Tag Archives: Iran

Spying on Allies

According to a new report by the Wall Street Journal, the National Security Agency was listening in on the communications of Israeli leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during the Iranian nuclear program talks. It had been known that the United States was monitoring Netanyahu’s telephone calls, but the report contends that the surveillance was much broader than initially suspected, and included communications between Netanyahu and members of the US Congress.

The US government believed Netanyahu was actively trying to undermine the conclusion of any agreement between the United States and Iran. According to Netanyahu, the agreement, which was concluded in July, would undermine Israeli national security by creating a pathway for Iran to expand its nuclear weapons program. The United States and its allies—the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Union—contended that the agreement would slow Iran’s nuclear progress and included measures to re-impose sanctions if Iran was found to be in violation of the agreement.

In response to the Wall Street Journal report, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence, Yisrael Katz, issued a statement claiming that “Israel does not spy on the US., and we expect that our great friend the US will treat us in similar fashion.” Members of Congress have not yet response to the report., suggesting they may have been aware of the NSA’s activities.

What do you think? Was the United States justified in listening in on the communications of Israeli leaders during the Iranian nuclear negotiations? Under what conditions would such action be justified? When would it not be justified? Why?

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The Iranian Nuclear Deal

President Obama this week appeared to have gathered sufficient support from Congressional Democrats to block a Republican effort to defeat the Iranian nuclear deal. Under the terms of legislation passed earlier this year, Congress has the authority to review and vote down the proposed agreement. But the deal will take effect if Congress is unable to vote it down. Now that President Obama has garnered the support of at least 34 Democratic Senators, the Republican bill defeating the proposed agreement will not be able to be sustained in the face of a certain Presidential veto.

From the perspective of its defenders, the agreement represents the best possible outcome of negotiations with Iran, and will make it impossible for Iran to secure a nuclear weapon for at least the next decade. From the perspective of its critics, the deal is ineffectual at best, and at worst undermines international efforts to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Regardless, the Obama White House clearly invested significant political capital in the deal’s success, and it appears that that investment will now pay off with the implementation of the new agreement.

What do you think? Will the Iranian nuclear deal be effective in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons? Would you support or oppose the deal if you were a member of Congress? Why?

Military Cooperation the Arab World

Saudi Arabia and Egypt are leading an initiative to create a joint Arab Defense Force, comprised of approximately 40,000 soldiers, several elite units, and supporting aircraft and surface vessels. The new force, originally discussed ahead of an Arab League Summit in March, would likely be used in place of Nato and Western-led initiatives to counter the Islamic State, to support Saudi-led operations in Yemen, and would provide a counterbalance to growing Iranian influence in the region. The force might also be used to respond to calls from Arab states for support in addressing the growing threat posed by Islamic militants, such as the call issued last week by the Libyan government.

What do you think? Will regional defense forces provide a useful replacement for the deployment of American forces abroad? Does this development highlight a shift in the global role of the United States? Would such a shift be positive or negative? Why?

Will Congress Reject the Iranian Nuclear Deal?

Lawmakers in Congress are taking sides for an upcoming vote on the Iranian nuclear deal. The political process was set up last April, when an alliance of Republican and Democratic Senators passed bipartisan legislation requiring any executive agreement reached between the United States and Iran to come to Congress for review. Usually, executive agreements are not subject to Congressional review or approval. But in this case, Congress need not approve the agreement, but may decide to reject it.

The approach has created some interesting political dynamics. While the United Nations and most American allies–with the notable exception of Israel–have welcomed the agreement as a powerful step forward that places real limits on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Congressional Republicans have argued that the agreement does too little to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons while simultaneously granting too much relief to the Iranian government.

Because of the way the review legislation was structured, President Obama need only secure one-third of Congress voting to approve the new agreement. Remember that Congress must pass legislation to reject the agreement. If the vote falls strictly along party lines, Congress will pass such legislation, which President Obama could veto. Without strong support from Congressional Democrats, the Republican Congress would be unable to override President Obama’s veto. President Obama’s strategy thus appears to focus on maintaining the support of moderate Democrats, many of whom have already said they will back the President. Already, most key leaders have expressed support for the President, with the notable exception of Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who has said he will vote to reject the agreement. This announcement sparked a response from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, a noted foreign policy export.

