Tag Archive | "Iran"

iran nuclear agreement negotiators

The Interim Iranian Nuclear Deal: Enforcement and a Right to Enrichment

On January 20, 2014, an interim agreement over Iran’s nuclear program will go into effect. The agreement is a compromise between Iran and major Western powers reached on November 24, 2013. The terms of the agreement provide that Iran will scale back activities under its nuclear program, but not dismantle it entirely. This compromise has prompted criticism that the agreement will not prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, begging the questions, is there an international right to enrichment, and will enforcement of this agreement be adequate?

iran nuclear agreement negotiators

Representatives from France, Britain, U.S., and Jordan in Paris (Thierry Gesnot/Getty Images)

The agreement itself contains no explicit recognition of Tehran’s right to enrichment. While Iranian news proclaimed that it did recognize such a right, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized that it did not. The question then turns on an interpretation of Article IV of the U.N. Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which Iran signed in 1968. It states, in part, that “[n]othing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination….” Many countries have read this to create a right to enrichment, whereas the U.S. has taken the position that each case should be considered individually. This view is not in alignment with the other parties to the treaty. Moreover, the U.S. does not have authority to interpret the agreement unilaterally without ratification by other parties to the treaty.

The other question raised following the announcement of the interim agreement was the means of enforcement and the consequences for Iran breaching the terms. Some of the International economic sanctions on Iran will be lifted as part of the agreement, and U.S. President Barack Obama said that the U.S. would give “modest relief” on sanctions on Iran, but would increase sanctions if Iran reneged on the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will play a central role in verifying that the terms are met. Reuters reported the IAEA as saying that there will be “…a significant increase in the frequency of inspections in Iran, access to more sites in the country, a need for more equipment and more analytical work….” The additional cost will come to around 6 million euros. The IAEA requested 5.5 million euros from its 160 member states to voluntarily help cover the expenses. The parties to the interim nuclear agreement are confident that the additional inspections and economic consequences of sanctions for the oil-dependent Iran will be sufficient to prevent the development of nuclear weapons.

Despite the criticism surrounding the agreement, most notably from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it remains a six-month interim agreement intended to provide additional time for negotiations to a final settlement in the decade-old nuclear dispute. The next few months will help elucidate Iran’s motivation for enrichment and any right that exists thereof. But perhaps it would also be beneficial to revisit the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Nuclear energy is no longer the golden child of clean energy when considering the progress of alternatives like solar, wind and hydro. The U.N. could consider clarifying Article IV to narrow the permissible scope of research and production of nuclear energy in recognition of its limited potential and substantial risk.

It is possible that Iran’s nuclear activities are politically motivated and its insistence on a right to enrichment is rooted in principle. Regardless, diplomacy prevailed, and the path to a permanent agreement has been established. To quote a statement from the White House:

[W]e have made concrete progress. I welcome this important step forward, and we will now focus on the critical work of pursuing a comprehensive resolution that addresses our concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Alex Milgroom is a 3L at the University of Denver and the Online Editor-in-Chief of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Critical Analysis: Division in Iranian Leadership

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to the crowd at the conclusion of his speech in Tehran, Iran. (Washington Post)

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to the crowd at the conclusion of his speech in Tehran, Iran. (Washington Post)

Some argue that the West is continually trying to find ways to contain Iran and their believed attempt to acquire nuclear weapons. Recent infighting shows that the country’s leadership may be splintering leading to a fissure in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Do these public confrontations present an opportunity for the West to find workable solutions to this issue?

The Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is finding himself in new territory, wading into the internal political battles of Iran. Khamenei has been forced to respond to the ever more confrontational President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This conflict began in 2011 when Ahmadinejad challenged Khamenei over the appointment of a high-ranking intelligence ministry post. Since, Ahmadenejad has taken several other opportunities to raise tension between himself and the Supreme Leader, forcing several of Ahmadinejad’s political allies off the upcoming ballot. However, it seems that a significant majority of lawmakers are still loyal to Khamenei.

