Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Secret Document That Set Obama’s Middle East Policy

by Barry Rubin

“We have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.… America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security — because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as president to protect the American people.”  –President Barack Obama, Cairo, June 2009.
“The United States is now experiencing the beginning of its end, and is heading towards its demise….Resistance is the only solution. [Today the United States] is withdrawing from Iraq, defeated and wounded, and it is also on the verge of withdrawing from Afghanistan. [All] its warplanes, missiles and modern military technology were defeated by the will of the peoples, as long as [these peoples] insisted on resistance.”  –Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad al-Badri, Cairo, September 2010.
What did the president know and when did he know it? That’s a question made classical by the Watergate scandal. Now it is possible to trace precisely what Obama knew and when he knew it. And it proves that the installment of power of the Muslim Brotherhood was a conscious and deliberate strategy of the Obama Administration developed before the “Arab Spring” began.
In February 2011 the New York Times ran an extremely complementary article on President Obama  by Mark Landler, who some observers say is the biggest apologist for Obama on the newspaper. That’s quite an achievement.  Landler praised Obama for having tremendous foresight, in effect, predicting the “Arab Spring.” According to Landler,  
“President Obama ordered his advisers last August [2010] to produce a secret report on unrest in the Arab world, which concluded that without sweeping political changes, countries from Bahrain to Yemen were ripe for popular revolt, administration officials said Wednesday.”

Which advisors? The then counter-terrorism advisor and now designated CIA chief, John Brennan? National Security Council senior staffer Samantha Power?  If it was done by Obama’s own staff, rather than State and Defense, it’s likely that these people or at least one of them was the key author.  

So should U.S. policy help allies avoid such sweeping change by standing firm or by helping them make adjustments? No, explained the report, it should get on the side of history and wield a broom to do the sweeping. The article continued:
“Mr. Obama’s order, known as a Presidential Study Directive, identified likely flashpoints, most notably Egypt, and solicited proposals for how the administration could push for political change in countries with autocratic rulers who are also valuable allies of the United States, [emphasis added] these officials said.
“The 18-page classified report, they said, grapples with a problem that has bedeviled the White House’s approach toward Egypt and other countries in recent days: how to balance American strategic interests and the desire to avert broader instability against the democratic demands of the protesters.”
As I noted, the article was quite explicitly complementary (and that’s an understatement) about how Obama knew what was likely to happen and was well prepared for it.
But that’s precisely the problem. It wasn’t trying to deal with change but was pushing for it; it wasn’t asserting U.S. interests but balancing them off against other factors. In the process, U.S. interests were forgotten.
If Landler was right then Obama did have a sense of what was going to happen and prepared. It cannot be said that he was caught unawares.  This view would suggest, then, that he thought American strategic interests could be protected and broader instability avoided by overthrowing U.S. allies as fast as possible and by showing the oppositions that he was on their side. Presumably the paper pointed out the strength of Islamist forces and the Muslim Brotherhood factor and then discounted any dangers from this quarter. One could have imagined how other U.S. governments would have dealt with this situation. Here is my imagined passage from a high-level government document:
In light of the likelihood of sweeping political changes, with countries from Bahrain to Yemen were ripe for popular revolt, U.S. policy should either help friendly governments retain control or encourage them to make reforms that would increase the scope of freedom in a way that would satisfy popular desires without endangering U.S. interests and long-term stability. In the event that the fall of any given regime seemed likely, U.S. policy should work both publicly and behind the scenes to try to ensure the triumph of moderate, pro-democratic forces that would be able to prevent the formation of radical Islamist dictatorships inimical to U.S. interests, regional peace, and the well-being of the local population. [Note: that is my reconstruction and NOT a quote from the document]
Such an approach would have been easy and in line with historic U.S. policy. We have every reason to believe that the State Department and the Defense Department favored such an approach.
But let’s look at precisely how the White House described the U.S. policy it wanted:
“…how the administration could push for political change in countries with autocratic rulers who are also valuable allies of the United States,”

In other words, a popular revolt was going to happen (I’ve seen the cables from the U.S. embassy in Tunisia that accurately predicted an upheaval) but would it succeed or fail? The Obama Administration concluded that the revolt should succeed and set out to help make sure that it did so. As for who won, it favored not just moderate Islamic forces–which hardly existed as such–but moderate Islamist forces, which didn’t exist at all.

