Monthly Archives: June 2014

Unconditional Surrender – India’s Exceptional Protocol

Atomic Reporters | June 25, 2014

• ” There is a serious danger inherent in the India Additional Protocol”

• ” The IAEA would be far better off to offer India a voluntary-offer agreement like it has with the official Nuclear Weapons States”

Robert Kelley, the former IAEA safeguards inspector with three decades of experience in the U.S. national laboratories, has been in the news lately. Writing for IHS Jane’s, Kelley and co-author Brian Cloughley showed that India appeared to be expanding its uranium enrichment program and that fissile material produced at the country’s Mysore facility may support its thermonuclear weapons program. Following publication of the Jane’s report, India moved to ratify its Additional Protocol with the IAEA after years of delay. A copy of India’s AP was published by the Arms Control Law website.  The following is Kelley’s analysis of India’s AP agreement with the agency:

IAEA has allowed India to sign a document called an ”Additional Protocol” to receive support from outside groups such as the US Congress and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The document, at first glance, looks like an IAEA Model Additional Protocol. But on closer examination, it bears closer resemblance to a sandwich made from two slices of white bread with no meat.

In the first decade of the century the U.S. Congress was consulted about giving India special treatment for nuclear trade even though India had not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. One of the conditions that Congress imposed was satisfactory progress for conclusion of a so-called Additional Protocol with the IAEA. See, for example, the Senate Report 109-288 – UNITED STATES-INDIA PEACEFUL ATOMIC ENERGY COOPERATION AND U.S. ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL IMPLEMENTATION ACT. What Congress sought was a document following the guidelines of IAEA’s MODEL Additional Protocol, INFCIRC/540. But they weren’t very specific and they got something else instead.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group is also looking at a requirement that an Additional Protocol be a requirement for nuclear trade. Respected journalist Mark Hibbs following the NSG writes:

“Without universal application of the Additional Protocol, the effectiveness of both the IAEA and the NSG in combating clandestine nuclear activities will be compromised.”

The NSG, meeting this week in Buenos Aires, is still debating the issue and the outcome is not yet clear, however, it is certain that neither the U.S. Congress nor the NSG intended that a bogus document like India’s, masquerading as an “Additional Protocol” is what was intended.

The term Additional Protocol on its own is nice shorthand but inadequate for legal discussions. Additional Protocols to treaties abound and the IAEA’s use of the term is but one example. This discussion uses the term AP to mean INFCIRC/540.
The Model IAEA AP has a standard introduction, 18 articles and two annexes. The powers granted to the Agency are largely contained in the articles and most of them are gutted or missing in the India-Specific AP. To wit, what is missing?

IAEA has given up the right to ask for the provision of information on:

• Nuclear fuel cycle-related facilities
• Information on gains of effectiveness for declared facility safeguards
• General descriptions of buildings at declared sites along with maps
• A description of the scale of operations at declared sites
• Information about uranium and thorium mines and mills
• Information about nuclear material exempted from safeguards for other uses

Clearly it is true that India reserves certain rights to withhold information on undeclared activities under its ancient (1971) INFCIRC/66 safeguards agreement. One could therefore argue that some general information could lead to unintended knowledge about the military programs. But giving up on declarations, maps and short-notice access to declared sites is astounding. If IAEA is serious about safeguards at declared facilities and about an Additional Protocol, then India must grant the same AP concessions at declared sites.

Complementary Access is one of the key provisions of the Model AP that is familiar to the press and politicians as unannounced access or spot inspections. That is an overstatement but here is what the IAEA gave up:

Everything

The article on complementary access is gone. In every other country inspectors can show up at a declared site and ask to see any activity within the boundaries of the site – but not in India. This single omission makes the document dead-on arrival. This is at the core of a real Model Additional Protocol.

Because IAEA has given up its right to make short notice inspections, enshrined in other APs, it does not need to use any of the following tools and methods it otherwise would have in Article 6 of the Model AP that has disappeared:

• Visual observation
• Collection of Environmental Samples
• Utilization of Radiation detection and measurement devices
• Applications of seals and tamper detecting devices
• And lots of documentation and information described in the Model AP

These tools are in use in the Non-Nuclear Weapons States that have signed Model APs. But India gets a free ride.

The Agency has not received the permission to carry out wide-area environmental monitoring activities but that is also problematic in a state with 30 or more military support nuclear facilities off-limits to IAEA.

