Archive for the ‘U.S.-Iran relations’ Category

U.S. to attend group nuclear talks with Iran

April 8, 2009

— The Obama administration said Wednesday it will participate directly in group talks with Iran over its suspect nuclear program, marking another shift from former President George W. Bush’s policy. continue reading…

Israeli Attack Threat

April 8, 2009
Obama team debates stance on Israeli attack threat.

Washington, D.C.
IPS | analysis

A recent statement by the chief of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. David Petraeus, that Israel may decide to attack Iranian nuclear sites has been followed by indications of a debate within the Barack Obama administration on whether Israel’s repeated threats to carry out such a strike should be used to gain leverage in future negotiations with Tehran.

In the latest twist, Vice President Joseph Biden, who has been put in charge of the administration’s non-proliferation agenda, appeared to reject the idea. “I don’t believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would [launch a strike],” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Tuesday. “I think he would be ill-advised to do that.”

His remarks suggested that any proposal to exploit the threat of an Israeli attack as part of a “good cop, bad cop” tactic with Iran would run into stiff opposition within the administration, since it would rest on the credibility that the threat was real and that the U.S. would not actively oppose its being carried out.

Petraeus invoked the possibility of an Israeli attack in prepared testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday. “The Israeli government may ultimately see itself as so threatened by the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon that it would take pre-emptive military action to derail or delay it,” he asserted. In contrast to past statements by U.S. officials on the issue, he added nothing to indicate that Washington would oppose such an attack or was concerned about its consequences.

Moreover, a CENTCOM spokesman later told IPS that Petraeus’ testimony had been reviewed in advance by the Office of the Secretary of Defence (OSD), suggesting that brandishing of the Israeli threat had the approval of Pentagon chief Robert Gates.

But the Pentagon now appears to be backing away from the Petraeus statement. In an email message to IPS, Lt. Col. Mark Wright, an OSD press officer declined to confirm or deny that Petraeus’s statement had been reviewed by his office. Wright insisted that it “would be inappropriate to characterise the General’s view on this from the Pentagon” and referred the question back to CENTCOM.

Gates himself had appeared to go along with Petraeus’ approach in an interview published in the Financial Times Apr. 1, in which he implied strongly that Israel would indeed attack Iran if it crossed an Israeli “red line.” Asked whether Israel would attack Iran, Gates said, “I guess I would say I would be surprised…if [Israel] did act this year.”

“I think we have more time than that,” he said, referring to the moment when progress on Iran’s nuclear-enrichment programme might provoke an Israeli attack. “How much more time I don’t know. It is a year, two years, three years. It is somewhere in that window.”

Within 24 hours, however, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Adm. Michael Mullen, like Biden several days later, reiterated his own publicly stated reservations about any such Israeli action in a meeting with the Wall Street Journal’s neo-conservative editorial board Apr. 2.

While conceding that the Israeli leadership “is not going to tolerate” a nuclear Iran and that its military could inflict serious damage on Iran’s nuclear programme, Mullen also warned that such an attack would pose “exceptionally high risks” to U.S. interests in the region, according to a record of the interview quoted to IPS by Mullen’s office. In an editorial about the meeting published Monday, the Journal stressed that Mullen understood that Tehran’s nuclear ambitions were “a matter of ‘life or death’ for the Jewish state” and downplayed the threat to the U.S.

Mullen, in fact, has consistently spoken out against an Israeli strike since early July 2008, when, after returning from consultations with his Israeli counterpart, he publicly warned against an Israeli attack which, he said, in addition to further destabilising the region, would be “extremely stressful on us….”

The issue of how to handle the Israeli threat to attack Iran has been made more urgent by the installation of a far-right government led by Likud Party chief Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been particularly hawkish on Tehran and deeply sceptical that Obama’s diplomatic engagement with Iran will yield acceptable results before Israel’s “red lines” are crossed. Israeli officials have called on the U.S. to strictly limit the amount of time it will devote to its diplomatic effort before resorting to punitive measures, a demand echoed by key U.S. lawmakers – Democrats, as well as Republicans – who are considered close to the so-called ‘Israel Lobby’ here.

Some administration officials had embraced the brandishing of the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran as a means of exerting pressure on Iran even before they joined the Obama administration.

Dennis Ross, who is now “Special Adviser” on Iran to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had endorsed an early draft of a report published last month by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) – a think tank that often reflects the Israeli government’s views – which included the statement, “If the international community appears unable to stop Iran’s nuclear progress, Israel may decide to act unilaterally.”

Both Gary Samore, the new White House co-ordinator on weapons of mass destruction, and Ashton Carter, now under secretary of defence for acquisition, technology and logistics, expressed support for a diplomatic strategy of exploiting the Israeli military threat to Iran at a forum at Harvard University’s Kennedy School last September.

Referring to negotiating with Iran on the nuclear issue, Samore said, “My view is that, unless it’s backed up by a very strong bashing alternative, it probably won’t be successful.”

Samore called the threat of such an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites “a good diplomatic instrument” for the United States. Carter, who is also a non- proliferation specialist, referred to making the Iranians “wonder whether the Israelis are going to do something” as “not an unreasonable game to play.”

But Samore also acknowledged that such a strategy could be dangerous. “[W]e have to be careful when we use that instrument,” he said, “that the Israelis don’t see that as a green light to go ahead and strike… before we’re ready to have that actually happen.”

Still, he argued that any new administration would not want to “act in a way that precludes the threat, because we’re using the threat as a political instrument.”

That danger is particularly acute with Netanyahu’s accession to power, because he represents Israeli political and military circles that hold most firmly to the idea that Iran’s enrichment program poses an “existential threat” to Israel, a view reportedly also shared by his defence minister, Labour Party leader Ehud Barak.

According to the New York Times’ David Sanger, President George W. Bush last year rejected a request from then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for over- flight rights and other support needed to attack Iran.

Mullen was then sent to Israel to personally convey Washington’s opposition to such an attack. It was on his return that he made that opposition public. In the end, Olmert apparently decided against taking any action without a green light from Washington. But, much as Samore anticipated, the new government is widely regarded as more likely to act unilaterally.

Bush reportedly feared that such a strike would further destabilise Iraq and expose U.S. troops there to retaliation, according to his top Middle East adviser, Elliott Abrams, who has recently argued that the those dangers have since been significantly mitigated. In the one cautionary quotation that the Journal chose to include in its editorial about Mullen’s views on a possible Israeli attack on Iran, the JCS chief noted that Tehran’s ability to retaliate in Iraq “has not maxed out at all.”

‘Outreach to Tehran a top priority’

April 1, 2009

The Washington Post

The high-minded speeches by foreign ministers on helping Afghanistan were not the reason many of the reporters had made the trip. We came mainly because this was the first opportunity for Clinton to cross paths with Iranian officials. The Obama administration has made outreach to Tehran a top priority, and anticipation ran high that something might happen. After all, when Clinton announced the plans for the conference a few weeks ago, the invite to Iran was the top news out of the announcement. continue reading…

Consider the source

March 31, 2009

RELATED Going nuclear: Before and After

Iran’s Nuclear Program 101.

Los Angeles
Tehran Bureau | analysis

From 2001 to 2003, when the Bush administration was preparing the public for the invasion of Iraq, it supported its lies and exaggerations through front-page articles in The New York Times by Judith Miller, the now discredited reporter who left “the newspaper of record.” Many of her articles were co-authored by Michael R. Gordon, The Times’ chief military correspondent. In fact, from 1998 Miller had been serving as the chief of propaganda for Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, presenting in her articles, based on Mr. Chalabi’s fabrications, accounts of a terrifying Iraq with active programs for producing weapons of mass destruction, which were later proven to be nonexistent. Many internal memos from The Times leaked to the outside world indicated that Chalabi and the neocons were the only sources of Miller’s claims on Iraq.