Anyone who says that the United States did not have a lot of influence in these crises doesn’t know what they are talking about. Of course, the U.S. government didn’t control the outcome, its leverage was limited. But there’s a big difference between telling the Egyptian army to stay in control, dump Mubarak, and make a mild transition—and we, the United States, will back you—or telling them that Washington wanted the generals to stand aside, let Mubarak be overthrown, and have a thoroughgoing regime change, a fundamental transformation, to coin a phrase.
So the Obama Administration did not stand beside friendly regimes or help to manage a limited transition with more democracy and reforms. No, it actively pushed to bring down at least four governments—Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen.

It did not push for the overthrow of two anti-American regimes—Iran and Syria—but on the contrary was still striving for good relations with those two dictatorships. Equally, it did not push for the fall of radical anti-American governments in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. No, it only pushed for the fall of “valuable allies.” There was no increase in support for dissidents in Iran despite, as we will see in a moment, internal administration predictions of unrest there, too. As for Syria, strong administration support for the dictatorship there continued for months until it was clear that the regime was in serious trouble. It seems reasonable to say that the paper did not predict the Syrian civil war.

Want more evidence about the internal administration document? Here’s another article from the time which explains:
The White House had been debating the likelihood of a domino effect since youth-driven revolts had toppled President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, even though the American intelligence community and Israel’s intelligence services had estimated that the risk to President Mubarak was low — less than 20 percent, some officials said. 

According to senior officials who participated in Mr. Obama’s policy debates, the president took a different view. He made the point early on, a senior official said, that `this was a trend’ that could spread to other authoritarian governments in the region, including in Iran. By the end of the 18-day uprising, by a White House count, there were 38 meetings with the president about Egypt. Mr. Obama said that this was a chance to create an alternative to “the Al Qaeda narrative” of Western interference.”

Notice that while this suggests the debate began after the unrest started, full credit is given to Obama personally, not to U.S. intelligence agencies, for grasping the truth. This is like the appropriation by the White House of all the credit for getting Usama bin Ladin, sort of a cult of personality thing. We know for a fact that the State Department predicted significant problems arising in Tunisia (from the Wikileaks documents) and perhaps that is true for other countries as well. But if Obama wants to take personal credit for the new U.S. policy that means he also has to take personal blame for the damage it does.
Now I assume what I’m about to say isn’t going to be too popular but I’ll also bet that history will prove it correct: The revolution in Egypt was not inevitable and Obama’s position was a self-fulfilling prophecy. And judging from what happened at the time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agrees with me. The idea of an “alternative to `the al-Qaida narrative”‘of Western interference is straight Brennan. What Obama was really saying was: Ha! So al-Qaida claims we interfere to put reactionary pro-Western dictators in power just because they’re siding with us? We’ll show them that we can put popular Islamist dictators in power even though they are against us!
If I’m writing this somewhat facetiously I mean it very seriously. 

And here’s more proof from the Washington Post in March 2011 which seems to report on the implementation of the White House paper’s recommendations:
“The administration is already taking steps to distinguish between various movements in the region that promote Islamic law in government. An internal assessment, ordered by the White House last month, identified large ideological differences between such movements as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and al-Qaeda that will guide the U.S. approach to the region.” That says it all, doesn’t it? The implication is that the U.S. government knew that the Brotherhood would take power and thought this was a good thing.
It continued:
“`If our policy can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, we won’t be able to adapt to this change,’” the senior administration official said. “`We’re also not going to allow ourselves to be driven by fear.”‘
Might that be then counterterrorism advisor and now CIA director John Brennan? I’d bet on it.
What did Obama and his advisors think would happen? Why that out of gratitude for America stopping its (alleged) bullying and imperialistic ways and getting on the (alleged) side of history the new regimes would be friendly. The Muslim Brotherhood in particular would conclude that America was not its enemy. You know, one Brotherhood leader would supposedly say to another, all of these years we thought the United States was against us but now we see that they are really our friends. Remember Obama’s Cairo speech? He really gets us!

