Monday, June 30, 2008

Interview with Dr. Ali Asghar Soltanieh--Iranian ambassador to IAEA

On Mon, 30 Jun 2008 17:12:38 +0100, "CASMII"

CASMII Exclusive: Interview with Iran's Ambassador to IAEA

30 June 2007

Mohammad Kamaali, board member of CASMII UK speaks to Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA Dr Ali Asghar Soltanieh who was recently in London to attend an international conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone, organised by the School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS.

In this interview Dr Soltanieh explains the reasons behind Iran's determination to develop an indigenous uranium enrichment capability and why Iran believes the countries pursuing or relying on nuclear weapons are making a mistake. He also gives his viewpoint on how international institutions such as the UN Security Council are in practice used as instruments of political pressure by a select few member states, ultimately undermining the authority and credibility of those institutions.
The following is a transcript of the interview with minor editing for clarity.

A Podcast is also available for download from here [.mp3].
Mohammad Kamaali: Thank you Mr Ambassador for agreeing to talk to us. If you could please briefly explain the history of Iran's nuclear programme, where it started, what stage is it at present and what are your future plans.
Dr Ali Asghar Soltanieh: It is simple, Iran’s nuclear programme did not start yesterday for it to be stopped tomorrow as it is today demanded by some countries like the US. Nuclear activities in Iran go back to half a century ago, before and after the [1979] revolution. In fact, I myself started my work before the revolution in the Atomic Energy Organisation (AEO) and I have witnessed the double standard approach before and after the revolution.
A very simple question that is always addressed to us is what is the justification for Iran to have nuclear energy while it has huge amounts of natural resources of oil and gas. This question was never raised before the revolution when the [oil] resources were much more than today and the population was about half. [Today] the added value of the oil bid for application in our chemical and petrochemical industry is much more because we now have a lot of advancements in this area which we can use for producing a great amount of by-products. So the added value is much more than thirty years ago, in addition to the price of oil which is of course increasing everyday.
Therefore there are good technical and financial justifications for having also nuclear energy as an option. But at the same time we have never envisioned an ambitious programme so as to consider nuclear energy as the only option. We have always thought of the policy of diversifying energy resources. We have used a technical/scientific program in the IAEA namely the VASP programme; with which countries use all their data to find out in a scientific way what share nuclear energy can play for them. Using this programme we have come to the conclusion that in the next twenty years, roughly by 2020, we will have up to 20,000 megawatts from nuclear energy. Right now in our national grid we have about 35,000 megawatts and if Bushehr becomes operational, the share of nuclear energy will be 1,000 out of 35,000 megawatts. But given the constant growth of industry and naturally for many other uses across the country, the energy demand is increasing. Therefore 20,000 megawatts by the year 2020 again will be perhaps a small portion of this sort of energy. It is not 400% therefore it is not that ambitious, it is a more realistic approach so that step-by-step we can have a gradual contribution from nuclear power.
Now the issue which I think has been made so much politicised but is mainly technical is when you have nuclear energy and you want to have nuclear energy for different applications including nuclear power then the issue is that you need reactors and reactors need fuel and the fuel should be assured.
MK: Could you explain what those other purposes might be?
AS: Yes, in fact I have been twice the director of nuclear research centre in Tehran (NRC). One of the main applications of nuclear energy is in producing various radioisotopes for medical, agricultural and industrial purposes. Right now over 200 hospitals and clinics are using the radioisotopes produced in Tehran's 5 megawatts reactor; and of course in addition to these applications the sources also could be used for many leakage applications in industry as well as agriculture of course.
We do have for example a gamma radiation centre in Tehran. Everyday trucks of the chemical by-products and in fact the material used in the medical applications are sterilised by gamma radiation by cold sources there. There are various applications which are increasing everyday not only in Iran but in the whole world.
Therefore for all these we come back to the nuclear material used for that purpose, for either radioactive sources or reactor. But then the question is you need fuel and the fuel should be assured. The main question is why we started to choose our own way for enrichment in order to produce the fuel indigenously.
I explain this to you very briefly; I am sure that your colleagues will be convinced because this is part of history and these are well documented facts. First of all we have a confidence deficit for the last thirty years particularly after the revolution when Western countries immediately stopped their nuclear cooperation [with Iran.] We paid $2m before the revolution in order to have new fuel for the Tehran reactor which produces mainly radioisotopes. The Americans neither gave the fuel nor the $2m that they received. Therefore when I was the Ambassador to the IAEA 26 years ago, I raised the issue of an urgent need for fuel with the Director General at the time, Hans Blix, and asked the IAEA to do something as intermediation for this problem. The IAEA in fact wrote to different potential suppliers, reflecting our request; unfortunately none of them agreed to even give the fuel for Tehran's research reactor which has been under the IAEA's full-scope Safeguards.
MK: Were they obliged to accept Iran's request at all?
AS: Yes, because this is under the IAEA. First of all the US was legally obliged because they had a contract; they received $2m out of $2.3m before the revolution. The fuel was ready to ship and they stopped the shipment of that fuel. Finally when the Argentineans had success in enrichment, they announced their readiness to give fuel to Iran under the auspices of the IAEA and that is what happened. Therefore the Tehran reactor right now is working with Argentinean fuel and this was in fact a good sign of South-South cooperation.
Now I give this as one example and there are many examples both bilaterally and multilaterally that have affected us. I want you to consider these and then everybody could easily judge if they were in Iran's position whether or not they would have taken the same decisions [as we did] . This is one reason. The second reason is this: Iran was part of Eurodif, an enrichment company in France, to which the Shah gave $1bn as a loan thirty years ago. Right now that I am giving this interview, Iran holds 10% of the shares of that company, but we have not even received 1 gram of uranium from that factory, uranium which is being produced under the full-scope of [the IAEA] safeguard. That is also another reason why Iran was disappointed and frustrated, and therefore it had to decide otherwise.
The next issue of course is the Bushehr power plant which is a tragedy in fact among all industrial projects of the world. It was supposed to be in operation almost twenty eight years ago and after thirty years it is still not in operation. We spent another $1bn [in dealing] with the Russians and it is still not in operation. And I want to inform you that, while we thank the Russians for their cooperation, they have only given the fuel so far for the first load and the first year. They have not provided any guarantees on paper for the fuel in the next five or ten years. Therefore there is no guarantee for even the Bushehr power plant.
Having all these in mind and with this background we had no choice but to have our own enrichment and fuel production. However, there was also another important development in the international arena which in fact pushed Iran to make this decision. In the IAEA there was a committee for guaranteeing nuclear supply. That committee collapsed in 1987 after seven years of negotiation. It means that after seven years of negotiation, they were not able to have one piece of paper as a legally binding assurance for guaranteeing nuclear fuel.
MK: Was there any particular reason for that?
AS: The reason was because the industrialized countries did not want to give that assurance and this is their historical mistake. This was 1987 and if you refer to the IAEA website and reports you will see that the IAEA has reported that Iran in fact decided to go after enrichment by coincidence after 1987. It means that when we lost all hope in international arrangements and also the bilateral problems we had after the revolution when [our partners] did not cooperate, altogether pushed Iran and Iranian decision-makers to the position that there is no other choice but to go for indigenous enrichment and fuel production. So we have designed the Natanz nuclear plant so as to produce, if it works annually with 54,000 P1 type centrifuges, the fuel required for the annual consumption of the Bushehr nuclear plant
MK: Is the Natanz nuclear plant under IAEA inspections?
AS: Natanz is under the full-scope of IAEA inspections and beyond . In order to remove any ambiguity and provide 100% transparency guarantee, we agreed and negotiated a legal text with the IAEA and have accepted further legal obligations. These two legal texts are called Facility Attachment and Safeguard Approach for Natanz Enrichment. It means that the operator inspectors do not need to discuss each time what to see, how to see, where to install or not to install cameras.. Therefore this is the legal obligation that Iran has accepted that everything is under the most intrusive and robust inspections. Apart from that we have also agreed that the agency could have short notice snapshot inspections, within two hours or so. This is of course maximum transparency and assurance.