Supporters of the Indian AP will point out that multiple-entry visas are to be granted to any and all inspectors who apply. The purpose of the one-year visa is to facilitate short-notice inspections without the state realizing that inspectors are coming or at least finding out at the last minute. Alas, because the India AP does not allow short-notice inspections there is no reason for these. India didn’t concede anything.

The Agency should test India on the visa grant as soon as possible since a large number of states that have signed the Model AP accept this provision but then refuse to implement it. Because it is one of the few rights allowed by India the Agency should test it.

The quality of inspections is also affected in countries like India because inspectors do not to drive due to road conditions unfamiliar to many non-Indians. As a result, transport is arranged with a private taxi firm well in advance or done using state-owned cars. Surprise inspections at Indian facilities are very difficult.

Strangely, the India AP does not contain a section on subsidiary arrangements. These are simply working level documents to describe what, when and how work gets done; points of contact etc. Clearly the AP does not have to contain this article but its omission is strange.

There are two sections of the deal that are commendable. India has granted IAEA the modern AP language on the designation of inspectors. This is a huge benefit because it allows the Agency the right to declare any Agency official as an inspector and India normally would have to accept them except in special circumstances. The India AP also allows modern communications and unrestricted unattended monitoring in keeping with the Model AP.

What does this all mean?

Clearly the real message is that India will have 20 facilities under safeguards and possibly 30 military nuclear facilities that are not. The non-safeguarded nuclear facilities carry out tasks like mining, milling, plutonium production, uranium enrichment, reprocessing, heavy water production for PHWRs and nuclear weapons manufacturing. Under these circumstances it is hard to conceive why India would consider producing or diverting a single gram of plutonium from a safeguarded facility when they can make all they want with impunity in a facility that IAEA can know about but not inspect. Their HEU cycle is all not-declared so there will be no losses there.

Safeguards on the declared civil facilities, especially the growing number of pressurized light water reactors are expensive and pointless.

The IAEA would be far better off to offer India a voluntary-offer agreement like it has with the official Nuclear Weapons States (China, France, Russia, UK and US). India could offer the same 20 sites to IAEA for safeguards and IAEA could pick one or two, like the Nuclear Material Store at Tarapur, allow both sides to save face and to save a lot of money.

The India-Specific AP treats India like a weapons state and halfway measures are a waste of time and money.

The Assistant Director General of the IAEA was reported to have said that many would regard this as a “Mickey Mouse” AP and that Brazil and Pakistan are watching. Northern neighbor Pakistan is watching with interest and is already making noises about special treatment and possibly even joining the NSG someday. Pakistan’s mix of safeguarded civil facilities and military plants is even more complex and unclear. If Pakistan is allowed the same exemptions as India and allowed to conclude its own “Mickey Mouse” Additional Protocol with IAEA, then the credibility of the entire safeguards system will be in serious doubt.

There is one other possible solution but time is short. Press reports indicate that India has ratified the India-Specific AP or is considering it in the near future. If it is not yet ratified, the IAEA’s Board of Governors could withdraw their approval of the India AP before it is ratified. Then a new negotiating team could go back to the drawing board and create an AP modeled on a weapons state, which has more teeth. But that time is very short or maybe even too late.

Fukushima farmers protests with their cows in Tokyo

Dianuke | Courtesy: Evacuate Fukushima Blog | June 21, 2014

Since Tokyo won’t acknowledge what is really going on in Fukushima, farmers Masami Yoshizawa “Kibo no Bokujo” (Farm of Hope) and Naoto Matsumura “ganbaru Fukushima” took upon themselves to bring a little bit of Fukushima to Tokyo.

protest-with-cow-in-tokyo

They want to know why so many of their animals and those abandonned that they are caring for, have developed a weird skin condition; white dots on their hides … and that since March 2011. They are also seking for authorities to stop culling abandoned livestock and burning radiation-contaminated vegetation they need to feed the animals.

Authorities remain uncooperative and unwilling to even acknowledge a potential correlation between radiation and these increasing symptoms. Consequently, Yoshizawa san and Matsumura san took matter in their own hands, drove down from Fukushima with one of these cows to the Ministry of agriculture in Tokyo, to get “answers”.

The two men tried to unload the beast at the Ministry, but after a few scuffles with the police, they were unsuccessful in their attempt.

“Stop, stop, stop, stop,” shouted a police officer who climbed into the back of the truck and blocked the farmers from leading the bull onto the pavement in front of the ministry. “It’s dangerous. Absolutely not!”

