Archive for July, 2009

“German court ruling on Iran nuclear program not at conclusive as claimed”

“German court ruling on Iran nuclear program not at conclusive as claimed”
July 20-29, 2009
     Oliver Meier criticizes a recent Wall Street Journal article in which Bruno Schirra claims the BND, Germany’s intelligence agency, contradicted the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate by concluding that Iran’s nuclear program had continued after 2003. Schirra’s article focuses on a legal opinion issued in March by Germany’s Federal Court of Justice arguing that “development work on nuclear weapons can be observed in Iran even after 2003” based on classified BND reports. The question of whether Iran had a nuclear weapons program in 2007 was crucial to deciding whether a German-Iranian businessman accused of smuggling dual-use materials in 2007 should undergo trial. Schirra points out that the BND had submitted “office testimony” consisting of factual statements that can be proven in a court of law, concluding that US intelligence officials “sabotage[d]” the 2007 NIE by ignoring evidence from the BND (Wall Street Journal).
     Oliver Meier counters that the Court only concluded it was “sufficiently likely” that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in 2007 and explicitly stated it was not issuing a substantive judgment on the issue. Meier points out that, according to the Court’s descriptions, the BND reports were based on information about Iranian procurement of nuclear technologies and efforts to develop nuclear weapons delivery systems but did not contain actual evidence of nuclear weapons development (Total Wonkerr).
Wall Street Journal | Total Wonkerr

“Critics, defenders of ’defense umbrella’ remarks argue against formal US commitments in Gulf”

“Critics, defenders of ’defense umbrella’ remarks argue against formal US commitments in Gulf”
July 27 & 28, 2009
     In an interview, Thomas W. Lippman argues that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent comments on a “defense umbrella” for Gulf allies [previously covered here] indicated a “prudent” attempt to establish unified responses to a nuclear Iran while avoiding a regional nuclear arms race. However, focusing on Saudi Arabia, Lippman argues that a formal US defense commitment would be politically costly for both Washington and Riyadh and suggests a continuation of current de facto US commitments as well as security agreements with the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Saudi Arabia is a member. Lippman also doubts that Riyadh will pursue nuclear weapons (Council on Foreign Relations).
     Emile Hokayem argues that Clinton’s ostensibly reassuring comments may have convinced Gulf allies that the US will accept a nuclear Iran. Hokayem believes that formalizing the already extensive defense relations between the US and the Gulf states will exacerbate regional tensions, arguing that Gulf leaders are satisfied with the “ambiguity” in current US security commitments and that the US should focus on a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue. However, Hokayem adds that the Gulf states must devise a “serious containment and safeguard system” to deal with a “nuclear-ambiguous” Iran (The National).
     Michael Singh urges US officials to coordinate their messages on policy toward Iran and preview such messages with key allies, arguing that there is uncertainty over Washington’s commitment to imposing harsh measures against Tehran if diplomatic efforts fail. Singh attributes the inconsistencies in US signals to the need to reassure Israel and other allies concerned about US-Iran rapprochement while also convincing Iran, Russia and China that current diplomatic efforts are not simply a pretext for increased pressure in the future (Washington Institute for Near East Policy).
Council on Foreign Relations | The National | Washington Institute for Near East Policy

“Conservative opposition to Ahmadinejad signals troubles ahead for Khamenei”

“Conservative opposition to Ahmadinejad signals troubles ahead for Khamenei”
July 25-28, 2009
     Juan Cole argues that amidst a domestic power struggle, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has reasserted his authority among conservative leaders by publicly forcing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to withdraw his appointment of Efsandiar Rahim Mashaie as first vice president [previously covered here]. Cole believes Ahmadinejad hoped to reestablish himself as a populist leader with a moderate stance toward liberals and Israel (Informed Comment). However, Ahmadinejad could face trouble in his upcoming second term obtaining parliamentary approval for his candidates for his new cabinet. Jon Leyne points out that either supporting or abandoning Ahmadinejad would damage Khamenei’s authority, arguing that both leaders have “become prisoners of their own constituency, right-wing conservatives” (BBC).
     Ahmadinejad’s subsequent promotion of Mashaie to chief advisor, giving Mashaie oversight over energy and national security, led to a dispute in a cabinet meeting last week resulting in the dismissal of Intelligence Minister Gholam Hussein Mohseni-Ejei and the resignation of Culture Minister Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi. Analysts believe conservative leaders are “sensing weakness” in Ahmadinejad and are seeking to gain control over him (New York Times, Al Jazeera). Ahmadinejad faces a constitutionally mandated vote of confidence if half of his 21-member cabinet is reshuffled during a single term; Saffar-Harandi, whose resignation has been rejected by the government, would be the 11th cabinet member to be reassigned (Agence France-Presse).
Informed Comment | BBC | New York Times | Al Jazeera | Agence France-Presse

“US renews efforts to ensure Iran runs out of yellowcake by 2010”

