Sending a strong signal to the U.S. Congress to follow suit, both the European Union and United Nations Security Council on Monday endorsed the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers.
As part of the accord, both bodies agreed to end crippling economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for new limits to its domestic nuclear program.
Representatives from each of the 15 countries within the Security Council unanimously voted to back the landmark deal reached last week between Iran and the so-called P5+1 Nations, which include the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union.
Following the Security Council vote, U.S. President Barack Obama said he hoped the move would “send a clear message that the overwhelming number of countries” recognize that diplomacy is “by far our strongest approach to ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.”
According to the text, in exchange for Iran’s compliance, seven UN resolutions passed since 2006 to sanction Iran will be gradually terminated. However, BBC reports, “The resolution also allows for the continuation of the UN arms embargo on Iran for up to five years and the ban on sales of ballistic missile technology for up to eight.”
The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is charged with the “verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear commitments.”
Meeting in Brussels, EU Foreign Ministers also formally committed to lift economic sanctions against Iran. The lawmakers, though, also elected to maintain the EU’s ban on the supply of ballistic missile technology and sanctions related to human rights, in accordance with the agreement.
The votes mark another step forward within a major worldwide agreement, reached after years of arduous negotiations.
The onus now falls on the U.S. Congress to also approve the accord, which was formally given to both Houses on Sunday, beginning a 60-day deliberation period. Conservative U.S. lawmakers and other warhawks, echoing the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have tried to thwart the international agreement.
“There is broad international consensus around this issue,” Obama continued in his address. Then speaking beyond the agreement’s critics, he added: “My working assumption is that Congress will pay attention to that broad basic consensus.”
More than 150,000 people have so far signed a petition calling on Congress to back the deal and take us off “the path to confrontation and war with Iran.”
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In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s announcement of a deal between world powers and Iran, drivers of the 2003 invasion of Iraq are expressing certainty that Iran’s alleged “nuclear weapons program” and “malign activities” pose a grave threat—issuing warnings that analysts say sound eerily similar to their now-discredited claims about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” more than a decade ago.
But despite the fact that George W. Bush and top aides are known to have told nearly 1,000 lies about WMDs, many of the people who created and repeated this narrative still hold offices and prominent platforms.
On Tuesday, these individuals were busy using their positions to raise the alarm about the accord, which has been championed by civil society groups around the world, including from within Iran, as an important step towards relief from devastating sanctions and away from military escalation and potentially war.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday night: “What Obama has done, has in effect sanctioned, the acquisition by Iran of nuclear capability. And it can be a few years down the road. It doesn’t make any difference. It’s a matter of months until we’re going to see a situation where other people feel they have to defend themselves by acquiring their own capability. And that will, in fact, I think put us to closer to use—actual use—of nuclear weapons than we’ve been at any time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.”
This statement echoed apocalyptic predictions Cheney made in the lead up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, like these remarks to the August 2002 Veterans for Foreign Wars convention: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”
Cheney is not alone in spinning this narrative. GOP presidential candidate and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Bloomberg on Tuesday that the Iran deal is “incredibly dangerous for our national security, and it’s akin to declaring war on Sunni Arabs and Israel by the P5+1 because it ensures their primary antagonist Iran will become a nuclear power and allows them to rearm conventionally.”
This is the same man who, on March 2, 2003, told Meet the Press that Saddam Hussein is “lying, Tim, when he says he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction. For 12 years now, we’ve been playing this game, trying to get this man to part with his weapons of mass destruction.”
Graham’s close colleague Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a statement Tuesday which denounced the deal as “delusional and dangerous,” declaring it “will strengthen Iran’s ability to acquire conventional weapons and ballistic missiles, while retaining an industrial scale nuclear program, without any basic change to its malign activities in the Middle East.”
“There’s not a doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein would give a weapon of mass destruction to a terrorist organization,” McCain told Face the Nation on February 16, 2003. “They have common cause in trying to destroy the United States of America.”
While the people behind the 2003 Iraq War are not running the White House today, their spin is influencing media discourse and the political positions of the mainstream Republican Party and some Democrats. In fact, claims about Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” are central to arguments against the deal, including from lobbyists and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
This is despite the fact that there is no public evidence supporting their claims that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.