This conflict comes out of a contentious session of parliament. This session included several instances where Ahmadinejad and Iran’s legislative body frequently feuded publicly. This included the impeachment of the President’s labor minister. Also, Ahmadinejad accused a judiciary chief, and appointee of the Supreme Leader, of bribery. These public riffs come ahead of the June presidential election that will elect Ahmadinejad’s successor. Throughout this spat, Khamenei has called for calm, especially against the pressure of economic sanctions from the West.

This infighting comes in the face of renewed effort from the West in regards to Iran’s nuclear program. Last week Iran rejected negotiations with the United States. Khamenei proclaimed that if Iran wanted to build nuclear weapons, no country could stop them. The Supreme Leader insisted that before any negotiations will occur, the West must lift all sanctions because Iran will not surrender. After addressing the recent offer to negotiate, Khamenei transitioned into criticizing Ahmadinejad and the speaker of the Parliament.

There seems to be a split between the two most powerful men in Iran. Is now the time that the West may be able to leverage the divided leadership in order to reign in Iran?

 Wesley Fry is a 3L and Managing Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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U.S. Ratchets Up Iran Sanctions and Enforcement Actions

Ramping up the trade sanctions on Iran
(ABC)

The U.S. Government has restricted activities with Iran since the U.S. Embassy was seized in Tehran in 1979.  In 2012, the United States continued to ratchet up sanctions against Iran as part of a continued effort to curb the country’s nuclear activities and to further actions taken against Iran since 2006.  By placing economic pressure on Iran and restricting the country’s access to the rest of the global economy, U.S. officials hope to make it difficult for Iran to survive without succumbing to diplomatic pressures.  The already strained Iranian economy has experienced heightened inflation, and oil exports dropped after the EU embargo on Iranian oil went into effect in July 2012.  Increased sanctions have lead to broad-based enforcement actions for violations, and compliance with the ever-changing web of regulations is, by no means, an easy feat.

Prosecutors have targeted institutions worldwide that use the U.S. financial system to process Iranian transactions.  Since 2009, the Justice Department (“DOJ”), the Treasury Department, and the district attorney’s office have brought cases against five European Banks.  On June 12, 2012, for example, ING Bank, N.V. (“ING”), a Netherlands-based financial institution, reached a settlement of $619 million with the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), as part of a global settlement among ING, OFAC, the DOJ, and the New York County District Attorney for alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions Regulations (“ITR”) and other sanctions.  ING allegedly moved billions of dollars through the U.S. financial system on behalf of sanctioned entities.

The ING case is extreme.  It involved sophisticated parties that likely should have had more sophisticated compliance programs in place.  Investigations into sanction violations, however, do not stop at large financial institutions. In general, unless licensed by OFAC, any goods, technology or service exports, simply, cannot have any connection to Iran or the Government of Iran.  These restrictions affect companies of all sizes and across numerous different sectors.  In April 2012, OFAC reached a settlement with a Colorado-based company for ITR violations.  Sandhill Scientific, Inc. (“Sandhill”), allegedly exported medical devices to Dubai, knowing that the goods would be transshipped to an Iranian company.  Sandhill was forced to remit $126,000 to settle these allegations.

OFAC also imposes penalties in circumstances where it appears the company, simply, did not know any better.  In May 2012, OFAC reached a settlement with a U.S. investment fund for its failure to oversee the actions of its foreign subsidiary.  Genesis Asset Managers, LLP (“GAM US”) was forced to remit $112,500 because its foreign subsidiary purchased Iranian securities, conferring a prohibited economic benefit on Iran.  In OFAC’s Enforcement Information release, it stated that GAM US may not have fully understood its OFAC obligations under US law.

Individuals and companies can also be criminally prosecuted for their actions relating to violations of Iran sanctions.  Criminal penalties for ITR violations can result in fines of up to $1,000,000 and twenty years imprisonment.  In February 2012, for example, Sunrise Technologies and Trading Corporation was sentenced to 24 months corporate probation for exporting U.S. origin computers to Iran through the United Arab Emirates.  The company’s owner, Jeng “Jay” Shih, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in the District of Columbia.  Prosecutions like these are evidence of the severe consequences companies and individuals can face for violations.

