U.S. and Europe Warn Iran on Nuclear Talks. Two weeks before the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5-plus-1 countries resume in Baghdad, diplomatic posturing between Iran, the U.S., and the EU hint at the weakening of the goodwill initially felt after the April talks in Istanbul. (New York Times)
"Sharon Squassoni, Director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explains that ‘leaders failed to connect the dots between nuclear fuel cycle choices and their impact on nuclear security. This is a particularly important issue for Asia.’"
"A hot mic shouldn’t overshadow a dirty bomb. The Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul ended recently with two dominant story lines: President Obama’s "hot mic" comments to Russian President Medvedev and the 53 participating governments congratulating themselves on the summit’s outcomes. Both miss the key strategic problem the Seoul Summit did not address: the need to unify the current patchwork, largely voluntary approach to nuclear security that is not commensurate with the risk or consequences of nuclear terrorism." (Kenneth Brill and Kenneth Luongo)
A new poll shows that Americans today are more afraid of Iran than they were of the USSR in 1985, a peak of the Cold War. Worth a read.
So why do Americans see Iran today as a threat on par with the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s? In a Foreign Affairs piece arguing that the U.S. is safer than either Americans or U.S. policymakers think, Zenko and Michael Cohen suggest three reasons:
The disparity between foreign threats and domestic threat-mongering results from a confluence of factors. The most obvious and important is electoral politics. Hyping dangers serves the interests of both political parties.
Warnings about a dangerous world also benefit powerful bureaucratic interests. The specter of looming dangers sustains and justifies the massive budgets of the military and the intelligence agencies, along with the national security infrastructure that exists outside government — defense contractors, lobbying groups, think tanks, and academic departments.
There is also a pernicious feedback loop at work. Because of the chronic exaggeration of the threats facing the United States, Washington overemphasizes military approaches to problems (including many that could best be solved by nonmilitary means). The militarization of foreign policy leads, in turn, to further dark warnings about the potentially harmful effects of any effort to rebalance U.S. national security spending or trim the massive military budget-warnings that are inevitably bolstered by more threat exaggeration.
(Reuters) - Iran is investigating a suspected cyber attack on its main oil export terminal and on the Oil Ministry itself, Iranian industry sources said on Monday.
A virus was detected inside the control systems of Kharg Island - which handles the vast majority of Iran’s crude oil exports - but the terminal remained operational, a source at the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) said.
The virus, which is likely to draw comparisons with the Stuxnet computer worm which reportedly affected Iranian nuclear facilities in 2009-10 [ID:nPOM731768], struck late on Sunday.
Syria has one of the largest and most sophisticated chemical weapons programs in the world and may also possess offensive biological weapons.
Longstanding terrorist groups and newly arrived Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters from Iraq have been active in Syria during that country’s recent insurgency.
The United States and regional powers — including Saudi Arabia and Iran — need to start planning now to keep Syria’s WMD out of terrorist hands if the Assad regime falls.
As possible military action against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program looms large in the public arena, far more international concern should be directed toward Syria and its weapons of mass destruction. When the Syrian uprising began more than a year ago, few predicted the regime of President Bashar al-Assad would ever teeter toward collapse. Now, though, the demise of Damascus’s current leadership appears inevitable, and Syria’s revolution will likely be an unpredictable, protracted, and grim affair. Some see similarities with Libya’s civil war, during which persistent fears revolved around terrorist seizure of Libyan chemical weapons, or the Qaddafi regime’s use of them against insurgents. Those fears turned out to be unfounded.
But the Libyan chemical stockpile consisted of several tons of aging mustard gas leaking from a half-dozen canisters that would have been impossible to utilize as weapons. Syria likely has one of the largest and most sophisticated chemical weapon programs in the world. Moreover, Syria may also possess an offensive biological weapons capability that Libya did not.
