Monday, November 25, 2013

Iran Has a Right to Enrich—And America Already Recognized It (Muhammad Sahimi--The National Interest)

Iran Has a Right to Enrich—And America Already Recognized It

The Iran Accord -- Profoundly, and Primarily, Symbolic--(Huffington Post--William O. Beeman)


The Iran Accord -- Profoundly, and Primarily, Symbolic

November 24, 2013

William O. Beeman
 Posted: 11/24/2013 7:33 pm

The principal benefit of the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations
on November 23 is that Iran and the United States were able to down to talk
and reach an agreement on *something*. Given 33 years of estrangement and
non-communication, this is an extraordinarily important development --
nearly equivalent to the U.S. breakthrough to China -- perhaps the signal
achievement of the Nixon administration.

The profound symbolism of the moment more than outweighs the lighter
substantive elements of the temporary agreement. The United States and its
partners appeared tough and got very little. Iran appeared tough and gave
up very little. Both sides saved face. This is the essence of a successful
agreement. No one "won" and no one "lost."

Iranians have been both sincere and clever in the negotiations. They played
up to the insubstantial straw-man accusations promulgated by the U.S. and
its partners, making them seem weightier than they were in reality. By
yielding to the P5+1 demands, in essence Iran has allowed itself to be
persuaded to stop temporarily doing what it never intended to do -- make a
nuclear weapon. The bottom line is that Iran did not give up very much in
the negotiations, (but it didn't gain very much either).

Reviewing the terms of the agreement in conjunction with the reality on the
ground in Iran, one can see how easy it was for Iran's negotiators to agree
to these terms.

Low Enriched Uranium

Iran's enrichment of uranium was the crux of the matter. The United States
and its allies had fetishized Iran's uranium enrichment program. They had
made the improbable leap that having enriched uranium would immediately
lead to a nuclear weapon. This is an immense mistake -- so large that one
must suspect that it is essentially hyped for public consumption. The
public has certainly been convinced of this.

However, Iran's low-enriched uranium stockpile cannot be used for any
military purpose, short of the rather improbable construction of a "dirty
bomb" -- a conventional warhead containing radioactive material, not to
explode, but to pollute. Such a primitive weapon has no practical use.
Under the agreement, Iran would cease adding to this stockpile.

Under the agreement, Iran will be allowed to continue to enrich uranium at
less than 5 percent purity -- a concession that preserves Iran's rights
under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to peaceful nuclear development
-- its fundamental demand going into the talks.

High Enriched Uranium 

Iran's stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium would be eliminated through
conversion to fuel plates for use in a research reactor or oxidized. It
could then not be further enriched or weaponized in any way. This seems
like a major concession, but when one understands why Iran was enriching to
the 20 percent level to begin with, it is less so.

Iran has a research reactor, the Tehran Research Reactor
(TRR)<>that produced medical
isotopes for the treatment of cancer. The reactor had
been supplied by the United States in 1967. The United States at that time
provided weapons grade fuel for running the reactor. Iran was running out
of 20 percent fuel, and was expected to deplete the supply entirely by
2011. Iran tried to broker a deal for more 20 percent fuel with the United
States. A preliminary agreement was reached on October 1, 2010. The United
States reneged on the agreement. Iran then began enriching its own uranium
to the 19.75% level -- technically below the high-enriched uranium
threshold of 20%. After converting part of this this indigenously produced
fuel into non-weaponizeable reactor plates, it was introduced into the TRR
in February, 2012 <> . The
November 23 agreement will allow Iran to do what it was going to do anyway,
and finish converting the rest of its 19.75 percent fuel into
non-weaponizable reactor plates.

Arak Heavy Water Research Reactor

The agreement requires Iran not to activate its new small heavy water
research reactor in Arak. This small reactor was known to nuclear
inspectors for some time, but because it contained no fissile material, it
was not required to be monitored. The reactor was suddenly seized upon by
Israel and later by French Prime Minister François Hollande as a "path to
plutonium" -- a massive over-reaction. This was quickly echoed and
exaggerated in the press. The Christian Science monitor suggested that this
facility was in truth a "red herring" in the

The reactor has faced considerable delays in construction and is not
scheduled to open until 2016. It will produce a small amount of
electricity, but it is designed to eventually supplement then replace the
TRR, producing medical isotopes. Plutonium can be extracted from spent fuel
rods, but only if there is a completely new facility constructed to so
this. Iran has no such facility. If Iran were to decide to make a weapon
from this extracted plutonium, it would then need a third facility.
Additionally, as former IAEA nuclear inspector Robert Kelley points
out:"the reactor doesn't do anything without fuel, and so if you don't
have fuel, the reactor doesn't run. If the reactor doesn't run, it doesn't make
plutonium."  <>

All of this time, the International Atomic Energy Agency would be
monitoring the use of the fissile material. Parallels with India, Pakistan
and Israel , who did use heavy-water reactors to extract plutonium and
build bombs are inaccurate, because as non-signatories to the NPT, the
actions of these nations were not monitored.

