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NZZ| Seilziehen in den USA um die Iran-Politik

Obama bekämpft die Bestrebungen im Kongress, Iran mit neuen Sanktionen zu bedrohen.
Obama bekämpft die Bestrebungen im Kongress, Iran mit neuen Sanktionen zu bedrohen. (Bild: Kyle Green / ap)
Die Auseinandersetzungen zwischen Kongress und Weissem Haus zum Kurs der USA gegenüber Iran haben sich verschärft. Beide Seiten boten Schützenhilfe aus dem Ausland auf. Der Ausgang des Machtkampfs ist offen.

Während sich amerikanische und iranische Unterhändler auf ein Treffen am Freitag und Samstag in Zürich vorbereiteten, hat sich in Washington der Kampf um die richtige Vorgehensweise im Atomstreit mit Teheran zugespitzt. Präsident Obama bekämpft die Bestrebungen im Kongress, Iran mit neuen Sanktionen zu bedrohen, weil dies den ohnehin schwierigen Verhandlungsprozess gefährden könnte. Nachdem Obama kürzlich den britischen Premierminister Cameron als «Kronzeugen» für seine Haltung eingespannt hatte, schlug der republikanische Speaker des Repräsentantenhauses, Boehner, mit einer eigenen Einladung an einen ausländischen Regierungschef zurück.

Gespaltenes Israel

Boehner bot dem israelischen Regierungschef Netanyahu an, vor dem Kongress zu den Bedrohungen zu sprechen, die der islamistische Extremismus und Iran darstellten. Er tat dies, wie Sprecher des Weissen Hauses und des Aussenministeriums bestätigten, ohne Rücksprache mit der Administration Obama. Und er tat dies mit Sicherheit in der Annahme, dass Netanyahu den Kongress zu einer härteren Linie gegenüber Teheran aufrufen würde. Allerdings wurde gleichzeitig bekannt, dass der israelische Geheimdienst Mossad im Gegensatz zu Netanyahu mit Obamas Einschätzung übereinstimmt, wonach eine neue Sanktionsdrohung des Kongresses die Verhandlungen zwischen Teheran und den fünf ständigen Sicherheitsratsmitgliedern sowie Deutschland (P5+1) torpedieren würden.

Obama hat im Kongress nicht nur mit republikanischen Gegnern seines Iran-Kurses zu kämpfen, sondern auch mit «Dissidenten» in den eigenen, demokratischen Reihen. Der frühere Vorsitzende des aussenpolitischen KomiteesMenendez meinte entsetzt, die Argumentation des Weissen Hauses höre sich immer mehr an, als folge sie einer Vorlage aus Teheran. Zusammen mit seinem republikanischen Amtskollegen Kirk arbeitet Menendez an einer Gesetzesvorlage, die automatisch neue Sanktionen vorsieht, falls die Verhandlungen scheitern. Dies, so unterstrichen zwei hohe Vertreter der Administration Obama am Mittwoch in Hearings im Senat, könnte Teheran aber dazu bringen, den Verhandlungsprozess abzubrechen. Die Aussenminister Frankreichs, Grossbritanniens und Deutschlands sowie die Aussenbeauftragte der EU, Mogherini, pflichteten dieser Haltung in einem Gastbeitrag in der «Washington Post» vom Donnerstag bei.

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Elf Jahre Anlaufzeit hätten für einen Iran-Atomdeal reichen müssen

Besser gar kein Abkommen als ein schlechtes, besser weiterverhandeln als eine Krise: So reden sich Zarif, Kerry und Co. ihren Wiener Atomflop schön.

 (Die Presse)

Die Bühne war vorbereitet, die vom elfjährigen Gefeilsche schon etwas ermattete Weltöffentlichkeit sehnte nur noch den letzten Akt und den erlösenden Schlussvorhang herbei: Alle Außenminister der fünf UN-Vetomächte waren nach Wien gepilgert, 500 internationale Journalisten warteten vor dem Palais Coburg auf die frohe Botschaft. Doch aus dem erhofften historischen Durchbruch wurde wieder nichts. Die Unterhändler der ständigen Sicherheitsratsmitglieder (USA, Russland, China, Frankreich, Großbritannien) und Deutschlands, im Diplomatenjargon P5+1 genannt, brachten neuerlich kein umfassendes Atomabkommen mit dem Iran zustande.

Und so verlängerten sie die Frist, die sie bereits im Sommer bis 24.November gestreckt hatten, abermals, diesmal bis zum 1.Juli des kommenden Jahres. Der Iran und die Weltgemeinschaft prolongierten ihr Provisorium, ihr Zwischenabkommen, das sie vor genau einem Jahr in Genf geschlossen hatten. Das erschien allen Beteiligten noch als die sinnvollste gesichtswahrende Variante nach all den mühseligen Verhandlungen. Denn was wäre die Alternative gewesen? Ein Abbruch der Gespräche hätte die Tür für eine Krise geöffnet, deren Dynamik dann möglicherweise nicht mehr zu beherrschen gewesen wäre. Und mit einem halb garen Kompromiss wollte sich auch keiner zufriedengeben. Besser vorläufig gar kein Abkommen als ein schlechtes. Das war am Ende der Konsens.