While it is uncertain whether the Syrian regime would consider using WMD against its domestic opponents, Syrian insurgents, unlike many of their Libyan counterparts, are increasingly sectarian and radicalized; indeed, many observers fear the uprising is being “hijacked” by jihadists. Terrorist groups active in the Syrian uprising have already demonstrated little compunction about the acquisition and use of WMD. In short, should Syria devolve into full-blown civil-war, the security of its WMD should be of profound concern, as sectarian insurgents and Islamist terrorist groups may stand poised to seize chemical and perhaps even biological weapons.”
Many people are unaware of the Nuclear Security Summit process in general, meaning even fewer are aware of the specific ideas that come out of that process. One of these ideas is the establishment of Centers of Excellence (COE) dedicated to nuclear material security and nuclear education. There are many different types of COE, and because many COE are extremely new, there are many problems associated with them as well. However, their potential is undeniable. I plan to post a more comprehensive report of COE later in the month (it’s currently in review by an editing team). However, for now, take a look at this fact sheet to familiarize yourselves with this new nuclear security and education tool.
Because the Interwebz is once again a-twitter with thought provoking (varying from intriguing to infuriating) rhetoric about Iran.
"Iran—Nuclear Weapons, Not Energy"Rizwan Ladha challenges the Iranian government’s claim that their nuclear enrichment program is aimed at developing nuclear energy and NOT nulcear weapons, as many international observers claim. However, Ladha also breaks down the important distinction between seeking nuclear weapons and seeking a nuclear weapons capability. (Huffington Post)
New Generation Of US Nuclear-Powered Drones Would Be Able To Fly For Months Without Refueling. Sandia National Laboratories and Northrop Gumman have set out to develop blueprints for nuclear-powered drones that would be able to fly for months. Currently, drones can fly for a few days before refueling. The new design seeks to address three problems: “insufficient hang time over a potential target, lack of power for running surveillance and weapons systems, and lack of capacity for communications.” The research is highly sensitive and is shelved for now due to concerns over the tendency for drones to crash; a nuclear drone that crashed would effectively become a “dirty bomb.” (Business Insider)
U.S. Hopes Latest Talks on Iran Nuclear Program Lead to New Diplomacy.Michael Adler discusses what we can expect from the latest round of P5-plus-1 talks with Iran in Istanbul, Turkey. The talks, announced last week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will take place on April 13 (yes, that is a Friday). The talks themselves are a surprise, considering the recent warmongering done by Israel and, to a lesser extent, by the U.S. The talks come as new oil sanctions have been placed on Iran. Iran stands firm on its commitment to continuing its enrichment program. However, if the talks can break off into a bilateral discussion between the US and Iran (like they did in Geneva 2009), that at least could be a step forward. (Daily Beast)
S.Africa considers nuclear fuel cycle facilities. South Africa is considering re-establishing the uranium enrichment and conversion facilities that were dismantled during the apartheid era. Demand for energy and decades of underinvestment have the led the government to consider re-establishing these facilities in order to generate another 9,600 megawatts of nuclear energy. South Africa cites a needed “security of supply” as a reason why simply imported the enriched uranium, rather than producing it in the country itself, is no longer the best option. South Africa will likely be subject to slight political fallout if it pursues this plan, considering the mounting fears over nuclear proliferation and material security (especially considering the debate surrounding Iran). (Reuters)
IAEA seeks more info before any North Korea trip.The IAEA has made clear to North Korea that specific questions need to be answered before the UN nuclear watchdog travels to the country to inspect its nuclear program. Pyongyang sent an invitation to the IAEA in efforts to demonstrate how seriously it is taking the nuclear moratorium deal it struck with the US. However, North Korea has drawn condemnation and skepticism thanks to its plans to launch a long-range rocket with a satellite, an act that is perceived as “practice” for a long-range missile that could carry a nuclear bomb. The IAEA is right to want to solidify the logistics of its visit in advance, for North Korea has twice expelled IAEA officials in the past, in 1994 and 2009. (Reuters)
Highly Enriched Uranium is uranium that is more than 20 percent U-235. It is nuclear-weapon-usable uranium, compared to low-enriched uranium (LEU), which has less than 20% concentrated U-235. LEU is the recommended type of uranium for civilian nuclear programs; Iran’s stockpile of HEU is just one reason why Western governments doubt the country’s claim of pursuing nuclear power for peaceful purposes only.
