The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

The Story Behind Iran’s Nuclear Story

Reuters reported last night that Iran and major powers extended the deadline to negotiate an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program to at least Friday. The comprehensive deal under discussion is aimed at curbing, and reversing in some cases, Iran’s nuclear work for the last decade or more, in exchange for relief from economic sanctions that have slashed Iran’s oil exports and crippled its economy.

It is unclear whether an agreement will be reached, but it is sure that few in Congress will be happy with the outcome, regardless if there is an agreement or not.

It may be useful to remember that Iran’s Nuclear Program was a child of Washington in the first place. It is possible to date the start of Iran’s nuclear program to December 8, 1953, the date that President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered what was later called his Atoms for Peace speech to the UN.

Eisenhower laid out a program to use atomic energy “to provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world.” Under the program, the US would provide research reactors, fuel, and scientific training to developing countries eager to harness the power of the atom.

Among the first countries to take the United States up on its offer was Iran.

In 1957, Tehran and the US signed a nuclear cooperation agreement, called the Cooperation Concerning Civil Uses of Atoms. Two years later, in 1959, the Shah of Iran created a Nuclear Research Center at the University of Tehran, and in 1967, the US delivered a five-megawatt nuclear research reactor and the enriched uranium needed to fuel it. In addition, the Atoms for Peace program offered Iran a chance to study in the US, since they had no homegrown nuclear experts. This lack of nuclear engineers meant that Iran could not use the US-delivered Tehran research reactor for nearly a decade.

Needing nuclear experts, Iran turned to MIT in 1975 to create a special program to provide Iranian experts with scientific and technological training on nuclear energy. This program gave Iran its first group of professional nuclear engineers. The first nuclear reactor that we provided would later be used by Tehran to carry out some of its more controversial work, including some of the country’s earliest experiments with uranium enrichment.

Iran later admitted to using that same reactor in the early 1990s for the production of small amounts of Polonium-210, a radioactive substance that could be used to start a chain reaction inside a nuclear weapon.

Iran signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in July 1968, on the first day it was opened for signature. Tehran ratified the treaty in 1970, putting it among the first states to do so and on paper, giving it the right to enrich uranium.

It is useful to remember that Israel, the most vocal critic of a nuclear deal with Iran, remains one of just four nuclear capable states (India, Pakistan and North Korea) that have not signed the NPT.

But despite early cooperation, signs of distrust between Washington and Tehran emerged early. Like today, Washington was concerned with Iranian plans to reprocess used (“spent”) nuclear fuel. The separated plutonium from this process can be used to fuel reactors, but also can be used to make nuclear weapons. To make sure nuclear materials were not diverted to making weapons, Mr. Eisenhower proposed establishing a watchdog within the UN. That watchdog would later become the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that we rely on today for nuclear inspections.

Juan Cole reports that, according to declassified national security documents, from 1975 and 1976, Washington opposed Iranian plans to build a nuclear reprocessing facility, and the issue became a major sticking point in negotiations to sell US nuclear power reactors to Iran:

The US used to have a policy of promoting reprocessing because it was a way of recycling useful atoms…But this policy changed right at the end of the Gerald Ford administration and then reinforced by Jimmy Carter…to no longer support, and, in fact, to oppose reprocessing.

Washington’s nuclear cooperation with Iran came to an abrupt halt in 1979, swept away by the Iranian Revolution that ended the rule of the Shah. With the capture of our embassy in Tehran and the holding of American hostages for 444 days, all formal ties between Washington and Tehran were cut off until the start of the current nuclear negotiations.

Atoms for Peace provided Iran with a foundation for its nuclear program. It offered both key technologies along with education in nuclear engineering and physics. The program clearly helped Iran move up the nuclear learning curve.

Now, the question is, can Secretary of State Kerry put the toothpaste back in the tube?


Sen. Cotton Must Bone Up on Strategy

“Empires are lost when inadequate men become leaders and wage war for base reasons or no reason at all.”Sun Tzu

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) Cotton accused President Obama of a “false choice” between his framework deal on Iran’s nuclear program and war. He then downplayed what would happen if we just bombed Iran: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox. Several days of air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior. For interfering with weapons inspectors and for disobeying Security Council resolutions. All we’re asking is that the president simply be as tough in the protection of America’s national security interest as Bill Clinton was.

Who cares what the generals, intelligence analysts and foreign policy experts think after war gaming various scenarios for a war with Iran? Hint: it’s not a pretty outcome.

But, for Sen. Cotton, the only opinion that really matters is Sen. Cotton’s, America’s new military strategist. Sen. Cotton was elected in part because of his prior military service, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He left the military in 2013. Sadly, not everyone who was in combat while serving is a strategic thinker. Given his military experience, he should know that geopolitics is not a Hollywood movie.