More likely he’d be saying: We don’t understand precisely what the Americans are up to but they are obviously weak, cowardly, and in decline! In fact, that’s what they did say. Remember that President Jimmy Carter’s attempts to make friends with the new Islamist regime in Iran in 1979 fed a combination of Iranian suspicion and arrogance which led to the hostage crisis and Tehran daring to take on the United States single-handed. America, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at the time, can’t do a damned thing against us.
Incidentally, everyone except the American public—which means people in the Middle East—knows that Obama cut the funding for real democratic groups. His Cairo speech was important not for the points so often discussed (Israel, for example) but because it heralded the age of political Islamism being dominant in the region. Indeed, Obama practically told those people that they should identify not as Arabs but as Muslims.

In broader terms, what does Obama’s behavior remind me of? President Jimmy Carter pushing Iran’s shah for human rights and other reforms in 1977 and then standing aloof as the revolution unrolled—and went increasingly in the direction of radical Islamists—in 1978.

As noted above, that didn’t work out too well.

Incidentally, the State Department quite visibly did not support Obama’s policy in 2011. It wanted to stand with its traditional clients in the threatened Arab governments, just as presumably there were many in the Defense Department who wanted to help the imperiled militaries with whom they had cooperated for years. And that, by the way, includes the Turkish army which was being visibly dismantled by the Islamist regime in Ankara.

While the State Department backed down on Egypt it drew the line on Bahrain. Yes, there is a very unfair system there in which a small Sunni minority dominates a large Shia majority and yes, too, some of the Shia opposition is moderate but the assessment was that a revolution would probably bring to power an Iranian satellite government.  
But the idea that they’re going to be overthrown any way so let’s give them a push did not apply to Iran or Syria or Hamas-government Gaza or Hizballah-governed Lebanon and not at all to Islamist-governed Turkey.
It makes sense that this basic thinking also applied to Libya, where dictator Muammar al-Qadhafi was hardly a friend of the United States but had been on better behavior lately. As for Syria, the U.S. government indifference to who actually wins leadership of the new regime seems to carry over from the earlier crises.

Credit should be given to the U.S. government in two specific cases. Once the decision to overthrow Qadhafi was made, the result was a relatively favorable regime in Libya. That was a gain. The problem is that this same philosophy and the fragility of the regime helped produce the Benghazi incident. The other relatively positive situation was Iraq’s post-Saddam government, to which most of the credit goes to Obama’s predecessor but some to his administration. Still, Iraq seems to be sliding–in terms of its regional strategic stance, not domestically–closer toward Iran.
At any rate, the evidence both public and behind the scenes seems to indicate that the Obama Administration decided on two principles in early 2011.

First, let’s help overthrow our friends before someone else does so and somehow we will benefit from being on the right side.

Second, it doesn’t really matter too much who takes power because somehow they will be better than their predecessors, somehow we will be more popular with them, and somehow U.S. interests will be preserved.
Landler definitely thought he was making Obama look good. Instead, I think, he was really showing us that the bad thinking and disastrous policy was planned and purposeful.
This article is published on PJMedia.

Barry Rubin


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Germany vs. Radical Islamists

by Soeren Kern

More recently, Salafists have issued death threats against German politicians, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "The groups aim to change our society in an aggressive belligerent way so that democracy would be replaced by a Salafist system, and the rule of law replaced by Sharia law." — Hans-Peter Friedrich, Ministry of the Interior, Germany
Germany has banned three ultra-conservative Salafist Muslim groups which the Interior Ministry says want to overturn democracy and install a system based on Islamic Sharia law.
The ban, which took effect in the western German states of Hessen and North Rhine-Westphalia on March 13, comes amid Islamist death threats against German politicians -- and just days after German intelligence announced that the number of Salafists in Germany has jumped over the past year.

The Interior Ministry said that it had banned the groups "DawaFFM" and "Islamische Audios," as well as "An-Nussrah," which is part of the "Millatu Ibrahim" group that was outlawed in June 2012.

