ADL Survey Shows Iran Least Anti-Semitic Middle East Country

The results of a new survey released by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), as deplorable as they are, show that Iran is the least anti-Semitic country in the Middle East.

Not that the ADL is doing anything to point this out in their just-released report entitled, Global 100: An Index of Anti-Semitism. This surprising fact can only be uncovered by comparing Iranian responses with those of other Middle Eastern countries.

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Obama Threatens Sanctions on France Over Iran Trade

Vows to Come Down on Companies ‘Like a Ton of Bricks’

Meeting with French President Francois Hollande today, President Obama vowed to cement the “forever friendship” between France and the United States. Then came the threats.

Last_Year_President_Obama_Reportedly-92cca9da9766cdb4b5c64d5d5f629ad5The threats to France centered around similar ones from Secretary of State John Kerry recently, that French businessmen have recently been making contacts in Iran in anticipation of the easing of sanctions.

Though easing sanctions were part of the P5+1 interim deal with Iran, and even more could be expected with a final Iran deal, US officials have been keen to downplay any improvement in ties with Iran, and have been warning companies against trying to make deals with Iranian companies.

President Hollande insisted that the companies are free to make contacts and hadn’t actually violated any sanctions, but President Obama’s pointed threats made it clear he disputes that.

Obama said any companies or nations having contact with Iran did so “at their own peril” and vowed to “come down like a ton of bricks” on them for doing so.

by Jason Ditz

Democrats, AIPAC Jeopardize Iran Talks

The Obama administration is facing an unexpected hurdle in its new nuclear talks with Iran – a sizeable bloc of Democratic lawmakers who have made clear that they would break with the White House and fight any effort to lift the current sanctions on Tehran.

The future of those sanctions is a key issue in this week’s negotiations in Geneva between senior officials from Iran and the U.S., the most serious talks between the two longtime adversaries in decades. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarifkicked off Monday’s session with a PowerPoint presentation, delivered in English, which offered to put new limits on his country’s nuclear program in exchange for easing the Western sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy and decimated the value of its currency.

The White House has alreadysignaled a potential openness to that kind of deal, but a wide array of powerful Democrats — including the top members of both the Senate and House foreign affairs committees — strongly oppose lifting any of the existing sanctions on Iran unless Tehran offers concessions that go far beyond anything Zarif has talked about in Geneva. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, has also promised to do everything in its power to keep the punitive measures in place.

“If the president were to ask for a lifting of existing sanctions it would be extremely difficult in the House and Senate to support that,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told The Cable. “I’m willing to listen but I think that asking Congress to weaken and diminish current sanctions is not hospitable on Capitol Hill.”

“I’d say no,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) when asked if he’d accept a presidential plea to lift sanctions. “They’ve got a long way to go to demonstrate the kind of credibility that would lead us to believe we can move in a conciliatory direction. And sanctions are what has strengthened the administration’s hand.”

Opposition from Democratic lawmakers represents more than just a political headache for the administration. Congress has the power to impose, modify or remove sanctions regardless of what the White House wants, and it has shown a willingness to overrule the administration in the past. In late 2011, for instance, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, worked with Illinois Republican Mark Kirk to impose crushing sanctions on the Iranian central bank despite strong opposition from the administration.

It is far from clear that Iran will offer enough concessions in the current talks for the administration to seriously consider softening or lifting the current sanctions.  The Rouhani government has insisted on the right to continue enriching uranium on its own soil, something the White House opposes.  Tehran has also yet to signal a clear willingness to shutter its underground, heavily-fortified nuclear plant at Qom, a source of particular concern for both the U.S. and Israel because it is largely impervious to airstrikes, or to dismantle any of its centrifuges. Even if Rouhani signed off, meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could veto the deal.

Still, the Obama administration’s chief nuclear negotiator, Wendy Sherman,told a Senate panel earlier this month that the White House was willing to potentially soften some of its sanctions if Tehran took “verifiable, concrete actions” to delay its nuclear program. Sherman also urged lawmakers to hold off on imposing new sanctions on Iran until Tehran detailed its potential nuclear concessions at this week’s talks.

Sherman’s testimony sparked predictable outrage from Republicans like Kirk, who said her comments showed that the White House was pursuing a policy of “appeasement,” but many Democrats were just as upset.  Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey said the U.S. “should  not relax the sanctions one inch while Iran’s intentions are still unknown.”

Markey is far from the only Democrat who believes that the White House needs to not just keep the current measures in place but also prepare to add newer, tougher ones.

