Forged Intel Won’t Impede Iran Deal

The New York Times reports that when it comes to the nuclear negotiations with Iran “the White House has made one significant decision: If agreement is reached, President Obama will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it.” Although “many members of Congress see the plan as an effort by the administration to freeze them out” there’s nothing controversial here since the final deal will not be a treaty that requires Congressional approval. What Congress would be voting on related to the deal would be the full lifting of sanctions–a move only they can approve and which will ensure the deal doesn’t fall apart later. Those legislators who are making a fuss over this are doing so because they seek “a role larger than consultation and advice.” Israeli officials are also alarmed by the administration’s choice to avoid any attempt to lift sanctions for years because they “see a congressional vote as the best way to constrain the kind of deal that Obama might strike.”

Yet it’s not a bad deal the Israelis are worried about but what happens once the curtain finally closes on this insipid Iran nuclear drama they’ve literally helped script. Building the groundless case that Iran is champing at the bit to make nukes has been great for keeping the U.S. and Iran at arms length (not that the U.S. has needed any prodding for that) and so determined have the Israelis been in sustaining this narrative that they forged documents, as Gareth Porter explains:

“David Albright, the director of the Institute for Science and International Security, who enjoyed a close relationship with the IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen, revealed in an interview with this writer in September 2008 that Heinonen had told him one document that he had obtained earlier that year had confirmed his trust in the earlier collection of intelligence documents. Albright said that document had “probably” come from Israel. Former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei was very skeptical about all the purported Iranian documents shared with the IAEA by the United States. Referring to those documents, he writes in his 2011 memoirs, “No one knew if any of this was real.” ElBaradei recalls that the IAEA received still more purported Iranian documents directly from Israel in summer 2009. The new documents included a two-page document in Farsi describing a four-year program to produce a neutron initiator for a fission chain reaction. [Robert] Kelley has said that ElBaradei found the document lacking credibility, because it had no chain of custody, no identifiable source, and no official markings or anything else that could establish its authenticity–the same objections Iran has raised about the high explosives document.”

That these negotiations and the stringent sanctions regime are founded on fraud is a major reason why the IAEA’s probe into the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program won’t pose any obstacle to the final deal once it’s settled. The U.S. will accept a less than thorough accounting of Iran’s alleged activities for fear that if this issue is pressed it will confirm beyond all doubts the intelligence fixing. Washington would rather sweep these accusations under the rug than face the fallout of another intelligence scandal so soon after the Iraq WMD skulduggery. Another reason is that the Iranians can walk away from the table worry-free and not have to answer for anything. Trita Parsi argues that the deal won’t have legs if the Iranian people aren’t on board with its conditions, writing

“While all indications show that the [Iranian] public supports a deal, a new poll by the University of Maryland may shed light on the thinking behind Iran’s negotiating position, but also explain why the Rouhani government may think it can live with a no-deal scenario. The poll shows that the Iranian public is resistant on two key matters: Rolling back the number of operating centrifuges and limiting Iran’s ability to conduct nuclear research. Demands for strict limitations on these issues by the P5+1 would essentially be deal breakers for the Iranian public: 70 percent oppose dismantling half of Iran’s existing centrifuges and 75 percent oppose limits on Iran’s research activity. The public’s position on these matters is likely rooted in both a longstanding narrative of the West seeking to keep Iran weak, dependent, and downtrodden by depriving it of access to advanced science…

But even if Iran does reject the terms or the deal fails to otherwise materialize, like Rouhani recently said, it doesn’t mean relations will revert to how things were before the talks (i.e. all the belligerence) and that there could be another way to proceed. My guess is that could mean there would be an understanding short of an officially signed agreement that will amount to the same thing and the sides will treat as just as binding. It may not come to that, however, because this deal is 95 percent done, according to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and there are creative solutions for that niggling–but supposedly tricky–5 percent. Regarding centrifuge numbers and enrichment, “A potential phased agreement that would satisfy both sides,” the editors of Bloomberg News write “could, for example, give Iran some of the centrifuges it wants but require that it stockpile uranium in powder, rather than gas, form so as to expand the breakout period.” So, two months after I said the deal is still on track, nothing has changed.

Making Operation Inherent Resolve Work

Bob Woodward thinks that Operation Inherent Resolve is “a mess,” and that the President has “got to come up with something that’s going to work.” While it won’t live up to the expectations of Woodward and other critics of the anti-IS strategy, the Obama administration has found something that will work for the moment. “At the White House,” the AP reports, “officials conceded that air power alone would be insufficient, suggesting that the effort to oust Islamic State fighters may stay in a holding pattern until a viable fighting force emerges from the splintered and poorly equipped Syrian opposition.” But the appearance of an effective native force is receding because U.S. airstrikes in Syria are killing civilians. If this is kept up and we succeed in alienating Syria’s Sunnis it means there will be no chance for a settlement ending the civil war. A reconstituted Syrian army is what’s needed to defeat ISIS in Syria.

We also need Iran’s political influence in Syria for this to happen and Secretary of State John Kerry is getting wise to this too. He told a United Nations Security Council meeting “There is a role for nearly every country in the world to play, including Iran,” explaining that “The coalition required to eliminate ISIL is not only, or even primarily, military in nature,” but “must be comprehensive and include close collaboration across multiple lines of effort.” Washington may have ruled out coordinating militarily with Iran but one can be sure that one of those “multiple lines of effort” includes the U.S. seeing Iran as having a prominent role in the diplomatic arena. Getting the Iranians in on the peacemaking would be a winning move because here’s what they suggested at the end of 2012:

“Iran is backing presidential elections in Syria as part of a six-point plan… Fars [news agency] said the plan included efforts to halt the flow of arms into Syria, an apparent reference to rebel backing by rival nations, including Turkey and Gulf Arab states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Iran also is believed to supply Assad’s military with assistance. Later steps include a creating a transitional government to lead Syria toward parliamentary and presidential elections. The reports gave no indication whether Assad could seek to remain in power under the Iran-backed plan. In the statement, Iran also called for release of political prisoners and reconstruction of areas damaged in the fighting.”

To be clear, the Iranian plan’s call for stanching the arms traffic refers to both sides of the Syrian conflict. “The Sunday report by the official Iranian news agency, IRNA,” another AP piece reported at the time, “quotes a statement by Iran’s Foreign Ministry as saying all armed actions should be stopped immediately. It says the government and the armed opposition should halt military activities under supervision of the U.N, particularly in civilian areas.” And the political transition need not have to include Assad as far as Tehran is concerned. As Sune Engel Rasmussen wrote last year, “Assad is not as important for Tehran, as is ensuring that Syria’s power structure is friendly to Iran’s interests.” So the Iranians proposed a ceasefire plus an arms embargo and are ready to discard Assad—tell me again why they weren’t invited to the Geneva II conference earlier this year? Iran’s approach is one the U.S. should have no problem endorsing so Washington should schedule Geneva III straightaway, adopt the six point plan to bring peace to Syria, and avoid a thirty year war against ISIS.