Die Frage ist nur, warum in sieben Monaten gelingen soll, was jetzt nicht zu schaffen war: Im sogenannten Atomstreit liegen seit Jahren alle Karten auf dem Tisch; sie müssten nur endlich in der richtigen Reihenfolge abgelegt werden, damit das Patience-Spiel endlich aufgeht. An der Abfolge dürfte es auch diesmal gehakt haben: Die Iraner wollten in Wien eine möglichst rasche Aufhebung der Sanktionen erzielen und machten davon alle Zugeständnisse bei der Anzahl der Zentrifugen und der Anreicherung von Uran abhängig; die westlichen Staaten gestanden lediglich eine Suspendierung für die kommenden acht bis zehn Jahre zu, um die Strafmaßnahmen jederzeit wieder in Kraft setzen zu können, falls der Iran sich nicht an Abmachungen hält. Es ist nach wie vor der Mangel an Vertrauen, der den Iran und die P5+1 davon abhält, den Atomkonflikt zu lösen. Wundern muss das keinen: Der Iran hat die Welt mit seinem Atomprogramm in der Vergangenheit mehrmals und systematisch hinters Licht geführt.

Die Konstellation für einen Deal war diesmal so günstig wie nie zuvor. Warum die Iraner nicht zugegriffen haben, weiß vermutlich nur der Oberste Führer in Teheran. Vielleicht hoffen sie auf ein noch billigeres Angebot, vielleicht geht ihre Hinhaltetaktik auf, vielleicht haben sie aber auch einfach nur eine gute Gelegenheit verpasst. Die iranische Führung wird jedenfalls ihrer Bevölkerung erklären müssen, weshalb die drückenden Wirtschaftssanktionen auch noch in den kommenden sieben Monaten aufrecht sein werden. Und zwar wegen eines Atomprogramms, das die Welt den Iranern auf kontrollierter Flamme und unter bestimmten Auflagen mittlerweile ohnedies erlauben würde.

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TA| Sie verspielen eine historische Chance

Heute gehen die Atomverhandlungen zwischen den USA und dem Iran in die letzte Runde. Scheitern sie, liegt das auch an Teherans Neinsagern, die in einem antiamerikanischen Reflex gefangen sind.

Die breite Front von Neinsagern bringt eine Einigung im Atomstreit in Gefahr: US-Aussenminister John Kerry (rechts) begrüsst den iranischen Aussenminister Javad Zarif zu Beginn der Verhandlungen in Muscat. Dahinter EU-Aussenbeauftragte Catherine Ashton sowie der omanische Aussenminster Yussef bin Alawi. (9. November 2014)

Die breite Front von Neinsagern bringt eine Einigung im Atomstreit in Gefahr: US-Aussenminister John Kerry (rechts) begrüsst den iranischen Aussenminister Javad Zarif zu Beginn der Verhandlungen in Muscat. Dahinter EU-Aussenbeauftragte Catherine Ashton sowie der omanische Aussenminster Yussef bin Alawi. (9. November 2014) Bild: Nicholas Kamm/Reuters

Wenn heute in Wien die vielleicht letzte Verhandlungsrunde zur Beilegung des Atomstreits mit dem Iran beginnt, steht mehr auf dem Spiel als nur die Zahl iranischer Zentrifugen oder die Menge des vom Iran angereicherten Urans. Es besteht die Möglichkeit, Teherans internationale Isolierung zu beenden und 35 Jahre Feindschaft mit den Vereinigten Staaten zu überwinden.

Die Chancen hierfür stehen freilich nicht allzu gut. Denn es scheint, als hätten nur Barack Obama und der iranische Präsident Hassan Rohani wirklich ein Interesse an einer Lösung zu beiderseits akzeptablen Bedingungen. Ansonsten lehnt eine breite Front von Neinsagern ein Abkommen ab oder versteift sich auf Maximalforderungen, die nicht durchsetzbar sind. Zum Beispiel Benjamin Netanyahu: Am Sonntag warnte der israelische Premierminister im amerikanischen Fernsehen erneut vor einer Abmachung, die seinen Vorstellungen nicht entspricht.

«Iran ist kein amerikanischer Alliierter, Iran ist nicht euer Freund, Iran ist euer Feind», erklärte Netanyahu. Notfalls setzt er auf die israelischen Verbündeten im Washingtoner Kongress: Sie sollen es richten und einen Vertrag blockieren. Die israelischen Bedenken sind teils verständlich, entlädt sich in Teheran doch in beklemmender Regelmässigkeit Hass auf Israel.

Die letzte Gelegenheit

Überhaupt ist es ein Kreuz mit den Hardlinern wie dem obersten iranischen Religionsführer Ali Khamenei. Unfähig, über ihre Schatten zu springen, erkennen sie nicht, dass die Präsidentschaft Barack Obamas auf längere Zeit die wahrscheinlich letzte Gelegenheit zu einem Rapprochment mit Washington bietet. Sie sind Gefangene der hässlichen Geschichte der amerikanisch-iranischen Beziehungen seit dem CIA-Putsch gegen den Nationalisten Mossadegh 1953.

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Iran official: Obama’s letters have been answered

Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Director, speaks to the media after his arrival at Damascus airport, Sept. 30, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri)

The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, acknowledged not only that US President Barack Obama had written letters to Iran’s supreme leader, but also that there have responses to some of them.