MK: Do these measures apply to other nuclear sites across Iran as well?
AS: Yes, in fact this is the case. Since it was established over 35 years ago, the Tehran research reactor has been under continuous Agency surveillance and there is also a Facility Attachment for Tehran research reactor as well as in Isfahan and other [sites]. Therefore even in Isfahan which is a Uranium conversion [facility] we do have IAEA cameras. In fact I took the ambassadors of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM), G77 and the Arab League to Isfahan and in that visit I invited and permitted over 100 international journalists to also accompany me to visit all parts of the Isfahan [facility]; they were able to see with their own eyes the IAEA cameras installed in different corners of that facility. Similar facilities in other countries do not have these cameras and therefore we have accepted additional measures to make sure that everything is under the full-scope Safeguards.
MK: So what has the IAEA or its Director General expressed concern about, especially in its latest report?
AS: We implemented the Additional Protocol for two and a half years voluntarily but a historical mistake was made by the US and a couple of other Western countries that after so much cooperation and having even suspended these activities, they conveyed this file to New York. Of course it was not officially referred because it was not following the provision of the statute of the IAEA Safeguards.
In fact immediately after the involvement of the UN Security Council in this issue, which is in fact an unlawful involvement, the Iranian Parliament passed a law restricting the government to only accept the Comprehensive Safeguards of the NPT. Therefore we were not going to discuss the issues beyond our legal obligations such as the so called "outstanding issues." However after one year that we stopped these discussions we as a matter of fact showed our maximum flexibility and concession. Under the work-plan which was negotiated and agreed with the IAEA we decided to resolve those issues. But of course the Agency asked not only Iran but many other countries to sign, ratify and implement the Additional Protocol. Because of the unfortunate decision to get the UN Security Council involved and the ongoing resolutions that they are passing against Iran, one can not expect a parliament in a democratic society to ignore this fact and pass and ratify the Additional Protocol. I want to say that the Director General [of the IAEA] has reported that over one hundred countries at present do not implement the Additional Protocol and therefore this is not only about Iran.
MK: The latest report of the IAEA contains some issues mentioned in the media especially with regards to the contents of that particular laptop and there are the explosives and detonator tests, missile re-entry vehicles and the uranium metal document. These are the things that have been raised and branded as outstanding questions with regards to Iran's nuclear programme. Some of it has been answered in the work-plan, some of it even contradicts the actual work-plan. How does Iran view the latest report in particular with regards to the track record of its relationship with the IAEA?
AS: The work-plan, which we agreed with the IAEA [Aug. 07], has resolved all six issues, called the outstanding issues, and the Director General has clearly reported to the whole world that they are resolved in the past reports.
One issue which was not categorized as an outstanding issue was the issue of "alleged studies." That is the allegation by the US that there were some studies on Green Salt, high explosives and re-entry missiles. And as you correctly mentioned it was the issue the so-called “laptop”. After the first process i.e. the six outstanding issues which were all nuclear-related matters and within the domain of the IAEA, was over, in a compromise we accepted to also discuss these matters. Because missiles or explosives are not within the contents of the statute of the IAEA. These are outside the domain of the IAEA. But we showed flexibility and we said OK let us have the documents, we will study them and give our assessment.
In the work-plan it was clearly mentioned that the Agency was obliged to deliver this document and we were only obliged to give our assessment of it. No discussions, no interviews, not even visits. That was the agreement and understanding with the IAEA. The high officials and the head of the legal department, policy making and technical safeguard departments were also present when this text was finalised. It is interesting that in spite of the Americans' march against Mr ElBaradei and the IAEA secretariat about the [IAEA-Iran] work-plan, this document was supported almost unanimously in the IAEA and even in the Board of Governors it was discussed and many European countries and others welcomed the IAEA for having achieved this work-plan.
Therefore this work-plan has an important status and both sides should fulfil their obligations. Unfortunately the Americans prevented the IAEA to fulfil its obligation by not delivering the documents and not permitting the IAEA to deliver the documents to Iran. But again we showed flexibility and we accepted that the documents could only be shown so that we could put an end to this endless process. Finally [the documents] were shown and we explained comprehensively why these papers are forged and baseless. We had many meetings, over 200 pages of explanation have been given in a confidential manner to the IAEA and unfortunately the Americans are still trying to keep this file [open] by continuing to make ceaseless allegations.
MK: How were these documents shown to you? Was it in a paper format? Was it digital? Did they have any confidential seals?
AS: That is an important point you raised. In the first round of our meeting, they simply brought some sheets of papers in hard copy and said that we were not allowed to take them outside the room or make a copy. Then in the second round the secretariat was further embarrassed and they apologised to Iran and said that this time the Americans had not even permitted [the IAEA] to obtain or show hard copies [of the documents]. Therefore they brought us electronic versions, which were shown on a computer laptop screen. This has created a lot of problems for the secretariat and Iran; the Director General has in fact complained about the US actions creating impediments in the work, and in the last report he has indeed criticised this.
MK: Doesn't this play with the credibility of the IAEA as a whole and if it does, is it the case that the IAEA has to do whatever the US asks it to do?
AS: That is exactly the concern reflected in the Non-Alignment Movement statement. Here over one hundred countries expressed their serious concern and dissatisfaction and objection to this status quo. That one country is somehow interfering in the impartial and professional work of the IAEA. It is absolutely a violation of the spirit and the letter of [the IAEA] statute that one state has allegations against another state and gives documents to the IAEA but dictates what to do with it and how to do it and when to do it. This is 100% against the statutory obligations of each member state. That is exactly what happened.
Apart from these issues, among all the documents and material received from the United States against Iran, those essentially forged documents and communications, none of them have any seals of “confidential” or “highly confidential” or “top secret”. How can one imagine that a country has had some sort of a Manhattan nuclear weapon project and all these communications between the Ministry of Defence and all other organisations related to it lack any level of confidentiality on such papers and that this is just normal communication? While they have put some secret codes in order to show that they are some secret projects, at the same time one of the sheets in the third line in parenthesis explains that 111 or 12 or whatever, that this code is about a "nuclear weapon warhead"! This is ridiculous; and there are numerous points like this that we have fully explained to the agency inspectors.
In the meeting we had in Tehran, every problem, every shortcoming and inconsistency was thoroughly discussed and reflected. Therefore this matter is in fact over and I just want to conclude by saying that for the last five years there have been over twenty seven allegations about military sites in Iran and at least 248 samples have been taken from military sites and have been fully analysed which proved that none has any evidence of nuclear weapons or nuclear material. Therefore they have been baseless.
MK: Do you expect any more UN Security Council sanctions against Iran, given that IAEA reports have been in the passed used as justification for UNSC resolutions?
AS: No, in fact there were some attempts in this direction by the US before June in the Board of Governors. For almost two weeks they made much effort to lobby and convince many member states by talking to their capitals. The US mission in Vienna tried hard to convince the member states to have a resolution in the IAEA against Iran. Based even on that report they were unable to succeed. It means that the member states of the IAEA, who are the same members of the United Nations, disagree [with the US] because they do not assess this report as negative, because over ten paragraphs are very positive in the report particularly the paragraphs which repeat that there is no evidence of diversion of nuclear material and facility, towards military nuclear purposes and that all nuclear material are accounted for. This is a very important message.
MK: What about the UN Security Council itself and if another sanctions resolution is passed what would be Iran's likely response?