Building a Bomb? 

There is a strange irony in President Obama's announcement of the temporary
agreement. He mentioned the term "nuclear weapon" multiple times in his
announcement, implying that Iran was on a path to develop such a weapon.
One wonders if he actually believes this or if his repeated implied
accusation was a rhetorical device designed to placate his hard-line

The president must know by this time that there is no evidence that Iran
has or ever had a nuclear weapons program. Every relevant intelligence
agency in the world has verified this fact for more than a decade. Two U.S.
National Intelligence Estimates that were made public in 2007 and 2011
underscored this. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also
consistently asserted that Iran has not diverted any nuclear material for
any military purpose.

Even Israeli intelligence analysts agree that Iran is "not a danger" to
Israel. Typical is ex-Mossad chief Efraim Halevy who said on March 16 this
year that Iran "will not make it to the bomb," and that Israel's existence
"is not in danger and shouldn't be questioned"<>

What Iran Gets in Return

Though Iran is not giving up very much in the November 23 agreement, it is
also not receiving a great deal in return. It will receive 6 to 7 billion
dollars' worth of sanctions relief, more than 4 billion of which is money
already owed to Iran in oil revenues, but frozen. In addition, Iran has
saved face; it did not give up on its inalienable right to enrich uranium
as guaranteed in the NPT. This may be enough to placate hardliners in the
Islamic Republic who have objected to dealings with the United States and
its allies in the past.

There will be some good feelings both in Washington and Tehran that this
astonishingly long impasse has finally been broken. Could either side have
gotten more from these talks? Probably not. In fact the limited gains for
both sides may well be a sign of the success of the negotiations.

The vitriolic nay-sayers trying to torpedo these talks in both capitals and
elsewhere have been thwarted for the moment, but they will certainly begin
condemning this process immediately. However, leaders in both nations
should flatly ignore them. The world can only hope that this small accord
will lead to more substantive rapprochement in the near future.


I wish to make a few corrections to my comments above, based largely on technical feedback I received after publication. I have no desire to promulgate mistakes.

1. I probably should not have even raised the idea of a "dirty bomb" made from low-enriched uranium. It is a really crazy idea--but one that has been widely used as a rhetorical device in the press attacking Iran's program. The idea that a nation would go to the trouble of building centrifuges and enriching uranium only to pack it into a warhead to spew radioactive material, and not very lethal material at that, defies logic.

2. The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of 2007 asserted that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program after 2003. Numerous people have questioned whether the NIE had evidence of Iran having such a weapons program before 2003, and the NIE was silent on this issue. I am informed that Iran was in fact contemplating nuclear weapons in the late 1980's. Iran and Iraq fought a debilitating war from 1980-88 and Iraq was suspected of having or being in the process of developing nuclear weapons.

3. There is a typo in the original article, corrected above. Iran HAS (not had) the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) at present. It is aging but still active.

4. The Arak Heavy Water reactor is not accurately described as "small" It will be a large reactor by international standards. It was designed in the 1980's, so it has been in development. Its stated purpose to the IAEA is to serve as a research reactor for generation of medical and scientific isotopes.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Understanding the Iranian Perspective in Nuclear Negotiations--Huffington Post by William O. Beeman

It it's amazing that in the current nuclear negotiations taking place in Geneva  between the P5+1 nations and Iran no one in the public media is making the slightest attempt to present the Iranian perspective. That perspective is crystal clear and the US public needs to understand it to keep from going off the rails in paroxysms of irrelevant blather.

Briefly stated in Iran's position everything is based on the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which Iran is a signatory and from which Iran derives its "inalienable right" to peaceful nuclear development.
There are 189 signatories to the Treaty (not including Israel, India, Pakistan or North Korea). The United States and its five allies do not have the power or the authority to deprive Iran of its rights under the treaty, including the right to enrich uranium and build nuclear reactors, a principle accepted for years by the Europeans and only recently called into question ONLY for Iran.

The U.S. and its allies have observed that some non-nuclear weapons states use nuclear technology but don't enrich uranium, and therefore Iran shouldn't claim that as a treaty right. First, that is not how the treaty reads. Besides this, however, the fact that some nuclear nations don't enrich uranium is utterly irrelevant. These nations could start tomorrow and no one would question them. Additionally, there are a number of NPT signatory states that do enrich uranium, such as Japan and Brazil, whose right to do so is unquestioned. Japan has even announced that it will construct nuclear weapons in the future if it has the need.

Some claim that Iran has violated the treaty by not allowing inspections of its facilities. Inspections under the NPT only pertain to sites with fissile material or which will contain fissile material in 180 days. The P5+1 nations negotiating with Iran have demanded unlimited additional inspections of non-fissile material sites without specifying them. Two are, however, widely mentioned: the incomplete Arak heavy-water nuclear electricity plant, which contains no fissile material and the Parchin military base, already inspected some years ago and found to have no fissile material.