“The ministry told us they don’t know what is causing the spots. Well, they need to do more research and figure it out. They can’t just run away, saying they don’t know,” Yoshizawa said.

Shouting through a megaphone, he urged the farm minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, to come and look for himself. Hayashi was not in the building, and no other officials responded to Yoshizawa’s appeal, though the two were allowed to present a written appeal at the ministry’s reception desk.

“Discarded towns, discarded evacuees. The cattle and people are still living. We cannot remain silent,” Yoshizawa said.

Forgotten in the Fallout: Women and Fukushima

MS Magazine | Susie Taylor | November 5, 2013

Fukushima

Fukushima. It was a hot day in July, and I was standing in the middle of the road adjusting my camera in view of the Daichii reactor No. 2 when my friend Sonny delivered the news. International wires were buzzing with talk of Fukushima as the Japanese government revealed knowledge of a disaster far worse than imagined: 300 tons of contaminated water were surging into the Pacific Ocean every day since the tsunami broke land more than two and half years ago. I replied with a speechless stare and returned to what I was doing.

If we have scant evidence that nuclear power is a good long-term decision, then there’s even less to indicate that arguments in its favor consider the burden on women. In the case of Chernobyl (the world’s largest nuclear meltdown), the Soviet Union made few qualms—leave now and never return. Since they were left unaccounted, irradiated food and drink found easy passage through fallout “borders” and onto dinner plates. And although 27 years have passed since Chernobyl, there are locations in Belarus and Ukraine still too contaminated to support human life, while pervasive cases of thyroid and breast cancers, leukemia, prenatal and antenatal death, and other hideous complications have condemned a generation.

In the aftermath of Fukushima, the party line is more like “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Thousands of the displaced were moved into internment camps just outside “red zones” and remain there today, with little hope for a quick return. As the years roll by and contaminants sink deeper into area groundwater and soil, lives dangle in limbo. I met several women in Koriyama who lost their livelihoods as farmers. Now living in prefab housing blocks atop cement slabs, they say “it’s losing your children and the loneliness” that hurts most.

Maria Vitagliano, director of Green Cross International’s social and medical outreach program, has been instrumental in facilitating cooperatives to support displaced women and their families. Over the last four years, the NGO has worked in collaboration with the USC Global Health program to provide quantitative analysis on the health risks of life in contaminated areas. Vitagliano explains,

When I heard of Fukushima I thought of Chernobyl. When I came to visit this place I found the same situation—no information, no trust. If it’s a poor country or a rich one, a democracy or another, the reaction by officials is the same … the consequences [for people] are the same.

By couching the disaster’s unquantifiable repercussions into digestible data, she hopes that women will push back against nuclear power.

Vitagliano understands the relationship between environmental trauma, women and community. She’s spent the last three decades working with families in what she calls the “middle land” of man-made crisis—the place between before and after.  She recounts cases of women in Chernobyl who were forced to separate from spouses due to prolonged depression, alcoholism and domestic violence:

These women become responsible for all the work, while dealing with physical illness, and raise their young alone. When the economy is oppressed, the children grow up and leave them alone.

Women lose everything in this scenario. She expects this will likewise become a problem in post-Fukushima Japan, given the country’s strong matrilineal lines and deep stigmas attached to radiation.

Yet nuclear power proliferators want to sell it as a safe, effective option for humanity. On October 29, the Japanese giant Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. reached an agreement with the government of Turkey to build a nuclear reactor along the Black Sea—a $22 billion deal. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “Japan has a responsibility to share the lessons of the Fukushima disaster with the rest of the world and to promote nuclear safety.”

That’s an astonishing manipulation by a man who happens to hinge much of his economic policy and political legacy on his ability to export trillions of yen in nuclear technology. To say nothing of the way in which his administration negligently concealed information concerning the fallout of Fukushima, while continuing to endanger millions of lives as strontium-90, cesium-137 and radioiodine I-131 wreak havoc in the world’s oceans.

A 2012 Gallup poll found that women are far more opposed than men to nuclear energy. The late Donella Meadows, an environmental science professor at Dartmouth, wrote in 1993 that the nuclear industry had grown wise to female dissent, and in an effort to make power plants appear pretty, targeted advertisements to the constants in our lives: children and the environment. Indeed, advertisements were cleverly planted in Good Housekeeping, Better Homes & Gardens and other lifestyle mags, with clean air and green grass and smiling children.

