Top Ten Ways the US and Iran could avoid a Catastrophic War

On Tuesday, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, presented his government’s proposals for ending the international stand-off over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Iran maintains that the program is for the production of fuel for the country’s nuclear reactors. The US, Western Europe, Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council oil monarchies are convinced that Iran is trying to make an atomic bomb. The US and Israel have parlayed these international concerns into severe sanctions on Iran, which have caused the value of the riyal to plummet and created hardships for ordinary Iranians.

The dilemmas of proliferation with centrifuge technology are laid out clearly in this paper by Houston G. Wood et. al The paper, however, seems to me to underestimate how difficult it is to construct a warhead and delivery system. Moreover, Iran is being actively inspected by the UN and no country under ongoing inspections has ever developed a nuclear weapon.

Regular readers know that in 2009 I put forward a theory of Iranian actions, that the country does not want to blow up an actual bomb but that its security establishment wants what Japan has, nuclear latency or a break-out capacity, i.e. the ability to construct a bomb in short order if the country faces an existential threat (such as an invasion of the sort Iraq faced in 2002-3). Over time Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, as well as former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have agreed that Iran is likely not seeking a bomb but rather a break-out capacity. Nuclear latency has many of the same deterrent properties as actually having a bomb, but does not incur the kind of isolation North Korea is suffering.

A settlement of the conflict between the US and Iran over nuclear enrichment would have to convince the US that Iran has no active weapons production program, and would have to allow Iran to enrich for energy. What would a settlement look like?

1. Iran would have to stop being prickly and nationalistic and would have to give the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to everything they want to see. Iran maintains that it is not attempting to construct a bomb, but its protestations of innocence have been undermined by less than 100% cooperation with the inspectors. President Rouhani should pull out all the stops to ensure the inspectors get all the access they want. FM Zarif on Tuesday apparently ruled out snap inspections, but regular extensive inspections would anyway be more to the point.

2. The US would have to acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich uranium to 5% for fuel for its reactors. The US itself, France, Japan, Britain, Russia, China, India and some others either already do this or have the proven capacity to do so.


3. Iran would likely have to give up enriching uranium to 19.5% for its medical reactor, as a good faith measure.

4. The US would have to agree in return to allow at least some Iranian banks to return to the major international banking exchanges. At the least, the president would have to give assurances that he would not order third party sanctions on international banks that dealt with Iran.

5. Iran might have to accept online real-time monitoring of its uranium, both raw and low-enriched, by the IAEA

6. The US would have to agree not to veto steps by the UN Security Council to loosen or remove multilateral sanctions.

7. Iran’s uranium would have to be stored as uranium oxide, which is not as easy quickly to convert into high-enriched uranium.

8. President Obama should enunciate a doctrine that the US would not invade Iran or attempt to overthrow the Iranian regime in the absence of overt Iranian military aggression toward the US or a close US ally. The senate likely would not pass a non-aggression treaty, but a presidential doctrine would have some legal and moral force. This step is important because the Iranian quest for nuclear latency is driven by regime insecurity, given the 1953 US coup against the then elected Iranian government.

9. Iran might have to agree to limit the number of centrifuges it maintains, so as to make the rapid construction of a bomb much more difficult. There is no way for an enrichment program to be prevented completely from being used for bomb-making, but the break-out can be made difficult and time-consuming.

10. The US would have to learn to live with the vague potential of Iranian breakout. But US intelligence, satellite surveillance and the threat of restored severe sanctions could work to forestall any such development. Of course, the Supreme Leader of Iran has forbidden constructing, stockpiling or using nuclear weapons, so that attempting to break out in the absence of a clear and immediate threat to Iran’s survival would not be legitimate in the eyes even of regime loyalists. Ultimately, as well, the US and Israeli nuclear arsenals and sophisticated delivery systems are the real bar to Iran using a nuclear weapon, the likelihood of which is virtually in imaginary numbers territory.

Can a breakthrough be had? I believe so. The sticking points will be the extremists on both sides. In Iran, the Revolutionary Guards and Leader Ali Khamenei think the negotiations are another imperialist US trick, and getting them to sign on the dotted line of an agreement won’t be easy. On the US side, the Israel lobbies and Israel itself will accept nothing less than the mothballing of the whole Iranian enrichment program, which is highly unlikely to happen.

A settlement would therefore have to be one that could be accomplished by Presidents Rouhani and Obama despite the carping of the right wings of their countries.