A particularly glaring example of the lies that Gordon and Miller were propagating was in an article that they published on September 8, 2002, in which they claimed that Saddam Hussein was trying to purchase aluminum tubes for use in Iraq’s uranium enrichment program. The “evidence” was quickly challenged in an article by Joby Warrick of the Washington Post, but the lie was used by the neocons, and particularly Dick Cheney, as “proof” of Iraq’s nuclear program. It turned out later that the neocons had supplied the lies to Gordon and Miller, and then used their articles as the needed evidence for the “smoking gun.” The lie was used repeatedly for quite some time as the primary propaganda tool against Iraq.

Was Judith Miller that gullible and easy to fool? No, she was not. She was sympathetic to the neocons’ cause, despite being considered a liberal on many other issues. At the same time, she had to go along with what she was being told because otherwise she would have probably lost her sources in the administration.

A similar phenomenon is taking place with respect to Iran and its nuclear program. Lies, exaggerations and baseless speculations are rampant about how close Iran supposedly is to making a nuclear bomb. The last round of propaganda started after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its latest report on Iran on February 19, 2009. The report in fact reaffirmed, once again, that (i) Iran had not diverted its nuclear materials to non-peaceful purposes; (ii) there was no evidence of a secret nuclear weapons program or secret nuclear facility, and (iii) all of Iran’s nuclear facilities are monitored by the IAEA and its nuclear materials are safeguarded. The report also contained an important positive signal from Iran in that it stated that the Islamic Republic had not increased significantly the number of centrifuges that were producing low-enriched uranium (LEU). This was very likely a signal from Iran that it wished for a detente with the United States under the new administration of President Obama.

All the positive points in the report were however ignored by the usual anti-Iran crowd, because the IAEA also reported that it estimated, as of January 31, Iran had produced 1010 kg of the LEU with an enrichment level of 3.49%. Suddenly there were deafening screams about how Iran could enrich its stockpile of LEU to the level suitable for a single nuclear bomb; that is, to 90% purity. Even if Iran could miraculously do the enrichment and build a nuclear device, it would have to explode it in a test, hence finishing up its entire stockpile! Moreover, converting a nuclear device to a nuclear bomb is in itself a difficult task, and there is no evidence that Iran has such a capability.

But, the War Party has ignored all of this. In its tall tale, Iran’s one ton of LEU is the equivalent of Iraq’s “aluminum tubes.” Its allies in the latest round of propaganda are the usual crowd — the mainstream media, the Israel lobby, and the pundits who are apparently able to read the minds of the Iranian leaders better than the Iranian leaders can themselves.

That the War Party and the Israel Lobby should embark on this latest round of propaganda is expected. What is surprising however is the appearance of an entirely new source to “substantiate” that which cannot be substantiated: speculations, innuendos and skewed interpretations of what the IAEA actually reports, or what Iran may or may not have or do. This new source is David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

One would think that Albright would use his command of nuclear issues, as recognized by the American Physical Society’s Joseph S. Burton Forum Award, for objective and impartial analysis of Iran’s nuclear program. But he and his Institute have been increasingly distancing themselves from such a position, and wittingly or unwittingly becoming a tool in the hands of the anti-Iran crowd. Let me explain.

Consider, first, the ISIS itself. It monitors the nuclear programs of India, Pakistan and Iran, among other nations. Unlike Iran, the first two have not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), and have developed nuclear arsenals. Pakistan, with its nuclear arsenal, restive population, political instability, and strong influence of Islamic fundamentalists in its military and intelligence services, is one of the most dangerous nations on Earth; yet the main focus of the ISIS in Iran.

The ISIS, which presents itself as a scientific — hence, presumably impartial — organization, does not analyze or monitor Brazil’s nuclear program, whose navy controls its uranium enrichment program and has restricted the IAEA access to Brazil’s uranium enrichment facilities, in violation of its NPT and Safeguards Agreement obligations. Just imagine what would happen if the IAEA were to declare that Iran’s military controls its uranium enrichment program.

Nor does the ISIS analyze or follow Israel’s program. This is the same nation that, (i) has at least 200 nuclear warheads; (ii) has three nuclear submarines that can attack any nation in the Middle East (one is usually in Iran’s vicinity); (iii) kidnapped its own citizen, Mordechai Vanunu, in Italy and took him to Israel, where he was jailed for 18 years because he revealed that Israel had a nuclear weapons program; (iv) has been threatening for a long time to attack Iran and its nuclear facilities, and (v) is the main reason for instability in the Middle East. But, the ISIS apparently believes that Israel and its nuclear program do not require monitoring or analysis.

On its Web site, the ISIS claims that it “works to create a world safe from the dangers posed by the spread of nuclear weapons to irresponsible governments…” (emphasis mine). Given its 41 years of occupation of the Palestinian lands, in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, its massacre of thousands of innocent people in the occupied territories and Lebanon, and the unimaginable destruction that it has caused there, Israel must be a “responsible” government. And Iran, which has not attacked any nation for at least 270 years, and has been the victim of numerous military attacks, invasions, and foreign-sponsored coups, is “irresponsible.”

Then there is the question of the sources of funding for the ISIS. It has a staff of five, and also lists two consultants and two interns. It uses the satellite imagery provided by DigitalGlobe, a private vendor of space imagery based in Colorado. All of this needs funding. On its Web site the ISIS states that, “the vast bulk of our funding comes from public and private foundations,” but I could not find the names of its benefactors. In an e-mail to the ISIS office I asked about the sources of their funding, but I received no response.

One must also consider ISIS’s sources of information. Consider, for example, the IAEA’s reports on Iran. When Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General, submits his reports to the IAEA’s Board of Governors, their distribution is usually restricted. Yet, the ISIS posts the reports on its sites immediately after they are submitted. Often, even before the submission of the reports, the ISIS seems to know their contents, and numerous times has posted them at the same time that they are submitted.

That brings us to the ISIS President, David Albright, his analysis, and his sources at the IAEA. I am not going to repeat Scott Ritter’s criticism of Albright. Some interpreted Ritter’s expose as a personal attack, and Frank von Hippel of Princeton University wrote a response to his piece, defending Albright.

I leave it to the readers of Ritter’s article to gauge for themselves whether his arguments have any merit. I have never met Ritter, but have tremendous respect for him and his courageous stand regarding the illegal invasion of Iraq and what the Bush-Cheney cabal tried to do to Iran. At the same time, leading an extensive and active research program in physics and engineering has given me a degree of objectivity.

I believe that Albright has made many valuable contributions to the debates on nuclear arms, nuclear materials, etc. Albright relies, however, too heavily on baseless (not educated) speculations, and, quite often, nothing more that mere guesses. Moreover, he has been silent on important and sensitive issues that any experienced analyst and expert should be able to comment on. And he has published on the ISIS Web site analysis that seems to serve one and only one purpose — adding dangerous fuel to the debate over Iran’s nuclear program. These may not have been a problem by themselves, but we are talking about a serious international issue, namely Iran’s nuclear program and the fact that the War Party, the Israel lobby, and Israel itself are looking for any excuse to provoke and justify military attacks on Iran. In such a situation, anything other than solid, objective scientific analysis, backed by legitimate documents and credible sources is extremely dangerous. But, unfortunately, when it comes to Iran, Albright has increasingly distanced himself from being such an expert and analyst. Let me explain.