HEU is one of the main concerns of nuclear material security policy. Securing materials such as HEU in nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states alike—along with proper disposal of HEU—is at the heart of nuclear material security discourse. HEU is much easier to steal than nuclear weapons, and thus it is a greater target for terrorists seeking the means to a nuclear weapon.
HEU can be used for purposes other than nuclear weapons. Many countries—such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, and India use HEU to power their submarines. In the case of the US, HEU is also used to fuel aircraft carriers.
HEU is not necessary for submarines. France uses LEU, and it is believed that China does as well.
Though naval HEU is subject to stricter security than civilian HEU, the most prominent known theft of HEU was from a US naval fuel fabrication facility. Russian naval HEU was also the subject of theft after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Priority for securing HEU should be given to HEU stored at universities and research institutes, since they tend to be less secure than military facilities.
Mid-2011: The global supply of HEU was ~1400 tons. That’s enough for more than 50,000 nuclear weapons (using the average of 25kg of HEU per warhead).
Russia and the US hold the majority of this stock, thanks to the Cold War arms race legacy. 90 tons are distributed among other states with and without nuclear weapons.
Less than 1% (enough for 400 warheads) is held by non-weapon states.
Since the end of the Cold War, the Russian and US stockpiles of HEU have been reduced by ~600 tons. The process of reduction was through blending down HEU to 4-5% LEU. The LEU was then used for power reactor fuel. ~171 tons of additional HEU have been committed to this same process.
(Source: Frank von Hippel speech, “Global Nuclear-weapon Material Stocks and Risks,” at the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Symposium.
Hollywood has destroyed Washington — or New York or Los Angeles — lots of times with nuclear bombs detonated by terrorists. It turns out to be harder in real life.
Thinking about the unthinkable, a U.S. government study analyzed the likely effects from terrorists setting off a 10-kiloton nuclear device a few blocks north of the White House. It predicted terrible devastation for roughly one-half mile in every direction, with buildings reduced to rubble the way that World War II bombing raids destroyed parts of Berlin. But outside that blast zone, the study concluded, even such a nuclear explosion would be pretty survivable.
“It’s not the end of the world,” says Randy Larsen, a retired Air Force colonel and founding director of the Institute for Homeland Security. “It’s not a Cold War scenario.”
“The best way to eliminate the nuclear threat anywhere is by eliminating nuclear weapons everywhere.”—Ban Ki-moon in speech at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, Republic of Korea, 27 March 2012 (via mirorokinrara)
“Iran is an example of the significant threat posed to global security by a proliferation of nuclear weapons. The specific situation of Iran should be viewed within the wider search for a just and peaceful world built on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. A morally responsible nonproliferation strategy must be tied to a clear strategy for reducing and ultimately ending the reliance on nuclear weapons by any country.”—
Bishop Richard Pates (Des Moines)
Considering the the setbacks that Iran’s nuclear program has faced in recent years, it is rather irresponsible to focus so much of our effort on a country that does not have the capability to build these weapons. Iran should be kept on the back burner for now, while the US and other countries turn towards efforts to reduce their own stockpile and secure their own nuclear material. War-mogering over Iran will only exacerbate the tensions between Iran and the West, and in the end, considering the effects of sanctions and sabotage, the use of actual war is completely obsolete at this point. It is important to take Bishop Pate’s last sentence to heart, for as long as one country remains tied to nuclear weapons, other countries will covet such ties as well.