In an effort to enforce the ban, hundreds of German police officers raided the homes of radical Islamists in Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Gladbeck and Solingen, and seized computers, cellphones and electronic storage devices, as well as money, documents and Islamic propaganda videos in Arabic and in German.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said: "Salafism, as represented in the associations that were banned today, is incompatible with our free democratic order. The groups aim to change our society in an aggressive, belligerent way so that democracy would be replaced by a Salafist system, and the rule of law replaced by Sharia law."

Salafism is a branch of radical Islam based in Saudi Arabia that seeks to establish an Islamic empire (Caliphate) across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe -- and eventually the entire world. The Caliphate would be governed exclusively by Islamic Sharia law, which would apply both to Muslims and to non-Muslims.

Also known as Wahhabis, Salafists believe -- among other anti-Western doctrines -- that democracy must be destroyed and replaced with an Islamic form of government.
Hans-Georg Maaßen, the head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), told the German newsmagazine Focus on March 10 that the number of committed Salafists in Germany had grown to 4,500 in 2012, compared with 3,800 in 2011.

Although Salafists make up only a fraction of the estimated 4.3 million Muslims in Germany, authorities are concerned that most of those attracted to Salafi ideology are impressionable young Muslims who are especially susceptible to committing suicide attacks in the name of Islam.

Maaßen said the Salafist threat to Germany is rising and he warned that unless the government "takes decisive action against violent Islamists" the Salafist groups "will continue to grow and the threat of violence will increase." He also questioned whether Salafists should be allowed to continue to "perform propaganda events in marketplaces."

Maaßen was referring to an unprecedented nationwide campaign by Salafists to convert non-Muslims by distributing 25 million copies of the Koran to every household in Germany, free of charge.

The mass proselytization campaign -- called Project "READ!" -- was launched in April 2012 and is being implemented by dozens of Salafist groups located in cities and towns throughout Germany (as well as in Austria and in Switzerland).

The campaign, now in its twelfth month, is well under way. More than 100 Salafist "information booths" have been set up in downtown marketplaces in dozens of German cities, particularly in the regions of North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Hessen and Hamburg. It is estimated that millions of Korans have been distributed so far.

Some security analysts say the campaign is a public-relations gimmick intended to persuade Germans that the Salafists are transparent and "citizen friendly." But German authorities say they view the Koran project as a "most worrisome" recruiting campaign for radical Islam.

The campaign to place a Koran in every German household is being spearheaded by a Rhineland-based Salafist, Ibrahim Abou-Nagie, a Palestinian hate preacher who leads a radical Islamic group called "The True Religion" [Die Wahre Religion].

In September 2011, German public prosecutors launched an investigation into Abou-Nagie after he called for violence against non-believers in videos posted on the Internet. In his sermons, Abou-Nagie glamorizes Islamic martyrdom and says that Islamic Sharia law is above the German Constitution. He also says that music should be prohibited, homosexuals should be executed, and adulterers should be stoned.

Abou-Nagie has tens of thousands of followers across Germany. Among them are two German Muslim converts-turned-terror suspects trained by Abou-Nagie and recently arrested in Dover, England, after British border police searched their luggage and found a document titled "How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom," an article from the English-language online magazine "Inspire" produced by Al-Qaida in Yemen.

Salafi propaganda is having an impact. In March 2011, Arid Uka, a 21-year-old Islamist from Kosovo, shot and killed two American soldiers at the Frankfurt Airport who were heading to Afghanistan by way of Germany. The attack was the first successful assassination by an Islamic extremist on German soil. German prosecutors say Uka was radicalized by Salafist propaganda he saw on the Internet.

More recently, Salafists have issued death threats against German politicians.

In February 2013, the German newspaper Die Welt reported that a German Salafist calling himself Abu Azzam had threatened to attack Berlin this summer and to kill German Chancellor Angela Merkel. According to the newspaper, a three-minute video posted on the Internet shows Azzam saying: "Our troops are already there [in Germany], you will bleed, your heads will roll ... Oh Allah, give the German people what they deserve!"

