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Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.In Vienna on Monday, Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that he might have been premature when he said that Iran and the agency had come to an agreement to allow all the inspections the agency said they weren't getting. That was just prior to the Baghdad conference of a couple of weeks ago. And there was some high hopes before that conference that maybe a deal would be made. Well, no deal was made, and it seems like the negotiations are more or less back where they were.Now joining us to give us an update on where things are at is Gareth Porter. Gareth is an investigative journalist, historian, and he joins us in our office in D.C. Thanks for joining us, Gareth.GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Hello again, Paul.JAY: So where are we at with this? First Amano says they made a deal. Now he's saying they didn'tâor not didn't; he said it was premature. But it all seems to come back to this issue of these satellite photographs and this accusation that maybe Iran's tried to clean up things last-minute before the inspectors came. What's all this about?PORTER: Well, you're right. That's what the news media have focused on almost entirely in this whole coverage of the IAEA-Iran talks as though the only issue or even the primary issue. In fact, that is not the primary issue. It never has been the primary issue in the problem of reaching an agreement between Iran and the IAEA.The problem is this, that the IAEA wants to be able to carry on its inquiry into the allegations from Western intelligence agencies and the Israeli intelligence agency [snip] those agencies, alleging that Iran had a covert nuclear weapons program at least from 2001 to 2003, and arguably, according to the Israelis, after 2003. And what theyâwhat the IAEA wants to be able to do is to continue [snip] questions. And even if the Iranians are able to answer those questions really with very credible information, they want to be able to say, okay, well, we've got a second and third and fourth list of questions [snip] ask you.And, of course, the reason for that is that the IAEA's function in the politics surrounding the Iranian nuclear issue is to keep Iran in the dock of international opinion while the negotiations between the Iranians and the P5+1 continue. And that's really been the situation for years now, that in fact the function of the IAEA was explicitly to continue to inquire about these allegations so that Iran could be brought before and kept before the United Nations Security Council. After all, you know, the real charge now is that Iran has refused to carry out the resolutions not of the [incompr.] governors of the IAEA but of the UN Security Council, because the Security Council has of course demanded that Iran must stop enrichment.JAY: And that's the real issue here, isn't it, thatâ.PORTER: [crosstalk] itself have not demanded that. They have suggested that this would be desirable. And that's the crucial difference here between what the IAEA is capable of doing and what the Security Council is doing.JAY: And that's really what's at the heart of this dispute, is it, thatâI understood that there were supposed to be some sort of progression, that if Iran made a certain amount of compromise on enrichment, there'd be a compromise on sanctions. So is there any actual back-and-forth at this level?PORTER: Well, now you're talking about the P5+1 meeting with Iran in Baghdad, which indeed was essentially a question of whether there would be any compensation, any real offer from the P5+1 side in return for the offer by Iran to end the 20 percent enrichment, to ship all of their 20 percent enriched uranium out of the country, and essentially to open up to more inspection or at least to keep the level of inspection they have already. The United States/Western position on this essentially is, no, we're not going to offer you anything; we think that you should do this without any compensation.So that's a nonstarter from the Iranian side. They obviously distrust the intention of the United States, thinking that the U.S. and its allies intend to essentially demand, at the end of the road, that Iran has to suspend all uranium enrichment for some, you know, period of time which is not even identified. And I think they're quite correct in that regard. The evidence is that that's precisely what the Obama administration has in mind.JAY: And is there any indication to whatâor to what extent is Iran willing to compromise on the question of 20 percent enrichment?PORTER: There's no doubt they're willing to compromise on that. The record of their diplomacy on this issue makes it very clear that from the very beginning they upped the ante in the diplomatic game with the United States and the P5+1 by threatening to enrich to 20 percent and then going ahead and doing it, in order to have, basically, more bargaining chips for the negotiations with the United States. In other words, they felt the U.S. was not responsive to their diplomacy, to their offers, without having the threat of more 20 percent enrichment, which would arguably put the Iranians closer to the capability to make a nuclear weapon. So they basically exploited that in order to be able to get the attention of United States officials. And so I think that's what has happened over the past two years, that they've used the 20 percent enrichment as a way of accumulating [snip] chips in the hope that they could get the United States to begin a process in which the U.S. would indeed begin to put on the table a set of inducements, in other words, reducing and ultimately