I think what the Gallup poll means to say is: Women understand that what happens in Fukushima happens at home. And not just in Japan, but in the U.S. The Open Journal of Pediatrics published a report in March 2013 that “days after the meltdown … I-131 concentrations in U.S. precipitation was measured up to 211 times above normal.” The highest concentrations were in five states bordering the Pacific Ocean, and the study noted that, ‘The number of congenital hypothyroid cases in these five states from March 17-December 31, 2011 was 16 percent greater than for the same period in 2010, compared to a 3 percent decline in 36 other U.S. states.” These were only preliminary findings, because the disaster is still occurring, and we do not yet know the effects on marine life and our food chain.

Standing in the midst of Fukushima’s fallout on that hot day in July, I had a visceral sense of the trouble at hand. Though assigned to produce a video for TIME with my partner, I couldn’t focus on work. Tears surfaced as I thought of the deserted towns we passed on our way to this place; the laundry left hanging on lines, schools shuttered forever, storefront windows broken (but their shelves unlooted) and brand new cars in their garages, too contaminated to touch. Then I looked out to sea. Somewhere beneath the shoreline, lethal radioactive water was gushing outward, with consequences for us all, particularly women.

“Paying Respect at the Fukushima Exclusion Zone” from Flickr user ssoosay under license from Creative Commons 2.0

SusieTaylorCrop-150x150

Susie Taylor is an entrepreneur and documentarian who reports on a wide range of issues in the developing world, with a focus on post-conflict transitions and women’s rights.

Fukushima Fires Up Atomic Industry’s Removal-of-Liability Drive

Bloomberg | Jacob Adelman | Jun 13, 2014

Japan will introduce legislation this year to ratify a controversial treaty backed by General Electric Co. and other atomic-plant manufacturers seeking protection from damage claims caused by nuclear accidents.

The treaty, known as the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage or CSC, will encourage experienced U.S. companies to assist in the cleanup and decommissioning at the Fukushima atomic accident site, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement today.

Protection from accident claims is needed because of the dangers and risks that remain at Fukushima, said U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman in an interview in Tokyo yesterday. The plant has three melted reactors and thousands of tons of radioactive water.

“The important thing is to do everything that we can to facilitate the cleanup and decontamination of the Fukushima site,” Poneman said. The CSC is a means to support U.S. companies in that role, he said.

Poneman was in Tokyo to attend a meeting of the U.S.-Japan Bilateral Commission on Civil Nuclear Cooperation, which was established after the March 2011 accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501)’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant.

The CSC puts all liability for accidents at a nuclear power plant on the operator of the facility. To cover potential damage claims, CSC member countries would each contribute the equivalent of about $465 million. An atomic plant operator would have access to that fund after paying out an equivalent amount itself.

CSC Critics

Critics of nuclear power, environmental group Greenpeace among them, say the CSC acts as a subsidy for atomic power plant makers, such as GE, Toshiba Corp.’s Westinghouse unit and Areva SA of France, by shielding them from accident claims.

The Fukushima disaster three years ago shows the treaty is flawed, say the critics. The most costly civilian nuclear accident on record — estimates of $108 billion and counting — broke the back of the operator Tokyo Electric. It was saved from bankruptcy by a government bailout. In other words, taxpayers.

“Capping the amount of liability that either the nuclear operator or the state would be responsible for fundamentally limits the amount that victims can be compensated for,” Kendra Ulrich, an energy campaigner with Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, said.

Stephen Burns, head of legal affairs at the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, disagreed, saying countries are free under the pact to make operators liable for damages beyond the $930 million covered by the treaty, he said.

Japan Key

Japan’s ratification would activate the treaty in the country, the U.S. and three other nations that have joined, and could encourage more to participate.

The “Japanese government recognizes the importance of participating in the regime for compensation for nuclear damage, and intends to conclude the CSC,” according to the Foreign Ministry statement. It indicated that would take place this year, without setting a firm date.

Beside the Fukushima issue, the treaty is gaining momentum as Japan and the U.S. seek to export more nuclear technology due to a drop in domestic demand. Japan has retreated from a nuclear expansion following the Fukushima accident, while the shale natural gas boom has snuffed out what was labeled a nuclear renaissance in the U.S.

New Nuclear?

“The prospects of new nuclear in the US and Japan are not very good,” David Robinson, senior research fellow at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies in Oxford, England, said in an e-mail. “The logical step for the nuclear business is to look where governments are keen to support nuclear.”

China, which the World Nuclear Association says has more nuclear reactors planned or under construction than any other country, has also been in talks with the U.S. about joining the treaty, Poneman said.

