Tag Archives: Diplomacy

Political Autopsies on Mullah Omar and Murree

Another round-up of interesting analysis on the aftermath of Mullah Omar’s death, the politics of the Taliban, and the relationship with Afghanistan-Pakistan-Taliban talks.

Borhan Osman for the Afghan Analysts Network:

Why Akhtar Mansur agreed to this meeting in the first place, despite opposition from the Qatar office, was explained by the sources as follows: primarily, he intended to relieve the Taleban of the increasing pressure by Pakistan. But rather than agreeing to serious, formal and public talks with the Afghan government, he wanted the Murree event to remain private. He had tried not to damage the Taleban’s narrative of distance to Pakistan. He also did not want to look to be bypassing the movement’s formal channel for talks, ie the Qatar office. At the same time, he was convinced he could use the meeting, which he thought was inevitable, for something: to signal that the Taleban were willing to hold formal talks, which would come soon … endorsing the Qatar office as an autonomous entity in the wake of the Murree meeting could imply two possible aims. It would be a clear attempt to deny Pakistan leverage over Taleban leaders who, before, had lived on its soil, so it cannot drag them into further peace talks as the ‘official representatives’ of the movement. It would also allow the Qatar office to accelerate peace efforts, removing the need for the Leadership Council to supervise its activities … An external force intimidating one party into coming to the table can be no substitute for genuine interest in seeking a negotiated end to the conflict. Proceeding from a view that the Taleban insurgency is wholly a Pakistan-created phenomenon and therefore Islamabad can just deliver the Taleban to Kabul may not be very helpful. Pursuing such an approach always risked the trust-building needed for launching a more independent channel of talks with the Taleban.

Antonio Giustozzi in Foreign Affairs:

From the beginning, though, Yakub also entertained close relations with Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is leader of the Miran Shah Shura and is hostile to political reconciliation. Perhaps the many years of education Yakub spent in a Pakistani madrasah predisposed him to object to Mansour’s seemingly “unprincipled” approach to the peace process, which is increasingly focused more on power sharing and the distribution of the spoils than on principles (establishing a “more Islamic” system of government, whatever that might mean) … According to sources within the Quetta Shura, friction first arose between Yakub and Mansour in April, when Mansour initially raised the possibility of announcing to the world that Omar was dead. Mansour claimed that Kabul’s demand to meet Omar in order to obtain a clear endorsement of the peace process left the group with no other choice. Yakub, however, also understood that Mansour was laying the groundwork for his own succession to Omar. Yakub is also likely not to have appreciated Mansour’s decision to issue an Eid al-Fitr message at the end of Ramadan that was signed “Mullah Omar” and that endorsed the peace process. His [Mansour’s] message broke the unwritten agreement that the Quetta Shura would not use Omar’s name to promote policies that were still controversial among the Taliban … For now, an open split does not appear imminent. Yakub seems intent on organizing a campaign against Mansour within the Taliban, a brand name that has significant value. But if Mansour keeps breaking old rules and, most important, if he resumes the reconciliation process before gathering widespread support within the top layers of the Taliban, anything could happen. The Taliban also risks that major donors to the movement might end up so dismayed by ever worsening internal struggles that they could dump the Taliban altogether. Funding to the Taliban is already in decline this year, and a further acceleration of the cuts could have devastating effects

Barnett Rubin in the New Yorker:

It may be tempting to portray Mansur as in favor of talks, and Zakir and Mullah Omar’s family as “hard-liners” opposed to talks, but the lines are not so clear. Especially with the appointment of Mawlawi Haibatullah, Mansur seems to be strengthening his Ishaqzai tribe’s hold over the leadership rather than maintaining a careful tribal balance. Afghanistan’s history with the I.S.I. inevitably leads some to attribute differences between Zakir and Mansur to an effort by Pakistan to pressure Mansur, but a senior Pakistani official e-mailed to say, “Our main effort now is to prevent fragmentation That is lose-lose for everyone.” The Taliban Web site claimed that Mansur received visiting delegations, whose members pledged bay’at (religiously mandated allegiance) to him … The Pakistani pressure on the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government through a process in which Pakistan has a say will continue, as will differences among the Taliban on how to respond. Mansur authorized Taliban leaders with strong ties to the I.S.I. to participate in the July 7th meeting, while simultaneously permitting his official spokesman and Web site to issue statements undermining the meeting’s legitimacy. Now Mansur’s decisions, unlike those in Omar’s name, are unlikely to be met with unanimous consent, especially if they are seen as being made under pressure from Pakistan. The political office, which derived much of its authority from its close ties to Mullah Omar (its head, Tayyib Agha, is rumored to be the late leader’s son-in-law) might be orphaned. It has been under Mansur’s leadership, however, that Taliban spokesmen have stated that the political office is the only address for talks. If the office seizes its new autonomy to engage directly with the Afghan government, and the government accepts the offer rather then relying entirely on Pakistan, the office could be the government’s interlocutor in an Afghan-led effort. Any settlement will still need to safeguard Pakistan’s interests, but China’s involvement, as in the Urumqi meeting, may accomplish that more deftly than meeting under the gaze of I.S.I. generals.

