Is Obama's Iran Policy Just Bush 2.0?

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Iran. If you’re like most people, you don’t think much of the country, except on days when the newsmedia is obsessed with the country, and BREAKING NEWS emails hit your inbox about some new (non-)development regarding the country’s nuclear ambitions.

Such was the case last week, when the fractious G20 used news of a “secret Iran” nuclear site to show solidarity on something. The media ran with it, but as Alexander Cockburn points out, the whole thing was worse than mere theatre.

Both Iran and the U.S. were planning a disclosure schedule matching their political needs. Iran’s letter of notification to the IEAA was probably timed to strengthen the theocracy’s domestic political position; also, Iran’s hand in the upcoming Geneva summit. Claims that Iran violated its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and the treaty’s subsequent annexes are questionable at best and will give international legal experts plump incomes for decades. One of the U.S.’s tactics has been to rearrange the legal requirements of the treaty, then to insist that each new arrogant stipulation is retroactive. Iran naturally enough objects to this and responds with dense legal barrages, some depending on whether or not the Iranian parliament ratified the successive amendments to the treaty. Their case is pretty good—certainly a hundred times stronger than Obama’s wild accusations, dutifully echoed by his equerries, Sarkozy and Brown. (The most persuasive outline of the legal issues comes from Los Angeles-based Muhammad Sahimi, on the anti-theocracy site Frontline: Tehran Bureau.)

In reality, the public disclosure of something the U.S. knew about years ago—knowledge it shared with its prime NATO allies and Israel—changes nothing. The consensus of U.S. intelligence remains that there is no hard evidence that Iran is actively seeking to manufacture nuclear weapons. Iran has agreed to inspection of the plant at some appropriate point.

In a larger perspective, there’s the absurdity of Obama thundering against Iran, which signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and has allowed inspections, while remaining entirely silent about Israel. This country has refused to sign the nonproliferation treaty and has an arsenal of somewhere between 200 and 300 nuclear weapons about which it has been serially deceptive for nearly half a century and has adamantly refused all inspections. Behind Obama, discoursing on nuclear responsibility, were Sarkozy and Brown, whose nuclear subs recently collided in the Atlantic Ocean.

Obama’s policy remains tightly in sync with that of his predecessor in the White House. Spasms of ferocious bluster toward Iran raise public anxiety. Stories about imminent Israel raids on Iran are balanced by leaks to the effect that the White House is keeping Israel on a leash. Then sanctions are tightened on Iran. These strengthen the political hand of the theocracy, which can put extra muscle into its repression on the grounds that the country is under siege. What other effect do they have? Professor R.T. Naylor of McGill University, who has written Economic Warfare, a book on sanctions, tells me: “Iran, of course, has had U.S. sanctions against it before, without any sign much happened. Of its exports to the U.S., the main thing was always the profits U.S. firms earned on corrupt contracts, so this was a classic case of the U.S. shooting itself in the foot in those early sanctions. Also, Iran stopped putting its oil surpluses in U.S. banks.” California is growing more pistachios, caviar comes from Russia and a lot of other countries are knocking off Iranian styles and patterns in carpets.

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For another perspective that’s a little more optimistic than the idea that Obama = Bush 2.0, and that we’re definitely heading for war wtih the state, here’s Kaveh L Afrasiabi in the AsiaTimes.com

Defying the onslaught of pessimistic predictions, the Geneva meeting on Thursday of Iran and the “Iran Six” nations did not end in failure, given the recent revelations of a second Iranian uranium-enrichment plant.

Rather, there was a mini-breakthrough in that both Iran on the one side and the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany on the other agreed to hold a follow-up meeting later this month. What is more, US and Iranian representatives met one-on-one on the sidelines of the meeting, following an 11th-hour request by the US on Wednesday.

Adding to the flurry of diplomatic initiatives surrounding the Geneva talks was a surprise move by the US Department of State to grant a visa to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki tovisit Washington, ostensibly to inspect Iran’s Interest Section. However, this unprecedented visit might have been mainly symbolic as a gesture of goodwill by the Barack Obama administration on the eve of the Geneva meeting.

Mottaki’s presence in the US has been a major plus for US-Iran diplomacy, by allowing Iran to complement its moves at the negotiation table in Geneva with Mottaki’s string of interviews to the US media, meant to bolster Iran’s public diplomacy.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, added some meaningful bone to Iran’s negotiation posture by holding a press conference one day ahead of the Geneva talks. He expressed optimism about the meeting and proposed the establishment of “three specialised committees” that would issue reports on pertinent nuclear and non-nuclear issues of mutual concern, culminating in a “summit of heads of states”.

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