A lot is at stake. The severity of US unilateral sanctions now reaches the level of a financial blockade on Iran, and blockades are acts of war. An attempt to sanction Iran at these levels over the long term would incur a constant risk of tensions spiraling into war. The US economy was deeply wounded by Iraq; Iran is three times bigger, and another major such quagmire could finish the US off as a superpower.

53 Responses

  1. Very well stated as usual by Professor Cole and also very balanced and reasoned. And, of course, he’s right on target (please excuse my metaphor) that if the right-wing war hawks in the U.S. and Israel somehow push President Obama into a war with Iran, well, it’s probably all over for America with a third quagmire after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Forget the moral and legal arguments. We can’t financially afford another war. It’s that simple. Also our armed forces are approaching the tipping point of being hollowed out as they were after the Vietnam War. And if Americans were opposed to an a potential intervention in Syria, they will be even more gun shy marching into a war with Iran. It is on a much higher level in the military sense with a much larger population for soldiers. And the Iranian people will put down their political differences and rally around the flag. But I doubt President Obama would make such a blunder in his second term after he ran so quickly to the Congress when he was desperately trying to build a consensus in the country that would support an intervention in Syria. Hopefully that recent crisis was the beginning of the end for the seemingly endless “long war on terror.” And good riddance to it given our financial dilemma right here with the tea baggers and their enablers, the GOP establishment, holding us hostage.

    • Syria, like Libya before it, really had nothing to do with the “War on Terror.”

      One of the most significant shifts in American foreign policy has been the narrowing down of Bush’s vision of a global, Cold War-style fight between “the West” and “political Islam” into series of limited counter-terror actions against al Qaeda.

      That’s not to say the United States isn’t doing other things in the world, but (with the exception of the winding down Afghan War) they are neither operationally nor conceptually part of a “War on Terror.”

  2. “…..[o]n the U.S. side, the Israel lobbies and Israel itself will accept nothing less than the mothballing of the whole Iranian enrichment program…….”

    Israel’s largely untold blueprint for obtaining nuclear weapons technology outside international guidelines while misusing paeceful research ventures while deceiving and concealing its intent to construct atomic weapons seems to betray their high-horse pronouncements about the dangers ran could present to the Middle East if it proceeds with any nuclear enrichment program.

    Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion often felt that acquisition of atom bomb technology was needed for the survival of Israel. He emphasized the accomplishments of Edward Teller and other Jewish-American physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project and felt that these scientists could help Israel acquire a nuclear weapon capability. Teller was consulted on Israeli nuclear development and maintained a cordial relationship with Israel’s leaders.
    Israel and Turkey in 1957 were the first signatories to the Atoms for Peace program inaugurated by President Eisenhower.

    Israel and France conducted joint atomic research in the late 1950s which gave Israeli scientists incidental access to French reports of the detonation of atomic weapons. These were exploited by Israel to initiate a nuclear weapons program. President Charles DeGaulle eventually suspected Israel had an intent to biuld an A-Bomb and by 1966, all nuclear research relationships between France and Israel were halted on his orders.

    Shimon Peres, Israel’s current president, now 90 years old, had been instrumental in developing the French-Israeli joint atomic research relationship that was initiated in the 1950s.

    In 1958, Great Britain sold to Israel substantial quantities of “heavy water” necessary to construct an atomic weapon. The purchase was made via an intermediary – the Norwegian company Noratom – acting as a front – who received a 2% commission from Israel; this transaction was hid from the world community until 2005 when the British government admitted that the transction occurred.

    Prime Minister Ben-Gurion later advised Canadian PM John Diefenbaker in the early 1960s that Israel wanted plutonium separation technology. Diefenbaker disclosed this to British intelligence personnel who concluded from this that Israel clearly intended to create a nuclear weapons program.

    Israel secretly acquired “yellowcake” uranium from Argentina in the early 1960s that was needed for an atomic bomb.

    Later, plutonium separation was accomplished with the fuel rods at the Dimona plant to generate enough materal that could be used to manufactue a viable fission bomb. By 1969 it was believed that Israel constructed its first two nuclaer weapons at the Dimona facility.

    To this day, Israel has never constructed a nuclear power plant to assist its utility energy needs but only for “research” – which has effectively been for the creation of a nuclear arsenal to menace its neighbors.