UN Security Council resolutions on Iran have been cited as an "obligation" incumbent on Iran to cease its enrichment of uranium. However, these resolutions, starting with the first one,UNSC 1696 , although using the word "demand" in calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, make it clear that this suspension is placed in the context of an earlier International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors resolution that sees such suspension as "necessary" as a confidence building measure. In the language of the resolution:
Outstanding questions can best be resolved and confidence built in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's program by Iran responding positively to the calls for confidence building measures which the Board has made on Iran (IAEA 2006)
It has now been seven years since these resolutions were approved. In the intervening years there has been no evidence whatever of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Two publicly released US National Intelligence Estimates in 2007 and 2011 declared that Iran did not have an active nuclear weapons program. Every IAEA Report since 2003 declares that Iran has not diverted nuclear material for military purposes. Here is the relevant passage from the August 28, 2013 report.
Notwithstanding that certain of the activities being undertaken by Iran at some of the facilities are contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, as indicated below, the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared material at these facilities and LOFs [locations outside facilies]. (IAEA 2013a, p. 3, section C.8.)
U.S. officials and media commentators have continually claimed that Iran is not cooperating with the IAEA. However on November 11, the Iranian government and the IAEA reached clear accords on Iran providing additional inspection and information regarding its program. Here is the language of the accord showing that Iran has agreed to:
1. Providing mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Gchine mine in Bandar Abbas
2. Providing mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Heavy Water Production Plant
3. Providing information on all new research reactors
4. Providing information with regard to the identification of 16 sites designated for the construction of nuclear power plants
5. Clarification of the announcement made by Iran regarding additional enrichment facilities
6. Further clarification of the announcement made by Iran with respect to laser enrichment technology (IAEA 2013b)
Iran's actions clearly do not constitute non-cooperation. The November 11 IAEA accord also includes provisions that have been discussed by the P5+1 negotiators, and have been indicated in press reports to still be controversial. Clearly these have been resolved to the satisfaction of the IAEA at present.

There are hosts of other irrelevant issues that have crept into press reports about Iran and these negotiations, such as concern about the Iranian government threatening to destroy Israel (a total lie -- it never happened) , supporting Hezbollah and Hamas, also claims with little contemporary merit. Iran's human rights record is definitely of great concern, as is its support for the Assad regime in Syria. But these again are irrelevant to the nuclear negotiations. The essence of these claims seem to be that Iran has behaved badly in other areas, and so doesn't deserve to enjoy its treaty rights.

This is not how treaty law operates, however. Many nations, including the United States have behaved badly in international relations in areas that have nothing to do with their rights and obligations under a host of treaties. To compare one with the other is a comparison of apples and oranges.

For the United States, France or the other P5+1 nations to expect Iran to abrogate its rights under pressure is both unrealistic and unreasonable. Iran will only relinquish those rights if it can be persuaded that it is receiving significant benefits for paying such a high price in terms of its sovereignty and honor. Certainly additional pressure in the form of increased sanctions against Iran will not be persuasive.

 Follow William O. Beeman on Twitter:      

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Real News Network two-part interview with Robert Kelley on Iran’s Nuclear Program November 12-13, 2013 PART 2

The Real News Network two-part interview with Robert Kelley on Iran’s Nuclear Program
November 12-13, 2013