Thomas Ruttig for the Afghan Analysts Network:

Mansur also gave the green light for early channels of contact, from opening the Qatar office to the Pugwash-organised talks earlier this year, also in Qatar. He also seems to have been the driving force behind the recent move to make the Political Committee independent of his own Quetta Shura. (In contrast, there was controversy about whether he had really blessed the Murree talks, too, or not. More about this in our following dispatch.) This policy of trying to make the Taleban more independent of Pakistan’s direct control, by moving its main political instrument to Qatar, has put him on the hit list of the anti-talks (but not necessarily pro-Pakistan [added on 1 Aug.]) forces among the Taleban, widely believed to be led by Mullah Qayum Zaker, and of Islamabad itself. (6) This, by the way, was a significant moment, creating for the first time something like an independent ‘political wing’ of the Taleban, if, of course, it remains credible with those fighting on the ground … Pakistan’s induction of its own favourite Taleban leaders, opponents of Mansur’s course, into the Murree talks amounted to a coup to take over the whole Taleban movement. To push forces more amenable to its own interests, it gambled on either a complete take over (in case the Mansur group would give in) or a final split of the Taleban. (Some Afghan observers AAN talked to see similarity in this move to Pakistan dropping Hekmatyar in favour of Mullah Omar’s Taleban in the mid-1990s.) This had, and still has, some chance of success, particularly as the Afghan government bought into the Pakistan-organised talks with that faction and when this faction gains more support within the Taleban. But then, the appointment of Mansur by his own group, to the disgruntlement of the opponents, was a counter-coup … For the time being, it will be insufficient to talk of ‘anti-‘ and ‘pro-talks’ Taleban, as there are now more currents with clear, distinctive agendas. We have ‘anti-talks’ Taleban who oppose a Pakistan-led approach (Mansur) but who are pro-talks when they can carry them out independently. We have ‘pro-talks’ Taleban who support the Pakistan-led approach (including those attending the talks in Urumchi and the first round in Murree). And we have Taleban apparently opposed to any talks (Zaker).

Andrew Small for Foreign Policy:

Beijing faces a jihadist world that is becoming increasingly hostile to its interests — and increasingly difficult to negotiate with. From the 1980s on, when the preeminent militant figures were headquartered in Afghanistan and Pakistan and receiving active sponsorship or tacit acquiescence from the Pakistani security services, Beijing enjoyed a number of benefits. Given that there were far more important targets, and the cause for an independent Uighur homeland was a peripheral one at best, attacking China over its Xinjiang policies seemed inadvisable. Moreover, with Pakistani facilitation, Beijing preferred buying off its potential opponents: The Taliban benefited from Chinese arms, money, and modest political support. Whether for reasons of tactical necessity or pragmatic advantage, the suffering of their Uighur brothers was a strikingly low priority for the Taliban or for Kashmiri militant groups. In 1997, even Osama bin Laden publicly dismissed bomb attacks in Xinjiang as a CIA plot to divide China and the Muslim world … That model has become far less viable.

Bette Dam interviewed in Der Spiegel:

I saw this misconception of who the real enemy in Afghanistan was. I realized that, more than we think, the corrupt Afghan government, with its warlords fighting each other, was also the enemy. Often bombs were attributed to the Taliban, but were they always behind it? Hardly any journalist was talking to the Taliban. So, I found it necessary to portray the Taliban movement and its leader, to explain who they are. As a result of that research, the book will explain why the West is losing the war in Afghanistan …  From the perspective of living in Kabul, the Taliban were scary. But after traveling extensively in the south, where many Taliban come from, I saw it differently. The Taliban were happy to talk, they felt misunderstood. For example, they considered it an important gesture that most of Taliban members surrendered to President Hamid Karzai after 9/11 and handed over their weapons. But the US and some of its allies didn’t accept a Taliban surrender and sent armies in to chase them … One of the interesting points is that Mullah Omar was a person who was very interested in the West. He really trusted the United States in the beginning, because they had helped him during the jihad in the 1980s to expel the Soviets. In 1996, when he became the leader of the Taliban, the first thing he expected to happen was the reopening of the US Embassy in Kabul. Instead, a big cultural misunderstanding ensued because what we saw, of course, was the Taliban’s treatment of women, the stonings. Although it is true these things are horrible, there was also a context in Afghanistan: the civil war. Women were being dragged off the streets, gang raped and murdered. They put women in bags and threw them in the water. A lot of tribes were killing each other.


Before Khobragade: notes from the 1981 US-India PNG’ing

Apropos of Khobragade-gate – culminating in last week’s reciprocal expulsion of diplomats from the United States and India – I was interested in the precedents for this case.