“The intent of sanctions is to force Iran to halt and dismantle its nuclear weapons program,” lawmakers from both parties wrote in a letter this week signed by prominent Democrats like Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.  “Once this goal has been accomplished in a real, transparent, and verifiable way we will be prepared to remove existing sanctions in a measured, sequenced manner. However, at this time, we reaffirm that a credible military threat remains on the table and we underscore the imperative that the current sanctions be maintained aggressively.”

Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, a group that advocates on behalf of the Iranian American community, said Tehran would almost certainly reject any call to entirely dismantle its nuclear program before the current measures are softened or removed.

“The bar being set by the senators is wholly unrealistic,” Parsi said. “To say that existing sanctions won’t be lifted is a non-starter.”

Meanwhile, as the voices of Iran hawks dominate the halls of Congress, Democratic lawmakers who support a less rigid opening position have been largely silent, such as Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) or Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass).

Some have chalked up the relative silence to the shutdown. “We’re in such a weird situation on the Hill with the shutdown and all the oxygen is pretty much going to that fight,” said Rep David Price (D-NC) who gathered 131 signatures in favor of engagement with Rouhani in July.

Others chalked up the lack of administration support to a desire to wait-and-see how the talks unfold. “Rouhani is still a little bit of a mystery to everyone,” said a top Senate aide whose boss leans dovish. “On one hand, we’ve seen this movie before — crazy nuke states pretend to negotiate while buying time to enrich (a la North Korea) … [B]ut his perceived openness seems to have the implicit backing of the mullahs — which adds a new element to these negotiations, and one that could result in some actual concessions.”

Still, lawmakers like Menendez, Murray and Kirk show no signs of softening their positions.  Their demands to maintain the current measures reflect, in part, the success of a concerted lobbying campaign by AIPAC. The pro-Israel group has sat out some recent potential fights over large-scale U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in order to focus all of its energy on Iran. During its annual conference in March, AIPAC sent hundreds of volunteers to Capitol Hill to personally lobby lawmakers from their home states to support tough measures on Iran. It has also drafted templates of letters lawmakers could send the White House under their own names calling for continued sanctions on Iran.

Iran is one of the few issues that bind Democrats and Republicans, so AIPAC is in some ways preaching to the choir. Israel said he hadn’t been lobbied by the group, but he said it had no reason to.

“Maybe they’re not talking to me because they know my profile is strong and deep on this issue,” Israel said.

By Yochi Dreazen, John Hudson

Zero-Sum Enrichment

Iranian president Hasan Rouhani’s recent charm offensive has raised expectations for a diplomatic breakthrough heading into this week’s nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia (the so-called P5+1) in Geneva. Sanctions have taken a heavy toll on the Iranian economy, and the Islamic Republic may finally be motivated to take steps to rein in its nuclear program, including accepting limits on uranium enrichment, in exchange for lessening the pressure.

Hawks in Israel and Washington, however, have been quick to describe Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” warning that the Iranian regime may agree to “cosmetic changes” to its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, but ultimately will do little to constrain its quest for the bomb. In particular, they have cautioned the Obama administration against acquiescing to an agreement that allows Iran to continue any domestic uranium enrichment, even at low levels suitable only for civilian nuclear power and under stringent international supervision. In his Oct. 1 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, for example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that only a complete dismantling of Iran’s enrichment program could prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. This position has been echoed by conservative think tanks in Washington and by numerous voices on Capitol Hill. Their collective mantra: “a bad deal is worse than no deal.”

Attempting to keep Iran as far away from nuclear weapons as possible by insisting on “zero enrichment” seems sensible. But in reality, the quest for the optimal deal would doom diplomacy with Iran, making the far worse outcomes of unconstrained Iranian nuclearization or a military showdown over Tehran’s nuclear program much more likely.

Uranium enrichment is one pathway to producing bomb-grade explosive material for nuclear weapons, and all else being equal, it is easier to verify the total absence of such activities than different gradations of them. Of course, it would clearly be preferable if Iran ended its uranium enrichment activities altogether. Moreover, most countries with civilian nuclear power plants forgo domestic enrichment, so it seems reasonable to demand the same of Tehran. (Although it is also the case that Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands have domestic enrichment capabilities while remaining compliant with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.)

