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Archive for the ‘Sanctions and Security’ Category

The violent extremists of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have seized major cities and swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq and are seeking to create a caliphate over the entire Muslim world. The group poses a threat not only to the region but to global security. The battle-hardened forces of ISIL include hundreds of fighters from Europe and Chechnya and even some from the United States. Some of these fighters will likely take their warped ideology and violent skills with them when they return home.

Why then, in the face of this clear and present danger to global security, has the United States not joined with other countries in bringing this matter to the UN Security Council? Isn’t that why the UN was created, to mobilize cooperative action in response to international security threats? The failure to work through the UN diminishes the prospects for building an effective international coalition against ISIL. It reduces the repertroire of potential responses to the crisis and contributes to the atrophy of the UN and of multilateralism in general.

Thirteen years ago, in response to the 9/11 attacks, the response was very different. The Security Council met immediately and adopted a wide range of measures to harness international action against al-Qaeda. Most significant was Security Council Resolution 1373, which required every country to freeze the financial assets of al-Qaeda terrorists and their supporters, deny them travel or safe haven, prevent terrorist recruitment and weapons supply, and cooperate with other countries in information sharing and criminal prosecution. In its response to 9/11, the Council also expanded existing sanctions on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, created new bodies to monitor and assist compliance with counterterrorism measures, and established a wide range of counterterrorism programs that have helped, along with U.S. military pressures, to diminish the global threat from al-Qaeda.

Contrast that robust response to the meager efforts of today. The Security Council Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee recently added names of ISIL leaders to its existing sanctions list, but it has not taken effective action to ensure compliance with those measures. Although ISIL is mercilessly pursuing its aim of creating a terrorist quasi-state in Iraq and Syria, the Council has not met to address the growing threat. It has not adopted new measures to suppress ISIL and cut off its supply of money and recruits. It has not discussed needed diplomatic efforts to encourage more inclusive political governance in Iraq and Syria.

It’s time to mount a vigorous global response commensurate with the magnitude of the threat. Here are some of the diplomatic and political steps the United States and other states might consider through the UN:

  • Impose an arms embargo along with rigorous financial and travel sanctions against the leaders of ISIL and their supporters and prohibit any form of assistance for the organization and its operations. Create a special sanctions committee and panel of experts to facilitate and monitor compliance and to recommend further measures to isolate and suppress the organization.
  • Join with neighboring states in convening an international conference for Iraq, to assess the current security and political challenges facing the country and the region and to develop appropriate diplomatic, political, and if necessary security responses. Work with the government of Iraq to implement the recommended responses.
  • Re-convene the Geneva diplomatic process on Syria, with the full participation of Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other neighboring states, to renew the search for a negotiated solution to the Syrian civil war and enhanced security for neighboring states.

The proposed actions are no panacea for peace. UN engagement will not magically resolve the deep crises afflicting Iraq, Syria and the region. More concerted multilateral action can help, however, and at a minimum can heighten global involvement and help to broaden the global alliance against ISIL.

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The response to the Iranian nuclear deal in the United States has been surreal. The media is talking about the risks of the deal, but as I point out in my blog today for Sojourners, the terms of the agreement favor the U.S.

Under the terms of the deal Iran agrees to:

  • freeze its stockpile of low enriched uranium and halt the installation and operation of additional centrifuges;
  • halt enrichment to higher levels and render its existing supplies of higher enriched uranium unsuitable for further enrichment; and
  • halt the development of its heavy water reactor at Arak.

Verification and monitoring of the Iran nuclear program will increase significantly. The sanctions relief offered to Iran is temporary and can be reversed if Tehran reneges on any part of the deal.

The agreement limits Iran’s nuclear program and increases its transparency. From a U.S. perspective, what’s not to like?

Let’s contact our Senators and demand that they give diplomacy a chance. Urge them to oppose any further sanctions as long as Iran complies with the agreement.