The last incident was in 1997, when two US intelligence officers were expelled after an unauthorised meeting with a senior official from India’s Intelligence Bureau, with the US kicking out two Indian officials in response.

The case before that appears to date to 1981, when George Griffin was prevented from taking up a post in Delhi:

Griffin had served at the American consulate in Calcutta 10 years earlier, in 1971, during the war with Pakistan when the US had threatened to attack India. “We were convinced that he played an intelligence role while at the consulate, and there was simply no way we could welcome someone who had tried to threaten the security of India while she was at war,” recalled a diplomat who had just returned from an overseas posting to a role at the external affairs ministry headquarters here. “There was anger that the US had even tried to suggest posting Griffin here — they were needling us.” Prime Minister Indira Gandhi made a public statement in response to questions, confirming that India had refused to accept Griffin’s posting because of his “intelligence role” during the 1971 war … Predictably, the US retaliated, refusing to accept the appointment of Prabhakar Menon, posted by India that year as a political officer at the Washington embassy.

In 2002, the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training conducted a fascinating extended interview (PDF) with Griffin as part of its oral history programme, including segments on his time in Calcutta and his later falling out of favour with the Indian government. Here are some particularly interesting excerpts:

On meeting with Indian Army officers

One evening [during Griffin’s Calcutta posting], we were invited to the home of the Indian Political Officer – the equivalent of an ambassador – for dinner. One of the guests was an Indian mountain climber. He was an Army colonel, who commanded the Indian Army Mountain Warfare School in Kashmir. He bragged that he had just climbed Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, east of Everest, on the China border. He showed us some slides of the climb, which was supposed to be secret. The mountain is considered sacred by the Bhutanese, and the official line remains that no one has ever climbed it. Moreover, the Chinese didn’t want Indians climbing it because it overlooked Tibet. The mountain has a cliff face on the north side, which is considered unclimbable. The Chinese wanted to climb it themselves, but that is possible only through Sikkim or Bhutan, and the Indians wouldn’t let them. The colonel said that, if the Chinese had learned about his expedition, they would have considered it a spy mission. Two Chinese military bases – an airbase and an army base – can be seen from the peak. We decided not to publicize it.

On  Americans in India:

Indians and Americans have almost the same image abroad – that is, arrogant and not very nice, until you get to know them. Anybody who comes to America and spends time, especially in the middle of the country, will say, “Oh, Americans are so friendly. Everybody says hello to you. Everywhere you go, people are friendly and say hi.” It’s rather similar in India … Indians in general, and especially Indians abroad, are like Americans. They appear arrogant, they know everything, they are not always very nice people, so you don’t think you want to know them. But if you do get to know them – the same with Americans – you can find good friends.

On internal US disputes over the 1971 War, which have been written about in recent books (notably Gary Bass’ Blood Telegram):

We were at the end of the food chain. From our perspective, the Department, Embassy New Delhi, and Embassy Islamabad were squabbling about what our stance should be. In particular, Ambassadors Farland (in Islamabad) and ex-Senator Kenneth Keating (in New Delhi) seemed to us to be snarling at each other. We kept adding free advice to our reports that we should all cooperate, as we’re on the same team. But differing views has been a problem between those two embassies ever since Pakistan was created. Embassy New Delhi finally arranged a meeting, asking Islamabad to send its political counselor. He didn’t come, but his deputy did – my friend Bill Simmons. I was invited too, so I went to Delhi and sat in a series of meetings mostly chaired by Lee Stull, the Political Counselor. Dick Viets was the Ambassador’s staff aide at the time, and Galen Stone was the DCM. They and lots of others, including the CIA station chief, got involved. But we ran into a buzz saw. Bill Simmons said Ambassador Farland was upset because we didn’t grasp that East Pakistan was internal Pakistani business. He suggested that we shut up and do our jobs tracking India, which seemed primed to attack our CENTO ally Pakistan … every time Embassy Islamabad said it was an internal Pakistani affair we sent in a report showing how those “internal” problems had spilled over into India … In the midst of the war, I got a call from one of the generals at Eastern Command asking why we were sending an aircraft carrier into the Bay of Bengal. I asked Embassy New Delhi what was going on. Ambassador Keating in turn called the State Department and, in much more colorful language, asked if it were true. It turned that the USS Enterprise had been ordered into the Bay of Bengal without informing the Ambassador. He was livid.

