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US confrontation with Iran

Diplomacy

Project: US Confrontation with Iran
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Shortly after the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981), President Jimmy Carter issues Executive Order 12170 freezing Iranian government assets held in the United States under the authority of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). [US President, 11/14/1979] Iran has an estimated $12 billion in bank deposits, gold, and other properties, including $5.6 billion in deposits and securities held by overseas branches of US banks. [US Department of the Treasury. Office of Foreign Assets Control, 11/1979]

Entity Tags: James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy

Israel secretly changes its policy towards Iran, and now seeks a level of rapprochement with that nation. Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon proposes that President Jimmy Carter, who is struggling to find a diplomatic means to get the 52 American hostages released, begin secretly selling US arms to Iran. Carter angrily refuses. But unbeknownst to Carter, Israel will begin selling its own arms to Iran shortly thereafter. Interestingly, some officials in the US State Department and the CIA know of the Israeli arms sales to Iran. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Ariel Sharon, US Department of State, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy, Israel, Arms for Hostages

F-14 spare parts shipped to Iran.F-14 spare parts shipped to Iran. [Source: Reuben Johnson / Weekly Standard]Israeli officials secretly ask Reagan administration officials for authorization to transfer arms of US origin to Iran. Officials in the Departments of Defense and State have known of Israeli arms sales to Iran that predate Reagan’s installation as president and the freeing of the American hostages, and since Reagan’s ascension to power, plans for US arms sales to Iran have been in the works (see January 28, 1981). Secretary of State Alexander Haig tells Israel that it is acceptable “in principle” for Israel to sell only F-4 fighter plane parts, and the US must approve specific arms-sales lists in advance. It shortly becomes evident, according to State Department documents leaked years later to the press, that Israel is not submitting lists for approval, and is selling US-made arms to Iran far in excess of spare parts for a specific model of fighter jet. (By the mid-1980s, officials will acknowledge that several billion dollars’ worth of ammunition and parts worth would flow from Israel to Iran each year.) Little oversight is exercised on the arms sales; one US ambassador to the region will say in 1992, “[I]t is probable that those who were to serve as their proxies—Israel and private international arms dealers—had agendas of their own, and the end result was that more arms were shipped than anyone in the administration wanted.” The Israeli arms transfers also violate the Arms Export Control Act, which requires written permission from the US for a nation to transfer US-made arms to a third party, and requires the president to immediately inform Congress when such transfers take place. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Arms Export Control Act, US Department of State, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy, Arms for Hostages, Iran/Contra Affair

Alexander Haig.Alexander Haig. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]The newly installed Reagan administration publicly maintains a hard line against Iran, a nation vastly unpopular among Americans who have not forgiven that nation for holding 52 of its citizens hostage for well over a year and murdering a CIA station chief. (Years later, Vice President Bush will call it “an understandable animosity, a hatred, really,” and add, “I feel that way myself.”) President Reagan’s secretary of state, Alexander Haig, says bluntly, “Let me state categorically today there will be no military equipment provided to the government of Iran.” Yet within weeks of taking office, Reagan officials will begin putting together a continuing package of secret arms sales to Iran. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Alexander M. Haig, Jr., George Herbert Walker Bush, Reagan administration, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy, Arms for Hostages

Vice President Bush, secretly planning to ask Iraq to increase its bombing of Iran in order to give the US more leverage in its hostage negotiations with Iran (see July 23, 1986), leaves for the Middle East on July 28. The trip is given a public face as an attempt by Bush to, as he tells reporters, “advance the peace process.” His political handlers, already thinking about the 1988 presidential elections, want to increase his public stature as a potential world leader. Bush is accompanied by his wife Barbara, a platoon of reporters, and a television crew hired by his political action committee to document the trip for future campaign purposes. But his staffers play down the possible impact of the trip. “This is not a trip designed to establish new breakthroughs,” says one Bush adviser. “It’s like tending a garden. If you don’t tend the garden, the weeds grow up. And I think there are a lot of weeds in that garden.” Much of the trip, such as the visit to Jordan, is planned primarily as a series of photo opportunities, with Bush’s PR team even exhorting the Jordanians to feature camels in each shot (camels are few in Jordan).
Hostage Break - Bush learns while still in flight that an American hostage, the Reverend Lawrence Jenco, has just been released by his Hezbollah captors, most likely at the behest of the Iranians (see January 8, 1985). Jenco’s release, according to reporters Murray Waas and Craig Unger, is “a measure of Iran’s deep ambivalence about the negotiations. Iran need[s] weapons and [does] not want the deal to die. At the same time, the Iranians [a]re apoplectic because, according to their estimates, they were being overcharged by six hundred per cent [for US weapons], and they had not yet received parts for two hundred and forty Hawk missiles.” Jenco’s release is in return for the US expediting the shipment of the missile parts. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq], 1/31/1995 pdf file; MSNBC, 8/18/2002]
Effectiveness of the Message - Bush meets with several regional leaders, including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak (see July 28-August 3, 1986). In the 48 hours following the meeting with Mubarak, Iraq launches 359 air strikes against Iran, including numerous strikes far deeper into Iran than it has done before. Apparently the message was effective. In return, while Bush is still “advancing the peace process,” the CIA begins providing the Iraqis with highly classified tactical information about Iranian military movements and strike targets. Evidently Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, previously suspicious of US motives and advice, felt more confident in the battle strategies advocated by such a high-level US official. When Bush returns to Washington on August 5, he is debriefed by Casey. According to one Casey aide, “Casey kept the return briefing very close to his vest. But he said Bush was supportive of the initiative and had carried out his mission.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Saddam Hussein, William Casey, George Herbert Walker Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Barbara Bush, Hosni Mubarak, Oliver North

Category Tags: Covert/Clandestine Operations, Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Hezbollah, Israel, Iran/Contra Affair

Vice President Bush meets with several national leaders during his trip to the Middle East (see July 28-August 3, 1986). Ostensibly Bush is visiting the region to “advance the peace process,” but in reality his trip has three reasons: to raise his own public profile as an experienced hand in foreign relations for his upcoming presidential bid, to negotiate for the release of US hostages held by Iran, and to secretly pressure Iraq to increase its bombing of Iran to aid in those negotiations.
Meeting with the Israelis - Bush meets briefly with Amiram Nir in Jerusalem. Nir, a close friend of Oliver North’s and a counterterrorism adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, meets with Bush at North’s behest. Bush will later characterize his meeting with Nir as “generally about counterterrorism,” and will admit obliquely that the two did have “some discussion of arms sales as a means to ‘reach out to moderate elements’ in the Iranian government. Arms sales would ‘establish bona fides’ with the moderate element, who ‘might use their influence with the people who were holding the hostages.’” However, the meeting is later described very differently by others, including Craig Fuller, Bush’s chief of staff, who is present at the meeting; according to Fuller, the two discuss the arms-for-hostages deal in great detail, including specifics about what arms will be delivered, and both are ready to negotiate with the Islamic radicals of the Khomeini regime who control the American hostages. The hostages are to be released in a group in return for 4,000 US-made antitank missiles. Nir himself reports the contents of the meeting to Peres, and his later account of it is virtually identical to Fuller’s. Nir also notes that his biggest question—how to get the Iranians to release the hostages all at once and not one or two at a time—went unanswered by Bush. “The [vice president] made no commitments nor did he give any direction to Nir,” Fuller notes.
Meeting with King Hussein - Bush then flies to Jordan to meet with King Hussein. Their meeting has an element not divulged to the press: Hussein has often been used as an intermediary between Reagan officials and Iraq. The CIA uses Jordan as a conduit to pass intelligence to Iraq, with the Jordanian involvement providing critical “deniability.” Bush tells the king that Iraq needs to be more aggressive in its war with Iran if it wants to win the war, and tells Hussein to tell the Iraqis to use its air force more expansively. Hussein promises to pass the message along.
Meeting with Mubarak - Bush then jets to Egypt to meet with its president, Hosni Mubarak. Reporters note that Bush tells Mubarak that the US cannot increase aid to Egypt. They are unaware that Bush asks Mubarak to pass along the same message that he has asked of King Hussein: to exhort Iraq to step up its air war against Iran. By the time Bush speaks with Mubarak, the NSA, monitoring Jordanian-Iraqi communications, learns that Hussein has already passed along the message. The talking points for Bush’s meeting with Mubarak are authored by Teicher. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq], 1/31/1995 pdf file; MSNBC, 8/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Reagan administration, Saddam Hussein, Shimon Peres, Hosni Mubarak, George Herbert Walker Bush, Craig Fuller, Howard Teicher, Hussein bin Talal

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Israel, Neoconservative Hawks, Planning, Arms for Hostages, Iran/Contra Affair

