Why it's right to keep talking to Iran
July 19th, 2014
01:57 PM ET

Why it's right to keep talking to Iran

By Brig. Gen. John H. Johns and Angela Canterbury, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Brig. Gen. John H. Johns (USA, ret.) serves on the Council for a Livable World Advisory Board and is a former deputy assistant defense secretary. Angela Canterbury is the executive director of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Council for a Livable World and Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. The views expressed are their own.

World powers announced late Friday the need for an extension of negotiations as diplomats work to achieve a comprehensive deal on Iran's nuclear program. This is an opportunity we can’t forgo. Diplomacy must be given the chance to succeed, lest we live with the probable consequences of failure: an Iranian nuclear weapon or another disastrous war.

In fact, diplomacy has already yielded results – Iran has met all of its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action, which took effect in January. Since that time, real progress has been made in scaling back Iran’s nuclear program, and intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities have taken place under a more effective verification regime. These inspections have given the United States and its allies unprecedented insights into Iran’s nuclear facilities. Further, Iran has significantly dialed back its nuclear activity. Its stockpile of dangerous enriched uranium has decreased from 195 kilograms at the outset of the deal to just 4 kilograms in June – a 97 percent drop.

We’ve come a long way toward our goal of preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb. But we need a long-lasting agreement. And to achieve that, we must keep Iran at the table. It’s reasonable that negotiators need more time to settle on the details of what will undoubtedly be an extremely complicated settlement. And Iran’s compliance thus far suggests that its leadership is committed to this process, and that extending the talks offers real hope for success.

Of course, hawkish detractors in Congress can be expected to continue to try to derail the ongoing negotiations by pushing for more unilateral sanctions. But we cannot sanction Iran into abandoning its nuclear ambitions. If that were so, Iran already would have capitulated. After all, sanctions have been an effective tool for getting Iran to the negotiating table. Now we are at the table, and we need to stay there to complete the agreement.

We also cannot allow the negotiations to be hamstrung by unreasonable demands, such as those being made in a letter by Senators Bob Menendez and Lindsay Graham. If we undermine the diplomatic efforts, Iran can be expected to return to its former nuclear activities.

But even more importantly, we will lose the inspections that allow us to monitor those activities. Nothing could be more dangerous. Without inspections, with no idea of how Iran’s nuclear program is proceeding, we will be operating without information essential to our national security.

Not surprisingly, those who pushed us into war in Iraq are calling for military engagement with Iran. After more than a decade of war and so many lives lost – all without truly advancing our national security – this call to abandon diplomacy and a rush to war again are truly implausible. We’ve been down that path before. If there’s one thing we have learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that military conflicts have unexpected consequences. In the case of Iran, U.S. military action could very likely force Iran’s nuclear program underground and unite Iran’s leaders and people in a dash for the bomb.

The nuclear talks represent a critical opportunity to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, protect U.S. security, and prevent another war. We must give these talks adequate time to succeed.

Ultimately, what would you choose? Another war, a nuclear-armed Iran, or another four months of talks for the chance for peace and security?

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Topics: Iran
Why the U.S. should keep talking with Iran
July 10th, 2014
08:01 AM ET

Why the U.S. should keep talking with Iran

By Zachary Keck, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Zachary Keck is managing editor of The Diplomat and a monthly columnist at The National Interest. You can follow him @ZacharyKeck. The views expressed are his own.

As the July 20 deadline for a deal over Iran's nuclear program approaches, it seems increasingly unlikely that Tehran and the P5+1 will reach a comprehensive agreement. Indeed, Iran has already signaled its willingness to extend the talks for another six months as outlined in the interim agreement, and President Barack Obama should therefore begin to prepare Congress for this reality as soon as possible. The U.S. has too much to lose by rejecting this offer. And fortunately for the administration, the case for extending the talks is an easy one to make.

To begin with, the U.S. has nothing to lose by agreeing to an extension. Despite the unconvincing arguments of its critics, the interim accord heavily favored the U.S. and its allies. Under the agreement, Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear program, as well as rollback its most dangerous elements. Equally important, Tehran agreed to intrusive inspections to demonstrate its compliance with the agreement.

In return, Iran received roughly $7 billion in sanctions relief spread across the six month period. At the same time, the P5+1 refused to lift the sanctions regime, which costs Iran an estimated $5 billion per month. Iran therefore continues to lose billions of dollars every month the negotiations drag on. All this means that even if extending the talks doesn't result in a comprehensive agreement, it will still freeze Iran's nuclear program and continue to squeeze it economically.


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Topics: Iran
Social media poisoning Middle East politics
July 3rd, 2014
01:54 PM ET

Social media poisoning Middle East politics

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the killing of three Israeli teens and a Palestinian youth, the role of social media in the Middle East, and the prospects for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. This is an edited version of the transcript.

The violence and the tension between Israelis and Palestinians is nothing new. When did it get to the point that killing innocent teenagers is part of this?

