Iran, Syria Are No Allies in Defeating the Islamic State

The governments of Iran and Syria may be opposed the Levantine militant group that calls itself the Islamic State but they are hardly allies in the fight against it. Rather, they helped create the problem in the first place.

As the United States steps up its involvement in the war against the Islamic State, not only in Iraq but in neighboring Syria as well where President Barack Obama had been so reluctant to commit American forces, Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless regime in Damascus and the brutal theocracy that sits in Tehran might seem natural allies. Both oppose the revivalist version of Sunni Islam that is espoused by the Islamic State — Assad because he is secular and battling Sunni fanatics in his own country; Iran because it is Shia and fears losing a proxy in Baghdad.

The case for clandestinely teaming up with both regimes could even be strengthened by pointing to the unwillingness of America’s allies in the region to commit to the fight. Jordan and Saudi Arabia allow some training of supposedly moderate Syrian rebels to take place on their soil. The monarchies in the Persian Gulf will gladly funnel money and weapons into Iraq and Syria. But they won’t commit their own soldiers, who were trained by Americans, or their own weapons, which the United States supplied. Read more “Iran, Syria Are No Allies in Defeating the Islamic State”

Iran Says Pilot Died in Iraq, Confirming Military Presence

Iranian state media reported on Saturday that an Iranian pilot had been killed in Iraq, apparently confirming rumors that the Shia power deployed fighter jets to the country last week in support of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.

Maliki, a Shia Muslim who spent many years in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, is fighting off a challenge to his regime by Sunni militants who have declared in a caliphate in the northwest of Iraq.

Iran backs Maliki’s government even as its neighbor threatens to unravel. Besides the Sunni uprising in the northwest, which extends into the east of Syria, the Kurds in the north, already autonomous, demand a referendum on independence. If both succeed, it would cut off Iran’s access to its ally in Syria, President Bashar Assad, whom it has also supported militarily in his war against Sunni rebels. Read more “Iran Says Pilot Died in Iraq, Confirming Military Presence”

Senators Pull Support from Iran Sanctions After Ultimatum

Just last week, it looked as if the United States Senate was close to bringing a bipartisan bill to the floor that could have potentially threatened the success of the Obama Administration’s nuclear talks with Iran. The legislation, written by Democratic Robert Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk, would blacklist an even greater amount of Iran’s economy if its leaders backed out of the interim agreement signed last November or failed to arrive at a comprehensive deal to dismantle a significant portion the Islamic country’s uranium enrichment infrastructure. When the bill was first introduced, it drew overwhelming support from both parties, with 59 senators signing on as co-sponsors — one vote shy of the supermajority necessary to override a filibuster.

Yet thanks to months of tenacious behind the scenes lobbying from White House officials and a public veto threat from President Barack Obama during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, the sanctions bill that could otherwise have breezed through the Senate has lost momentum. Read more “Senators Pull Support from Iran Sanctions After Ultimatum”

Kerry Faces Skeptical House Panel on Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of State John Kerry experienced just how difficult it will be for the Obama Administration to get members of Congress on board with the interim nuclear agreement that was signed with Iran last month. Testifying before the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Kerry was hammered for nearly three hours by Democrats and Republicans alike about the incomplete nature of the deal that was negotiated in Geneva, the $7 billion in sanctions relief that Iran is due to receive over the next six months and whether any final agreement would allow the Islamic republic to preserve a low level uranium enrichment capability.

Republican Ed Royce, the chairman of the committee, criticized what he saw as the administration’s soft negotiating strategy toward Iran, calling the agreement a much needed opportunity for the Iranians to receive billions of dollars without dismantling a single centrifuge.

“My concern,” the California congressman said, “is that we have bargained away our fundamental position in exchange for a false confidence that we can effectively check Iran’s misuse of these key nuclear bombmaking technologies.” Read more “Kerry Faces Skeptical House Panel on Iran Nuclear Deal”

Senate Threatens More Sanctions as Iran Talks Resume

Dick Durbin Harry Reid
Democratic senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Chuck Schumer of New York and Harry Reid of Nevada leave a news conference in Washington DC, April 26, 2012 (Senate Democrats)

For the second time in nearly three weeks, America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, changed his travel schedule on Friday to attend nuclear talks with Iran in Switzerland. At home, lawmakers were growing restless.