To begin with, let me point out that an analyst of Iran’s nuclear program, and the president of a supposedly impartial and scientific institution, cannot consort with AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby in the United States and an organization that is behind practically all the anti-Iran rhetoric that is coming out of Washington and, at the same time, present himself everywhere as an objective and impartial analyst. But, that is exactly what Albright did. On March 5, 2006, he spoke to AIPAC, making a presentation entitled, “Nuclear countdown: what can be done to stop Iran?” That, by itself, is very revealing, but Albright has not stopped there.

When it comes to talking about Iran’s nuclear program, Albright either sensationalizes the issue without putting much substance behind it, or tells half the story, leaving behind important details. As an example of the former, consider all the nonsense that he said about the Parchin site near Tehran in September 2004. This is an industrial complex in southeast Tehran that has been producing conventional ammunition, high explosives, and rockets for Iran’s armed forces for decades, going back to the 1950’s. In an article, Albright and Corey Hinderstein made all sorts of allegations about how Parchin was being used by Iran for nuclear-related work. But, the IAEA visited the site in January 2005, and reported no discovery of nuclear-related activities. What did Albright and Hinderstein do? Instead of retracting what they had written, they demanded further visits to the site!

More examples of how Albright is telling only half the story, consider the following. On the question of how much yellow cake (the uranium oxide that is converted to uranium hexafluoride for enrichment) Iran has, Albright has been saying recently that it is enough to make tens of bombs, but does not say that going from the yellow cake to the bomb is a long, tortuous process, fraught with all kinds of scientific difficulties, requiring advanced nuclear technologies, many of which Iran does not currently have, or at least there is no evidence that it does. When he is asked about Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium, he responds that it is enough to make one nuclear bomb, but does not usually say that what Iran has is LEU, not highly-enriched uranium (HEU) that is needed for the bomb, and that so long as Iran’s enrichment facilities and stockpile are safeguarded by the IAEA, there is no way that Iran can obtain the HEU, even if it wants to (there is no evidence that it does), or has the facility for producing it (which it does not). It is clear that if Iran were ever to enrich its LEU to HEU, it would not do it at the well-known Natanz site. But, even if it were to do so, Iran must do extensive re-piping and some redesigning, which it would not be able to do under the watchful cameras of the IAEA.

In a recent interview, Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor at, said to Albright, “You’ve been following Iran’s nuclear activities for years. Could you provide an update on its progress so far?”

Here is his response:

Iran continues to move forward on developing its nuclear capabilities, and it is close to having what we would call a ‘nuclear breakout capability.’ That’s a problem because once Iran reaches that state then it could make a decision to get nuclear weapons pretty rapidly. In as quickly as a few months, Iran would be able to have enough weapons-grade uranium for nuclear weapons. And if a breakout occurred, they would not likely do so at the well-known Natanz enrichment plant. Rather, the Iranians would most likely take low-enriched uranium that’s produced at that plant and then divert it at a secret facility that we wouldn’t know anything about. And at this secret facility, the Iranians would produce this weapons-grade uranium. And so if you were in the camp that said, ‘Well, we’ll have to strike militarily,’ you won’t actually know where to strike because you won’t know where that secret facility is. Whatever camp you are in, the situation is bound to grow more tense. So for 2009, probably the big technical issue is when Iran establishes this breakout capability. It could be soon. They don’t need that much more low-enriched uranium before they reach the first level of breakout capability, namely enough low-enriched uranium to make one nuclear weapon.

To the untrained eyes of a layman, the above paragraph seems very “innocent” and, at the same time, very “authoritative.” It is neither, however.

(1) Albright’s statement about the breakout capability is misleading, because he does not mention a lot of important details. A nation has that capability when it has enough LEU for conversion to HEU to make a bomb, and the facilities to do so. But as I discussed above, the process of converting LEU to HEU is long and tortuous. Even if Iran has everything in place, and everything works without any glitches or outside intervention, the breakout time — the time needed to convert the LEU stockpile to HEU — is 6 to 9 months, ample time for the international community to negotiate with Iran.

(2) But, that is not the most misleading part of Albright’s response. He knows that the Natanz facility is not currently equipped to enrich the LEU to HEU and, even if it were, Iran could not convert the LEU to HEU there. So, he says, with seeming 100% certainty, that the process of converting LEU to HEU will take place in a secret facility. That is, he is sure that such a facility already exists. The IAEA has certified time and again that there is no evidence of the existence of a parallel enrichment program in Iran. So, apparently Albright knows something that the rest of the world does not. I’ll come back to this point shortly. He also does not mention that Iran’s stockpile of the LEU is safeguarded by the IAEA. So, the only way for Iran to actually produce HEU from LEU is, (a) to leave the NPT and expel the IAEA’s inspectors from Iran, and (b) to take the LEU to the secret facility so quickly that all the satellites that are hovering over Iran, watching every move, would miss such a monumental event.

(3) All Albright is talking about is one nuclear bomb. So, assuming that Iran could fool the entire world, that it has everything that it needs, and with tremendous luck produce one nuclear bomb — after going through another difficult process (and there is no evidence that Iran does have the capability to do so), namely, converting a nuclear device to a nuclear bomb — it would have to explode it to test it. That would finish off Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium!

Still, Albright did not stop there. The ISIS recently posted an analysis in which it claimed that Iran was running out of yellow cake. When Albright was asked by Gwertzman about this issue, he responded by saying,

Iran has never really had the uranium resources to support an indigenous nuclear electricity program. So they are dependent on importing the fuel. If you consider the Bushehr reactor, that’s what they did. They bought the reactor from Russia, and they bought the fuel for at least ten years.

Assuming that the first part of Albright’s response is correct (which it is not), the second part is totally misleading. Iran bought the fuel for the Bushehr reactor because when it signed the agreement with Russia, it had no enrichment plant. In addition, Iran bought the fuel for ten years, because it would take that long (at the current pace) to set up an industrial-scale enrichment plant with 50,000 centrifuges.

Then, he continued,

From our point of view, the best thing they can do is work out a solution with the international community so they can proceed with the nuclear electricity and import the low-enriched uranium fuel that they need for those reactors.

Aside from suggesting that Iran should give up its rights under Article IV of the NPT, Albright makes one wonder whom he is talking about when he says our point of view. If he is talking about himself and the ISIS, that is all right. But, if he considers himself part and parcel of the U.S. government and more generally the West, then he should stop all pretense to leading an impartial scientific institution, interested only in objective analysis of solid facts.

Albright and the ISIS have continuously published analysis in which they insinuate preordained conclusions based on totally unrelated facts. An example is a recent analysis by him, Paul Brannan and Andrea Scheel entitled “Iranian Entities Illicit Military Procurement Networks.” They describe a network of companies that allegedly purchases items that cannot be exported to Iran. There is not a single item in the analysis that has anything to do Iran’s nuclear program. Even they do not make such a claim. In a second analysis, Albright et al. claimed Iran was illicitly procuring a vacuum pump for its uranium enrichment program. No shred of evidence, no matter how flimsy or indirect, was presented for the claim. Even a cursory check of the Wikipedia, indicates that there are at least 16 very different usages of such pumps (and, importantly, Wikipedia does not even list centrifuges as one of them). But Albright and company decided on their own that this purchase must have been for Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Any reasonable expert would object to such so-called analysis because, (i) they are utterly unscientific and based on sheer speculation. (ii) They have little to do with the stated mission of the ISIS. (iii) The time of their release is very suspicious, and (iv) therefore, they can have one and only one goal: to add dangerous fuel to an already heated debate over Iran’s nuclear program.

One of the most contentious issues between Iran and the IAEA is the laptop that was supposedly stolen in Iran and turned over to the United States, which allegedly has incriminating evidence of Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapon program. The IAEA has repeatedly called on the United States to provide Iran copies of the documents that were supposedly in the laptop. The Americans have refused. The computer has never been analyzed for its digital chain of custody to reveal the dates in which the documents were stored in the laptop. These are two crucial issues that go to the heart of the subject. Yet, Albright has been totally silent about them. Why? The answer brings us to last piece of the puzzle, namely, Albright’s source at the IAEA.