    The U.N. General Assembly condemned Israel for the July of 1981 destruction of the Osirak atomic facility in Iraq. It has also menaced Iran with the spectre of a military strike.

    Israel today is believed to have about 200 atomic weapons which can be delivered by air or by nuclear-tipped missiles that can be sea-launched via Israeli navy submarines purchased from the Thyssen-Krupp arms manufacturer in Germany at a cost of well over one billion dollars.

    Israel has acquired an expensive nuclear option which it augmented over the years at cost of many billions of dollars via deceit and concealment. Israel’s conduct in opposing Iranian nuclear research technologies is duplicitous and hypocritical.

  3. It’s nice to see a vision, which is essentially one of balanced rationality.

    You also observe its essentially the fanatics on both sides that stand in the way. But I’d also add its the practical politics, where the existence of a boogyman has been serving Iranian, American and (perhaps most importantly) Israeli interests, all to well to this point. In fact, the centrality of the Iranian foe to Likud politics, and hence to internal American politics, is not something to glos over.

    You do observe quit well how US Executive authority can slide past this obstacle. And over time I see evidence Obama knows full well what is going on and resents the pressure to act in ways that are not in the US interest.

    So more importantly the question seems to be whether such a understanding could be sustained, given the pressure that would be brought by the Forces of Darkness on any emerging 2016 candidates.

    Any politician good enough to gain the office would equivocate, but ultimately they’ll be willing to ditch anything Obama does. There’s a real temptation to go for maintaining something like the current balance of conflict for domestic advantage: screw Iran, who wouldn’t be able to do anything really significant to the US anyway.

    It may be shortsighted and backward, but this is all too pragmatic of a course for the new administration to take, and its something Iran would be bound to understand.

  4. Cooperating with the Iranian government is also a good idea because the mythical nuclear weapons are not the only ones available to Iran.

    About 20% of world oil production comes through a two-mile shipping lane in the Strait of Hormuz, just outside Iranian territorial waters. If the Iranians get really annoyed, they could do some blockading of their own. To the oil importers of the world, it would be like taking away Annie Hall’s Bloomingdale charge card.

  5. Iran should tell the US and UK that it wants to develop a renewal energy program, and that it is willing to replace its unsafe nuclear technology with solar and wind by 2040. Doing so would be contingent on getting technology, grants, and investment in renewables from the West. The US politicians’ heads would explode. The conservatives fear renewable energy more than they fear a nuclear Iran. The US would never agree to it of course, but it would be great political theater.

    • You seem to think conservatives are running the show when it comes to American foreign policy.

      They’ve been sidelined for years.

      • The thing is, Joe, there are those, some who post on this blog, who think that anyone to the right of Che Guevara is a conservative. One must humor them.

        • There are also those of us who think that a lot of the people who call themselves conservatives are actually extremely radical in their attitudes and politics. Their role in attempting to shutdown the United States government and their willingness to threaten to force the government to default on debt repayments regardless of the harm it could potentially do to the economies of their own country and the international system being a case in point.

          Having come to the conclusion that not every “conservative” is conservative, it’s a simple step to question whether every “progressive” or “liberal” behaves in a progressive or liberal manner.

          They’re just words people. There’s nothing conservative about undermining international institutions constructed (in part) to legitimize your own country’s new found political and military dominance by invading a third world country based on evidence that virtually the entire world concluded was if not fraudulent then at the very least heavily exaggerated.

        • It is definitely better to talk about “the right” in American politics these days, than to talk about “conservatives.”

          Likewise, there are people on the left in American politics who are radicals, too, as opposed to liberals or progressives, but they are a much smaller segment of the overall left-coalition than their right-radical counterparts are the right coalition.

  6. Great thread.
    A slight quibble; it all (avoiding war) depends on “people” being reasonable and following International Law.
    It would appear that is the stumbling block, with Iran being treated with a prejudiced policy; one not reasonable if one believes the IAEA and the CIA.
    And then there is Israel…

  7. “1. Iran would have to…”

    Right off the bat, it’s up to Iran, the burden is on Iran, Iran should capitulate, it’s all Iran’s fault, etc., instead of:

    “1. Since the US overthrew the elected government of Iran 60yrs ago, the US has no right to continue threatening and punishing Iran, and, instead, must call for the lifting of all sanctions, and begin an immediate policy of reparations for supporting the brutal dictatorship that followed the US-orchestrated 1953 subversion of Iranian democracy.”