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Talks between Iran and six global powers over its nuclear program fizzled out over the weekend. But plans are still in place for another meeting on November 20 in Geneva.
Now joining us to discuss this imminent meeting is Robert Kelley. He's a nuclear engineer who has worked in the U.S. nuclear complex for more than 30 years. He assisted the IAEA as the director in the Iraq Action Team.
Thank you so much for joining us, Robert.
DESVARIEUX: So if there needs to be absolute transparency--we're talking on the Iranian side--do you feel like Iran has been transparent? And could they be more transparent?
KELLEY: Iran has behaved in two different ways. With respect to their legal obligation to allow IAEA access to nuclear materials handling facilities--that's places like inversion plants, reactors, enrichment plants--they've been extremely transparent. They've been very cooperative. Something like 12 percent of the IAEA's total budget goes to inspecting one country, namely, Iran. And they get to go to every place they want to go in the nuclear business. But IAEA asks to go to places that are military facilities, factories for the military programs. And Iran has offered some opportunities for that in the past. They didn't feel that they were rewarded for it, and so they said no.
Personally, I'd like to see them go a little further and allow some access to some contentious military facilities that are not nuclear facilities, because it would tend to clear the books. But so far they haven't been willing to do that, because, as I say, they did it before.
DESVARIEUX: And, Robert, you often hear from the right and Israel and other factions here in the United States that at the end of the day, Iran does want a weapon. But if Iran were to weaponize, would they have to get the inspectors out of the country?
KELLEY: No, they wouldn't need to get the inspectors out. The inspectors are going to nuclear facilities, as I said earlier, and they don't have access to places where weaponization would go on.
Weaponization is largely conducted in laboratories, in computers, and is kind of lacking in signatures. It's very hard for intelligence people to see weaponization. The one place where it really shows up in something like satellite imagery is the high-explosive testing that goes along with it. So that's one place where people would look.
But all you have to do is go back and look at Iraq in 1980s. They were heavily involved in weaponization, in many cases in building next door to places where inspectors were, and the inspectors didn't know it.
The inspectors [inaud.] anyway. It's not in their job description. They are there to monitor nuclear materials. And most inspectors, frankly, just wouldn't recognize the indications of weapons, weaponization if they saw them.
DESVARIEUX: So do you feel like that adds to the legitimacy, you know, of--it's debatable, but legitimacy of the argument that if Iran would want to weaponize? And I only ask that because the negotiations are recommencing next week, and they're happening on November , 20 as I mentioned in the introduction. If you were in the negotiation room, what deal with you like to see come out of these talks?
KELLEY: Well, the weaponization issues are not going to be in the talks on the 20th. That's the really important thing that came out of the last few days. IAEA has retreated from that issue [inaud.] will be primarily devoted to the reactor at Arak and to the uranium enrichment. So that's very good news.
What would I like to see? I would like to see Iran come to where a lot of other countries are that have investigated weapons in the past. I think it's pretty clear to everybody that when the Iran-Iraq War was going on in the late '80s, that both countries were looking at nuclear weapons. And I suspect that some activities continued after that in Iran.
But if you go back and look up--I don't want to name all the countries that have done this, but take for example the Swiss, who published a document about their nuclear weapons program and what they did, and several other European countries that investigated the possibility and then backed off. Iran should really consider the possibility of doing the same. And that is saying, look, here's what we did do some years ago, here's where it led, and here are some of the political decisions that were made. The U.S. intelligence community believes that this program probably stopped in around 1973. And it today Iran is trying to remain a threshold state, if you will, a state that could make that decision today. But there are lots of other countries in that position.
You've also asked about transparency. I would like to add that Iran has just opened a new website. Their website is slick. It's Madison Avenue. It addresses all the issues we're talking about in plain, modern, colloquial English. And so they are trying very hard to come out now to the table and say, here we are, look it, here's what we have today, and here are the issues that we have today with the IAEA and the P5+1. So I think Iran is turning a corner in that regard in terms of trying to speak to the Western world language that the Western world understands and uses.
KELLEY: But, Robert, what about the IAEA? Could they be more transparent?
KELLEY: Oh, I definitely think they could. IAEA is accusing Iran of all kinds of things in the weaponization area. But they are not presenting their evidence. And so the material they're putting on the table is of questionable sourcing. And, frankly, the analysis of it is extremely poor. So when IAEA says to Iran, you're doing such and such at this building, the Iranians can see how bad the analysis is, and they want to know where the information is coming from. I think everyone knows who's feeding the IAEA the information, but IAEA really needs to be just more open with Iran and say, this is what we know, and this is why we're confronting you, and this is what we need to do to finish it.
DESVARIEUX: When you say everyone knows where the information's coming from, who are you talking about specifically?
KELLEY: Oh, I think it's very clear, if you've read Mohamed ElBaradei’s book, that this laptop information on which the military dimensions are based came from the U.S. and Israel. He names Israel as being willing to say, we provided information that we want you to follow up on [incompr.] So you certainly know those two countries at least are providing information. And there's at least a supposition that the information the U.S. is confronting with came through a third party.
DESVARIEUX: And if you want to keep following this story and get the latest information, please continue to watch The Real News and follow us on Twitter. And you can follow me on Twitter as well @Jessica_reports.
Thanks for watching The Real News Network.

The Real News Network two-part interview with Robert Kelley on Iran’s Nuclear Program November 12-13, 2013 PART 1

The Real News Network two-part interview with Robert Kelley on Iran’s Nuclear Program
November 12-13, 2013

To see a video of both interviews Please see the URL’s below

Part I: IAEA& Iran Enter New Inspections Deal, But What Does the IAEA Already Know?