Investigation targets range from some of the world’s largest corporations to small-town operations.  Given this breadth, it is important for companies of all sizes to ensure that internal compliance procedures comport with applicable regulations.  The U.S. Government imposes sanctions that extend beyond mandatory U.N. sanctions and those imposed by the European Union.  Even as the United States attempts to further isolate Iran, it is still unclear whether these efforts and the increasing sanctions will produce the desired result, to curb Iran’s nuclear activities.

Kaitlin Fox is an alumna of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.  Currently, she is at Schuchat, Herzog & Brenman, LLC, and is interested in international trade and sales law.  In law school, she was on DU’s Willem C.Vis team, where she won the Shanghai Moot and was an oralist in Hong Kong.

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Critical Analysis: Stuxnet Leaks: More than a Domestic Political Affair

It’s in the Network (FreePhotosBank)

Last week, U.S. intel leaks made headlines after an article in the New York Times quoted numerous anonymous sources, including current and former U.S. officials, alleging that President Obama ordered the Stuxnet attack against Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility. The story comes in the wake of a two-week period of national security leaks in the New York Times, including the disclosure of a disrupted plot by Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate to smuggle a bomb onto a U.S. flight, the Obama administration’s expansion of the drone program, and how the Obama administration determines the drone “kill list.” Investigation by the Department of Justice into the Stuxnet intel leaks has begun, while political finger-pointing has the U.S. asking whether the White House is in part responsible for the leaks and ignoring the potential international repercussions of the leaked information.

In the summer of 2010, a computer worm coined “Stuxnet” had the world’s leading cyber security experts up in arms as the self-replicating computer worm made its way through computers the world over. Although Stuxnet was designed to target Siemens industrial software and equipment (specifically the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities), a bug in the coding allowed Stuxnet to escape onto the public internet. Overnight, the worm infected computers across the globe, from Europe to China. At the onset of the Stuxnet outbreak, cyber security experts narrowed the list of culprits down to a short list of state actors with the ability to develop such complex computer code – America, Israel, China and Russia. Russia and China were quickly eliminated, leaving America and Israel as possible suspects, alone or working in conjunction. Despite this short list of actors, U.S. involvement with the Stuxnet has been dismissed as mere accusation. Even in the wake of the New York Times story, the U.S. has not publicly taken responsibility for the Stuxnet attack or issued a denial as to the legitimacy of the leak providing U.S. involvement with the computer worm.

Rather than address the substance of the leaked information, authorities in Washington have launched investigations into the leaks. Taking over direction of existing investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice is conducting two separate but concurrent investigations into the sources of the leaked  information. U.S. Attorneys Ronald Machen, Jr. of Washington, D.C., and Rod Rosenstein of Maryland are overseeing the investigation and have full authority to prosecute criminal violations discovered as a result of their investigations. While the White House denies providing classified information to New York Times reporter David Sanger, it has come under fire from both sides of the political divide. Senior lawmakers, including Senator John McCain, claim that White House officials authorized the leaks to boost public support of President Obama in an election year through highlighting his stance on national security, basing their allegations in large part on the fact that the level of detail in the accounts could only have come from senior officials in the White House.

In addition to dispute over the source and cause of the Stuxnet leak, the ongoing investigations have generated significant political uproar in both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. The committees have joined together in calling for an outside probe of the leaks. Specifically, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have criticized the Attorney General appointing U.S. Attorneys to probe the leaks. Instead, they are calling for a special counsel to lead an independent investigation.  After the Justice Department’s national security division recused itself from the investigation due to the possibility that the department might have been a source of some of the disclosures, questions about possible conflicts of interests have arisen as frontline prosecutors might be required to interview their own department heads and senior officials. In light of the conflict of interests involved with the investigations, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have begun discussing new legislation that would curtail unauthorized disclosures by limiting the pool of people with access to classified information and providing inspectors general with far more investigative powers.