In what German intelligence said was an "unusually direct threat to Germany and the head of the government," Azzam also said: "Looking back at the Arab spring, we are looking forward to a European summer. We want to see Obama and Merkel dead."

On March 13, 2013, German police announced they had foiled an Islamist assassination plot against Markus Beisicht, the head of the anti-immigration party PRO NRW [North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW)].

Police arrested a total of four Salafists involved in the plot. Two of the suspects were apprehended in Leverkusen near Cologne, where they were apparently observing Beisicht. Two others were arrested in Essen and Bonn, where police discovered a loaded firearm and ingredients to make explosives. Police also found a "death list" with the names of eight individuals marked in red.

The suspects are two Turkish-born Germans in their early twenties, a 43-year-old Albanian and a 25-year-old German.

The German tabloid Bild reported that one of those arrested was involved in a failed bomb attack at the main train station in Bonn on December 10, although police later disputed that claim.

Beisicht and PRO NRW have been involved in violent clashes with Salafists over the past year.

In May 2012, for example, more than 500 Salafists attacked German police with bottles, clubs, stones and other weapons in the city of Bonn, to protest cartoons they said were "offensive."

The clashes erupted when around 30 supporters of PRO NRW, which is opposed to the further spread of Islam in Germany, participated in a campaign rally ahead of regional elections in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Following the melee, in which 29 police officers were injured, a video surfaced on the Internet by a known terrorist, the German-born Yassin Chouka, a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

In the German-language video, Chouka, also known as Abu Ibraheem, calls for members of PRO NRW and the German media to be killed. He also urges the Salafists to move away from street confrontations, where the risk of being arrested is great, and instead to target PRO NRW members in their homes and workplaces.

Another video, which was produced after Salafi clashes with police in the German city of Solingen, effectively declares holy war on Germany. Produced by former rapper Deso Dogg, a German convert to Salafi Islam, the lyrics (which rhyme in German) say:
"No doubt about it. Islam will prevail and the victory is already very close …We warn you PRO NRW. Take heed, when you go to sleep at night! … Stay fit, do a lot of sports, prepare your body … In Germany, we will make the ground shake and only for Allah … Hail stones will rain on the kuffar [unbelievers] because they do not fear Allah … War and death will come to Germany, car bombs will explode! You have been warned, but you have ignored. They will come from all over the world to die, they are the chosen … We are fighting democracy, the biggest lie of the kuffar. The noble sword of Sharia has come to win here. No end in sight, we bring war and death to your front door."
In an interview with the newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the party's domestic policy expert in parliament, said he would like to make it easier to deport religious extremists.

Bosbach said: "Banning the Salafist groups is important because organizational structures are destroyed. But this is just one step in the fight against Salafism. Radical ideas do not disappear simply by banning certain groups."

He added: "It is incomprehensible why the deportation law applies only to politically motivated perpetrators of violence and not for religiously motivated fanatics."

According to Section 54 of the Residency Act, those found guilty of calling for violence to achieve political goals can be deported. But the law in its current form does not apply to those found guilty of promoting violence for religious goals.

Bosbach said that since many of those affected are German citizens, "we need to increase the pressure by rapidly evaluating Salafist propaganda on the Internet and in other media as well as a consistent application of criminal law."

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Obama Subsidizes Egyptian War on Women

by Jonathan S. Tobin

The contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East are approaching the level of parody. For the past four years under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we were constantly told that protecting the rights of women was an integral element in U.S. foreign policy. That was laudable, yet the same State Department that touted its feminist bona fides to the press was also the champion of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt. While the administration has dug in its heels on their policy of continuing to shower Mohamed Morsi’s regime with U.S. taxpayer dollars, there doesn’t seem to be any more pushback against Egypt’s policy toward women than its attempts to crush political opponents or its anti-Semitism.