AS: Well I have to say that these resolutions have been in fact counter-productive. It has in fact undermined to a great extent the authority of the IAEA and it has not had any effect on our nuclear activities. We have even speeded up and tried to show our determination that by sanctions or resolutions or threats of military attack, Iran will not give up its inalienable right for these activities. But at the same time we follow a policy which makes the US administration very disappointed. In spite of the disappointment and frustration about the UN Security Council resolutions which have been in fact very negative on the UN ['s image] and proved that the UNSC is used as an instrument against countries, Iran decided not to react to reduce or halt its cooperation with the IAEA. Therefore despite those resolutions we continue our cooperation with the IAEA within our legal obligations under the Comprehensive Safeguards of the NPT agreement and therefore we neither suspended enrichment nor we suspended [our cooperation with the IAEA]. That is exactly the policy which has upset the US administration. Because they love to hear the news that Iran has decided either to stop or reduce the inspections or to withdraw from NPT and we have not done either.
MK: Does Iran have any incentive to go after Nuclear weapons given Israel's presence and Pakistan's and other countries around Iran?
AS: The answer is very simply, no. It is not a slogan, I have some logic for it. First of all there are religious fatwas or decrees that we are against weapons of mass destruction. We have proved this by our action during the eight years of imposed war by Saddam where Iraq used chemical weapons and over 100,000 people were affected; over 30,000 are still under treatment. Everybody knows that Iran had at that time considerable advanced chemical and petrochemical technology. We could have produced and used [such weapons.] We didn't do that. This is a clear example at a time when we were facing to be or not to be.
The second reason is if a country like Iran or other developing countries decide to have nuclear weapons, how many can they have? Maybe a couple of them? They cannot have 1000s of nuclear bombs in order to compete for example with the United States. Then the quantity would be the crucial factor in competing with the adversaries where they are.
Therefore nuclear weapons create vulnerability for the country. As soon as a country obtains nuclear weapons they will have a problem because they cannot compete in this way. We know in the cold war the Soviet Union and the US were just competing over the number of their warheads because it was this quantity that was playing the role. Therefore this is a historical mistake for any country to go after nuclear weapons. We do not need it.
Apart from this, the [Iranian] revolution for the last 30 years since its triumph has had one simple message; that the Islamic Republic and this democratic system that has been established after the revolution could only be sustained by popular support and the unity of the people who play their role for the sustainable and continuous progress of the country. Therefore this is the main thing the government respects namely to have the popular support and also to make every effort that our cooperation with all countries of the whole world is promoted every day. And that we will always be committed to international laws. That is why you have never heard any news that Iran has had any problems with its neighbours.
MK: Finally I want to touch upon the way forward. How do you see this current crisis -if it is a real crisis, if it is even a nuclear crisis- can be resolved? There are various ideas floating such as a joint consortium [for enrichment], you've got the temporary suspension of enrichment, the Additional Protocol ideas. How do you think this can be resolved?
AS: I will try to be very concise. We are going to continue our cooperation with the IAEA. All our activities are under routine inspection. We have already given our explanations to the IAEA on the last issue of so-called alleged studies; and that if there are any questions or ambiguities for the IAEA or even member states we are well prepared to answer them because we are transparent and we want to make sure that all member states are confident that everything is for peaceful purposes.
At the same time and with the same mentality we welcome all member states in parallel to work with the IAEA to come to the negotiating table. Negotiating table means they can come and we can discuss the common elements about international issues and many things that concern all of us. International security, regional security, international cooperation, energy, energy safety and many other issues. That is why we have given our package which includes all these elements and we were open minded and we have received the 5+1 or the so called 3+3 package. We are studying these carefully. I personally hope and I am optimistic that if the 5+1 showed they have a political will and they want to prove their political and good intention, they should immediately come to the negotiating table without any preconditions and we can have two proposals on the table for discussion.
MK: Would Iran be prepared to accept the Additional Protocol if Iran's file is returned from the UN Security Council to the board of the IAEA?
AS: Well of course this question should be addressed to the Parliament. But I can say that the file has not officially been referred to [the UNSC]. But let's say if the UNSC stopped its illegal involvement, engagement or interference, this of course will help and the environment will be better. Because as long as the UN Security Council is involved and passes resolutions, they just continue to poison the environment and put the spirit of cooperation in jeopardy. Therefore if they will do this, that is a right step in the right direction. In the Board of Governors last week I said that if this issue is removed from the agenda of the board and if the [IAEA] Safeguards is implemented in a routine manner then Iran will show more flexibility to take voluntary steps such as those which were discussed during the visits of the Director General to Tehran. So we will show [flexibility] and this is part of our Iranian culture with thousands of years of civilisation. We cannot accept threats, intimidation and humiliation but if there is a civilised environment and a language of dialogue and a constructive environment then we will show flexibility in order to make sure that the other side also will have enough confidence. Therefore the building of confidence is a two way process. They make accusations against Iran over some issues or in the past over confidence deficit, while in fact we have a large amount of records regarding confidence deficit vis-à-vis Western countries particularly the US and some of the European countries including EU3, specifically the UK and France. They have done much [wrong] against the Iranian nation and this is a time for them to compensate.
MK: The sanctions resolutions passed were initially based on the concern that Iran may divert its nuclear program towards a military goal; but the IAEA has already confirmed that this is not the case. Perhaps that would mean the previous sanctions would have to be removed and future ones should not be passed. Why do you think the Security Council is still willing to accept the US agenda of pushing Iran into isolation? And -I know this may be a difficult question- but do you think that the comments of the Iranian President regarding Israel has helped this process, this push for sanctions against Iran?
AS: Two different things. First of all, on the resolutions they tried to justify it by saying it is because of the "outstanding issues." The Director General has always said that this issue is in New York not because of verification or any problems that Iran has created; Iran is in fact continuing its work and the Director General has continuously reported that the Agency is able to continue its verification. Therefore the involvement of the UNSC in New York is not because of a problem between the IAEA and Iran within the statute of the work. Iran is not like the case of other countries such as North Korea who withdrew from NPT and therefore technically and legally this matter was passed and referred to UN Security Council. We are continuing our work with the IAEA and routine inspections continue. But they then raised the issue of outstanding issues. Now that the outstanding issues are resolved and the Director General has reported in March also that all six outstanding issued are resolved, there is no technical justification and any merit for suspension. Because they asked to suspend enrichment until the Agency and Iran resolved these outstanding issues. That is why the [idea of] suspension has lost its technical and even political merits that the proponents of the resolutions were raising.
Secondly, we have to bear in mind that since the victory of the [1979] revolution, our people have been echoing to the whole world that they oppose any mentality that is against humanity. Genocide, discrimination, aggression, apartheid and Zionism, these are all the categories that the people of Iran have said they are committed not to accept and they will not support this kind of mentality. That is the reason immediately after the revolution, Iran in fact stopped its diplomatic relation with the Apartheid regime of South Africa and the Zionist regime of Israel. After the revolution, we did not even stop our diplomatic relationship with the US which was the first adversary, having many issues with our people from the coup [of 1953] and onward interventions in our country. It means that was our first priority and as soon as the apartheid mentality was removed and a popular government was in place, we supported the South Africans and we now have the best relationship with the South African people and the South African government. Therefore that is the problem and the message of the Iranian officials and the Iranian people is that we cannot accept that a group of people occupy a place and make many innocent people homeless. This is a matter of principle against humanity, that was the whole issue. At the same time we have clearly mentioned and our supreme leader also had a message over four years ago that if people there -in occupied Palestine- Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Muslims, who are all followers of divine religions come together and follow a democratic referendum and choose a democratic government, then we will support that. That is exactly what we want. The homeless Palestinians also have the right to live there and this is the minimum that we expect. Because this is a right of human beings to have a home and to live there in peace and in equal footing. We are always for peace and prosperity in that region, the Middle East and also in the whole world.
MK: Thank you Mr Ambassador for speaking to us.
AS: Thank you indeed.

