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EurasiaNet just picked up the story I flagged yesterday about a Russian shipment bound for Iran’s Bushehr reactor being held up by Azerbaijan customs. Apparently I’m not alone in believing that the incident has more to do with behind the scenes intrigue than with the lack of proper shipping documents. And while the possibility of American involvement in the seizure is advanced, the article points out that the Russians, too, might have an interest in keeping one foot on the brake while the other hits the gas when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program. Iran, after keeping a low profile […]

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There’s been a glaring absence of coverage in the American press of the ways in which Turkey has been increasingly pursuing an independent line in its regional foreign policy. What’s more, Ankara is basically ignoring pressure from Washington on a number of high-priority items despite belated American intelligence-sharing in the campaign to eradicate PKK bases in Northern Iraq. Three recent examples have gone all but unnoticed. The first was Turkey’s refusal to deploy more troops to Afghanistan at the recent NATO summit in Bucharest. The second was its recent involvement in advancing Israeli-Syrian dialogue in the face of American efforts […]

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Frankly, I’m a bit surprised to see this LA Times blog post (which suggests that the Syria intel briefing photos were doctored) gaining traction. The first example is a still from the presentation video’s opening shot, which begins as a satellite image but dials in until it becomes a computer-generated model based on the photographic evidence. How do you know it’s a computer-generated model? Because the same image is clearly described as such not long afterward, at the 1:58 mark of the video. So, yeah, it’s a doctored photo, but no one was suggesting otherwise. As for the second example, […]

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For whatever it’s worth, Iranian press coverage today is dominated by the mysterious “comprehensive package of proposals” for resolving the uranium enrichment standoff that was delivered to a visitng Russian security delegation (according to ISNA, Swiss FM Micheline Calmy-Rey gives it two thumbs up), and a 60 Minutes interview in which Israeli Air Force commander Eliezer Shteki discussed Israel’s military contingency plans for bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities.

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Something fishy is going on at the Iran-Azerbaijan border. Last week I noticed a mention in the Russian press that a Russian shipment bound for the Bushehr reactor in Iran was held up three weeks ago by Azerbaijan customs officers because it supposedly lacked the proper paperwork. Now Iran is demanding the cargo be released, but Azerbaijan is still dragging its heels over concerns that the material, described as “heat-isolating equipment,” might be in violation of the U.N. sanctions against Iran. A spokeswoman for the Russian state-run export company claimed the delay would not effect the reactor’s launch date. But […]

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Low-level discussions that could eventually lead to formal peace negotiations between Israel and Syria are being mediated by. . . Turkey. And a closed-door conference of Iraqi sectarian factions, mentored by advisors from Northern Ireland and South Africa, and designed to promote conflict resolution is being hosted by. . . Finland. Seriously, I think America’s still got a solid run of relative dominance ahead. And the Oslo Accords are an obvious example of how tough negotiations sometimes benefit from being shielded from the glare of the American-sponsored spotlight. But whereas the Oslo talks took place while America was arguably at […]

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On Friday I mentioned that the Bush-Petraeus approach was about to go regional, and when you step back and take a look at the past few weeks, there are a lot of indications that we’re already seeing that shift into high gear. In addition to Petraeus’ promotion to CENTCOM commander, we’ve also seen a significant ratcheting up of the rhetoric towards Iran, beginning with the Petraeus-Crocker hearings, continuing on to Robert Gates’ statements of concern, and culminating with JCS Adm. Mullen’s pointed warnings about contingency planning and available military strike capacity. In some ways, the Syria-N. Korea briefing can also […]

When talking about peace in the Middle East, the first parties that come to mind are Israelis and Palestinians. Lately, however, Syria has broken into the headlines, with conflicting news about peace and war. The talk, which alternates between ominous and promising, reflects the script of a very public performance with a very specific intended audience and a very clear desired outcome. In this case, the talk of peace and warnings of war is aimed at neither peace nor war. Its purpose is to solidify the status quo, at least for now. A couple of weeks ago, many believed war […]