An article in today’s New York Times that discusses the Brotherhood’s policies toward women illustrates the raging hypocrisy of the American stand on Egypt. There was never much doubt about the misogyny that is at the heart of the Islamist group’s worldview, but by issuing a public critique of a proposed United Nations declaration opposing violence against women, they have elevated the topic to one of international significance. The regime’s stance on women is scaring Egyptian moderates and liberals who are rapidly losing any hope that the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s government would usher in an era of democratic reform. But the specter of the most populous Arab state’s government moving slowly but surely toward an Iran-style theocracy is an ominous development for the rest of the region. Indeed, this makes it clear that what President Obama is doing in Egypt is nothing less than a U.S.-subsidized war on women.

As the Times details, Morsi’s governing party has several bones to pick with what might otherwise be considered an anodyne resolution condemning violence against women.

According to the Brotherhood, men should not be liable to being charged with the rape of their waves or be subjected to harsh punishment if they were called to account. They also say that women should not have equal rights of inheritance or be allowed to work, travel or use contraception without their husband’s permission.

Given that the group believes women are generally at fault when they are beaten by their husbands, this is hardly a surprise.

Morsi’s official spokesperson, who is still trying to convince the Western press that the Brotherhood is a moderate organization that has no intention of subjecting the entire nation to Islamist interpretations of religious law, tried to distance the Egyptian leader from his party’s declaration. But Egyptians understand which way the wind is blowing.

That the Brotherhood would issues such a salvo against women’s rights right at the time when the regime is encountering increased resistance to its rule and with new parliamentary elections in doubt is telling. Rather than moderate their stands, they are doubling down on their effort to use their newly acquired power not just to dominate every branch of the government but to transform society in their own image.

Part of the Brotherhood’s confidence stems from their belief that there is virtually nothing they can do that would prompt President Obama to cut off the more than $2 billion in U.S. aid that the country continues to receive. The administration has bought into the idea that, as Vice President Biden claimed last week in his speech to the AIPAC conference, there is no alternative to engagement with Morsi and his crowd. But what non-Islamist Egyptians are discovering is that bolstering the regime with the hundreds of millions more in U.S. funds, such as the big check Secretary of State John Kerry brought to Cairo earlier this month, is only worsening the situation.

Unlike the Obama re-election campaign theme, the Brotherhood’s war on women is not a partisan farce aimed at demonizing opponents but a genuine wave of repression that will set back human rights in that country. That the same administration that was re-elected in part because of its pro-women policies and which trumpeted its concerns for women’s rights abroad is subsidizing a regime that oppresses women in this fashion is more than merely hypocritical. It is an indictment of a president and a State Department that have lost their moral compass.

Jonathan S. Tobin


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

The Attempt to Kidnap the next Bargaining Chip

by Nadav Shragai

Only a few months ago, it was learned that Yael Shahak and her 8-year-old daughter had been saved from a kidnapping attempt in which they were to be used as bargaining chips for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Nadav Shragai


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

About those Talks with Iran

by Dore Gold

The reports coming out of the last round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran, held in Kazakhstan, were surprisingly positive. The Washington Post headlined its Feb. 27 report on the subject, "Iran nuclear talks end on upbeat note." Saeed Jalili, the head Iranian negotiator, told reporters that the two sides might be getting to a "turning point" in the talks between them. Was all this optimism warranted?

Jalili, who undoubtedly wanted to paint himself as a tough negotiator protecting Iranian interests, explained his optimism by saying that the U.S. was now making concessions that it did not make before: "It was they [the U.S.] who tried to get closer to our point of view." 

There were some signs that pointed in this direction. The Wall Street Journal suggested in its main editorial that Iranian behavior at the negotiating table had been influenced by Washington's decision to cut the number of aircraft carriers it deployed in the Persian Gulf from two to one, which the newspaper implied weakened the West’s diplomatic leverage. 

Even The Washington Post adopted a critical line against the Obama administration in its main editorial on Feb. 28, which asked provocatively whether the U.S. was "kowtowing to Iran." It pointed out that during the previous negotiations held in Baghdad during May 2012, the P5+1 demanded that Iran shut down completely its Fordo uranium enrichment facility, which was built underground, inside a mountain. The Western powers also insisted that the Iranians ship their entire stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium abroad. However, in the Kazakhstan talks, the P5+1 only called for a suspension of operations at Fordo, without the plant being closed. According to the new proposals, Iran could retain some of its 20% enriched uranium.

