Three US diplomatic veterans invested their considerable verbal skills and energies in a long open letter captioned “For a New Approach to Iran” that was published in early July, shortly after Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran on June 14.
Signed by William H. Luers, Thomas R. Pickering and Dr. Jim Walsh, the letter strongly advocated a reassessment of US policy on Iran and the pursuit of active dialogue for an accord on its nuclear program on the grounds of the big change allegedly overtaking the country.
Rouhani’s election was claimed to be a one-time opportunity for turning a new page with Tehran after what the three authors viewed as the defeat of Iran’s two most powerful government apparatuses: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as supreme leader and the Iranian Republican Guards.
The letter does not offer a single hard fact to support this opinion.
Luers is the director of The Iran Project and an adjunct Professor at The School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University; Pickering, a retired United States ambassador, whose posts included ambassador to Israel and the United Nations; and Walsh is an expert in international security and a Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Security Studies Program-SSP.
Influential Washingtonians advocate turning a new leaf with Iran
The letter offering this unsupported view was lavishly praised by two former US National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. Brzezinsky wrote: “I applaud the authors of this article for their advocacy of a more strategically creative diplomacy with Iran. The reckless alternatives that are being urged on the United States are potentially catastrophic." Scowcroft called on the Obama administration to use Rouhani's election to shape a new US policy toward Iran and reach an accord with it on the country's nuclear program.
This theme was picked up in the US Congress, where on July 18, 131 House members signed onto a bipartisan letter calling on President Barack Obama to try and advance opportunities for a diplomatic resolution with Iran in the wake of Rouhani’s election..
The letter, circulated by Representatives David Price (D-North Carolina) and Charles Dent (R-Pennsylvania), represented the biggest pro-Iran diplomacy initiative the Hill has seen in many years.
Ten days later, on July 27, Francois Nicoullad, who served as French ambassador to Tehran from 2001-2005, wrote in the New York Times that he believed Rouhani was the "main actor" in persuading Khamenei to suspend Iran’s secret nuclear program in 2003.
A foreign minister chosen to rebuild ties with the US
The former French ambassador did not explain that Rouhani initiated the temporary suspension in October 2003 when Iranian intelligence discovered the administration of George W. Bush seriously considering a military attack on Iran following the US invasion of Iraq eight months earlier.
Rouhani acted to abort a probable US strike on Iran’s nuclear program – not out of any change of heart on his country’s nuclear aspirations.
There is no evidence of any such change since he was elected president, although he takes pains to present a more moderate face than his predecessor. Rouhani’s expected choice of Mohammad Javad Zarif as his foreign minister was lauded by Western diplomats on July 31 as proof of his determination to rebuild relations with the United States.
A source close to Rouhani described Zarif as “Tehran's leading connoisseur of the U.S. political elite.” A senior Western diplomat who had repeated dealings with Zarif claimed,” He was always trying to do what was possible to improve relations in a very intelligent, open and clear way.”
No fault lines in Rouhani’s loyalty to hardline Khamenei
However, Rouhani’s election has changed nothing, DEBKA Weekly’s Iranian sources affirm, in Tehran’s complex ruling hierarchy, whereby the Supreme Leader calls the shots in foreign and security policy and, through the Revolutionary Guards, maintains tight control over the nuclear program.
The only political ripple discernible in Tehran since the presidential election is an attempt by 79-year-old former president Akbar Hashemi Rafasanjani, Chairman of Iran's Expediency Council, to gather ammunition from that election for his unending sniping campaign against the supreme leader to punish him for engineering his loss of the presidency in 2005 to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Our Iranian sources call this an irrelevance, because Rouhani shows no inclination to subscribe to the Rafsanjani cause or falter in his allegiance to the supreme leader. Just the opposite: The intelligence and political ministers he has chosen for his new security-oriented government of technocrats come from Khamenei’s close circle, suggesting a desire for rapport with the supreme leader rather than an independent, non-radical line. Khamenei may now exercise greater control on foreign and domestic policies alike than the president.
Appointing a foreign minister who can talk the Washington talk would be a smart tactic for opening doors to the Obama administration and gaining a sympathetic hearing for the lifting of sanctions. The West would be drawn into more rounds of fruitless negotiations, while Iran’s nuclear program advances apace.
Iran suspected of enriching uranium by laser
According to a report published this week, the Washington think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security-ISIS suspects Iran of secretly advancing toward uranium enrichment by laser, despite claiming to have stopped doing so in 2003.
This is in addition to enrichment by centrifuges.
The suspicion is based on growing evidence of construction activity at the plant in Lashkar Ab’ad where this sort of enrichment was secretly practiced before, and where such equipment as copper vapor lasers (CVL) designed to produce enrichment levels of 3.5-7 percent was housed.
The IAEA reported that the facility would have been capable of highly enriched uranium (HEU).
It appears that Iran is taking steps to hide the connection between the site and the bodies that deal in laser technology, one of which was targeted for past US and European sanctions for laser uranium enrichment activity.
The ISIS report recommends that until Iran provides the IAEA with satisfactory answers, organizations and individuals involved in the field should be targeted for sanctions. All countries should immediately halt any transfers of laser technology and equipment to Iran.
Iran’s nuclear “critical capability” by mid-2014
According to its July report, the ISIS also expects Iran to achieve the "critical capability" to produce sufficient weapon-grade uranium by mid-2014, without being detected. According to the Washington-based think tank, Iran plans to install thousands more IR-1 centrifuges at its Natanz and Fordo enrichment sites to achieve this end.
Although The ISIS recommends increasing International Atomic Energy Agency inspections to at least twice per week, its report points to “inherent limitation and dilemmas” over this step.
If the United States and Israel hesitate to strike, out of fear of facing international opposition, "Iran could have time to make enough weapon-grade uranium for one or more nuclear weapons." Breakout times at critical capability would be "so short" that there would not be enough time to organize an international diplomatic or military response, says the report.