For further information or to contact CASMII please visit

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Seymour M. Hersh--The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran. (New Yorker)

The New Yorker

Annals of National Security

Preparing the Battlefield

The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran.

by Seymour M. Hersh

July 7, 2008 (released June 29, 2008)

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.

“The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” a person familiar with its contents said, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.” The Finding provided for a whole new range of activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi political opposition is strong, he said.

Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and “there was a significant amount of high-level discussion” about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership—Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections—were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.

The request for funding came in the same period in which the Administration was coming to terms with a National Intelligence Estimate, released in December, that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003. The Administration downplayed the significance of the N.I.E., and, while saying that it was committed to diplomacy, continued to emphasize that urgent action was essential to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. President Bush questioned the N.I.E.’s conclusions, and senior national-security officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made similar statements. (So did Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.) Meanwhile, the Administration also revived charges that the Iranian leadership has been involved in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq: both directly, by dispatching commando units into Iraq, and indirectly, by supplying materials used for roadside bombs and other lethal goods. (There have been questions about the accuracy of the claims; the Times, among others, has reported that “significant uncertainties remain about the extent of that involvement.”)

Military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon share the White House’s concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but there is disagreement about whether a military strike is the right solution. Some Pentagon officials believe, as they have let Congress and the media know, that bombing Iran is not a viable response to the nuclear-proliferation issue, and that more diplomacy is necessary.

A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.” (A spokesman for Gates confirmed that he discussed the consequences of a strike at the meeting, but would not address what he said, other than to dispute the senator’s characterization.)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman is Admiral Mike Mullen, were “pushing back very hard” against White House pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran, the person familiar with the Finding told me. Similarly, a Pentagon consultant who is involved in the war on terror said that “at least ten senior flag and general officers, including combatant commanders”—the four-star officers who direct military operations around the world—“have weighed in on that issue.”

The most outspoken of those officers is Admiral William Fallon, who until recently was the head of U.S. Central Command, and thus in charge of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, Fallon resigned under pressure, after giving a series of interviews stating his reservations about an armed attack on Iran. For example, late last year he told the Financial Times that the “real objective” of U.S. policy was to change the Iranians’ behavior, and that “attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice.”

Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements. “Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,” he told me. “Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.”

When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, “Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.”

The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. “The oversight process has not kept pace—it’s been coöpted” by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. “The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.”

Senior Democrats in Congress told me that they had concerns about the possibility that their understanding of what the new operations entail differs from the White House’s. One issue has to do with a reference in the Finding, the person familiar with it recalled, to potential defensive lethal action by U.S. operatives in Iran. (In early May, the journalist Andrew Cockburn published elements of the Finding in Counterpunch, a newsletter and online magazine.)

The language was inserted into the Finding at the urging of the C.I.A., a former senior intelligence official said. The covert operations set forth in the Finding essentially run parallel to those of a secret military task force, now operating in Iran, that is under the control of JSOC. Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference. But the borders between operations are not always clear: in Iran, C.I.A. agents and regional assets have the language skills and the local knowledge to make contacts for the JSOC operatives, and have been working with them to direct personnel, matériel, and money into Iran from an obscure base in western Afghanistan. As a result, Congress has been given only a partial view of how the money it authorized may be used. One of JSOC’s task-force missions, the pursuit of “high-value targets,” was not directly addressed in the Finding. There is a growing realization among some legislators that the Bush Administration, in recent years, has conflated what is an intelligence operation and what is a military one in order to avoid fully informing Congress about what it is doing.

“This is a big deal,” the person familiar with the Finding said. “The C.I.A. needed the Finding to do its traditional stuff, but the Finding does not apply to JSOC. The President signed an Executive Order after September 11th giving the Pentagon license to do things that it had never been able to do before without notifying Congress. The claim was that the military was ‘preparing the battle space,’ and by using that term they were able to circumvent congressional oversight. Everything is justified in terms of fighting the global war on terror.” He added, “The Administration has been fuzzing the lines; there used to be a shade of gray”—between operations that had to be briefed to the senior congressional leadership and those which did not—“but now it’s a shade of mush.”

“The agency says we’re not going to get in the position of helping to kill people without a Finding,” the former senior intelligence official told me. He was referring to the legal threat confronting some agency operatives for their involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of suspects in the war on terror. “This drove the military people up the wall,” he said. As far as the C.I.A. was concerned, the former senior intelligence official said, “the over-all authorization includes killing, but it’s not as though that’s what they’re setting out to do. It’s about gathering information, enlisting support.” The Finding sent to Congress was a compromise, providing legal cover for the C.I.A. while referring to the use of lethal force in ambiguous terms.

The defensive-lethal language led some Democrats, according to congressional sources familiar with their views, to call in the director of the C.I.A., Air Force General Michael V. Hayden, for a special briefing. Hayden reassured the legislators that the language did nothing more than provide authority for Special Forces operatives on the ground in Iran to shoot their way out if they faced capture or harm.

The legislators were far from convinced. One congressman subsequently wrote a personal letter to President Bush insisting that “no lethal action, period” had been authorized within Iran’s borders. As of June, he had received no answer.

Members of Congress have expressed skepticism in the past about the information provided by the White House. On March 15, 2005, David Obey, then the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee, announced that he was putting aside an amendment that he had intended to offer that day, and that would have cut off all funding for national-intelligence programs unless the President agreed to keep Congress fully informed about clandestine military activities undertaken in the war on terror. He had changed his mind, he said, because the White House promised better coöperation. “The Executive Branch understands that we are not trying to dictate what they do,” he said in a floor speech at the time. “We are simply trying to see to it that what they do is consistent with American values and will not get the country in trouble.”

Obey declined to comment on the specifics of the operations in Iran, but he did tell me that the White House reneged on its promise to consult more fully with Congress. He said, “I suspect there’s something going on, but I don’t know what to believe. Cheney has always wanted to go after Iran, and if he had more time he’d find a way to do it. We still don’t get enough information from the agencies, and I have very little confidence that they give us information on the edge.”

None of the four Democrats in the Gang of Eight—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, and House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes—would comment on the Finding, with some noting that it was highly classified. An aide to one member of the Democratic leadership responded, on his behalf, by pointing to the limitations of the Gang of Eight process. The notification of a Finding, the aide said, “is just that—notification, and not a sign-off on activities. Proper oversight of ongoing intelligence activities is done by fully briefing the members of the intelligence committee.” However, Congress does have the means to challenge the White House once it has been sent a Finding. It has the power to withhold funding for any government operation. The members of the House and Senate Democratic leadership who have access to the Finding can also, if they choose to do so, and if they have shared concerns, come up with ways to exert their influence on Administration policy. (A spokesman for the C.I.A. said, “As a rule, we don’t comment one way or the other on allegations of covert activities or purported findings.” The White House also declined to comment.)