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org]The Lebanese weekly Al Shiraa publishes an article reporting that the US has been sending spare parts and ammunition for US-made jet fighters to Iran in return for Iran facilitating the release of American hostages held by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah (see September 15, 1985). It also reports that national security adviser Robert McFarlane and four other US officials, including his aide Oliver North, visited Tehran in September 1986 and met with several high-level Iranian officials, who asked for more US military equipment (see Late May, 1986). After the meeting, the report says, four C-130 transports airlifted the arms to Iran from a US base in the Philippines. The flight of the transports has never been confirmed, but the rest of the report is essentially factual. It is unclear where Al Shiraa got its information; the publication has close ties to Syrian officials, and it is possible that the Syrians leaked the information in order to destabilize any possible thawing of relations between the US and Iran, perhaps with an eye to increasing Syria’s own influence in Iran. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, quickly confirms McFarlane’s visit, but adds elements to the story that many from all sides of the issue find hard to believe, including claims that McFarlane and his companions used Irish passports to enter Iran, and were posing as the flight crew of a plane carrying military equipment Iran had purchased from international arms dealers. Rafsanjani claims that McFarlane and his companions brought gifts of a Bible signed by Ronald Reagan, a cake shaped like a key (to symbolize an opening of better relations between Iran and the US), and a number of Colt pistols to be given to Iranian officials. Rafsanjani says that he and other Iranian officials were outraged at the visit, kept McFarlane and his party under virtual house arrest for five days, and threw them out, sparking the following complaint from McFarlane: “You are nuts. We have come to solve your problems, but this is how you treat us. If I went to Russia to buy furs, [Mikhail] Gorbachev would come to see me three times a day.” US officials say that Rafsanjani’s embellishments are sheer invention designed to humiliate the US and bolster Iran’s perception around the world. They confirm that McFarlane, North, and two bodyguards did visit Tehran, but bore neither Bible, cake, nor pistols; they did stay in Tehran four or five days, and met with numerous Iranian officials, perhaps including Rafsanjani. The officials are unclear about exactly what was accomplished, though apparently no new deals were concluded.
US Arms Deals with Iran Revealed - Though Rafsanjani’s account may be fanciful in its details, the effect of the Al Shiraa report is to blow the cover off of the US’s complex arms-for-hostage deals with Iran. While Al Shiraa does not mention the hostage deal, Rafsanjani does, saying that if the US and France meet certain conditions—the unfreezing of Iranian financial assets and the release of what he calls political prisoners held “in Israel and other parts of the world,” then “as a humanitarian gesture we will let our friends in Lebanon know our views” about the release of American and French hostages. On November 17, Time magazine will write of the Al Shiraa revelation, “As long as the deep secret was kept—even from most of the US intelligence community—the maneuver in one sense worked. Iran apparently leaned on Lebanese terrorists to set free three American hostages… . But once the broad outlines of the incredible story became known, the consequences were dire. The administration appeared to have violated at least the spirit, and possibly the letter, of a long succession of US laws that are intended to stop any arms transfers, direct or indirect, to Iran. Washington looked to be sabotaging its own efforts to organize a worldwide embargo against arms sales to Iran, and hypocritically flouting its incessant admonitions to friends and allies not to negotiate with terrorists for the release of their captives. America’s European allies, the recipients of much of that nagging, were outraged. Moreover, the US was likely to forfeit the trust of moderate Arab nations that live in terror of Iranian-fomented Islamic fundamentalist revolutions and fear anything that might build up Tehran’s military machine. Finally, the administration seemed to have lost at least temporarily any chance of gaining the release of the missing six US hostages in Lebanon, or of cultivating the Iranian politicians who might sooner or later take over from [the Ayatollah] Khomeini.” [Time, 11/17/1986; New York Times, 11/19/1987; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
'Cowboy' Operation in the West Wing - The arms-for-hostages deal is run from the National Security Council by a small group of NSC staffers under the supervision of North; the group is collectively known as the “cowboys.” A government official says in November 1986, “This thing was run out of the West Wing [of the White House]. It was a vest-pocket, high-risk business.”

Entity Tags: Hezbollah, Hashemi Rafsanjani, Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini, Robert C. McFarlane, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Al Shiraa, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Israel, Opposition Groups, Arms for Hostages, Iran/Contra Affair

David Durenberger.David Durenberger. [Source: NNDB.com]According to his 1988 campaign biography Looking Forward, Vice President Bush is briefed on the Iran-Contra operation by Senator David Durenberger (D-MN), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Until this briefing, Bush will claim, he knew nothing of the substance of the operation. He leaves the briefing feeling that he had “been deliberately excluded from key meetings involving details of the Iran operation” and “not in the loop.” He also denies playing any role in arming Iraq, in the murky, little-understood operation commonly known as “Iraqgate.” Evidence disproves Bush’s claims of ignorance (see July 23, 1986). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Senate Intelligence Committee, David F. Durenberger, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy, Arms for Hostages, Iran/Contra Affair

Claiborne Pell.Claiborne Pell. [Source: Brown University]The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reports that the US faces a dire choice if Iran is victorious in its war with Iraq. The choice, the committee reports, is “between permitting Iran to dominate the West’s oil supply in the Persian Gulf, and direct US military intervention… .” The report warns that the US, having agreed to protect Kuwaiti shipping in the Persian Gulf from Iranian attacks, “seriously risks being drawn into war” against Iran, and notes that Gulf nations believe the US is siding with Iraq in the war, “and the expanded US naval presence is likely to invite more Iranian attacks of increasing severity.… American naval forces in the Gulf are now, in effect, hostage to Iraqi war policy.” The Senate is debating whether to invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires Congress to either declare war in the region or withdraw funding for the US military presence in the Gulf. The Reagan administration opposes the move, and it is doubtful a majority in Congress will vote to invoke the resolution. The report calls the US policy of escorting Kuwaiti tankers “dangerously nebulous.” The Reagan administration agreed to protect the tankers after Kuwait threatened to turn to the Soviets for help if the United States refused. Most Gulf nations believe Kuwait’s threat to ask for Soviet help is nothing more than a “feint” to involve the US in the war; few believe Kuwait is serious about turning to the Soviets for assistance. The report says that although “the flow of oil is not in serious jeopardy,” “shipping in the gulf now appears less safe than before the US naval buildup began.” Iran has recently sown Gulf waters with mines, posing a threat to Kuwaiti and other shipping in the area. Interestingly, though the report is critical of Reagan administration policy in the Gulf, it does not recommend reversing course. The US cannot retreat from its promise to protect Kuwaiti shipping without risking “great cost to US credibility in the region.” Claiborne Pell (D-RI) says, “This report shows that the danger of a possible Iraqi collapse is greater than commonly understood, and that the perils for us in the Gulf are certain to increase.” The report notes that because of the White House’s secret arming of Iran (see 1981), Iraq faces the real possibility of defeat in the war, with potentially catastrophic results for the US. “US policy in the Persian Gulf has been shaped as much by a short-term desire to restore credibility lost in the Iran-Contra affair as by any careful assessment of US interests and objectives.” [Boston Globe, 10/19/1987; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Reagan administration, Claiborne Pell

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy, Oil and Gas

State Department official Hillary Mann, walking home after being evacuated from the United Nations building after the two World Trade Center attacks, is contacted by a senior Iranian diplomat on her personal cell phone. Mann and the Iranian, whom she will refuse to name but will describe as a cultured man in his fifties with salt-and-pepper hair, have been secretly meeting in a small conference room at the UN. He says the attacks were most likely the work of al-Qaeda, and then says, “I hope that we can still work together.” In the following weeks, the Iranian official will maintain contact with Mann, offering backchannel support for the US and the chance for more full-fledged, open diplomatic contacts. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Al-Qaeda, Hillary Mann

Category Tags: Diplomacy

An Iranian diplomat has been maintaining secretive, “backchannel” contact with State Department official Hillary Mann for months; his efforts to reach out to the US government through Mann have increased since the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001). In one meeting with the diplomat, in the Delegates’ Lounge of the United Nations, the diplomat tells Mann that Iran is ready to cooperate unconditionally with the US. Reporter John Richardson will later note that the statement has “seismic diplomatic implications.” Richardson will continue: “Unconditional talks are what the US had been demanding as a precondition to any official diplomatic contact between the US and Iran. And it would be the first chance since the Islamic revolution for any kind of rapprochement.” Mann will recall: “It was revolutionary. It could have changed the world.” Mann will say, “They specifically told me time and again that they were doing this because they understood the impact of this attack on the US, and they thought that if they helped us unconditionally, that would be the way to change the dynamic for the first time in 25 years.” When she discusses the meetings with a reporter in 2007, Mann will say, “As far as they’re concerned, the whole idea that there were talks is something I shouldn’t even be talking about.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations, Hillary Mann, US Department of State, John Richardson