On India’s war hero General  JFR Jacob giving away India’s order of battle:

Frustrated, I went back to Calcutta and kept doing my job. One evening my wife and I were invited to supper a trois by the deputy commandant of Eastern Command, a fascinating gentleman named Major General J. F. R. Jacob. After the war, he was promoted, and became the highest ranking Jew ever in the Indian Army – something he is rightly proud of. He’s from Bombay and is now a senior member of the ruling BJP. Jackie and I got to be pretty thick after a couple of false starts. At supper that night he showed us some of his prized Chinese artifacts, and we talked a lot about art. Finally, he said, “Don’t you have to go to the bathroom? Go through the bedroom.” It took me a few moments to understand, but once in his bedroom I found a huge map of the region on his wall .on which all of the Indian military formations were carefully plotted – all of them. I didn’t have a camera, but I had a pretty good memory. I studied the map for as long as I dared, then raced to the Consulate and filed the news that there were troops where we didn’t know there were troops, and many more than we had thought.

Being followed in India and Pakistan:

Like many of my colleagues, I always assumed that my phone was tapped in every post. I was sure of it in India; it was a given. And I presumed it in Pakistan. Since I had transferred directly from India to Pakistan, I probably was under more suspicion than some of our other people. It was proved later on when Howie Schaffer and Dennis Kux were tapped. Bhutto played a tape recording of one of their conversations on the air, claiming that American diplomats were making fun of Pakistan and were not real friends. That was long after I left, but it created quite a stir. So, yes, one presumed. Watched? Of course. They tracked me around. They always knew where I was. The Northwest Frontier was a bit like the northeast in India; you had to have a special permit to go there. There was a DEA agent in Islamabad who got in trouble because of that. He came to Pakistan directly from being a deputy sheriff in West Texas, and hadn’t been overseas before. I’ll never forget his name – Harold Leap. He sported a 10-gallon hat and cowboy boots, and liked to strap on a six- shooter and have a good time. Once he chased some drug runners into the Northwest Frontier. The Pakistan police would never do that, but Leap did. He was lucky to be alive. He got shot at and then rescued, I think, by Pakistan Army troops. The Ambassador sent him away before he could be PNGed by the Pakistan Government. Yes, they knew where you were.

On being accused of trying to kill Mrs Gandhi:

One of the triggers for her action had my name on it. She was about to take a trip abroad when mechanics found something wrong with her official aircraft. At an Air India facility in Bombay, where the plane was maintained, inspectors found some control wires sawed halfway through. As the communists’ favorite “killer CIA spy,” my name got attached to this. Allegedly, I had somehow sneaked in and done this in the dead of night. They had to blame somebody, and I was convenient, if nowhere near India. So, I was one scapegoat to prove that somebody was out to get her. In the end, Mrs. Gandhi’s imposition of the state of emergency cost her the prime ministership, and she went to jail. Then in 1980 she came back.

On being PNGd in 1981:

I told the Department I wanted Delhi. The Indian Ambassador got wind of it, and became more and more friendly. At a luncheon he had for me, he noted that I would need a proper visa, and asked for my passport. His staff gave me a multiple-entry diplomatic visa, to save me from a bureaucratic run-around in New Delhi. When he gave it to me, he wished me well in New Delhi, saying he would look me up when he came home, so we could continue to be good friends. I was very happy about the future … I got a radio-telephone call from good old Howard Schaffer, saying there was a problem. When I asked what it was, he said it looked as if I might not be going to New Delhi after all. I had just been declared persona non grata by the Indian Government. [They] were told that, actually, the Government of India didn’t want to see me, ever again. After all, Mrs. Gandhi saw me as a major enemy of India. So I was PNGed, thanks to a messenger. I was front-page news for a few days. Secretary Haig was quoted as saying, “Griffin is not a CIA spy,” which cheesed off the Agency because we’re not supposed to confirm or deny such things. I’ve been told it was the only time a Secretary of State has ever said that … [In 1984] Then the Soviets really went to town, saying I was behind [Indira Gandhi’s assassination] as a promoter of Free Kalistan, a militant Sikh movement … Pravda 111 was first to print that story. Then the Indian press picked it up and repeated it along with my picture – the whole shebang … . Everybody who followed Soviet disinformation activity (it’s a Russian word) said my case was unprecedented. They had never seen anything else like it. If you go on the Internet, you will find all the books in which I’m called a killer CIA spy.

Avoiding the Indian Ambassador in Lagos:

Our chancery, thanks to some clever bureaucrats, was next to the Bulgarian Embassy. One of the most dedicated recorders of our fire was a cameraman at that chancery. Our communications vault was in a corner closest to the Bulgarians. Both embassies had lots of antennas. After the fire, the FCS office was moved to that side of the building, as we were one of the least sensitive sections. Two doors past the Bulgarians was the Indian chancery and residence. The Indian Ambassador, because of my history, refused to speak to me. He would dodge away across the room at large receptions, and turn on his heel if I got too close. But his wife was the sister of India’s national tennis champion, who was a friend of ours in Calcutta.

