TEL AVIV, Israel — The annual Arab League summits have long inspired cynics to quip that the meetings should not be expected to produce much more than yet another declaration announcing that “the Arabs have agreed not to agree.” Among commentators, this year’s summit in Damascus has produced considerable agreement: the editor-in-chief of the London-based pan-Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat dismissed the meeting as early as February with the harsh verdict that all “the Arab summits, without exception, are unsuccessful, but it seems that the Damascus summit will be the biggest failure of them all.” In the days preceding the summit, […]

Switzerland’s Social Democratic foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has a subtle approach to the issues that fall within her area of responsibility. When it is a matter of deciding between Swiss business interests and the upholding of human rights, her answer is: “we can do both!” The latest example is the gas deal between the Laufenberg Electricity Company (EGL) and Iran that was signed last week in Tehran in the foreign minister’s presence. Calmy-Rey let it be known that she used the visit to Tehran to explain matters of particular concern to her: among them the “pursuit of the human rights […]

Iran Elections

Most Iran-watchers agree that the recent parliamentary elections represent a mild setback for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Pragmatists led by Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ali Larijani roughly split the conservative vote, and even reform candidates, who were suppressed from the ballots in large numbers, managed to pick up some seats. The resulting tension has immediately made itself felt in the standoff that has galvanized world attention and divided the Iranian leadership: the decision of whether or not to pursue Tehran’s controversial policy of implementing Daylight Savings Time: Iran will again use daylight saving time this year despite earlier opposition from President Mahmoud […]

Reading Khamenei

While Iran’s political system is notoriously opaque, we often hear that its final arbiter is the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. And as often as not, that’s where things rest. That’s what makes Karim Sadjadpour’s Carnegie Foundation report, Reading Khamenei, a must read. Sadjadpour gives a rundown of Khamenei’s origins, his structural hold on power, and through a reading of thirty years’ worth of speeches, re-constructs his worldview. I highly recommend the full report for anyone interested in the challenges of a forward-looking Iran policy, but here’s a quick “cut & paste” job of some highlights that seemed noteworthy: As Supreme […]

Iran Nuclear Standoff: The Pickering Plan

A few weeks ago I linked to a NYRB article by William Pickering, Jim Walsh and William Luers proposing a multi-national enrichment consortium, operated in Iran, as a solution to the nuclear standoff. Today, the Council on Foreign Relations has an interview with William Luers that’s worth a read. According to Luers, the Iranians have plenty of mistrust of their own, especially as regards suspension of their uranium enrichment program, which they tried before for 18 months while negotiating with the EU, with disappointing (for Iran) results. Luers claims the Iranians are waiting for the U.S. to make the first […]

Iran’s Nuclear Program

Arms Control Wonk’s James Acton gives us a glimpse of a Jane’s International Defense Review article that’s otherwise locked behind a paywall: Documents shown exclusively to Jane’s indicate that Iran is continuingits pursuit of the advanced technologies necessary to develop a nuclearweapon, regardless of Tehran’s claims that its nuclear programme ispurely peaceful. Jane’s was shown the information by a source connectedto a Western intelligence service, and the documents were verified by anumber of reliable independent sources in Vienna. As Acton points out, it’s necessary to attach some caveats, such asthe need for skepticism when dealing with anonymous reports, as well […]

Iran’s Parliamentary Elections

In other election news, Iranians voted for parliament yesterday, although how many actually voted seems to be the first spin battle over the election’s significance. Here’s how the AP saw it: Only a handful of voters showed up at many polling stations in Tehran on Friday in Iran’s parliament elections, a sign of frustration with a vote that hard-liners allied with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are expected to dominate. . . Iran’s reformist movement, which seeks democratic changes at home and better ties with the West, was largely sidelined in the race after most of its candidates were barred from running […]

What’s Fallon’s Play?

As Hampton’s previous post demonstrates, a consensus has now emerged that Admiral William Fallon was forced to resign his Centcom command more because of the very public nature of his insubordination than the actual content of it. In other words, the hanging offense wasn’t that the Bush administration wants war with Iran and that Fallon is doing everything in his power to prevent it. It was that Fallon has consistently chosen to publicly frame the situation in those terms. To me that still leaves three unanswered questions. First, is Fallon’s framing true? So far, most of the online murmurings suggest […]

Fallon’s Gone

Wow. That was quick. The question now is, What just happened? More specifically, what game was ‘Fox’ Fallon playing? He ostensibly quit because of the implication of a disconnect between him and the White House on Iran, which created an untenable situation. At the same time, given Fallon’s past comments and known position on Iran (Bob Gates called the ‘resignation’ “. . .a cumulative kind of thing”), there’s a lot of reason to believe that this was inevitable and that the Esquire article just forced the White House’s hand. Fallon immediately distanced himself from the article, but the article’s author, […]

The IAEA Iran Report vs. the NIE

There’s been some speculation that the third round of Iran sanctions just approved by the Security Council demonstrates that the NIE did no harm and might even have helped efforts to apply diplomatic and economic pressure on Tehran. But when I asked a well-informed European official what impact the NIE had on this round of sanctions, he replied, “Hurt it tremendously.” As for whether the sanctions, which do have some bite, are stiffer than expected, he replied that it depends what you expected. Last week’s IAEA report, on the other hand, was “. . .extremely useful, because it came from […]

Russia & Iran

This didn’t get much notice, but it strikes me as significant that the Iran sanctions resolution was passed as the first order of business under Russia’s presidency of the UN Security council, given recent signals of a hardening of Russia’s posture towards Iran. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see how Moscow plans to address the Kosovo dossier, which was included among priority items by Russia’s UN envoy.

IAEA: Revenge of the Nerds

There’s been a lot of reaction to yesterday’s WaPo article about a technical presention to diplomatic representatives of IAEA member states that followed up on the IAEA’s Iran report. Some have interpreted the presentation, which revealed documentary evidence of Iranian weaponization efforts up to and slightly after 2003, as a vindication of IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei, who had previously been accused of carrying Tehran’s water. So I thought I’d point out that last week, a well-informed source I spoke to following the delivery of the report flagged the presentation — which significantly was given by Olli Heinonen, the IAEA’s head […]