It should be stressed that the Western powers were pulling in different directions when it came to their strategy towards Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted in his public statements that time was running out for a diplomatic solution. In contrast, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who was also the head negotiator for the P5+1, took a very different position. At the Munich Security Conference in February, she refused to speak about diplomatic deadlines with the Iranians: "We shall never cease to strive to find ways to bring them to the table and to have that diplomatic solution, and we are very much engaged right now in trying to move forward on this." The European officials, with a few exceptions, appeared to be seeking to keep the negotiations going at almost any cost. 

The strongest opponent of this view, besides Israel, was Saudi Arabia. In remarkably candid remarks made in a joint press conference in Riyadh with Secretary of State John Kerry on March 4, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal stated that the talks with Iran could not go on forever, adding that "negotiations must end at a specific time." He stressed that the Iranians were not serious about their talks with the West: "They continued negotiations just to reach more and more negotiations in the future. If such negotiations continued, we will see ourselves in front of a nuclear weapon, but we cannot allow this to happen."

This Saudi realism is undoubtedly a product of the kingdom's strategic situation. Saudi Arabia is encircled by Iranian proxies receiving aid directly from Tehran. To Saudi Arabia's south, Iran is supporting the Shiite rebels in Yemen; during January 2013 a third weapons ship with Iranian anti-aircraft missiles and Katyusha rockets was intercepted before it could make its delivery to the Yemeni Shiites. To the north, Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is viewed in Riyadh as no less than an Iranian agent. 

Bahraini security just accused Iran's Revolutionary Guards of being involved in planned terrorist attacks on the island, which is 25 kilometers away (15.5 miles) from Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. Saudi officials also have charged that their own Shiite rebellion was being "manipulated from abroad," meaning from Iran. As a result, it is not surprising that the Saudis are one of the few who fully understand the Iranians' diplomatic technique of exploiting nuclear talks with the West to play for time and further advance their nuclear program. 

After he served on Iran's nuclear negotiating team from 2003 to 2005, Hossein Mousavian explained Tehran's negotiating strategy during talks held at that time with the British, French and Germans on Iran's uranium enrichment program. Speaking on Iranian television he frankly admitted: "Thanks to the negotiations with Europe, we gained another year, in which we completed [the uranium conversion facility] in Isfahan." 

Until now, many experts on the Iranian nuclear program generally assumed that Tehran planned to follow the North Korean example of "breakout" — that is, ejecting the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and rushing to enrich its uranium to the weapons grade level, thereby confronting the West with a fait accompli. If that was the Iranian plan, then starting from the 20% enrichment level would cut the time needed to reach weapons grade uranium in half. That is the reason why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set Israel's red line with reference to the accumulation of enough 20% uranium for one atomic bomb, roughly 225 kilograms (496 pounds).

But in response to the Israeli red line, over the last year, while continuing to enrich uranium to the 20% level, the Iranians have been diverting a portion of their 20% stock to other uranium derivatives, like uranium oxide, which cannot be used in nuclear weapons. Iran should have crossed the red line last fall, but because it keeps diverting uranium for other uses it has only accumulated 167 kilograms (368 pounds) instead of the 280 kilograms (617 pounds) which it has produced so far. 

Instead, Iran appears to have adopted a new strategy of massively increasing its enrichment infrastructure by installing more centrifuges than it has ever added to its Natanz facility and moving to a new generation of faster centrifuges. In the aftermath of the Kazakhstan talks with the P5+1, Iran announced that it was building 3,000 of these advanced centrifuges. If Iran decides on a strategy of nuclear breakout, it will involve far more weapons-grade uranium than it needs for one bomb.

As a result of these trends, while the West is hopeful that the negotiations with Iran might lead to a breakthrough, it appears that Tehran is only hardening its position. Iran’s interest, at this point, is to drive a wedge between the U.S. on the one hand and the Europeans on the other in order to obtain more concessions from the P5+1. But looking at Iran from the Middle East, any weakening of Western resolve will only invite further Iranian aggressive behavior.

Dore Gold


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.