Albright’s current contact at the IAEA, with whom he is “extremely tight” (in the language of several sources), is Olli Heinonen, the IAEA’s deputy director for safeguards, who is in charge of the current inspection in Iran. Heinonen, who tries to deceive people into believing that he is impartial by reminding them that he is from Finland, has been leading a crusade against Iran. Against the IAEA protocol for his high position, Heinonen constantly leaks sensitive information to the press, and spreads baseless or at least unproven allegations about Iran’s nuclear program.

As one example of Heinonen’s bias, consider the following: In February 2008, ElBaradei submitted a report to the Board of Governors of the IAEA in which he declared that Iran’s six minor breaches in its Safeguards Agreement have been addressed to the IAEA’s satisfaction and that, as a result of Iran’s cooperation, the IAEA had gained a better understanding of the history of Iran’s nuclear program. Right after that report, Heinonen made a provocative and tainted presentation to the Board of Governors, based entirely on the laptop. “Alarming,” he called it. This enabled the U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, who is a master at exaggerations and innuendos, to declare that
As today’s briefing showed us, there are strong reasons to suspect that Iran was working covertly and deceitfully, at least until recently, to build a bomb. Iran has refused to explain or even acknowledge past work on weaponization. This is particularly troubling when combined with Iran’s determined effort to master the technology to enrich uranium. Uranium enrichment is not necessary for Iran’s civil program but it is necessary to produce the fissile material that could be weaponized into a bomb.

In addition to Schulte’s utter arrogance in deciding that Iran does not need its own uranium enrichment, one must ask, how can Iran explain a document that has never seen? How can Iran acknowledge something that it has not done? It is really straightforward to confront Iran on this issue: Present copies of the documents to Iran, and analyze the laptop’s digital chain of custody.

What is Albright’s position regarding all of this? Silence! He probably knows that at least some of the documents were fabricated and inserted in the laptop and, therefore, an analysis of the laptop’s digital chain of custody would easily reveal that. He knows most definitively that given Iran’s history of having its scientists assassinated, its experts would not carelessly reveal the names of important personnel in a memo, which is supposedly in the laptop. But, Albright has kept silent because he is “tight” with Heinonen. Just like Judith Miller, if Albright says anything about this issue that Heinonen does not like, he will lose his source inside the IAEA, the same source who presumably gives him ElBaradei’s reports on Iran and other information that are not supposed to be distributed publicly.

Heinonen is “tight” with Albright because he realizes that leaking information to Albright and ISIS to present to the public gives it a veneer of legitimacy. It is better for a former UN weapon inspector and nuclear expert and his “scientific, non-profit” institution to spread unproven “facts,” than the deputy IAEA chief for inspection. Heinonen is a true heir to Pierre Goldschmidt, who served in the IAEA in the same capacity, and who has made many ridiculous statements regarding Iran since moving to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In addition to Albright and Heinonen being “tight,” there might be another factor at play. Many times in the past Albright claimed that Iran could not reach certain milestones in its nuclear program, because it just does not have the technological and scientific capabilities. Yet, time and again he was proven wrong. That is because he and other Western experts have a hard time accepting that Iran, a nation that has been under the most severe U.S. sanctions for more than two decades, has succeeded in setting up a complete indigenous cycle for producing nuclear fuel. As the author told William Broad and David Sanger of The New York Times in an article that was published in the Times on March 5, 2006,
We’ve made mistakes in underestimating the strength of science in Iran and the ingenuity they show in working with whatever crude design they get their hands on.

Some may point to Albright’s opposition to attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities as an indication that he is against war with Iran. But, if the article by Albright, Paul Brannan, and Jacqueline Shire, is studied carefully, one finds that it is not that they are against war per se, but that they do not think bombing will solve the “problem.” Instead, they advocate sanctions. But sanctions are low-intensity wars. Sanctions killed at least 500,000 Iraqi children in the 1990’s. The number of civilians killed as a result of invading and occupying Iraq ranges anywhere from 200,000 to 1 million, which is completely comparable with the number of the Iraqi children killed in the 1990’s.

It would be a pity if David Albright continues down this path and allows himself to be used as a tool like Judith Miller. He can still contribute usefully to the debate on Iran’s nuclear program, provided that he does not sacrifice objectivity for the sake of having a source at the IAEA — and a discredited and prejudiced one at that.

Iran to join talks on stabilizing Afghanistan

March 27, 2009

Los Angeles Times

The Islamic Republic announced Thursday that will join the United States in dispatching official delegations to two international conferences on Afghanistan in the coming days, including one in the Netherlands to which the Obama administration has welcomed Tehran’s presence. continue reading…

Hot times and cool heads

March 24, 2009

In an unprecedented step, Ayatollah Khamenei responds to President Obama’s Nowruz message himself. Pictured above, before a gathering in Mashhad, his hometown, on the first day of Nowruz. Photo/

As Ayatollah Khamenei endorses possible talks with the United States, Iran’s pragmatic conservatives hope the presidential election will help trim Ahmadinejad’s international role.

Tehran Bureau | election coverage

There are many asymmetries in the U.S.-Iran relationship. The United States is a huge military power and a massive economy. Iranians have a sense of history and geography that Americans simply do not understand.

And there is another asymmetry, at least for now. Barack Obama is a new president elected on a slogan of change — while Iran is approaching a presidential election in June.

The interplay between the international situation and Iranian domestic politics is exorcising the minds of many in Iran’s political class as they contemplate the possibility of talks with Washington.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s measured, and near instant, response to president Obama’s video message to Iranians has signaled that Iran is open to dialogue. Tehran, said the supreme leader, is willing to change if the United States does. This is now well understood in Iran, even if many western commentators claimed Ayatollah Khamenei had “dismissed” Obama’s overture.

For Iran’s pragmatic conservatives, the prospect of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being involved in such a dialogue is an uncomfortable one. This partly explains the current talk in Tehran of broadening out the government after June’s election.

The idea of a “unity” government seems to have originated with Mohsen Rezaie, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, but was taken up last week by Ali Larijani, the parliamentary speaker, who is fast becoming the bête noire of Ahmadinejad supporters.

The experienced hands in Iran’s political class know very well that the maneuvering in the new international situation requires diplomacy and calm heads (even though Iran’s approach will continue to be set by the leadership group, in which Ayatollah Khamenei is pre-eminent). Those acting for Iran should therefore be experienced, trustworthy and reliable.

Ahmadinejad and his closest allies, like Mojtaba Hashemi-Samareh, do not fit the bill. For many regime insiders, talks with the United States should be handled by seasoned hands — the likes of Hassan Rowhani, the former top security official, Larijani or even Rezaie.

Such pragmatic conservatives probably consider it is likely Ahmadinejad will continue as president after June, but they want him as hemmed in as possible. They would welcome a broader range of ministers in domestic portfolios, and they would also like to ensure that what they see as Ahmadinejad’s excitability and populism do not affect Iran’s diplomacy.

In essence, this reflects the dilemma Ahmadinejad has posed for them, and indeed for Ayatollah Khamenei, since he came to office.

On the one hand, Ahmadinejad invigorated Iran’s politics. The 2005 election confounded those expecting a low turnout and showed that a fundamentalist, loyal to the ideals of the 1979 revolution, could appeal to the people.

As president, Ahmadinejad has reached out to every corner or Iran through high-profile trips and made the nuclear programme into a popular mission with an appeal throughout the Muslim world.

