February 17, 2012
A mood of jubilation or even euphoria settled on White House backrooms in recent days. The US President Barack Obama’s staff quietly celebrated what his minions called "his success" in averting a military showdown over Iran’s nuclear program by dint of a judicious blend of sanctions and diplomatic maneuvers, and persuading Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that negotiations were his best option.
I’m not gleeful about this, because my memory points out how Neville Chamberlain said, "We shall have peace in our day," on the eve of 60 million people about to die.
Washington sources disclose that in private conversations, the presidential staff refer to the Iranian leader’s acceptance as a priority of two reciprocal principles, although no confirmation of this has come from Iranian sources:
Those principles are reported as:
1. The stoppage of all work on Iran’s military nuclear program and uranium enrichment from the moment negotiations begin; and
2. The United States to match progress in the talks with the staged easing of sanctions, which will be lifted completely upon a successful outcome.
President Obama is convinced that through their secret channel of communications Tehran came to realize that the process of dialogue must culminate in its acceptance of five conclusions:
A. Development of Iran’s nuclear program must stop where it stands today;
B. Uranium enrichment will be discontinued at the current 20 percent grade level and not advance to the 90 percent grade for making nuclear bombs;
C. Iran must dismantle all facilities and labs engaged in developing nuclear bombs and warheads as well as its program for producing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear payloads;
D. Iran will open all these facilities to inspection by International Atomic Energy Agency monitors. They must be allowed to interview the scientific staff employed in Iran’s military nuclear program, including its hitherto invisible director, Mohsen Fakrizadeh, who rules over the 600 scientists, engineers and technicians believed by US intelligence to be the core staff of the program.
E. Iran must cut off its collaborative nuclear and missile ties with North Korea and undertake to abstain from transferring nuclear technology to other parties in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Now, here my friend, is the great big "Obama-Rub," if you will: If Tehran commits to and executes these five steps, the US will see to it that all sanctions against the Islamic Republic are lifted and it is restored to the international community as a respected member.
Washington will provide assistance for the rebuilding of the Iranian economy, starting with multi-billion projects for modernizing its run-down oil industry.
The White House is optimistic about the negotiations starting in days – although nothing is decided yet about its venue and whether the team of five permanent Security Council members (the US, Britain, France, Russia, China) plus Germany again take the seats they occupied opposite Iranian negotiators in the last round of talks.
This optimism accounted for the almost bored response from the US administration to the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s televised boasts of nuclear achievements Wednesday, Feb. 15, namely the domestic production of 20 percent enriched uranium nuclear fuel rods and the 3,000 state-of-the-art high-speed IR4 centrifuges added to the Natanz enrichment facility.
"Our view on this is that it’s not terribly new and it’s not terribly impressive," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
US officials dismissed Iran’s bragging as hype for preparing the Iranian people and Muslim public for the onset of nuclear negotiations with the world powers by showing them that Tehran embraced diplomacy from a position of strength.
There is no confirmation in Washington that the Iranians have moved on to "the fourth generation" of home-made centrifuges with a higher speed and production capacity at Natanz, as claimed. They are still working on the advanced P4 machines and, apart from a few experimental models, are nowhere near ready to set up a production line for turning out these centrifuges in thousands or even hundreds.
Thursday, Feb. 16, the White House breathed a sigh of relief when Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a radio interview followed Washington’s line in downplaying Iran’s display of "achievements".
He pointed out that since Tehran was still facing problems with the second generation centrifuge, P2, it was too early to believe a fourth generation was already functioning.
But the part of the Barack interview that was music to ears in Washington was this comment:
"Although Iran is making progress in its nuclear program, it still has not reached the point of no return."
My friend, retired Major General Joseph Doriel has conveyed to me, strongly, in days gone past, that he doesn't trust in Ehud Barak’s actions!
The White house took this as a welcome declaration of intent meaning that, in consideration of the imminent start of negotiations with Iran, Israel would give diplomacy a chance and not rock the boat by launching a sudden military strike against its nuclear facilities.
ME sources note that Obama and his top advisers, including intelligence and military chiefs, have been fretting for months about a possible Israeli attack on Iran without prior warning.
During their long phone conversation on Jan. 12, the US president tried to extract a promise from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to refrain from offensive action against Iran while future talks were in progress.
Netanyahu withheld this commitment.
Washington is not sure if Barack spoke off his own bat to force Netanyahu to follow his lead, or if the two leaders were playing "good cop, bad cop."
But Thursday night, speaking from Nicosia, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu put a large spoke in the Barack wheel and raised blood pressures in Washington.
He said sanctions imposed on Iran are important but so far "haven't worked." … the Iranian president's guided tour of centrifuges at Tehran research reactor on Wednesday was proof that sanctions have not properly crippled Iran's efforts to develop nuclear capabilities."
Iran, he said, "has been exposed as being the most irresponsible power on earth today. The one that exports terror with abandon is murdering people and breaking all the rules. This regime was born taking over an embassy (the US embassy in 1979) and is now attacking diplomats far and wide,"
"For such a regime to have nuclear weapons is something of enormous concern for the United States and for Israel," he said.
The Iranian nuclear issue was swept up by a rush of events Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 15 and 16, toward its next station, resumed negotiations.