eliminating the sanctions against Iran.JAY: They seem locked in a kind of a dance whichâin the final analysis, I don't quite understand how this works to Iran's interest. And what I mean by this: you and I have talked before that to a large extent perhaps the real objective hereâcertainly of Israel and U.S. foreign policyâis in fact the sanctions, that there is war going on with Iran, it's economic warfare, and they're trying to weaken the Iranian economy, and thus its power in the region, as much as they possibly can. And so as long as this kind of dance goes on and they have the rationale for sanctions, they're actually achieving the foreign policy objective, even though the theater more is about, you know, giving up on enrichment. On the other hand, I don't understandâwhy wouldn't Iran then kind of unilaterally take a position on this that would make the sanctions look completely unjustified?PORTER: Well, I think you're right, first of all, that that is indeed the overall strategy. It has evolved in that direction over the last couple of years in ways that are difficult to follow. You know, there's no documentation on this; you simply have to string together the developments that have occurred in U.S. policy over the last two years. And if you do that, you do in fact come to the conclusion that the U.S. objective has now evolved toward, essentially, if not regime change, then, as you put it, weakening the regime [snip] and making that the ultimate objective of U.S. policy. And, of course, this again aligns U.S. policy precisely with that of Israel's, because that is really what Israel has been after from the beginning: at the very least, weakening the Iranian regime, and at best, regime change. That has been, really, the official position of Israel for some years now.JAY: Yeah, 'cause when you look at the debate in Israelâ. Sorry. Go ahead.PORTER: Well, you've asked why the Iranians do not do something to try [snip] that strategy, and I'm not sure what they can do. I mean, [snip] they have tried to do is to put on the table a position, a negotiating position that they thought would attract support in the P5 +1 and thus put some pressure on the United States and Israel. I don't think they've succeeded in that regard, and I'm not sure what else they can do at this point, except to make the case that using the sanctions to try to weaken Iran will not succeed. And, of course, they have made that argument over and over again, and they have made it clear that the U.S. position, the implicit, if not explicit, U.S. position that Iran may not enrich uranium at all, is a red line that Iran [snip] accept and will thus cause the talks to fail. And I think that will be the result of that policy in the coming weeks. If (as I expect fully will happen) the Moscow talks will be a pale imitation of the Baghdad talks, in the ultimate result, I think the Iranians will quit the talks and hope that the [snip] of oil prices will in fact be the best pressure that they could possibly hope for in terms of getting the Obama administration to reconsider its positionJAY: Right, 'cause when you listen to the debate in Israel, the security establishment that have come out against Prime Minister Netanyahu's talk of war, their basic point is actually sanctions are working and the sanctions is very effective form of warfare and that it should be pursued. It's not that they're somehow really some sort of peaceniks here. They just think this is a better strategy in Israel's interest, but from the point of view of harming Iran.PORTER: That's right. I think that the security establishment does indeed believe that sanctions are working, working in the sense of weakening, in the longer run, the Iranian Islamic regime, and that that is indeed the heart of a successful strategy and should indeed be at the center of the strategy, not so much the threat of attacking Iran, which I don't think they really believe is effective as a form of pressure, and they certainly don't [inaud.] that it should be carried out.JAY: Yeah, but they've accomplishedâthey've made the sanctions look kind of reasonable and moderate when the sanctions themselves are a form of warfare that's cripplingâthe reports I'm hearingâare really crippling the life of ordinary people in Iran.PORTER: Well, I think the sanctions are making life more difficult, although my estimate, my assessment is the same as that which I've gotten from a consultant who used to work in Tehran who's now moved to Vienna because [snip] arrested by the regime, the Iranian regime, in 2010, briefly jailed, and then released and basically told he was not really welcome in Iran. But he has been a very astute observer and an analyst of Iranian internal politics and society. And he told me just the other day that he doesn't believe that the sanctions against the oil sector themselves will be successful in forcing Iran to change its policy, but what might well be successful is the inability of Iran to rehabilitate the production sector of the oil industry in Iran. The fact that oil production has continued to decline in Iran over the last year and a half or so [incompr.] show any signs of recovering, that is a very acute concern to the Iranian economic managers, and that well may be the Achilles' heel of the Iranian position in the longer run.JAY: Okay. Well, the meeting between the IAEA and the Iranian officials will take place in Vienna on Friday, and we'll come back to you next week, Gareth, and catch up on what, if anything, came out of those meetings. Thanks very much for joining us.PORTER: Thank you, Paul.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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