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Archive for the ‘Nuclear Disarmament’ Category

Hats off to Joe Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, for his brilliant take down of David Samuels’ recent New York Times Magazine article and attack against the Iran nuclear deal.  Cirincione counters Samuels’ distortions about the negotiated agreement and shows the importance of defending it against those who would tear it up.

Samuels’ article is mostly about Ben Rhodes, the influential speech writer and communications guru in the National Security Council who has helped to shape President Obama’s thinking on foreign policy over the past seven years. Rhodes also played an important role in winning support for the Iran deal. When the official implementation process began earlier this year many of us hailed the agreement as a triumph of diplomacy over war.

Not Samuels. He portrays it as a White House propaganda coup engineered by Rhodes and a step toward U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. As Cirincione writes, the Samuels critique is “utter nonsense.”

So far the agreement has produced positive benefits. Iran has removed two-thirds of its uranium enrichment capacity, shipped almost all of its enriched uranium fuel out of the country, completely dismantled its plutonium production reactor, and accepted “an airtight inspection regime tougher than any ever negotiated.” In return the U.S. and the European Union have lifted nuclear-related sanctions. As long as the deal remains in force and implementation continues, Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon.

The expectation of this outcome is why hundreds of retired generals and admirals, former diplomats, nonproliferation experts, scientists and religious leaders endorsed the Iran deal. Several Israeli former military and intelligence leaders and former U.S. ambassadors to Israel also supported the agreement.

The Ploughshares Fund, the Iran Project, the National Iranian American Council, the Arms Control Association, the Win Without War coalition and many other progressive foreign policy groups in the U.S. mounted substantial educational and advocacy efforts in support of the agreement.

The debate generated by the Samuels article reminds us that in the policy world we must not only fight to achieve victories but also work to defend those victories against counterattack. Right wing political forces in Israel and the U.S. have not abandoned their opposition to the Iran deal. They are continuing to mobilize against it. The opponents of diplomacy want to turn back the clock toward a policy of greater confrontation with Iran.

Diplomacy worked in limiting Iran’s nuclear program. That important accomplishment needs to be understood and defended, so that diplomacy can be applied again in other settings as a viable alternative to war.

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It was a landmark event last week when the International Atomic Energy Agency officially certified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. The news received some press coverage, but it deserved much more.

Tehran has now exported 97% of its enriched uranium, disassembled 13,000 centrifuges (two thirds of its total), and poured concrete into the core of its former plutonium reactor. In return the US has lifted nuclear proliferation-related sanctions and returned frozen assets. Germany and other European states have done likewise and are already moving to renew investments.

Iran has dismantled its infrastructure in record time, at a faster pace than other cases of denuclearization. The experience with Iran stands in sharp contrast with the prolonged and confrontational disarmament process in Iraq after 1991. The disarmament approach with Iran has been much quicker, smoother and also more effective because it includes unprecedented inspection access.

Some of the most rigorous monitoring protocols ever established are now coming into place in Iran, all with the full consent and cooperation of Iranian authorities. It’s the most comprehensive nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated.

Now that’s something to celebrate. Let’s make “Implementation Day” an annual holiday as a tribute to effective diplomacy and peaceful nuclear nonproliferation.

Plan now for your local party on the date next January!

In the meantime, let’s keep vigilant and do what we can to ensure that the compliance process continues to run along smoothly.

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I am an enthusiastic supporter of the nuclear deal with Iran. The morning the agreement was announced I wrote an op-ed endorsing the agreement that was published by Fox News, which you can access here.

The nuclear deal has many obvious benefits. It blocks Iran’s ability to manufacture weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. It establishes the most rigorous nuclear inspections regime ever negotiated. It calls for lifting sanctions against Iran as it accepts enhanced monitoring and begins to implement nuclear reductions.

The success of the Iran negotiations confirms the value of sanctions as a tool of diplomacy. In our book The Sanctions Decade, George Lopez and I offered a bargaining theory of sanctions. Sanctions are means of applying pressure, but their effectiveness depends on offering to lift sanctions as an incentive for reaching a negotiated settlement.

Sanctions are best understood as tools of persuasion not as instruments of punishment. They are useful for persuading an adversary to come to the bargaining table, but they must be accompanied by meaningful incentives for cooperation.

In the case of the Iran deal it is obvious that sanctions played a decisive role in driving Iran to the bargaining table. President Hassan Rouhani of Iran stated quite bluntly last week that he was elected two years ago to remove the sanctions. Without the nuclear deal, he said, Iran would face an economic “Stone Age.”

Especially important in the Iran sanctions regime has been the unanimous support for targeted measures by the UN Security Council, including Russia and China. Also significant has been the strong financial and commercial restrictions imposed by the European Union.

The combined pressure of UN, European and U.S. sanctions applied effective persuasive pressure. The U.S.-led negotiating team offered to lift that pressure in exchange for Iran’s commitments to restrict its nuclear program. It’s a classic formula for how sanctions are supposed to work.

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A recent Washington Post article reports that South Africa has a significant stockpile of highly enriched uranium and has rebuffed US entreaties to relinquish the bomb-grade material. According to the article:

  • South Africa has 485 pounds of highly enriched uranium, enough to build half a dozen large nuclear weapons. This is the fissile material that was melted down from Pretoria’s nuclear weapons program when the country abandoned the bomb in 1990.
  • The Obama administration has tried to persuade South Africa officials to give up the highly enriched uranium, in exchange for a steady supply of lower-grade uranium for reactor fuel, but Pretoria has refused.

In rejecting U.S. proposals, South Africa cites U.S. hypocrisy. Washington tries to remove nuclear capability in other states while clinging to nuclear weapons itself. Like many other countries in the developing world, Pretoria has long insisted that the U.S. and the other nuclear weapons states must fulfill their obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to negotiate for disarmament. The NPT is a bargain: states without nuclear weapons are required to forego nuclear weapons, while those with the bomb agree to move toward disarmament.

South Africa has special status in this debate as the only state to develop nuclear weapons and then give them up. Pretoria will have an important voice at the international nonproliferation treaty review conference that convenes next month in New York at the UN. They will join many states in urging the nuclear states to fulfill their part of the bargain and get back to the process of progressive denuclearization.

President Obama has said the United States supports the goal of achieving a world without nuclear weapons, but some in his administration seem not to have gotten the memo. The Washington Post article has a stunningly cynical yet honest quote from the former White House Coordinator for Arms Control Gary Samore, replying to South Africa’s nuclear negotiator:

“Nuclear disarmament is not going to happen…It’s a fantasy. We need our weapons for our safety, and we’re not going to give them up.”

This from the person responsible for managing the President’s supposed commitment to disarmament. Hypocrisy indeed.

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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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