Today, the Republic of Korea hosted more than 50 world leaders for the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. During the opening plenary session, President Barack Obamasaid:
“…This gathering is a tribute to the nations that contribute to security and peace that’s playing a leading role around the globe and that’s taking its rightful place on the world stage. When I hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit two years ago in Washington, there were those who questioned whether our nations could summon the will to confront one of the gravest dangers of our time. In part because it involves a lot of technical… more »
Mark Hibbs breaks down the purpose of the Nuclear Security Summit process, the progress made since 2010, and the potential progress to be made in the two years between the second NSS and the third (in 2014). (Carnegie Endowment for Peace)
Due to fears of discovery, mishap, and Iranian retribution (which nearly claimed the life of an Israeli diplomat’s wife in Dehi), Israel has begun to significantly cut back its operations in Iran. In the past year everything from the Stutnex virus to assassinations of high profile Iranian nuclear program officials have been linked back to Mossad, which has been accused of attempting to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. the nuclear program is for civilian, energy purposes, Iranian officials say. Israeli intelligence learned that Iran itself believes the sabotage against it has caused a two-year delay in its nuclear progress. (TIME: Global Spin)
Starting Sunday, Japan will begin reopening certain parts of the 20-kilometer (12-mile) “no-go” zone surrounding the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant that experienced a meltdown last year after a devastating earthquake. The area has been closed since the earthquake. Nearly 16,000 residents from the towns of Kawauchi, Tamura, and Minamisoma will begin to return to their homes for hours at a time. After further decontamination efforts, residents will be allowed to stay permanently. Some parts of these towns are under high-radiation levels, and thus only some parts of the towns—those with the lowest radiation levels—will be reopened. (Washington Post)
Many have compared the coordinated propaganda campaign now being disseminated about The Iranian Threat to that which preceded the Iraq War, but there is one notable difference. Whereas the American media in 2002 followed the lead of the U.S. government in beating the war drums against Saddam, they now seem even more eager for war against Iran than the U.S. government itself, which actually appears somewhat reluctant. Consider this highly illustrative, one-minute report yesterday from the nightly broadcast of NBC News with Brian Williams, by the network’s Chief Pentagon Correspondent Jim “Mik” Miklaszewski, which packs multiple misleading narratives into one short package:
We’re told that if the U.S. ends up in a war with Iran, then “the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet would be the world’s first line of defense“: because Iran is threatening the entire world, and the U.S. would be defending “the world” from this grave Persian menace. Then there’s the ominous claim that “Iranian leaders have threatened all-out war”: but that’s “if Israel launches air strikes against Iran’s nuclear program,” which would already itself be “all-out war.” The NBC story — which begins with video shots of Iranians in lab coats lurking around complex, James-Bond-villain-like nuclear-ish machines — ends with twenty seconds of scary video footage of Iranian missiles being launched, accompanied with this narration: “U.S. officials warn that Iran’s massive stockpile of ballistic missiles is the more serious threat”; after all, “within just the past few days, Iranian leaders [cue video of a scary, ranting Ahmedinijad] have threatened that if attacked, they would launch those missiles at U.S. targets.”
Yet the Manichean narrative driving this NBC report is par for the media course: Iran’s aggression must be contained, and it is leaving the U.S. and Israel with no choice but to pre-emptively attack it. Most telling is how Iran is continuously depicted as though they are the ones issuing threats of aggression even though all of their threats are retaliatory: if you attack us, we will attack back. Here, for instance, was how The Washington Post– under the headline “Iran, perceiving threat from West, willing to attack on U.S. soil, U.S. intelligence report finds” — described the recent warnings about The Iranian Danger from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper:
That plot “shows that some Iranian officials — probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime,” Clapper said in the testimony, which was submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee in advance of a threat assessment hearing Tuesday. “We are also concerned about Iranian plotting against U.S. or allied interests overseas.”
What I like about the latest Iranian hijinks is that everyone is so forthright about the fact that any increase in Iranian bellicosity–ahem, “real or perceived”–is the direct result of American sword-rattling. There’s not even a stutter in the direction of circumlocution. It’s all straight up: “Senator, we are concerned that the Iranians may respond if we go to war with them.” It may necessitate a war!