“There is a parallel between claims about the certainty that Saddam Hussein had WMDs—claims that have long been debunked by United Nations inspections—and claims about Iran, where you have a scenario in which you have a debate on how dangerous Iran’s nuclear weapons program is, as if Iran had a nuclear weapons program,” Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams. “In fact all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies from 2007 to 2012 have agreed that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons programs and has not even made a decision whether or not it wants nuclear weapons.”
“Every time anyone gets on Fox News or NBC or NPR and references Iran’s nuclear weapons program, they are pretty much never challenged,” Bennis continued. “It goes into the normal discourse that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, it is dangerous, and we have to stop it. It becomes normalized, when it is such a clear fallacy.”
These lies are important, because Congress could still sink the deal between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union. Thanks to recently-passed legislation, the U.S. House and Senate will have 60 days to review the final agreement. If lawmakers were to vote against the agreement, and amass the votes to override a presidential veto, Obama’s hands would be tied on sanctions relief and the deal would fail.
“These people want a war with Iran, but they cannot say so because of the fiasco with Iraq,” Muhammad Sahimi, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Southern California and editor of the online Iran News & Middle East Reports, told Common Dreams. “So what happens is they oppose negotiations, which means more sanctions and eventually war. This is just as it happened in Iraq: massive sanctions that harmed ordinary people, and then war.
“The same talking points used against Iraq are being more-or-less used against Iran,” added Sahimi. “In Iran’s case they have already turned out to be false.”
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A nuclear deal with Iran could be a game changer for US foreign policy and for the Middle East. The P5+1 (the U.S., China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom, plus Germany) and Iran have been developing a comprehensive agreement that would freeze Iran’s ability to create a nuclear weapon and start the process of sanctions relief.
If it succeeds, this deal would dramatically decrease the probability of another costly war in the Middle East and could usher in an historic rapprochement between the US and Iran after 34 years of hostilities. US-Iranian collaboration against extremist groups from ISIL to Al Qaeda could help damp down the fires raging across the Middle East.
Key US allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, oppose the deal. Both nations harbor long-standing hostilities toward Iran and both want to preserve their preferential relationship with the US. But the American people, frustrated by over a decade of US involvement in Middle East wars, support the initiative. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 6 in 10 Americans support a plan to lift international economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
Democrats back the agreement by an overwhelming majority of five to one, but even a plurality of Republican voters support the Iran nuclear deal. Why, then, will there be such a tough battle in Congress to approve a deal that the Obama administration has worked so hard to achieve and is supported by most Americans?
Some Republicans have a knee-jerk reaction to anything the Obama administration puts forth. And certain Republican and Democrat Congress members fundamentally distrust Iran, believe it is sponsoring militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and think a deal will strengthen Iran to the detriment of Israel.
But the most compelling reason that so many elected officials will oppose the deal is the power of lobby groups and think tanks, backed by hawkish billionaires who are determined to quash a deal they see as bad for Israel.
Little known to the public, here are some of the groups:
United Against Nuclear Iran: Founded in 2008, UANI boasts a bipartisan powerhouse advisory board of former politicians, intelligence officials and policy experts. Cofounders Richard Holbrooke and Dennis Ross, and its president Gary Samore, have all worked in Obama’s White House. In June, UANI announced a multimillion-dollar TV, print, radio, and digital campaign with the message that “America Can’t Trust Iran, Concessions have gone too far.” Mark Wallace, UANI’s chairman and George Bush’s US ambassador to the UN, said, “We have a multi-million-dollar budget and we are in it for the long haul. Money continues to pour in.”
Secure America Now: Founded in 2011 by pollsters John McLaughlin and Pat Cadell, it is linked to right-wing pro-Israel factions in the US and abroad. The Advisory Board includes Col. Richard Kemp, who denounces the “global conspiracy of propaganda aimed at the total de-legitimization of the state of Israel” and former UN Ambassador John Bolton, who insists that “the biggest threat to our national security is sitting in the White House.”
The group labels Iran “the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism” and recently launched its own $1 million ad campaign against the nuclear deal. One ad features an American woman saying her father was killed by an IED in Iraq, followed by a menacing voice claiming “Iran has single-handedly supplied thousands of IEDs that have killed or maimed America’s troops overseas. Today, negotiators are pushing for a nuclear deal with Iran that would give them access to nuclear weapons.” It tells Americans to call their Senators and “speak out against a bad deal.”