On being shunned by the Indian Ambassador in Nigeria:

A couple of weeks after we arrived in Lagos, I asked someone where to get a haircut. The most common answer was “Try the Indian Ambassador’s wife.” She ran a unisex hairdressing shop in her residence. Since I had heard of her and knew her brother, I took the bit between my teeth and called for an appointment. She signed me up, and as she was cutting my hair, she said, “I think I have heard of you.” I replied that I was a friend of her brother. She seemed delighted that I knew Calcutta, and wondered if we had been in touch lately. I said, “No,” and told her why, offering some of my history with her government. She said, “Oh, that’s so silly. Why did they do that?” I said, “I don’t know. Ask your husband.” After my third haircut I bumped into him in the hallway, and told him I thought avoidance was unnecessary. We should at least say hello politely. I said, “What’s been done has been done. I’m not going to assassinate you; nor you me.” He seemed to agree, and suggested that my wife and I come for dinner. An invitation never did come. Years later, I met the man we PNGed in retaliation for my being bounced from New Delhi. He, of course, was immediately made ambassador to Malawi, or some such place. He came to a conference of Indian chiefs of mission in Nairobi, and made a point of being introduced to me. He said he was delighted that I came despite our mutual history, because he wanted to meet me. He said, “Thank you for helping my career.”

The interview’s conclusion:

Q: Well, I want to thank you very much, George. This is a fascinating story, and I hope you’ve cleared your name with the Indians by this point.

GRIFFIN: Oh, they love me now.

what to read on the Iran nuclear talks II


This week Zarif appeared to offer a concession, suggesting Tehran might no longer insist on hammering out wording in the interim agreement that explicitly guaranteed Iran the right to enrich uranium, saying there could be references to the right already, under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But an Iranian negotiator at the talks denied the Iranian position had eased. “If this element is not in the text, it is unacceptable to us. Without that, there will be no agreement.” … A compromise had been floated in the days running up the latest Geneva talks whereby the agreement text would mention NPT rights and the parties would interpret that in their own way. However, the Iranian negotiator said that would not be enough for Tehran. “It is because there are different interpretations of the NPT that there is a need to spell it out in the text. We are trying to find language that is the least problematic for all parties, but what is essential is the element of enrichment.”


Among the issues to be resolved concerns language in the text on enrichment, an analyst briefed by negotiators told Al-Monitor. Specifically, he understood, language in the P5+1 proposal given to Iran at the end of the last meeting November 9th would permanently limit Iran’s enrichment, and would never let Iran be treated as a normal member of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the analyst understood. Another issue is thought to be a demand on the Arak facility, an issue the Iranians told the P5+1 at the Nov. 9 meeting would not be acceptable, and which remains so now, at least without additional sanctions relief, the analyst said.


Several issues must be settled if the two sides are to clinch a breakthrough after a decade of nuclear talks, diplomats said. One is how to word Iran’s assurances that it won’t continue work on its heavy-water reactor in the city of Arak, which will be capable of producing plutonium usable in a nuclear weapon. The second is what should happen to Iran’s stockpile of near-weapons-grade enriched uranium. Differences also remain on the precise sanctions relief to be offered Iran, an important part of what the Western diplomat called a package of concessions each side could take.

Fundamental to the overall accord is Iran’s claim that it has a right to enrich uranium. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted in a speech on Wednesday that the West recognize what Iran says is its right to enrich uranium. Iranian officials in Geneva on Thursday identified the issue as perhaps the biggest impediment to an agreement this week. An Iranian diplomat in Geneva said any pact signed this week must contain the concept of Iran having the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes under the U.N.’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “If the right to enrich isn’t acknowledged, there won’t be a deal,” said the diplomat. But Iranian officials also said there was some flexibility in the language that could be used.

A senior U.S. official in Geneva said the Obama administration was confident language could be found to bridge the positions. “Iran has for a long time said that they believe they have an inalienable right to enrichment,” said the official. “The United States has said for an equally long time that we do not believe any country…has a right to enrichment. Do I believe this issue can be navigated in an agreement? Yes, I do. And we will see if that can be done or not.” Officials wouldn’t outline the language that might be used to reconcile the two sides. Outside nuclear experts close to the diplomacy said a possible outcome would be for the P5+1 to recognize in a text agreement that Iran would enjoy all the rights of a signatory to the nonproliferation treaty, without explicitly saying Iran could enrich uranium domestically.

Washington Post:

Both the U.S. and Iranian delegations face pressure from skeptics at home. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) joined other prominent members of Congress in warning that even harsher economic sanctions could be imposed on Iran in the weeks ahead. The White House had lobbied to prevent lawmakers from approving new measures while the Iran talks were at a delicate stage. “While I support the administration’s diplomatic efforts, I believe we need to leave our legislative options open to act on a new, bipartisan sanctions bill in December shortly after we return,” Reid said in a speech on the Senate floor.

In Iran, conservative clerics have warned newly elected President Hassan Rouhani against agreeing to any limits on Iran’s nuclear program. On Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators formed a ring around the country’s Fordow uranium-enrichment plant to protest any deal limiting the facility’s output. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, soured the atmosphere surrounding the talks with an inflammatory speech Wednesday that denounced Western countries as “evil powers” and called Israel the “rabid dog” of the Middle East.