    “2. Once the previous steps are taken, the US must call for a nuclear free Middle East which would require Israel to take the first step by destroying its WMD.”

    Of course, this will never happen, but everyone except Western neoliberal foreign policy ideologues know this would be the morally correct stance.

    • There was no Iranian “democracy” to overthrow in 1953, and Mosaddeq’s government was not “elected”. The Prime Minister was appointed by the Shah, and the Majles could support the appointment with a majority vote (which Mosaddeq received with the minimum quorum). Mosaddeq then proceeded to dismiss the very same Majles that approved his appointment, justified his power grab with a sham referendum in which he received over 99% “Yes” votes, and largely ruled by decree thereafter. Some “democrat he was!

    • The exact thing occurred to me as well. Of course the US/Hollywood is hardly prepared to make a movie depicting the real reason that many Iranians mistrust or hate America, they make a movie showing themselves to be the victims years later of the mistrust and hatred they themselves sowed 26 years before. Perhaps it is time Carter owned up to the actual reasons behind the 1979 Iranian student takeover of the US embassy, they were simply attempting to right a wrong.

      • Interesting how Anonymous Joe can, with a turn of a phrase, turn policy points into putative personal failings of others.

        • Totally uninteresting how JT deflects conversations about policy into his continuing obsession with That Guy He Hates On The Internet.

          This would be a much better forum if you would stop that, JT.

        • No obsession, Joe, now or the last time you tossed that canard.

          It just seems to me, on some observation, that you are among the set of subtle, sneaky apologists for Empire, particularly the Present President and his people (“Syria? Worked out just how he planned it!”), an anonymous guy who makes presumptively “authoritative” assertions without support, probably was on the debate team, and knows a lot of tricks when it comes to nudging and warping the discourse in this and other forums. Like throwing past apologists and imperialists under the bus, retreating to “goodness” from time to time, showing crocodilian compassion when it suits…

          You claim serious interest in “policy” discussions? Looks more like long, careful efforts to steer the discussion to favor How It’s Being And Been Done, adding a dash, for us unbeneficed rabble, of learned and induced hopelessness that anything can be changed. There’s already more than enough “lean and hungry men” dishonesty in the world not to try to call it out, and as you might say, it’s “patently, inarguably, obviously clear” that subtle and covert and anonymous people, coupled with a carefully cultivated bovine incuriosity and placidity or xenophobia for most, and vulpine cupidity and disingenuity for the few (see Koch, et al.), have turned the sum of human interactions into a pretty horrific game that is wasting the planet Somebody gave us, and helping us kill and gas and concuss and maim and poison each other on an industrial scale. For personal profit? Out of meanness? Hard to tell, with the anonymous deliverers of so many apothegms…

    • You would hold up the resolution of the standoff, the elimination of the sanctions, and the cooling of potentially war-spawning tensions so that you can score a point about something that happened 60 years ago?

  8. I don’t think “The US, Western Europe, Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council oil monarchies are convinced that Iran is trying to make an atomic bomb,” but rather, worried that they are, are could be.

    Also, writing it up that way suggests that the concern is about Iranian military capability only, and ignores the other half of the equation, which is a desire to arrest the regional nuclear proliferation process. Israel and Pakistan got nukes, so Iran wants one; and if Iran has one, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt, and after them, who knows?

    On the US side, the Israel lobbies and Israel itself will accept nothing less than the mothballing of the whole Iranian enrichment program, which is highly unlikely to happen.

    Netanyahu has spent the last five years spitting in Obama’s face in public. He tried to throw the 2012 election to his opponent, and failed. Obama is never going to face another election. I doubt he cares very much about what Israel wants out of these negotiations.

    • I’m not sure what Obama wants matters. He can’t do much without Congress and as long as Netanyahu controls that I don’t think his personal feelings are relevant.

      • As the Perfesser mentions in the post, he can set foreign policy at the executive level.

        Formal treaty ratification lies with the Senate, but that’s hardly the limit of foreign policy. Most foreign policy is run out of the White House and State Department, and Congress has relatively little to do with it.

        • ….And wıth the 2016 electıon whatever moves Obama makes will evaporate due to the quıd pro quos the wınnıng candıdate must gıve Israel and the Lıkud. Hence, ıts hard to see how thıs scenarıo evolves positively; it seems like a show, put on for who knows what real reason.