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: Founded just after the 9/11 attacks, this neoconservative think tank pushes for an aggressive military response in the Middle East and also follows a hawkish pro-Israel line. It advocates for crippling sanctions on Iran, including medicines, as a way to cause domestic hardship and internal turmoil and its experts are leading advocates for a US military strike on Iran.
American Security Initiative: This is a new group, also bipartisan, formed in 2015 by three former senators: Norm Coleman, Evan Bayh and Saxby Chambliss. In 2014 Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota, became a registered lobbyist for the repressive Saudi regime, providing the Saudis with legal services on issues including “policy developments involving Iran.”
Its first campaign was a successful effort to pass the Corker-Menendez bill, which forces President Obama to submit the agreement to Congress before signing it. In March, the group launched a $1.4 million ad campaign aimed at Senator Schumer and other key senators with the message that the deal (which had not even been released) is “great for Iran, and dangerous for us.” One over-the-top, fear-mongering ad showed a suicide-bombing truck driver in an American city detonating a nuclear bomb, apparently on behalf of Iran. The message, albeit a crazy one, is that if Iran is allowed to get a nuclear weapon, it will attack the US.
AIPAC: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is the largest pro-Israel lobby group. AIPAC, too, has been pushing sanctions and opposing the nuclear deal. It claims that Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and is racing toward a nuclear weapons capability. AIPAC spends millions of dollars lobbying but its real financial clout lies with the pro-Israel Political Action Committees (PACs) it is tied to.
In addition to lobbying against a deal in Washington, over the past several years AIPAC has also been promoting state-level bills mandating divestment of public funds from foreign companies doing business with Iran.
Dozens of states have passed such bills, and many are likely to stay in place even after a nuclear deal, complicating the federal sanctions relief that is a key element of the negotiations.
What is the source of the millions of dollars now being poured into the effort to squash the nuclear deal? Most comes from a handful of super-wealthy individuals. Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus gave over $10 million to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Other multimillion donors are hedge fund billionaire and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs board member Paul Singer, and Charles Bronfman of the Seagram liquor empire and board chair of Koor Industries, one of Israel’s largest investment holding companies.
The largest donor is Sheldon Adelson, a casino and business magnate who contributed almost $100 million to conservative candidates in the 2012 presidential campaign, outspending any other individual or organization. He publicly advocated for the Obama administration to bomb Iran. Peter Beinart, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, said “Every Republican politician knows that Adelson conditions his checks on their Iran vote.”
Congress has 30 days from the day the deal is introduced to vote in support or opposition (or 60 days if the negotiations are delayed). To block the deal, Congress needs a veto-proof majority, which is precisely what these groups and individuals are attempting to buy.
“I’ve been around this town for about 30 years now and I’ve never seen foreign policy debate that is being so profoundly affected by the movement of hundreds of millions of dollars in the American political system,” said former six-term Congressman Jim Slattery.
Congresspeople face a dilemma: they fear a backlash by the billionaires if they vote for the deal, but most of their constituents support the deal. The pathetic irony is that the democratic move of giving Congress a say in the Iran deal (instead of leaving the administration with the authority to seal the agreement), the billionaires have a better shot at drowning out the voices of the American people.
A public diplomacy campaign by the Obama administration to convince world opinion that Iran was reneging on the Lausanne framework agreement in April has seriously misrepresented the actual diplomacy of the Iran nuclear talks, as my interviews with Iranian officials here make clear.
President Barack Obama’s threat on Tuesday to walk out of the nuclear talks if Iranian negotiators didn’t return to the Lausanne framework – especially on the issue of IAEA access to Iranian sites — was the climax of that campaign.
But what has really been happening in nuclear talks is not that Iran has backed away from that agreement but that the United States and Iran have been carrying out tough negotiations – especially in the days before the Vienna round of talks began — on the details of how basic framework agreement will be implemented.
The US campaign began immediately upon the agreement in Lausanne 2 April. The Obama administration said in its 2 April fact sheet that Iran “would be required” to grant IAEA inspectors access to “suspicious sites”. Then Deputy Security Adviser Ben Rhodes declared that if the United States wanted access to an Iranian military base that the US considered “suspicious”, it could “go to the IAEA and get that inspection” because of the Additional Protocol and other “inspection measures that are in the deal”.
That statement touched a raw nerve in Iranian politics. A few days later Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei insisted that Iran would not allow visits to its military bases as a signal that Iran would withdraw concessions it made in Lausanne. That reaction was portrayed in media as evidence that Iranian negotiators were being forced to retreat from the Lausanne agreement.