“The letters of the American president have a history of some years, and in some instances, there have been responses to these letters,” said Shamkhani Nov. 12 at a weekly meeting of national security officials.

Shamkhani, who served as defense minister from 1997 to 2005 and is now Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to the council, did not elaborate on which of Obama’s letters received a response, in what form or from which official. From summer 2009 to October 2014, four letters were reported to pass from Obama to Ayatollah Khamenei.

However, according to the transcript provided by Iranian Students’ News Agency, Shamkhani said that there are “contradictions” between the contents of these secret letters and US public positions. In contrast to the United States, Shamkhani said that Iran’s private and public positions have been the same, particularly when it comes to the nuclear program.

He reiterated that in the current nuclear negotiations, Iran “would not accept anything beyond the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” describing some of the requests of the International Atomic Energy Agency as being beyond the treaty, particularly on visits to military sites.

Shamkhani was also very critical of US Middle East policy and Israel’s influence on it, saying, “Unfortunately, America’s policies in the region are managed through the Zionist regime, and this regime has used every tool to humiliate America.”

According to Shamkhani, if a “list of the costs” the United States has paid for Israel were presented to the American people, “It’s not likely that the US would continue this unbridled support.”

Shamkhani said that US criticism of Iran’s offer to send arms to the Lebanese army shows that the country desires instability in the region, adding, “Without a doubt, this cannot be assessed outside of their policy to support the Zionist regime and to keep Lebanon’s army weak.”

During a visit to Lebanon in September, Shamkhani announced that Iran would provide its military with weapons to fight terrorism. The United States threatened to cut off aid to Lebanon if it accepted Iran’s offer.

Shamkhani also said that Israel’s influence is the “primary reason” for the slow rate of the nuclear talks, as the United States feels an “absolute commitment to satisfy” Israel. He said that the “continuation of this policy” will create obstacles in reaching a nuclear agreement.

In Syria, Shamkhani said that the only solution is to strengthen security and have all the Syrian sides engage in talks. He added that the first step is to “create calm, prevent the entrance of foreign terrorists into Syria and cut the financial and military support of terrorists.“

Source: AL-Monitor

Letters to the Ayatollah: Why Obama’s Latest Outreach to Iran’s Supreme Leader Was A Mistake

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks live on television after casting his ballot in the Iranian presidential election in Tehran (REUTERS/Caren Firouz).

With a deadline for the Iranian nuclear negotiations set to expire in a few weeks and significant differences still outstanding, President Barack Obama reportedly penned a personal appeal to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last month. The move betrays a profound misunderstanding of the Iranian leadership, and is likely to hinder rather than help achieve a durable resolution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions as well as other U.S. objectives on Iran.

If the reports are accurate — and the administration has not yet confirmed the scoop by the Wall Street Journal — the letter apparently urged Khamenei to finalize the nuclear deal and dangled the prospect of bilateral cooperation in fighting the Islamic State group (also known as ISIS or ISIL) as an incentive. It marks the fourth time since taking office in 2009 that Obama has reached out to Khamenei personally, in addition to his exchange of letters (and an unprecedented phone call) with the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani.

This constitutes a striking increase in American outreach to the Iranian leadership since the revolution. The two countries have not had direct diplomatic relations since April 1980, and have engaged in direct dialogue only sporadically since that time, most recently in concert with five other world powers in talks aimed at eliminating Iran’s path to nuclear weapons capability.

In dealing with one of the world’s most urgent crises, more direct dialogue is surely a net positive. But the technique and tactics matter, perhaps even more in this interaction than in most other disputes, where contact is more routinized and where there is a more substantial foundation of mutual understanding or at least familiarity. It makes perfect sense, for example, that the U.S. military has apparently utilized Iraqi officials as an intermediary on issues related to the ISIS campaign, which Tehran has waged independent of the U.S.-led effort through its proxies on the ground in Iraq.

However, it is precisely at the tactical level that an Obama letter to Khamenei at this juncture appears so spectacularly ill-conceived. First of all, it poses no realistic possibility of advancing progress in the nuclear talks or any other aspect of U.S.-Iranian relations. After all, only the most naïve and uninformed observer of Iran would believe that a personal appeal from Obama would sway the Supreme Leader in a positive fashion.

Khamenei’s mistrust and antipathy toward Washington has been a consistent feature of his public rhetoric through the 35-year history of the Islamic Republic. He has described Washington with every possible invective; he indulges in Holocaust denial and 9/11 conspiracies; and he routinely insists that the United States is bent on regime change in Iran and perpetuating the nuclear crisis. These views are not opportunistic or transient. Anti-Americanism is Khamenei’s bedrock, engrained in his worldview, and as such it is not susceptible to blandishments — particularly not from the very object of his loathing.

Moreover, the Islamic Republic’s leadership is steeped in a Hobbesian understanding of the international system; as a hardline newspaper wrote, „our world is not a fair one and everyone gets as much power as he can, not for his power of reason or the adaptation of his request to the international laws, but by his bullying…“ Interpreted in this context, Obama’s appeal to Iran’s highest power at this critical juncture in the nuclear diplomacy will surely be read as a supplication — and as further confirmation of American desperation and weakness in the face of Iran’s position of advantage.