A letter expressing Tehran’s readiness to discuss a return to the negotiating table was received by the European Union foreign policy executive Catherine Ashton in belated response to her offer of October 2011. It was delivered the day after the Islamic Republic paraded what it called "major nuclear successes."
It was only on Tuesday, Feb. 14, that Dennis Ross, special adviser to President Barack Obama on the Middle East, Afghanistan and South Asia from 2009 to 2011, wrote an article in the New York Times entitled: "Iran Is Ready to Talk."
This seasoned diplomat would not have gone out on a limb without being sure of this fact. And indeed he was proven correct a day later.
While on the face of it, the news is sensational, it is hardly a breakthrough:
Iran never objected to sitting down and talking - so long as its representatives had the stage for sounding off on Tehran’s side of the controversy. Iranians tend to be unresponsive when it comes to answering questions troubling world powers about their nuclear activities and dodge around compromise proposals.
Only last month, Tehran, while nodding to diplomacy in principle, typically never answered Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s proposal for a new "step by step" model for nuclear talks, or Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s feeler on behalf of the Obama administration to find out whether Ankara or Tehran would be an acceptable venue.
The most intriguing aspect of the Ross article is the glimpse it provides into the inner workings of the US president’s policy-making machinery and its reasons for believing that diplomacy with Iran would pay off.
Some of the elements in Ross’s article are debatable - for instance, the assertion that "Today, Iran is more isolated than ever. The regional balance of power is shifting against Tehran, in no small part because of its ongoing support for the beleaguered government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria," he writes.
"The Assad regime is failing, and in time, Iran will lose its only state ally in the Arab world and its conduit for arming the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon."
ME analysts question the proposition that Iran is isolated when it has the support of China, Russia and India, as well as a measure of sympathy from Turkey.
As for Assad, there were indications this week that he has managed to stabilize his grip on government.
Barring, unexpected changes, he looks like holding out until the end of the year or beyond.
Ross goes on to say: "Gone is the fear of Iranian intimidation, as the Saudis demonstrated by immediately promising to fill the gap and meet Europe’s needs when the European Union announced its decision to boycott the purchase of Iran’s oil. Even after Iran denounced the Saudi move as a hostile act, the Saudis did not back off."
Ross - and apparently Obama too - appear to have missed the figures released this week showing that Iran’s crude oil exports to India rose to 550,000 barrels a day in January, up 37.5 percent from December 2011
But it is not just India; China and North Korea are also continuing to buy huge quantities of oil from Iran, while, like India they are placing their private banking systems at the disposal of the Iranian Central Bank, to bypass US and European sanctions.
In total, these three countries purchase more than 65 percent of Iran’s total oil output.
Even America’s close friend, Turkey, is not playing along with the embargo on Iranian oil.
Responding to strong US insistence, a Turkish delegation traveled to Saudi Arabia last Friday and Saturday, Feb. 10-11, to look into the possibility of replacing Iranian oil. Washington assured them they would get a cheaper price and better terms from the Saudis.
Four days later, after politely going through the motions to please Washington, Ankara announced officially that its regular purchases from Iran would continue as before and Turkey would not buy Saudi oil.
Tehran therefore has no difficulty in finding buyers for 80 percent of its exported oil. It is therefore hard to credit Ross’s assertion that "Iranian oil is being stored in tankers as Iran’s buyers demand discounts to purchase it."
Certainly many purchasers and speculators are trying to capitalize on Western sanctions to get better deals in their business with Iran. But with the cooperation of Russian, Chinese, Indian and Turkish financial systems, Tehran will soon improve its bargaining position.
That most of the countries continuing to do business with Iran are not paying in dollars, is presented by Ross as a major American accomplishment which is emptying Iran’s US currency stocks.
This is not the case for two reasons:
1. The dollar is hurt as much as Iran;
2. Over the past four years, Iran has reduced its dollar purchases by 80 percent and switched to gold or Russian and Asian currencies as well as expanding its barter trade.
He ends the article with the conclusion: "The Obama administration has now created a situation in which diplomacy has a chance to succeed. It remains an open question whether it will. The next few months will determine whether it succeeds…"
But Dennis Ross and the White House need not wait months to see how diplomacy fares; they received Iran’s answer this week.
Tuesday, Feb. 14, the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier was dispatched through the Straits of Hormuz to the Gulf of Oman, its second crossing through the vital waterway since its first on Jan. 23
But this time, it was trailed by a menacing flotilla of an explosives-laden speedboat, warships with missiles poised openly on launch pads, a surveillance aircraft, a home-made drone and assault helicopters.
Iran’s crude show of muscle in the face of American military might told Washington that Tehran was not afraid of a military showdown.
The next day, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a theatrical show of inserting 20-percent enriched uranium fuel rods into the Tehran Research Reactor, shortly after Iran State TV announced the cutoff of oil exports to six European Union countries.
Tehran’s version of successful diplomacy clearly has little in common with the way it is perceived in Washington.
Iran had a weak American President to deal with when they took our Embassy employees 33 years ago. Iran has a weak American President to deal with in the "Muslim-Marxist-Socialist" who now occupies the White House.
For the sake of the "existential security" of the people of Israel, may God Almighty grant Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu the grace to continue to put large spokes in the Barak wheel and, also, but more importantly, in my opinion, to continue to raise blood pressures in Washington among the "obamessiah’s minions."
YEDIDIM OF ISRAEL