More at The Real News


JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
On Monday, the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, announced that Iran agreed to wider scrutiny over its nuclear program. It would allow managed access by international inspectors to two key nuclear facilities, the Gachin uranium mine and the heavy-water production plant being built at Arak. This news comes on the heels of the breakdown of talks between the P5+1 group and Iran. And parties have entered the talks with the goal that if Iran provided verifiable assurances that it would not build a nuclear weapon, then the West would ease economic sanctions.
Now joining us to debunk the myths and shed some light on what inspectors know about Iran's nuclear program already is Robert Kelley. He's a nuclear engineer who has worked in the U.S. nuclear complex for more than 30 years. He assisted the IAEA as the director in the Iraq Action Team.
Thank you so much for joining us, Robert.
DESVARIEUX: Doing well.
So let's first talk about what we already know about these two quote-unquote nuclear facilities--at least that's what the media is calling them. Can you please just debunk some of the myths? And tell us: what do we actually know about, let's say, for example, Gachin?
KELLEY: Well, I think the important thing is that IAEA and Iran have agreed to some symbolic gestures that replace some of the very contentious things they were doing.
So going to Gachin and going to the Arak heavy-water plant are sort of inoffensive [inaud.] that, again, are symbolic but don't have a lot of technical significance.
The first thing you need to know is they're not nuclear facilities, by legal definition. So people who are calling them nuclear facilities don't know what they're talking about.
The mine is a mine. And IAEA has been there in the past. They've inspected that mine on a voluntary basis when Iran said, okay, we don't have to take you there, but we will. That was quite a few years ago, I'm thinking four or five years ago. By going to Gachin, they will learn that, yes, it's a uranium mine. They will see on the ground what they already see in satellite images. And we all know that the facility is operating. But it's not a nuclear facility, and they've been there before. So it won't answer any of the serious questions at hand.
The second one is the Arak heavy-water production plant. IAEA also [inaud.] it's not a nuclear facility. It doesn't handle nuclear [material]. It's not nuclear by legal definitions. It's a big kind of chemical plant. It looks like an oil refinery that turns light water into heavy water by separating out the heavy molecules. But it's a chemical plant. And so in the process of going there, they will also learn that the plant is operational, that it's produced a lot of heavy water for the reactor. And that's probably something we know before we even go.
DESVARIEUX: Let's talk about Arak a little bit further. You say it's a chemical plant, but we have the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, who said in an interview on France Inter Radio that without an Iranian pledge to stop work at that particular Arak reactor, from which plutonium can be extracted and used for bomb-grade material, will be faced with a fait accompli. Is Arak really a threat?
KELLEY: Well, Jessica, let's draw a distinction between the two plants at Arak. One is this great big heavy-water plant that looks like a very large oil refinery. That's not a nuclear facility. It's just changing the chemical form of water for use in the reactor. The reactor is across the street. And the reactor could be used to make plutonium for weapons. In fact, many proliferants have used heavy-water reactors of about that size to make plutonium for weapons in the past.
The difference is that this time the IAEA is inspecting the facility, will be inspecting it when it's operating, and will understand what the facility's actually doing. So we're not talking about what India did or what Pakistan did or what Israel did with their 40-megawatt reactors that weren't being safeguarded. This one is safeguarded by IAEA.
The second point is that the reactor doesn't do anything without fuel, and so if you don't have fuel, the reactor doesn't run. If the reactor doesn't run, it doesn't make plutonium.
So IAEA will be extremely interested in looking at the reactor and looking at the fuel fabrication plant. By looking at the fuel fabrication plant and understanding how much fuel that plant is making and how it's being used in the reactor, IAEA will be able [inaud.] degree of certainty the reactor is being used for weapons purposes or is not.
So IAEA's being there makes the facility not really very dangerous.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And in a New York Times article, they point out to this promise of wider scrutiny did not extend to this contentious location, the Parchin military site that's Southwest of Tehran. You've been on The Real News before, speaking about this site. Can you just get us up to speed? What do we actually know about what's going on there?
KELLEY: Well, the arguments about Parchin have really been kind of silly, and they've reached the level of a schoolyard fight. IAEA doesn't have a strong legal reason to go to Parchin. It's not a declared nuclear facility, and it's probably not a nuclear facility at all, but someone has given IAEA some intelligence saying that nuclear activities maybe went on there sometime in the past.
If you examine that intelligence, it's filled with holes. The facility that's supposed to be built there was being designed after IAEA said it was installed. There are things like that that don't make sense. There are things that say that this site has been cleaned up. And yet if you look at the satellite imagery, you can see that large parts of the site that are adjacent to the building are not being cleaned up and others are. So it makes no sense to say this is a nuclear facility.
By continuing to beat on this dead horse, IAEA has been one of the stumbling blocks in the big negotiations such as the P5+1 are having in Geneva. By getting IAEA's silly request to go to Parchin off the table, now we have a possibility that the serious partners in the negotiations in Geneva can reach accord.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And in what way do you think this deal that the IAEA struck with Iran is a way for them to save face?
KELLEY: Well, I think it's a tremendous saving face. If you look at the communiqué that came out today, there were six things that they agreed to do. All of them were symbolic. None of them were significant. None of them impact the weapons allegations for Iran [incompr.] things in there like the IAEA will talk to Iran about the 16 nuclear reactors that they plan to build over the next 20 to 50 years. Does anybody think there's any significance in that whatsoever? It's just one of six things they can put on a list to say they're talking.
But the really sticking issues--Parchin and the possible weapons [incompr.] Iran's program have disappeared from the communiqué. And that means, I think, that both sides have agreed to step back and let the P5+1 do their job and not be embroiled by this schoolyard fight in Tehran.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, Robert Kelley, in part two we'll continue this discussion, and we'll discuss how Iran can be more transparent, and if they've already been quite transparent.
Thank you so much for joining us.
KELLEY: You're welcome.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Diversity in Action: Minneapolis Elects Its First Hmong, Somali and Hispanic City Council Members