A member of the House Appropriations Committee acknowledged that, even with a Democratic victory in November, “it will take another year before we get the intelligence activities under control.” He went on, “We control the money and they can’t do anything without the money. Money is what it’s all about. But I’m very leery of this Administration.” He added, “This Administration has been so secretive.”

One irony of Admiral Fallon’s departure is that he was, in many areas, in agreement with President Bush on the threat posed by Iran. They had a good working relationship, Fallon told me, and, when he ran CENTCOM, were in regular communication. On March 4th, a week before his resignation, Fallon testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying that he was “encouraged” about the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regarding the role played by Iran’s leaders, he said, “They’ve been absolutely unhelpful, very damaging, and I absolutely don’t condone any of their activities. And I have yet to see anything since I’ve been in this job in the way of a public action by Iran that’s been at all helpful in this region.”

Fallon made it clear in our conversations that he considered it inappropriate to comment publicly about the President, the Vice-President, or Special Operations. But he said he had heard that people in the White House had been “struggling” with his views on Iran. “When I arrived at CENTCOM, the Iranians were funding every entity inside Iraq. It was in their interest to get us out, and so they decided to kill as many Americans as they could. And why not? They didn’t know who’d come out ahead, but they wanted us out. I decided that I couldn’t resolve the situation in Iraq without the neighborhood. To get this problem in Iraq solved, we had to somehow involve Iran and Syria. I had to work the neighborhood.”

Fallon told me that his focus had been not on the Iranian nuclear issue, or on regime change there, but on “putting out the fires in Iraq.” There were constant discussions in Washington and in the field about how to engage Iran and, on the subject of the bombing option, Fallon said, he believed that “it would happen only if the Iranians did something stupid.”

Fallon’s early retirement, however, appears to have been provoked not only by his negative comments about bombing Iran but also by his strong belief in the chain of command and his insistence on being informed about Special Operations in his area of responsibility. One of Fallon’s defenders is retired Marine General John J. (Jack) Sheehan, whose last assignment was as commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, where Fallon was a deputy. Last year, Sheehan rejected a White House offer to become the President’s “czar” for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “One of the reasons the White House selected Fallon for CENTCOM was that he’s known to be a strategic thinker and had demonstrated those skills in the Pacific,” Sheehan told me. (Fallon served as commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific from 2005 to 2007.) “He was charged with coming up with an over-all coherent strategy for Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and, by law, the combatant commander is responsible for all military operations within his A.O.”—area of operations. “That was not happening,” Sheehan said. “When Fallon tried to make sense of all the overt and covert activity conducted by the military in his area of responsibility, a small group in the White House leadership shut him out.”

The law cited by Sheehan is the 1986 Defense Reorganization Act, known as Goldwater-Nichols, which defined the chain of command: from the President to the Secretary of Defense, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and on to the various combatant commanders, who were put in charge of all aspects of military operations, including joint training and logistics. That authority, the act stated, was not to be shared with other echelons of command. But the Bush Administration, as part of its global war on terror, instituted new policies that undercut regional commanders-in-chief; for example, it gave Special Operations teams, at military commands around the world, the highest priority in terms of securing support and equipment. The degradation of the traditional chain of command in the past few years has been a point of tension between the White House and the uniformed military.

“The coherence of military strategy is being eroded because of undue civilian influence and direction of nonconventional military operations,” Sheehan said. “If you have small groups planning and conducting military operations outside the knowledge and control of the combatant commander, by default you can’t have a coherent military strategy. You end up with a disaster, like the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.”

Admiral Fallon, who is known as Fox, was aware that he would face special difficulties as the first Navy officer to lead CENTCOM, which had always been headed by a ground commander, one of his military colleagues told me. He was also aware that the Special Operations community would be a concern. “Fox said that there’s a lot of strange stuff going on in Special Ops, and I told him he had to figure out what they were really doing,” Fallon’s colleague said. “The Special Ops guys eventually figured out they needed Fox, and so they began to talk to him. Fox would have won his fight with Special Ops but for Cheney.”

The Pentagon consultant said, “Fallon went down because, in his own way, he was trying to prevent a war with Iran, and you have to admire him for that.”

In recent months, according to the Iranian media, there has been a surge in violence in Iran; it is impossible at this early stage, however, to credit JSOC or C.I.A. activities, or to assess their impact on the Iranian leadership. The Iranian press reports are being carefully monitored by retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught strategy at the National War College and now conducts war games centered on Iran for the federal government, think tanks, and universities. The Iranian press “is very open in describing the killings going on inside the country,” Gardiner said. It is, he said, “a controlled press, which makes it more important that it publishes these things. We begin to see inside the government.” He added, “Hardly a day goes by now we don’t see a clash somewhere. There were three or four incidents over a recent weekend, and the Iranians are even naming the Revolutionary Guard officers who have been killed.”

Earlier this year, a militant Ahwazi group claimed to have assassinated a Revolutionary Guard colonel, and the Iranian government acknowledged that an explosion in a cultural center in Shiraz, in the southern part of the country, which killed at least twelve people and injured more than two hundred, had been a terrorist act and not, as it earlier insisted, an accident. It could not be learned whether there has been American involvement in any specific incident in Iran, but, according to Gardiner, the Iranians have begun publicly blaming the U.S., Great Britain, and, more recently, the C.I.A. for some incidents. The agency was involved in a coup in Iran in 1953, and its support for the unpopular regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi—who was overthrown in 1979—was condemned for years by the ruling mullahs in Tehran, to great effect. “This is the ultimate for the Iranians—to blame the C.I.A.,” Gardiner said. “This is new, and it’s an escalation—a ratcheting up of tensions. It rallies support for the regime and shows the people that there is a continuing threat from the ‘Great Satan.’ ” In Gardiner’s view, the violence, rather than weakening Iran’s religious government, may generate support for it.

Many of the activities may be being carried out by dissidents in Iran, and not by Americans in the field. One problem with “passing money” (to use the term of the person familiar with the Finding) in a covert setting is that it is hard to control where the money goes and whom it benefits. Nonetheless, the former senior intelligence official said, “We’ve got exposure, because of the transfer of our weapons and our communications gear. The Iranians will be able to make the argument that the opposition was inspired by the Americans. How many times have we tried this without asking the right questions? Is the risk worth it?” One possible consequence of these operations would be a violent Iranian crackdown on one of the dissident groups, which could give the Bush Administration a reason to intervene.

A strategy of using ethnic minorities to undermine Iran is flawed, according to Vali Nasr, who teaches international politics at Tufts University and is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Just because Lebanon, Iraq, and Pakistan have ethnic problems, it does not mean that Iran is suffering from the same issue,” Nasr told me. “Iran is an old country—like France and Germany—and its citizens are just as nationalistic. The U.S. is overestimating ethnic tension in Iran.” The minority groups that the U.S. is reaching out to are either well integrated or small and marginal, without much influence on the government or much ability to present a political challenge, Nasr said. “You can always find some activist groups that will go and kill a policeman, but working with the minorities will backfire, and alienate the majority of the population.”

The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.

One of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran today is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement, which describes itself as a resistance force fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran. “This is a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists,” Nasr told me. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture.” The Jundallah took responsibility for the bombing of a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers in February, 2007. At least eleven Guard members were killed. According to Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support.

The C.I.A. and Special Operations communities also have long-standing ties to two other dissident groups in Iran: the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, known in the West as the M.E.K., and a Kurdish separatist group, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK.