This guy has a romantic vision of how a “quick war” would proceed. He says it would be a few days of air and naval bombing against Iran’s nuclear facilities. He apparently thinks that Iran would not move against American shipping in the Gulf, against Israel, or even attempt to take out our military in the ME. And our allies? Who would support us, except Israel and Saudi Arabia? And once the party is over, and Iran dusts off and picks up the pieces, they would surely build nuclear weapons. Wouldn’t we then have to bomb them again?

Wouldn’t that make the US a pariah state?

This reminds us that Republicans, in their eagerness for war, often diminish the costs to America of pursuing the military option. Yep, only a four day war, and then we declare victory! Or, longer, and messier, and then what? Consider this:

• “We will be greeted as liberators”
• “Oil revenues will pay for it”
• “There is no insurgency”
• “The insurgency is in its last throes”

It was 12 years ago that pundits and politicians were touting how fast and cheaply we could turn Iraq into a model democracy. Well, the results are in, but they apparently haven’t registered for Sen. Cotton, who needs to come up with some new and better neo-con talking points.

The neo-cons, the hawks and their spokespersons, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have rarely met an international issue that doesn’t require more American military muscle, and this includes Iran. Perhaps Sen. Cotton is auditioning to replace the decaying Sen. McCain or Sen. Graham in the permanent warmongering Senator chair on the Sunday talkies? He is much younger (38) and could conceivably remain on the national political stage for the next 40 years. Would Sunday Show status give him the credibility to run for POTUS like McCain did, and Graham is attempting to do now?

A strategy tip for Sen. Cotton: “Negotiating from a position of strength” doesn’t mean, “We should negotiate only after we have our boots on their necks”, so if they refuse to accept our terms, we crush them, claiming that they wouldn’t negotiate. He thinks that anything that prevents us from exercising the “boot on the neck” option means we’re in a position of weakness. That’s awful on a lot of levels.

How can a smart guy, a Harvard grad, a lawyer, someone with significant military service, get it so wrong when it comes to geopolitics and military strategy? He should know the difference between Iraq and Iran. In Iraq, we had already decimated their military, destroyed their air defense system and made their airspace into a no-fly zone before our 2003 attack. Iran, which despite crippling economic sanctions, still has its air defense systems, its anti-ship missiles, (which, some war games showed can cripple our fleet in the Persian Gulf) and its military is intact.

Iraq was fractured by sectarian division. It has about 31 million people and is 60% the size of Texas.

Iran is not Arab, it is Muslim, and unified. It has 80 million people and is twice the size of Texas.

Sen. Cotton needs to bone up on military strategy and the Middle East.


It’s Over Between Us, Israel

“Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien” –  (The best is the enemy of the good)Voltaire

Now that a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice is allowing a woman to serve her husband with divorce papers via Facebook, The Wrongologist wants to break up with Israel via his blog.

Wednesday’s NYT had an editorial about Israel’s newest demands regarding the proposed Iran negotiations by the P5+1 nations: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has gone into overdrive against a nuclear agreement with Iran. On Monday, his government made new demands that it claimed would ensure a better deal than the preliminary one…announced last week. [Israel’s] new demands…would not mean a better deal, but no deal at all.

Israel must accept that their objectives are qualitatively different than those of the UK, France, Germany, China, Russia and the US (P5+1) regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Based on Mr. Netanyahu’s rants, and the incessant punditry in the media and commentary (mostly by) Republican members of Congress, it seems that the US has just one ally, Israel, and that our goals in the ME are perfectly aligned. They are not.

The Iranian framework agreement has the potential to become a historic game-changer. As Robert Parry said: (Emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The April 2 framework agreement with Iran represents more than just a diplomatic deal to prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. It marks a crossroad that offers a possible path for the American Republic to regain its footing and turn away from endless war.

Move away from endless war. Who would be against that? We are still a Satan to Iran, but maybe no longer the Great Satan, now, just a pretty bad Satan. When we think about Iran, we should think about how we have played both sides against the middle with Iran for decades:

• Iran holds our people hostage in 1979
• We enter Iran/Iraq war on Saddam’s side in 1982
• We sell Iran HAWK missiles in 1986 as part of the Iran-Contra debacle
• In 1988, we accidentally shoot down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing about 300. The US paid compensation, but never apologized or acknowledged wrongdoing
• Iran helps us hunt down Al-Qaeda personnel fleeing Afghanistan in 2002, after we sent the CIA in to flush them out
• We first sanctioned Iran in 1979, with the UN joining in, in 2006

Can this kind of inconsistent relationship lead to warm feelings? Maybe not, but should we sacrifice a possible game-changing initiative for Israel’s sake? More Americans are saying “no”. A Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that:

• 31% of US Republicans favor the nuclear deal with Iran
• 30% of Republicans oppose the pact, while 40% are not sure
• 50% of Democrats supported it, while 39% were not sure
• Among independents – 33% voiced support, 21% were opposed, and 45% are unsure

And Israel itself is losing American political support. From David Atkins:

The number of Americans who view Israel as an ally of the US has sharply decreased, according to a new poll…Only 54% of Americans polled said that Israel is their country’s ally, a decline from 68% in 2014 and 74% in 2012. Rasmussen Reports, who conducted the poll, said Israel had “tumbled down the list.” By contrast, 86% and 84% see Canada and Britain respectfully as the US’s allies.