Diversity in Action: Minneapolis Elects Its First Hmong, Somali and Hispanic City Council Members

William O. Beeman

In an off-election year, the most interesting news is often at the local level. Minneapolis has scored a first for this city. It has elected its first Somali, Hmong and Hispanic city council members. This represents a major change in city governance, and a sign of progress for recent immigrants to the area.
Many people see the Minneapolis-St. Paul Twin Cities area as a quintessentially white community, down the road from Garrison Keillor's fictitious Lake Woebegon with its Norwegian bachelor farmers and Lutheran churches. Few people realize that the African-American, Asian and Hispanic populations make up nearly half of the population of the Twin Cities.

The Somali population is the largest in the nation at this point with 14,000. They began migrating to Minnesota in the mid-1990s at the beginning of the Somali Civil War Somalis have a major business presence in the city, and they are a growing population in the universities and colleges of the city.

The Hmong, who come from northern Thailand and Laos, have a longer history of immigration to the United States. Supporters of the United States during the Vietnam War, they were targeted after the U.S. withdrawal and were allowed to emigrate to the United States. With more than 50,000 residents in the Twin Cities area, they constitute the second largest Hmong community in the U.S. (after Fresno, Calif.). The Hmong have also made great strides in business and education.

The Twin Cities Hispanic population in the Twin Cities has doubled since 2000, and now stands at more than 140,000. This matches growth in other mid-sized cities in the U.S. but it has had a dramatic impact in Minnesota. Like the Hmong and Somali populations, the Hispanic population has become prosperous and educated over the past two decades.

Minnesota is seen as a progressive state. In fact, however, it exhibits a close balance between liberal and conservative political persuasions. Tea Party Caucus leader Michele Bachmann's Congressional District is next door to that of Progressive Caucus Leader, Keith Ellison. Between 2010 and 2012 the State Senate and House had a Republican majority. In 2012 both houses switched to a Democratic majority. Even though the urban areas are the most liberal, it is still a real sign of political change when the City Council of Minneapolis exhibits such a dramatic change.

The new Council members are highly qualified for their new offices. Blong Yang from the Hmong community is a local attorney. Mr. Yang has a law degree from the University of Minnesota, and an undergraduate degree from UCLA. He served as an investigator for the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, and ran his own law form. He also worked for the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis.

Mexican-American Alondra Cano has been a communications specialist for the Minneapolis Public Schools and and a long-time activist for Hispanic civil rights. She has close connections with officials in City Hall, a point on which she campaigned.

The first Somali Council Member, Abdi Warsame, received 64 percent of the vote in his district. He had nearly 1500 volunteers working for his election. Mr. Warsame spent much of his life in England before moving to Minneapolis in 2006. He heads a tenant's association in an award-winning housing complex where a large proportion of residents are Somali. Mr. Warsame defeated the 12 year veteran incumbent, Robert Lilligren, who is a member of the White Band of Ojibwe Indians, showing a shift in the population of the district, which also contains a large proportion of American Indians.

It is hard not to feel good about these elections. Though they are local, they demonstrate how important the American democratic process is to communities recently arrived in the United States. None of these candidates were elected only by members of their own community. They were supported by a broad spectrum of voters in Minneapolis, and their elections were widely celebrated in the Twin Cities.

Note: St. Paul also elected its first Hmong Councilman, Dai Thao. The election results were just certified. 

Why Iran Nuclear Talks Failed and Why They Will Get Tougher (Gareth Porter--Truthout)