The outrage over the leaks and the ensuing investigations is more than just another bipartisan affair dividing the next election: attributing the Stuxnet attack on Iran to a nation, specifically the U.S., potentially sets a new precedent in the realm of warfare. Now that the accusations of U.S. responsibility in the Stuxnet attack are becoming more of a reality, the international community is confronted with the real possibility of cyber attacks being used in times of war. Furthermore, many political and legal scholars already consider Stuxnet, and other similar cyber attacks, the equivalent of an armed attack; for example, unleashing a worm to damage another nation’s nuclear reactor has the same results as if a missile were fired at the same nuclear facility. In both cases, the right to self-defense and the use of force would arguably be triggered. However, the law of armed conflict requires attribution to a state actor, which was a missing element in the case of Stuxnet. The leaks of U.S. involvement in Stuxnet, if not refuted, may lead to attribution to the U.S. for the attack. The consequences could lay grounds not only for Iran to retaliate in self-defense under the law of armed conflict, but also set a preceden allowing the use of cyber attacks. The cyber attacks have a propensity for harm and collateral damage in our increasingly internet-dependent societies. State infrastructure, such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition control systems, are intertwined with public networks and a cyber attack could very well shut down anything from a water pump to an electrical grid. With the potential for such damage to result by cyber attacks, our national leaders need to be more concerned with how to reign in this potential precedent, whether by providing evidence that the U.S. was not responsible for the Stuxnet attack or by examining how this form of weaponry fits into the law of armed conflict.

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You want to shoot our drones down now, Iran?

Occasionally alarming drones stories cross my desk. Up until this morning, this one ranked as #1 most alarming: “‘Flesh-eating robot’ is actually a vegetarian, say inventors.”

In an attempt to reassure the reader, the inventors add this gem of a quote: “The … Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot – known as Eatr for short – does indeed power its “biomass engine” by digesting organic material, but that it is not intended to chomp its way through battlefields of fallen soldiers.” That is just great.  Eatr is not intended to devour humans, but as it gobbles up a hedgerow to sate its appetite it obviously may unintentionally scoop up a human or two in the process.

Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot

So the Eatr article sat comfortably at number 1 for many weeks until this morning: “US draws up plans for nuclear drones.”  The Guardian article states that “American scientists have drawn up plans for a new generation of nuclear-powered drones capable of flying over remote regions of the world for months on end without re-fuelling.”  Remote regions? What, are we going to start flying drones over Western Sahara?

Most of our drones are deployed in Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen.  By my count a fair number of folks live there. And these drones crash “a lot” says Chris Coles of Drone Wars UK.  Do we really want to further infuriate inhabitants of these countries by flying nuclear materials over them?

The stated appeal of nuclearizing drones is to enhance their ability to fly for long periods of time without refueling.  But one wonders whether a second motivation is to create a huge disincentive for countries like Iran in shooting down a drone like they did last December.

 

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News Post: U.S., Russia try to Dissuade Israel from Preemptive Strike on Iran

In recent months, tensions between Israel and Iran have been on the rise and speculation has been growing that Israel may attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (The Inquisitr)

Although Iran says its nuclear program is meant to develop energy, it has refused to negotiate guarantees that the program is peaceful, giving rise to security concerns – particularly in Israel, where leaders think that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the continued existence of Israel.  Recently, discussion in both the U.S. and Israel has turned to the issue of whether an Israeli strike can do enough damage to the Iranian program to be worth the risks.

Military analysts at the Pentagon say that an Israeli attack meant to setback Iran’s nuclear program would be a highly complex operation.   Michael V. Hayden, prior CIA director from 2006 to 2009, said that “airstrikes capable of seriously setting back Iran’s nuclear program were ‘beyond the capacity’ of Israel’” However, military analysts have also said that if the United States decides to get involved, it has the military power to effectuate an attack of the scale desired by Israel.