China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and Energy Administration did not respond to faxed messages seeking comment.

India, which plans $175 billion in atomic power plants, has signed the CSC though never ratified it. Under current laws, Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd. can seek damages from suppliers for defective equipment or materials in an accident.

GE is uncomfortable with India’s rules on liability, GE India Chief Executive Officer Banmali Agrawala said in an interview with the Business Standard in October last year.

More to Follow

Getting Japan to ratify the CSC may convince other countries to follow, said Akihiro Sawa, a fellow at the policy institute affiliated with the Keidanren business group. Keidanren, Japan’s dominant lobbyist, counts Japanese power utilities and nuclear plant suppliers among its members.

“Japan will be regarded as a model for other countries,” said Sawa, a former director at the environmental policy division of Japan’s trade ministry.

The U.S., Argentina, Morocco and Romania are the only countries to have ratified the CSC. Combined they have 316 gigawatts of installed nuclear capacity, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The addition of Japan’s 131 gigawatts would carry the treaty past the 400-gigawatt threshold needed for it to come into force. Canada, with 46 gigawatts, introduced legislation this year to implement the treaty, though it has yet to ratify.

GE’s support for the treaty has included warnings to Canada’s government that its business in that country “is inhibited — and could be jeopardized — by Canada’s inadequate liability regime,” according to documents obtained by Greenpeace through a public records act request.

Protecting America

Gary Sheffer, GE’s vice president for communications and public affairs in the U.S., didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Areva said in a statement it supports broad adherence to international nuclear liability treaties. Toshiba is “carefully watching” Japan’s steps toward ratification, said company spokeswoman Midori Hara, who declined further comment.

The U.S. is pushing the CSC because its nuclear industry needs new markets, said Tom Vanden Borre, a researcher in nuclear liability law at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.

Countries with plans to build nuclear power plants are important because the U.S. hasn’t had a new atomic plant begin service since 1996, he said.

“It’s merely to protect the American industry and nothing more.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacob Adelman in Tokyo at jadelman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peter Langan at plangan@bloomberg.net; Jason Rogers at jrogers73@bloomberg.net Indranil Ghosh

Iran Asks China to Play Larger Role in Nuke Talks

China’s new ambassador to Iran previously headed Beijing’s delegation to the P5+1 talks.

The Diplomat | Zachary Keck | June 24, 2014

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on China to play a bigger role in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers (the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China).

“Iran and China have had valuable cooperation in the field of peaceful nuclear technology since the past, and today, we want China to make more efforts within the framework of the negotiations between Iran and the G5+1 so that both sides can reach a comprehensive and final agreement,” President Rouhani said on Monday, according to Fars News Agency, a semi-official media outlet with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Rouhani made the remarks during a meeting with the new Chinese Ambassador to Iran, Pang Sen.

For his part, Pang said that, “We have been, and are, opposed to the unilateral sanctions and dictating (them) to the countries outside the NPT (the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), and I ensure that we will back Iran’s stance in the upcoming negotiations with the (Group) 5+1.”

The P5+1 and Iran recently wrapped up the fifth round of negotiations towards a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. In the interim deal signed back in November, the two sides established a July 20 deadline for reaching a comprehensive agreement. That deadline can be extended by six months by mutual agreement. So far, the two sides have said they remain committed to reaching a deal by July 20 and plan to restart talks in Vienna on July 2.

On Saturday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with Ambassador Pang in Tehran. “We are seeking the restoration of the inalienable rights of the Iranian nation (in nuclear talks), and the seriousness as well as avoiding excessive demands by some parties will make clinching the (final nuclear) agreement possible,” Zarif said at that meeting, according to Iranian news outlets.

Although China hasn’t traditionally played a major role in the P5+1 talks with Iran, Beijing is known to usually side with Russia against the Western powers in being more sympathetic to Iran. Foreign Minister Zarif has indicated that divisions between the P5+1 powers are hampering the current round of negotiations. The U.S. has denied that any such divisions exist.

Wang Qun, the director general of the Department of Arms Control of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, currently serves as China’s envoy to the P5+1 talks. Interestingly, before becoming China’s new ambassador to Iran, Pang held the position of director general of the Department of Arms Control at MFA. In that role, Pang led the Chinese delegation to the P5+1 talks with Iran. His appointment as China’s new envoy to Tehran suggests that Beijing is enhancing the role of the nuclear issue in its relations with Iran.

US-Iran rapprochement: Are they there yet?