The M.E.K. has been on the State Department’s terrorist list for more than a decade, yet in recent years the group has received arms and intelligence, directly or indirectly, from the United States. Some of the newly authorized covert funds, the Pentagon consultant told me, may well end up in M.E.K. coffers. “The new task force will work with the M.E.K. The Administration is desperate for results.” He added, “The M.E.K. has no C.P.A. auditing the books, and its leaders are thought to have been lining their pockets for years. If people only knew what the M.E.K. is getting, and how much is going to its bank accounts—and yet it is almost useless for the purposes the Administration intends.”

The Kurdish party, PJAK, which has also been reported to be covertly supported by the United States, has been operating against Iran from bases in northern Iraq for at least three years. (Iran, like Iraq and Turkey, has a Kurdish minority, and PJAK and other groups have sought self-rule in territory that is now part of each of those countries.) In recent weeks, according to Sam Gardiner, the military strategist, there has been a marked increase in the number of PJAK armed engagements with Iranians and terrorist attacks on Iranian targets. In early June, the news agency Fars reported that a dozen PJAK members and four Iranian border guards were killed in a clash near the Iraq border; a similar attack in May killed three Revolutionary Guards and nine PJAK fighters. PJAK has also subjected Turkey, a member of NATO, to repeated terrorist attacks, and reports of American support for the group have been a source of friction between the two governments.

Gardiner also mentioned a trip that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, made to Tehran in June. After his return, Maliki announced that his government would ban any contact between foreigners and the M.E.K.—a slap at the U.S.’s dealings with the group. Maliki declared that Iraq was not willing to be a staging ground for covert operations against other countries. This was a sign, Gardiner said, of “Maliki’s increasingly choosing the interests of Iraq over the interests of the United States.” In terms of U.S. allegations of Iranian involvement in the killing of American soldiers, he said, “Maliki was unwilling to play the blame-Iran game.” Gardiner added that Pakistan had just agreed to turn over a Jundallah leader to the Iranian government. America’s covert operations, he said, “seem to be harming relations with the governments of both Iraq and Pakistan and could well be strengthening the connection between Tehran and Baghdad.”

The White House’s reliance on questionable operatives, and on plans involving possible lethal action inside Iran, has created anger as well as anxiety within the Special Operations and intelligence communities. JSOC’s operations in Iran are believed to be modelled on a program that has, with some success, used surrogates to target the Taliban leadership in the tribal territories of Waziristan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But the situations in Waziristan and Iran are not comparable.

In Waziristan, “the program works because it’s small and smart guys are running it,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “It’s being executed by professionals. The N.S.A., the C.I.A., and the D.I.A.”—the Defense Intelligence Agency—“are right in there with the Special Forces and Pakistani intelligence, and they’re dealing with serious bad guys.” He added, “We have to be really careful in calling in the missiles. We have to hit certain houses at certain times. The people on the ground are watching through binoculars a few hundred yards away and calling specific locations, in latitude and longitude. We keep the Predator loitering until the targets go into a house, and we have to make sure our guys are far enough away so they don’t get hit.” One of the most prominent victims of the program, the former official said, was Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Taliban commander, who was killed on January 31st, reportedly in a missile strike that also killed eleven other people.

A dispatch published on March 26th by the Washington Post reported on the increasing number of successful strikes against Taliban and other insurgent units in Pakistan’s tribal areas. A follow-up article noted that, in response, the Taliban had killed “dozens of people” suspected of providing information to the United States and its allies on the whereabouts of Taliban leaders. Many of the victims were thought to be American spies, and their executions—a beheading, in one case—were videotaped and distributed by DVD as a warning to others.

It is not simple to replicate the program in Iran. “Everybody’s arguing about the high-value-target list,” the former senior intelligence official said. “The Special Ops guys are pissed off because Cheney’s office set up priorities for categories of targets, and now he’s getting impatient and applying pressure for results. But it takes a long time to get the right guys in place.”

The Pentagon consultant told me, “We’ve had wonderful results in the Horn of Africa with the use of surrogates and false flags—basic counterintelligence and counter-insurgency tactics. And we’re beginning to tie them in knots in Afghanistan. But the White House is going to kill the program if they use it to go after Iran. It’s one thing to engage in selective strikes and assassinations in Waziristan and another in Iran. The White House believes that one size fits all, but the legal issues surrounding extrajudicial killings in Waziristan are less of a problem because Al Qaeda and the Taliban cross the border into Afghanistan and back again, often with U.S. and NATO forces in hot pursuit. The situation is not nearly as clear in the Iranian case. All the considerations—judicial, strategic, and political—are different in Iran.”

He added, “There is huge opposition inside the intelligence community to the idea of waging a covert war inside Iran, and using Baluchis and Ahwazis as surrogates. The leaders of our Special Operations community all have remarkable physical courage, but they are less likely to voice their opposition to policy. Iran is not Waziristan.”

A Gallup poll taken last November, before the N.I.E. was made public, found that seventy-three per cent of those surveyed thought that the United States should use economic action and diplomacy to stop Iran’s nuclear program, while only eighteen per cent favored direct military action. Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to endorse a military strike. Weariness with the war in Iraq has undoubtedly affected the public’s tolerance for an attack on Iran. This mood could change quickly, however. The potential for escalation became clear in early January, when five Iranian patrol boats, believed to be under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, made a series of aggressive moves toward three Navy warships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz. Initial reports of the incident made public by the Pentagon press office said that the Iranians had transmitted threats, over ship-to-ship radio, to “explode” the American ships. At a White House news conference, the President, on the day he left for an eight-day trip to the Middle East, called the incident “provocative” and “dangerous,” and there was, very briefly, a sense of crisis and of outrage at Iran. “TWO MINUTES FROM WAR” was the headline in one British newspaper.

The crisis was quickly defused by Vice-Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. naval forces in the region. No warning shots were fired, the Admiral told the Pentagon press corps on January 7th, via teleconference from his headquarters, in Bahrain. “Yes, it’s more serious than we have seen, but, to put it in context, we do interact with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their Navy regularly,” Cosgriff said. “I didn’t get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats.”

Admiral Cosgriff’s caution was well founded: within a week, the Pentagon acknowledged that it could not positively identify the Iranian boats as the source of the ominous radio transmission, and press reports suggested that it had instead come from a prankster long known for sending fake messages in the region. Nonetheless, Cosgriff’s demeanor angered Cheney, according to the former senior intelligence official. But a lesson was learned in the incident: The public had supported the idea of retaliation, and was even asking why the U.S. didn’t do more. The former official said that, a few weeks later, a meeting took place in the Vice-President’s office. “The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington,” he said.

In June, President Bush went on a farewell tour of Europe. He had tea with Queen Elizabeth II and dinner with Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, the President and First Lady of France. The serious business was conducted out of sight, and involved a series of meetings on a new diplomatic effort to persuade the Iranians to halt their uranium-enrichment program. (Iran argues that its enrichment program is for civilian purposes and is legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) Secretary of State Rice had been involved with developing a new package of incentives. But the Administration’s essential negotiating position seemed unchanged: talks could not take place until Iran halted the program. The Iranians have repeatedly and categorically rejected that precondition, leaving the diplomatic situation in a stalemate; they have not yet formally responded to the new incentives.