Category Tags: Diplomacy

Shortly after State Department official Hillary Mann joins the National Security Council staff as its resident Iran expert, she flies to Europe with senior State Department official Ryan Crocker to establish contact with Iranian government officials. Iran has let the US know through back channels that it is ready to re-establish diplomatic relations (see Fall 2001); Mann’s efforts were critical in the early stages of diplomatic contacts (see September 11, 2001). Mann and Crocker meet with Iranian diplomats in the old United Nations building in Geneva, and the two sides hammer out an agreement for Iran’s assistance in the war against the Taliban. The Iranians agree to provide assistance if any American fliers are shot down near their border with Afghanistan, let the US ship food across their borders, work with the Americans to intercept Iraqi oil being shipped out of the Persian Gulf, and even help capture some “really bad Afghans,” particularly anti-American warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom they agree to quietly put under house arrest in Tehran. In addition, the Iranians offer the US tactical assistance in the war against the Taliban, including sharing their deep knowledge of the Taliban’s strategic capabilities. Simultaneously, special envoy James Dobbins has a successful meeting with the Iranian deputy foreign minister in Bonn, Germany, discussing Iranian involvement in establishing a new government for Afghanistan. Mann will recall one meeting with Iranian officials shortly after the US began bombing Taliban targets (see October 19, 2001); an Iranian interrupts a rather desultory conversation about a future Afghani constitution by pounding on the table and shouting, “Enough of that!” He then unfurls a map of Afghanistan and begins jabbing his finger at points on the map, telling Mann and her colleagues that the Americans need to bomb this and that target. [Esquire, 10/18/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 245-246]

Entity Tags: Hillary Mann, US Department of State, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, National Security Council, Taliban, James Dobbins, Ryan C. Crocker

Category Tags: Diplomacy

Twice in 2002, the US passes requests to Iran to deliver al-Qaeda suspects to the the Afghan government. Iran transfers two of the suspects and seeks more information about others. Iran, in turn, asks the US to question four Taliban prisoners held at the US-run Guantanamo prison. The four men are suspects in the 1998 killing of nine Iranian diplomats in Kabul, Afghanistan. But in late 2001, the Bush administration decided on a policy of accepting help with counterterrorism efforts from officially declared state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran, but not giving any help back (see Late December 2001). As a result, the Iranian request is denied. Counterterrorism “tsar” Wayne Downing will later comment, “I sided with the [CIA] guys on that. I was willing to make a deal with the devil if we could clip somebody important off or stop an attack.” The Washington Post will report, “Some believe important opportunities were lost.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Wayne Downing, Al-Qaeda, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Diplomacy

President Bush’s State of the Union speech describes an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Osama bin Laden is not mentioned in the speech. [US President, 2/4/2002] Bush says: “States like these and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush goes on to suggest for the first time that the US might be prepared to launch pre-emptive wars by saying, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004] When Bush advisor Richard Perle was asked one month before 9/11 about new challenges the US faced, he replied by naming these exact three countries (see August 6, 2001). Michael Gerson, head of the White House speechwriting team at the time, will later claim that, as Newsweek will later put it, “Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn’t ready to say so.” Iran and North Korea are inserted into the speech in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. The speech is followed by a new public focus on Iraq and a downplaying of bin Laden (see September 15, 2001-April 6, 2002). Prior to the speech, the Iranian government had been very helpful in the US fight against the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran were enemies. [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] At the time, al-Qaeda operatives had been streaming into Iran from Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban. Iran has been turning over hundreds of suspects to US allies and providing US intelligence with the names, photographs, and fingerprints of those it is holding. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] Newsweek will later say that it is “beyond doubt” the Iranian government was “critical… to stabilizing [Afghanistan] after the fall of Kabul.” But all this cooperation comes to an end after the speech. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli will later say that “Those [inside the Iranian government] who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized. The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America’s intentions.” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] In August 2003, reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write that “the Axis of Evil [is not] an ‘axis’ at all, since two of the states, Iran and Iraq, hate… each other, and neither [have] anything at all to do with the third, North Korea.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Mohammad Hossein Adeli, Jeffrey St. Clair, Michael Gerson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations

Category Tags: Key Events, Diplomacy

When asked why he included Iran in the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), President Bush answers: “It is very important for the American president at this point in history to speak very clearly about the evils the world faces.… I believe the United States is the beacon for freedom in the world. And I believe we have a responsibility to promote freedom that is as solemn as the responsibility is to protecting the American people, because the two go hand in hand.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics

Saad bin Laden.Saad bin Laden. [Source: NBC]In the spring on 2002, as the Taliban is collapsing in Afghanistan, many al-Qaeda operatives flee into neighboring Iran. About 20 to 25 operatives composing much of al-Qaeda’s management council are said to wind up in the custody of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Prior to this point, the Iranian government has been turning over most al-Qaeda captives to other countries, but after President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech criticizing Iran (see January 29, 2002), Iran decides to keep this group. [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] Iran does not officially admit to holding them, and their status is unclear, but they all seem to be living in a village near the Caspian Sea. One senior US intelligence official says, “They are under virtual house arrest,” and not able to do much. Those said to be in Iranian custody include:
bullet Saif al-Adel, one of al-Qaeda’s top military commanders.
bullet Suliman abu Ghaith, al-Qaeda spokesman.
bullet Saad and Hamza bin Laden, two of Osama bin Laden’s young sons.
bullet Abu Dahak, who served as al-Qaeda’s liaison to the rebels in Chechnya.
bullet Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a financial expert.
bullet Two unnamed top aides to Ayman al-Zawahiri. [MSNBC, 6/24/205]
bullet Thirwat Salah Shehata, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, who is probably one of the al-Zawahiri aides mentioned above. [MSNBC, 5/2005]
bullet Mustafa Hamza, head of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian militant group, and an al-Qaeda leader as well (see June 26, 1995). In late 2004, he will be extradited from Iran to stand trial in Egypt. [Reuters, 1/9/2005]
At first, these operatives appear to be capable of communicating with operatives outside of Iran. Saad bin Laden is said to play a major role planning the attack of a synagogue in Tunisia in April 2002 (see April 11, 2002). But the Saudi government will suspect that some of the operatives in Iran are involved in a 2003 attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003), and they will successfully press Iran to tighten the house arrest of the operatives in Iran. Iran will propose an exchange of these prisoners around the time of the Riyadh bombing, but the US will reject the offer (see Mid-May 2003). Since that time, these leaders apparently remain in a state of limbo. CIA Director Porter Goss will say in 2005, “I think [the] understanding that there is a group of leadership of al-Qaeda under some type of detention—I don’t know exactly what type, necessarily—in Iran is probably accurate.” [MSNBC, 6/24/205] Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will later ask, “The question is, what does house arrest mean in the Iranian context?” He suggests that Iran could release the group or loosen their restrictions depending on how relations evolve between the US and Iran. “They’re a guarantee against bad behavior.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2006, it will be reported that Saad bin Laden has been freed. [Reuters, 8/2/2006] Also in 2006, al-Yazid will emerge as a leader of al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and may never have been in Iran. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2007, the still teenaged Hamza bin Laden will reportedly appear in Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 9/11/2007] In 2008, it will be reported that the US still knows little about the al-Qaeda figures detained in Iran, but US officials say they believe Iran has largely kept them under control since 2003, limiting their ability to travel and communicate. One US official will say, “It’s been a status quo that leaves these people, some of whom are quite important, essentially on ice.” [ABC News, 5/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Thirwat Salah Shehata, Saad bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, Mustafa Hamza, Porter J. Goss, Hamza bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Suliman abu Ghaith, Abu Dahak

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Diplomacy

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that it is useless for the US to engage in diplomatic negotiations with Iran. “The problem with Iran,” she says, “is that its policies unfortunately belie the notion that engagement with it has helped.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics

President Bush issues a statement strongly supporting “prodemocracy” forces in Iran, whose stated goal is to overthrow the current Iranian regime. In response, Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, considered a moderate by most Westerners, calls Bush a “warmongerer.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]

Entity Tags: Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Calls for Overthrow, Diplomacy, Geopolitics