This may sound absurd, given the relative disparity in the two countries’ capabilities and international influence. And by any objective standard, Iran has a more compelling interest in a swift resolution to the longstanding nuclear impasse, since a deal would begin to curtail the devastating sanctions that have halved Iran’s oil exports and stranded its earnings in foreign banks that are off-limits to the Iranian treasury.

But Tehran has long sought to convince itself and the world otherwise. Khamenei himself regularly revels in his conviction that America is on the retreat in the face of Iran’s superior power. As he explained recently „the reason why we are stronger is that [America] retreats step by step in all the arenas which we and the Americans have confronted each other. But we do not retreat. Rather, we move forward. This is a sign of our superiority over the Americans.“

In addition, the incentive that Obama apparently proffered in his latest correspondence — a willingness to explore the confluence of interest between Tehran and Washington on combatting Sunni extremists — offers very little prospect of meaningful traction. The simple reality is that neither side prioritizes the ISIS battle over the nuclear diplomacy, as evidenced by the fact that Iran’s diplomats sought to use the same implicit linkage to lure Washington into greater nuclear concessions. Meanwhile, Iran’s security establishment has categorically rejected speculation about direct cooperation with the U.S.-led campaign, preferring to pursue its own offensive and convinced (probably correctly) that Tehran and its proxies have the upper hand in both Iraq and Syria.

As a result, there is simply no plausible scenario in which a letter from the President of the United States to Ali Khamenei generates greater Iranian flexibility on the nuclear program, which the regime has paid an exorbitant price to preserve, or somehow pushes a final agreement across the finish line. Just the opposite — the letter undoubtedly intensified Khamenei’s contempt for Washington and reinforced his longstanding determination to extract maximalist concessions from the international community. It is a blow to the delicate end-game state of play in the nuclear talks at the precise moment when American resolve was needed most.

The revelation of the letter also undercuts Obama elsewhere. It deepens tensions with America’s regional allies, whose assistance in strengthening the Sunni opposition to ISIS is sorely needed. It also hurts him at home, and again at the worst possible time, given the mid-term elections‘ outcome and incoming Republicans majorities in both houses of Congress. Obama’s rivals on Capitol Hill were already planning an activist agenda on Iran that could disrupt the administration’s diplomatic efforts; the letter will be seen — wrongly — as confirming the right’s most ludicrous conspiracy theories about a covert American-Iranian alliance.

It is difficult to imagine the logic that inspired Obama’s latest missive, other than an utter ineptness in understanding Iranian political dynamics. However, it is consistent with prior mawkishness that the administration has demonstrated toward Iran’s leadership during Rouhani’s two visits to New York for the United Nations General Assembly meetings — an unseemly, artless pursuit of some personal affinity in hopes of advancing bilateral diplomacy.

Obama would hardly be the first American president to delude himself that he can overcome international conflicts through the force of his own charisma — recall, for example, President George W. Bush’s excruciating assertion that he had looked into the eyes of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and sensed his soul. But he might just be the first to fumble a crucial arms control agreement near the finish line out of a misguided overconfidence in the power of his own prose.

Source: 

Reuters| Berlin lockt Iran mit Sanktionsabbau bei Atomstreit-Lösung

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani gives a news conference on the sidelines of the 69th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York September 26, 2014. Rouhani said on Friday "courageous decisions" must be made to clinch a long-term nuclear agreement and that any deal without the lifting of all sanctions against Tehran was "unacceptable".  REUTERS/Adrees Latif   (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

Berlin/Wien (Reuters) – Bei einer Einigung im Atomstreit könnte Iran nach Angaben der Bundesregierung mit einem schrittweisen Abbau der Wirtschaftssanktionen rechnen.

„Sollte es gelingen, tatsächlich um den 24. November herum eine Einigung mit Iran zu finden, so würde dies in der Tat dazu führen, dass das Sanktionsregime Schritt für Schritt abgebaut wird“, sagte der Sprecher des Auswärtigen Amtes, Martin Schäfer, am Freitag in Berlin. Dies bedeute für Iran und die deutsche Wirtschaft mehr Potenzial für Wachstum und Handel. Die Internationale Atomenergiebehörde (IAEA) erklärte allerdings, Iran habe in wichtigen Punkten noch keine Zugeständnisse gemacht.

Bis zum 24. November wollen Iran und die sogenannte Sechser-Gruppe, zu der neben den fünf UN-Vetomächten auch Deutschland gehört, eine Einigung im Atomstreit versuchen. Der Westen verdächtigt den Iran, unter dem Deckmantel eines zivilen Atomprogramms Kernwaffen zu entwickeln und hatte deshalb Sanktionen verhängt, die Anfang 2014 etwas gelockert wurden.

In einem vertraulichen Bericht der Internationalen Atomenergiebehörde heißt es, Iran habe seit Ende August nicht die nötigen Informationen über vermeintliche Testversuche geliefert. Die iranischen Bestände an niedrig angereichertem Urangas seien seit Anfang September um acht Prozent auf 8390 Kilo gewachsen. Iran habe zudem viermal einem IAEA-Inspektor ein Visum für die Einreise verweigert. Es sei wichtig, dass die Regierung in Teheran den IAEA-Inspektoren einen Zugang auch zu den militärischen Einrichtungen in Parchin erlaube.

