Turkey Offers to Negotiate with Iran

In another show of Turkey emerging as a Middle East power broker, the country reiterated its offer on Tuesday to act as a diplomatic middleman toward Iran.

“The solution for Iran’s nuclear program is through negotiations and the diplomatic process,” stressed Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, during a press conference in Tehran.

Turkey, which has resisted an American-orchestrated push for a renewed round of sanctions against Iran, “is ready to act as an intermediary in the issue of uranium exchange,” said Davutoglu, “and hopes to have a fruitful role in this.”

The US State Department declared on Monday that it is still interested in a nuclear fuel agreement with Iran but talks have deadlocked over the country’s insistence that it hand over only enriched uranium stocks as the fuel is supplied, and that the exchange take place on its own soil.

Turkey, which currently sits on the United Nations Security Council, is not alone in opposing further sanctions against Iran. Notably, American secretary of state Hillary Clinton returned empty handed from Brazil last month where she tried to gather support. China and Russia, which both have veto power in the Council, are as of yet undecided on the issue, although Beijing recently instructed its diplomats to work with their American counterparts in New York to come to an arrangement.

Turkey’s offer to mediate may carry greater weight however. It has cautiously developed a working relationship with Syria in recent years while building a strategic partnership with Russia. These two states may be counted among Iran’s few, lukewarm friends. Combined they, rather than China, should be able to get Iran to come to the table.

Isolating Iran

Sanctions and negotiations aren’t working anymore. Iran is determined to acquire the Bomb so the West must start thinking ahead. How to deal with a nuclear Iran?

“Containing” the country has been suggested before, specifically by cutting Iran’s financial ties abroad and quietly working to destabilize the regime from within.

Last December, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, placed some serious question marks with this theory however. She opined that the Cold War notion of containment won’t apply to Iran. For one thing, there is no mutually assured destruction in place. Pletka specifically blamed the Obama Administration for failing to signal to Iran that it is be prepared to undertake military action should it threaten allies in the region.

Former Secretary of State James Baker shared a similar concern in February. The threat of nuclear retaliation could be effective, he said, but only if Iran truly fears America’s willingness to retaliate.

Speaking with The Wall Street Journal, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was not so hawkish. He proposes a series of actions to contain Iran: offer a robust American defense umbrella to protect friends in the region; provide rhetorical support to Iran’s opposition while accepting America’s limited ability to help it; eschew thought of a preemptive strike against the country’s nuclear facilities; and keep talking to Tehran.

Baker actually suggested that the United States extend its nuclear umbrella over moderate Arab regions in the region as well. Iran has few allies. Other Middle Eastern states, around the Gulf and especially Turkey, aren’t at all looking forward to having a nuclear power in their midst.

Brzezinski warns that containing Iran will be a long game. In spite of recent protests, change won’t come easily to the Islamic Republic. Nonetheless, facilitating, “carefully and cautiously, the political evolution in Iran toward a more acceptable regional role,” preferably in the vein of secular Turkey, should be one of America’s foremost objectives with regards to Iran.

At the same time, the West must be careful not to interfere to such an extent that it might undermine the “forces at work within Iran” that promote regime change. Sanctions should be crafted so that they don’t encourage “more anti-Westernism, or a fusion of Islamic extremism and nationalism.”

In short: Careful now! All the more reason to bring back Brzezinski.

Why We Still Need Nuclear Weapons

The Obama Administration has made clear its intention to lead the fight against nuclear proliferation. Attempts are made at coming to a new START agreement with Russia while the president most recently spoke about reducing nuclear weapons in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

Speaking at the National Defense University, Vice President Joe Biden reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to nuclear security.

“We have long relied on nuclear weapons to deter potential adversaries,” he said. “Now, as our technology improves, we are developing non-nuclear ways to accomplish that same objective.”

Such non-nuclear means include the much-debated missile defense shield to be constructed in Eastern Europe and conventional warheads that have global reach.

“With these modern capabilities, even with deep nuclear reductions, we will remain undeniably strong,” according to the vice president. Read more “Why We Still Need Nuclear Weapons”

Iran Moving Toward Military Dictatorship

American secretary of state Hillary Clinton suggested in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Monday that Iran is sliding into a military dictatorship. The country’s Revolutionary Guard, she said, is gaining influence “across all areas of Iranian security policy, and certainly nuclear policy is at the core of it.” The United States propose sanctions therefore, specifically aimed at disrupting the Guard’s ascension.

