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Amid Activists' Appeal to Lift Sanctions, US Resists Talks With Iran

Tuesday, 24 September 2013 10:13 By Airin Bahmani and Bruno Jäntti, Truthout | News Analysis
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While Iran's new president has called for "serious and substantive" negotiations with the West over his country's nuclear program that would ease tensions, an open letter to President Obama by hundreds of activists demands a lifting of economic sanctions on Iran. The United States reacts by imposing new sanctions.

In his latest visit to Israel, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military, discussed the approach of the United States and Israel toward Iran. Dempsey "sensed agreement" with the Israeli representatives over the fact that the economic sanctions that are leading to devastating consequences for the Iranian civilian population are "having an effect" on Iran. According to Dempsey, the Israeli decision-makers "of course want us to continue to present a credible military threat to support those diplomatic and economic efforts."

Dempsey, who met with the Israeli prime minister, military chief of staff and defense minister, proclaimed that "since I was here last year, we have better military options than we did a year ago."

"That's because we've continued to refine them," Dempsey asserted in his bellicose remarks. "We've continued to develop technology; we've continued to train and plan."

The US and Israeli administrations depict the Iranian government as the gravest threat to the world. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Iran "the biggest threat to world peace," elaborating: "Iran is Germany, and it's 1938, except that this Nazi regime wants to dominate the world, annihilate the Jews, but also annihilate America."

Robert Kelley, the associated senior research fellow within the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Nuclear Weapons Project, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme, is critical of the way the Iranian nuclear program has been depicted.

Having served as a director of the nuclear inspections in Iraq in 1992 and again in 2001, Kelley told Truthout that "the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) does not have any evidence of weaponization in Iran after 2004."

Kelley has also stated that "as [a] private citizen today, I hope to help ensure the facts are clear before the US takes further steps that could lead, intentionally or otherwise, to a new conflagration, this time in Iran."

The National Intelligence Estimate and the IAEA's assessment support Kelley's view. The authors of the report from 2007 titled, Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, "judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program"; "judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years" and "continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon."

The assessment of the US intelligence community has remained intact ever since.

Hassan Rouhani, who got 50.71 percent of the vote in the Iranian presidential elections in 2013, emerged victorious partly because of his approach toward negotiations with the United States on the Iranian nuclear program. Rouhani has stated that the country is ready for "serious and substantive" talks on the nuclear program dispute.

Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a research scholar at Princeton University and a former spokesman of Iran's nuclear negotiations delegation, told Truthout the Iranian nuclear impasse is not technical but rather political in nature. "The Iranian nuclear dilemma is about the legitimate rights of Iran to enrichment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has signed all the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) conventions which entail rights and obligations for all signatories."

Mousavian asserts that "[t]he West, however, has chosen - contravening international law - to carry out a coercive policy whereby Iran is pressed on obligations while its rights are denied."

The positions of the main players involved - the United States, Israel and Iran - were clarified further when an international conference, known as the Helsinki Conference, was about be held in Helsinki, Finland, in December, 2012. The goal of the conference, assembled under the auspices of the UN Secretary General, was the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free-zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East.

MIT professor Noam Chomsky, citing the conference, pointed out to Truthout that "as soon as Iran announced that it would attend the Helsinki conference last December to carry forward the NWFZ proposals, Obama cancelled the conference."

Israel has been strongly opposed to the efforts. Chomsky adds: "incidentally, not a word was published about any of this in the US, apart from specialist journals and dissident literature."

According to Chomsky, the reluctance of Iran to follow the US lead in setting out policy is the likely reason for US hostility toward Iran.

"The US operates on the assumption that was announced by George H.W. Bush after his Iraq war: What We Say Goes. That goes back to WWII. Anyone who violates this rule will, if possible, be punished. The primary 'threat' that the US has confronted for 70 years is independent nationalism (called "radical nationalism" in internal documents). Iran is a prime offender."

Chomsky also points out that the United States was not content to lose its loyal ally, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, after a broad popular movement overthrew the Iranian dictator in 1979.  "Iran had the effrontery to overthrow a dictator that the US had installed. After failing to instigate a coup, the US turned at once to very harsh punishment of Iran."

Obama's administration has imposed nine set of sanctions against Iran altogether. The impact of the sanctions have been devastating to the Iranian civil society. Hundreds of Iranian political and human rights activist, academics and students wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama in August, 2013, demanding the United States eliminate all economic sanctions and calling for cooperation with the Rouhani administration. The 55 Iranian political prisoners who expressed their support for the letter said that "the sanctions have now turned into a collective punishment imposed on the Iranian people as a whole, not the government only." The group writes that "[e]conomic sanctions, particularly those imposed unilaterally by the United States, have taken a terrible toll on the Iranian people's standard of living. Iran's nuclear program has not been affected during the past eight years; it is only the people's standard of living that has dramatically fallen."

Iran is not the first country where the US-imposed economic sanctions have had a catastrophic impact on the civil society. A survey by The Lancet, the journal of the British Medical Association, estimated that 576,000 Iraqi children died as a result of the economic sanctions that preceded the 2003 Iraq war.

The Iranian open letter also calls for the US government to lower political tensions between Iran and the United States: "During the recent elections, the Iranian people sent a clear message to their leaders, and to countries engaged in negotiations with Iran, that they want a reduction in tensions. Under enormously difficult economic and political circumstances, they elected a president who promised change. We hope that you and the leaders of other countries that support sanctions will hear this message and will respond in kind."

Despite this message, the US House of Representatives passed a new set of sanctions just three days before the inauguration of President Rouhani. The White House had previously described the Iranian actions as a "continued failure to meet its international obligations." Benjamin Netanyahu remarked that the new Iranian president was "criticizing his predecessor for being a wolf in wolf's clothing. His strategy is to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. Smile and build a bomb."

Rouhani started his term as the new president on August 3, 2013. At this point, the statements by his administration favor a negotiated settlement to the nuclear program impasse. The United States and Israel, however, appear to be determined to reject diplomatic interaction with Tehran, and, instead, seem to be pushing for a policy that might lead to military aggression against Iran by the US-Israel alliance.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Bruno Jäntti

Bruno Jäntti is an investigative journalist who specializes in international politics, the Middle East in particular. He regularly publishes articles and appears in the Finnish and English language media in Finland.

Airin Bahmani

Mrs. Bahmani is an investigative journalist with a focus on Middle Eastern politics, especially the domestic and foreign policies of Iran.


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