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Going against Netanyahu, 84 percent of US Jews favor Iran nuclear deal

Strong Jewish support for an Iran nuclear deal was a surprise finding of a poll of American Jews who voted Tuesday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned against any deal that leaves Iran with an enrichment program.

By Howard LaFranchi

  • Jacquelyn Martin/AP
    View Caption

As President Obama presses to reach an accord with Iranon its nuclear program by the end of the month, he can count on strong support from what might seem like an unlikely segment of the population: American Jews.

Jewish backing of the administration’s efforts to strike a deal suggests that American Jews aren’t heeding the alarms being sounded in Israel by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He warns that any deal that leaves Iran with an enrichment program constitutes a mortal danger to Israel.

Strong Jewish support for a nuclear deal that limits, but doesn’t completely stop, Iran’s uranium enrichment abilities was a surprise finding of a telephone poll of Jewish voters who took part in Tuesday’s midterm elections. The poll, commissioned by J Street – the self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” Washington lobbying organization – also found strong support for an active US role in efforts to forge Arab-Israeli peace. At the same time, the survey found strong support for Israel’s handling of Operation Protective Edge, this summer’s military operation against Hamas in Gaza that resulted in strong international criticism of Israel over the heavy civilian toll.

Recommended: How much do you know about Iran? Take our quiz to find out.

But it was the findings on Iran and the implication that American Jews would be comfortable with Iran retaining a nuclear program that stood out.

The survey found that 84 percent of American Jews would favor either strongly or somewhat a deal with Iran that would alleviate tough sanctions on the Iranian economy in exchange for Iran’s agreement to limit its nuclear program to civilian purposes and accept inspectors at its nuclear facilities.

The United States and five other world powers face a Nov. 24 deadline for reaching a deal with Iran. Mr. Obama said Wednesday that the nations in talks with Iran have presented Tehran with a “framework” that would “allow them to meet their peaceful energy needs,” but he said he wasn’t sure if a deal could be reached by the approaching deadline.

The strong Jewish backing for a deal actually mirrors the level of support for a diplomatic solution with Iran among Americans in general, say political analysts at J Street.

“The American public generally is supportive of giving diplomacy time to work,” says Dylan Williams, J Street director of government affairs. “I don’t think Jewish Americans are different from where the general American population is on this.”

American Jews “have accepted that some level of uranium enrichment will be part of a viable deal,” Mr. Williams says. Now, he adds, the key to acceptance of a deal – by Jews and the general public alike – will be “a robust verification and monitoring regime” that blocks Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.

The survey registered a strong sense of connection to Mr. Netanyahu among American Jews, even though its results suggest they don’t support his policies. Asked to gauge on a scale of 1 to 100 their feelings of warmth toward various leaders and personalities, respondents gave Netanyahu a 61 – higher than Obama (49) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (57).

“The prime minister is personally popular with American Jews,” says Jessica Rosenblum, J Street communications director. “The difference here is that they have deep concerns about the policies he’s pursuing.”

The survey also found that American Jews continue to support by a wide margin Democrats over Republicans. This is despite repeated predictions over recent years from conservative Jewish pundits that US Jews – because of Obama’s push for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state settlement, his overtures to Iran, and his frosty relations with Netanyahu – are on the verge of a wholesale shift to the Republican column.

“It’s comical how every two years the small segment of our community that leans conservative says, ‘This is the year that Jewish-Americans will vote for more hawkish politicians and policies,’ and it never happens,” Williams says.

In Tuesday’s elections, American Jews voted for Democrats over Republicans by a decisive margin of 69 to 28 percent.

And on that “feelings of warmth” gauge, they gave the Democratic Party a 51. The Republican Party got a 28.

http://launch.newsinc.com/share.html?trackingGroup=90962&siteSection=csmonitor_nws_pol_sty_vmpp&videoId=28114690

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

Assessing the Obama Administration’s Iraq-Syria Strategy

In many ways, the Obama Administration’s new strategy toward Iraq and Syria is a work in progress.  Each week, new elements emerge or get added.  And there are certainly a number of important aspects still missing.  However, overall, what is emerging is a smart, coherent approach that is checking off any number of key military and diplomatic boxes.  Of greatest importance, American actions in the region and Administration statements (particularly General Martin Dempsey’s testimony before the Senate last week) indicate that Washington is putting in place a comprehensive strategy meant not only to defeat ISIS, but to address the wider circumstances of Iraq and Syria.  That is critical because ISIS and its ilk are not the problem in the region; they are the symptom of the problem.  The problem is the intercommunal civil wars burning in both Iraq and Syria.  Unfortunately, that’s also where the missing pieces of the strategy remain.

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria (REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Matthew Bruch).

Intertwined Campaigns

At heart, the Administration’s approach is a dual strategy, coupling two similar but not identical approaches to the two countries.  Although some of the Administration’s critics have demanded a single strategy toward both, the Administration’s approach is probably the right one.  It reflects the reality that the two civil wars are different in many important ways and it is not possible to employ the same exact approach to both.  Each needs a tailored version of the broad strategy.  What they do require is close coordination, and it appears that the Administration is doing just that, at least for now.

In both countries, the Administration hopes to empower moderate forces—both Sunni andShi’a to the extent possible—to fight against all of the extremists, both Sunni and Shi’a.  Indeed, to the extent that there is an overarching theme to the strategy, it is one of empowering moderate forces, an idea that ought to be applied more broadly across the Middle East.

