The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

How close is Iran to nuclear weapons?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed last week that new second-generation centrifuges, which Iran plans to start up at its Natanz uranium enrichment facility, could cut by a third the time needed to create a nuclear bomb – underlining his deadline of this summer to take military action against Iran.

Netanyahu’s prediction, however, appears to be based on some unsubstantiated assumptions regarding Iranian intentions and capabilities. Yet it can provide ammunition to the hawks in Washington and Jerusalem, who could rush us into another needless and counterproductive war in the Middle East. Netanyahu’s assertions do not stand up to technical scrutiny.

Critically, he does not mention that Iran has been converting part of its 20-percent-enriched uranium hexafluoride gaseous stockpile into metallic form, for use as fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. This conversion essentially freezes the enrichment level and subtracts from the “enrichable” gaseous stockpile used in centrifuges. It is not something that a nation hell-bent on weaponization would do.

Neglecting this fact in coming up with a hypothetical “time line to a bomb” is like balancing your bank account by registering just your income – but failing to subtract the amounts of the checks you’ve written.

from The Great Debate:

Will this be the year that Israel goes to war with Iran?

Israel did not bomb Iran last year. Why should it happen this year?

Because it did not happen last year. The Iranians are proceeding apace with their nuclear program. The Americans are determined to stop them. Sanctions are biting, but the diplomatic process produced nothing visible in 2012. Knowledgeable observers believe there is no "zone of possible agreement." Both the United States and Iran may believe that they have viable alternatives to a negotiated agreement.

While Israel has signaled that its "red line" (no nuclear weapons capability) won't be reached before mid-2013, it seems likely it will be reached before the end of the year. President Barack Obama has refused to specify his red line, but he has made it amply clear that he prefers intensified sanctions and eventual military action to a nuclear Iran that needs to be contained and provides incentives for other countries to go nuclear. If and when he takes the decision for war, there is little doubt about a bipartisan majority in Congress supporting the effort.

from The Great Debate:

Obama faces only hard choices in Mideast

The conventional wisdom in Washington these days is that a newly empowered president, freed from the political constraints of reelection, will have more discretion, drive and determination to take on the Middle East’s most intractable problems.

Don’t believe it. This looks a lot more compelling on paper than in practice. Should President Barack Obama be tempted to embrace it, he may well find himself on the short end of the legacy stick.

from The Great Debate:

Obama, Romney missing the point on Libya

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney in Monday's foreign policy debate are again likely to examine the administration’s handling of an Islamic militia’s murderous attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and its significance for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, they may again miss the crucial question raised by the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans: Why is Libya at the mercy of hundreds of lawless militias and without a functioning state one year after U.S. and NATO support enabled rebels to overthrow dictator Muammar Ghadaffi?

from The Great Debate:

The verdict that shook Iran and Europe

They say a good news story is like an onion. The more one peels it, the newer and fresher are the layers that surface. If depth and longevity are the gold standards for a news story, then the assassinations of four Iranian opposition members at the Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin in September 1992 surpasses that standard. That story is more like a cluster bomb: 20 years later, it continues to explode. The verdict that was issued in Germany five years after the killings, and the subsequent decision by the European Union to cut ties with Tehran in 1997, achieved what perpetual threats of war have not.

What was the achievement? To a multitude of Iranian exiles, first and foremost, it was the bestowing of an elemental human gift – safety. Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini’s henchmen were methodically killing a list of 500 dissidents – artists, writers, intellectuals and opposition members – against whom the Ayatollah had issued fatwas. These “anointed” individuals were not safe whether they were in Washington, Rome, Paris or Geneva.

Iran is using oil to find gaps in international sanctions

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By Kristen Silverberg and Dr August Hanning. The opinions expressed are their own.

The case of Standard Chartered Bank has demonstrated that there are still gaps in the international sanctions regime concerning Iran. In the financial sector, the existing regime can be improved. However, the European sanctions targeting the Iranian oil and gas sector also have significant weaknesses. It is necessary to identify these   weaknesses and to close them as quickly as possible.

Is the U.S. picking on our banks?

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By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

Standard Chartered is the latest UK-based bank that seems to be getting it in the neck from our friends across the water. Firstly, there was Barclays and the Libor scandal, then there was HSBC which was fined for allowing drug-trafficked money from Mexico to go through its system and now there is Standard Chartered which is charged with “wilfully misleading” the New York Department of Financial Services and clearing $250 billion of Iranian transactions through its U.S. operation.

Two can be a coincidence, but three in as many months? Since the news on Standard Chartered broke there has been a torrent of investors, politicians and even some in the media who have queried whether this is just an attempt by Washington to discredit London and re-establish New York as the world’s financial centre.

Now is the time to not only maintain pressure on Iran, but increase it

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By Charles Guthrie, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, Kristen Silverberg and Dr August Hanning. The opinions expressed are their own.

On May 23, 2012, the chief negotiators of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany will meet their Iranian counterparts in Baghdad to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme. This follows last April’s meeting in Istanbul, when negotiations were resumed after more than a year’s inaction. This summit will test whether Iran is serious and whether concrete results can be achieved.

from Paul Smalera:

What real Internet censorship looks like

Lately Internet users in the U.S. have been worried about censorship, copyright legalities and data privacy. Between Twitter’s new censorship policy, the global protests over SOPA/PIPA and ACTA and the outrage over Apple’s iOS allowing apps like Path to access the address book without prior approval, these fears have certainly seemed warranted. But we should also remember that Internet users around the world face far more insidious limitations and intrusions on their Internet usage -- practices, in fact, that would horrify the average American.

Sadly, most of the rest of the world has come to accept censorship as a necessary evil. Although I recently argued that Twitter’s censorship policy at least had the benefit of transparency, it’s still an unfortunate cost of doing global business for a company born and bred with the freedoms of the United States, and founded by tech pioneers whose opportunities and creativity stem directly from our Constitution. Yet by the standards of dictatorial regimes, Internet users in countries like China, Syria and Iran should consider themselves lucky if Twitter’s relatively modest censorship program actually keeps those countries’ governments from shutting down the service. As we are seeing around the world, chances are, unfortunately, it won’t.

from The Great Debate:

What does Iran want?

Dennis Ross, until recently in charge of Iran in the Obama White House, has outlined why he thinks strengthened sanctions have created an environment in which diplomacy may now work to block Tehran's development of nuclear weapons. At the same time, it is being reported that Iran has finally responded to a European Union letter requiring that renewed talks focus specifically on ensuring that the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

These are important developments, but they leave out half the equation. What can Iran hope to get from nuclear talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China -- plus Germany? Iran will certainly seek relief from sanctions, which have become truly punishing. But they will want more.

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