Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
War Watch February 6 , 2013 - Geneva 2 Talks set to resume next week , US arms transfers and aid to rebels increased after Geneva Talks - rebels told to try to pressure Assad ........... US Steps Up Military Support for Iraq State Dept: Al-Qaeda in Iraq Is an Army ....... Misread Telexes Led Analysts to See Iran Nuclear Arms Program ........ Troop Deal Delay Renews Administration Debate Over Afghanistan Role
The last few days of the Geneva II peace talks took place under the shadow of US arms transfers to Syrian rebels, with a lot of fear that the US was trying to undermine the deal. The talks ended with no deals, but a plan to resume mid-February.
Rebels are reporting that virtually the moment the talks ended, the US started pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to rebel commanders in Jordan. The money was given on condition that they “pressure Assad” in between the talks.
The rebels coming out of Jordan have moved against southern Syria in an offensive known as Geneva Horan, with 68 units trying to take over government territory in the area before the new talks begin next week.
Gulf states are reportedly also bankrolling the rebels, paying them monthly salaries and buying them large quantities of weapons. The US has reportedly promised “high quality weaponry” for the offensive within the next two weeks as well, which is sure to be a major topic of discussion at those next Geneva talks.
Iraq continues to engage in an open-ended bloody conflict with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), attacking AQI targets in Anbar Province while AQI bombs tear through the rest of Iraq. It’s a horrible mess, so naturally the US wants in on it.
State Department official Brett McGurk testified at the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Iraq, declaring AQI “is an army” and that the US needs to give Iraq security support to contend with them.
Loaded with hawks, the Foreign Affairs Committee is needless to say all for intervention, pushing the idea of speeding up arms shipments, condemning Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for being too close to neighboring Iran, and suggesting the US may send “advisers” for the Iraqi military.
Of course, sending military forces to insinuate themselves into Iraq’s new war under any name is just a stepping stone toward a new US intervention in the country, and that any boots on the ground in a combat situation will inevitably become “combat troops” no matter what they’re called.
Iraq has been desperate to buy weapons by the billions from the US for quite some time now, and while those deals are moving forward, Iraq is also looking for a pact with Iran to buy some arms.
Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi says his nation is ready to make modifications to the plans for the Arak Heavy Water reactor in an effort to placate Western officials, who have complained it could produce plutonium to be used as part of a nuclear weapon design.
Arak is designed to replace the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), an aging US-built reactor that is Iran’s only source of medical isotopes. As a nod to Western concerns about uranium enrichment (the TRR requires 20 percent enriched uranium), Arak is a heavy water design that uses unenriched uranium.
Arak’s process produces some plutonium as a waste product, and US and Israeli officials claim that Iran could produce a bunch of additional processing facilities to extract that, even though Iran hasn’t got any such facilities built or planned.
Salehi said he doesn’t believe the complaints are sincere, but said Iran could make some changes to the design to make the waste contain even less plutonium as a way to “mitigate the concerns.”
Misread Telexes Led Analysts to See Iran Nuclear Arms Program
When Western intelligence agencies began in the early 1990s to intercept telexes from an Iranian university to foreign high technology firms, intelligence analysts believed they saw the first signs of military involvement in Iran’s nuclear program. That suspicion led to U.S. intelligence assessments over the next decade that Iran was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons.
The supposed evidence of military efforts to procure uranium enrichment equipment shown in the telexes was also the main premise of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s investigation of Iran’s nuclear program from 2003 through 2007.
But the interpretation of the intercepted telexes on which later assessments were based turned out to have been a fundamental error. The analysts, eager to find evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, had wrongly assumed that the combination of interest in technologies that could be used in a nuclear program and the apparent role of a military-related institution meant that the military was behind the procurement requests.
In 2007-08, Iran provided hard evidence that the technologies had actually been sought by university teachers and researchers.
The intercepted telexes that set in train the series of US intelligence assessments that Iran was working on nuclear weapons were sent from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran beginning in late 1990 and continued through 1992. The dates of the telexes, their specific procurement requests and the telex number of PHRC were all revealed in a February 2012 paper by David Albright, the executive director of the Institute for Science and International Security, and two co-authors.
The telexes that interested intelligence agencies following them all pertained to dual-use technologies, meaning that they were consistent with work on uranium conversion and enrichment but could also be used for non-nuclear applications.
But what raised acute suspicions on the part of intelligence analysts was the fact that those procurement requests bore the telex number of the Physics Research Center (PHRC), which was known to have contracts with the Iranian military.
US, British, German and Israeli foreign intelligence agencies were sharing raw intelligence on Iranian efforts to procure technology for its nuclear program, according to published sources.
The telexes included requests for “high-vacuum” equipment, “ring” magnets, a balancing machine and cylinders of fluorine gas, all of which were viewed as useful for a program of uranium conversion and enrichment.
The Schenck balancing machine ordered in late 1990 or early 1991 provoked interest among proliferation analysts, because it could be used to balance the rotor assembly parts on the P1 centrifuge for uranium enrichment. The “ring” magnets sought by the university were believed to be appropriate for centrifuge production.
The request for 45 cylinders of fluorine gas was considered suspicious, because fluorine is combined with uranium to produce uranium hexafluoride, the form of uranium that used for enrichment.
The first indirect allusion to evidence from the telexes in the news came in late 1992, when an official of the George H. W. Bush administration told The Washington Post that the administration had pushed for a complete cutoff of all nuclear-related technology to Iran, because of what was called “a suspicious procurement pattern”.
Then the Iranian efforts to obtain those specific technologies from major foreign suppliers were reported, without mentioning the intercepted telexes, in a Public Broadcasting System “Frontline” documentary called “Iran and the Bomb” broadcast in April 1993, which portrayed them as clear indications of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.