In fact it was nothing of the sort. The idea that IAEA inspectors could go into Iranian military facilities at will, as Rhodes had suggested, was a crude oversimplification that was bound to upset Iranians. The reason was more political than strategic. “It is a matter of national dignity,” one Iranian official in Vienna explained to me.
The Iranian negotiators were still pushing back publicly against Rhodes’s rhetoric as the Vienna round began. Iranian Deputy Foreign Miniser Abbas Aragchi appeared to threaten a reopening of the provisions of the Lausanne framework relating to the access issue in an interview with AFP Sunday. “[N]ow some of the solutions found in Lausanne no longer work,” Araghchi said, “because after Lausanne certain countries within the P5+1 made declarations.”
But despite Araghchi’s tough talk, Iran has not reversed course on the compromise reached in Lausanne on the access issue, and what was involved was a dispute resolution process on the issue of IAEA requests for inspections. In interviews with me, two Iranian officials acknowledged that the final agreement will include a procedure that could override an Iranian rejection of an IAEA request to visit a site.
The procedure would allow the Joint Commission, which was first mentioned in the Joint Plan of Action of November 2013, to review a decision by Iran to reject an IAEA request for an inspection visit. The Joint Commission is made up of Iran, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and the European Union.
If this Joint Commission were to decide against an Iranian rejection, the IAEA could claim the right to access even to a military site, despite Iran’s opposition.
Such a procedure represents a major concession by Iran, which had assumed that the Additional Protocol to Iran’s “Safeguards” agreement with the IAEA would have governed IAEA access to sites in Iran. Contrary to most media descriptions, that agreement limits IAEA inspection visits to undeclared sites to carrying out “location-specific environmental sampling.” It also allows Iran to deny the request for access to the site, provided it makes “every effort to satisfy Agency requests without delay at adjacent locations or through other means.”
The dispute resolution process obviously goes well beyond the Additional Protocol. But the Obama administration’s statements suggesting that the IAEA will have authority to visit any site they consider “suspect” is a politically convenient oversimplification. Under the technical annex to the Lausanne agreement that is now under negotiation, Iran would have the right to receive the evidence on which the IAEA is basing its request, according to Iranian officials. And since Iran has no intention of doing anything to give the IAEA valid reason to claim suspicious activities, Iranian officials believe they will be able to make a strong argument that the evidence in question is not credible.
Iran has proposed that that the period between the original IAEA request and any inspection resulting from a Joint Committee decision should be 24 days. But that number incensed critics of the Iran nuclear deal. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is unhappy with the whole idea of turning the decisions on inspections over to a multilateral group that includes adversaries of the United States, has criticized the idea of allocating 24 days to the process of dispute resolution.
Under pressure from Corker and Senate Republican opponents of the nuclear deal, the US negotiating team has been demanding a shorter period, Iranian officials say.
The determining factor in how the verification system being negotiated would actually work, however, will be the political-diplomatic interests of the states and the EU who would be voting on the requests. Those interests are the wild card in the negotiations, because it is well known among the negotiators here that there are deep divisions within the P5+1 group of states on the access issue.
There are divisions within the P5+1, especially over aspects of what the Security Council should be doing, on how sanctions would be lifted and on access [verification regime]. “We can say with authority that they have to spend more time negotiating among themselves than negotiating with us,” one Iranian official said.
Even as Obama was publicly accusing Iran of seeking to revise the basic Lausanne framework itself, US negotiators were apparently trying to revise that very same framework agreement itself. A US official “declined to say if the United States might agree to adjust some elements of the Lausanne framework in return for new Iranian concessions,” according to a New York Times report.
The Americans may have been doing precisely what they were accusing the Iranians of doing.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist on U.S. national security policy who has been independent since a brief period of university teaching in the 1980s. Dr. Porter is the author of five books, the latest book, “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare,” was published in February 2014. He has written regularly for Inter Press Service on U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran since 2005.
A tight-knit group of neocon dead-enders is pushing Iran to the forefront of the GOP’s foreign policy agenda.
By Sina Toossi
In a recent TV ad, a van snakes its way through an American city. As the driver fiddles with the radio dial, dire warnings about the perils of a “nuclear Iran” spill out of the speaker from Senator Lindsey Graham and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The driver then steers the vehicle into a parking garage, drives to the top level, and blows it up in a blinding flash of white light. Words shimmer across the screen: “No Iran Nuclear Treaty Without Congressional Approval.”