In Iraq, the Administration is essentially building on the progress made in 2007-2010 to try to resurrect the power-sharing arrangement forged by the United States as part of the Surge and recreate a unified Iraqi government.  While that government may only be united in name, the willingness of Sunni, Shi’a and perhaps Kurdish leaders to cooperate under that rubric should allow the U.S. to move forward militarily against ISIS and its allies while helping the Iraqis to sort out the final shape of a new Iraqi political system.  In Syria, in contrast, the focus is on building a new Syrian opposition army, one that can defeat both the Asad regime and the Sunni radicals like ISIS, and then use its military successes to create the political incentives for a new national reconciliation/power-sharing agreement as the 1995 Dayton Accords did for Bosnia.

Indeed, to the extent that there is an overarching theme to the strategy, it is one of empowering moderate forces, an idea that ought to be applied more broadly across the Middle East.

These interwoven strategies toward Iraq and Syria have some critical advantages.  Both are reasonable, feasible and historically well-grounded.  If successful, both would produce end-states consistent with American interests.  Moreover, both can be consistent with the interests of America’s allies in the region, hence the publicly-enthusiastic if privately-tepid reception from many of America’s Middle Eastern allies to the new strategy.  Nevertheless, both have important challenges to overcome as well.

The Military Campaigns

In both Syria and Iraq, the American strategy is in the first phase of its military campaign.  Since Washington is determined not to deploy American ground combat troops—or, rightly, to rely on those of other neighboring states—it must build indigenous ground forces.  Air power alone, even American air power, is unlikely to be adequate to drive ISIS, other Sunni militant groups, or the Asad regime’s military forces from the territory they control.  Coalition airstrikes will need complementary ground forces of some kind to fix enemy ground forces and occupy terrain, particularly population centers.  However, as General Dempsey and others have noted, it will take months before such ground forces are ready.

It is worth noting that these ground forces do not have to be first-rate.  They simply need to be good enough that, with the addition of American air power, they can defeat both Asad’s forces and those of ISIS and the other Sunni militants.  That isn’t a very high standard.  In its grandest moments, the Syrian armed forces never rose beyond a rigid mediocrity, and while ISIS has certainly shown both some strategic acumen and tactical ability, it faces both quantitative and qualitative problems of its own.  By comparison, in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance could not defeat the Taliban until 2001 when it was backed by U.S. air power, and the Libyan opposition was a joke in 2001, but it defeated the remnants of Qadhafi’s military with NATO air support ten years later.  Thus, the historical record demonstrates that indigenous ground forces too week to win without American air support can win handily with it.[1]

American and other Western governments have just begun the long process of building Iraqi and Syria ground forces.  Again, in both cases, the approach the U.S. will take is now clear, but there are a number of potential hurdles that have not yet been addressed.  For instance, in Iraq the Administration has reconciled itself to the need to build, in effect, two separate militaries: a revamped Shi’a-dominated Iraqi Army and a new Sunni national guard.  It remains to be seen how those forces will be able to work together.  In particular, the Sunnis will not want any (Shi’a) Iraqi Army units operating in the Sunni-dominated provinces, and the Shi’a are likely to insist that they do so.  That speaks to a second-order problem, which is that the conduct of the military campaign will be seen by both communities as setting precedents for the eventual reform of Iraqi politics, which is likely to make them dig in their heels even harder over these military considerations.

In Syria there are different but equally challenging issues.  The first among them being whether the U.S. is going to simply try to train, arm and unify the existing hodge-podge of militias, or will create a wholly new, homogeneous Syrian opposition army.  The former would be faster and easier, but the result would have very limited utility.  Indeed, it might be of no use whatsoever.  The latter would be far more militarily effective and politically helpful, but would take much more time and effort.  While General Dempsey’s testimony suggested that the United States planned to take the latter approach (which I consider the better course by far) the matter does not appear settled at this point.[2]

A huge, unanswered question on the military side in Syria is whether (or when) the air campaign will expand beyond ISIS and the Sunni militants to begin targeting the Asad regime’s forces as well.

In the meantime, as these ground forces are readied, the air campaign will roll on.  The strikes we have seen to date in Iraq and Syria give a good indication of what that air campaign will look like.  It will be a unified campaign, striking targets in both Iraq and Syria ore or less simultaneously.  (In that sense, it is the one piece of the strategy that will be truly unified).  Moreover, it will have two primary target sets.  The first will be terrorist targets.  Anytime the U.S. identifies groups interested in striking the U.S. or its allies, it will get hit.  The “Khorasan Group” of Jabhat al-Nusra falls into this category, but so too would ISIS operatives planning terrorist operations.

The second will be a more conventional air interdiction campaign that will seek to attrite and disrupt enemy forces whenever they are vulnerable.  That will include command and control facilities (and personnel), logistical infrastructure, training facilities, barracks, motor pools, economic targets like the oil fields hit this week, transportation assets, and field-deployed combat forces whenever the Coalition receives actionable intelligence on such targets.  That last is an important point: given how much time it will take for the ground forces to be readied, the air campaign is likely to focus on targets of opportunity, striking enemy assets whenever they are vulnerable, whatever and wherever they may be.