But on the other hand, Iran finds itself in a delicate period, potentially more dangerous than at any time since the 1979 Revolution. Washington under Obama may be ready for compromise over the nuclear issue — or it may be ready for further sanctions or even military attacks. And so Ahmadinejad’s radicalism needs to be managed.

The president himself was clearly hoping to breeze through the election campaign by attacking Mohammad Khatami, the former reformist president. The spectre of Khatami sparking “social unrest” — as in his previous presidency — was a nightmare for many fundamentalists and was driving them behind Ahmadinejad.

But Khatami’s withdrawal removed a negative pressure for unity in the fundamentalist, or principle-ist, camp. It eased political tension.

It is now more likely that another fundamentalist candidate — possibly Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Tehran’s mayor — could run, or that some price can be extracted from Ahmadinejad for avoiding such a challenge.

These are busy days for the president. At the same time as dealing with conservative critics, Ahmadinejad needs a new plan to defeat the two surviving reformist candidates, Mehdi Karrubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, both of whom will emphasize day-to-day economic issues rather than Khatami’s “social freedom.” Mousavi is arguing for a kind of “third way” between reformism and fundamentalism, an Islamist version of the Blairite-Clintonesque appeal for the center ground.

As he struggles also to get his budget through parliament, Ahmadinejad has his hands full. His conservative critics hope they will be so full that he will have to keep them away from where they are not wanted.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

Dialogue or Dictating to Iran?

March 23, 2009

Tehran Bureau | comment

U.S. President Barack Obama continues to make intriguing gestures in the Middle East that seem to soften or even reverse the policies of the George W. Bush administration, the latest being his video taped message to the Iranian people and leaders on the occasion of the Nowruz holiday that ushers in Spring. Obama should be commended for his initiative, which started from his first moments in office when he made a gesture to the people of Iran during his inaugural address.

Obama said in the message that, “My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties… This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”

He made this intriguing gesture in the context of his administration earlier this month extending sanctions against Iran for one more year, on the basis that Washington sees Iran as posing a threat to U.S. national security. If sticks and stones speak louder than words, the American sanctions against Iran would seem to convey a much tougher posture than the reconciliatory video message. This would seem to be the first contradiction the United States needs to sort out in its overtures to Iran.

Another one is the tendency to reach out with happy words that preach friendship and mutual respect, while also laying down the law on what Iran must do if it wants to be invited for tea at the White House. Obama said the United States wanted Iran to take its “rightful place in the community of nations,” but he also laid down some markers for Iran’s behavior, noting that Tehran would have to do its part to bring about reconciliation.

“You have that right — but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization,” he said.

He went on to add, “And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.”

We should not underestimate the courage and self-confidence it took for Obama to move in this direction and to make several gestures towards Iran since taking office. He reflects real strength, political realism and much humility in being able to reverse many aspects of the belligerent Bush approach and instead to reach out to Iran.

Yet the persistent flaw in the Obama approach that might prove to be fatal is a lingering streak of arrogance that is reflected in both the tone and the substance of his message. This is most obvious in his insistence — after telling the Iranians that they are a great culture with proud traditions, which is presumably something they already knew, experienced and felt on their own — on lecturing Iran about the responsibilities that come with the right to assume its place in the “community of nations”, and then linking Iran’s behavior with “terror of arms” and a “capacity to destroy.”

It is difficult to see how Washington feels the positive gestures of reaching out can be reconciled with the American president’s irrepressible need to lecture others about the rules of righteous nationhood. One of the principal complaints that Iran has against the United States — and this is mirrored in widespread Arab and Islamist resistance to the United States and its allies — is the lingering colonial tendency by the leading Western powers to feel that they write the rules for the conduct of other nations.

This complaint is exacerbated by hearing the Americans warn against the “ability to destroy” and the danger of using “terror or arms” — while Washington sends hundreds of thousands of its troops around the world on destructive yet dubious missions, backs its allies in various Arab countries with a gusher of arms, and enthusiastically stands by Israel in the latter’s actions in Lebanon and Palestine in what many see as a policy of state terror.

The American gestures to Iran seem sincere and serious, but from the Iranian perspective they still suffer from the persistent structural weakness of dictating the rules of the game to Iran and others in the Arab-Asian region, rather than engaging in a genuine dialogue. This flaw should not detract from the constructive effort that the Obama administration is making or blind us to the real shifts it has already initiated. At some point, though, Obama has to decide if he wants to dictate rules, or engage in real dialogue, because the two cannot happen together — especially if the standards of behavior the United States wants to see from Iran are often ignored by Washington itself along with its closest allies, such as Israel.

We can celebrate Nowruz together and usher in a genuinely new Spring, or we can soon celebrate April Fool’s day, but in the world of diplomacy and political relations we cannot do both at the same time.

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.

Copyright © 2009 Rami G. Khouri – distributed by Agence Global

They Say, We Say

March 21, 2009

Bench outside of the Peace Palace at The Hague. No hand, but a step forward.

Please click here for the full report in English.

March 21, 2009

Speech by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to a gathering at the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, on the occasion of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year.

Regarding the foreign affairs of our country, I would like to mentions one point, and that is the issue between us and the United States. One of the main challenges for the Revolution, right from the beginning, was the same issue. Right from the first day of the Revolution’s victory, a phase was opened for the Iranian nation, as a major test in its relations and interactions with the government of the United States of America. This major and important test continued for the past 30 years. The US Government faced this Revolution with an angry and frowning face, and opposed us from the beginning. Of course, they had the right to do so, considering their own calculations. Before the Revolution, Iran was in the hands of the United States, its vital resources were in the hands of the United States, its political decision-making centers were in the hands of the United States, decisions to appoint and depose its vital centers were in the hands of the United States, and it (Iran) was like a field for the United States, the US military, and others on which to graze. Well, this was taken away from them. They could have expressed their opposition in not such an aggressive manner. But from the beginning of the Revolution, both their Republican presidents, and the Democrats, did not behave well toward the Islamic Republic. This is not secret from anyone.

(People chant: “Death to America”)

Pay attention, the first measure taken by the United States was to provoke the scattered opposition groups of the Islamic Republic, and to support terrorism and disintegration in the country. They started this right from the beginning. In any parts of the country, where there were grounds for disintegration, the United States had a hand, we noticed their money, and at times their agents. This cost our people much. Unfortunately, this continues. The bandits in the Iran-Pakistan border areas, we know that some of them — as we have their voices (as received) — are in touch with Americans.

They have wireless communications, and take orders from them. Bandits, terrorists, murderers, are in touch with US officers in a neighboring country. Unfortunately, this still goes on. This was the beginning of what they started. Then it was the confiscation of property and goods belonging to Iran. The former regime gave a large amount of money to the United States to buy airplanes, helicopters, and weapons from them. Some of them over there were prepared, and when the Revolution took place, they did not deliver them. They did not give back the money, which amounted to millions of dollars. And the strange point is that they kept these goods in a store, and considered storage charges for it, which they claimed from the Algeria Agreement. To take away some goods from a nation, confiscate them, and fail to deliver them, and then claim storage charges for it! This is the kind of behavior started then, which continues. Our possessions are still there. They belong to the Iranian nation. They are in the United States and also some European countries. We referred to them over the past years, and asked them to give us what belongs to us and what we paid for. They said that since they are under the license of the United States, the United States does not allow them to do so; they cannot return them to us, and they are still there.

They showed Saddam (late Iraqi president) a green light. This was another plan by the US Government to attack Iran. If Saddam did not have the green light from the United States, he would have not attacked our borders. They imposed eight years of war on our country. About 300,000 of our young people, our people, were martyred in this eight-year war. In these eight years (Iran-Iraq war), particularly in the last few years of it, the United States constantly supported Saddam and helped him financially, with ammunition, and political advice. They provided him with satellite information. They had information facilities. They recorded the movements of our forces by satellite, and transferred this information the very same day to Saddam’s HQ to use against our young people and forces.