Last week, America’s top intelligence official told a senate committee that a successful bombing of Israel may set Iran’s nuclear development program back by one or two years at most. Most experts agree that Iran now possesses so much technological information that no air campaign could destroy its ability to someday produce a nuclear weapon. Both the United States and Russia have advised against a preemptive attack on Iran, but Israeli’s foreign minister has said that the state will not give in to pressure in deciding whether to attack Iran.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledged in a recent television interview that Israel and the U.S. have divergent views on the best course of action on Iran. “I’m confident that (Israel’s leaders) understand our concerns that a strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives,” Dempsey told CNN. However, Dempsey did not go so far as to say that the U.S. has persuaded the Israelis that it was best not to attack Iran.  The White House has said that it believes the intense punitive sanctions imposed on Iran have had some impact and that there is still time for a peaceful resolution to be reached.  Even so, many in the U.S. fear that Israel will act unilaterally, and that the United States will be sucked into finishing the job.  Others believe that increased U.S. involvement in the Middle-East will cause an increase in oil prices and endanger Obama’s reelection campaign.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

News Post: EU and US Impose Further Sanctions on Iran

By: Kaitlin Fox

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with nuclear scientists

The European Union (EU) and the United States took further action on Monday to curb Iran’s nuclear program.  The EU agreed to impose a phased ban on oil purchases from Iran while the United States expanded its sanctions on Iran to include the countries’ third largest bank, Bank Tajarat.  Iranian Government Officials reacted by reiterating their threat to close the Straight of Hormuz, in which twenty percent of the world’s oil passes.  It is unclear whether the EU and U.S. actions will prove effective.  Some speculate that Iran will simply turn to alternative markets while others sense that the sanctions will cause major damage to the Iranian economy.  Either way, recent events are certain to escalate tensions in the region.

The EU’s phased ban on oil purchases does not permit EU member states to enter into new contracts for Iranian oil.  However, countries that have existing contracts will have until July 1 to end those agreements.  The EU’s decision is meant to “force a shift in policy and avert the risk of military strikes against Tehran.”  The U.S.’s sanction against Bank Tejarat is poised to further restrict Iran’s access to the international financial market.  The Treasury, under the Secretary for Terrorism, David Cohen, stated that, “At a time when banks around the world are cutting off Iran and its currency is depreciating rapidly, today’s action against Bank Tejarat strikes at one of Iran’s few remaining access points to the international financial system.”   Thus far, Iran has had little regard for its international obligations, and both U.S. and EU officials hope that these moves will increase their cost of defiance.

The EU’s action represents a shift in policy, as the EU has been reluctant to impose an embargo on Iranian oil imports. The U.S. stopped importing oil from Iran years ago where as EU member states, including France, Italy, Greece and Spain, currently import approximately 600,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran..  The EU’s shift came after the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was moving toward nuclear capability this fall.  The EU’s timeline to enforce its embargo coincides with the U.S. six-month timeframe, during which President Obama will need to decide whether to pursue sanctions on countries that import Iranian oil.    The effectiveness of recent action is unclear. Jamie Webster, a Middle East oil analyst at PFC Energy stated that the sanction could merely cause Iran to shift its customers and deliver more to Eastern markets.  What is clear, however, is that a drop in oil revenue would have a significant negative impact on an already weak Iranian economy.

Iran’s reaction to the EU and U.S. sanctions was defiant and almost skeptical.  Officials in Tehran insisted that the EU needed Iranian oil more than Iran needed its business.  Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi stated that, “The West’s ineffective sanctions against the Islamic state are not a threat to us. They are opportunities and have already brought lots of benefits to the country.”  The particular benefits he refers to are undefined and other officials in the region fear grave consequences of Iran’s hard-line approach.  Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britian, Prince Mohammad Bin Nawaf, expressed his concern that Iran’s threat to block the Straight of Hormuz would have grave consequences on the region and would undoubtedly escalate the entire situation to the detriment of Iranian citizens.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/24/us-iran-idUSTRE80N0YB20120124  If Iran’s attitude remains unchanged, the situation will certainly escalate as evidenced by the United States sailing an aircraft carrier through the straight, accompanied by British and French warships on Sunday.  The United States has asserted that, “it would not tolerate the closure of the world’s most important oil shipping gateway.” http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/24/us-iran-idUSTRE80N0YB20120124