Asia Times Online | Ehsan Ahrari | June 24, 2014

Iran, an erstwhile member of the invented “axis of evil”, and the United States, or “the great Satan”, are faced with the difficult proposition of finding ways to snatch the regime of Nuri al-Maliki from the jaws of the murderous ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Sham).

No one should kid him or herself that a meeting of the minds on that issue – if not a rapprochement – will happen anytime soon. There has been a yawning chasm of bad blood and ill-will in Tehran and Washington since 1979. The US bitterness toward Iran has oozed out in the past two days in Washington in a public disagreement between two top national security agencies of the United States: the Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Defense (DOD).

While Secretary of State John Kerry, who is now in Iraq, welcomed prospects for the consideration of all options involving Iran to save Iraq, a spokesman of the DOD categorically rejected such a possibility. That does not mean, however, that either the DOS or the DOD has final say over the matter. In the Barack Obama presidency, it is Obama himself who decides the modalities of the twists and turns of America’s foreign policy.

What might transform the potential cooperation of US and Iran into a reality is the fact that Iraq cannot be saved without using the option of “boots on the ground,” to unravel the territorial gains made by ISIS. And Obama is on the record categorically opposing sending American forces into Iraq. Iran, on the other hand, already has a powerful presence through the Quds force in Iraq – which has an established record in maneuvering to bring about the expulsion of the US occupation forces.

The biggest related question of the hour is whether a potential cooperation over Iraq could become the basis for a rapprochement between Washington and Tehran? Iran will not settle for anything less, since it has already been burned once. It sided with the US in the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and played a crucial role after the defeat of the Taliban regime in the Berlin conference, which settled upon having Hamid Karzai as president of Afghanistan. Soon thereafter, the Bush administration, in return, “rewarded” Iran by labeling it as part of the imaginary axis of evil.

Before one thinks about the modalities of a rapprochement, a crucial question is who will remain as the head of the Iraqi government. Of course, Washington wants to see the ouster of Maliki, while Iran is perfectly happy with him. Iran may only agree to increase pressure on him to be more inclusive of the Sunnis.

The sad reality is that it is too late for that. Yet Iran still may not wish to set Maliki aside, for he has been a good “yes man”. So, a sticking point would be for these two countries to settle upon a head of the Iraqi government that will keep the country intact. The Obama administration may turn out to be flexible on this issue. Stakes for both sides are tremendous involving Iraq.

The Arab Middle East of the post-Arab awakening era is proving a highly uncertain place from the strategic perspectives of both the US and Iran.

American power and prestige has definitely dwindled, especially with the ouster of the regime of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the largest of the Arab states (population-wise) and the cultural center of the Arab world. Today’s Egypt is being ruled by another tinhorn dictator, former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is masquerading as a democratically elected head of state. From the perspective of democracy, the entire power grab Sisi is nothing short of a coup. Thus, according to US law, there should be no economic and military assistance to Egypt.

However, in the “brave new world” of the post-Arab Awakening Middle East, the US is pretending that there was no military coup in Egypt, but showed its unhappiness to Sisi for overthrowing the hapless but democratically-elected government of Mohammad Morsi. Egypt, for its part, is pretending not to need US economic and military assistance. Since another American friend, Saudi Arabia, has billions of petrodollars to burn to promote their new uphill role as a power broker in Egypt and Syria, Sisi is enjoying a period of success in his pretensions of remaining in power while the Obama administration is happy with the fact that Egypt looks stable for now, and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty is being honored by the Egyptian dictator. In the contemporary Arab world, all major and minor actors have to remain flexible about adjusting (mainly by lowering) their strategic ambitions to remain in the power game.

Libya is another case in point. Even though the US played a crucial role in ousting Muammar Gaddafi, the resultant chaos proved to be harmful for American interests. It attempted to influence the shape of the government, but the chaotic environment stemming from the civil war to oust the dictator suddenly turned on the United States. It lost four diplomatic personnel, including its ambassador to that country.

Today, terrorist gangs and militias are waging their own murderous mini-battles in the streets of Tripoli, Benghazi, and other towns. There have been reports that the Americans are going to train about 8,000 Libyan security forces at the request of that government. However, knowing what happened to the US-trained Iraqi forces in the wake of ISIS’ military sweep, no one can bet that Libya will likely emerge as a stable place anytime soon.