The propaganda at play here is intense indeed. For several years, the U.S. and Israel threaten on an almost daily basis to aggressively attack a country, all while engaging in multiple acts of war against them, and then when their leaders suggest they may not acquiesce to such an attack with passivity and gratitude, those vows of defensive retaliation are used to depict them as the threat-issuing aggressors. And the American media, as always, eagerly implants the propaganda. Thus, if such a war breaks out,NBC News‘ Mik announces, “the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet would be the world’s first line of defense,” though those crazed Persian leaders have threatened to use “Iran’s massive stockpile of ballistic missiles” and to “launch those missiles at U.S. targets.”
I used to find somewhat baffling this bizarre aspect of American public opinion: time and again, Americans support whatever new war of aggression their government proposes, then come to regret that support and decide the war was a “mistake,” only to demonstrate that they learned no lessons from their “mistake” by eagerly supporting whatever the next proposed war is. Thus did the widespread belief that Vietnam was a “mistake” have no impact on their support for the attack on Iraq, and now — with some polls showing Americans, before their government even proposes it, preliminarily willing to cheer on an attack on Iran — it is clear they have learned nothing from their acknowledged “mistake” in supporting the attack on Iraq. Most Americans continue with this strange mindset: we realize we were wrong to support those past wars you gave us, but we stand ready and eager to support this next one!
But when you look at reports such as this one from NBC last night — and it was nothing unusual: I just happened to stumble into it by accident — it’s not hard to see why this happens. When continuously bombarded with authoritative voices uncritically warning them of the Grave Threat posed by the New Hitlers, and with powerful images of menacing missiles and unhinged leaders accompanying those warnings, even rational populations will become sufficiently scared into succumbing to the next act of aggression. The only thing unusual here is that, with Iran, the American media actually seems out in front of the U.S. Government in the propaganda effort rather than in their normal position of submissively marching behind.
UPDATE: The latest episode being used to fuel the flames of war are two attacks yesterday on Israeli diplomats: one in India and one in Georgia. The headline in The Washington Post tells you all you need to know about how these attacks are being used: “Israel blames Iran for India and Georgia bombing attempts; Tehran denies role.” As Juan Cole points out, Indian investigators do not believe Iran was responsible, though he writes that “American media just parrot” the accusations against Iran by Israeli officials. We’ll likely never know who was actually responsible, though what is clear is that the attacks are being instantly exploited by Israel-devoted neocons to further depict Iran as a Grave Menace (Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post: if Iran is responsible, it’s “one more piece of data that Iran is growing ever bolder and more aggressive”), all without noting the glaring irony that the mode of attack in India is virtually identical to the one used to kill numerous Iranian scientists (“a magnetic bomb was slapped onto [the] car by a passing motorcyclist”). One thing is crystal clear, as macgupta put it in the comment section: “In any case, no matter who the perpetrators are, these attacks are a sign that we are moving closer to a war with Iran.”
If actually carried out by Iran, the attacks would be another indication that the leadership in Tehran was willing to reach beyond its borders against its enemies and expand its attacks to civilians. The United States has charged that Iran was behind a plot to assassinate a Saudi ambassador on American soil, and Israel has said that Iran has planned to attack its citizens in various countries, but that those plots were stopped.
There is absolutely no evidence beyond the assertions of the U.S. and Israeli governments that Iran has done any such thing — indeed, the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador was so facially incredible that it provoked widespread mockery even among the types of Foreign Policy Experts who reflexively endorse whatever the U.S. Government says and does — but Bronner simply assumes those claims are true and thus says that if Iran is behind these latest attacks, then it is “another indication that the leadership in Tehran was willing to reach beyond its borders against its enemies and expand its attacks to civilians.”He also then quotes an anonymous Israeli official about the India bombing this way: “Iran’s fingerprints are all over this,” but Bronner ignores — simply does not mention — the substantial evidence to the contrary. The whole article is written so blindly from the Israeli perspective that it is what would have been produced had Bronner asked his son’s former comrades to write it for him, but this is absolutely the norm: anything the Americans and Israelis want to highlight as proof of Iranian evil and aggression will be regurgitated by most American journalists writing about this conflict.