The producer of the documentary, Herbert Krosney, described the Iranian procurement efforts in similar terms in his book “Deadly Business” published the same year.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton’s CIA Director John Deutch declared, “A wide variety of data indicate that Tehran has assigned civilian and military organizations to support the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.”
For the next decade, the CIA’s non-proliferation specialists continued to rely on their analysis of the telexes to buttress their assessment that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. The top-secret 2001 National Intelligence Estimate bore the title “Iran Nuclear Weapons Program: Multifaceted and Poised to Succeed, but When?”
Former IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards Olli Heinonen recalled in a May 2012 article that the IAEA had obtained a “set of procurement information about the PHRC” – an obvious reference to the collection of telexes – which led him to launch an investigation in 2004 of what the IAEA later called the “Procurement activities by the former Head of PHRC”.
But after an August 2007 agreement between Iran and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei on a timetable for the resolution of “all remaining issues”, Iran provided full information on all the procurement issues the IAEA had raised.
That information revealed that the former PHRC head, Sayyed Abbas Shahmoradi-Zavareh, who had been a professor at Sharif University at the time, had been asked by several faculty departments to help procure equipment or material for teaching and research.
Iran produced voluminous evidence to support its explanation for each of the procurement efforts the IAEA had questioned. It showed that the high vacuum equipment had been requested by the Physics Department for student experiments in evaporation and vacuum techniques for producing thin coatings by providing instruction manuals on the experiments, internal communications and even the shipping documents on the procurement.
The Physics Department had also requested the magnets for students to carry out “Lenz-Faraday experiments”, according to the evidence provided, including the instruction manuals, the original requests for funding and the invoice for cash sales from the supplier. The balancing machine was for the Mechanical Engineering Department, as was supported by similar documentation turned over to the IAEA. IAEA inspectors had also found that the machine was indeed located at the department.
The 45 cylinders of fluorine that Shahmoradi-Zavareh had tried to procure had been requested by the Office of Industrial Relations for research on the chemical stability of polymeric vessels, as shown by the original request letter and communications between the former PHRC head and the president of the university.
The IAEA report on February 2008 recorded the detailed documentation provided by Iran on each of the issues, none of which was challenged by the IAEA. The report declared the issue “no longer outstanding at this stage”, despite US pressure on ElBaradei to avoid closing that or any other issue in the work program, as reported in diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.
The IAEA report showed that the primary intelligence basis for the US charge of an Iranian nuclear weapons program for more than a decade had been erroneous.
That dramatic development in the Iran nuclear story went unnoticed in news media reporting on the IAEA report, however. By then the US government, the IAEA and the news media had raised other evidence that was more dramatic – a set of documents supposedly purloined from an Iran laptop computer associated with an alleged covert Iranian nuclear weapons program from 2001 to 2003. And the November 2007 NIE had concluded that Iran had been running such a program but had halted it in 2003.
Despite the clear acceptance of the Iranian explanation by the IAEA, David Albright of ISIS has continued to argue that the telexes support suspicions that Iran’s Defense Ministry was involved in the nuclear program.
In his February 2012 paper, Albright discusses the procurement requests documented in the telexes as though the IAEA investigation had been left without any resolution. Albright makes no reference to the detailed documentation provided by Iran in each case or to the IAEA’s determination that the issue was “no longer outstanding”.
Ten days later, the Washington Post published a news article reflecting Albright’s claim that the telexes proved that the PHRC had been guiding Iran’s secret uranium enrichment program during the 1990s. The writer was evidently unaware that the February 2008 IAEA report had provided convincing evidence that the intelligence analyst’s interpretations had been fundamentally wrong.
The Obama Administration had already had its internal debate on the open-ended occupation of Afghanistan a year ago, but the delays in the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) have renewed administration lip-service to the “zero option” of leaving after the end of the year.
It’s always been lip-service, with military officials saying it was never seriously considered, but as the time drags on the people who were most skeptical about the occupation are said to be renewing the debate, and asking if the “zero option” isn’t something worth serious consideration.
Its being fought against by the usual hawks, and now they’re pushing Iraq’s recent security problems as a defense for permanent occupation. In the end, not occupying Afghanistan probably still isn’t being given a real shot.
The problem is that while these reports suggest a new debate is taking place, exactly how serious it is remains a total mystery, since the administration keeps using claims of the “zero option” to try to browbeat President Karzai into giving in on the BSA.
WASHINGTON (PAN): In a stern warning to the Karzai administration, the White House on Monday asked the crucial bilateral security agreement (BSA) determine the nature of the post-2014 mission be signed within weeks -- not months.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Afghan people had spoken through the Loya Jirga and supported the BSA conclusion at the earliest. As such, he added, the deal should not be left to the next president.
“This is a matter of weeks, not months. I think that’s a way of saying this can’t wait for very long because it’s impossible to ask our NATOallies or US military commanders to plan on a contingency -- this is a complicated piece of business and there cannot be and will not be US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 without a BSA,” Carney said.
He told reporters at his daily news conference the agreement was negotiated in good faith over a long period of time with the current Afghan government. It was endorsed by the Loya Jirga in November last year.
Given the significance of the agreement, why the US insisted on a leader whose mandate was left for only two months to sign the deal, rather than waiting for a new president with five-year tenure, he was asked.
“We’re not renegotiating the BSA, which needs to be signed in a matter of weeks, because you can’t hold in abeyance the need for NATO and US commanders to plan a post-2014 presence in Afghanistan should there be one, and there will not be one absent BSA,” Carney replied.