While diplomats from Iran and the “P5+1″ world powers work to forge a peaceful resolution to the decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, a well-financed network of “experts” — like the “American Security Initiative” that produced the above “Special Delivery” ad — is dedicating enormous amounts of time and energy to weakening public support for the talks in the United States.
These think-tank gurus, special interest groups, and media pundits have peddled a plethora of alarmist narratives aimed at scuttling the diplomatic process — and they’ve relied far more on fear mongering than facts.
So who are these people?
A Close-Knit Network
Despite their bipartisan façade, these reflexively anti-Iran ideologues are in reality a tight-knit group. Many were also prominent supporters of the Iraq War and other foreign policy debacles from the last 15 years. They work in close coordination with one another and are often bankrolled by similar funders.
Together these groups have established what amounts to their own echo chamber. They’ve built an anti-Iran communications and lobbying infrastructure that enjoys substantial influence in Washington’s corridors of power, particularly in Congress.
One of this network’s more prominent beneficiaries has been Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), a through-and-through neocon disciple whose truculent opposition to the Iran talks has given pause to even conservative figures like Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who asked him what the “point” was of his infamous open letter to Iran last March that was signed by 47 Senate Republicans. Other prominent senators with close ties to this network include Cotton’s Republican colleagues Lindsey Graham, Mark Kirk, Kelly Ayotte, and John McCain.
While some pundits and politicians say they’re looking for a “better deal” with Iran than the one the Obama administration has negotiated, Cotton has explicitly said that he’s looking for no deal at all. He’s called an end to the nuclear negotiations an “intended consequence” of legislation he’s supported to impose new sanctions on Iran and give Congress an up-or-down vote on the agreement.
A federal appeals court has reversed convictions in the case of an 85-year-old nun and two Army veterans, who broke into a United States government facility holding weapons-grade uranium, and called for nuclear weapons to be transformed into “real life-giving alternatives to build true peace.”
The activists’ sentences were vacated, and the appeals court ordered a lower court to re-sentence them.
On June 28, 2012, Megan Rice, a nun, and Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, both veterans, cut through multiple fences around the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
The activists were able to get to a Department of Energy building with enriched uranium. “There the trio spray-painted antiwar slogans, hung crime tape and banners with biblical phrases, splashed blood, and sang hymns,” according to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision [PDF].
The activists struck the building with small hammers, and their action effectively delayed a shipment that was supposed to arrive that afternoon.
Initially, the government charged the activists with trespassing and “injuring government property. When they refused to plead guilty, prosecutors essentially made a vindictive move and charged them with “violating the peacetime provision of the Sabotage Act,” which “Congress enacted during World War II.”
“That provision applies only if the defendant acted ‘with intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense,’ and authorizes a sentence of up to 20 years,” the appeals court explained. “A jury convicted the defendants on the sabotage count and the injury-to-property count.”
The activists argued that they had no intent to violate the Sabotage Act and could not have violated this law. The federal appeals court agreed.
By using the Sabotage Act to prosecute a nun and two Army veterans who dared to engage in an act of nonviolent resistance against nuclear weapons, the government sought to accuse them of planning to interfere with the ability of the government to maintain national security.
“No rational jury could find that the defendants had that intent when they cut the fences; they did not cut them to allow al Qaeda to slip in behind,” the appeals court declared. “Nor could a rational jury find that the defendants had that intent when they engaged in their protest activities outside the [Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility].”
True, their ultimate goal in engaging in those activities was to advance the cause of disarmament, by persuading Y-12’s employees to abandon their pursuits there. But “the ultimate end” that “compel[s] the defendant to act . . . is more properly labeled a ‘motive.’” Kabat, 797 F.2d at 587. And the defendants’ immediate purpose in hanging the banners themselves, and in otherwise erecting their shrine outside the HEUMF, was simply to protest.
Such a conclusion is a huge victory for activists, because it means the government cannot stand in court and equate an act of protest with sabotage without evidence of motive.
The appeals court also rejected the idea that the defendants meant to interfere with the national defense by creating “bad publicity” for the facility.
“First Amendment issues aside, it takes more than bad publicity to injure the national defense,” the appeals court concisely declared. (more…)