A panel of former diplomats, pro-Tehran advocates, and an advisor to the Obama transition team will issue a five point “plan” on Tuesday, urging the incoming administration to end U.S. pressure on Iran.
Echoing Sen. Obama’s frequent calls during the campaign for “talks without preconditions” with the Tehran regime, the panel is urging his administration to “open the door to direct, unconditional and comprehensive negotiations” with Tehran.
Among those who will present the proposals on Tuesday is Joseph Cirincirone, an arms control advocate identified as an “advisor to the Obama transition team,” and Trita Parsi, a pro-Tehran activist who has been lobbying Congress for several years to lift sanctions against Tehran and end U.S. support for the pro-democracy movement.
But the accuracy and validity of the group’s six-page position paper, a copy of which has been obtained by Newsmax, is being challenged by Iran experts, foreign diplomats, Iranian-Americans, and even the CIA.
It’s wisdom has been challenged by none other than Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is being touted as the only Republican with a chance of keeping his job in the Obama administration.
“I have been involved in the search for the elusive Iranian moderate for 30 years,” Gates told an audience at the National Defense University on Sept. 29th.
“I was in the first meeting that took place between a senior U.S. government official and the leadership of the Iranian government in Algiers at the end of October, 1979. Every administration since then has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another and all have failed.
"Some have gotten into deep trouble associated with their failures, but the reality is the Iranian leadership has been consistently unyielding over a very long period of time in response to repeated overtures from the United States about having a different and better kind of relationship.”
Iranian-American groups told Newsmax over the weekend they planned to protest the unveiling of the report on Tuesday, and have been calling the offices of Congressional sponsors Sen. Thomas Carper, D- Del., and Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., asking them to cancel the event.
“It is deeply concerning that a discredited group within the Iranian-American community, with blatantly obvious connections with the Islamic Republic, should be allowed to freely influence Washington's political circles to the detriment of the American peoples' and ultimately, the world community's interests,” the Progressive American-Iranian Committee said in an editorial published on Saturday.
“It is also shocking and difficult to explain that a group labeled by the Iranian regime as the 'Iranian lobby' could so easily penetrate the U.S. Congress,” they added, referring to Parsi’s National Iranian American Council, which is sponsoring Tuesday’s event.
A senior advisor for nuclear affairs to French president Nicholas Sarkozy told Newsmax last month that the European Union’s failure to win any concessions from Iran after five years of sustained negotiations should be enough to convince anyone that further efforts would be fruitless. [http://www.newsmax.com/timmerman/france_negotiate_iran/2008/10/10/139274.html>French Official Scoffs at Idea of Negotiating with Iran].
“We’ve been negotiating with the Iranians since 2003,” Therese Delpech said during a visit to Washington. “We came to the conclusion that they are not interested at all in negotiating, but in buying time for their military (nuclear) program.”
If Obama insisted on opening direct talks with Iran, all she could say was, “Good luck.”
University of Connecticut professor Richard Parker, who coordinated the working group that came up with the recommendations, told Newsmax he was “a newcomer” to Iranian studies. “I tried to bring a fresh perspective to the issues,” he said, while taking his cues from the experts on the panel. “Their insights amazed me,” he said.
The prevailing view of Iran is that president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the key political player, Parker said. He said he was “amazed” to learn that Ahmadinejad “does not call the shots on Iran’s nuclear and foreign policy,” which is controlled by Supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
The panel of “experts” cited this inflated view of Ahmadinejad’s constitutional responsibilities as “Myth #1” in a series of “basic misconceptions” about Iran they argued had “driven U.S. policy in the wrong direction.”
However, no element of the United States government has ever stated that Ahmadinejad “calls the shots” on nuclear and foreign policy.
The CIA’s World Factbook correctly describes Khamenei as “chief of state,” and Ahmadinejad as “head of government,” while noting that “the Supreme leader has some control over appointments to the more sensitive ministries.”
The CIA’s “Directory of Iranian Officials” states that the Supreme Leader [Khamenei] “declares war or peace and mobilizes forces as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces.” It further states that he heads the Leadership council, and commander of the Revolutionary Guards, which is widely believed to be in charge of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Parker told Newsmax that the panel felt there were “moderates” in Tehran, with whom the United States could find “common ground.”
He argued that “Iran has worked very successfully with the United States in Afghanistan until the Bush administration turned them away. We made them an enemy, and then we act surprised when they act like one.”