New York Times:

Leading members of Congress were less constrained. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, introduced legislation on Thursday that would give the White House 60 days to conclude an interim agreement. If such an accord were achieved and Mr. Obama were later informed that the Iranians were not in compliance with some of its provisions, the president would have no more than 15 days to reverse the sanctions relief that he had granted Iran. Mr. Corker’s legislation would also give the White House no more than 180 additional days to conclude a more comprehensive agreement that the Obama administration says it is seeking or any sanctions that had been relaxed would be reimposed. The aim of the legislation is to prevent the Iranians from dragging out the talks and making an initial agreement the final one.It also would set more stringent terms for a comprehensive deal than Iran is currently prepared to accept by demanding that Tehran end uranium enrichment.

What to read on the Iran nuclear talks

Iran nuclear cartoon (The Economist)

A variety of perspectives on the Iranian nuclear talks from the past week:

Jeffrey Lewis (FP):

As best I can tell, under the original draft agreement, the Iranians committed not to bring the reactor online during the interim agreement. They could, however, continue to install equipment at Arak and manufacture fuel for the reactor, bringing it to the brink of operation during negotiations. The Iranians have now indicated that they are behind schedule, and will not have a load of fuel for the reactor before August 2014. In other words, the draft agreement would have allowed Iran to do everything it planned at Arak over the next six months, then start accumulating leverage in the form of plutonium if the terms of the deal were not acceptable …

The French have been here before — and with Hassan Rouhani. In 2004, Rouhani negotiated something called the “Paris Agreement” with the E3, under which the Iranians agreed to suspend their conversion and enrichment of uranium for a few months, while talks continued. The suspension was later extended. Although the suspension included “all tests or production at any uranium conversion installation,” Iran continued installing equipment at its Esfahan conversion facility. In fact, work never stopped. The commitment to refrain from tests or production was largely symbolic, since Iran was not yet ready to do either — it was still installing equipment. In 2005, when Iran was ready to start up the Uranium Conversion Facility at Esfahan, the talks stumbled. Iran indicated that it would continue to forego enrichment, but that it would begin the conversion process, producing uranium hexafluoride that could later be enriched. The Iranian talking point was that conversion was never really part of enrichment, anyway. The Europeans realized that the Iranians had gotten the better of them. Frustrated with Rouhani, the Europeans stalled to see whether the Iranian presidential election improved the negotiating environment. Surprise! The Iranians elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Upon taking office, Ahmadinejad replaced Rouhani and moved quickly to restart the nuclear program. Of course, he was able to do this because Rouhani had arranged the suspension to inflict the minimum delay. The Europeans were not very happy.

Bruno Tetrais (WPR):

So what are the real reasons for France’s Iran policy? The obvious ones are also the most important. Paris believes that a nuclear Iran would be a threat to Europe as well as to the Middle East … There is also a sense of ownership of the Iranian nuclear issue, in which Paris has been invested since June 2003, when it initiated European diplomacy with Tehran. Since then, a tough stance on the Iranian nuclear issue has been shared by all French negotiators and many experts; some of them have been dealing with Iran for a decade and hold important advisory positions today.

Also, compared to the United Kingdom and Germany, its European partners also involved in the talks, France has historically had a more cautious approach to the Iranian regime. This is informed by the brutal shadow war that opposed the two countries in the 1980s: The settlement of Shah-era financial disputes, French support for Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq War and Paris’ preoccupation with the stability of Lebanon were all key reasons behind Iranian attacks against French interests at the time. Paris also vividly remembers the ill-fated deals struck with Tehran in 2003 and 2004, which failed to solve the nuclear crisis and are taken as evidence that Iran should not be trusted a priori.

Mark Fitzpatrick (IISS)

The debate in the nuclear areas is the most pronounced. The ‘inalienable right’ stated in Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to develop and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes clashes with the controls applied by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and by UN Security Council resolutions directed against countries such as Iran. Article IV does not refer to uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing. The negotiating history shows that this omission was purposeful; several efforts to introduce explicit language were rejected …  Note that NPT Article III says safeguards should not hamper the international exchange of ‘equipment for the processing, use, or production of nuclear material’, which would mean enrichment and reprocessing. The passage would seem to rest on the premise that there is a right to such technologies. It is sometimes overlooked, however, that the rights in Article IV are conditional on conformity with the non-proliferation obligations of Articles I and II …

The proposal to Iran by China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, the US and the EU of 14 June 2008, which remains on the table, stated their readiness ‘to treat Iran’s nuclear programme in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear Weapon State Party to the NPT once international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme is restored’. Since no other party to the NPT (save for North Korea, whose NPT withdrawal is not universally accepted) is prohibited from developing enrichment and reprocessing, the conditional right to these technologies is implicit in the proposal. At some point in the negotiations, the six powers may wish to make this recognition explicit, and to specify what is required to restore international confidence … The most objective criteria would be faithful implementation of the safeguards Additional Protocol …

