Make Tehran a Serious Offer

Excellent new piece from Yousaf Butt today in the National Interest. Kind of sums up everything going on with sanctions and diplomacy regarding Iran. Yousaf is pretty incredible in keeping up with all of the good writing about Iran and producing pieces like this that give, in my opinion, the right analysis and policy recommendations. I dont think he sleeps!


26 Comments on “Make Tehran a Serious Offer”

  1. yousaf says:

    Thanks Dan.

    For those who don’t have time to read the whole thing, here is (in my view) the most important bit — on last page:


    In some ways, it seems we are back to early 1950s in dealing with Iran. Ray Takeyh in reviewing Ervand Abrahamian’s new book, The Coup: 1953, the CIA and the Roots of Modern US–Iranian Relations, for the journal Survival, mentions [25] that Abrahamian’s historical research reveals that

    “. . . the British Empire was hardly prone to concede to an Iranian government reclaiming its oil fields, and was all along plotting the overthrow of the impudent premier. Whitehall viewed Mossadegh’s nationalisation as not just an infringement of its prerogatives in Iran but as an act that could potentially endanger all of its considerable overseas assets. Mossadegh had to go, and diplomacy was a mere ruse to achieve that end. In this narrative, London never really sought an accommodation with Tehran, but was merely going through the ritual of diplomacy to ensure a broadbased coalition against an embattled Mossadegh.”

    It appears, again—that just as in the early 1950s—the P5+1 is now “merely going through the ritual of diplomacy to ensure a broadbased coalition against an embattled” Iranian regime.

    There appears to be a striking cognitive dissonance between the pronouncements of the alleged mortal threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program and the foot-dragging approach to doing something about it in negotiations.

    • Nick says:

      Another resemblance to 1953 is what was said then: Allowing Iran to nationalize the oil fields will have a domino effect in the neighborhood. They say same thing about the nuclear. History repeats itself again.

    • Rene says:

      Thank you, Yousaf, for your article. I really appreciate your fair assessment.

      Just one question: you say “Ironically, the sanctions are directly benefiting the officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) because they control much of the Iranian black market.” What is your source for that? I mean, the IRGC is hated by many people abroad and some people in Iran, and they are certainly playing an increasingly important role in the economy–especially after having entered the oil/gas sector 7 years ago–but I’m not sure if they control the black market. This may be a smear campaign against them, unless we have some good evidence for their involvement.

      • yousaf says:

        Yes, I said _much_ of the black market — not all. As you might imagine getting hard sources for something like this is sort of similar to getting hard sources for the mafia but:

        Here is one src:


        “The IRGC is also widely rumoured to control a near monopoly over the smuggling of alcohol, cigarettes and satellite dishes, among other things in great demand. One MP reckons these black-market deals net it $12 billion a year. This creates not just a drain on state coffers but an incentive to radicalise the regime; the IRGC’s commanders personally profit from Iran’s isolation, since it creates more demand for contraband.”

      • Rene says:

        Thank you, Yousaf. But this is again not the result of any investigation. The articles simply say that there is a rumor (who started it?). I just think we should be aware that vilifying the IRGC has obvious political incentives, and that therefore we should be cautious not to repeat/present rumors as facts. This is not a defense of IRGC; it’s about vetting one’s sources.

      • yousaf says:

        Perhaps a Farsi speaker could verify this src?

        As I mentioned I think it is hard to get evidence in these types of mafia operations.

      • Rene says:

        I really appreciate your sharing this, Dr. Butt!

        Actually I know Persian. Here Ahmadinejad talks about the need to register every imported item through the official custom, and says that even if an institution or organization or ministry wants to equip itself with custom-free products, it should still bring everything through the official importing venues and register them. He then says not registering things can cause corruption, even if that not be the original intention, because Iran is a big market and this can be tapped by illegal smugglers. He says even international smugglers may be interested in such a big market, let alone “our smuggler brothers” (he says this latter phrase jokingly). So, I see how this may be interpreted as referring to the IRGC.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    Why complicate the matter? The issue is not nuclear, its ME hegemony. Iran has it and the U.S. wants it. So what’s to negotiate? The U.S. won’t concede hegemony and Iran, which has a bumpy path but is working through it, has done nothing wrong and therefore has nothing to concede.