UPDATE III: In The Wall Street Journal today, Mitchell Silber — identified as the director of intelligence analysis for the New York City Police Department — warns today that Iran may very well attack New York. I’m not joking:
The NYPD must assume that New York City could be targeted by Iran or Hezbollah… . Iran’s U.N. mission allows officials from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence to live and operate in New York with official diplomatic cover… . Iran also has a presence in New York via the Alavi Foundation, a nonprofit ostensibly devoted to charity works and promoting Islamic culture… . the NYPD must remain vigilant in attempting to detect and disrupt any attack by Iran or its proxies. Anything less would be abdicating our duty to protect New York City and its residents.
The whole fear-mongering screed is equally inane. Also, in that aforementioned NYT article by Bronner, he writes: “Some American Jewish leaders have expressed concern that synagogues and American Jewish centers could be targets in the increased tensions.” Identically, also in the Wall Street Journal today, Alan Dershowitz warns that Iran may attack American synagogues and demands that the U.S. treat any such attack as an attack on the U.S. and respond accordingly (“The Iranian government has now made crystal clear that it is at war not only with Israel and Zionism but with Jewish communities throughout the world”). Look at the coordinated, hysterical frenzy they’ve worked themselves and others into (and oh: Iran helped Al Qaeda with the 1998 embassy bombings and, needless to say, did 9/11; here’s a billboard that recently appeared in NYC). How soon until will we hear that laboratory tests on the anthrax sent to Tom Daschle detected the presence of a chemical used only by Persians?
UPDATE IV: This nicely summarizes the state of American neocon foreign policy discourse at the moment:
I actually consider the discussion there mildly more elevated and sober than that Wall Street Journal Op-Ed from the NYPD official today warning of an Iranian attack on New York City.
UPDATE V: Regarding the current attempt to depict Iran as monstrous aggressors because they dare suggest they may retaliate if attacked, seethis short 2003 Onion article, published 9 days before the U.S. attacked Iraq.
UPDATE VI: I was on Cenk Uygur’s CurrentTV program tonight discussion media coverage of Iran, as well as the report documenting U.S. tactics of drone attacks aimed at rescuers and funerals attendees:
Don’t Like Nuclear Proliferation? Ban the Bomb. Rajan Menon talks briefly about why America’s current non-proliferation policy is counterproductive and what steps the P5 nations (esp. Russia and the US) should take to stop the proliferation of nuclear warheads. (Huffington Post)
Iran: Nuclear facilities immune to cyber attacks.Iran has been waging a cyber war since 2010 against malware such as Stuxnet, which is purported to have Israeli links. However, a senior military official has said that Iran possesses the technology to combat such malware, including two other espionage viruses, Stars and Doku. Boston.com)
First nuclear reactor approved in U.S. since 1978.Utility giant Southern Co. is set to gain permission to begin building two new nuclear reactors near Augusta, Georgia. However, the two reactions will likely not start a trend in new nuclear reactor construction, thanks to high demand for natural gas, which is cheaper. The two new reactors (along with two others in South Carolina) will incorporate the new AP1000 design, which improves upon reactor deficiencies demonstrated by the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi, Japan. (CNET News)
US and North Korea to hold nuclear talks in Beijing. The talks will be the third in a round of negotiations that began before the death of North Korea’s late leader, Kim Jon-il. The talks are aimed at negotiating an aid-for-disarmament agreement. The third round was canceled due to the former leader. the rescheduled talks will be the first chance to test Pyongyang’s strategy for and commitment to negotiation under the new leader, Kim Jon-un. (BBC Asia)