They (the United States) closed their eyes to Saddam’s crimes. The Halabcheh (southern Iranian town bordering Iraq) incident took place, hitting various towns of our country with missiles. They destroyed houses, they used chemical bombs on the frontlines, they still closed their eyes. They did not object at all. They helped Saddam. This was another one of the acts of this government over the years toward our country and our nation.

(People chant)

Then, please pay attention; there is a lot of time for chanting. Toward the end of the war, a US officer hit our airplane on the Persian Gulf with a missile from a warship. Some 290, about 300, passengers were in this plane, and they were all killed. And then, instead of punishing that officer, the US President of that time awarded that officer and gave him a medal. Now, should our nation forget this? Can it forget?They supported criminal terrorists who killed men, women, people, great scholars, even little children in our country. They (the United States) allowed them (terrorists) to be active in their country. They constantly released aggressive propaganda against our country. Constantly! In the past years, US Presidents, particularly during the eight years of the former president (referring to President George W. Bush), whenever he said something against the Iranian nation, against our country, against our officials, against the Islamic Republic system, he said something absurd and nonsensical. He did not respect the Iranian nation. It was always like this over the years. They disturbed the security and peace in our region, security in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They brought massive quantities of weapons to the regional countries, in order to stand against the Islamic Republic, in fact to fill the pockets of armaments factories.

They unconditionally supported Israel, the cruel Zionist regime. You witnessed one example of its (Israel’s) cruelty in Gaza in the past two, three months. What a disaster they created. How many children they killed, how many men and women they killed. In 22 days they killed 5,000 people in Gaza with bombardments, missiles, and direct shootings. In the meanwhile they supported it. The US Government supported it until the very last moment. Whenever the Security Council wanted to issue a resolution against the Zionist regime, the United States stepped forward and defended (Israel), and did not let it happen. It (the United States) threatened our country on any occasion. It constantly said that it will attack us. They said that they had a military plan ready on the desk, they will do this, and they will do that. They constantly talked against our country and threatened our nation. Of course, these threats did not affect our nation, but they showed their enmity by doing so. They insulted the Iranian nation, the Iranian government, and the Iranian president, over and over again. Some years ago, an American said that the Iranian nation must be eradicated. In the past few years, a US official said that a nice and moderate Iranian is one that was killed, who is dead. They insulted this great and honorable nation, the nation whose only fault is to defend its identity and independence in such ways.

They imposed sanctions on our country for 30 years. Of course, these sanctions were in our benefit. With this regard, we must thank the United States.

If they had not imposed sanctions on us, we would have not reached this level of science and progress. Sanctions constantly made us aware, made us think about ourselves, and be innovative. But they did not mean to serve us like this. They wanted to be antagonist. This is how they treated the Iranian nation for 30 years, and now the new US Government says that they would like to negotiate with Iran, that we should forget the past. They say that they extended their arm towards Iran. What kind of a hand? If it is an iron hand covered with a velvet glove, then it will not make any good sense. They congratulate the Iranian nation on the occasion of the New Year (Iranian New Year started 20 March 2009), but in the same message call the Iranian nation supporters of terrorism, who seek nuclear weapons, and accuse it of such things.

I would like to say that I do not know who makes decisions for the United States, the President, the Congress, elements behind the scenes? But I would like to say that we have logic. Since the beginning, the Iranian nation moved with logic. Regarding our vital issues, we are not sentimental. We do not make decisions based on emotion. We make decisions through calculation. They tell us to negotiate, to start relations. They have the slogan of change. Where is the change? What has changed? Clarify this to us. What changed? Has your enmity toward the Iranian nation changed? What signs are there to support this? Have you released the possessions of the Iranian nation? Have you removed the cruel sanctions? Have you stopped the insults, accusations, and negative propaganda against this great nation and its officials? Have you stopped your unconditional support for the Zionist regime? What has changed? They talk of change, but there are no changes in actions. We have not seen any changes. Even the literature has not changed. The new US President, from the very moment of his official appointment as President, made a speech, and insulted Iran and the Islamic government. Why? If you tell the truth, and there are changes, where are these changes? Why can we see nothing? I would like to say this to everyone. US officials should also know that the Iranian nation cannot be fooled, or scared.

(People chant)

First of all. (Interrupted by chanting)

Changes in words are not adequate; although we have not seen much of a change there either. Change must be real. I would like to say this to US officials, that this change that you talk about is a real necessity; you have no other choice, you must change. If you do not change, then divine traditions will change you, the world will change you. You must change, but this change cannot be in words only. It should not come with unhealthy intentions. You may say that you want to change policies, but not your aims, that you will change tactics. This is not change. This is deceit. There can be true change, which should be seen in action. I advise US officials, whoever is the decision-maker in the United States, whether the President, Congress, or others, that the US Government has not worked to the benefit of the American people. Today, you are hated in the world. You should know this, if you do not already. Nations set fire to your flag. Muslim nations across the world chant “Death to America.”

(People chant: “Death to America”)

What is the reason behind this hatred? Have you ever studied this? Analyzed it? Have you learnt from it? The reason is, that you treat the world like a pupil, you talk snobbishly, you want to impose your own will on the world, you interfere in the affairs of other countries, and you implement double-sided criteria. When a young Palestinian is forced to perform some act of martyrdom, because of the pressure he is under, you bombard him with a mass of propaganda, and on the other hand you ignore the crimes of the Zionist regime, while it creates such a disaster in Gaza for 22 days. You call that young man a terrorist, and you say that you are committed towards the security of such a terrorist regime. These are the reasons that they hate you around the world. This is advice to you. For your own benefit, for your own good, for the future of your country, restrain from your snobbish attitude, hegemony, and your lecturing attitude. Do not interfere in the affairs of other nations. Be happy with your own rights. Do not define benefits for yourself in various parts of the world. You will see that the United States will gradually lose its hated image in the world. These deed have made you hated. Listen to these words. This is my advice to US officials, the President, and others. Listen well to these words, and have them translated for you. Of course, do not give it to the Zionists to translate for you. Consult healthy people, and seek their opinions.

If the US Government continues its same behavior, method, course, policies against us, as in the past 30 years, we are the same people, the same nation that we were for the past 30 years.

(People chant)

Please pay attention. If you go on with the slogan of discussion and pressure, saying that you will negotiate with Iran, and at the same time impose pressure, threats, and changes, then our nation will not like such words. We do not have any experience with the new US President and Government. We shall see and judge. You change, and we shall change as well. If you do not change, our people became more and more experienced, stronger, and more patient in the past 30 years.

Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce.


March 20, 2009

Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing

Please click here for the full transcript

MR. WOOD: Happy Friday, everyone, happy spring. I’m going to start off with a couple of announcements.


MR. WOOD: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Happy Nowruz.

MR. WOOD: Happy Nowruz. This one is on Bosnia.

The United States supports the draft constitutional amendment on the Brcko district currently before parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina…

…And with that, I will take your questions.

QUESTION: What do you make so far of the Iranian reaction to the President’s video message?

QUESTION: Robert, can I ask you a question about the statement on Madagascar? How much money is involved in the suspension?

MR. WOOD: Charlie, we’re working to get the figures for you right now, and we’ll hopefully be able to give you that a little bit later today.


MR. WOOD: No, that’s a good question.

QUESTION: Now proceed to —

MR. WOOD: We’re working on it.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yeah, your – what do you make of the Iranian reaction thus far to the President’s video message?

