Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

The New York Times reported on Sunday that a top aide of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was receiving cash by the bagful from the government of Iran.  Karzai stopped denying the story today, stating,

“They give us bags of money – yes, yes it is done,” Mr. Karzai said. “We are grateful to the Iranians for this. Patriotism has a price”

Wait, what kind of money are we talking about here, a couple thousand dollars perhaps? Not even in the ballpark. Afghan officials told the Times that individual payments ranged as high as $6 million. I know this was only reported yesterday, but where is the outrage?  This blatant bribery by Iran, a state sanctioned by the United States and most of the world, shows us the nature of the Afghan government we’re fighting to support. I’m not sure if bags of cash were listed in UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (the most recent resolution sanctioning Iran), but perhaps we should think of lobbying for their addition.

President Karzai’s rhetoric recently has become increasingly anti-Western and anti-NATO.  Whether that’s the Iranian cash talking or simple pandering to domestic sentiment (unlikely due to mixed polls on U.S. popularity), it’s hard to tell.  But this event further signals the erratic and downright corrupt nature of the regime we’re fighting for.  Why do we put up with it? Because the U.S. Government doesn’t believe it has an alternative to Karzai.  We’ve staked our hopes on him and we don’t know what to do if he turns out to be as corrupt as all this evidence shows.

Let’s just hope these bags of cash don’t make Iran’s word more important than NATO’s in influencing Afghan policy, or Afghanistan may start buying uranium for its own nuclear research reactor.

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In the foreign policy world, the words Iran and nuclear in the same sentence immediately get the attention of the State Department, Defense Department, Intelligence Agencies and all the rest. Why is the U.S. Government so worried about Iran? Should you be worried about it as well, or is it all just the same old Iraq talk all over again? The Ivory Bunker will do its best to tell you over the next 400 words or so.

I’ll first highlight four reasons why I think the U.S. Government is worried about a nuclear Iran. First, they are worried about the immediate and practical implications of a nuclear-capable Iran led by anti-semitic and somewhat unstable dictator.  Second, they are worried about what a nuclear Iran would mean for the future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime.  A nuclear Iran could signal what arms control gurus have feared for decades – the effective end of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), a treaty that has more or less stymied the expansion and proliferation of nuclear arms for almost four decades. Third, the U.S. Government is concerned about the potential proliferation, either accidental or intentional, of nuclear weapons from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to Hezbollah or another related terrorist organization. Fourth, they are concerned about the potential domino effect of latent proliferation spreading across the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia and possibly Egypt consider following in Iran’s footsteps down the nuclear path.

Should you be worried about this? The good news is that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon nor will they be likely to get one in the next several years.  The bad news is that Iran has not signed the Additional Protocol (AP), which allows International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to inspect all potential facilities, both declared and undeclared, for evidence of nuclear weapons.  So we don’t know for sure how far along Iran really is in their nuclear exploits.  What we do know is that Iran has been operating an enrichment facility at Natanz and they just opened a nuclear reactor at Bushehr. We also know they have been frequently denying IAEA inspectors access to certain facilities and have provided incomplete explanations of issues the IAEA has raised.  But unless Iran has another secret enrichment facility (which is indeed possible), they cannot develop sufficient Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) without kicking out IAEA inspectors from Natanz. This in turn would send a clear signal to the world of Iran’s intentions and would likely incur the actual wrath of China and Russia, not just the feigned sort U.S. diplomacy has worked so hard to achieve.

The bottom line – there is no need to panic just yet.  I believe, as do several other foreign policy writers, that Iran will do its best to hedge its nuclear capabilities, going as close as possible to constructing a bomb without actually going the entire way.  All the United States and the UN more broadly can do is continue to disincentivize non-cooperation and promote full cooperation.  Any deal between the P5+1 should aim to have Iran sign the Additional Protocol and forswear most domestic enrichment capabilities (perhaps leave some enrichment symbolically for prestige preservation). In exchange, the P5+1 should give further security guarantees, economic aid and offer a secure supply of enriched uranium fuel under international controls for Iran’s future nuclear plants.

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