Amidst this turmoil, it remains in controversy: do sanctions actually work?  Sanctions are appealing to governments like the U.S. and the EU.  In theory, sanctions force policy by blocking money from flowing in and out of a country, and thus forcing the sanctioned government to give in to political pressure.  On the surface, this seems like a much better option than forcing the issue through military action whilst risking American lives.  However, it is arguable whether sanctions do more harm to the citizens of the sanctioned country than to the governments they attempt to influence.  In this case, Iranian citizens already suffer from a weak economy and an oppressive government and it is likely that these sanctions will enhance these problems by further devaluing the currency and increasing oil prices.  The goal of these sanctions is to persuade the Iranian government to halt its nuclear program; but with the imminent risk of further stirring tension in the region and without any guarantee of success, there is the possibility that sanctions may do more harm than good.

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Sources: BBC, Washington Post, CBS

News Post: Implications of a U.S. Drone in Iran

Sources: BBC, Washington Post, CBS

Sources: BBC, Washington Post, CBS

On December 4th Iran surprised the world with claims that it had downed and captured an American surveillance drone. At first, these claims were met with skepticism, that is until Iran finally unveiled video footage of the actual drone. The video depicted the seemingly undamaged RQ-170 Sentinel stealth aircraft. Iranian officials claimed that its forces electronically commandeered the aircraft approximately 140 miles from the Afghan border and were then able to safely land it inside Iran. Considering the little damage to the drone, BBC security correspondent saysthis is likely to be true. Iranian officials then acknowledged the wealth of technological information that could be garnered from the aircraft.

Meanwhile, the United States denied Iran’s assertions that the drone was either shot or brought down by a cyber-attack. Explanations for the occurrence claim it was more likely a technical failure that led to a crash. The drone was actually being operated by the CIA, which is said to have possession of almost a dozen such aircraft, and has been using them over the past four years to conduct surveillance deep inside Iran, most likely of nuclear weapons. The use of these drones mirrors the Obama administration’s more confrontational posture towards Iran in recent months. Obama, in 2009, famously tried to reach out to Iran to improve relations, but there is growing skepticism within the administration over the effectiveness of these diplomatic overtures and increased economic sanctions. Increased arm sales to Iran’s neighbors along with threatening statements by U.S. officials have accompanied this change in posture. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, has reaffirmed that all options remain on the table, including use of the military, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. U.S. officials have noted the administration’s strategy is to ratchet up the diplomatic pressure while increasing covert operations with Iran with the hopes of coercing Iran to abandon its nuclear activities.

The U.S. also fears a dangerous setback to its advanced stealth technology programs. Iran could “reverse-engineer the chemical composition of the drone’s radar-deflecting paint” and the highly advanced optics technology. Additionally, Iran could sell the technology to Russia and China, something that U.S. officials dread. Iran has come to view this as a volatile propaganda tool as well, as the drone was presented in front of two banners: one proclaiming “The U.S. cannot do a damn thing” and the other depicting the American flag with skulls instead of stars.  Iran has also called on the UN to denounce the “provocative and covert operations” of the U.S. and calling it “tantamount to an act of hostility.” Iran also summoned the Swiss ambassador to protest the “invasion” of Iranian airspace.  Iran and the U.S. have severed diplomatic ties; thus, Switzerland’s embassy represents American interests in Iran.

The implications for international law are expansive. The U.S. is and has been using stealth aircraft within the sovereign territory of Iran to collect intelligence, and it is also threatening that further military options are possible due to Iran’s continued refusal to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Iran has already denounced the act as “tantamount to an act of hostility” using language that seems to imply that the U.S. is already using or almost using illegal use of force. The question remains, however, whether the U.S.’ actions are justified in light of Iran’s own disregard for international law based on its refusal to abandon its nuclear program and oppressive treatment of its citizens.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

If Iran is Nuclear, What Could (and Should) We Do?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The International Atomic Energy Agency plans to release an updated report on Iran, in which the Agency is expected to announce its belief that Iran has now mastered the critical steps that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon.  The report allegedly also says there is no evidence that Iran has decided to build nuclear weapons, and Iran has always maintained that it only maintains a peaceful nuclear energy program.  The United States is not alone, however, in asking why Iran would acquire the materials and technology necessary to build nuclear weapons if it did not intend to do so.

