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
Time to write the rules for cyber and drone challenges
February 3rd, 2014
11:40 AM ET

Time to write the rules for cyber and drone challenges

By Des Browne and Michael Shank, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Des Browne is the former U.K. Secretary of State for Defense. Michael Shank is the associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. The views expressed are their own.

Iran has begun implementing the Joint Plan of Action over its nuclear program. The United States and Russia are cooperating in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. And the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded late last year to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for its “extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.” The past few months have clearly underscored what can be achieved when the international community works together on weapons of mass destruction.

But while the response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons and Iran is laudable and should now be leveraged to strengthen international law, treaties and monitoring mechanisms more broadly, the reality is that newer challenges are evolving even as the international community works to get a handle on longstanding threats. And although these threats come in a variety of forms, there are two in particular that will require the same kind of concerted effort.

The magnitude of the threat posed by the weapons of choice from the 20th century and 21st century are striking. Whether it is an armed, unmanned drone that could even carry tactical nuclear arms or be turned into a dirty bomb, or offensive cyber capabilities, consider how increasingly easy these potential weapons are to utilize, how a growing number of countries want their own capabilities in these fields, and how difficult they can be to monitor and regulate.

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Topics: Cyber • Military • Nuclear
Iran action plan is no step forward
January 15th, 2014
08:57 AM ET

Iran action plan is no step forward

By Maseh Zarif, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Maseh Zarif is deputy director at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project. The views expressed are the writers’ own.

Obama administration officials have been preening since the announcement that the November 2013 “Joint Plan of Action” (JPA) deal with Iran will be implemented beginning January 20.  But the credibility of the deal – and the negotiators that struck it – is in trouble for one simple reason:  The JPA fails to verifiably eliminate Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. Or more succinctly, in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s words: “In Geneva agreement world powers surrendered to Iranian nation's will.”

It became apparent during negotiations last year that the administration was ready for a deal that left Iran with considerable options in developing a nuclear weapon. The “first step” agreement did nothing to force Iran to address weaponization-related activities or its pursuit of ballistic missiles, which could serve as delivery vehicles for a nuclear warhead. And over-reliance on Iranian cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency will be another problem. Indeed, Tehran just postponed a forthcoming meeting with the IAEA on weaponization questions.

Uranium enrichment and other related projects will continue unchecked, despite officials’ arguments that Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle activities would be halted in significant ways. Indeed, a senior administration official conceded this week that the testing and feeding of advanced-generation centrifuges will be allowed under the deal’s implementation plan. The Iranians will, as a result, continue to improve their ability to produce enriched uranium more efficiently.

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Topics: Iran • Nuclear • United States
North Korea in 2014: A country on the ledge
December 19th, 2013
04:07 PM ET

North Korea in 2014: A country on the ledge

By Matt Stumpf, Special o CNN

Editor’s note: Matt Stumpf is director of the Asia Society’s Washington office.  The views expressed are his own. This is the fourth in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

If diplomacy is at times the act of building ladders for your opponent to climb down, rarely has a country needed it more urgently than North Korea today.  The leadership in Pyongyang spent 2013 destroying the last rungs of the teetering ladder built by the Six-Party Talks in the mid-2000s.  So, it enters 2014 on a ledge, and there are no obvious ways down.

North Korea finds itself in an ever-more precarious international situation after a disastrous series of decisions in 2013. Not long ago, reasonable analysts saw inklings of North Korean interest in economic reform.  As early as the first days of the new leadership in January 2012, North Korean officials reportedly said: Kim Jong Un was “focused on a ‘knowledge-based’ economy and looking at economic reforms enacted by other nations, including China.” As late as January 2013, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt’s visit suggested that North Korea might believe the country could not prosper while isolated.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • Asia • North Korea • Nuclear
Why the Iran deal is good for U.S.
December 12th, 2013
01:33 PM ET

Why the Iran deal is good for U.S.

By Laicie Heeley, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Laicie Heeley is the director of Middle East and defense policy at The Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Two weeks after the P5+1 powers reached a deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program in return for some sanctions relief, the American public is still trying to make sense of the deal.