For Iran, the post-Arab Awakening Middle East has also become an uncertain place. Every time a regime falls as a result of mob protests, the aging Ayatollahs get paranoid about the rising aspirations of young Iranians to emulate that example in their own country. Secondly, the current turbulence in Syria, where Iran is desperately trying to shore up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, is the direct outcome of Arab Awaking-related demands for regime change.

A potential ouster of the Assad regime would deal a powerful blow to the presence and influence of Iran in the Levant. Another outcome of such a development would emerge in the form of systematic endeavors on the part of the Sunnis of Lebanon (with fervent support from Saudi Arabia) to significantly lessen the political clout of the Hezbollah party. That party, as the sole creation of Iran in the 1980s, also has served as its potent tool against Israel, especially in bringing about the ouster of the Jewish state from southern Lebanon in 2000.

The durability of Hezbollah after the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006 not only enhanced the prestige of that organization in the region, but also in that of Iran, which was one of the chief military suppliers to that entity.

Even while the Assad regime lasts, Iran has to keep thinking and planning about the “post-Assad” Levant, and how to shore up its influence and presence in Lebanon, where the Saudis have palpably escalated their resolve to harm Iran’s strategic influence by lessening, if not destroying, the power of Hezbollah. That may be one reason why the Saudis are going to the extremes of silently cooperating with the self-styled jihadist groups in Syria to defeat all Iranian-sponsored militias, especially Hezbollah.

Under these circumstances, both the United States and Iran have no choice but to cooperate to save Iraq from disintegrating into sectarian mini-states, but for different reasons.

For the United States, the disintegration of Iraq would be a horrible development after the loss of life of thousands of its soldiers and 4 trillion dollars for attempting to make it a “new Iraq”. It would also invoke the fall of Saigon in 1975. Moreover, a continued presence and control of ISIS in the Sunni section of Iraq will not stop until ISIS succeeds in bringing about the ouster of the Assad regime.

As much as the United States wishes for Assad to have a rendezvous with Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi in hell, the last thing it desires is the capture of power by ISIS in Syria. The CIA’s future planners remain convinced that ISIS also has “plans” to destabilize Jordan, a place that is already under intense pressure because of the refugee crisis of Syria. Thus, the survival of an undivided Iraq with or without the government of Maliki is a very crucial objective for Washington.

For Iran, the disintegration of Iraq into three sectarian-ethnic-dominated entities will be a calamity. It regarded the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of a Shiite-dominated government as a result of the US invasion as an extraordinarily welcome reality, which it will not allow to crumble. Iran knows that the collapse of Iraq into smaller states also means that the Sunni portion will turn against Iran, no matter who is ruling it.

The Kurdish part would immediately want to have the Kurdish chunk of Iran for the creation of a larger Kurdistan, which has the major potential to become another hostile entity for Iran. Finally, a victory by ISIS in Iraq will only make it considerably more audacious and strident. The rabidly anti-Shiite nature of that entity may encourage it even to invade Iran at some point. These unthinkable thoughts are keeping Iran’s national security planners very much on edge.

When one compares the stakes that the Obama administration is presently faced with related to the ouster of the Maliki government from Iraq and those that Iran faces under similar conditions, the stakes for Iran are considerably higher. After all, it is not only Iraq’s immediate neighbor, but it also has a venerable strong religious affinity and affiliation with that country. A potential takeover by ISIS also means the certain destruction of the Shiite shrines and places of worship, since the Takfiri ideological bent of that terrorist group considers those places as “anti-Islamic”.

That is why President Hassan Rouhani has already announced that his country will send troops to defend those shrines in Iraq. That has already become an initial signal of Iranian resolve not to let Iraq fall apart.

Dr Ehsan Ahrari (ahrari@earthlink.net) is CEO of Strategic Paradigms, Defense and Foreign Affairs Consultancy.

Iran faced with tough choices in Iraq

Middle East Eye | Mahan Abedin | Thursday 19 June 2014

Iranian strategists likely see an opportunity in the latest crisis to wrest Iraq away from American military influence. But this is a risky strategy

RouhaniAFP

The sweeping advance of militant Sunnis across much of northern and central Iraq has rang alarm bells across the international community and touched off a flurry of anxious analysis on the potential collapse of the Iraqi state and the emergence of a radical Islamic regime in the Arab Sunni heartlands of Iraq.

For Iran, the most influential power in Iraq, the latest Iraqi insurgency holds both peril and promise. On the one hand, the coalition of Sunni Arab tribes, ex-Baathists and assortment of extremists fighting under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) are natural enemies of Iran who given the slightest opportunity wouldn’t hesitate to bring the fight inside Iran’s borders.