The country’s sinister “Guardians of the Islamic Revolution” are far from a unified bulwark however. Maziar Bahari reports that “fractures are now present within the security establishment itself, and some of the Islamic Republic’s most ardent defenders are now pushing the regime to moderate its position.”

Reportedly, senior Guard commanders have began quietly urging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to change his ways. “The group includes several powerful sitting officials,” notes Bahari, “such as the mayor of Tehran and the speaker of Parliament.” These men are politely pressing Khamenei to muzzle his fiery acolyte, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. So far, there’s been no sign that Khamenei is willing to listen. “But when the shah started ignoring his advisors, the result was revolution.”

Revolution has certainly taken to the streets already. Ever since the presidential elections of June 2009, Iran has been rocked by protests. These demonstrators, according to Robert Kaplan, “are not crazed ethnics demonstrating on behalf of some illiberal blood-and-soil nationalism, but enlightened, technologically savvy multitudes crying out for universal values of democracy and human rights.” For that reason, they deserve Western backing.

Kaplan agrees with Clinton that the country’s regime is “less and less a religious theocracy […] and more and more a traditional dictatorship, beset by a feisty and innovative opposition.” Regime change therefore, is inevitable — and “would unleash democratic tendencies throughout the Middle East,” forcing governments in all of the region to focus more on their internal problems, thereby undermining radicalism.

The Islamic Republic might well last another decade however so what can the United States do to expedite regime change? The Obama Administration’s policy of “Nixonian détente” appears to have failed so the president, claims Kaplan, must be more like Reagan: “be open to far-reaching talks, as President Ronald Reagan was with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, but do nothing to legitimize the Iranian system.”

Make it clear that Washington is on the same side of history as the demonstrators, but also make it clear that the door is open to negotiations with those in power.

To avoid the risk of endangering the protests by providing overt American support, President Obama should talk about democracy only in general. “That is, he should get the language of universal values out over Iranian air waves as much as possible: encouraging the demonstrators without specifically backing them.” That, suggests Kaplan, is the best America can do right now to undermine Iranian dictatorship.

Netanyahu Reaches Out to Russia

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia this Monday. The two discussed Middle Eastern peace, the Iranian nuclear threat and Holocaust denial.

With the European Union, the United Nations and the United States, Russia forms a Middle East Quartet dedicated to promoting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Netanyahu declared that his country was prepared to resume peace talks “in the coming weeks.” Russia is expected to host the Quartet’s ministerial meeting later this month.

Iran’s nuclear enrichment was undoubtedly high on the agenda. Last Sunday, the Israeli prime minister called upon the world to impose “crippling” sanctions against Iran. Relations with the United States have been strained since President Barack Obama demanded that Israel freeze settlement construction. Netanyahu appears to be reaching out to Russia now in order to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Russia however has been supplying Iran with military equipment. Before Netanyahu landed in Moscow, the Kremlin asserted that there are no sanctions against its selling of advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Iran because they are defensive weapons only. Israel for long attempted to prevent the deal from going through.

Netanyahu now asks Russia to support “sanctions with teeth” against Iran’s energy sector. “What is needed now is very tough sanctions that can influence this regime and severe sanctions that will considerably and convincingly harm the import and export of oil,” he told reporters. “Diluted sanctions don’t work.”

Until recently, Russia refused to support tougher sanctions against Iran. In recent days however, officials have indicated that Moscow is willing to adopt a more assertive stance.

President Medvedev emphasized that Israel is no ordinary partner. He spoke about the countries’ historical relations and stressed that the memory of World War II must be preserved in obvious reference to Holocaust deniers. Netanyahu was more explicit and stated that those who challenge or deny the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people must be fought and defeated.

Sino-American Relations Still Shaky

While the current administration realizes that China is little threat to the United States, last year’s Impeccable incident, when the US Navy’s ocean surveillance ship was harassed by Chinese vessels in the South China Sea, came as a harsh reminder that the two superpowers don’t always get along.

Moreover, the two continue to clash on human rights, Taiwan, and China’s reluctance to push for sanctions against “rogue states” as North Korea and Iran. China’s accidental empire is a matter of concern for many Asian states, India foremost among them, and it is in part responsible for the Asian naval race.