Mohamed ElBaradei, the president of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meets with President Bush in the Oval Office to discuss the news of Iran’s restarted nuclear program (see August 2002 and December 12, 2002). ElBaradei tells Bush that the Iranians want to meet with an American delegation to discuss the program, obviously with the intent of negotiating a cessation in return for American concessions. ElBaradei offers to help set up the talks, and even keep them low-profile. But Bush is uninterested. His goal, as he later tells British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is to “free Iran.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write that any negotiations that might succeed in shutting down Iran’s nuclear program would also serve to strengthen and legitimize Iran’s government; it is, therefore, worth the risk of a nuclear Iran to continue working towards “regime change” in that nation. This also helps explain why, several months later, Bush officials refused to consider Iran’s offer of the so-called “grand bargain” (see May 4, 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, George W. Bush, International Atomic Energy Agency, J. Peter Scoblic, Mohamed ElBaradei

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

Two weeks after the White House flatly rejected a comprehensive diplomatic offer from Iran (see May 4, 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell approaches State Department official Hillary Mann, who wrote the original memo recommending that the Iranian proffer be considered. Powell tells Mann: “It was a very good memo. I couldn’t sell it at the White House.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Bush administration (43), Hillary Mann, Colin Powell

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics

Sadegh Kharrazi.Sadegh Kharrazi. [Source: University of Cambridge]In the wake of the US-led conquest of Iraq, the government of Iran worries that they will be targeted for US invasion next. Sadegh Kharrazi, Iran’s ambassador to France and the nephew of Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, drafts a bold proposal to negotiate with the US on all the outstanding conflicts between them. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Diplomats refer to the proposal as “the grand bargain.” The US sends neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad, a senior National Security Council official, to talk with Iran’s UN ambassador, Javad Zarif. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] The proposal was reviewed and approved by Iran’s top leaders Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mohammad Khatami, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador to Iran, is used as an intermediary since the US and Iran do not have formal diplomatic relations. [Washington Post, 2/14/2007]
bullet According to the language of the proposal, it offers “decisive action against any terrorists (above all, al-Qaeda) in Iranian territory” and “full cooperation and exchange of all relevant information.” In return, Iran wants “pursuit of anti-Iranian terrorists, above all [the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK)],” a dissident Iranian group which the US officially lists as a terrorist organization.
bullet Iran also offers to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for “full access to peaceful nuclear technology.” It proposes “full transparency for security [assurance] that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD” and “full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments (93+2 and all further IAEA protocols).” That is a references to IAEA protocols that would guarantee the IAEA access to any declared or undeclared facility on short notice.
bullet The proposal also offers a dramatic change in Iranian policy towards Israel. Iran would accept an Arab league declaration approving a land-for-peace principle and a comprehensive peace with Israel in return for Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 lines, a softening of Iran’s usual policy.
bullet The proposal further offers to stop any Iranian support of Palestinian opposition groups such as Hamas and proposes to convert Hezbollah into “a mere political organization within Lebanon.” It further offers “coordination of Iranian influence for activity supporting political stabilization and the establishment of democratic institutions and a nonreligious government” in Iraq.
bullet In return, Iran wants a democratic government in Iran, which would mean its Shiite allies would come to power since the Shiites make up a majority of the Iraqi population. The proposal wants the US to remove Iran from its “axis of evil” and list of terrorism sponsors. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006]
US Rejects Offer - The US flatly rejects the idea. “We’re not interested in any grand bargain,” says Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] The American Prospect will later comment that “Iran’s historic proposal for a broad diplomatic agreement should have prompted high-level discussions over the details of an American response.” State Department counterterrorism expert Flynt Leverett will later call it a “respectable effort” to start negotiations with the US. But within days, the US rejects the proposal without even holding an interagency meeting to discuss its possible merits. Guldimann, the Swiss intermediary, is reprimanded for having passed the proposal to the US. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Larry Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that it was a significant proposal for beginning “meaningful talks” between the US and Iran but that it “was a non-starter so long as [Dick] Cheney was Vice President and the principal influence on Bush.” [Newsweek, 2/8/2007] He will also say that the State Department supported the offer, “[b]ut as soon as it got to the Vice President’s office, the old mantra of ‘We don’t talk to evil‘… reasserted itself” and Cheney’s office turned the offer down. [BBC, 1/18/2007] Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will later claim that, “We couldn’t determine what was the Iranians’ and what was the Swiss ambassador’s,” and says that he though the Iranians “were trying to put too much on the table.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will say of the proposal, “Perhaps somebody saw something of the like” but “I just don’t remember ever seeing any such thing.” [Newsweek, 2/8/2007] Colin Powell will later say that President Bush simply didn’t want to negotiate with an Iranian government that he believed should not be in power. “My position… was that we ought to find ways to restart talks with Iran… But there was a reluctance on the part of the president to do that.” He also says, “You can’t negotiate when you tell the other side, ‘Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start.’” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] Days later, Iran will propose a more limited exchange of al-Qaeda prisoners for MEK prisoners, but the US will reject that too (see Mid-May 2003). Author Craig Unger will later write, “The grand bargain was dead. Flush with a false sense of victory, Bush, Cheney, and [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld felt no need to negotiate with the enormous oil-rich country that shared a border with the country America had just invaded.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 308-309]
Proposal Echoed Four Years Later - In 2007, the BBC will note, “Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now.” [BBC, 1/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Kamal Kharrazi, Lawrence Wilkerson, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Richard Armitage, International Atomic Energy Agency, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Flynt Leverett, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Hezbollah, Condoleezza Rice, Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Donald Rumsfeld, Tim Guldimann, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Diplomacy, US MEK policy

The Bush administration blames Iran for helping al-Qaeda bomb three foreign worker compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003). Though the US has no evidence of Iranian complicity in the bombings, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney insist that Iran must have been involved, and prevail upon President Bush to shut down the informal backchannel discussions between Iranian and US officials (see September 11, 2001). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 249]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics

Saif al-Adel.Saif al-Adel. [Source: FBI]Around May 4, 2003, Iran attempted to start negotiations in an attempt to resolve all outstanding issues between Iran and the US. The US completely rejected the offer within days. Iran immediately comes back with a more limited proposal, offering to hand over a group of al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran in return for the US to hand over leaders of the Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK). The US had already officially listed MEK as a terrorist group. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Iran is believed to be holding a number of top al-Qaeda leaders, including military commander Saif al-Adel and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden (see Spring 2002). The US had captured about 4,000 members of MEK in Iraq the month before, in bases where they had been staging attacks against Iran. Iran pledges to grant amnesty to most of the MEK prisoners, try only 65 leaders, forgo the death penalty on them, and allow the Red Cross to supervise the transfer. [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] Iran proposes to start with an exchange of information, offering to share the list of names of al-Qaeda operatives they are detaining in return for the US to share the list of names of MEK operatives US forces has captured in Iraq. This exchange of names is discussed at a White House meeting. Hardliners in favor of regime change in Iran argue that MEK is different than al-Qaeda. President Bush is said to respond, “But we say there is no such thing as a good terrorist.” [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] And he initially seems in favor of a prisoner exchange, saying about the MEK, “Why not? They’re terrorists.” [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] But Bush does not immediately approve the exchange of names, although he does approve the disarming of MEK who have surrendered to US troops and he allows the State Department to continue secret negotiations on the issue of exchanging names and prisoners in Switzerland. But on May 12, 2003, a bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia kills a number of US citizens (see May 12, 2003). Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and other neoconservatives argue that the bombing was planned by al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] The Washington Post will report in 2007 that, “US intelligence officials said there are suspicions, but no proof, that one of [the al-Qaeda leaders in Iran] may have been involved from afar in planning” the Riyadh bombing. Some of Bush’s top advisers argue in favor of trading the prisoners, suggesting that directly interrogating the al-Qaeda leaders could result in important new intelligence leads. But Cheney and Rumsfeld argue that any deal would legitimize Iran’s government. Bush ultimately offers to accept information about the al-Qaeda leaders without offering anything in return. Not surprisingly, Iran refuses. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] A planned meeting between US and Iranian officials on May 21 is canceled and negotiations come to a halt. The American Prospect will later comment, “In a masterstroke, Rumsfeld and Cheney had shut down the only diplomatic avenue available for communicating with Iran and convinced Bush that Iran was on the same side as al-Qaeda.” [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Flynt Leverett, a State Department official dealing with Middle East policy, will later say, “Why we didn’t cut this deal is beyond me.” [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] One anonymous senior US official will later say, “One reason nothing came of it was because we knew that there were parts of the US government who didn’t want to give them the MEK because they had other plans for them… like overthrowing the Iranian government.” [MSNBC, 6/24/205]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Flynt Leverett, George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: US MEK policy, Diplomacy

Instead of considering Iran’s sweeping proposal to open diplomatic negotiations with the United States (see May 4, 2003), the Bush administration begins working on efforts to destabilize the Iranian government (see November 12, 2002, May 6, 2003, and May 19, 2003). Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett says he believes the White House’s course is a dangerous one: “What it means is we will end up with an Iran that has nuclear weapons and no dialogue with the United States.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Flynt Leverett, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Calls for Overthrow, Diplomacy, Geopolitics