        • Obama may never have to face another election, but his political party will. I can’t see him wanting to risk giving credibility, and power, back to the Republicans by pursuing policy and objectives that he believes will prove unsustainable or otherwise politically nonviable for the rest of his party.

          You make a good point about the desire to prevent anyone else in the region from developing the weapons. There’s precious little that can be done to disarm Israel or Pakistan at this point, but making a clear and visceral example of Iran might serve a broader goal of preventing/delaying further proliferation. It’s a goal potentially served regardless of Iran’s actual or presumed intentions.

        • Obama has two years to make progress with Iran work. If he can move the ball down the field and create momentum, the Israel lobby will have to work not just to prevent an initiative from beginning, but to stop and reverse one that has already made progress and gained support – a much more difficult task.

          You assume, Adam K, that warming relations with Iran, eliminating the threat of another, bigger Iraq-style war, and, oh yeah, being able to brag about heading off the skeery Persiatic nuke, will be a political liability, because the Likudniks will oppose it. I think you’re giving short shrift to how much those accomplishments would function as affirmative political benefits.

          There were plenty of people, during the thaw between Reagan and Gorbachev, denouncing nuclear deals and rapprochement, but when the deal was signed and the mutual charm offensives really got going, they were huge political winners.

          I do agree with both of you, though, that there is a threat of the window slamming shut after 2016. There is an opportunity right now for both the American and Iranian leaders to accomplish something and thereby set back the hardliners that oppose rapprochement, and it must be seized aggressively.

  9. This blog provides a clear and realistic roadmap for not only avoiding another catastrophic war in the Middle East but also for resolving the disputes between Iran and the West and the resumption of relations with the United States. Judging by the comments that have been made on the margins of the meeting between Iran and P5+1 in Geneva over 15 and 16 October, it seems that the Iranian side is prepared to accept nearly all points in return for the lifting of the sanctions.
    The first point, namely Iran stopping to be prickly and nationalistic, seems to be the most difficult, in the same way that it would be difficult for the US not to see itself as an exceptional country or as the sole super-power, but the election of Rouhani at least shows that the majority of Iranians have become tired of isolationism. Rouhani has actually threatened that he would put his proposal of détente with the West to a referendum if hardliners try to block it. He will be sure of getting a huge majority for his policies.

    Even under Ahmadinezhad Iran offered to give up enrichment to 19.5 per cent if there was a guarantee that Iran would receive the needed fuel for its medical reactor in Tehran. As to the issue of real-time monitoring, Iran has indicated that she would be ready to join the Additional Protocol, which would allow for unannounced inspection, as the end result of the talks. Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Aragchi, who is currently leading the negotiations, has actually said as much. link to
    The sanctions were imposed allegedly for stopping Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. If Iran’s enrichment program comes under constant supervision of the IAEA, logically there will be no further ground for maintaining the sanctions. The Iranians would like to know of the endgame, namely lifting of sanctions for absolute guarantee of a peaceful enrichment program.
    I believe that getting the support of the US Congress would be the most difficult part of the equation. Only a few days ago a group of influential US senators in a letter to President Obama said that sanctions on Iran should be lifted only if Iran stops enrichment altogether link to
    In fact, as most participants in the talks make optimistic noises about a workable solution, Netanyahu again threatens to carry out a pre-emptive strike on Iran. link to
    So the real obstacle to a deal does not seem to rest with the Iranian side, but with Israel and its American friends.

    • Any deal between the Obama administration and Iran will set the American right to howling that the sky is falling.

      Once the sky fails to fall, that will open up all sorts of opportunities to go farther.

  10. Surely Iran has only to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it has signed? No one has yet shown they have breached any of their obligations.

    The NPT is often seen to be based on a central bargain: “the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals”.

    So the states pushing for war are one nuclear armed state that refuses to sign the NPT and another nuclear armed state which refuses to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at their ultimate elimination?

    What is the point of this piece of international law if states in compliance can be threatened by non-compliant states?

  11. While I do not disagree with your overall assessment it is a bit disingenuous to address Iran’s military concerns without clearly headlining Israel’s nuclear weapons capacity and continuing belligerence toward Iran. Agreeing to a permanent defense asymmetry with Israel is asking a lot of Iranians. Would we accept the same relationship vis-a-vis China? Look how Americans freak out at the idea of a North Korean nuclear capability…..Israel is Iran’s North Korea. Until the United States can provide Iran with guarantees against Israeli aggressiveness a strong rationale for a nuclear-armed Iran continues.