Unfortunately, there’s a long history of terrorism. Palestinians regarded it as a resistance to what they see as an illegitimate occupation. Of course, Israelis regarded it as terrorism. What I think is new here, which is very troubling, is that people are using the new tools of technology, social media, and you're beginning to see radical fringe elements that are able to organize, galvanize support. So what happens after the horrific murder of these three Israelis is you see Israeli right wing extremist groups go on Facebook and create sites that basically say, let's kill Arabs.

On the Arab side, on the Palestinian side, you've had similar kinds of incitement. It's as if we sometimes think that these technologies are somehow going to make everybody get along and cooperate. And instead what's happening is that it's creating a poison within the body politics of both sides, and it's going to be very difficult to walk this down because it's out there now.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for calm. Everyone on both sides is calling for calm on this. But can they keep a handle on this, especially when you talk about how now you have this social media element? FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • Iraq • Israel • Palestinian Authority • Technology
Iraq badlands might be inevitable
June 16th, 2014
04:46 PM ET

Iraq badlands might be inevitable

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the advances made by militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria over the past week, what role the United States can play in assisting Iraq's government, and whether the latest violence was inevitable. This is an edited version of the transcript.

What can the U.S. do?

I think that what the president is trying to do is to force the Iraqis, particularly Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, to make some political overtures to the Sunnis. Because I think he recognizes at the heart of this problem what you have is a disaffected population – about 20 percent of Iraq that is fueling and supporting the insurgency.

Remember, the problem is not arms or men. The Iraqi army is about three-quarters of a million men strong. They have been trained in equipment supplied by the United States for ten years. The insurgents are about 2,000 or 3,000 people. So the fact that the insurgents [are] taking this down tells you that the basic problem is not a military one, it’s a political one. The army won't fight. The Sunnis in the area are providing support for the insurgency. FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • Iraq • Syria • Terrorism
June 15th, 2014
03:41 PM ET

U.S. defending the indefensible in Iraq

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

If the Bush administration deserves a fair share of blame for “losing Iraq,” what about the Obama administration and its decision to withdraw all American forces from the country by the end of 2011?

I would have preferred to see a small American force left in Iraq to try to prevent the country's collapse. But let's remember why this force is not in Iraq. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki refused to provide the guarantees that every other country in the world that hosts U.S. forces provides.

Some commentators have blamed the Obama administration for negotiating badly or half-heartedly and perhaps this is true. But here's what a senior Iraqi politician told me in the days the American deal was being discussed. “It will not happen,” he said, “Maliki cannot allow American troops to stay on. Iran has made very clear to Maliki that its number one demand is that there be no American troops remaining in Iraq. And Maliki owes them.”


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Topics: GPS Show • Iran • Iraq
May 22nd, 2014
04:13 PM ET

Iraq’s future looks more like Kurdistan

By Marina Ottaway, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Marina Ottaway is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has emerged as the clear winner of the Iraqi parliamentary elections. His State of Law coalition has won at least 92 seats of the 328 seats in the Council of Representatives, three times as many as the next largest party. In the 2010 elections, in contrast, al-Maliki lost by two seats to Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya Party, a coalition of secular Shia and Sunni organizations that has now completely disintegrated.

There is therefore no doubt that al-Maliki will be asked by the president (when parliament can agree on one) to form the new government. In 2010, he had to battle with Allawi for months to get that chance. But putting together a coalition with the needed 164 votes may prove even harder than in 2010, when the process lasted nine months, only coming to an end with an agreement to form a government of national reconciliation in which all parties participated.

This time, al-Maliki has already announced that he does not want another government of national unity, but he will find it difficult to get sufficient support. After four years of increasingly authoritarian rule, the prime minister has little backing among Sunnis and Kurds, and has even failed to unite Shias behind him. Eventually, al-Maliki will probably succeed, but not without making major concessions that would give him a third term as prime minister but also change the country toward a confederal form of government.


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Topics: Iran • Iraq
How to strike a win-win deal with Iran
May 13th, 2014
07:57 AM ET

How to strike a win-win deal with Iran

By Reza Marashi and Trita Parsi, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Reza Marashi is director of research at the National Iranian American Council. Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran. The views expressed are the writers' own.

The United States and its allies are now preparing for the home stretch in their nuclear negotiations with Iran. And, as they approach the finish line, it will be critical for insightful voices to help the Obama administration parse through difficult issues that remain on the negotiating table.

Kenneth Pollack – a top Clinton administration official and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution – recently took to the pages of the New York Times to do exactly that. He correctly notes in his op-ed that a comprehensive deal verifiably ensuring the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program will be enormously beneficial.

Ken is our friend and one of the sharpest minds working in Washington today. That's why we hope to use his New York Times op-ed as a launching pad for a broader dialogue about what the details of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran should look like.

He rightly points out three critical issues that will make or break our negotiations with Iran: inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities; creating mechanisms to ensure Iran doesn't cheat; and the duration of a final deal. However, we believe the contours recommended in his op-ed would risk creating such an imbalance in the deal that it would incentivize the Iranians to cheat, and by that turn a diplomatic win into an embarrassing fiasco.