France, Germany, and Britain succeed in persuading Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and permit intrusive inspections by United Nations monitors. The US refuses to join this effort, and continues to attempt to have Iran referred to the UN Security Council for violating its safeguard agreements. Unable to affect the negotiations between Iran and the Europeans, Bush officials are reduced to mocking the negotiations, with the State Department’s John Bolton asking, “How many IAEA meetings does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” Bolton is later asked what he thinks about the Europeans’ “carrot-and-stick” methodology of negotiating with the Iranians, and he replies, “I don’t do carrots.” Author J. Peter Scoblic later writes: “The problem was that the administration didn’t really do sticks, either. Although the Bush administration repeatedly made it clear that ‘all options were on the table,’ it never explicitly threatened military action or established red lines beyond which it would force Iran to pay some explicit price. Absent coercion or diplomacy, the Bush administration’s strategy was essentially one of hope—hope that the Iranian regime would collapse, yielding morally pure victory. Unfortunately, just as with North Korea (see May 4, 2003), dramatic change was unlikely; not only was the regime relatively stable, but Iranian reformers appeared committed to the nuclear program as well.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 249-250]

Entity Tags: John R. Bolton, Bush administration (43), J. Peter Scoblic, International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

Mohamed ElBaradei, the president of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meets with Secretary of State Colin Powell to ask a second time for the US’s participation in European-led negotiations with Iran over that nation’s nuclear program (see Fall 2003). Powell refuses. The IAEA and the Europeans—France, Germany, and Britain—believe that the US’s participation in the negotiations is essential to convince Iran to make real concessions. Iran wants assurances that the US will not attack it. Moreover, Iran knows that the Europeans will wait for US approval for any incentives they offer, such as membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). During the negotiations, an Iranian diplomat tells British negotiator John Sawers not to keep pressing the Iranian delegation to give up its nuclear weapons development program: “Look, John, that’s what we are saving up for the Americans. We can’t spend all our possible concessions in negotiating with you. We’ll have nothing left.” As the Europeans continue to jockey with the balky Iranians, the US continues to stand apart—“leaving the driving to the EU,” as State Department neoconservative John Bolton will later comment. Only in 2005 will the Bush administration begin giving its grudging support to the negotiations, but it will continue to refuse to actually participate in them. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 249-250]

Entity Tags: World Trade Organization, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, International Atomic Energy Agency, John R. Bolton, Mohamed ElBaradei, John Sawers

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

James Dobbins.James Dobbins. [Source: PBS]James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, writes an analytical piece on the subject of engagement with Iran: “Washington is not ready to join the Europeans in negotiating limits on Iran’s program, nor is it willing to offer any incentives. Conversely, the United States cannot threaten Iran with political isolation or economic sanctions because America already has in place a comprehensive economic embargo and blackout on communication.” Dobbins adds that “America has refused to negotiate, to offer concessions or to join in multilateral economic and political arrangements that its European allies may negotiate…. [W]hile Europe offers carrots, Washington brandishes no sticks. Given American difficulties in Iraq, a military invasion of Iran is implausible. An aerial attack on known nuclear sites in Iran might slow that country’s weapons program, but only at the cost of accelerated efforts at clandestine sites…. Washington is no more than an excited bystander offering advice from a safe distance.” In conclusion, Dobbins states that: “If blocking Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations is as urgent as it would seem, then engagement on that issue is imperative. At present, nothing Iran does or fails to do will alter the American posture. This unyielding attitude undercuts the prospects for Europe’s effort to negotiate a positive resolution to the nuclear crisis. It also provides the weakest possible basis for common action in the absence of such a settlement.” [International Herald Tribune, 12/2/2004]

Entity Tags: James Dobbins, RAND Corporation

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy, Think Tank Activities

The National Iranian American Council releases findings from a national letter writing campaign, conducted between January 24 and 29, indicating that 98.1 percent of Iranian Americans would be opposed to the use of US military force against Iran. 89.5 percent of the participants said they favored negotiations between US and Iran as the best way to address current tensions. 30.4 percent supported joint disarmament of both Iran and Israel. [National Iranian American Council, 1/31/2005]

Entity Tags: National Iranian American Council

Category Tags: Diplomacy

The Bush administration says it will not back Europe’s plan to offer Iran economic and political incentives to abandon its uranium enrichment program unless there is a way to enforce it. The Bush administration favors an arrangement where the issue would be hauled before the UN Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions, in the event of Iranian non-compliance. [Reuters, 3/4/2005]

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

John Bolton.John Bolton. [Source: Publicity photo via American Enterprise Institute]President George Bush selects John Bolton, currently an official in the State Department, to be the US ambassador to the UN. Bolton is a staunch neoconservative with a long record of opposing multilateral efforts. As undersecretary of state for arms control, Bolton opposed a multilateral effort in July 2001 to create broad worldwide controls on the sale of small arms (see July 9, 2001). In February 2002, Bolton made it clear that the Bush administration did not feel bound to the 1978 pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states (see February 2002). Bolton was also a strong advocate of taking unilateral action against Saddam Hussein (see January 26, 1998) and in May 2002, he effectively removed the US signature from the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) (see May 6, 2002). [USA Today, 3/7/2005]

Entity Tags: John R. Bolton, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Key Events, Diplomacy

The United States and European Union (EU) indicate that they are ready to work together on a diplomatic approach to encourage Iran to give up its nuclear program. Condoleezza Rice says that the US is willing to drop it objections to Iran’s application to the WTO and “consider, on a case-by-case basis, the licensing of spare parts of Iranian civilian aircraft.” Europe, on the other hand, which has been under pressure from the Bush administration to harden its policy toward Iran, says it will have “no choice” but to support the issue being brought up at the UN Security Council if Iran does not discontinue its suspected nuclear weapons program. Up until now, the US and EU have been unable to agree on a single approach to dealing with Iran. [New York Times, 3/12/2005]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

Iran says that incentives put forward by Europe and the United States the previous day (see March 11, 2005) are meaningless. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is determined to use peaceful nuclear technology and no pressure, intimidation or threat can make Iran give up its right,” says Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi. The European Union and United States unveiled a “carrot and stick” approach to pressure Tehran to give up uranium enrichment which can be used to make bomb-grade fuel. Asefi argues that US prohibitions against the sale of aircraft spare parts to Iran should never have been imposed in the first place. “Lifting them is no concession and entering the WTO is a clear right of all countries.” He also says that Iran would be happy to implement measures—such as allowing intrusive UN inspections of its nuclear sites—in order to provide “objective guarantees” that it is not developing nuclear weapons. [Reuters, 3/12/2005; Voice of America, 3/12/2005]

Entity Tags: Hamid Reza Asefi

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

Iran presents the European Union with a proposal whereby Iran would be permitted to produce enriched uranium on a small scale. The proposed pilot plant would have a small number of centrifuges, arranged in successive order to refine out enriched uranium. Experts say the plan would involve 500 to 2,000 centrifuges as opposed to the 54,000 that Iran currently has planned for large-scale industrial use. As part of the proposed agreement, Iranian officials would allow close monitoring of the pilot facility by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). [Agence France-Presse, 3/24/2005]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

India’s petroleum and natural gas minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, announces that Pakistan has invited India to join them in talks, set for April 2005, with the Iranian government on a proposal to construct a natural gas pipeline from Iran to India. India is Asia’s third-largest energy user and has long awaited such an invitation to join the $4 billion, 2,775-kilometer pipeline project. [BBC, 2/5/2005; Bloomberg, 3/28/2005; Agence France-Presse, 3/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Mani Shankar Aiyar

Category Tags: Iran-India pipeline, Diplomacy

Iran announces that it will resume nuclear enrichment-related activities within a week following unsuccessful talks with European nations. In remarks that follow the announcement, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Iran has the right to develop a nuclear energy program. “Anybody who comes to power through the presidential elections will not want, nor will the nation allow him to, take a step against the people’s interests,” he says. [Associated Press, 5/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Seyyed Ali Khamenei

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

The governments of Iran and Azerbaijan sign a non-aggression pact agreeing that neither government will allow a third state to set up a military base on its soil in order to launch military strikes on the other. [Islamic Republic News Agency, 5/16/2005]

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy

Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, visits Iraq and meets with top officials, including Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The visit marks the highest profile meeting between Iran and Iraq since US forces ousted Saddam Hussein in spring of 2003. At a news conference, Kharrazi tells reporters, “We will not allow terrorists to use our lands to access Iraq,” and adds, “We will watch our borders and will arrest infiltrators, because securing Iraq is securing the Islamic Republic.” [CNN, 5/17/2005; Christian Science Monitor, 5/20/2005]