The prospect of a nuclear Iran is often viewed as a destabilizing factor in an already unstable region.  Israel and Iran have a history of negative interactions regarding this issue, including Israel’s 1981 use of bombers to destroy an Iranian nuclear reactor before it could come online.  Other Arab states have supported efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the Washington Post even describes the opposition to an Iranian nuclear program as a rare source of common ground between Israelis and Arabs.

If Iran has nuclear capabilities and those capabilities are generally regarded as dangerous, the inevitable question becomes what, if anything, we should do about it.  The international community has imposed UN-backed sanctions since 2006, and the United States has imposed its own unilateral sanctions on Iran for nearly three decades.  China and Russia have resisted a fourth round of international sanctions on Iran, and though Russia’s position may be softening, China remains opposed to the idea, largely because it views further sanctions as wasted effort.

The seeming failure of the sanctions regime has led some to suggest that only the threat of force will lead to any real change.  Considering the other instability in the region, however, one has to wonder whether threats of further military campaigns would escalate an already tense situation.  The United States has been pursuing a dual-track approach that includes a combination of sanctions and incentives.

The BBC suggests that more diplomacy is the route to take, though that may just be because there is little support for military intervention in this political climate.  Meanwhile, a recent New Yorker article recommends containment through a combination of political, diplomatic, and military actions.  One could expect such containment to include tougher economic sanctions, military posturing (particularly from Israel), and diplomatic pressure.

In light of the limited success any of these policies is likely to have, are any of these actions worth the risk?  In the wake of the Arab Spring, is there a point at which a nuclear Iran, already feeling surrounded by military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, will decide it has nothing else to lose?

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Sources: CNN, The Atlantic, Reuters

News Post: Looking into the Alleged Iranian Plot

Sources: CNN, The Atlantic, Reuters

Sources: CNN, The Atlantic, Reuters

The United States claims to have uncovered a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.  The U.S. filed a criminal complaint against Manssor Arbabsiar alleging that Mr. Arbabsiar solicited a Drug Enforcement Agency informant, thought to be a Mexican drug cartel member, to bomb a D.C. restaurant while the ambassador was present.  The complaint further alleges that Mr. Arbabsiar, a U.S. naturalized citizen, conspired with a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to pay the hit men from the Mexican drug cartel $100,000 as a down payment, followed by $1.5 million more if the attack was successful. 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi announced Monday, October 17th,  that Iran would be willing to consider the evidence alleging Iranian involvement in the plot.  The announced willingness of Iran to consider the issue contrasts the response by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  Khamenei called the allegations “meaningless and absurd” and contends that the allegations are part of scheme by the United States to isolate Iran.

Khamenei is not the only critic of the allegations alleging Iranian involvement.  Reza Aslan, a religious scholar and author, told CNN that the plot “just does not fit the Quds Force’s [modus operandi].”  If Iran was targeting Saudi Arabia, there are a lot of other places to have carried out an attack, not on U.S. soil.  An attack of a Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil would clearly be construed as an attack on the United States and contrary to “Iran’s interest in any legitimate way.”

The allegations are supported by four pieces of evidence: taped conversations between the informant and Mr. Arbabsair, taped conversations between Mr. Ababsair and his alleged co-conspirator in the Quds Froces, details about the $100,000 down payment transfer, and a confession by Mr. Arbabsair made after his arrest on September 29thCritics remain skeptical as to the motivation behind Mr. Ababsair’s confession and the strength of the connection between Mr. Ababsair and the Quds Forces.  The original complaint against Mr. Arbabsair, which remains sealed, might explain part of the motivation behind Mr. Arbabsair’s confession.

As of now, Mr. Ababsair is in U.S. custody, while his co-conspirator is at-large and believed to be in Iran.  The U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, announced Monday, October 17th, that the issue has been referred to the U.N. Security Council.  President Obama has promised to push for the “toughest possible sanctions” against Iran.

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