MR. WOOD: Well, I haven’t really seen much in terms of the Iranian reaction to it. We will – I will see more as the day goes on. But I think the importance of this message was that the President said that we are going to engage in direct diplomacy with Iran. We’re interested in working with the Iranian people, the Iranian Government to improve the relationship. There are still a lot of difficult issues that remain between us, but we’re willing to work through them if the Iranians are willing to work with us. So, you know, I’ll probably have more to say about the Iranian reaction once I have a fuller understanding of how they responded to it.


QUESTION: Do you have anything more on whether U.S. officials will meet with their Iranian counterparts either in Russia for the Shanghai grouping or the one in The Hague, the Afghanistan —

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have anything more than what I said yesterday, but we’ll certainly keep you abreast if there are changes to that.

James, haven’t seen you in a while. Good to see you.

QUESTION: Good to be back. Robert, is the American policy toward Israel under review?

MR. WOOD: No, our policy toward – are you talking about something specific?

QUESTION: You’ve talked about how the policy in Afghanistan is under review, the policy toward North Korea is under review, Iran is under review. Is the policy toward Israel under review?

MR. WOOD: No, our – look, we have a longstanding, very good relationship with the Government of Israel. We’re – as I said several days ago and I think a couple weeks ago as well, we’re waiting for there to be an Israeli government in place. We look forward to working with that new government on trying to move the peace process forward. And that’s where we’re at.

QUESTION: The reason I ask is because that was an element of the Iranian response which the spokesman for President Ahmadinejad stated specifically. The American Government, he said, should realize its previous mistakes; supporting Israel is not a friendly gesture. But you don’t intend to diminish your support for Israel in any way?

MR. WOOD: Absolutely not.

QUESTION: And another element of the response I want to bring up with you: The spokesman for President Ahmadinejad said that unlimited sanctions against Iran, which still continue and have been renewed by the United States, are wrong and need to be reviewed. How was it that the Administration could make that determination about the need to extend those sanctions against Iran amid an overall policy review toward Iran that is still underway?

MR. WOOD: Well, our concerns about a number of – our concerns about Iranian behavior in a number of areas are still there and is still there. And that hasn’t changed. We want to engage with the Iranians to try to resolve some of the differences between us, but those difficult issues remain. And we look to work with the Iranian Government to try to resolve them.

We’re willing to reach out our hand to the Iranians, as the President and the Secretary have said. But some of those issues, like its nuclear program, it’s not just a concern to the United States; it’s a concern to the larger international community. Iran’s behavior with regard to Iraq, with regard to Hezbollah, Hamas, remain concerns. And so that hasn’t changed. The fact that we want to reach out to Iran, I don’t see a contradiction there. But those concerns remain, and they need to be dealt with.

QUESTION: Robert, on that message, since public diplomacy is what this building does, did the State Department have any input into that message, and do you know who originated the idea for doing it?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know who originated the idea, but obviously the President had an interest in reaching out to Iran, as he has said that he would do. The State Department certainly was aware of the fact that the President was going to, you know, give this message to the Iranian people and its government. So —

QUESTION: But did it help to craft that message, or was it strictly the White House?

MR. WOOD: Honestly, I don’t know where – you know, who had a role in providing language or editing it. I don’t know. But you can – certainly it’s fair to state that the State Department was involved with the crafting of the message in some fashion. I just can’t tell you how.

QUESTION: While reaching out to Iran, Israel still considers Iran to be a primary threat. Can that be sort of a source of friction between the U.S. and Israel?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t see any source of friction. Iran’s behavior is what both the Government of the United States and the Government of Israel are concerned about. It’s about Iranian behavior that all of us in the international community are concerned about. So no, I don’t see any differences. We share that view. What we have said is that we want to engage the Iranians diplomatically to try to bridge some of these differences. But a lot of concerns remain.

QUESTION: As we pursue a diplomatic route with Iran, can we assume that sort of the Palestinian-Israeli issue will take on a higher priority, it will become issue number one for the U.S. Administration in the Middle East?

MR. WOOD: Well, it is a high priority. We’ve been working trying to bring about a two-state solution for quite some time. We’re going to continue to push that. It remains a priority. We have a number of priorities in the Middle East, but certainly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is definitely right up there at the top.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I have a follow-up on Iran and the video. What – speaking of which, what kind of follow-up do you have planned to this? I mean, what’s the next step? Okay, this is – this is a, you know, public overture, but what does that mean and what’s the intent —

MR. WOOD: Well, that’s a very legitimate question. I think we will be able to respond to that much more fully once the review is completed. And I do expect that that review will be completed, you know, in the very near future. And so let’s wait and see. But obviously, this President is committed to direct engagement with Iran, and this is one example. There will be other examples, but I don’t want to get ahead of the process right now. But I would just say stay tuned.

QUESTION: Obviously, I mean, the review didn’t forestall making – taking this step.

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

QUESTION: That’s fairly significant.

MR. WOOD: But —

QUESTION: So what’s next?

MR. WOOD: Well, certainly, I’m not going to preview it here for you. Let’s see, there will be future steps, and we will certainly make all of you aware of them. But I’m not going to get ahead of the process right now.

QUESTION: Robert, the conference that’s coming up on Afghanistan and the Iranians supposedly invited. They still think they’re not invited. Now, could you – I know you went over this before, but could you explain exactly who issues the invitations and why they —

MR. WOOD: My understanding is that the invitations are being issued by the UN, along with the co-sponsors of the conference, meaning the Government of the Netherlands and the Government of Afghanistan.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question. The U.S. Government has been saying, okay, we’re waiting – we’re making the overtures, we’re extending our hand and we’re waiting for a sign from Iran. What kind of a sign are you waiting for them to – for them to show their willingness?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’re waiting for Iran to reach its hand out and, you know, express its willingness to engage with the United States.

QUESTION: They’ve said so in public themselves, but —

MR. WOOD: They’re also – right. But you know, it’s important – again, we’re at the beginning of this process. The President has clearly – made it clear that we are going to engage diplomatically with Iran. We intend to do that. It will be up to the Iranians how they want to reciprocate. But I also want to emphasize that we still have some very difficult issues that divide us. And what the President has said is that we want to work with Iran on trying to deal with these differences. We’re willing to diplomatically engage. It’s really going to be up to Iran. I can’t give you a specific thing that Iran needs to do. But certainly Iran is aware of our concerns. It’s certainly aware of our willingness to engage diplomatically. And we’ll just have to see what comes from that.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on the language in the message in which the President said that the process will not be advanced by threats? What is the meaning of that?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think what the President was trying to say is that, you know, threats that have been made by the Government of Iran against Israel, you know, threats against neighbors, that type of thing, doesn’t advance dialogue and peace in the region.

And again, the President is extending the hand of the United States to the government and people of Iran. You know, Iran has a very proud culture, a very deep and rich culture. We obviously want to work with the people of Iran on a whole host of issues. But again, making threats, that’s not the language of dialogue, and that’s what he was getting at.

QUESTION: And so that language was directed toward Iran and no other party? Was it directed at the United States itself? Was it directed at any other party?

MR. WOOD: Look, the United States has not been making threats. I think you’ve seen threats coming from Iran on a number of subjects. And what the President was trying to say is that let’s get beyond this threatening language, let’s try to work together to resolve our differences, and that the United States is willing to reach out and engage.

QUESTION: Saying stop your nuclear program or we’re going to proceed with sanctions is not a threat?

MR. WOOD: Look, this – Iran’s nuclear program is a concern to not just the United States, it’s a concern to a number of countries. We’ve offered Iran a package of incentives. When I say we, I mean the P-5+1. And we want Iran to take up that offer. That’s not a threat. That’s an offer. And that’s what we’ve been saying to Iran for quite some time. And that package of incentives is important and should be looked at by Iran. But as I said, that’s not a threat. That was an offer.