    • Iran has had a defense asymmetry with Israel for decades, which makes the US/China comparison somewhat off-point.

      Also, the United States is a much bigger national security threat to Iran than is Israel. A deal that warms up American-Iranian relations and removes that threat would be a major gain for Iranian security, for reason that include, but also go quite a bit beyond, the implicit restraint on Israel.

  12. Who cares what the US and Israel want. The days of the US being able to call any shots are almost over.

    “China announced that it has discounted the value of US Treasuries held as collateral against futures trades, and China and the European Central Bank have arranged a currency swap in preparation of a US default.” Instead of honoring its duties as a responsible leading power, a self-serving Washington has abused its superpower status and introduced even more chaos into the world by shifting financial risks overseas, instigating regional tensions amid territorial disputes, and fighting unwarranted wars under the cover of outright lies.

    “The solution, for Beijing, is to “de-Americanize” the current geopolitical equation – starting with more say in the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for emerging economies and the developing world, leading to a “new international reserve currency that is to be created to replace the dominant US dollar””.”As for the move away from the US dollar, it’s also already on, in varying degrees of speed, especially concerning trade amongst the BRICS group of emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, China and South Africa), which is now overwhelmingly in their respective currencies. The US dollar is slowly but surely being replaced by a basket of currencies”.

    Bloody well about time!

    • I think that in the end, China is going to set the agenda and the US will be forced to comply.

      The republicans have really shot the US in the head and made the US dollar very unreliable. As a result, an entirely non-US economic system is in the process of being built and soon Iran will be able to launder all the transactions they want through China. While the US will rant and rave, the Europeans and the rest of the world will ignore the US and Israel.

      I suspect that soon the US sanctions will be irrelevant and the US will be forced to let Iran enrich to 4% all they want and Iran will volunteer to stop enriching to 20%, but will keep all the 20% uranium they already have.

      The bottom line is the US has very little to bargain with and Israel does not even have a seat at the table.

      By the time all the negotiations are done, the sanctions will be meaningless, Iran will still have a nuclear program and Bibi will suffer a complete and humiliating loss.

      And if Bib is foolish enough to ignore his military leadership, Israel will find itself completely isolated with the US standing quietly off to the side letting Israel take its lumps.

      When Israel attacks Iran, I suspect that Iran will not counter attack but will go to the UNSC and ask for crippling economic sanctions on Israel. The US will be forced to either abstain, (letting Israel get thrown to the wolves) or veto and lose all global power. After any US veto, Iran, China and Russia will invoke UNGA-377 and after winning an overwhelming vote, override the US veto and severely punish Israel. Regardless which path the US takes, it loses and China becomes the global leader by default.

      • “The republicans have really shot the US in the head and made the US dollar very unreliable.”

        This overstates things. They have done damage, yes, but less than you’re suggesting here. They folded last night, and they’re on the run politically. What you’re talking about might still come to pass, but it hasn’t yet, and there is very good reason to think the fever is breaking.

  13. ” Iran would have to stop being prickly and nationalistic and would have to give the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to everything they want to see.”

    It has less to do with being “prickly and nationalistic” and more with common sense. Why shouldn’t the IAEA have access to everything in the factories and R&D centres of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and other cutting edge defense contracting corporations?

    – May be I am reading too much into Prof. Cole’s suggestion, but to me, it is definitely not a balanced and rational one, particularly as #1 on the list of measures to be taken.

    “Access to everything they want to see”? Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program is a pretext to contain an important player in the Persian Gulf region. By “contain” I primarily mean economically. Many neighbouring countries do not want to see a thriving, growing Iranian economy. Israel is more threatened by the situation it has created in Palestine than by the vague possibility of an Iranian nuclear warhead.

    So giving the IAEA unfettered access is an invitation to industrial espionage and sabotage (- we’ve seen examples of both in Iran by outside elements) in areas not just related to the nuclear industry. Furthermore, it means that this saga will never end. Any unfounded rumour created by anonymous “Western officials” can used to perform a snap inspection. In fact many of the accusations brought against Iran’s nuclear program have been precisely that: unfounded rumours.

    And we all know (hopefully by now) that the IAEA has not been an honest broker in its dealings with Iran. It is influenced by Security Council politics and even infiltrated by agents from various spy agencies.