Entity Tags: Kamal Kharrazi, Ibrahim al-Jaafari

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy

US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warns governments in Middle East not to help Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, recently reported to have been seriously injured in Iraq. “Were a neighboring country to take him in and provide medical assistance or haven for him, they, obviously, would be associating themselves with a major linkage in the al-Qaeda network and a person who has a great deal of blood on his hands.” [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2005] Zarqawi is rumored to have fled to Iran for treatment (see May 29, 2005).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda in Iraq

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Diplomacy, US Intel on Iran

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says that, despite reports to the contrary, there are no plans to establish direct diplomatic contact with Iran. “[T]here is no change in our policy with respect to Iran. I think that over the past, if anything, over the past weeks and months you have seen an even tougher-minded US policy as well as a tougher-minded policy from the international community with respect to Iran’s behavior,” he says. A recent State Department briefing paper reportedly suggested establishing direct diplomatic contact with Iran in an effort to reopen negotiations with the European Union. [Associated Press, 10/6/2005; US Department of State, 10/6/2005]

Entity Tags: Sean McCormack

Category Tags: Diplomacy

Peter Hoekstra.Peter Hoekstra. [Source: Public domain]The House Intelligence Committee, led by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), releases a 29-page report entitled “Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States” that blasts the CIA and other US intelligence agencies for lacking “the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgments” on Iran’s nuclear program, its intentions, or its ties to terrorism. [House Intelligence Committee, 8/23/2006]
Democrats Excluded From Report - The report is generated strictly by the Republicans on the committee; input from Democratic members was quite limited. The author of the report is ex-CIA officer Frederick Fleitz, a former special assistant to Undersecretary of Defense John Bolton and a hardliner on Iran. Not surprisingly, Fleitz’s report fully supports the Bush administration’s position that Iran is moving aggressively to acquire nuclear weapons, and thusly poses an significant threat to the US. It also claims that the US intelligence community has not tried to collect or collate evidence to prove Fleitz’s assertion that Iran, a majority-Shi’ite nation, has close and sinister ties to al-Qaeda, a Sunni organization, as well as some responsibility for the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Fleitz and his researchers used nothing more than publicly available documents for his report, and did not interview any intelligence officials. Hoesktra, who publicly releases the report before it is approved by the full committee, says his purpose is to avoid the intelligence “mistakes” that led the US to conclude that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. It is widely believed that Hoekstra’s decision to release the report is part of a larger effort by the Bush administration to pressure Iran to suspend its nuclear program, a push supported by few US allies. Democrats on the committee have little confidence that the report is complete and accurate; ranking subcommittee member Rush Holt (D-NJ) says the report is not “prepared and reviewed in a way that we can rely on.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2006]
Cherrypicking - The report will never be voted on or discussed by the entire committee, in essence short-circuiting Democrats from the review and approval process. Ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA) says the report “took a number of analytical shortcuts that present the Iran threat as more dire—and the Intelligence Community’s assessments as more certain—than they are.” It is not long before the report is thoroughly debunked. Further analysis shows the report to be riddled with errors; additionally, it fails to include key information, mostly from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that disproves the report’s claims about Iran’s nuclear program. When the report is officially presented in September 2006, IAEA officials and others will term the report “outrageous and dishonest,” and provide evidence refuting its major claims (see September 14, 2006). Gary Sick, an Iran expert and a former National Security Council under Jimmy Carter, notes that the report’s claim that Iran has “the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East” entirely ignores the far larger arsenals possessed by Israel and Saudi Arabia. “If you are going to take on the entire US intelligence community, it is a very good idea to at least get your basic facts straight,” Sick says. “It is a sloppy attempt to lay the ground for another ‘slam-dunk’ judgement and a potential rush to war. It deserves to be recognized for what it is.” David Albright agrees: “This is like prewar Iraq all over again.” Albright, a former UN weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, says, “You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that’s cherry-picked and a report that trashes the [IAEA] inspectors.” Weeks after the November 2006 elections, the CIA will report that it can find no evidence supporting Fleitz’s contention that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006; Washington Post, 9/14/2006; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
An Attempt to Undermine Rice and Diplomatic Outreach? - Many committee Democrats believe that the report is an attempt by hardline Republicans to undermine Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has agreed to talk with the Iranians under certain conditions. Bolton, Fleitz, and others oppose any diplomacy or discussion with Iran. Bolton is now the US ambassador to the UN; he and Fleitz worked diligently during President Bush’s first term to undermine the efforts of Rice’s predecessor, Colin Powell, to engage Iran, North Korea, and Syria in diplomatic talks. Many Washington neoconservatives have denounced the Bush administration’s tentative move towards diplomatic talks with Iran as nothing more than “appeasement.” (Perhaps in the same vein, Fleitz is now working on a similar report on North Korea’s weapons program; a draft leaked to the Washington Post contains allegations about the North Korean program that also cannot be substantiated.) [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006; Washington Post, 9/14/2006]
'Unusually Slick' Hoax - Former CIA official Ray McGovern calls the report an “unusually slick” hoax that is nothing more than an attempt to frighten Congress and the American people into supporting the Bush administration’s more aggressive posture towards Iran. McGovern notes that in recent weeks Hoekstra told a Fox News audience that weapons of mass destruction were indeed found in Iraq—“We were right all the time!”—and observes that the entire report is a calculated public relations effort based on overzealous falsehoods and not on verifiable fact. The cover of the report depicts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad giving a suspiciously Nazi-like salute, and the first page repeats Ahmadinejad’s assertion that Israel “must be wiped off the face of the map.” He also notes that Fleitz, whom he describes as Bolton’s “chief enforcer” when Bolton was at the State Department, once told State Department intelligence analysts Christian Westermann that it was “a political judgment as to how to interpret” data on Cuba’s biological weapons program (a program that only existed in Bolton’s imagination) and that the intelligence community “should do as we asked” in making its reports. McGovern concludes, “Hoekstra’s release of this paper is another sign pointing in the direction of a US attack on Iran. Tehran is now being blamed not only for inciting Hezbollah but also for sending improvised explosive devices [IEDs] into Iraq to kill or maim US forces. There is yet another, if more subtle, disquieting note about the paper. It bears the earmarks of a rushed job, with very little editorial scrubbing.… It seems to me possible that the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal told Hoekstra to get the paper out sooner rather than later, as an aid to Americans in ‘recognizing Iran as a strategic threat.’” [Antiwar.com, 8/26/2007]
Replay of Flawed Iraqi Intelligence - Many observers agree with McGovern that the report is a replay of the dangerously flawed intelligence estimates that pushed Congress to approve military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Gary Sick goes even further back to draw a comparison between Hoekstra’s report and the mid-1970s effort by Ford aides Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s so-called “Team B” to provide an “alternative” intelligence assessment on the threat posed by the then-Soviet Union. The report “is really intended as a sort of Team B report of what at least one [Congressional] staffer believes the intelligence community should be reporting on Iran.” [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006] Author and national security expert John Prados takes an even grimmer view: “The fact that this act has been perpetrated by a congressional committee whose job it is to oversee US intelligence is further evidence that intelligence oversight has become part of the problem, not the solution.” [Tom Paine (.com), 8/25/2006]

Entity Tags: John Prados, John R. Bolton, Mohamed ElBaradei, National Security Council, Ray McGovern, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jane Harman, Saddam Hussein, Rush Holt, Peter Hoekstra, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Institute for Science and International Security, Condoleezza Rice, David Albright, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Christian Westermann, International Atomic Energy Agency, Frederick Fleitz, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, House Intelligence Committee, Gary G. Sick, Donald Rumsfeld, Hezbollah

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program, US Policy Papers, Neoconservative Hawks