New York Times:

“I think there is a way to navigate it,” the senior administration official said when asked if a compromise might be found on Iran’s claim of a right to enrich uranium. The official did not detail the potential compromise. But one solution, Western diplomats say, would be for an interim accord to affirm that Iran would be entitled to all of the rights of signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran and world powers would then agree to disagree on how to interpret that treaty. “I am sure that whatever gets agreed to in this document, Iran will argue that they have the right to enrichment,” the senior administration official said, referring to the interim accord now under negotiation. “And we will argue, as I am sure the document will make clear, that nothing has been agreed as to the final dimensions of Iran’s peaceful nuclear program once it can assure the international community that it is peaceful.”

Arash Karami (Iran Pulse):

Zarif said: “Iran’s right to enrichment does not need to be officially recognized because it is a right that according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty is an inseparable right. What we expect is respect for components of these rights. In the previous years, Iran has applied this right, but unfortunately it was not respected.” Rather, he added, it led to sanctions. “We have reached an extremely sensitive point of the negotiations and I don’t want to discuss the specifics,” Zarif said. “We have officially stated that enrichment certainly has to exist in any framework of an agreement; but how, what methods and where is an issue we are currently negotiating.” Zarif continued: “Not only do we see the right to enrichment as nonnegotiable, we do not see any necessity for it to be identified as a right, because this right is inseparable, and all of the countries should respect this.”

Sam Cutler (The National Interest):

Appearing on CNN’sState of the Union, Netanyahu warned that “if all of a sudden you take off the pressure, everybody will understand that you are heading south. You’re really going to be in danger of crumbling the sanctions regime.” However, the idea that firms would deliberately violate existing U.S. and EU sanctions, under the assumption that enforcement actions would not be forthcoming, stretches the bounds of credulity. Companies would need to unlearn the recent and painful lessons taught to them by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and state regulators such as the New York Department of Financial Services.

Under the terms of the purported interim deal, the U.S. would offer Iran under $10 billion in sanctions relief, including approximately $3 billion in Iranian oil proceeds held in escrow accounts as mandated by the 2012 Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act (IFCA). Sanctions on auto sales, petrochemicals, aircraft parts, and precious metals like gold would also be relaxed. The most devastating banking and oil sanctions, which have effectively cut Iran off from the global financial system, would remain in place pending a final deal … Any firm that rushed back into the Iranian market beyond the scope of existing sanctions would then be left with significant regulatory exposure, having to explain itself in a political atmosphere poisoned by the failure of the P5+1 talks. Newer, tougher sanctions would surely follow, along with calls to redouble efforts to identify and punish violators. Even if punishment would not be immediate in every case, the international business community knows that OFAC has a long memory. The massive penalties levied in recent years were not usually the result of recent actions; for the most part, these fines were in response to offenses that occurred years earlier.

Robert Einhorn (Brookings):

Some members, wanting to be constructive, suggest that, instead of imposing new sanctions immediately, Congress should enact a law that provides for tough new sanctions but delays their imposition for several months to see if diplomacy succeeds. According to supporters, this approach would provide the necessary leverage without lowering the boom unless it becomes necessary. While this approach is neat in theory, Tehran is unlikely to grasp the nuance. Iranian opponents of a deal, and there are many, will argue that this would amount to negotiating with a gun to their heads, and they could succeed in reining in Iran’s negotiators and sabotaging any likelihood of a deal. Members of Congress should keep in mind that existing sanctions are having a devastating impact on Iran’s economy and providing plenty of incentives for Iran to reach agreement on terms acceptable to us. Still harsher sanctions will not add decisively to that leverage, but they run the risk of undermining the talks and increasing the difficulty of sustaining broad international support for sanctions.

Daryl Kimball (Arms Control Today):

But in the absence of a meaningful, realistic deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program, Iran will likely continue to increase its capacity to enrich uranium and expand its other sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle projects. That, in turn, will increase the risk of Israeli military strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites. Such an attack would only delay, not stop, Iran’s nuclear pursuits, would lead to a wider Middle East war, and likely push Iran’s leaders to openly seek the bomb. In the absence of a negotiated “first phase” agreement to pause Iran’s nuclear program, some U.S. legislators may seek further sanctions against Iran, but such sanctions would take many months to have an effect, they could strain international support for implementing the existing sanction regime, and such efforts would not halt or eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons potential. Now is the time to finally secure a meaningful first phase agreement and quickly move to negotiate a longer-term final phase agreement on the basis of realistic and achievable goals.