On the other hand, the staggering incompetence of the Iraqi government and the mood of panic, fight and flight which has gripped the country presents Iran with an opportunity to deepen its influence in Iraq and to extract vital concessions from Iraqi leaders in exchange of decisive Iranian military support.

But the biggest challenge to Iran is to manage demands and expectations that it should cooperate with the United States to tackle the widespread and unprecedented terrorist challenge in Iraq. Even minimal coordination with America at this point is tantamount to falling into a deep and dangerous trap which would not only diminish Iranian influence in Iraq, but would impact negatively on broader Iranian strategic posture in the region.

An implacable foe

Although the mainstream Western media is exaggerating – and to some extent misrepresenting – the nature and scale of the terrorist and insurgent threat, there is no denying the seriousness of the situation. Entire cities and large swathes of territory in the Sunni Arab heartlands of western and north-western Iraq have fallen to a radical movement spearheaded by a ruthless and genocidal-minded terrorist group in the form of ISIL.

What is referred to as the Sunni “revolution” by sympathisers in Iraq and their supporters in the region, is foremost the result of incompetence and mismanagement by the government of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. By alienating Sunni Arabs, Maliki has created fertile ground for the growth of extremist groups.

However, not all the problems can be laid at Maliki’s door. Many Sunni Arab elites still dream of regaining their lost dominion; theirs is not a movement based solely on legitimate grievances, but more accurately it is a quest to disrupt the natural balance of power in Iraq. It is difficult to envisage how any Iraqi government representative of the demographic balance could accommodate chauvinistic and irredentist Sunni Arab aspirations.

For Iran, the situation is potentially serious in so far as the consolidation of the irredentists and extremists’ gains in northern and central Iraq will pose a direct security and possibly even military threat. ISIL has made no secret of its desire to attack Iran directly, and there is no reason to believe that under the right conditions they would not carry through with their threat to launch attacks inside Iran.

Iran has a direct stake in helping the Iraqi government and military to push back against the extremist aggression and to minimise the scope of ungoverned or more accurately extremist governed spaces. To achieve this aim, Iran will take stock of the actual and potential behaviour and capability of all key players, in particular the Kurds who have exploited the instability to secure yet more territorial gains at the expense of the Iraqi state.

There are indications that Iran has already intervened in Iraq, in the form of over 100 Qods force special forces operatives and counter-insurgency specialists. It is alleged that the Qods force commander, General Qasem Suleimani – the most powerful military and security figure in the Middle East – is in Baghdad leading the counter-insurgency effort.

In view of the balance of power on the ground, and the inflamed sectarian mood, it is difficult to envisage Iran intervening more openly, in the form of entire armies crossing the border to shore up Iraqi defences. The Iranian calculus may change however in the event of a credible threat to Baghdad and to the all-important shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala.

The bigger foe

As in Syria, the latest crisis in Iraq has exposed the limitations of American power and influence in the Middle East. There is no getting away from the fact that the United States is a fading power on the Middle East stage, bereft of the ability to decisively alter the course of events on the ground.

In view of the fact that the cardinal goal of Iranian policy in the region is to engineer the complete withdrawal of the United States from the Middle East, Iran would be the last country to call for American military intervention in Iraq. Not only would this intervention – likely in the form of air strikes – inflame sectarian tensions but it would not in any case improve the position of Iranian allies in Iraq.

Iranian strategists likely see an opportunity in the latest crisis to wrest Iraq away from American military influence. However, this same opportunity is potentially a very dangerous trap if Iran over-reaches and intervenes too deeply in Iraq. Doubtless the United States and Israel want Iran to be drawn into a long and costly counter-insurgency operation in Iraq – similar to the Iranian effort in Syria – thus draining Iranian resources on two fronts.

More broadly, even as Iran and the United States engage on resolving the nuclear dispute, speculation on security and military cooperation is both ill-informed and spectacularly wishful. The factors militating against sustained security engagement centre on a foundational ideological conflict between Iran and the United States.

Whilst the United States crafts its policy in the Middle East and elsewhere on the exclusive premise of national interest, Iran’s strategy and policy is much more complex and in part reflects the country’s profile as a revolutionary and ideological power. Simply put this makes sustained cooperation with the United States all but impossible.

Mahan Abedin is an analyst of Iranian politics. He is the director of the research group Dysart Consulting.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo credit: Iranian president Hassan Rouhani speaks during the Turkey-IranBusiness Forum at the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey in June