    And Iran isn’t without friends. The U.S. is delusional in constantly claiming that Iran is isolated in the world, when one considers NAM, Russia, China, India, Iraq, and others. These are not inconsiderable friends. Iran even welcomes the attention, with Brent Crude now up to $116.

  3. yousaf says:

    I’ve never had anyone take my advice so quickly! — although I think a liberal interpretation of what “serious” is, is being used:

    • Don’t hold your breath Yousaf. They still want the negotiations to ultimately fail; they just don’t want to be blamed for it.

      • Bibi Jon says:

        If they use Yousaf’s unassailable logic, it won’t be in order to solve the nuclear issue. I very much doubt anybody believes their own propaganda about the threat it poses. It will be to stop the BRICS countries from coddling Iran and cutting out the west from inter-Asian trade. US needs a piece of the action.

      • Nick says:

        I agree with Cyrus for two reasons. First, any discussions on Fordo except for turning off the 20% and keep the 5% active is doomed to fail, for obvious reasons. Asking for complete dismantling of this facility, is like for a thief to say your burgler alarm is too good, please turn it off in case I need to break in. Secondly, having seen what happened to Hagle in this Congress, there is no way on earth Obama could convince, even his own party members, to rescind the unilateral sanctions by the USG. I am curious how much flexibility the executive power has to offer a deal, given the objections from the Congress

  4. Don Bacon says:

    The CS Monitor has a few suggestions for Obama as to how he can get around the Congress to give concessions to Iran.

    1. Promise to suspend executive actions if Iran begins to make concessions.

    2. Convince European and Asian countries to lift their Iran sanctions, the ones we pressured them to invoke.

    3. Convince UNSC members to produce a statement that if Iran makes concessions, international sanctions would be lifted.

    But Iran is not about to make concessions, and Obama’s position was made clear at AIPAC, March 2012:
    “I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. (Applause.) That includes all elements of American power: A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.” (Applause.)

    So will Obama, who is visiting Israel next month, a visit Israel has labeled “Unshakable Alliance,” make concessions next week in Almaty? Are any of the suggested concessions even sensible, in light of the situation? Is it possible that Iran would give up anything, and if so, what? I don’t think so. As I indicated above, the real issue isn’t nuclear.

  5. Yes, all the recommendations for how to end this crisis are a waste of time – other than being “correct”, which is always important.

    The reality is the US ruling elites want a war with Iran, just as they wanted a war with Afghanistan and Iraq – and got them. They will get a war with Iran, somehow, some way, some time.

    I would also argue that it doesn’t make sense to be concerned about Iran’s 20% enrichment. Iran has just as much right to the “Japan option” as Japan does. In fact, they have the right to enrich uranium to weapons-grade for nuclear submarines – assuming they ever figure out how to build one, which probably is at least two decades away.

    However, as I’ve argued repeatedly, Iran has no use case for nuclear weapons and even the “Japan option” would only make sense in the one case where Iraq somehow gets turned back over to a Sunni dictator such as Saddam. In my view, Iran is not even trying for a “Japan option”. There really is no “Japan option” as such – that’s merely the consequence of mastering the fuel cycle and having tons of LEU lying around. 30 other countries are in that position and no one gets excited.

    This makes hash of the entire notion that the nuclear issue really IS the issue. It isn’t. Regional hegemony (for the US and Israel), oil prices and petrodollars are part of the real source of the crisis, as well as the desire by the US ruling elites to profit by another war.

    Which means the REAL source of the crisis is US political corruption. As long as “pundits” are not prepared to deal with that real issue, nothing can be done to alter the course for war.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Well we can dispute what is the real issue, I claim ME hegemony above, but this thread is about negotiations, and negotiating positions, in other words the reality of life. A recent Gallup poll indicated that 99% of Americans consider Iran a primary threat. (The propagandists have done their job.)