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Topics: Iran • Nuclear
How the West gets Iran wrong
May 9th, 2014
04:36 PM ET

How the West gets Iran wrong

By Akbar Ganji, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Akbar Ganji is an Iranian journalist and dissident and was imprisoned in Tehran from 2000 to 2006. The views expressed are his own.

Much has been said and written about liberalism, economics and even feminism in Iran. Yet despite much lamenting among outsiders determined to paint a grim picture of Iran by focusing on the supposed stifling of political thought and discussion in the country, the reality is in many respects quite different.

So what has really been going on?

The dominant discourse in Iran before the Islamic Revolution was focused around developing world leftist ideology. Marxism was seen as progressive, with the examples of Lenin, Mao and Che Guevara preferred over the social democracy of some European nations. Indeed, those who did not buy into this view – particularly those close to the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi – were not considered true intellectuals.

In an effort to fully control the country after the revolution toppled the Shah's regime in 1979, Iran's ruling religious forces nationalized the country's resources and institutions, with intellectuals like Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari declaring that the "spirit and foundations of the universal declaration of human rights are supported by Islam."


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Topics: Iran
Why we must give Iran nuclear deal a chance
April 18th, 2014
05:08 PM ET

Why we must give Iran nuclear deal a chance

By Tyler Cullis and Jamal Abdi, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Tyler Cullis is a policy associate at the National Iranian American Council. Jamal Abdi is policy director at NIAC. The views expressed are the authors’ own.

The United States could be on the verge of securing a historic agreement over Iran’s nuclear program, one that verifiably limits it and opens the door to further cooperation between the two countries. Yet with a diplomatic victory on the horizon, the rhetoric of those who have long opposed any diplomatic resolution is reaching dizzying heights of disingenuousness.

During a recent Senate hearing, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) hit out at reports that negotiations with Iran may produce a deal that “only” extends Iran’s nuclear breakout timeline to 6 to 12 months.

“I don’t think we did everything that we’ve done to only get a six to twelve month lead time,” Menendez lamented as he grilled Secretary of State John Kerry over the progress of the talks.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz piled on shortly after, calling such a timeline a “[U.S.] surrender to Iran” and “unacceptable.”


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Topics: Iran • Israel • Nuclear • United States
Why human rights sanctions could work with Iran
March 14th, 2014
01:32 PM ET

Why human rights sanctions could work with Iran

By Dwight Bashir, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Dwight Bashir is Deputy Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.  You can follow him @DwightBashir. The views expressed are his own.

This coming week, two seemingly unrelated events concerning Iran are taking place.  First, the U.N. expert on human rights in Iran is presenting his latest report in Geneva at the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council, and will conclude that conditions have not improved since President Hassan Rouhani took office last August. Second, in Vienna, global powers (P5+1) begin the next round of talks with Iran seeking a comprehensive, long-term deal over Tehran's nuclear program.

On the face of it, Iran's human rights record and its nuclear capabilities have little or no connection. But a deeper look suggests that they in fact do – and the implications are profound.

In January, the United States and European Union eased some economic sanctions as a first step toward implementing the short-term agreement struck in November. Today, supporters of a long-term nuclear deal increasingly advocate the complete lifting of sanctions of any kind.


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Topics: Iran
Why Western business eyeing Iran is a good thing
February 14th, 2014
12:39 PM ET

Why Western business eyeing Iran is a good thing

By Cornelius Adebahr, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Cornelius Adebahr is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and author of Tehran Calling: Understanding a New Iranian Leadership. He taught political science at the University of Tehran in Iran from 2012 to 2013. The views expressed are his own.

Iran may be continuing its global charm offensive, but the U.S. government is still having trouble selling changes in Iran policy to an American audience.

The latest example came late last month, following Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's trip to Davos, Switzerland. During his appearances at the World Economic Forum, Rouhani invited gathered world and corporate leaders to take advantage of the opportunities that the opening up of Iran offers. But such encouragement is only likely to provoke ire in Washington, a point underscored just days later when U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman was grilled by the Foreign Relations Committee over fears that the foreign firms lining up to do business with Iran could diminish Washington's leverage in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

It's a compelling argument on the surface. But it is also one that belies a misunderstanding of the reality on the ground – and how the situation is viewed from within Iran.


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Topics: Economy • Iran
February 3rd, 2014
02:46 PM ET

Washington, Iran need to face realities

By Fareed Zakaria

After Iran and the major powers signed onto a deal on Tehran's nuclear program, expectations were high. Over the last week, they have fallen sharply as Iranian officials have made tough public comments, Israel's Prime Minister has reaffirmed his opposition to almost any conceivable deal, and several influential U.S. senators have threatened new sanctions.

Now, this does not mean a final deal with Tehran is impossible but it does mean that both sides, Tehran and the West, need to start thinking creatively about how to bridge what is clearly a wide divide and they also have to think about how to get around the main obstacle they will face – which will be opposition at home, in Iran and the United States.

Watch the video for the full Take or read the Washington Post column

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Iran
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