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As we witness the unseemly blame game between the U.S. and Iran over who was responsible for the failure to reach a nuclear agreement last week in Geneva, several points are worth considering.

  • The powerful international anti-Iran coalition (Israel and the Gulf states) can exert significant influence and seems determined to wreck any possibility of rapprochement between Iran and the West.
  • The inside story of what happened in Geneva last weekend is not known yet, but it seems that the government of France was chiefly responsible for scuttling the deal. France’s motivations are unclear, but the prospect of lucrative arms deals with the Gulf states could be a factor.
  • The bash-Iran caucus in the U.S. Congress has been given a boost and seems determined to rush ahead with additional sanctions legislation that could further endanger the prospects for a negotiated solution.
  • The negative statements and accusations between U.S. and Iranian officials this past week do not augur well for building the atmosphere of respect and trust that is necessary to reach political agreement.

The latter point is especially important. Arms control agreements depend upon political trust and the willingness of states to cooperate for mutual advantage. Objectively the United States and Iran have plenty of self-interested reasons for working together to advance security in the region, as Thomas Friedman wrote the other day in the New York Times. Whether they can overcome the legacy of mistrust and the organized resistance of the anti-Iran coalition remains to be seen.

Meanwhile the question needs to be asked, what is the alternative? Military strikes that would be disastrous and make matters much worse? Continued sanctions that weaken the Rouhani government domestically and impose further hardship on the Iranian people?

Diplomacy is the only option and it must be continued until a nuclear deal is reached.

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This is a crucial week for U.S. policy toward Iran and for the prospects of reaching agreement to control Tehran’s nuclear program. The new government in Iran is reportedly offering to limit uranium enrichment and nuclear production and to permit more intrusive international inspections of its nuclear program. Let’s hope U.S. officials are wise enough to take advantage of this flexibility and will respond appropriately.

As many of us have been arguing, this is not the time to impose additional punitive sanctions on Iran. Rather, the United States should offer sanctions relief as an inducement to encourage Iranian concessions. That message is starting to take hold in Washington.

Last Friday Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to defer action on new sanctions against Iran. In yesterday’s New York Times chief U.S. negotiator Ambassador Wendy Sherman is quoted as saying that some sanctions could be eased as part of the negotiations with Iran. She specifically mentioned the option of “limited, temporary, reversible sanctions relief.”

Last week I said the same thing in an online article for the Christian Science Monitor. If I am being plagiarized, I’m glad for it. Take the ideas, Ambassador, and run with them. Hopefully they can help the U.S. and Iran settle the nuclear standoff.

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Good enough

President Obama deserves credit for calling Iranian President Rouhani and beginning to break the ice that has existed between leaders of the two countries for more than 30 years. Both sides seem ready now for direct talks to negotiate a solution to the nuclear standoff.

But a difficult road lies ahead, with many bumps, and obstacles being created by unreasonable demands. Prime Minister Netanyahu is again raising alarms about Iran’s nuclear program, never mentioning Israel’s nuclear weapons. Iran bashers in Congress are preparing new legislation to impose even more sanctions, going in exactly the opposite direction of what is needed now to get Iranian agreement—an offer of sanctions relief, in exchange for limits on uranium enrichment and more robust monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Some former officials are asserting that greater transparency is not enough. Gary Samore, former White House nuclear adviser, asserts that the price of easing sanctions for Iran must be dismantling major nuclear facilities, including the almost-completed multi-billion dollar heavy-water reactor at Arak and the underground enrichment site at Fordo. These are demands that go beyond the terms of UN Security Council resolutions, which call for greater cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and a suspension of enrichment and construction at heavy-water sites, but which make no mention of dismantling nuclear facilities, which in any case are currently under international inspection. Presumably after a negotiated agreement they would be under even tighter monitoring.

The claim that Iran could rush to build a bomb without international detection has no basis in empirical fact. Of course absolute certainty is impossible. Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown unknowns’ can’t be disproved, but neither can they be asserted as realistic threats.