QUESTION: Isn’t the package carrots and sticks? Sticks probably being a threat that if you don’t follow through with what we’re asking for.

MR. WOOD: Well, all I can tell you is that we have, with our partners, tried to reach out and deal with this issue diplomatically. That’s what we want to do. We’re not in the process of threatening Iran. But clearly, you know, this issue is not going to go away. We want Iran – if Iran is interested in peaceful nuclear energy, the international community can make provisions for that. But there are a lot of suspicions about what it’s trying to do with its nuclear program. And what we’re trying to do is resolve it diplomatically.

You know, Iran is under a number of Security Council resolutions, and it needs to comply with those resolutions. No secrets there. So I don’t view it as the United States making threats. This is the international community calling on Iran to live up to its obligations.

Talk to Me

March 21, 2009
Taghi Amirani’s impressive selection of cellphones.

“Today Iran, the UK and the US — tomorrow, The World,” first appeared on Taghi Amirani’s blog on March 10.

Tehran Bureau | comment

When I visit my home country Iran, I take an old Nokia 6320i with me. It uses an Iranian SIM with my Iranian number. Reception is great in almost all corners of the country. The phone, which carries my 300 or so contacts out there, is pretty basic, has some useful features including an OK camera. Of course this Nokia listens to me speaking Persian all the time and witnesses all manner of peculiar conversational gymnastics and maneuvers, that make communication between Iranians one of the most complex and multi-layered puzzles in the world. Try to decipher at your peril. You can talk to an Iranian for an hour and not receive or impart any useful information whatsoever. Or you can utter a short sentence and speak volumes with depth, meaning, poetry and emotion all wrapped in subtle and delicate nuance. It’s frustrating but I love it! This Nokia is well versed in “Persian speak” and can soon negotiate its own way around the maze of linguistic challenges. It has had a pretty hard time on my last two visits researching the “Fatherland” documentary.

When in the US I use a Nokia 6030 with my American T-Mobile SIM and number. This phone is so basic and innocent I have just recently introduced it to the joys of text. It has all my US-based friends and work colleagues on it and its ring-tone is the jingly ring ring, like the ones your hear in B&W movies with Bogart and Bergman. The conversations this phone listens to are often over-excited and long (me), are about arranging brunches all day, every day, and take place at airports, car rental offices, railway stations, and sometimes are with PBS/Nat Geo people and cool filmmakers. These American conversations are generally “what you hear is what you get” with two exceptions: US Foreign policy* (see below), and talking to Iranians (see above). But most of my US calls normally leave me uplifted and light. It’s that American upbeat, can do, positive thing, or it’s just me projecting. Either way this phone has a pretty easy time most of the time.

When in the UK, which is where I spend most of my time, I’m on the Nokia 6300 on the Orange network, which has a great reputation for supporting British cinema and filmmakers. This phone is slim, elegant and easy to use. Its camera is actually quite good, taking pictures with a certain level of grain that gives the photos a textured painterly look. It has hundreds of contacts on it covering just about everyone I know, including late night pizza and curry delivery joints, friends from 20 years ago to the new dentist I called today for an appointment. This Nokia gets the English version of me, sometimes witty in a self-deprecating way, sometimes bitingly sarcastic, but usually restrained. The 6300 has heard it all; late night calls from friends with a broken heart needing a listening ear, me talking nervously in clumsy Woody Allen style to girls I’ve had a crush on, me ranting at the plumber for not showing up, cold calls from marketing weirdoes, me pitching ideas to BBC execs…the lot. Boy, if this Nokia could talk…

Now, we can have a whole lot of very profound and complex discussions about cultural identity, how the language we speak shapes our personality, the different masks we wear, or how we think, feel or even experience the world depends on what language we speak. But that’s another blog.

My multi-phoned split identity world changed on 2nd February 2009 at the TED Fellows opening reception when the lovely Afdhel Aziz, Nokia’s Senior Marketing Manager, Global Sponsorships and Partnerships, pulled a fantastic magic trick out of a gift bag: Ladies and gentlemen, he gave us the Nokia E71.

The surprise sound of the fellows’ jaws dropping on the deck was deafening. Apparently this device can do just about everything short of making the tea in the morning when you wake up. And as if that wasn’t enough Nokia have also unlocked it so it can work anywhere in the world.

And THERE is my chance at last. No more 3-phone Tags. Now that I can merge all my contacts from Iran, UK, US and all over, into one single phone with unlimited contact memory; now that I can talk to any of them at anytime from anywhere from one phone, anything could happen. I applied to the TED Fellowship on the premise that if the TED community is to survive and flourish it needs someone like me bridging East and West. Making peace and love between Iran and the US first, and the West in general.

Let my new Nokia E71 be the metaphor for that bridge, let it connect people by talking via me. Let it bring peace to all mankind and women who are just as kind.

My friend and TED Fellow Rom Feria (Mac Genius) has just emailed to say I need to update the firmware on my new phone. What? Is this thing out of date even before I’ve opened the box?!


*In the dark days of Bush foreign policy in relation to Iran, whenever he said “all options are on the table”, that meant we’re willing to bomb the hell out of people, if they don’t do as we say. Now the options on Obama’s table seem to include talking to everyone. Why even just this week he said he would consider talking to the Taliban. Well, bombing the hell out of two ancient civilisations in the Middle East doesn’t seem to have made them love Americans more. So talking may be an option. Afdhel, sponsorship and partnership opportunities here for Nokia?!

Taghi Amirani is a lapsed Iranian physicist, devout documentary filmmaker, and TED Fellow 2009.

Straight Talk

March 11, 2009

Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing



MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

Can you talk about the discussions about a letter that possible President – that President Obama could be sending – considering sending to Ayatollah Khamenei in Iran as a possible overture to engage Iran?

I don’t have anything about any possible letter, but that would be something that I’d refer you to the White –

Well, there were some diplomats that briefed reporters over the last week that said that the Administration has kind of told the Europeans that one of the things that you’re considering in terms of your efforts to engage Iran is possibly – the way you would do that is to send a letter to President Khamenei – sorry, Ayatollah Khamenei.

Look, you know we have a policy review underway on Iran, and –

Is that one of the options being –

Well, I’m not going to talk about options that are being discussed within that review. But with regard to some type of presidential letter, that’s something that would have to come out of the White House. I’m not aware of it.

Well, this Administration never responded to President Ahmadinejad’s letter to President Obama congratulating him.

As I said, there is a review on Iran policy underway. I don’t have anything more for you on that, Elise.

Well, I mean, clearly you are looking for ways to engage Iran.

Absolutely. We have said that.

Could this be a possible –

I just don’t want to get into a discussion of those ways that we may or may not be planning to engage Iran.

Well, the first time this came up several weeks ago, both you from this building, and the White House from the White House building denied that there was any letter that was under consideration, and said that no one had been instructed to draft such a letter, and today it seems a little different. What’s the scoop?

I’m not saying anything differently. I’m just saying to you that there is an Iran policy review underway, and I’d leave it at that.

Well, but why can’t you say the same thing that you said before when this was first – this first bubbled up?

I don’t want to. I don’t want to. (Laughter.)

Well, that’s telling.

I mean, if you’re denying that it wasn’t true then, you’re not denying that it isn’t true now.

I’m just saying to you that there is a policy review underway with regard to Iran, and that’s how I’ve been answering those questions. I don’t want to discuss, you know, letters, policy ideas that have been floated; I don’t think that’s useful. I think once we have completed our review, we’ll be able to enunciate our policies, and then you’ll have – we’ll be able to answer a lot of your questions.