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Another interesting sidenote from the Syria intel briefing was this mention of last December’s NIE on Iran’s nuclear program: When we published our NIE, we had not planned to make unclassified key judgments available to the public; therefore we wrote our estimate for a very sophisticated audience believing or understanding that they understood that in the program, it’s basically three large pieces: There is pursuit of fissile material; there is a delivery system – ballistic missiles or some other; and then there is weapons design. The only thing that the Iranians halted that we had awareness of was design of […]

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Arms Control Wonk just posted the full transcript from the Syria-N. Korea intel briefing to “senior U.S. officials.” This is the key passage explaining what the intelligence community concluded about the site from the available evidence: We told our President four things: This is a reactor; the North Koreans and the Syrians are cooperating on nuclear activities; the North Koreans and Syrians are cooperating on the construction of this reactor; and this reactor – its purpose – is to create fuel for a nuclear weapons program. Here’s the breakdown of evidence supporting each conclusion: . . .[T]he fact that it […]

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It looks like I’m the only one who’s underwhelmed by the Petraeus appointment to CENTCOM commander, but what the heck. In for a penny, in for pound. So here’s another thorny question that I’ve yet to see directly addressed. (Hampton, make sure you’ve had your morning cup of Joe before reading any further.) I mentioned that by using his direct lines of communication with the Oval Office to leapfrog Adm. Fallon, Petraeus had already been serving as de facto CENTCOM commander. But in thinking about it, the leapfrog actually went much further than that, because President Bush made it clear […]

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Arms Control Wonk’s got the video presentation made to the House and Senate intel committees on Syria’s Al Kabir facility. To a layman, it makes a pretty convincing, if entirely circumstantial, case for the claim that the facility was a nuclear reactor, although questions remain, which means I’ll be checking back in with the gang at ACW for further updates. Here’s what Jeffrey Lewis had to say yesterday: Assuming the provenance, interpretation and timing are all square, I would think the presumption now shifts to “it was a reactor” — which is not to say that hitting it was a […]

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There’s obviously going to be a lot of snarky commentary about the Army’s decision to sell its most sophisticated counter-IED technology to the Iraqi government. The immediate objection is that the sale to Iraq is tantamount to a technology transfer to Iran, given the latter’s infiltration of the Iraqi government with sympathizers and loyalists. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time that weapons destined for Iraqi use wound up in the hands of insurgents or worse. But regardless of whether or not it’s handed over or captured, battlefield technology is always at risk of falling into enemy hands. And […]

A German interior ministry proposal to grant Iraqi Christians asylum in Germany as a persecuted minority drew criticism last week from the chair of the Bundestag’s Human Rights Committee, who insisted that the program should be open to other Iraqis as well. “We should also accept Christians, because they are under particular pressure,” Herta Däubler-Gmelin said in remarks reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “but not only Christians.” “An appropriately large number of Iraqis should be taken in,” she added, “commensurate to Germany’s capacity and economic power.” Herta Däubler-Gmelin? If the name sounds familiar, that is because this is the […]

The U.S. military’s decision last week to release Bilal Hussein, an Associated Press photographer who has been held by U.S. military forces since April 2006 on accusations of links to terrorism, was not just a blow to the U.S. military’s case against one prisoner. The announcement by the U.S. military, which followed the rulings of an Iraqi judicial panel granting Hussein amnesty, also raised a question war proponents may not want to answer. Namely, if the sovereign institutions and political processes that the U.S. troop surge was supposed to help foster actually take hold, will the United States respect them? […]

Energy independence has emerged as a popular rallying cry in this U.S. election year. Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls all at some stage have advocated energy independence, which they define as freeing the American oil consumer from the tyranny of importing petroleum from foreign countries, especially the Middle East. While convenient to advocate in an age of sound bite politics, energy independence is in fact not possible to secure in the United States in the foreseeable future, and is of doubtful utility in any country that might be in a position to achieve it. A combination of rising oil prices […]

It doesn’t take an economist to notice the rumblings of historic change pushing close to the surface. Demand for oil is growing faster than supplies, so oil prices are moving to dizzying new highs every few days, threatening to transform the world. If this trend continues, much will have to change, not just in America, but everywhere. Americans use far more oil than anyone else, but China and India and the rest of the planet need fuel to pull their populations out of poverty. Every day that demand increases without a corresponding increase in supply. Economic pressure builds, making the […]

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