppressed people. Here’s a chance to help bring down an oppressive regime and actually “promote, support and defend democracy”. Here’s a chance to “publicly denounce” the abuses of the Iranian regime.

Imagine if you will, the effect of that regime actually falling. It would immediately have an effect in both Iraq and Afghanistan where our soldiers battle insurgents backed by the country. It would also have an effect on the greater middle east, removing one of the mainstays of support for both Hamas and Hezbollah. And it would kick one of the supports out from under other dictators, such as Hugo Chavez, who continues to make noises about acquiring “nuclear capabilities”.

In fact, enabling and supporting the dissident movement in Iran would be one of the smartest things we could do right now. Any distraction that puts Iran off its gain is a good distraction in terms of the rest of the world and specifically the US. Shouldn’t that be the overriding reason for our foreign policy – what is good for us? Isn’t it the job of our government to pursue that aim?

So what are these words from Clinton and the Obama administration? Empty platitudes or policy?

Over the next few weeks we should be able to make that determination as they react (or don’t) to the situation in Iran.

~McQ

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Iran: Nuke Weapons Work Continues

I‘m sure this will come as a surprise to someone out there – like our State Department and perhaps the CIA:

Confidential intelligence documents obtained by The Times show that Iran is working on testing a key final component of a nuclear bomb.

The notes, from Iran’s most sensitive military nuclear project, describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion. Foreign intelligence agencies date them to early 2007, four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons programme.

Yup, four years after the world bought off on the claim by Iran that it hadn’t been doing anything in the nuclear weapons area. “It’s for peaceful purposes”? In the future schools of foreign policy will use this particular situation as a case study in how a small state manipulates the most powerful nations of the world at will.

“Although Iran might claim that this work is for civil purposes, there is no civil application,” said David Albright, a physicist and president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, which has analysed hundreds of pages of documents related to the Iranian programme. “This is a very strong indicator of weapons work.”

A “strong indicator?!” It is weapons work, Mr. Albright! Why are these people so loathe to say that?

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said yesterday: “We do not comment on intelligence, but our concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme are clear. Obviously this document, if authentic, raises serious questions about Iran’s intentions.”

No. It doesn’t. It answers questions about Iran’s intentions! For goodness sake, the dance continues, doesn’t it?

You remember the NIA that was produced in 2007?

A 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate concluded that weapons work was suspended in 2003 and officials said with “moderate confidence” that it had not resumed by mid-2007. Britain, Germany and France, however, believe that weapons work had already resumed by then.

And it appears they were correct. So now what?

The fallout could be explosive, especially in Washington, where it is likely to invite questions about President Obama’s groundbreaking outreach to Iran. The papers provide the first evidence which suggests that Iran has pursued weapons studies after 2003 and may actively be doing so today — if the four-year plan continued as envisaged.

It shouldn’t just invite questions about Obama’s Iran agenda – the whole world continues to be played for a sucker by Iran. But it is ironic that this president who has made nuclear non-proliferation a priority of his administration is all but allowing Iran to develop them.

Is this a casus belli as one expert claims? Or will we see more diplomatic ring-around-the-rosy with tough talk and the usual non-action?

Given the history, I think that about covers it, don’t you?  I wonder what the over/under in months is before Iran is welcomed into the nuclear weapons club?

~McQ

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Defiant Iran Thumbs Its Nose At The Rest Of The World (update)

Well, so far this new policy of “engagement” is paying off handsomely with Iran. Here’s how they unclench their fist:

Iran’s government will build 10 new sites to enrich uranium, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday, a dramatic expansion of the country’s nuclear program and one that is bound to fuel fears that it is attempting to produce a nuclear weapon.

Ahmadinejad told state news agency IRNA that construction of at least five nuclear facilities was to begin within two months.