    • BTW – IAEA rules that prohibit access to non-nuclear facilities were written by . . . wait for it . . . the USA because the USA did not want anyone to be walking through US military sites and US war toy production sites.

      If it is not OK for inspectors to wander around non-nuclear sites in the US, why should Iran have to do that?

      • Iran doesn’t have to allow those inspections.

        The United States doesn’t have to allow Iran to use our banks, or to allow third countries that trade with Iran to use our banks.

        Both Iranian noncooperation and the American sanctions regime are, indeed, well within those countries’ rights. The question is, would we be better off standing on those rights, or cutting a deal?

        • Sorry Joe, but your comment is tantamount to justifying bullying. It’s making a mockery of international law by replacing it with the law of the jungle.

          It’s been indicated in informed forums like this one that what the USA is doing by means of sanctions in Iran is for all intents and purposes an economic blockade. The USA has to threaten other countries in order to make the sanction bite.

          Such behavior does not really constitute a very open-minded definition of being “well within those countries’ rights”.

  14. Heretofore, Iran has made the lifting of ssanctions and international banking restrictions a prerequisite to any give on its part regarding the nuclear issue. That has been, and should be, a non-starter. The United States and the West should be prepared to lift sanctions and financial banking restrictions incrementally in response to solid steps Iran takes in allowing full, unfettered IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities, as well as appropariate disposal of any highly-enriched uranium it might possess.

    No negotiations have to end immediately in an “all or nothing” conclusion. Both Iran and the US can establish “good faith” steps by incrementally agreeing to verifiable steps Iran takes on its nuclear program and the lifting of some sanctions by the US and the West. As negotiations move forward and more and more of these incremental steps are taken by both sides, the end result could be satisfactory for both sides. But it will take a lot more trust and verfication on the part of both sides than have been demonstrated to date.

    • The other virtue of this ongoing steps approach, as opposed to a one-shot deal, is that it can smoothly segue into actions beyond the nuclear question, into other areas of the bilateral relationship.

  15. Maybe someone can answer a question I have been wondering about for years. It seems to me that the CIA and Mossad must be all over Iran, and must know exactly what’s going on. I read somewhere that the US has sensors planted all over the place. The alternative is that both agencies are incompetent in the extreme.

    So my question is: Since no one adds this to the picture, what am I missing?

    • What you are missing, Dennis, is an understanding of how the CIA actually operates and a nuanced view of the reach and overall competence of US (and other countries’) government agencies. It is not easy to establish a network of agents in a country like Iran, where there is absolutely no US presence and, thus, no way to run agents. And to run agents from outside the country carries a huge risk for the agents and the operation. That’s why it is so difficult to ascertain what is going on in countries like Iran and North Korea.

      Your comment that the CIA must be all over Iran, and if they are not they are “incompetent in the extreme,” demonstrates further a naive understanding of how intelligence operates in these situations. It also demonstrates an unwarranted faith that the US Government is always competent in its various endeavors. Historically, there have been enough failures to put that idea to bed.

      • @Dennis and Bill:

        Maryam Rajavi’s MEK resistance organization in Iran has the support of pro-Israel interests and the U.S. intelligence community. They have been removed from the U.S. State Department list of terror organizations.

        MEK operatives have in the U.S. received training in signals intelligence from the U.S. Army.

        MEK has been suspected as carrying out the prior bomb attacks against Iranian nuclear physicists on behalf of Israel that have killed or wounded some. The pro-Israel community in the U.S. have arranged for prominent lobbyists such as Rudy Giuliani to support MEK as a respectable paramilitary resistance force.

        MEK represents a blend of Islamic and Marxist ideologies and is viewed by critics as a cult. It’s origins date back to the 1960s and were opponents of the Shah’s regime.

        There is little doubt that the CIA and Mossad have given aid to MEK – but how much is subject to debate. Mrs. Rajavi has been travelling the world meeting with various actual and potential sponsors.

        • Mark, neither the US Government in general nor the CIA in particular are supporting the MEK. The MEK has no platform within the Iranian government that would result in hard intelligence, and they have demonstrated a feckless approach that the CIA is certainly avoiding. The MEK has nothing of value to offer the US, and we are keeping them at arm’s length. The CIA is not aiding them.