When broken down along party political lines, 76% of Republicans view Israel an ally of the US compared to only 45% of Democrats and 47% of Independents.

Given how politically divided the US has become, it’s not surprising that an Israel that aligns itself in a strongly partisan way with one US political party, while it finds itself losing support from citizens of the country it relies on most for aid and defense.

So, we have different objectives. Moreover, our relationship has largely one-sided. We defend and support Israel, but what do they provide in return? Well, they buy our weapons with our aid money. In fact, the special relationship has hurt us geopolitically. If Bibi’s administration thinks it’s a good idea to play partisan politics in the US, then the appropriate response of the US administration should be: “Good luck with your ME follies”.

And why the Israeli hysteria? Israel has several hundred nuclear weapons (assessments are 80-400). If Iran builds nuclear weapons, and then attempts to obliterate Israel, Israeli nuclear submarines will obliterate much of Iran. If the Iran nuclear deal fails, nuclear Israel and nuclear Iran will have to live in a Balance of Nuclear Terror, as does America, and many other countries. It’s not pleasant, but the rest of the nuclear club has been able to live with the existential menace.

If the US leaves the marriage with Israel and goes back to being simply their ally, Israel’s security will not be affected, since the US continues to make clear that we will defend them. But, we would finally be free to give clear voice to our own policies. For too long it has been the Israeli tail wagging the US dog when it comes to Middle East policy.

An Iran deal potentially opens the door to an eventual US withdrawal from its hugely expensive, and failed history in the Middle East. A completed deal would pave the way to shrink our war machine, one that has spilled much American blood and treasure in a region of the world where we have little business meddling.

So, Israel, the Wrongologist is changing his status with you to “its complicated”.


Monday Wake Up Call – April 6, 2015

Today’s Wake up is for the Republican Chicken Hawks who think that Iran is the Greatest Threat To America™. They are denouncing the possible nuclear Iranian deal because Bibi says, or because they think it takes the military option off the table, or they think that Iran got too good a deal, or all of the above.

Here, from the Atlantic, are some specific details from Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. The table below summarizes the new framework accord and analyzes differences between where Iran stood before negotiations, and where it will be, if, or when, the accord becomes reality:

Iran Before after Accord

By eliminating 12,000 centrifuges and five bombs’ worth of low-enriched uranium, the accord extends the breakout timeline for Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb to one year. By requiring the reconfiguration of Iran’s planned plutonium-producing reactor at Arak, the accord essentially closes the door to a plutonium-based Iran bomb. And by agreeing to establish a new mechanism that will allow unprecedented access for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to suspicious nuclear sites anywhere in Iran, the accord makes it much more difficult for Iran to cheat.

It’s time to ask critics of the proposed deal, particularly those running for president in 2016, exactly where they stand, and what they would do if an agreement is reached.

Wouldn’t you think after Iraq, the American people would want to debate this, and emphatically say that war with Iran is such a stupid idea that no one advocating it should get within a mile of the White House, the State Department, or the Pentagon? Everyone, (Republican chicken hawks included) should want to negotiate peace as our default position.

But, it has been a whole twelve years since we started a war, and given the history of the last few decades, we’re past due. So who’s the big, brave Republican running on an Iran war platform? Everybody.

Wake up Chicken Hawks. Here to help rouse you from your neo-con wet dream, a song by The Lone Bellow, a Brooklyn NY-based group with three-part harmonies and great melodies. This is “Then Came the Morning” from their 2nd Album of the same name. Here they are on WFUV, Fordham University radio:

Sample Lyrics:
Take my words, breathe them out like smoke
Burn every single letter that I wrote
Let the pages turn to ash, I don’t want them back
Everything you always said to me

Monday’s Hot Links:

Tesla made an April fool’s announcement and investors were pissed:

PALO ALTO, Calif., April 1, 2015 – Tesla today announced a whole new product line called the Model W. As many in the media predicted, it’s a watch. That’s what the “W” stands for.