This in the wake of an IAEA censure last Friday which, obviously, intimidated the heck out of the Iranians. The censure called Iran’s activities a “breach of its obligations” under UN treaties. Today’s announcement tells everyone what they think of those obligations. And if that wasn’t clear, Iran’s leaders made it so:

“We are ready to be friendly and kind toward the whole world, but at the same time we won’t allow the smallest violation of the rights of the Iranian nation,” Ahmadinejad said.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, standing alongside the president, told reporters that the decisions of the cabinet on Sunday are a strong response to the “unacceptable actions of world powers.”

Or, “stuff your ‘engagement’ in your pocket, we’ve got a plan and we intend to complete it – and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

So – now what?

UPDATE: Ah.  The White House reacts:

But in Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the announcement “another example of Iran choosing to isolate itself.”

“The international community has made clear that Iran has rights, but with those rights come responsibilities,” Gibbs said in a written statement. “As the overwhelming IAEA board of governors vote made clear, time is running out for Iran to address the international community’s growing concerns about its nuclear program.”

Maybe Gibbs missed it but it seems to me that Iran has just finished addressing the “international community’s growing concerns about its nuclear program”.

~McQ

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More Violent Protests In Iran

Protests have again flared in Iran on the anniversary of the take over of the US Embassy in the ’70s:

Security forces have used batons and tear gas to disperse opposition supporters in the Iranian capital, Tehran, witnesses and state media say.

Unconfirmed reports said the authorities had also opened fire.

Video posted on a reformist website showed hundreds of opposition supporters marching in central Tehran chanting “death to dictators”.

It came as an officially backed demonstration was held to mark 30 years since the seizure of the US embassy.

Thousands turned out for the anti-American rally, about 1.5km (1 mile) from where opposition supporters gathered in Haft-e Tir square.

Many of the opposition demonstrators wore green scarves or bands, which have been used in repeated protests since Iran’s disputed presidential elections in June.

I’ll remind you that this pattern in Iran – continuing protests across the country at every turn – is exactly the pattern that eventually brought the current regime to power after it overthrew the Shah.

The US’s response – well not much. They’ve been very vocal about Honduras, which is no threat at all to us, while mostly silent about the protests in Iran. And, as we know, Iran is indeed a threat to us and the Middle East. Their Qods forces are active in both Iraq and Afghanistan trying to kill American soldiers and thwart our efforts there.

And what do we do or say? Not much. About the best we get is this:

On Wednesday’s anniversary of the seizure of the US embassy, US President Barack Obama released a statement in which he urged Iran to move beyond the “suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation” that had prevailed between Iran and the US since then.

“Iran must choose,” the statement said. “We have heard for 30 years what the Iranian government is against; the question now is what kind of future it is for.”

My guess is the pro-democracy protesters in Iran would like to hear the same sort of thing from the US.

~McQ

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Putin, Iran, Nuke Talks And First Strikes

Vladimir “Pooty Poot” Putin, with the opportunity to either back the words of Russia’s president that sometimes sanctions are just necessary or the Foreign Minister’s words of yesterday, chose to back the FM’s:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned major powers on Wednesday against intimidating Iran and said talk of sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear programme was “premature”.

Putin, who many diplomats, analysts, and Russian citizens believe is still Russia’s paramount leader despite stepping down as president last year, was speaking after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Moscow for two days of talks.

“There is no need to frighten the Iranians,” Putin told reporters in Beijing after a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

“We need to look for a compromise. If a compromise is not found, and the discussions end in a fiasco, then we will see.”

“And if now, before making any steps (towards holding talks) we start announcing some sanctions, then we won’t be creating favourable conditions for them (talks) to end positively. This is why it is premature to talk about this now.”

There’s more afoot here than just stiffing the US, although that seems to have become a bit of a game for the Russians lately. Iran is very important in the Russian scheme to have hegemony over its “near abroad”. It is interested in Iran, not because of its oil, but mostly because of its natural gas. Russia is the major supplier of NG to Europe. Iran is another potential source. Russia sees an advantage in exercising nominal control over Iran’s supply of NG by maintaining friendly relations. That control allows them to use the supply of NG as leverage.  Power and money talk – “reset” buttons don’t.