Iran Nuke SiteBut while a permanent end to Iranian enrichment would be ideal, it is also highly unrealistic. The Iranian regime has invested enormous amounts of political capital and billions of dollars over decades to master the knowledge and centrifuge technology associated with uranium enrichment — and nothing will put that genie back in the bottle. Indeed, one is hard pressed to find a single bona fide Iran expert on the planet that believes Tehran would accept a diplomatic deal with the P5+1 that zeroed out enrichment for all time.

And here’s six reasons why:

1. Backing an end to enrichment would be political suicide for Rouhani.

Iran’s new president simply can’t agree to permanently end enrichment. In 2003, during his previous role as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, he convinced Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to accept a temporary suspension of enrichment. But further talks with the international community stalled in early 2005 over a failure to agree on Iran’s right to enrichment, and Tehran ended its suspension shortly thereafter. Rouhani believes — as do his critics in the Revolutionary Guard and the supreme leader — that the West pocketed Iranian concessions and Tehran got nothing in return. The failure of Iran’s earlier approach under Rouhani facilitated the rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his hardline policies, including the development of a much more robust uranium enrichment capability. Rouhani is unlikely to make that mistake again. And even if Rouhani were somehow convinced to do so, he would be savaged by his right flank, significantly undercutting his presidency.

2. It’s a matter of pride and principle for the regime.

The regime has invested far too much of its domestic legitimacy in defending Iran’s “rights” (defined as domestic enrichment) to completely capitulate now, regardless of the pressure. The nuclear program and “resistance to arrogant powers” are firmly imbedded in the Islamic Republic’s ideological raison d’etre. Khamenei, the ultimate decider on the nuclear file, and the Revolutionary Guards will not give up on the program altogether, for it could be a viewed by their supporters and opponents alike as a total defeat.

However, Khamenei may accept a deal that constrains Iran’s nuclear program but still allows limited enrichment. Under such an agreement, he could tell the Iranian people: “I said we never wanted nuclear weapons and I have issued a fatwa [religious ruling] against them. I insisted that our rights be respected, and now they are.” But if Khamenei cries uncle and dismantles the entire program, how will he explain the billions invested and justify the years of sanctions and isolation to his people? What would it all have been for? Khamenei likely fears such a humiliation more than he fears economic collapse or targeted military strikes against his nuclear facilities.

3. If Iran does want to go nuclear, sanctions aren’t going to stop it in time.

Although hawks believe Tehran is on the ropes and that additional sanctions can force Iran to completely dismantle its nuclear program, economic and nuclear timelines don’t align. To be sure, Iran’s economy is in dire straits, and a desire to alleviate the pressure is driving the regime’s apparent willingness to negotiate more seriously. But despite the current pain, Iran is not facing imminent economic collapse. This may be a dark period in Tehran, but Khamenei likely believes that Iran weathered worse times during the Iran-Iraq war. Some analysts have warned that Iran could achieve a critical “breakout capability” — the ability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons so fast that it could not be detected or stopped — sometime in mid-2014. Yet, even if the U.S. Congress goes forward with additional harsh sanctions, the regime is not likely to implode before it reaches this technical threshold and, if it did, it might make little difference. Even the imprisoned leadership of the Green Movement and Iranian secularists opposed to the Islamic Republic support domestic uranium enrichment. The only way to stop a breakout capability is to get a deal, fast — and that means accepting some limited enrichment under strict safeguards.

4. Washington is still an effective bogeyman.

Khamenei likely believes that Rouhani’s election and the Iranian president’s new moderate tone provide sufficient domestic and international credibility to mitigate the downside risks of failed diplomacy. Congress could attempt to force Tehran to accept maximalist demands by increasing sanctions, but the supposed mechanism for pressure affecting Iranian calculations is the regime’s fear of popular unrest. Yet, if P5+1 negotiations are seen to fail because of Washington’s insistence on zero enrichment, the Iranian public is likely to blame the United Sates not the regime for the failure. Economic pressure on the regime may increase as a result, but popular pressure to change course may not.

5. Pressure will become less effective if the United States comes off as the intransigent party.

If talks collapse because of Washington’s unwillingness to make a deal on enrichment — a deal Russia and China and numerous other European and Asian nations support — it will also become harder to enforce sanctions. Whether or not Rouhani’s diplomatic overtures are genuine, he has already succeeded in shifting international perceptions of Iran. If the United States, rather than Iran, comes across as the unreasonable party, it will become much more difficult to maintain the international coalition currently isolating the government in Tehran. Some fence sitters in Europe and Asia will start to flirt with Iran again, leaving the United States in the untenable position of choosing between imposing sanctions on banks and companies in China, Europe, India, Japan, or South Korea, or acquiescing to the erosion of the comprehensive sanctions regime.