Multiple polls, including from Washington Post/ABC and Reuters/Ipsos indicate strong American support for the deal with Iran. Yet a new Pew Research poll suggests many Americans are skeptical about Iran’s intentions, with a plurality disapproving of the agreement.  Given that the agreement is so complex, it’s understandable that the U.S. public is making up its mind about the deal. But the reality is that after decades of disappointment, the United States is finally approaching a win with Iran. This is a good deal for the United States and its allies.

The details of the accord, reached in Geneva  by the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, square firmly within America’s national security and non-proliferation interests by freezing the progress of Iran’s nuclear program before it reaches critical weapons capacity, while also initiating a rollback of the most sensitive parts of Iran’s nuclear program. That’s a boost for both U.S. and international security. Leading national security experts from across the ideological spectrum agree, including former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who have found common cause in championing the possibilities an accord presents.

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Topics: Iran • Nuclear • United States
November 13th, 2013
09:06 AM ET

Arak reactor should be key to Iran deal

By Mark Hibbs, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mark Hibbs is a senior associate in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. You can follow him @MarkHibbsCEIP. The views expressed are his own.

France appeared at the weekend to drive a stake into the heart of a deal that it and five other powers have been quietly negotiating with Iran to end the Iran nuclear crisis. The move didn’t prove fatal – both sides are committed to resume negotiations in Geneva on November 20. But France objected that the outline of a deal favored by the United States didn’t commit Iran to suspend work to finish a reactor at Arak, which could make bomb-grade fuel, but only not to start up the reactor during the next six months. When the powers return to Geneva to resume negotiations, they should tell Iran that an initial confidence-building agreement should freeze work on the reactor project.

Suspension would give negotiators space to forge a long-term commitment to address proliferation concerns that are shared by all the powers, Israel, and the Arab Gulf states. Under such an arrangement, Iran could receive assistance to complete the reactor with modern instrumentation, equipment, and fuel, making it safe to operate. The unfinished reactor could be replaced with a less-threatening unit, or its design could be modified to enhance nonproliferation and maximize its potential for peaceful nuclear research and medical isotope production. In return, Iran would agree not to access the reactor’s plutonium and to allow IAEA inspections in perpetuity. One of the six powers – France, perhaps – could take back the plutonium-laden spent fuel.

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Zakaria: Iran talks probably moved too fast
November 12th, 2013
11:48 AM ET

Zakaria: Iran talks probably moved too fast

CNN speaks with Fareed about the failure to reach a deal at the weekend over Iran's nuclear program, and why some countries are so opposed to an agreement. This is an edited version of the transcript.

So what is your take on all of this? The talks fell apart over the weekend. What's your take?

Well, remember, this was always going to be hard. The United States and Iran haven't talked since 1979. There hasn't been any kind of deal on the nuclear program for ten years. But it seemed to me what happened was they almost got too close too quickly.

There was a sense in which it seemed like the deal was going to happen and then a number of countries that have problems – Israel started lobbying from the outside without even knowing what was in the deal, and then, most centrally, France decided to break ranks. Very strange move, publicly breaking ranks. The French probably have a number of motives. It's always fun for the French to be anti- American and to distance themselves from the Americans.

They're also trying to signal to Saudi Arabia and the emirates, the Gulf states that don't like Iran, that they are the tough guys here. Because France has a lot of commercial business, particularly arms business with Saudi Arabia. So there's a whole bunch of motives there. But I think it was largely because we got so close faster than anyone thought we would.

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November 11th, 2013
08:46 AM ET

Why some Iran deal critics may want talks failure

By Fareed Zakaria

It's difficult to know what to make of the failure to arrive at an agreement between the West and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program. The high level talks have ended, and negotiations are scheduled to resume at a lower level in 10 days.

Secretary of State John Kerry's comments seemed the most sensible. "It was always going to be hard to arrive at a deal with Iran when the mistrust was so deep and had gone on for so long," he said.

But what was remarkable was the tone of the negotiators as they broke up. Both the Iranians and the main Western negotiator, Catherine Ashton of the European Union, were positive and constructive, believing that much progress has been made.
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Bad Iran deal worse than no deal
November 9th, 2013
11:12 AM ET

Bad Iran deal worse than no deal

By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of Dancing with the Devil, a history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes. The views expressed are his own.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Geneva on Friday amidst speculation that marathon talks might yield a nuclear deal, or at least an agreed framework for future talks. Should the two sides come to an agreement, both the State Department and the White House will hail the breakthrough, even as they caution that they will re-impose sanctions should Iran violate the deal. That would be an empty threat. As North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can attest, diplomats don’t abandon a process once begun.