      So the ‘stars’ are aligned against any serious negotiations — the citizens, the congress and the administration.

      Iran is similar — there is no indication that Iran will concede anything, and frankly I believe Iran is in charge of this situation.

  6. Don Bacon says:

    Sure to come up are some major findings from the new IAEA Iran report which the agency always releases to the media (and to Albright & Co.) before the agency makes it available to the public. It’s not yet available on its website. —

    Feb 21, 2013 — Iran has begun installing next-generation equipment at one of its main nuclear plants, a new UN atomic agency report said Thursday, five days before talks with world powers. “On 6 February 2013, the Agency observed that Iran had started the installation of IR-2m centrifuges” at the Natanz plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency report said.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the report was “severe,” and “proves Iran is continuing to rapidly advance to the red line that the prime minister drew at his speech in the United Nations.” “Iran is closer than ever today to obtaining enriched material for a nuclear bomb,” the statement read.

    But Iran already reported that in January

    Jan 31, 2013 — Iran has told the United Nations nuclear supervisory body that it plans to install more sophisticated equipment at its principal nuclear enrichment plant, a diplomat said Thursday, enabling it to greatly accelerate processing of uranium in a move likely to worry the United States, Israel and the West.

      • Don Bacon says:

        All the attention is on enrichment, and US/Israel has been successful in causing that. Lost in all fairy-tales propaganda and cartoons about a non-existent Iran “threat” are the realities of a real-life nuclear weapons program which goes far beyond enrichment.

        Naturally occurring uranium consists of less than one percent uranium-235, but nuclear bombs require something more. Natural uranium must be ‘enriched.’ Gaseous diffusion and gas centrifugation of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) are the primary means that have been used to enrich uranium. Iran enriches uranium for civil purposes up to twenty percent U-235, which is considered to be low enriched uranium (LEU).

        A nuclear weapon requires 90%+ highly enriched uranium (HEU). The time required to produce a sufficient quantity of highly-enriched uranium to fuel a weapon is called achieving nuclear “breakout” capability. Estimates of the time required to achieve “breakout” in Iran vary.

        David Albright (an Iran critic) has said that breakout could be accomplished in Iran within three to six months. Of course Iran would have to expel the IAEA inspectors prior to any such breakout, then initiate the up to six month process, enriching uranium to weapons grade.

        Then, presuming it had the designs ready, it would have to construct a nuclear bomb (or warhead) and test it (important). Then and only then could Iran go ahead with the construction of bombs or warheads. It is unrealistic to believe that the US and others would be sitting blithely by while all this were going on. It would not be a quick process.

        So breakout’s not the end. A nuclear weapon cannot be made of gas. The gas must be converted to metal, a difficult and very dangerous process because of the high potential for a critical accident (like a nuclear reactor without shielding) that would kill anyone in the room or nearby.

        Then an implosion warhead would have to be constructed. Warheads are complicated little machines. The entire detonation process happens within a tiny fraction of a second so the hard part is constructing a warhead with reliable separation capabilities throughout the various stages. Testing is mandatory to make sure the thing works.

        Clinton Bastin, nuclear scientist: “Iran has no experience with this process, and no facilities to carry it out. Assembly of metal components with high explosives is even more dangerous, because a nuclear explosion would kill those within half a mile. Because of the difficulties, Iran would need 10 to 15 years to make a weapon, after diversion of low-enriched uranium, which would be immediately detected by IAEA inspectors.”

        Click to access Bastin_Interview.pdf

  7. Don Bacon says:

    Ms. Nuland today at State indicates it will be the same-old, same-old:
    “We continue to believe that with seriousness, there is a diplomatic solution to be had here. The question is whether the Iranian delegation will come to Almaty really ready to roll up their sleeves and help the international community be reassured with regard to their nuclear program.”

    Iran must be ready to roll up their sleeves, while the US offers nothing.

    The US State Department’s motto is Diplomacy In Action. Really.

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