In the following minute, the stock jumped $1.50. Nearly 400,000 shares traded in that time, and it was the heaviest one minute of trading volume in the stock since the first minute after the IPO on Feb 12. Sadly, there is no watch. People bought the stock because they were introducing a thing called the Model W. They didn’t read beyond the headline, and thought whatever it was, would be big. Invest wisely, grasshopper.

The next two links contrast a big business solution to a big problem, with an open-source solution to a big problem. The big business solution is elegant, expensive and patented. The entrepreneurial solution is elegant, cheap and free:

The latest technology for removing salt from seawater, is developed by Lockheed Martin, and will be a game-changer. Desalination technology is all over the world, but it is inefficient, using lots of energy to force salt water through a filtration system. That makes it expensive. Lockheed has developed a special filter that doesn’t need as much energy to push water through the filter. Its made out of Graphene. If this scales up, where do we put the excess salt? Or, if you really are thinking, If Lockheed can strain salt ions out of water, then why not gold ions? Invest at your own risk.

Ever hear of Liter of Light? They are a charity that makes a skylight-type light using a used liter plastic bottle, filled with water and a little bleach that is placed through tin roofs in the 3rd world. They then added an LED light and a 1 watt solar collector, for light at night. All of this started in the Philippines. Liter of Lights now has chapters in 53 countries, and has installed 350,000 daytime lights and around 15,000 night lights. Watch a video here. Please, you won’t regret it.

According to UNESCO, more than 1.5 billion people around the world currently have no access to electric light, and around 1.3 billion of them must spend up to half their income to light their homes at night. The fact that the technology is not patented, or owned by a large, multinational corporation, like Lockheed, who owns the Graphene filter, makes this a sweet place to send some of your excess money, Wrongsters. Do not expect a financial return.


Hashtag #47 Traitors

Twitter has turned on the Republicans who signed the letter to Iran. Outraged Americans on Tuesday blasted the Senate Republicans for sending a letter to Iran’s leaders, sparking a top trending #47Traitors hashtag on Twitter. The attack got started following the Daily News’ front-page coverage of the unprecedented open letter to Iran:

Daily News Traitors

















The Daily News is a right-leaning paper, owned by Mort Zuckerman, who is a staunch supporter of all things Israel. It’s interesting that their editors took this on. We covered the wretched Republican epistle here. The Iranians expressed amusement at the Republican’s notion that they do not understand the US government. How ignorant do you have to be to talk down like that to another country in a so-called diplomatic exchange? Do the Republicans really think the Iranians are an uneducated people?

Here is part of Iran’s Foreign Minister’s response, which is an act of diplomatic trolling. And depending on your point of view, it is either hugely insulting or hilarious (or possibly, both):

…it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.

Iran knows that third party investment will flood into Iran if there is a nuclear deal, and sanctions are lifted. It would be interesting to see a Republican Congress try to reverse a nuclear agreement, and then work with Israel to attack Iran, which would then include French, British, German, Chinese, and probably some American investments. (A side note: The Wrongologist raised a couple hundred million dollars for the Iranian National Oil Company in the pre-Ayatollah era of his banking career.)

The 47 Traitors say that Obama can only legally conclude an “executive agreement” with Iran and have it remain in effect only for the remainder of his presidency. Once again, they are incorrect. They continually talk about the “alliance” between Israel and the US. But, there is no treaty creating an alliance between Israel and the US. All of the many agreements are “executive agreements.” Mostly because Israel wants it that way, and their position is easy to understand:

In a defense treaty, the US would commit to defend Israeli territory in case of attack. Israel’s problem with that is both the “territory” part, and the “attack” part.

1. Defining attack: Would violent Palestinian resistance against occupation and expropriation qualify as an attack? Would a stray rocket or mortar round constitute an attack, or does it need to be a barrage? Does it need to be men or vehicles crossing Israel’s border? Does it need to be an attack by only state actors (Iran) or would non-State actors (Hezbollah) be enough?

2. Defining territory: Israel’s “territory” would have to be defined, and Israel doesn’t want anyone looking too closely at that. Would the US defend the 1948 borders? The 1967 borders? The 1973 borders? What about the Golan Heights? What if someone attacks the ski resort or the vineyards that Israel built there? And what about the Sheeba farms? That are an Israeli outpost inside of Syria. What if someone attacks an Israeli in East Jerusalem? Or in a settlement in the West Bank? None of that is Israeli territory under international law.

And, regarding a legal basis for a charge against Republican traitors, here is the relevant part of the Logan Act:

§ 953. Private correspondence with foreign governments.

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

But, the lunacy of what the 47 Traitors have done is best shown on Twitter. Here is a tweet that captures the emotional maturity of today’s Republicans by Steve Marmel (@Marmel) :

Tweet of R's letter to Iran

Finally, the Republican Party is moving on from the mistakes of the George W. Bush era to make new, even bigger mistakes. #47Traitors.