“US renews efforts to ensure Iran runs out of yellowcake by 2010”
July 23, 2009
     Barak Ravid reports that the US has issued a written request to 10 uranium-producing states to limit uranium exports to Iran, indicating that Iran will run out of yellowcake, a uranium concentrate used for uranium enrichment, sometime in 2010. The document—issued to Canada, Russia, Australia, the EU3, Kazakhstan, and three other unnamed countries—states that Iran’s uranium reserves are “insufficient” for maintaining the current nuclear reactor program for a sustained period of time (Haaretz). Similar efforts by the US, Canada, Australia and the EU3 to limit Iran’s access to yellowcake were reported in January. Those efforts focused on Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, both major producers of uranium (Times Online). Israel believes Venezuela and Bolivia have also supplied Iran with uranium, although the two states have denied the accusations (Associated Press).
     A February report by David Albright, Jacqueline Shire and Paul Brannan concludes that Iran is close to exhausting its supplies of yellowcake and uranium oxide. Outlining the state of production at two major uranium mines, the report states that while domestic output is insufficient for powering a civilian nuclear reactor, such as the Bushehr reactor, Iran has enough uranium for a latent nuclear weapons capability (ISIS NuclearIran). However, in March, Iran announced that 400 uranium mines had been identified nationwide and would be sufficient for meeting domestic demand for “tens of years” (IRNA).
Haaretz | Times Online | Associated Press | ISIS NuclearIran | IRNA

“Israel concerned, Arab states cautious over talks of Gulf ‘defense umbrella’”

“Israel concerned, Arab states cautious over talks of Gulf ‘defense umbrella’”
July 22-24, 2009
     Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor criticized remarks by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggesting that the US would provide a “defense umbrella” for Gulf allies to counter Iranian nuclear weapons. Meridor urged the US to focus on efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program rather than assuming Iran would eventually obtain nuclear weapons (Agence France-Presse). Nader Uskowi describes the remarks as a “radical departure” from previous US and EU policy that will inflame Iran’s leaders and encourage “hardline positions” on nuclear policy (Uskowi on Iran).
     Jumana Al Tamimi reports that officials from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab states have been “lukewarm” about the remarks (Gulf News), but in June, Tom Spender reported that military officers from the UAE and other Gulf states were receptive to proposals for a US missile defense system for Gulf Cooperation Council states (The National). Former British Ambassador to Iran Richard Dalton says the US may be unwilling to take military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program, but Dr. Mustafa Alani argues that a US defense umbrella would not prevent a destabilizing regional arms race, stating that a military attack would be preferable. However, one unnamed Arab analyst believes Gulf states are supportive of Clinton’s remarks but cannot state so publicly due to political sensitivities (The National (2)).
     Former US diplomat Hillary Mann Leverett believes US President Barack Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran has failed and that his “opponents” [Clinton] are now pushing for a different strategy. Clinton and other US officials have said the remarks were intended to dissuade Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons (Al Jazeera).
Agence France-Presse | Uskowi on Iran | Gulf News | The National | The National (2) | Al Jazeera

“Iran FM’s meetings with Arab rivals could signal more moderate regional posture”

“Iran FM’s meetings with Arab rivals could signal more moderate regional posture”
July 17-22, 2009
     Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki met with officials from Egypt, Lebanon and other Arab states at last week’s NAM summit held in Egypt. An Iranian diplomat described the three meetings between the foreign ministers of Iran and Egypt as “positive and cordial”, and analysts believe there may be a thaw in the two states’ tense relations (Daily Star, Canadian Press). Mottaki also met with officials from the Palestinian Authority, who urged Tehran to support the formation of a unity Palestinian government. Although no concrete agreements were reached, Mottaki reportedly responded that Tehran supported Palestinian dialogue and unity (Asharq Alawsat). Israel strongly criticized the PA for meeting with “the most violent and extreme enemies of peace” (BBC).
     Kaveh L. Afrasiabi argues that President Ahmadinejad is trying to “tread the path of moderation” in the region’s politics, adding that in recent speeches, Ahmadinejad has called for “constructive engagement” with other states. Afrasiabi also cites Ahmadinejad’s appointment of Ali Akbar Salehi as head of Iran’s nuclear agency [previously covered here] and promotion of Efsandiar Rahim Mashaie, who previously created controversy for saying Iran was a “friend of the Israeli people”, as first vice president despite strong opposition from conservative leaders (Asia Times Online). However, other analysts doubt that Tehran will withdraw its backing of Hamas or otherwise support the Israeli-Palestine peace process, calling Tehran’s position on the Palestinian issue “immovable” (Trend News).
Daily Star | Canadian Press | Asharq Alawsat | BBC | Asia Times Online | Trend News

“Domestic turmoil could weaken Tehran’s hold on Hezbollah, Hamas”

“Domestic turmoil could weaken Tehran’s hold on Hezbollah, Hamas”
July 20 & 21, 2009
     Ben Holland and Massoud A. Derhally write that domestic turmoil and economic troubles could distract Iran’s leaders from coordinating support for Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Some analysts believe this could further isolate Tehran by encouraging Syria, which helps Tehran arm Hezbollah, to move closer to the US. Saudi Arabia and Egypt could gain influence over Hamas and pressure the group toward forming a unity Palestinian government with Fatah (Bloomberg). Juan Cole counters that Tehran is likely to continue supporting Hamas and Hezbollah in order to secure much-needed prestige, adding that the two groups could “thrive” without foreign support or obtain funds from Iran’s rivals in the region (Informed Comment).
     In a report featuring an interview with Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s second-in-command, Nicholas Blanford suggests that Hezbollah’s future could depend on the continued rein of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Blanford details the reliance of Hezbollah, which was established in 1982 with Iranian help, on Khamenei for spiritual and political leadership as well as for an estimated “hundreds of millions of dollars” in funds annually for its social welfare and military activities. Blanford adds that Hezbollah may choose not to retaliate on behalf of Tehran in the event of a full-scale attack on Iran (Christian Science Monitor).
Bloomberg | Informed Comment | Christian Science Monitor