Why Iran Nuclear Talks Failed and Why They Will Get Tougher

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 10:15 By Gareth Porter, Truthout | News
John Kerry.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Jean-Luc Chopard, Geneva head of protocol, at Geneva International Airport in Geneva, Switzerland, November 8, 2013. (Photo: Denis Balibouse / Pool via The New York Times)
The chance for a first preliminary agreement between Iran and the six powers (US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China) to resolve the decade-long conflict over Iran's nuclear program was lost during the weekend because of a deliberate French policy of preventing agreement at the behest of Israel and the Obama administration's lack of commitment to reaching a comprehensive settlement of the issue.
Those two major reasons for the breakdown of the negotiations without agreement reveal just how fragile the diplomacy surrounding the Iran nuclear question is and how close it is to falling into serious stalemate. Moreover, the remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry about the episode, far from assuaging Iranian doubts, are likely to create new doubts about the Obama administration's commitment to a comprehensive solution to the issue.
The US Covers for Israel and France
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius took the other foreign ministers of the six powers at the Geneva talks by surprise Saturday when he used an interview with France-Inter radio to voice objection to "several points that … we're not satisfied with, compared to the initial text" and called the draft agreement a "con game." That language clearly paralleled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attack on the agreement and appears to have been calculated to prevent an agreement from being reached.
The following day, Kerry and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman introduced a new explanation for the failure of the talks to reach agreement during the weekend that appeared to deny that disunity among the six powers was a problem.
Kerry asserted in a news conference in Abu Dhabi on Monday that France had joined the six powers in making a united proposal to Iran - a point that seemingly cleared France of the accusation of diplomatic sabotage - and that it was Iran that had not been able accept the text without further consultation. The same explanation was given to reporters in Jerusalem by an unnamed "senior American official" - presumably Sherman, who was heading the US delegation visiting Israel to report on the talks.
A reconstruction of the events of the weekend indicates, however, that the US account was a disingenuous effort to provide cover for the French and Israeli allies.
Sometime after Fabius had given his approval for the draft to go forward, he attacked the agreement over Arak and the issue of Iran's 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile. It was merely rhetoric for public consumption, moreover. Western diplomats were quoted as saying that Fabius was "holding out" for tougher conditions on the Iranians than those that had been agreed to by the other five powers and that he was indeed sabotaging the deal.
The objections voiced by Fabius were not based on genuine technical issues.
The draft agreement language required that Iran not "activate" the Arak heavy-water research reactor, rather than requiring an immediate end to all work on the construction of the reactor, according to a leak by two senior Obama administration officials to CNN published November 8.
The reason is that Arak is not a short-term proliferation risk. The idea that Arak would produce enough plutonium for one nuclear bomb per year frequently cited in media coverage of the issue is extremely misleading because, in fact, Iran has no facility for reprocessing the plutonium - as Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association has pointed out.
And the PowerPoint presentation by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the preliminary meeting in mid-October indicated that Iran was ready to agree to arrangements for removal of all plutonium produced by the reactor, so that it would be unable to decide to reprocess it in the future. A detailed agreement on Arak that would be part of the comprehensive agreement would provide assurances against reprocessing of plutonium.
The language in the text on Iran's 20 percent-enriched uranium said Iran would "render unusable most of its existing stockpile." That language had been leaked to CNN November 7 and thus had been under discussion for at least two days prior to the arrival of Fabius in Geneva. And it did represent a shift from what the six powers had been demanding at the outset of the preliminary meeting in mid-October, which was that Iran would "ship out" most of its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium.
But Zarif's PowerPoint presentation in October had offered a plan to convert all of Iran's 20 percent enriched uranium into fuel rods, and Zarif's explanation of the plan convinced the Americans that the stockpile could be disposed of by continuing the process of turning it into fuel rods for a nuclear reactor, rendering it "unusable" for the higher-level enrichment necessary for nuclear weapons.
Why Fabius Turned on the Draft Agreement
The real reason Fabius suddenly attacked the draft was that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned up the heat on Fabius and the French government to refuse to support the agreement.
We now know that, in addition to at least one phone call from Netanyahu, according to a report in Israel's Channel 2 on Sunday, Fabius also was called by Meyer Habib, a Jewish member of the French Parliament representing French citizens living in southern Europe, including in Israel, and threatened a Netanyahu attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Habib, who is also deputy of the Jewish umbrella organization in France, is known as a longtime Likud Party activist and friend of Netanyahu who has been considered the Israeli prime minister's personal representative in Paris, according to Haaretz.
"If you don't toughen your positions, Netanyahu will attack Iran," the report quoted Habib as telling the French foreign minister. "I know this. I know him."
The foreign minister of an independent state normally would bristle at such open diplomatic extortion by threat of force. But the French government has had the most pro-Israel and anti-Iran policy of any European state ever since Nicolas Sarkozy replaced Jacques Chirac as president in 2007. Despite the shift from the Center-Right Union for a Popular Movement government of Sarkozy to the Socialist government of Francois Hollande in 2012, that policy has not shifted at all.
