Iran Miscellany

*1.* Bernard Gwertzman recently conducted “an interview”: with Flynt Leverett (former NSC, now Brookings) containing another description of Iran’s efforts to engage the United States.

Leverett has “previously discussed”: this particular Iran offer. Here he says:

bq. In the spring of 2003 we received through this Swiss channel a one-page document, which basically laid out an agenda for a diplomatic process that was intended to resolve on a comprehensive basis all of the bilateral differences between the United States and Iran.

But I think this bit of inside baseball is somewhat new:

BG: I see. So this document pops up on Secretary of State Colin Powell’s desk. It was a very top-secret document, I suppose.

FL:. It wasn’t a classified document. What’s so remarkable about it, it was sent over by the Swiss embassy as an unclassified fax.

BG: I see. That’s why you can talk about it so easily.

FL: Yes, the document was never classified.

BG: So the United States had to make a decision on what it wanted to do. Was there a big debate about this?

FL: By this point I am out of government and I don’t really know how this played out within the bowels of the administration. What I do know happened is that the formal response of the administration to this was to complain to the Swiss foreign ministry that the Swiss ambassador in Tehran was exceeding his brief by talking with Iranians about a paper like this and passing it on.

BG: Let’s then go to the essence. Is this one of these clichés that the neo-cons in the Bush administration wanted regime change and nothing else and didn’t want to talk to the Iranians?

FL: I think you’re right. That’s the basic motivation, that you had a bunch of neo-cons, and even the president himself [against dialogue], it’s not just the neo-cons who wanted regime change and nothing else. Ultimately the president is, on this issue, very, very resistant to the idea of doing a deal, even a deal that would solve the nuclear problem. You don’t do a deal that would effectively legitimate this regime that he considers fundamentally illegitimate. I think that’s the real issue.

BG: And he considers it illegitimate because of what? Because it overthrew the Shah in 1979?

FL: No, in the president’s view you have this unelected set of clerical authorities, epitomized by the supreme leader, who are thwarting the clearly expressed will of the Iranian people for a more open, participatory political system, for more political, social, intellectual, and cultural freedom†all this kind of thing. And so it’s a system that in Bush’s mind is fundamentally illegitimate. It’s a system that needs to change, and he is not going to do a deal that lets this regime off the hook, even if that deal would solve our problem with them over the nuclear issue.

*2.* “This _London Sunday Telegraph_ article”: details the IAEA’s investigative and monitoring techniques. It is frequently overlooked, I think, that the IAEA was able to discover that Iran had conducted secret centrifuge experiments with nuclear material – even after Tehran went to pretty serious lengths to cover its tracks.

Hassan Rowhani, former head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, described his reaction to the IAEA’s skills in the “speech Jeffrey posted”: the other day:

… we did not know precisely how accurate their sampling would be or how contaminated our centers truly were. Not only I or our politicians did not know, but even our technical people were not fully informed that our imported machines were contaminated. When the IAEA inspectors came to take their samples, we were happy. We thought that these inspections would show that our activities had been within the framework of the NPT.

When they took samples at Natanz and found out during the testing that there was a high level of contamination, we knew nothing about the source of that contamination. Our experts did not know that the pieces that we had bought from the outside had been contaminated, either. We did not even know from a technical point of view how such contamination was transferred or spread. We did not even know how such contamination is discovered at the lab with such precision. Our instruments are very old, while they use very modern labs. The IAEA uses labs in Europe, the United States, and Russia. Therefore, we were amazed by their remarks and conclusions. When they told us that there is 80% contamination, we were taken aback.

Rowhani, BTW, provided a description the IAEA’s environmental sampling techniques:

bq. They have special handkerchiefs [as published] that they
rub over suspect areas and then take to the lab and examine.
[_Brackets in the original._]

Note my display of self-restraint here…

4 thoughts on “Iran Miscellany

  1. Max Postman

    If the Leverett analysis of Bush’s intentions is correct, I’m pretty baffled as to what the Bush strategy is going to be on Iran. I think there are a lot of reasons why a US military intervention in Iran is not a possibility, at least not in this presidency. These reasons include Bush’s low popularity ratings, his lack of political capital in Washington, the unpopularity of the Iraq war, and the currently weakned state of the US military. I don’t think a mulitilateral, UN or NATO-orchestrated intervention is any more viable, given the lack of international support for tough measures against Iran.

    If the US can’t execute regime change, and Bush won’t negotiate with this regime, I’m not sure what the options are.

  2. J


    If the “inside baseball” you are referencing is the chewing out the Swiss received for passing on the message, that has been reported in previous channels, perhaps in the Leverett op-ed that came out last year broaching this subject. If you are referring to the President’s personal views, then, yes, that is a new development.

  3. Ali

    As an Iranian reading this, let me make two comments:

    1. The US has a problem with Iran at a very fundamental, existential level – simply put the US does not “accept” the post-revolution government of Iran. This non-acceptance has nothing to do with legitimacy. It has
    everything to do with the fact that Iran has set an independent course in foreign and domestic policy since 1978, and is looking after its national
    interests, and not America’s, in the region and beyond. As an Iranian, I am very proud of this independence, and view the fullfilment of the other promises of the revolution, namely, republican democracy, and freedom, as works in progress which will gradually bear fruit in the future. This does not mean that I love my government, or don’t criticize it, or agree with everything that comes out of Tehran. No. I did not vote for the current President, and I think our current system of governance needs much reform. But it’s a system far from being “un-elected” and also far from being run by a bunch of clerics. The system in fact has adapted very well over to pragmatic realities over the past 3 decades, it has reformed, and it will continue to grow and reform. It’s a much more popular system than many countries with which the US has cordial relations (China, many Middle Eastern countries, …). The US needs to listen more and analyze things more realistically, and then perhaps we can start a conversation.

    2. As a first step towards reaching an understanding between our two countries, what is needed is a change in the language of discourse. I am
    constantly amazed to see that an elected government in Iran is referred to by the derogatory term “Iranian regime”, or the “mullah regime”, rather than “Iranian government”. You don’t hear things like the “Bush regime”, or the “American regime”, or the “Mexican regime” – why “Iranian regime”? I don’t need to remind you that in 2000 Mr. Bush himself was not an elected President. When the dialogue starts from square one on the US side with disrespect
    and such poor use of words, no wonder it has not gone anywhere so far. This is not a dialogue; rather, it’s a lecture or monologue by one side. We are the heirs to an ancient civilization that has given much to this world – the US should keep this in mind when it feels the temptation to lecture us once more.

  4. James W

    Ah, but in 2003, the situation was very different. Everyone was dreaming big. Now the Administration finds itself in a box of its own making. They didn’t want to negotiate so the Iranian electorate conveniently provided them with a new government that didn’t want to negotiate very much either.

    The Iranians appear to have attempted realpolitik under the moderates. It’s been noted that the US and Iran should be natural allies, just as Iran and Israel should be (and they have cooperated in the past much more than either side would like to admit). Now Bush cannot reopen negotiations without giving the appearance of rewarding the Iranians for taking a risky, hardline stance. If you don’t reward moderate behavior, people won’t bother to try. It really is that simple.

    Iran doesn’t really have very much to gain by continuing the standoff but, as Boyd noted in his analysis of strategy, everyone wishes to survive on his own terms. Those who want peace are prepared to accept that demand. Those who want war insist on dictating the terms of another’s survival.


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