Sunday, March 18, 2012

Is anyone around here interested in peace?

Updated 3/18 and reposted

Call me naive, but what seems to me an important overture from Mohammad Javad Larijani, Secretary-General of Iran's Human Rights Council and, according to Christiane Amanpour, a key foreign policy advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei, isn't getting much media attention -- certainly way less than all the saber-rattling at AIPAC earlier this month.

In an interview with Amanpour, Larijani said that Iran is "ready to go to full transparency" and allow "permanent human monitoring" of its nuclear sites in exchange for what he called "cooperation." Here is Amanpour's summary:
Mohammad Javad Larijani, who serves as Secretary-General of Iran's Human Rights Council and key foreign policy advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei, said the West should sell Iran 20 percent enriched uranium and provide all the help that nuclear nations are supposed to provide to countries building civilian nuclear power plants. He also said the U.S. and the West should accept his country's right to continue what Iran calls its peaceful nuclear program. In return for cooperation from the West, he said, Iran would offer "full transparency."
Recognizing that Iranian pronouncements can't be taken at face value, and that policy is often pulled in multiple direction in internal struggles, the following assertions by Larijani should not be fully be discounted, either:

  • Iran is willing to trade more transparency for "cooperation", i.e. acknowledgement and support of its right to nuclear enrichment. Transparency means "persistent human monitoring."
  • Khamenei has recently reiterated his fatwa against nuclear weapons - they are a sin.
  • Nuclear weapons would make Iran less safe -- they would be a "liability." "Pakistan has nuclear weapons and is a shamble country in terms of security."
  • American intelligence knows that "we are not after building nuclear weapons."
  • Re Ahmadinejad's pronouncement that Israel should be "wiped off the face of the map" (often spun as a wish that it will follow the Soviet Union and other 'evil empires' into oblivion), it is "definitely not" Iran's intent to militarily obliterate Israel...."neither the president meant that nor is it a policy of Iran." 
  • Iran wants primarily not to be treated as "secondary citizens of the world" -- "we are number one citizens of the world....We want to enjoy the same rights as the U.S." -- to enrich uranium.
What was new, I believe, is the offer of "persistent human monitoring."

Meanwhile, Barbara Slavin of Al Monitor asserts that "After months of increasingly ominous war talk by the United States, Israel and Iran, there are intriguing signs of potential diplomatic progress over Iran’s nuclear program." She cites Chuck Hagel, Trita Parsi and Vali Nasr asserting that back channel communication is taking place between the U.S. and Iran, and finds these additional "subtle signs of reduced tension":
  • On March 5, Iran’s Supreme Court ordered the retrial of a former US Marine, an Iranian-American named Amir Hekmati, who had been sentenced to death after being convicted of working for the CIA.
  • On March 13, the US deported back to Iran an Iranian arms dealer, Amir Hossein Ardebili, who had been arrested in 2007 in a sting operation in the Republic of Georgia.
  • The US Treasury Department has begun an investigation into a former governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, on charges that he took money from the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that is on the US State Department list of terrorist organizations. Rendell is among a number of high profile former US officials who have spoken in favor of taking the MEK off the terrorist list. That the Obama administration has not yet done so is another signal to Tehran, which despises the group and blames it for assassinations and other attacks in Iran.
James Fallows keeps finding ominous signs pointing the other way. There is much to fear. But there are also at least some grounds to, as Andrew Sullivan likes to say, "know hope."

UPDATE 3/18: Semi-supporting Larijani's assertion that  "we are not after building nuclear weapons" is James Risen's long review in today's New York Times of U.S. intelligence on Iran's nuclear program, well summed up by one "former senior intelligence official" who says he has about 75 percent confidence that Iran has not restarted the nuclear weapons program that the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 asserted had been suspended in 2003. Risen ends with a reaffirmation of that controversial conclusion:
Just as in 2010, new evidence about the Iranian nuclear program delayed the National Intelligence Estimate in 2007, the last previous assessment. Current and former American officials say that a draft version of the assessment had been completed when the United States began to collect surprising intelligence suggesting that Iran had suspended its weapons program and disbanded its weapons team four years earlier. 

The draft version had concluded that the Iranians were still trying to build a bomb, the same finding of a 2005 assessment. But as they scrutinized the new intelligence from several sources, including intercepted communications in which Iranian officials were heard complaining to one another about stopping the program, the American intelligence officials decided they had to change course, officials said. While enrichment activities continued, the evidence that Iran had halted its weapons program in 2003 at the direction of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was too strong to ignore, they said.

One former senior official characterized the information as very persuasive. “I had high confidence in it,” he said. “There was tremendous evidence that the program had been halted.”

And today, despite criticism of that assessment from some outside observers and hawkish politicians, American intelligence analysts still believe that the Iranians have not gotten the go-ahead from Ayatollah Khamenei to revive the program. 

“That assessment,” said one American official, “holds up really well.”
Looks a little like a coordinate attempt to muffle the drums of war. Cue caveats about my own selection bias and lack of information.

But while we're arranging the tea leaves for peace, add this claim by Dina Esfandiary at the International Institute for Strategic Studies that Iranian public opinion is turning against the nuclear program.

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