Opinion

The Great Debate

As Iran talks resume, it’s time to play ‘Let’s Make a Deal’

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif speak together during the third day of closed-door nuclear talks at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva

On Thursday, negotiators from the United States, Iran and five other world powers begin the final stretch of negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear agreement. A deal is within reach. But time is short.

With fewer than three months before the Nov. 24 deadline for an agreement, defining the size and scope of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program remains the most significant gap. To bridge it, negotiators must move away from extreme positions toward more realistic ones.

There are several ways to square the circle and find a formula that meets the basic requirements of all parties. For Iran, the goal is a meaningful uranium-enrichment program. For the five permanent member of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — plus Germany, or P5+1,the goal is to limit Iran’s enrichment capacity and to monitor its activities to ensure that the time it would take Tehran to amass enough weapons-grade nuclear material to build a bomb is extended.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif addresses news conference following nuclear negotiations at UN in GenevaUnder the interim agreement reached last November, the parties agreed that Tehran could maintain an enrichment program based on its “practical needs.” Both sides base their positions on technical assessments of Iran’s needs yet strongly disagree on the amount of enriched uranium required to meet them. The problem here is essentially political.

Iran believes its practical needs include future fuel needs for nuclear reactors now in the planning stage. Russia supplies fuel for Iran’s sole operating nuclear power plant, Bushehr, and is under contract to do so through 2021. Tehran wants to build up its domestic capacity and reduce its reliance on the international market for enriched uranium fuel, a concern not unwarranted by Iran’s past experiences.

With or without Maliki, Iraq will tear itself apart

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The word out of Washington is Nouri al-Maliki must go. A new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, will unify Iraq with American help.

We’ve seen this movie before — an attempt at a quick fix of Iraq’s problems. Like every other quick fix tried, this one will fail, too. The United States is ignoring the inevitable: Iraq will eventually dissolve into separate nation-states. Efforts are needed to manage that process, not to hope it will go away.

Some history. Following the regime change of 2003 and the elimination of Saddam Hussein, the United States failed to create any civil structure to fill the vacuum. Religious, ethnic, tribal and geographic tensions in Iraq were unleashed (I’ll label it all Sunni-Shi’ite-Kurd as shorthand, though the reality is much more complex.) A U.S.-patched-together “government” (the Governing Council, of which Abadi was a part) accomplished little more than marking the first failed quick fix in the Iraq story.

Let Japan help defend America — and itself

Members of Japan's Self-Defence Forces' airborne troops stand at attention during the annual SDF troop review ceremony at Asaka Base in Asaka

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now following through on actions laid out in his recent bold speech calling for Japan to defend allies who might be under attack.

But wait, you may ask, hasn’t the United States had a mutual security treaty with Japan for more than half a century?

Well, not quite. Yes, Washington has had a mutual defense-security treaty with Tokyo since 1951. But Japan is not committed to defending the United States or any of its armed forces. In fact, Japanese forces are prohibited from helping Washington in time of war — even if the war is in defense of Japan.

Brown v. Board of Ed: Key Cold War weapon

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The U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, issued on May 17, 1954, is probably the most important judicial decision in American history.

This week, on its 60th anniversary, the landmark ruling is being celebrated for its historic role in committing the United States to ending legal racial segregation and establishing the courts as a forum in which to secure enhanced protection of rights. All subsequent court decisions advancing the rights of those who have suffered discrimination are built on Brown.

There is another reason, however, that the decision was especially important.  The Brown ruling greatly advanced the interests of the United States during the Cold War, when the nation was vying with the Soviet Union for global influence. The Truman administration recognized this in the early 1950s, when it filed a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court in December 1952, calling for the result that the court announced 17 months later.

Post Rwanda: Invest in atrocity prevention

In the 20 years since the horrific 1994 genocide in Rwanda and its terrible spillover into the Congo, it has been clear that the global community remains ill-equipped to address such human-made catastrophic tragedies.

While many have worked to heal Rwanda, crises of unfathomable mass violence have continued to unfold in places like Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Syria. In each case, the international community has failed to live up to a global commitment to prevention, protection and accountability for mass crimes.

War and mass violence not only halts development, it reverses it — scarring the lives and memories of new generations.  This creates traumatized societies — one of the biggest factors contributing to conflict.

America’s long search for Mr. Right

What’s wrong with central casting? It’s a virtual truism: The United States always seems to pick the wrong guy to star as George Washington in some faraway civil war. We sell him weapons for self-defense against his despicable foes — and then, sometimes before the end of the first battle, we find we are committed to a bad actor who bears an uncanny resemblance to Genghis Khan.

President Barack Obama just approved the sale of 24 Apache helicopters to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — despite well-founded concerns that Maliki may use them against people we do like as well as those we don’t.

Helicopters aren’t the only munitions on Maliki’s shopping list. Washington has negotiated the sale of 480 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, along with reconnaissance drones and F-16 fighter jets.

Assessing the resiliency of Hillary Clinton

As Hillary Rodham Clinton finished her last few weeks on the job, after a month of convalescence, how can we assess the secretary of state’s contributions?

The question is worth asking simply because of the job’s importance and its significance for U.S. national security. It is also relevant given Clinton’s unprecedented role in our national life over the last two decades.

She is probably the most politically powerful woman in U.S. history — at least in terms of positions held. She has come closer to being elected president than any other woman. She may well try again, and her record as secretary may be the best way to judge her candidacy for the highest job in the land. So how has she done?

Setback for America’s pro-Israel hawks

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

“The brutal oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupation shows no sign of ending … Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians, it strives to pacify them … American identification with Israel has become total.”

These are excerpts from a 2007 speech by Charles (Chas) Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, whose appointment as chairman of the National Intelligence Council was announced on February 26 and is turning into a test case for the strength of Washington’s right-wing pro-Israel lobby.

Obama: plus ça change?

Robin Shepherd is a senior research fellow at Chatham House in London. The opinions expressed are his own.

robinshepherd-cropped1Which part of the word “change” did Barack Obama not understand? A year from now it is a question that many outside America will be asking about his foreign policy.

American forces will still be in Afghanistan; the handover in Iraq will continue, with some  troops coming home as they would have under President Bush; U.S. support for Israel will remain unchanged, while the Annapolis process begun under Obama’s predecessor continues to take its course.

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