In an ideal world, yes, we might all wish to see Iran without significant nuclear potential, but that is neither feasible not necessary in the near term. The immediate objective is to negotiate an agreement in which Iran accepts limits on its enrichment program and allows sufficiently robust and intrusive monitoring to provide firm assurances that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful in nature.

Such a settlement would be good enough and would allay fears about an Iranian bomb. It might also help to lay the foundation for other steps toward cooperation with Tehran, for example working together (and with Russia) to end the civil war in Syria and making sure that Taliban rebels do not take over in Afghanistan as the U.S. leaves.

All of this may seem a dream at the moment, given the hostility toward Iran of many current and former officials in Washington, but the envisioned process, if it could be realized, would be better for the security of both countries, and for Israel.

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It’s a ‘head spinning’ moment in Washington, according to a senior American diplomat quoted in today’s New York Times. Diplomacy is on the rise. A negotiated agreement has replaced military threats in Syria, at least for the moment, and the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran looms on the horizon.

President Obama will be speaking at the UN on Tuesday, and so will Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The signals from Iran have been encouraging of late, with Rouhani promising ‘constructive engagement’ and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei urging ‘heroic leniency’ in talks with the West.

Achieving progress with Iran will be difficult given the deep differences between Washington and Tehran. Each side will need to make a conciliatory gesture to break the ice. Iran desperately wants sanctions relief and would probably offer significant concessions in return for an easing of economic pressure.

President Obama is reportedly reluctant to offer sanctions relief until Iran agrees to negotiated limits on its nuclear program. Maintaining the leverage of sanctions makes sense, but this does not preclude the option of offering partial sanctions relief now to get the bargaining process underway.

A decision to suspend non-military sanctions could open the door to significant Iranian concessions. As George Lopez and I argue, some non-military sanctions could be suspended for an initial period of six months, which could be renewed if Iran responds positively with concrete limitations on its nuclear program.

The decision to suspend some sanctions could be combined with an indication that other sanctions will be lifted on a step-by-step basis if the Iranian side reciprocates in establishing greater transparency and binding limits on its nuclear program. The advantage of sanctions suspension is that it allows for quickly re-activating sanctions if Iran does not respond in kind or attempts to exploit the gesture. It is a way of offering what the Iranians want most and provides a concrete test of their declared sincerity in building more constructive relations with the international community.

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Yes, there must be consequences for those who ordered the chemical weapons massacre in Syria, but this is not an argument for military strikes. Robust options are available for mobilizing international pressure against the Assad regime and seeking an end to the killing. The United States should:

Provide the evidence

  • Give a detailed report to the UN Security Council and the world media of the evidence it claims to possess identifying the Syrian political and military leaders responsible for the chemical attacks; clarify the inconsistencies in the information that has been presented to date,
  • Support continued and more thorough investigation by UN inspectors to develop further evidence of precisely what happened and who was responsible for the massacre.

Apply international pressure

  • Seek approval of resolutions at the UN Security Council, the Arab League and other international bodies condemning the chemical massacre as a war crime and a crime against humanity,
  • Urge the UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions against those who are found to be responsible for the massacre,
  • Urge the Security Council to refer the Syrian chemical attacks to the International Criminal Court with an expedited mandate for gaining further criminal evidence and issuing indictments against those responsible,
  • Apply additional U.S. sanctions against the Assad regime, cancelling all business dealings and barring from U.S. markets any governments or firms that enable or finance Syrian government atrocities,
  • Work with European governments and other countries to urge the imposition of similar sanctions.

Pursue diplomatic options

  • Engage with Russia and Iran to seek their support in a coordinated strategy to take international legal action against those responsible for the chemical massacre and to encourage a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war,
  • Renew and intensify pressure on the Syrian government and rebel forces to participate in the proposed Geneva II peace negotiations, toward the goal of reaching a ceasefire and agreement for dividing power in Syria,
  • Increase humanitarian aid to provide support for the growing number of refugees from Syria.

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