6. An uncompromising stance could drive Iran toward the bomb.

Finally, if talks fail because the United States insists on a maximalist position, Khamenei and other Iranian hardliners will likely interpret it as definitive proof that Washington’s real goal is regime change rather than a nuclear accord. Solidifying this perception would likely enhance, rather than lessen, Tehran’s motivation to seek a nuclear deterrent as the only means of ensuring regime survival.

* * *

A permanent end to Iranian enrichment is not in the cards. Instead of pushing for an impossible goal, the United States and other world powers should push for a possible one: an agreement that caps Iranian enrichment at the 5 percent level (sufficient for civilian power plants but far away from bomb-grade) under stringent conditions designed to preclude Tehran’s ability to rapidly produce nuclear weapons, including restrictions on Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium, limitations on centrifuges, intrusive inspections, and halting the construction of a plutonium reactor that could open an alternative pathway to nuclear weapons. Such an accord would allow Khamenei and Rouhani to claim Iran’s “rights” had been respected, giving them a face-saving way out of the current nuclear crisis. Even this might be difficult for the Iranian regime to stomach. But if paired with meaningful sanctions relief, it has a much better chance of success than insisting on the complete dismantling of Iran’s program.

Washington should not accept a bad deal. But if we are to avoid the worst possible outcomes — unconstrained enrichment leading to an eventual Iranian bomb or another major war in the Middle East — then a good-if-imperfect deal is preferable to no deal at all.

BY COLIN H. KAHL, ALIREZA NADER

Israeli warplanes continue to pound Damascus

BEIRUT

Israeli warplanes struck areas in and around the Syrian capital Sunday, setting off a series of explosions as they targeted a shipment of highly accurate, Iranian-made guided missiles believed to be bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, officials and activists said.

The attack, the second in three days and the third this year, signaled a sharp escalation of Israel’s involvement in Syria’s bloody civil war. Syrian state media reported that Israeli missiles struck a military and scientific research center near Damascus and caused casualties.

Syria’s government called the attacks against against its territory a “flagrant violation of international law” that has made the Middle East “more dangerous” and warned it has the right “to defend its people by all available means.”

The generally muted response, read out by the information minister after an emergency government meeting, appeared to signal that Damascus did not want the situation to escalate.

Instead, it tried to use the strikes to taint the rebels, claiming the attacks were evidence of an alliance between Israel and Islamic extremist groups trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

The air raids pose a dilemma for a regime already battling a relentless rebellion at home. Failure to respond could make it look weak and open the door to more strikes. But any military retaliation against Israel would risk dragging the Jewish state and its powerful army into a broader conflict.

The tempo of the new strikes added a dangerous dynamic to the conflict, fueling concerns that events could spin out of control and spark a regional crisis.

Israel’s military on Sunday deployed two batteries of its Iron Dome rocket defense system to the north of the country. It described the move as part of “ongoing situational assessments.”

A senior Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to disclose information about a secret military operation to the media, confirmed that Israel launched an airstrike in the Syrian capital early Sunday but did not give more precise details about the location. The target was Fateh-110 missiles, which have precision guidance systems with better aim than anything Hezbollah is known to have in its arsenal, the official told The Associated Press.

The airstrikes come as Washington considers how to respond to indications that the Syrian regime may have used chemical weapons in its civil war. President Barack Obama has described the use of such weapons as a “red line,” and the administration is weighing its options — including possible military action.

Damascus-BombingIran, a close ally of the Assad regime and Hezbollah, condemned the airstrikes, and a senior official hinted at a possible response not from Terhan, but rather its proxy, Hezbollah.

Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, assistant to the Iranian chief-of-staff, told Iran’s state-run Arabic-language Al-Alam TV that Tehran “will not allow the enemy (Israel) to harm the security of the region” and that “the resistance will retaliate against the Israeli aggression against Syria.”

Israel has said it wants to stay out of the Syrian war on its doorstep, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated the Jewish state would be prepared to take military action to prevent sophisticated weapons from flowing from Syria to Hezbollah or other extremist groups.

Israel and Hezbollah have a long history of enmity, and fought a punishing monthlong war in mid-2006. The militant group fired thousands of rockets at Israel, while Israeli warplanes destroyed large areas of southern and eastern Lebanon during a conflict that ended in stalemate.

 

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