Rumsfeld leaving the Defense Department.Rumsfeld leaving the Defense Department. [Source: Boston Globe]Donald Rumsfeld resigns as US defense secretary. On November 6, he writes a letter telling President Bush of his resignation. Bush reads the letter the next day, which is also the date for midterm elections in the US, in which the Democratic Party wins majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. Bush publicly announces the resignation the next day. No explanation is given for the delay in making the announcement. [Reuters, 8/15/2007]
Replaced by Gates - Rumsfeld is formally replaced by Robert Gates on December 18, 2006. According to a retired general who worked closely with the first Bush administration, the Gates nomination means that George H.W. Bush, his close political advisers—Brent Scowcroft, James Baker—and the current President Bush are saying that “winning the 2008 election is more important than any individual. The issue for them is how to preserve the Republican agenda. The Old Guard wants to isolate Cheney and give their girl, Condoleezza Rice, a chance to perform.” It takes Scowcroft, Baker, and the elder Bush working together to oppose Cheney, the general says. “One guy can’t do it.” Other sources close to the Bush family say that the choice of Gates to replace Rumsfeld is more complex than the general describes, and any “victory” by the “Old Guard” may be illusory. A former senior intelligence official asks rhetorically: “A week before the election, the Republicans were saying that a Democratic victory was the seed of American retreat, and now Bush and Cheney are going to change their national security policies? Cheney knew this was coming. Dropping Rummy after the election looked like a conciliatory move—‘You’re right, Democrats. We got a new guy and we’re looking at all the options. Nothing is ruled out.’” In reality, the former official says, Gates is being brought in to give the White House the credibility it needs in continuing its policies towards Iran and Iraq.
New Approach towards Iran? - Gates also has more credibility with Congress than Rumsfeld, a valuable asset if Gates needs to tell Congress that Iran’s nuclear program poses an imminent threat. “He’s not the guy who told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he’ll be taken seriously by Congress.” Joseph Cirincione, a national security director for the Center for American Progress, warns: “Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there [in the White House] and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell—the one who opposes the policy but ends up briefing the Congress and publicly supporting it.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Robert M. Gates, Joseph Cirincione, Brent Scowcroft, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, James A. Baker, George Herbert Walker Bush, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: US Military, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Neoconservative Hawks

President George W. Bush adopts more confrontational language with regard to Iran and alleges that Iran is working against US interests in Iraq. In an address to the nation, he says, “We will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.” The president announces the decision to send another strike group of ships (i.e., an aircraft carrier and companion ships) to the Persian Gulf. Patriot missiles will also be sent to the region for the security of US allies there, he says. [US President, 1/15/2007 pdf file] According to an article published in the New York Times the next day, US officials hold that these actions are not indicative of a coming attack on Iran. However, the same officials say that members of the administration, such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, have determined that the United States is finished with diplomatic attempts to deal with Iran, unless Iran makes a significant change in its behavior. Bush and other US officials claim that Iran, particularly the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds force, has helped train Iraqi Shiite militias how to attack US troops in Iraq. Military officials believe that “shaped charges,” a type of roadside bomb that has been increasingly used against troops, are made in Iran. General Michael V. Hayden, CIA Director, recently told Congress that he has the “zeal of a convert” and now strongly believes that Iran is contributing to the death toll of US soldiers in Iraq. [New York Times, 1/11/2007]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Iran, Michael Hayden

Category Tags: Diplomacy

In an open letter to President Bush, Florida Congressman Robert Wexler and New York Congressman Gary Ackerman ask the president to give Congress immediate access to all information regarding a May 2003 dialog between Iran and the US in which Iran offered the US concessions (see May 4, 2003). Wexler and Ackerman acknowledge their skepticism of Iran’s intentions with regard to the offer, but ask the president to explain why the administration turned Iran down. Wexler and Ackerman, both of whom are members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, say the information is needed in order to create a more informed policy toward Iran. The two congressmen ask that the information be turned over to Congress by February 23, 2007. [Robert Wexler, 2/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Robert Wexler, George W. Bush, Iran, Gary Ackerman

Category Tags: Diplomacy

Russian President Vladimir Putin says, rhetorically, that the new US sanctions against Iran are the work of a “madman.” Responding to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s announcement of the harsh new sanctions, Putin asks, “Why worsen the situation and bring it to a dead end by threatening sanctions or military action? Running around like a madman with a razor blade, waving it around, is not the best way to resolve the situation.” Instead, Putin says, the standoff between Iran and the US needs to be resolved diplomatically. He points to the recent agreement over North Korea’s nuclear program as an example. “Not long ago it didn’t seem possible to resolve the situation with North Korea’s nuclear program, but we have practically solved it relying on peaceful means.” The US insists the sanctions are warranted by what they call Iran’s refusal to shelve its nuclear program, and its support of Islamist terrorism. Russia is providing critical assistance in the construction of Iran’s first nuclear power plant, and has actively opposed further UN sanctions against that nation. [Associated Press, 10/25/2007; Press Association Group, 10/26/2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations, Vladimir Putin, Condoleezza Rice

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

After spending a year traveling through the Middle East and writing about his experiences, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland says there is an “unmistakable effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons.” He adds: “That Iran has gone to great, secretive lengths to create and push forward a bomb-building capability is not a Bush delusion.… [T]ime is running out on the diplomatic track.” In late October, Hoagland dismissed Russian Premier Vladimir Putin’s doubt that Iran would be able to turn enriched uranium into a usable weapon (see October 26, 2007) as “implausible.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Jim Hoagland

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

The US military releases nine Iranian prisoners, including two captured when US troops stormed an Iranian government office in the Iraqi city of Irbil (see January 11, 2007). The office was shut after the raid, but has now reopened as an Iranian consulate. The US had one of the freed Iranians in custody for three years, and some of the released detainees are thought to be affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent organization. Iran is believed to be helping Iraqi Shi’ites, not Sunnis; however, US military officials say Iran may be arming Sunni organizations also, though not to the extent it is allegedly arming Shi’ite groups. Military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith says the identities of the nine Iranian prisoners will be released later, and says that many of the Iranians had been taken prisoner through the course of the US occupation. Kurdish forces have already released another Iranian soldier captured in September. Smith says Iran seems to be keeping its promise, made to the Iraqi government, to halt the flow of bomb-making materials and weaponry into Iraq. Recently captured caches of roadside bombs “do not appear to have arrived here in Iraq after those pledges were made,” Smith says. The second highest-level commander of US forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, said last week that over the last three months there has been a sharp decline in the number of explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) found in Iraq during the last three months. At least five other Iranians, also captured in the Irbil office, remain in custody, facing accusations of being members of the paramilitary al-Quds force, which the US says funnels weapons to Shi’ite militias in Iraq. The US says it is still holding eleven Iranians in total, but the Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, says the number is 25, and demands their release as well. [Associated Press, 11/6/2007; McClatchy News, 11/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Gregory Smith, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Raymond Odierno, al-Quds Brigade, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy, US Intel on Iran

While many inside and outside the Bush administration consider the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which concluded that Iran halted its push towards building nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), a disappointment, a small but influential group inside the Defense Department consider it a victory for their viewpoint. The NIE almost guarantees that Bush will not order any sort of military strike against Iran, a result sought by, among others, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, and Admiral William Fallon, the supreme commander of US forces in the Middle East. All three have, in recent months, privately and publicly opposed the idea of going to war with Iran; indeed, the Pentagon’s intelligence units were instrumental in forming the NIE’s conclusions. Time reporter Mark Thompson writes, “Some critics have suggested that the military simply found a public way to quiet the drumbeat for war coming from Vice President Dick Cheney and his shrinking band of allies in the administration.” Additionally, some Pentagon officials believe that this NIE shows the US intelligence community is not as tied to ideological and political concerns as was evidenced by the 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). For his part, Gates warns that the US and the international community must continue pressuring Iran to keep its nuclear-weapons program dormant, and “[a]s long as they continue with their enrichment activities, then the opportunity to resume that nuclear weapons program is always present.” But Gates adds that the NIE demonstrates that non-military actions are the best way to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check: “If anything, the new national estimate validates the administration’s strategy of bringing diplomatic and economic pressures to bear on the Iranian government to change its policies.” [Time, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), Mark Thompson, Michael Mullen, William Fallon, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert M. Gates

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program, US Policy Papers, US Intel on Iran

