Archive for December, 2009

“Nuclear file central to struggle for power, legitimacy among Iran’s leaders”

“Nuclear file central to struggle for power, legitimacy among Iran’s leaders”
December 14-17, 2009
     Iran continues to announce counterproposals for a nuclear fuel swap amid growing domestic tensions between regime loyalists and opposition supporters. Shahram Chubin outlines the importance of the nuclear issue and foreign policy in defining and legitimizing the revolutionary government but argues that Western analysts have overlooked the influence of “moderate Iranian nationalists” hoping to normalize ties with the West. Chubin writes that the June elections, in which opposition candidates called for a more flexible posture on the nuclear issue, raised criticism of the hard-line approach. The regime, Chubin argues, now hopes that international talks will divert attention from its repression of domestic opposition without requiring any substantive concessions on the nuclear issue, thereby legitimizing its hard-line policies (Washington Quarterly).
     Ray Takeyh writes that while President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had hoped that diplomatic success on the nuclear file would raise his domestic standing, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei withdrew his consent after officials opposed the October uranium export deal. According to Takeyh, Khamenei’s decision was spurred not by “peripheral figures” such as Ali Larijani and Hashemi Rafsanjani (two influential conservative opponents of Ahmadinejad) but by a new national security committee including senior military and intelligence officials. Takeyh believes the rise of militant forces into senior positions will make a diplomatic solution less likely (Boston Globe).
Washington Quarterly | Boston Globe

Related posts
“Nuclear debate in Iran could mean progress despite West’s growing impatience”
“Reformists, conservatives pressure Ahmadinejad against nuclear deal”
“Iran counterproposal may validate Western skepticism of negotiations”

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“Expectations low for GCC role in resolving Iran nuclear issue”

“Expectations low for GCC role in resolving Iran nuclear issue”
December 15-17, 2009
     While the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) concluded their 30th summit by urging Iran and related parties to reach a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue (Xinhua, Emirates News Agency), Nicole Stracke argues that the GCC lacks the unity and political leverage needed to affect Iran’s foreign policy, pointing out that previous Arab proposals for regional security structures and international uranium enrichment schemes have not been taken seriously by Iran. Stracke dismisses the GCC’s role in international negotiations as an effort by the GCC states to protect their own strategic interests in the event of a US-Iran deal (Khaleej Times).
      GCC efforts in the Iranian nuclear issue have included offering economic incentives to China and Russia to support sanctions against Iran [previously covered here], and some analysts have pointed out that the reluctance of GCC states to allow their territories to be used in a military campaign could complicate US pressure tactics against Iran (IPS).
Xinhua | Emirates News Agency | Khaleej Times | IPS

“Western analysts hesitate to call secret Iran documents ‘smoking gun’”

“Western analysts hesitate to call secret Iran documents ‘smoking gun’”
December 14, 2009
     Catherine Philp reports that confidential Iranian documents detail a 4-year plan to test a triggering mechanism known as a neutron initiator using uranium deuteride (UD3), which is used exclusively for nuclear weapons. The documents have been dated to early 2007 and are described as the “strongest indicator yet” that Iran has pursued a nuclear weapons program after 2003, the year in which Iran halted its nuclear weapons program according to the oft-cited 2007 US NIE. The documents, the timeline of which suggests that this program could be ongoing, have been seen by Western intelligence agencies and the IAEA, and their publication will likely increase pressure for additional sanctions on Iran (The Times).
     ISIS, which provided an assessment for the Times report, describes the difficult and time-consuming process of testing the neutron initiator and cautions that the documents do not necessarily describe a program authorized to build nuclear weapons (ISIS). The Iranian document suggests the use of substitute compounds for UD3 to conduct testing without leaving telltale traces of uranium (The Times (2)). Jeffrey Lewis notes that UD3 is a “relatively novel source of neutrons” that has been explored by China and Pakistan, the latter notably in a program involving AQ Khan (Arms Control Wonk).
The Times | ISIS | The Times (2) | Arms Control Wonk

“Pakistan a potential missing link for sanctions, military action against Iran”