Good analogies of this part of the strategy would be the air campaigns against Iraqi forces in the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations during the first 39-days of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, or the Allied air campaign against German targets in France during the build-up to D-Day in 1944.  In both cases, the United States and its allies spent weeks/months working over the enemy’s forces, killing combat forces when available, but otherwise relentlessly busting up logistical facilities, transport assets (trucks, trains, cars, etc.), leadership targets, communications systems, and chokepoints (like bridges and overpasses).  In both cases, these constant attacks wore down the enemy to the point where when the ground forces finally attacked, they had been considerably weakened.

A huge, unanswered question on the military side in Syria is whether (or when) the air campaign will expand beyond ISIS and the Sunni militants to begin targeting the Asad regime’s forces as well.  That is a necessary component of the strategy that the Administration has laid out, and it is not something that needs to start right away.  But it will have to happen at some point, and well before the new Syrian opposition forces are ready to take the field to ensure that they can succeed when they do so.  But going after the regime’s forces will mean both a much bigger military operations, since it will have to first neutralize the regime’s residual air defense network, and a much bigger diplomatic and political fight since Russia and Iran will protest loudly and may try to increase their support to Syria—or even cause trouble for the U.S. elsewhere.

Political-Military Tensions

It is also important to note that there are likely to be significant tensions between military best practices and immediate political needs.  In an ideal world, the Coalition would spend a year or more doing nothing but training the relevant Iraqi and Syrian ground forces, while the air campaign slowly wears down ISIS, other militant groups, and potentially the Asad regime as well.  We would only unleash those ground forces (with U.S. air support) when they were completely ready to go both quantitatively and qualitatively.  Again, D-Day or Operation Desert Storm are good historical analogies.However, the political reality is that American, European, Arab, Iraqi and Syrian opposition leaders will all be under pressure to demonstrate that they are taking action and not simply giving their adversaries a free hand to consolidate power over the territory they control.  All will want ground operations to start as soon as possible, and they will likely press the military commanders to mount limited operations as soon as the first ground forces are ready—or close to it.  The old phrase “close enough for government work” comes readily to mind.  The danger in that is if these limited operations are unsuccessful and the first of the newly-trained ground forces are defeated, it could demoralize the rest of the force, set-back the broader training programs, and exacerbate the inevitable political-infighting that attends any military coalition.  (The failure of the Dieppe raid in 1942 is a good historical example illustrating these issues.)

Political Challenges

The military dimensions of the strategy are increasingly clear, and the challenges they face are not insignificant, but relatively straightforward.  On the political side, the situation is far more murky.

First off there are the problems likely to attend the international effort.  Americans always prefer to fight as part of a coalition, and in this case, some of the countries that Washington is working on have important—even unique—assets that they bring to this particular fight.  The problem is that the countries that are most enthusiastic about the fight, namely the Europeans, have the least to contribute. Whereas, those with the most to contribute, the Sunni Arab states and Turkey, are the least enthusiastic about the American strategy.  Certainly, the European states can and already have contributed some small military forces and they may also be helpful with limited reconstruction funding, but that’s about the extent of it.  And ultimately, the United States does not need European aircraft, at least not militarily.  While European financial contributions will either be inadequate or irrelevant depending on whether the Gulf Arab states make good on their pledges to shoulder the vast bulk of the costs for Syria.

For the Sunni states of the Middle East, the problem is complicated.  They all do hate and fear ISIS.  But they also hate and fear the Shi’a and Iran even more.  Most believe that Iraq and Syria are simply two fronts in a much bigger, more important Sunni-Shi’a struggle for the soul of the Muslim Umma.  What’s more, many of the Arab Sunni states—including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan—fear the moderate Sunni Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood more than they fear the Salafi extremists of ISIS.  In Syria, these differences are less of a hassle because Washington’s new strategy is about defeating both ISIS and the (the Iranian-backed and predominantly-Shi’a) Asad regime.  However, in Iraq, the Administration hopes to empower both moderate Sunni forces, which may include Brotherhood elements, and the (Iranian-backed and predominantly-Shi’a) government against ISIS and its allies.  That is not terribly comfortable for the Sunni states, and an important reason why they have been far more supportive of the Syria half of the strategy than the Iraq half.  In the future, it may be possible to convince them that even in Iraq the approach will not simply empower their worst enemies at the expense of lesser enemies, but it will take some doing.

The military dimensions of the strategy are increasingly clear, and the challenges they face are not insignificant, but relatively straightforward. On the political side, the situation is far more murky.

In Iraq, the new cabinet is an important step forward, but it is only a very small step.  Iraqis still need to sort out the new shape of their political system.  The Sunnis are determined to see a fully-articulated federal structure emerge, one in which the majority-Sunni provinces have enormous autonomy, including control of their own military forces as the Kurds already do.  Some Shi’a recognize that there will need to be change, but many want a return to the status quo ante, with a strong central government and limited federal powers—essentially the Maliki era without Maliki’s excesses.  Not only will it be difficult to reconcile these competing perspectives, but these differences will play out right from the start in virtually every military, political, or economic decision that the new Iraqi government makes.  Both sides will be constantly weighing any move to assess which side it advantages in that ultimate fight, and that is likely to hamstring the fight against ISIS at every turn.