In the United States, there are plenty of commentators who dread China’s military expansion while politicos typically fail to understand why the country is so hesitant to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy when it could be in the interest of the United States. The red giant appears to be waffling more than usual on the issue of Iran recently, rescheduling meetings and refusing to pledge anything concrete.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a trip to Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia, tries to pretend that nothing is out of the ordinary. “Everyone’s aware that China is a rising power of the twenty-first century,” she said Monday. “But people want to see the United States fully engaged in Asia, so that as China rises the United States is there as a force for peace.”

“Fully engaged” referring to a $1 billion arms sale to Taiwan, heavily criticized by Chinese officials last week. Clinton doesn’t expect any trouble though. “What I’m expecting is that we actually are having a mature relationship.”

Asked about Iran, Clinton proposed to push for “smarter” sanctions, targeting specific groups within the regime rather than the Iranian economy on the whole. “It is clear that there is a relatively small group of decisionmakers inside Iran,” she said. “They are in both political and commercial relationships, and if we can create a sanctions track that targets those that actually make the decisions, we think that is a smarter way to do sanctions.” Something the Chinese may be more willing to accept, perhaps?

Yemen, Not So Quiet Anymore

Sana'a, the capital city of Yemen, January 13, 2007 (Eesti)
Sana'a, the capital city of Yemen, January 13, 2007 (Eesti)

The war in Yemen is suddenly not so quiet anymore after an Islamic terrorist who was trained in the country tried to blow up an American airliner headed for Detroit this Christmas. Some forward-looking analysts recently identified the Yemen problem as probably President Obama’s greatest challenge ahead. Considering the regional dynamics involved, that assessment may well turn out to be correct. Read more “Yemen, Not So Quiet Anymore”

Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran?

Had we had another man for president this year, Iran’s nuclear facilities might well have been carpet bombed already. Certainly the United States would not have discouraged Israel from undertaking such a venture. But would it have been the smart thing to do?

When even The New York Times advocates military action it must seem to the Iranians as though all of America is committed to attack their country. Fortunately, some voices of reason can still be heard. In the same newspaper, Roger Cohen argues that the American role in the 1953 coup has not been forgotten. “Any American attack would propel 56 year-old Iranian demons into overdrive and lock in an America hating Islamic republic for the next half century,” he warns.

Patrick Porter, writing for Kings of War adds that not only is a military strike unlikely to take out all of Iran’s nuclear facilities; it will only strengthen their resolve to develop nuclear energy while undermining the forces of reform.

It could make politics very difficult indeed for dissidents if America gave the regime an external enemy to unite against.

Iranians are still taking to the streets with the regime repeating their accusation that foreign interference is stirring the uprisings. An American airstrike would lend credibility to such a claim, strangling “the next Iranian revolution at birth.”

America’s best chance at diminishing the Iranian threat is to let events run their course for a while. A great portion of the Iranian people appears determined to bring about a modernization of the country’s politics — and hopefully with it, a moderation in its foreign policy.

The Arabian Union

The European Union model is an example to many nations across the globe. The South American Mercosur is well underway to become an even more successful game plan for cooperation while in Southeast Asia, ASEAN provides a forum for states that might want to try to compete with their northern neighbors China and Japan. Even in Arabia, some states are conglomerating notes Curzon at ComingAnarchy. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) might well be the more prosperous of EU-imitators.

Established in 1981, the GCC actually did very little until the mid-1990s, “from which time the countries slowly set things in motion to unify many bureaucratic and administrative agencies and procedures” between them. A Patent Office was founded in 1992. In 1999, a Custom’s Union came into being. And this year, the GCC states began issuing universal driver licenses. There was even talk of setting up a single currency, “but that has been delayed due to Oman’s reluctance to join, Qatar’s disagreement with the policy, and the UAE’s frustration that a GCC Central Bank would be in Riyadh, not in Abu Dhabi or Dubai.”

On that note, Curzon notes, “one barrier to further unity is the Saudi-centric nature of the GCC — Saudi Arabia has the largest economy in the region and has great influence over its smaller, poorer neighbors, and the GCC headquarters is already in Riyadh.” As a solution, he offers the European experience: establish your headquarters in a small country (Belgium) lest the larger state or states lord over the others.