The last time Kerry attended the negotiations in Geneva between the world’s major powers and Iran, a deal seemed at hand but failed to materialize when the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany refused to recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium. France also walked out, reportedly because the closure of a key plutonium plant was not part of the agreement. Read more “Senate Threatens More Sanctions as Iran Talks Resume”

Pakistan Should Be Wary of Giving Saudis Nuclear Weapons

Saudi Arabia may want to buy nuclear weapons from its ally Pakistan to deter Iran but the latter can ill afford to sever relations with the same nation.

The BBC’s Mark Urban reported earlier this month that Pakistani atomic weapons were “sitting ready for delivery” to Saudi Arabia, raising the possibility that the oil kingdom acquired such weapons before its nemesis Iran did. Read more “Pakistan Should Be Wary of Giving Saudis Nuclear Weapons”

Don’t Blame France for Doubting Iran’s Sincerity

If Iran agrees to cap its uranium enrichment activities, there is reason to be skeptical it will honor such an agreement. Its president, Hassan Rouhani, promised temporary freezes in the program before only to buy time.

In Geneva, Switzerland last week, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany reportedly proposed that Iran suspend its nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief. A similar proposal was made in February.

A deal didn’t materialize. Diplomats who were involved in the process anonymously accused the French of scuttling the accord by demanding tougher concessions from the Iranians at the last minute.

Given how Iran has previously behaved in these talks, that wouldn’t seem altogether unreasonable. Read more “Don’t Blame France for Doubting Iran’s Sincerity”

Parties Critical of Obama’s Iran Strategy

Dick Durbin Harry Reid Nancy Pelosi Barack Obama
Democratic senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Harry Reid of Nevada, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama talk in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, July 11, 2012 (White House/Pete Souza)

When America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, made an unexpected trip to Geneva, Switzerland last weekend, there was hope in the international community that Iran and the world’s major powers were close to a nuclear deal. A successful agreement, however short-term, would have been seen as a big political victory for the Obama Administration at a time when its foreign policy credentials have been challenged by a host of shimmering conflicts abroad, from the civil war in Syria to a moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

It turned out the deal that many thought possible was beyond the grasp of negotiators last weekend. It is not exactly clear who scuttled the momentum. Some reports point to the French who appeared to insist on more restrictions. Others blame the Iranians for failing to budge on some of their core demands involving the right to enrich uranium.

In the long run, whoever was to blame matters little. What matters is what impact the failed talks will have on the diplomatic process that the Obama Administration is now so dearly invested in. Read more “Parties Critical of Obama’s Iran Strategy”

Kerry Denies Western Split in Iran Nuclear Talks

Saudi foreign minister Saud bin Faisal Al Saud shakes hands with his American counterpart, John Kerry, at the State Department in Washington DC, April 16
Saudi foreign minister Saud bin Faisal Al Saud shakes hands with his American counterpart, John Kerry, at the State Department in Washington DC, April 16 (State Department)

America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, denied that a split had emerged between Western powers during nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva, Switzerland this week, insisting “there was unity there with respect to getting it right.”

In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press that was broadcast on Sunday, President Barack Obama’s top diplomat claimed that all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, the six parties negotiating with Iran, “wanted to make sure that we had tough language necessary, the clarity in the language necessary, to be absolutely certain that we were doing the job and not granting more or doing something sloppily.” Read more “Kerry Denies Western Split in Iran Nuclear Talks”

Russia Agrees to Deliver Missile System: Iran

Russia’s air force commander completed a visit to Iran on Monday when he allegedly promised the delivery of a missile defense system that could deter Israel from launching military strikes against the country.

Lieutenant General Viktor Bondarev’s visit came less than a week after the American Department of Defense announced it agreed to sell $10.8 billion worth of advanced missile systems to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two of the United States’ allies in the Middle East and both foes of Iran.

While no arms deals were announced during Russian general’s visit, his Iranian counterpart, Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili, told the Fars New Agency that his country will import “the S-300 missile system or a similar one.” He contended that “sanctions do not apply” to the Russian missile systems because they are defensive in nature and said during a news conference after talks with Bondarev that “the Russians agree with that.”

Russia signed an $800 million contract with Iran in 2007 to deliver five of the systems which can take out aircraft and guided missiles. However, in 2010, President Dmitri Medvedev canceled the agreement and banned the sale of virtually all military hardware to the Islamic republic, citing United Nations sanctions which prohibit weapons sales to a country Arab states and the United States suspect is developing a nuclear weapons capacity. Iran later filed a suit against the Russian Federation with the International Court of Arbitration in Paris, seeking reparations. Read more “Russia Agrees to Deliver Missile System: Iran”