What do you think? Should Congress reject the proposed agreement on Iran’s nuclear program? If so, what alternative strategy would you suggest for addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

The Iranian Nuclear Deal

The United States and Iran reached agreement placing limits on Iran’s nuclear regime in exchange for ending Western sanctions on Iranian exports.  In a press conference announcing the agreement, President Obama said the agreement would guarantee Iran could not produce nuclear weapons. In exchange for ending the sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations Security Council cost Iran an estimated $150 billion per year in lost oil export revenue and resulted in the seizure of billions in Iranian assets held in Western banks. The deal ends those sanctions but keeps the weapons embargo on Iran in place for an additional five years. The deal permits weapons inspectors to access “any site they deem suspicious,” an apparent rejection of Iran’s position that military sites be excluded from inspections.

The deal still faces opposition from a Republican-controlled Congress, which had previously passed legislation requiring Congressional approval of any deal reached on Iran’s nuclear program. But as the New York Times reported, President Obama is likely to get the deal implemented despite Republican opposition.

Under the terms of legislation passed in May, Congress has 60 days to scrutinize the accord between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany, and then to vote to accept or reject it — or to do nothing. The president can veto any resolution of disapproval. Congress needs a two-thirds majority in each house to override the veto, so to put the deal into force, Mr. Obama only needs one-third of one of the houses to stand with him.

That said, the Israeli government was also critical of the deal, arguing that the new agreement does nothing to prevent Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and only delays its progress for a short period of time.

What do you think? Does the new deal represent a significant diplomatic achievement for the Obama administration? Will it be effective in preventing Iranian efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon? Why?

A New Cold War?

In testimony before the Senate’s Armed Services Committee last week, General Joseph Dunford, President Obama’s nominee to become the next Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the primary military adviser to the president, asserted that Russia poses an existential threat to the United States. Citing Russia’s close ties to Iran, General Dunford asserted that Russia continues to push for elimination of Western sanctions on Iran, a move that would permit the open sale of Iranian oil on international markets. Such a development could generate billions in revenue for the Iranian government, fueling acquisition of advanced Russian missile systems that could make potential airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities more challenging.

General Dunford testified in his confirmation hearing, “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia…And if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”

Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to reject the General’s statement. According to US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner, Secretary Kerry,

“The secretary doesn’t agree with the assessment that Russia is an existential threat to the United States, nor China, quite frankly…You know, these are major powers with whom we engage and cooperate on a number of issues, despite any disagreements we may have with them. Certainly we have disagreements with Russia and its activities within the region, but we don’t view it as an existential threat.”

The conflicting statements highlight a divide inside the Obama White House as to the nature of US-Russian relations in the context of tensions in Ukraine, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere. While the United States and Russia clearly have competing foreign policy objectives, do you think that Russia poses an “existential threat” to the United States? What do you think are the primary security challenges facing the United States today? And what are the implications of apparent disagreements in the assessment of Russia (and potentially other national security challenges) inside the White House for US foreign policy?

The Politics of the Iranian Nuclear Talks

Ongoing talks between the six parties (the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) and Iran were extended one day to provide time for the parties to reach agreement. The talks are intended to establish a framework for ongoing negotiations around Iran’s nuclear program. But domestic American politics have often interfered with the talks. Republican critics of the Obama administration have criticized the idea of talking with Iran at all, sending a letter to hardliners in the Iranian government suggesting the US Congress would not approve any deal  and inviting Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address Congress without discussing the invitation with the White House.

Republican critics have suggested that the talks are another example of a feckless and misguided foreign policy of the Obama White House, and that the United States should take a more aggressive stance on Iran, intensifying sanctions and further isolating the Iranian regime if it is unwilling to offer wider concessions. The Obama administration counters that real progress is being made as a result of the talks.

What do you think? Should the United States continue to work under the six party framework to pursue a nuclear deal with Iran? Would such a deal be effective at limiting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons? Or should the United States take a more aggressive stance with Iran? Which approach would be more effective in achieving the US goal of a nuclear-weapons free Iran? Why?