          That the pro-Israeli community in the US employs the likes of Rudy Giuliani to flog their case on behalf of the MEK is irrelevant. The US Government does not take its marching orders from Rudy Giuliani. The fact is, regardless what Israel and its supporters may do, the US does not employ the MEK as an instrument of its Iran policy, either overtly or covertly.

    • Every square meter of Iran has been repeatedly inspected by CIA drones, USAF and CIA high altitude aircraft and US military and CIA satellites, all with extremely sophisticated and sensitive instruments, as well as Israeli and CIA operatives on the ground and NONE have found any trace of any “secret” Iranian nuclear program. In reality every gram of nuclear material in Iran is FULLY CONTROLLED by the IAEA.

      This is their frustration. Reality does not support their irrational delusions.

      BTW – that same spying also confirms that Iran is armed to the teeth for a US/Israeli attack and that any attack would be extremely deadly for the attacker. This is why no one in the US or Israeli military wants any attack on Iran, they know they will suffer an extremely bloody defeat.

      The only people delusional enough to want an attack on Iran are a few US and Israeli politicians.

      • Sorry, Spyguy, but CIA drones and high altitutde aircraft have no way of penetrating underground facilities, and the CIA does not have “operatives on the ground” capable of infiltrating the Iranian nuclear program. That’s why we are pushing for IAEA inspections.

        • Actually bill, all nuclear facilities emit tell-tale traces. Even if they are underground, the location will be well known and when any material goes in or out there will be traces that an be detected.

          The real problem is all the real world evidence does not support their irrational fears, just as all the evidence did not support all the irrational fears about Iraq.

          The bottom line is every time the US or Israel gives the IAEA “hard evidence” it always turns out to be FALSE.

          The IAEA inspectors have full access to ALL the Iranian nuclear sites, ALL (do you understand ALL?) and there is no evidence (zero, zip, nada) that there are any unreported nuclear sites.

          All of this is well documented by the IAEA.

  16. A response to Prof. Juan Cole: Top Ten Ways Iran and US could avoid a Catastrophic War:

    1. US should respect the Principle VI and VII of the Geneva Convention, to which it is a signatory and refrain not only from violence and aggressive policies towards the Iranian nation but also from threat of violence.

    2. In order to give unfettered access to IAEA inspectors, including defense installations, the US and Israel should allow Iran to inspect it’s nuclear facility. It also should remove ALL it’s military forces from the Greater Middle East, including neighbors of neighboring country of Iran.

    3. The US should abide by NPT’s binding commitment in a multi-lateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states and destroy all it’s stockpile.

    5. US should not insist in inspecting the defense installations of Iran as the former posses the capability to project power. This article can be revised if the former dismantles all it’s capabilities to wage a war of aggression.

    6. The US should acknowledge that Iran’s right to enrich is already guarantied by the IAEA protocol and UN principles and avoid threatening language in accordance with the second Nuremberg Principle.

    7. Iran’s right to enrich up to 19.5% should be recognized as current actions by the Axis of Aggression has demonstrated their lack of consideration for withholding medical treatment for the general population of the country and their willingness to impose collective punishment.
    In analogy with Russia’s Arktika icebreakers (powered by OK-900A, using 45-75% enriched fuel) and Tamyr icebreakers (powered by KLT-40, using 90% enrichment); the United States should learn to live with Iranian tanker fleet, under international auspices, using similar fuels.

    8. As trading nations are already moving away from use of the US dollar for international clearance, the U.S. government should acknowledge the rights of individual states to join that club without subjecting them to retaliatory majors. As a signatory to WTO, the United States should abide by its principles that prohibit third-party punitive measures (that are clearly illegal). It also should clearly illegal acts of war such as enforcing a blockade, collective punishment of population and embargos, especially other members of United Nations choose to participate in legal and voluntary commerce with Iran.

    9. Iran will accept online real-time monitoring of it’s uranium cycle on the condition that Israel becomes a full member of IAEA, disarms completely and abides by the same rules.

    10. The US should agree not to obstruct loosening of illegal economic sanctions, compensate Iran for economical losses caused by clearly illegal sanctions to the Iranian economy as well as non-economical damages to the population.

  17. You have Iran giving up enriching to 20% for the TRR, but there is nothing that I can see in your list of quid-pro-quos that would make up that shortfall.

    So, question: is that an oversight, or are you suggesting that Iran should accept that cancer-treatment in Iran should grind to a halt?

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