Emily Landau and Michael Herzog (BICOM):

However, the interim six month deal is likely to create a platform for continued arguing with the Iranians over every article and clause within the interim agreement. There is a likely danger that as a result of arguing over clauses in the interim agreement, negotiators will be distracted from fixing the parameters for a permanent agreement …

Whilst it is clear the Iranians know what they want, the P5+1 powers have failed to agree among themselves on a clearly defined endgame to the talks. Certainly there is no agreement with regional actors such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and others. The P5+1 should have started with a defined end game and the interim deal should work towards it, but this has not happened. For instance, with regard to the Plutonium reactor at Arak, if the endgame is that Iran should have no Plutonium reactor, then why negotiate over its construction? …

If there is an interim six month deal, Israel can do very little about it for now. It will likely fix its sight on the end of the six month period. If there is an endgame deal after six months, Israel will evaluate it and make its decisions. If there is no deal after six months, Israel will be in a position to say it gave the process a chance but it failed, and that it can rely on diplomacy no longer.


[Outgoing NSA] Mr [Yaakov] Amidror, when asked whether Israel’s military capability included the ability to strike Iran’s underground nuclear installations, said: “including everything”, but declined to elaborate. “We are not bluffing,” Mr Amidror said. “We are very serious – preparing ourselves for the possibility that Israel will have to defend itself by itself.” He said Israel’s preparations for possible conflict included long-range flights to ready Israeli pilots for possible missions to Iran. “From here to Iran, it is 2,000km, and you have to be familiar with such destinations,” Mr Amidror said. He added: “All those who have radar cover of the Middle East know what we are doing.” He said that the flights had been taking place “for a few years”.

And, a crazy one to end on … Uzi Mahnaimi (Sunday Times):

As part of the growing co-operation, Riyadh is understood already to have given the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran. Both sides are now prepared to go much further. The Sunni kingdom is as alarmed as Israel by the nuclear ambitions of the Shi’ite-dominated Iran. “Once the Geneva agreement is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs,” said a diplomatic source. The source added that Saudi co-operation over the use of rescue helicopters, tanker planes and drones would greatly assist an Israeli raid.

Assessing the intentions of adversaries: implications for diplomacy and signalling

Two articles caught my eye this morning, and each bears on the other.

First, the latest International Security has a fascinating article by Keren Yarhi-Milo, In the Eye of the Beholder: How Leaders and Intelligence Communities Assess the Intentions of Adversaries (PDF).

It argues that “individual perceptual biases and organizational interests and practices influence which types of indicators observers regard as credible signals of the adversary’s intentions” – intelligence organisations prefer measures of material capability, but civilian decision-makers “often base their interpretations on their own theories, expectations, and needs, sometimes ignoring costly signals and paying more attention to information that, though less costly, is more vivid”. So:

Those decisionmakers with relatively hawkish views, such as Robert Vansittart and Zbigniew Brzezinski, were quicker to read early Nazi German and Soviet actions, respectively, as evidence of malign intentions. Some clung to their original beliefs and interpreted all incoming information through the prism of those beliefs. Thus, Caspar Weinberger did not revise his beliefs about the expansionist nature of Soviet intentions even when faced with costly reassuring actions. Similarly, Cyrus Vance interpreted Soviet actions in the Horn and in Afghanistan consistently with his existing belief that the Soviets were merely opportunistic. Second, consistent with the selective attention thesis, British and American decisionmakers repeatedly and explicitly relied on their personal insights to derive conclusions about their adversary’s intentions. They monitored and responded not only to what the adversary’s leader promised or threatened behind closed doors, but also to how he delivered the message: tone of voice, mannerisms, and mood were critical pieces of intelligence in their eyes. (p47)

Moreover, the assumption that the informational value of “costless” (and even private) communication will be discounted does not withstand empirical scrutiny. Leaders explicitly drew on their personal insights about the sincerity and intentions of adversarial leaders. (p50)

In sum, the findings imply that any study on the efficacy of signals that fails to consider how signals are perceived and interpreted may be of little use to policymakers seeking to deter or reassure an adversary. (p1)

This seemed relevant, though only ambiguously applicable, in considering the recommendations made in a recent NYRB article, For a New Approach to Iran, by former diplomats William Luers and Thomas R. Pickering, and MIT’s Jim Walsh:

Arriving at such an agreement [with Iran] will require that the White House begin now to lay the groundwork. The sequence would likely entail the following steps, each of which would be politically difficult and complicated by mutual wariness and domestic politics in both countries:

A brief, private message of congratulations from President Obama to the new president of Iran on his taking office in August. The letter might express hopes for the prosperity and advancement of the Iranian nation without making specific requirements or proposals and without recalling past failures and frustrations.

The administration would, through friendly states, indicate that it would be open to a meeting between Presidents Obama and Rouhani, perhaps even as early as during the September UN General Assembly. Such a meeting could take place as a side conversation or even a simple greeting during a scheduled multilateral session at the UN; it might be preceded and prepared by a meeting of foreign ministers.