“A single currency seems a long way off,” concludes Curzon, “but open borders are probably just around the corner.” The economic benefits could be great indeed however he doesn’t mention any of the military considerations that go into the GCC. Writing for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Michael Knights observes a changing balance of power in the Gulf region. He identifies three factors that are of influence here: a more effective spending of defense money, specifically on advanced technologies; a more balanced approach to military development that stresses training and maintenance capabilities; and the removal of the Iraqi threat. Well into the 1990s the northern Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, were dreadful of an Iraqi invasion. Their militaries were therefore geared toward land warfare forces. Nowadays, the greater threat is Iran which forces the UAE, Oman and Qatar to anticipate an attack either from sea or from the air.

The Iranian strategy doesn’t appear to have changed much since the 1980s which tells the Gulf States what to expect in the event of Iranian aggression. In 1986 and 1987 Iran “undertook or planned attacks on UAE and Saudi offshore oil and gas facilities, as well as Saudi coast guard facilities,” writes Knights. “In the late 1990s, Iranian gunboats periodically embarked on machine-gun attacks on unmanned gas rigs within Qatar’s offshore exclusive economic zones.”

The UAE are rapidly expanding their navies which will probably make them the greatest of Arab sea powers within the next decade. Six Baynunah class corvettes of French making are to form the backbone of the UAE fleet which will otherwise operate 24 major amphibious assault ships and seventy new transport and attack helicopters. Oman, too, is building a naval force while Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are working internationally to fight piracy in the Red Sea. Eventually, American support will still be necessary to completely repel an Iranian offensive but more and more, the Gulf States are able to provide for their own defense.

During the Iran-Iraq war, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were subject to air incursions and missile attacks, respectively, and in 1991 and 2003, the three northern GCC states […] were attacked by Iraqi cruise and ballistic missiles. Since 2003, Tehran has stated that GCC military bases and ports could be subject to attacks in the event of a American-Iranian confrontation.

No wonder that the GCC states are also mounting impressive air defense systems. The UAE have bought so much as eighty F-16s; four C-17s; $3.3 billion worth of Patriot Advanced Capacity (PAC-3) surface-to-air missiles, and potentially the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. The Royal Saudi Air Force has 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, while Oman has twelve new F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft.

On the whole is seems likely that within the next ten years or so, the GCC will have grown into a much greater military power than Iran — or any other Middle Eastern state for that matter. Whether that is enough to deter Iran remains to be seen. Possibly it will only accelerate its nuclear weapons program to bring about a whole different kind of arms race…

Can Iran Be Contained?

Washington’s latest approach to the Iranian missile threat seems to be rather an old-fashioned one: isolating the problem (financially for instance) and attempting to destabilize it from within — in other words: containment.

Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, writing for The Washington Post, isn’t having any of it. It is wrong, she writes, “to think a nuclear Iran can be contained.”

The theory of containment is a Cold War one, notes Pletka, and applying it to modern-day Iran is false. There is no mutually assured destruction because the Obama Administration is too hesitant to ensure it; there is no clear leadership in Iran, especially after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s heavily contested reelection last June; and there are no allies nearby, for the neighboring Arab states are afraid of Iran. Iran on the other hand, doesn’t lack self-confidence.

Tehran probably sees itself more in the mold of India, a great power whose nuclear weapons are acknowledged and now accepted, than of North Korea, a lunocracy without serious global aspirations or influence.

If Iranian officials ponder withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty, it’s because they no longer want to be constrained by status-quo powers and their status-quo treaties.

Pletka’s argument doesn’t sound too convincing however. After all, containment worked pretty well in the past. What’s really so different about Iran?

Moreover, Pletka largely ignores the Israeli perspective. She admits that a nuclear Iran will be tempted to use its nukes “as a shield from behind which it can engage in adventurism in Lebanon, Iraq and Israel” and that the latter is unlikely to tolerate that, but Israeli action can harm America’s interests.

Obama administration officials confess that they believe Israeli action will preempt our policy debate, as Israel’s tolerance for an Iranian nuke is significantly lower than our own. But subcontracting American national security to Israel is an appalling notion, and we cannot assume that an Israeli action would not provoke a wider regional conflict into which the United States would be drawn.

Thus America must strike now lest it be drawn into a “wider regional conflict” that Iran is unlikely to instigate in the first place? With troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and supposedly still fighting a Global War on Terror, it appears America is already quite involved in a wider Middle Eastern conflict.

The very reason Iran is developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is because it is afraid of Israel and the United States. Pletka believes that Iran is bullying us all into accepting it as a nuclear power while hardly anyone in Washington likes the notion of that — and Israel is unlikely to accept it.