The notion that Iran “cooperated” with the United States in Afghanistan has been pitched consistently by Bush administration critics as evidence that the Iranian regime could find common ground with the United States.
But these advocates of closer ties to Tehran chose to overlook Iran’s decision to evacuate hundreds of al Qaeda fighters and top leaders from Afghanistan in the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, and provide them with safe haven and material support in Iran.
The al Qaeda fighters fled Afghanistan in convoys and in some cases were airlifted to safety by Iranian military helicopters in advance of U.S. air strikes.
The U.S. intelligence community briefed Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz on the Iranian-run “rat line” to evacuate al Qaeda from Afghanistan on Oct. 26, 2001, as I revealed in my book Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Showdown with Iran.
Iran’s assistance to al Qaeda at this critical time also has been confirmed by dozens of al Qaeda terrorists captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan in debriefings that have been declassified and posted to a Pentagon website.
Parker argued that after listening to the Iranian “experts” on the study group, “I am not even sure that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.”
Asked about a closed door briefing at the International Atomic Energy Agency in February, where Safeguards chief Olli Heinonen presented internal Iranian government documents detailing Iran’s nuclear weapons work, Parker said that the group had heard “unconfirmed rumors from IAEA staff that some of the documents were forgeries and would be retracted.”
The IAEA has never retracted the documents in question, and continues to criticize Iran for obstructing IAEA inspections of its nuclear sites.
In June, IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei, who has sought to soften his agency’s approach toward Iran, told reporters that Iran could build a nuclear weapon in as little as six months, if it chose to toss out the inspectors.
"If Iran wants to turn to the production of nuclear weapons, it must leave the NPT, expel the IAEA inspectors, and then … would need at least six months to one year” to build its first nuclear weapon,” he said.
Steve J. Rosen, director of foreign policy issues for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee from 1981-2005, challenged the underlying factual basis of the new policy proposals.
Far from shying away from direct talks with Iran, senior Bush administration officials had been meeting on a regular basis with their Iranian counterparts since November 2001.
Between November 2001 and December 2002 alone, he told Newsmax, “more than sixteen meetings were held in Geneva in Paris” between Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ryan Crocker and senior Iranian Foreign ministry officials.
On March 30, 2002, Special Afghanistan envoy James Dobbins – one of the “experts” cited by the panel urging fresh talks – “negotiated with deputy Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif in Bonn, leading to the Bonn agreement on Afghanistan.”
In addition to indirect talks through the European Union, which the United States supported from the start, the Bush administration met with senior Iranian officials in “more than 28 separate meetings with American officials of Ambassadorial rank,” Dr. Rosen said.
Rosen also dismissed as “myth” the panel’s contention that Bush administration “ideologues” had rejected an offer from Iran in May 2003 to negotiate a comprehensive settlement of all outstanding issues between the two countries.
Former deputy secretary of State Richard Armitage, who often was at war with administration “ideologues,” told reporters that the alleged offer appeared to represent “creative diplomacy” on the part of Swiss ambassador Tim Guldimann. “We couldn’t determine what was the Iranians’ and what was the Swiss ambassador’s,” Armitage said.
“And we had had some discussions ... particularly through intelligence channels with high-ranking Iranian intelligence people, and nothing that we were seeing in this fax was in consonance with what we were hearing face to face. So we didn't give it much weight,” Armitage told PBS's Frontline.
Even Colin Powell’s personal assistant Larry Wilkerson – a bitter critic of the Bush administration “ideologues” – has admitted in public that the Swiss proposal had been “reviewed and rejected by the State Department’s own top Iran experts, who had seen dozens of such proposals in the past,” Rosen said.
Co-chairing the panel of experts that came up with the “new” proposals is Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who retired in 2001 after serving as the third ranking position at the State Department under Bill Clinton.
Pickering went on to chair another pro-Tehran lobbying organization, the American-Iranian Council, run by Rutgers University professor Hoosang Amirahmadi.
AIC has been funded by Conoco and other major U.S. corporations, who have openly lobbied the Clinton and Bush administrations to lift sanctions so they could do business in Iran.
Trita Parsi’s National American Iranian Council has received federal grants from the National Endowment for Democracy to work with non-governmental organizations in Iran. But according to the group’s own disclosures, their main partners in Tehran have been organizations run by Iranian government officials.
Under federal law, NIAC cannot use any of its NED grants to lobby Congress.
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