Susan Rice, speaking at the UN.Susan Rice, speaking at the UN. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The newly named US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, says that the Obama administration will reverse years of Bush administration policies and engage in “direct diplomacy” with Iran. Such direct diplomatic efforts have not been tried with Iran since before the 1979 Iranian revolution (see February-November 4, 1979), when Iranian radicals captured 52 Americans and held them hostage for well over a year (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). [Associated Press, 1/26/2009] Israel’s Arutz Shiva calls the announcement a “not-unexpected bombshell.” [Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]
Iran Open to Engagement - Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says Iran is “ready for new approaches by the United States.” Mottaki adds that Iran would consider the idea of allowing the US to open a diplomatic office in Tehran. The last US diplomatic office was closed in 1979.
US Still 'Deeply Concerned' about Iran's Nuclear Program - Rice says that Iran must meet UN Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before the US will be willing to discuss its nuclear program. “The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council,” Rice says. “And its continuing refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase.” Rice says the US remains “deeply concerned about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to the region, indeed to the United States and the entire international community.” She adds, “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran, as well as continued collaboration and partnership” with the other four permanent members of the Security Council—Britain, China, France and Russia—as well as Germany.
NATO: Iran Must Be Included in Decisions Regarding Afghanistan - NATO Secretary General Japp de Hoop Scheffer says that Iran must be part of the engagement process of escalating the war in Afghanistan. “We need a discussion that brings in all the relevant players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia—and yes, Iran,” he says. “We need a pragmatic approach to solve this very real challenge.” Bush officials have long sought to isolate Iran from having any influence over the events in Afghanistan, even though its ruling Shi’ite theocracy has long opposed Afghanistan’s Taliban. [Associated Press, 1/26/2009; Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]
Clinton: 'New, Perhaps Different Approach' - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says: “Obviously, the incoming administration views with great concern the role that Iran is playing in the world, its sponsorship of terrorism, its continuing interference with the functioning of other governments, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. There is an ongoing policy review that the Obama administration has undertaken, but… our goal will be to do everything we can, pursue through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power, to try to prevent this from occurring. We are not taking any option off the table, at all. But we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude towards engagement that might bear fruit.” She says that the US continues to view an Iranian nuclear program as “unacceptable.” [Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Arutz Shiva, Bush administration (43), Japp de Hoop Scheffer, Manouchehr Mottaki, Susan Rice, United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Obama administration

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics

Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that Iran most likely has enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon. When asked by CNN’s John King whether Iran “might now have enough fissile material to make a bomb,” Mullen replies, “We think they do, quite frankly.” He adds, “Iran having a nuclear weapon, I believe, for a long time, is a very, very bad outcome for the region and for the world.” A spokesman for Mullen later “clarifies” his remarks to emphasize that Mullen was talking about “low-grade” material, and notes that for such to be used in a nuclear weapon, it would need to be highly enriched. Defense Secretary Robert Gates contradicts Mullen, saying that Iran is “not close to a weapon at this point” (see March 1, 2009), a point with which both the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, agree. After Mullen’s interview, his spokesman, Captain John Kirby, tells CNN: “There are two components here: having enough and having it highly enriched. The chairman concurs Iran has enough low-enriched to produce a nuclear weapon, but it’s important to note it’s low-grade, and to enrich it would take time.” Iran has recently tested its first nuclear power plant, using dummy fuel rods that did not produce a nuclear reaction. [CNN, 3/1/2009]

Entity Tags: John King, Dennis C. Blair, International Atomic Energy Agency, Robert M. Gates, John Kirby, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that Iran is not close to having a nuclear weapon, which gives the US and other nations time to persuade Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program. Gates tells NBC’s David Gregory, “They’re not close to a stockpile, they’re not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time.” Gates’s statement contradicts a recent warning from Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told a CNN audience that he believes Iran has enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb (see March 1, 2009). Tehran insists that its nuclear program is strictly about producing electricity for peaceful purposes. Gates says there is “a continuing focus on how do you get the Iranians to walk away from a nuclear weapons program” in the Obama administration, just as had been in the Bush administration. Obama officials have called Tehran’s nuclear development program an “urgent problem,” and have said they favor a balance between economic sanctions and incentives for engagement. [Reuters, 3/1/2009]

Entity Tags: David Gregory, Bush administration (43), Robert M. Gates, Michael Mullen, Obama administration

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

For the first time in 30 years, an Iranian diplomat meets for informal discussions with officials from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Senior NATO negotiator Martin Erdmann will later confirm that he has met with Iran’s ambassador to the European Union, Ali-Asghar Khaji. “This is another good step in engaging Iran in the international community,” Erdmann will say. NATO will confirm the discussion, and will say the main focus of the talks is the situation in Afghanistan. Iran will confirm its planned participation in US-backed talks on Afghanistan to take place at The Hague. NATO spokesman James Appathurai will say of Iran’s participation in those talks, “The fact that Iran has decided to go is good news and constitutes a new step.” The US State Department will welcome Iran’s contacts with NATO. The Iranian contact follows a recent message sent by President Obama to the government and people of Iran (see March 19, 2009). [BBC, 3/27/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Ali-Asghar Khaji, James Appathurai, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Martin Erdmann

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics

President Barack Obama releases a video message directed at Iran. The White House sends the message to commemorate the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, or “New Day,” the Iranian New Year. Obama begins by lauding the history and culture of the Iranian people. He acknowledges that the US and Iran continue to have strained and difficult relations, but says, “[A]t this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together.” Obama promises that the US will work to build a strong relationship through honest, respectful diplomacy. To Iran’s governmental leaders, he says: “You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right—but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.” He concludes by quoting a famous Iranian poet and giving holiday greetings in Farsi: “I know that this won’t be reached easily. There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: ‘The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.’ With the coming of a new season, we’re reminded of this precious humanity that we all share. And we can once again call upon this spirit as we seek the promise of a new beginning. Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak [Happy New Year].” [White House, 3/19/2009; White House, 3/19/2009; Washington Post, 3/20/2009]
'Groundbreaking' Message May Force Iranian Hardliners to Give Ground - Reaction to the message is mixed. The New York Times calls the message “groundbreaking,” and notes that Obama’s use of the proper name of the country—“The Islamic Republic of Iran”—acknowledges the nation’s theological governance in a respectful manner not done by members of the Bush administration and, the Washington Post observes, “signaling an apparent break from President George W. Bush’s unstated promotion of a change of leadership.” Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, says of the message: “That wording is designed to demonstrate acceptance of the government of Iran. The message is dripping with sincerity and directly addresses one of the things they are most concerned about.” Iranian officials acknowledge the message, but say that Obama’s actions must live up to his words, and past grievances, such as the US 1988 downing of an Iranian airliner, must be redressed. A senior government official, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, says: “This cannot only be done by us, we cannot simply forget what the US did to our nation. They need to perceive what wrong orientation they had and make serious efforts to make up for it.” A former Iranian ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharrazi, says: “Obama had no practical suggestion that we can work with. This is a lost opportunity.” But Iranian-American expert Karim Sadjadpour says that Obama’s message will force the Iranian government to, in the words of the Times, “put up or shut up on prospects for better relations with the United States.” Sadjadpour says: “What this message does is, it puts the hard-liners in a difficult position, because where the Bush administration united disparate Iranian political leaders against a common threat, what Obama is doing is accentuating the cleavages in Iran. It makes the hard-liners look increasingly like they are the impediment.” [New York Times, 3/20/2009; Washington Post, 3/20/2009]
Neoconservative: Obama 'Kowtowing' to Iranian Government - Neoconservative William Kristol deplores the message, calling it little more than a “message of weakness” and criticizing Obama for not calling on the Iranian government to emphasize “liberty,” “freedom,” “democracy,” and “human rights.” Kristol writes, “[W]hat’s distinctive about Obama’s statement is his respect for the ‘leaders,’ the clerical dictatorship,” to whom Obama is “kowtowing.” Kristol deplores Obama’s failure to echo the Bush administration’s call for regime change in Iran, and criticizes Obama’s failure to call for an end to Iran’s nuclear program. “Obama doesn’t believe in threats,” Kristol writes. “He believes that we should speak nicely to our enemies, and carry no stick.” [Weekly Standard, 3/30/2009]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, Barack Obama, Martin Indyk, William Kristol, Karim Sadjadpour, Washington Post, Sadegh Kharrazi, Obama administration

Category Tags: Key Events, Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Neoconservative Hawks

US presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke meets briefly and informally with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representatative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Akhondzadeh are participants in a major international conference at The Hague convened to discuss the problem of Afghanistan. The two talk briefly during a lunch break. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will say of the meeting: “It was cordial, unplanned, and they agreed to stay in touch. I myself did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.” Clinton says the US has asked the Iranian delegation to intercede in the cases of two American citizens being detained in Iran and a third who is missing. The New York Times calls the two contacts “another step in the Obama administration’s policy of engagement… a tentative process, in which the White House makes symbolic gestures, like President Obama’s recent video greeting to the Iranian people and government for their New Year (see March 19, 2009), while continuing to formulate its longer-term strategy.” Some experts believe that the meeting between Holbrooke and Akhondzadeh is not entirely fortuitous, but is the product of some planning. In the conference, Akhondzadeh says Iran will help reconstruction in Afghanistan as well as take part in efforts to curb the exploding Afghan drug trade. “The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation,” Clinton says. “The Iranian representative set forth some very clear ideas that we will all be pursuing together.” The US and Iran have mutual interests in curbing Afghanistan’s drug trade, Clinton says: “The questions of border security, and in particular the transit of narcotics across the border from Afghanistan to Iran is a worry that the Iranians have, which we share.” [New York Times, 3/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh, Hillary Clinton, Obama administration, Richard Holbrooke

Category Tags: Diplomacy

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