The continuing impasse alarms many observers. Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister, recently wrote in a syndicated column that it may not “be possible to freeze the Iranian nuclear program for the duration of the negotiations to avoid a military confrontation before they are completed. Should this newest attempt fail, things will soon get serious. Deadly serious.” When I spoke to him last week, Fischer, who has extensive contacts in the diplomatic community, said that the latest European approach includes a new element: the willingness of the U.S. and the Europeans to accept something less than a complete cessation of enrichment as an intermediate step. “The proposal says that the Iranians must stop manufacturing new centrifuges and the other side will stop all further sanction activities in the U.N. Security Council,” Fischer said, although Iran would still have to freeze its enrichment activities when formal negotiations begin. “This could be acceptable to the Iranians—if they have good will.”

The big question, Fischer added, is in Washington. “I think the Americans are deeply divided on the issue of what to do about Iran,” he said. “Some officials are concerned about the fallout from a military attack and others think an attack is unavoidable. I know the Europeans, but I have no idea where the Americans will end up on this issue.”

There is another complication: American Presidential politics. Barack Obama has said that, if elected, he would begin talks with Iran with no “self-defeating” preconditions (although only after diplomatic groundwork had been laid). That position has been vigorously criticized by John McCain. The Washington Post recently quoted Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign’s national-security director, as stating that McCain supports the White House’s position, and that the program be suspended before talks begin. What Obama is proposing, Scheunemann said, “is unilateral cowboy summitry.”

Scheunemann, who is known as a neoconservative, is also the McCain campaign’s most important channel of communication with the White House. He is a friend of David Addington, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. I have heard differing accounts of Scheunemann’s influence with McCain; though some close to the McCain campaign talk about him as a possible national-security adviser, others say he is someone who isn’t taken seriously while “telling Cheney and others what they want to hear,” as a senior McCain adviser put it.

It is not known whether McCain, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been formally briefed on the operations in Iran. At the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in June, Obama repeated his plea for “tough and principled diplomacy.” But he also said, along with McCain, that he would keep the threat of military action against Iran on the table.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Farideh Farhi--Who is Making Tehran's Iraq Policy (commentary by William O. Beeman)

Commentary from William O. Beeman:

Farideh Farhi provides an exceptionally sensible and informative post below.
Just as a coda to her remarks, the United States is inured to the idea of single actors pulling the strings in governments outside of the Western sphere. I have written about this tendency as part of the United States' "culture of foreign policy" in several publications with regard to Lebanon, Lybia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Iran. This habit of thought being so well established, when a candidate such as Qods force leader Qassem Soleimani appears, the natural tendency of decision makers in Washington is to anoint such a person as a potential "plumber" to fix things, or designate them as the sole Machiavelli pulling all the strings behind the scene. We have seen this continually in Iran. The trouble is, nothing is that simple, and so having one hypothetical person fail the test as the power broker-du-jour, the search is on for another, and the debate revolves around who is "really" in power. It is really quite a ridiculous exercise. There is no partisanship in this habit of thought. Both Democrats and Republicans engage in it.

Those old enough to remember Sadeq Qotbzadeh during the hostage crisis will see how stupidly far this mentality reached. Poor Qotbzadeh loved the limelight and merely on his assertion that he had the power to release the hostages he was featured on U.S. television nightly, and editorialized as the real power behind the hostage crisis. He was subsequently executed.

A famous report from the Council on Foreign Relations authored by Mark Palmer and George Schultz, those great Iran experts, identified Ayatollah Khamene'i as a Saddam-like dictator who controlled everything. The White House and the press has glommed on to President Ahmadinejad's every extreme pronouncement as if it was an incipient move toward pushing the red button that will obliterate Tel Aviv.

There is a deep racism in this attitude. Domestic political commentators in the United States argue endlessly about the fluctuating dynamics of power in the U.S. government. British, Italian and French politics generate numerous Ph.D. theses, but the idea that Iran might actually have a complex power structure with many actors vying for power and influence in an actual functioning government seems to be beyond the ability of U.S. analysts to comprehend (or more likely to acknowledge). It is far more convenient for those who wish to attack Iran to paint it as a monolithic structure, and to run around looking for individual actors and their motives as a single-source explanation for everything. This is a kind of stupidly simplistic thinking that I won't accept even from my freshmen students, but it apparently is the current standard of thought in Washington regarding Iran.


Bill Beeman
Department of Anthropology
University of Minnesota

From: farideh farhi
> Monday, June 9, 2008
> Who is Making Tehran's Iraq Policy?
> Farideh Farhi
> I have to admit that I am quite mystified by the never-ending search for finding the one person that "really" makes policy in Iran. The latest example of this search can be found in David Ignatius's Washington Post column in which we are informed that it is really not the "bombastic" Ahmadinejad but the "soft-spoken" commander of the Qods Force of Islamic Revolution's Guard Corps (IRGC), Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani, "who plays a decisive role in his nation's confrontation with the United States." Soleimani's name has in fact been in the news for a while because of his reported role in brokering the cease-fire that restored calm in Basra in March.
> Perhaps it is the history of the United States' dealings with most Middle Eastern countries (Israel and Turkey excepted) and the tradition or habit of dealing with one man as the ultimate decision maker that creates the hope or aspiration to find the one person that holds the key to Iran's policy making process. Or perhaps it is the tendency, when in doubt or short evidence, to go with the fad of the moment.
> I understand that it is now in vogue to talk about the IRGC in general and the Qods Force as the THE power in Iran (with consequential impact throughout the Middle East). I have not found this argument to be very convincing. My take continues to be that the military in Iran has traditionally been and continues to be under civilian control, even if the Guards hierarchy as well as its individual members have and do play an important role in Iranian politics. The birth of the Islamic Republic was inextricably linked to the Iran-Iraq War and as such it should not be surprisingly to anyone that the body and individuals that played important roles in that war continue to be influential. Ironically, to my mind, the comparable country in this regard has always been Israel, another Middle Eastern political system born and bred in war.
> In any case, even if there has been a rise in the power of hard-line IRGC men, I find the focus on one individual quite unpersuasive, particularly since the sources that have talked about Soleimani's key role in Iran are all from outside of Iran (in the case of Ignatius' piece, the source is one "Arab who meets regularly with Soleimani").
> This is not to say that someone like Soleimani has no influence in Iran's decision making process. From what I understand, although I cannot be sure, Soleimani sits in the committee for regional affairs of Iran's Supreme National Security Council-- consisting of him as well as the chief of intelligence of IRGC, the deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs (who also heads the Foreign Ministry's Iraq Desk), Mohammd Reza Baqer, a team of experts on Iranian-Arab relations and Iran's ambassadors to Arab countries (Hassan Kazemi-Qomi in the case of Iraq). Focusing in particular on developments in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories, the task of this committee is to advise on the appropriate policies to be pursued. But the final decision makers are civilians (some well known because of their institutional positions and others like the head of supreme leader Khamenei's security office, the cleric Asghar Hejazi or his chief of staff Mohammad Golpayegani - also a cleric - wielding less publicized influence).
> Furthermore, regarding Iran's Iraq policy, I just can't believe that Soleimani wields more (or for that matter less) influence or has more input in the decision making process than let us say the current head of IRGC, Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jaafari, who prior to his current position was in charge of setting up IRGC's Strategic Center, a center tasked with drawing up a new command structure and military strategy, preparing the country for the changing regional environment and the kind of foreign military confrontation it may have to face; or Iran's Iraq ambassador Kazemi Qomi, reportedly himself a former Qods force member.
> These key individuals and many others must be in constant interaction to set and reassess policies that are partially shaped by a long-term interest in a relatively calm Iraq that maintains close political, economic, and security relations with Iran and also developed in reaction to Iraq's complex domestic dynamics and US plans for that country.
> Within this context one does not need to search for a scheming and all powerful individual like Soleimani to figure out that the Iranian leadership as a whole, in all its contentious variety, would have to be engaged in constant conversation and planning (and at times improvisation) about how to stunt plans that would make the US military presence in Iraq permanent or make that country a launching pad for an attack on Iran (rejection of this possibility was by the way precisely the assurance Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was repeatedly giving Iranian leaders in his current visit to Tehran).
> One also doesn't have to be a genius to guess that, hunkered down in a security and paranoid mode due to the escalating economic and political pressures (not to mention military threats) faced in the past couple of years, the Iranian policy makers are trying very hard to convince the Bush Administration, from my point of view hopefully successfully, that an attack on Iran will be costly.
> Farideh Farhi