“Pakistan a potential missing link for sanctions, military action against Iran”
December 15, 2009
     As Western leaders continue to warn Iran of potential sanctions, Irfan Husain writes that any new sanctions would place an “intolerable burden” on tense Iran-Pakistan relations. Husain argues that sanctions would require Islamabad, already concerned with threats from Afghanistan and India, to secure its long and porous Iranian border to stop illegal sanctions-busting trade, a move that would trigger domestic opposition from smugglers and supporters of Iran. Adding that Islamabad relies on Iranian support in confronting India, Husain argues that the US should not expect to be able to use Pakistani territory in the event of a military campaign against Iran.
Daily Star

“Iranian navy focuses on asymmetric tactics in Gulf, Hormuz area”

“Iranian navy focuses on asymmetric tactics in Gulf, Hormuz area”
November 23, 2009
     A report by the US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) stresses the importance of Iran’s ability to block the Strait of Hormuz and cut off almost 30% of the world’s oil supply. The report outlines the history, strategies and capabilities of the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, which is mainly equipped with older and larger vessels, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, which is more politically powerful and focuses on smaller vessels to maneuver within the Persian Gulf area. The report concludes that Iran’s naval strategy is based on access denial and asymmetric warfare aimed at deterring attacks and damaging the political will of its stronger enemies (Office of Naval Intelligence).
     A previous analysis by Stratfor argued that Iran’s “real nuclear option” was its capacity to lay mines in the Strait of Hormuz (Stratfor). The ONI report states that Iran, which likely has at least 2,000 mines, first implemented its asymmetric naval doctrine in the Iran-Iraq War, when it limited foreign shipping to a narrow lane in the Persian Gulf and mined sea-lanes away from its own coast.
Office of Naval Intelligence | Stratfor

“Months on, missing Iranian nuclear scientist still a sensitive issue”

“Months on, missing Iranian nuclear scientist still a sensitive issue”
December 8-10, 2009
     Iran is continuing to accuse the US of abducting Shahram Amiri, a nuclear scientist who disappeared earlier this year while on the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. This was the first time Iran confirmed that Amiri was a nuclear scientist (Agence France-Presse). Amiri was included in a list of 11 Iranian nationals that Iran claims are being held in captivity by the US (Mehr News, Agence France-Presse (2)). Riyadh “deplored” the accusations and claimed that an “intensive” search had been conducted, while the US stated they had no information on the scientist’s whereabouts (BBC).
     Iran’s earlier sensitivity to the nature of Amiri’s occupation, along with the revelation of the Qom facility months after his disappearance, raised speculation that Amiri may have provided the West with intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program. Other reports indicated that Amiri had defected to the West.
Agence France-Presse | Mehr News | Agence France-Presse (2) | BBC

*Update: The Telegraph, citing French intelligence sources, reports that Amiri briefed IAEA inspectors before they visited the Qom facility (The Telegraph).

“Simulation results call for pressuring Iran through diplomacy, not sanctions”

“Simulation results call for pressuring Iran through diplomacy, not sanctions”
December 6 & 7, 2009
     A simulation game of developments in the Iranian nuclear issue over the next year resulted in Iran continuing its nuclear program with Chinese and Russian protection from US pressure. In the simulation, which featured former diplomats playing the roles of world leaders, unilateral US sanctions drove China and Russia, whose companies would be subject to such sanctions, to deal with Iran. US-Israel relations also deteriorated with the US hoping to contain, rather than prevent, a nuclear Iran and Israel refusing to provide assurances it would not attack Iran. In addition, Iran “will be divided and immobile [and] Europe will be weak” according to participant Nicholas Burns, further complicating diplomatic efforts over the next year (Washington Post).
     Gary Sick, who led the Iran team, concludes that US efforts to implement sanctions only divided allies and wasted time without seriously threatening Iran’s “core objectives” of developing its nuclear capacity and repressing internal dissent. Sick believes international efforts should focus instead on pressing Iran on nuclear transparency issues and calling Iran’s bluff on its “deceptive” offers toward diplomatic solutions. Sick also suggests taking up Iran’s offers on other regional issues to create working groups and improve the environment for resolving the nuclear issue (Politico).
Washington Post | Politico