The Iranian nuclear portfolio has stymied diplomats for well over a decade. The Iran issue was the first crisis outside the borders of Europe on which the European Union took the lead. EU officials hoped to show that diplomacy and multilateral organizations could be more successful than cowboy unilateralism. The crisis accelerated in 2005 when, after several warnings, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found Iran in non-compliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards agreement. The diplomatic center of gravity then shifted to New York, where the U.N. Security Council passed a series of resolutions, many by unanimous vote, imposing increasing sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Both the United States and European Union augmented these sanctions with increasingly broad unilateral measures targeting both Iran’s oil industry and its currency. Collectively, the sanctions had effect.

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U.S. needs to get real over Iran nuclear talks
October 21st, 2013
08:45 AM ET

U.S. needs to get real over Iran nuclear talks

By Kelsey Davenport, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Kelsey Davenport is the nonproliferation analyst for the Arms Control Association. The views expressed are her own.

For the first time in years, Washington appears to be on the path towards a deal that will guard against a nuclear-armed Iran. But to achieve that goal, America must speak with one voice. Our representatives in Washington must actively support our diplomats and actively avoid undercutting them at the negotiating table.

After two days of talks in Geneva, there is good reason to hope that Iran, the United States, and five other world powers are on the path to an agreement that will end the decades-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

During the October 15 to 16 negotiations, Iranian officials followed through on newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani’s promise to engage in serious negotiations with the international community and present a proposal that addresses the concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. In a press conference following the talks, a joint statement endorsed by all the participating countries described Iran’s proposal as an “important contribution” and characterized the talks as “substantive and forward looking.”

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How West sees Iran's nuclear program
October 16th, 2013
08:51 AM ET

How West sees Iran's nuclear program

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

As American, European, Russian, Chinese and Iranian negotiators jockey in Geneva over ending the West’s economic sanctions on Tehran in return for a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, European and U.S. publics are sending negotiators on both sides a clear message: they oppose Iran having nuclear armaments. They agree on the current imposition of economic sanctions. And they generally support the use of military force if sanctions fail. The Chinese and Russian publics, though, dissent.

At a time when people on both sides of the Atlantic have turned critical of the Afghan War and have recoiled from involvement in Syria’s civil war, there is relative cohesion on Iran in both Europe and the United States. Indeed, there are some signs such solidarity may be strengthening. Yet although Iranian negotiators in Geneva will find little daylight between the American and European publics that they can exploit, differences between transatlantic views and those held by the Chinese and Russian publics may yet prove critical in the talks.

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Topics: Europe • Iran • Nuclear • United States
October 14th, 2013
10:50 AM ET

Don’t expect miracles in Iran nuclear talks

By Ali Vaez, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ali Vaez is senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group. The views expressed are his own.

Seldom has there been so much anticipation of a breakthrough in talks over Iran’s nuclear crisis than is the case for the negotiations starting Tuesday in Geneva. But inflated hopes are dangerous, and the sobering reality of tough negotiations could quickly dash hopes and even derail diplomacy.

The reality is that despite the recent election of a new Iranian administration, one that has been keen to stress that a breakthrough could be just around the corner, it would be naïve to expect a decade-old impasse to be resolved in just two days. After all, Iran’s nuclear crisis is one of the most complex issues in international politics today. And the last time President Hassan Rouhani and his current foreign minister, Javad Zarif, were Iran’s nuclear negotiators – back in 2003 to 2005 – there were two years of talks over a crisis that was then barely a year old.

A deal today would be even harder to imagine. In 2003, Iran was struggling to assemble 164 centrifuges. Today, it has more than 18,000. Back then, Iran had one enrichment facility, one type of centrifuge, no fissile material stockpile and sought to enrich uranium to 5 percent. Now, it has two enrichment facilities, several types of advanced centrifuges, tons of fissile material and is enriching both to 5 and 20 percent levels. These advancements have come at a hefty price. Today, there are numerous sanctions backed by the United States and international community.

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