Friday, June 06, 2008

Preventing the next war? Keith Ellision's Iran Forum and the June 10 Call -in to Congress

Engage Minnesota

Preventing the Next War?
Posted June 6, 2008

Keith Ellison’s Iran Forum and the June 10 Call-In to Congress

By Lydia Howell

On May 28, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., hosted Iran scholars for a community forum in a packed hall at the First Unitarian Society church in Minneapolis. The focus was on the U.S.-Iran relationship, estranged for over 30 years, which many fear may become the next chapter in the Bush administration’s “war on terrorism.”

“Nary a day goes by that someone isn’t saying something abut Iran in the media. Part of my responsibility as a U.S. congressman is to be a forum to discuss the critical issues we face and to promote dialog about the most pressing issues,” said Ellison. “To quote [African-American writer] James Baldwin: Anything that cannot be faced cannot be fixed.”

In the first half of 2008, newspaper front pages and television news have begun repeating a message about a Middle Eastern country that has not attacked the United States but which allegedly “poses a grave threat,” “may build nuclear weapons” and “must be prevented from making war on its neighbors.” In 2002-3, such stories were about Iraq; now, Iran is being described in similar ways. No actual evidence is given for the frightening allegations about Iran—which are too often made by unnamed “Pentagon officials” or the same members of right-wing think tanks that previously pushed the disastrous attack on Iraq.

Ellison said the forum was in preparation for a national call-in June 10, when Americans are urged to phone their representatives and senators, urging that the U.S. not attack Iran. (The toll-free phone number to Congress is 1-888-851-1879.)

University of Minnesota professor William O. Beeman is that rare American: fluent in Farsi and a longtime scholar of Iran’s history and culture. His observations on the mounting crisis with Iran were drawn from his newest book on Iran, The Great Satan vs. Mad Mullahs, in which Beeman debunks the main myths being perpetrated by neo-conservatives who are pushing for a U.S. military attack on Iran before George W. Bush leaves office.

“There are three important myths being pushed by the Bush administration in the press and in speeches,” Beeman told the audience.

“First, that Iran has developed an illegal nuclear program. But, the fact is, the United States started Iran’s nuclear power program in the 1970s, and Iran has simply continued the U.S.-sponsored program. There is absolutely no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on May 26,” said Beeman, chair of the U. of M.’s Anthropology Department.

Last December, the U.S. government’s National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE, a collaboration among 15 U.S. intelligence agencies) concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and had no nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007. The December 2007 NIE disavowed the 2005 NIE as “inaccurately reported.”

“The newest argument is that Iran is responsible for American deaths in Iraq. No evidence has been provided to prove that,” Beeman continued.

In fact, in May, the Pentagon had to retract statements about insurgents’ weapons being from Iraq. As the Los Angeles Times reported May 8 on its web site: “neither the United States nor Iraq has displayed any of the alleged [Iranian-originated] arms to the public or press, and lately it is looking less likely they will. … Iraqi officials lately have backed off the accusations against Iran. A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was canceled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran.” Yet most media continue to repeat the allegation that Iran is supplying weapons to insrugents. (Gary Leupp, professor of history at Tufts University, regularly reports on foreign policy and writes extensively about the disinformation campaign against Iran on the web site CounterPunch: See and

Wasted opportunity

Overlooked in the current drumbeat is that the Bush administration willfully wasted a chance for harmonious relations with Iran, Dr. Trita Parsi told the forum.

“In May 2003, Iran made a proposal delivered by the Swiss Ambassador, who is the official “stand-in” for the United States, about all but one of the issues that separate the United States and Iran. There was no response from the U.S. to that proposal,” said Parsi, Iranian-American author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States.

Parsi summed up Iran’s proposal: full openness of Iran’s nuclear program; pressure on Hamas to end violence; co-operation against Al-Qaida; help to the U.S. in stabilizing Iraq; and signing of the Beirut Declaration that recognizes Israel when a Palestinian state is established. Only human rights abuses in Iran were not included. But the U.S. ignored Iran’s proposal. The White House felt regime change was better than anything they could get through negotiation. “The 1939 Hitler analogy [that diplomacy equals appeasement] is intended to eliminate diplomacy and make war inevitable.”

Finally, Dr. Cyrus Bina, professor of economics and management at the University of Minnesota-Morris, author of Economics of the Oil Crisis and an Iranian exile for four decades, echoed Parsi’s concerns about human rights abuses in Iran, but, passionately stated his position” The United States has no right to bomb Iran, regardless of [Iran’s] human rights [record].”

Bina, along with the other two Iran scholars, emphasized that history plays a strong role in Iran-U.S. tensions. After World War II, when British colonization of Iran ended, the U.S. overthrew Iran’s nationalistic progressive President Mosaddeq and installed the infamous Shah, who brutalized Iranians until the Islamic revolution in 1979, which included the hostage crisis where U.S. diplomats were held for over a year.

“The U.S. started this game in 1952. The hostage crisis was the reaction that started this chain reaction. There’s so much misinformation about Iran.” Bina said. “The American people must do their duty to prevent another tragedy.”

From this winter’s Pentagon videos, determined to be faked, about alleged “threats” from Iranian speedboats against U.S. warships (see and to Israel’s Prime Minister asking Bush last week to enact a naval blockade against Iran, the U.S. seems to pushing for an attack on Iran.

Iran’s statements against nuclear arms

What is not mentioned in the major media is that Iran is among the 189 countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Only four nations have not: U.S. allies Israel, India and Pakistan, all of which already have nuclear weapons, and North Korea, which may have been secretly trying to build them. The United States possesses 10,000 nuclear weapons—more than any other country—and is also the only nation to actually use nuclear weapons on human beings. While raising fears about non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons, the Bush Administration is pushing Congress to authorize billions of dollars to build a new generation of smaller, “tactical” nuclear weapons.

On August 9, 2005, it was announced that the highest authority in Iran (above President Ahmadinejad) the Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa (religious edict based on primary sources of Islam and scholarly thinking) which stated tnat The production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Republic of Iran shall never acquire such weapons. This position is echoed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has pledged to pursue only Iran’s legal right to nuclear power under IAEA protocols. Western media, especially in the U.S. and Iran’s historic colonial ruler Britain, have misreported this religious prohibition against nuclear weapons to say its complete opposite. Most media have not mentioned the Islamic condemnation of nuclear weapons.

Most Americans know as little about Iran as they did about Iraq before the U.S. invasion. Given the continual revelations that the arguments for the 2003 U.S. attack on Iraq were built on sand, will the American people be more skeptical about attacking another Muslim country who has done nothing to the United States?

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis-based independent journalist, winner of the 2007 Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She also hosts Catalyst: Politics & Culture, Fridays at 11 a.m. on KFAI 90.3/106.7 FM, archived at