Another little change in Russia’s approach to the world today is their possible change in their nuclear arms strategy:

Russia is weighing changes to its military doctrine that would allow for a “preventive” nuclear strike against its enemies — even those armed only with conventional weapons. The news comes just as American diplomats are trying to get Russia to cut down its nuclear stockpile, and put the squeeze on Iran’s suspect nuclear program.

Not exactly the position you’d like to see them take if you have a goal of reducing nuclear stockpiles. And note that Russia not only reserves the right to make a preemptive nuclear strike, but reserves that right to use nuclear weapons against a foe that is armed with conventional weapons only.

As for those talks, this seems to be the Russian negotiating position:

In the interview, he takes a swipe at the United States and NATO, saying that the alliance “continues to press for the admission of new members to NATO, the military activities of the bloc are intensifying, and U.S. strategic forces are conducting intensive exercises to improve the management of strategic nuclear weapons.”

In other words, Moscow is holding to a hard line, precisely at a time when Washington is trying to play nice. The administration wants the Kremlin’s help — to pressure Iran, to revive the arms-control process — but the bear still needs to brandish nukes.

Cutting through the clutter, it seems their initial demands will have little to do with nukes and everything to do with what they deem encroachments into their sphere of influence. That may lead to some talks about nuke stockpiles, but it appears those may end up aimed mostly at US reductions and not so much those of the Russians (who may claim to have unilaterally gotten rid of many nukes because they couldn’t afford to keep them up during the transition from the USSR to its present state).

In the meantime, it is reported that the US will allow Russian inspectors on US sites – apparently granted with absolutely nothing in return. Again.

If you have the feeling we’re going to get rolled in any future nuclear arms talks, join the club.

~McQ

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Iranian Sanctions: Russia Makes A U-Turn

Not that some of us are at all surprised (for the umpteenth time, “Russia is not our friend”):

“At the current stage, all forces should be thrown at supporting the negotiating process,” he said. “Threats, sanctions and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive.”

With that, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov effectively killed any US hopes found in Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev statement that “in some cases, sanctions are inevitable” of three weeks ago. As was predicted by many, the unilateral withdrawal of plans to base a missile defense in eastern Europe, an obvious attempt to better relations with Russia, yielded nothing.

Russia’s support is key to getting U.N. Security Council approval of any sanctions, but the country has traditionally been cautious on confronting Iran, a key trading partner and neighbor. In recent years, however, Russia has grown increasingly concerned about indications that Iran could be developing nuclear weapons, analysts say. Iran insists that its program is aimed only at producing energy.

Lavrov told reporters that Russia wants to focus on negotiations for now — particularly the concessions made by Iran this month, after the revelation that it had built a secret nuclear facility near Qom. Under heavy international pressure, the Islamic republic agreed to admit inspectors and send much of its uranium to Russia for enrichment.

Also key to any UNSC approval of sanctions is China – and they’re not at all sold on sanctions either.

However, as noted in the paragraph above, it is Iran which is in the driver’s seat here, not the US. Iran has again outmaneuvered everyone by officially revealing its “secret” nuclear facility near Qom and agreeing to allow it to be inspected. That move has effectively given the Russians the wiggle room they need to back away from imposing sanctions.  Iran has years of experience manipulating this process and has once again had its way.

Meanwhile, as Marty Peretz says, Hillary Clinton’s team was engaged in trying to make a “cupcake out of a turd”:

Senior administration officials said that the differences are tactical rather than substantive. Both sides agreed that Iran would face sanctions if it failed to carry out its obligations, a State Department official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Which, of course means that nothing of substance came out of the talks. Such an agreement is the same agreement they had going into the talks. In essence, Russia turned the clock back on this process. And again, a reminder that China, a country whose support would be critical if sanctions are to be imposed, is nowhere on the playing field at the moment.

Anyway, to claim that differences are “tactical rather than substantive” is to try to hand wave away the fact that Russia is not presently on board to increase sanctions anytime soon when everyone was led to believe, just three weeks ago, that it was. I think that truly does represent a “reset”, but not in the way the Obama administration had hoped.

~McQ

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