Unlike the United States, where the pro-Israeli influence is exerted through campaign contributions coordinated by AIPAC, in France the presidency has nearly complete control over foreign policy. A small group of officials has shaped policy toward Iran and Israel for the past six years. The people who are now advising Fabius on Iran are, in fact, the same ones who advised Sarkozy's foreign ministers Bernard Kouchner and Alain Juppe. "There is, in the ministry of foreign affairs, a tightly knit team of advisers on strategic affairs and non-proliferation which has played a major role in shaping the French position on Iran over the years," a knowledgeable French source told Truthout. The direction the group has taken French policy generally has coincided with that of the neoconservatives in the United States, according to close observers of that policy.
At the center of that tight-knit group is the former French ambassador to the United States during the George W. Bush administration, Jean-David Levitte. He was appointed diplomatic adviser to Sarkozy in 2007. Levitte, who has been called by some the "real foreign minister" of France, has family ties to Israel and Zionism. His uncle, Simon Levitt, was co-founder of the Zionist Youth Movement in France.
This was not the first time that France has played a spoiler role in international negotiations on the Iran nuclear issue. Mohamed ElBaradei, former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, recalls in his memoirs how the French delegation came to the October 2009 meeting with Iran in Vienna on a "fuel swap" proposal armed with "scores of amendments to our prepared draft agreement." In that case as well, it appeared that the French role was to ensure that there would not be any agreement.
The "Right to Enrich" and the "End Game"
The Israeli ability to manipulate French policy was not the only obstacle to a nuclear agreement with Iran. A potentially bigger issue was the US refusal to reflect in the agreement that Iran has the right to enrich uranium. The New York Times reported Sunday that Iran had insisted on the recognition of its right to enrich and that the US position is that there is no "inherent right to enrich." Kerry, in Abu Dhabi on Monday, declared that no nation has an "existing right to enrich."
Both of those formulations imply that any right of Iran to enrich would be conferred on Iran by the United States and the other powers if and as they saw fit.
The US position, as explained to the Times, was that any enrichment that might be allowed to Iran in a comprehensive agreement would depend on Iran's agreement to specific limits on that enrichment. The administration was clearly holding on to that concession as bargaining leverage it could use in later negotiations. In the meantime, the United States would give up only marginally important sanctions while maintaining the sanctions that were most clearly hurting Iran's economy and society - those on oil exports and banking.
The interim agreement would impose no limits on Iran's enrichment to 3.5 percent except for the use of more advanced centrifuges, so the refusal would have no practical effect on the situation during the duration of the interim agreement.
But it did have major implications for the Iranian willingness to trust the United States to negotiate a comprehensive agreement and therefore could be a deal-breaker for Iran. President Hassan Rouhani implied as much in a speech to the Iranian national assembly Sunday, saying Iran's "rights to enrichment" were "red lines" that could not be crossed. Those “red lines” coincide, of course, with the provision of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that went into effect in 1970 and which represents the global regime governing the issue of the right to nuclear technology. But the United States has been violating Iran’s rights under the NPT ever since it first began pressuring its allies to refuse to cooperate with Iran’s fledgling nuclear program in 1984. More recently it has justified its refusal to acknowledge such a right by citing UN Security Council resolutions (which Washington maneuvered to create) demanding that Iran cease all enrichment activities.
From the beginning of the talks in October through last week's negotiations, Iran had been proposing an agreement that would outline the reciprocal actions each side would take in three stages of the process and the "end game" to which they would lead. The end game for Iran meant the removal of all the sanctions against Iran in return for Iran's acceptance of strict limits on its enrichment and the acceptance of much more intrusive monitoring by the IAEA. That had been the central point of the original Iranian framework presented in Zarif's October power point.
But agreement on the "end game" in the preliminary interim agreement was much less important to the Obama administration than it was to Iran. What concerned US officials primarily was whether Iran could achieve a breakout to a bomb. As a senior administration officials told CNN last week, the preliminary agreement was designed to "stop Iran's progress" and "the shortening of time by which they could build a nuclear weapon."
If Iran ended its 20 percent enrichment and systematically was eliminating its stockpile of uranium that could still be enriched to weapons-grade levels (90 percent), the Obama administration might feel that the urgency of the crisis had lessened. Achieving the additional limits on Iran's enrichment by removing the sanctions, moreover, would be an exercise that certainly would provoke all-out conflict with Israel and with the Congress.
Kerry made the point in his Abu Dhabi press conference Monday that "no agreement has been reached about the end game here." His decision to emphasize that point may be primarily to fend off criticism of the agreement from Israel and Gulf Arab states of the "end game." Nevertheless that remark, along with the effort by the United States to cover up the obvious effort to sabotage the talks by Israel and France, is bound to raise a serious question for Rouhani of whether the United States is really committed to an end game in which the sanctions will be removed in return for Iran cashing in its nuclear negotiating chips. If the end game is at best an afterthought and, in the worst case, something to which Washington may have a political aversion, then Iran would be putting its own bargaining position in jeopardy by agreeing to US terms for the interim agreement.
When the diplomats reassemble November 20, therefore, the United States is certainly going to face a much more skeptical and troubled Iran than it encountered last week.

Gareth Porter

Gareth Porter (@GarethPorter), an independent investigative journalist and historian covering US national security policy, was awarded the Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 by the UK-based Martha Gellhorn Trust.