With Syria, the weakness of the political element of the strategy is even more pronounced.  Simply put, the United States will have to lead an effort of nation-building to heal the wounds of the civil war.  It is unavoidable.  President Obama himself recognized this reality in his interview with Tom Friedman of The New York Times in August.  There he observed that a lesson he learned from Libya in 2011 was that military intervention that was not backed by a major effort to build a functional state afterwards would simply lead to chaos and a new set of threats to American interests.  In the interview, the President implied that this recognition was one reason that he did not want to intervene in Syria because he was not ready to commit to such a program there.  Now, having committed the United States to just such an intervention, he cannot escape the logic of his own contention.  But neither the United States nor any of its allies appear to have given any thought to what post conflict reconstruction in Syria would entail, let alone begun to plan and prepare for that effort.[3]  That could be the largest and most difficult aspect of the entire strategy.

The Big Picture

Despite all of the challenges the new U.S. strategy toward Iraq and Syria faces, it should not be seen as hopeless.  The new strategy is entirely feasible, the challenges identified could all be addressed (and have been, in other efforts elsewhere in the past), and the primary variable is the extent of the American commitment.  Of equal importance, there is no other alternative strategy that has a higher likelihood of succeeding.

Articulating all of the challenges this strategy faces, including those that the Administration simply has not addressed yet, should not be seen as suggesting that its proposed course of action is foolish.  It is not.  However, it is heavily dependent on their willingness to properly implement and resource it.


[1] Of course, that does not mean that it always works.  Kosovo in 1999 is an important contrary example.  There, U.S. air power, weaponry and advisors were not sufficient to enable the Kosovo Liberation Army to defeat the Serbs.  That said, the Serbs were far more powerful than either the Asad regime’s residual armed forces or ISIS and its allies.

[2] For those interested in a more extensive explanation of how (and why) the United States should build a new Syrian opposition Army as the Administration has indicated it will, see Kenneth M. Pollack, “An Army to Defeat Assad: How to Turn Syria’s Opposition Into a Real Fighting Force,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 93, No. 5 (September/October 2014), pp. 110-124.

[3] For a fuller treatment of this problem, see Kenneth M. Pollack, “We Need to Begin Nation Building Right Now in Syria,” The New Republic online, September 24, 2014, available at http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119556/obamas-syria-strategy-must-include-nation-building.

Iran: Die goldene Chance

von Katajun Amirpur

Die Einschätzungen über den neuen iranischen Präsidenten Hassan Rohani gehen weit auseinander: Während er vielerorts als Hoffnungsträger für ein Ende des Atomkonflikts zwischen dem Iran und der Weltgemeinschaft angesehen wird, kann die israelische Regierung nur taktische Manöver erkennen und bleibt skeptisch.

Mit seiner ersten Rede vor der UN-Vollversammlung setzte Hassan Rohani Ende September einen deutlichen Kontrapunkt zu seinem Vorgänger Ahmadinedschad und betonte sein Bemühen um Entspannung. Er sagte dort ausdrücklich, dass „Atomwaffen und andere Massenvernichtungswaffen […] keinen Platz in Irans Sicherheits- und Verteidigungsprogramm“ hätten. Stattdessen verfolge der Iran mit seinem Atomprogramm ausschließlich friedliche Zwecke.

Für den israelischen Ministerpräsidenten Benjamin Netanjahu ist Rohani dennoch ein Wolf im Schafspelz. Er bezeichnete dessen Rede als zynisch und heuchlerisch: „Ich wünschte, ich könnte Rohani glauben, aber ich tue es nicht“, sagte Netanjahu vor der UN-Vollversammung. „Der Iran will sich in die Lage bringen, schnell Atombomben zu bauen, bevor die internationale Gemeinschaft es merken oder gar verhindern kann.“

In den Vereinigten Staaten hingegen wurden Rohanis Worte vielfach begrüßt. Bereits vor der Rede hatte Barack Obama neue Verhandlungen über das iranische Atomprogramm angekündigt. Und auch viele Iraner sehen in dem neuen Präsidenten eine große Chance auf politischen Wandel. Nur wenige Tage nach Rohanis Rede unterzeichneten 511 iranische Intellektuelle, unter ihnen 88 ehemalige und selbst gegenwärtige politische Gefangene, einen offenen Brief an Barack Obama. „Nun sind Sie an der Reihe, Präsident Obama“, schreiben der bekannte Filmregisseur Asghar Farhadi und die Menschenrechtsaktivistin Nazanin Khosravani.[1]

Sie heben hervor, was Rohani seit seinem Amtsantritt bereits erreicht hat: Die Atmosphäre in der iranischen Politik und Gesellschaft sei offener, zahlreiche politische Gefangene sind freigelassen worden. All dies bereite den Boden dafür, den gordischen Knoten der amerikanisch-iranischen Entfremdung zu durchschlagen.

Vollständiger Artikel

 

Iran Sanctions | Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

Iran Sanctions

13 June 2013 | Publisher: United States Congressional Research Service | Document type: Country Reports

 

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

17 June 2013 | Publisher: United States Congressional Research Service | Document type: Country Reports

 

Source: United States Congressional Research Service, Iran Sanctions, 13 June 2013, RS20871 , available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/51d53e894.html %5Baccessed 5 July 2013]

 

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