Neocons Still Hoping for US-Iran Clash

Exclusive: The Israelis, the Saudis and U.S. neocons are thrilled that the latest plan for limiting (but not ending) Iran’s nuclear program collapsed, thus reviving hopes of an eventual U.S. military strike, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

American neoconservatives are delighted that France, acting as something of a paid lobbyist for the Saudi-Israeli alliance, sabotaged a possible breakthrough between the West and Iran over its nuclear program, thus preserving the military option against Iran that the neocons have long cherished.

Of course, the neocons say they want a peaceful settlement to the dispute – essentially Iran’s total and humiliating capitulation – but no one should be fooled over how the French maneuver is keeping the neocons’ hopes alive for an eventual crisis that will let the bombs fly and regimes change.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The neocons were bitterly disappointed last summer when President Barack Obama failed to follow through on military threats against the Syrian government. They were then alarmed at the prospect of an international settlement that would impose tighter constraints on Iran’s nuclear program but not force its complete shutdown.

So, with an interim deal within sight, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on his American backers to get to work undermining President Obama’s diplomatic strategy. Meanwhile, the Saudi monarchy, which has joined Netanyahu in pushing for a more belligerent U.S. approach toward Syria and Iran, was busy granting lucrative financial contracts to France and its struggling economy.

Between Israel’s lobbying skills and Saudi Arabia’s petro-dollars, Obama found himself facing stiff resistance to his negotiations. He also had in Secretary of State John Kerry a befuddled point man who appears to have carried into his new job the fuzzy rhetoric and padded elbows that made him a popular member of the Senate club. But those characteristics have left many international observers shaking their heads at his failure to talk straight or act decisively.

In rounding off the sharp edges as he explained how the Iran deal collapsed, Kerry left out how French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius insisted on extensive last-minute revisions that were unacceptable to the Iranians. Instead, Kerry shifted blame onto the Iranians, apparently to soothe tensions among the “P5-plus-one,” the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, the six countries negotiating with Iran.

“The French signed off on it [the final proposal], we signed off on it,” Kerry said. “There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it.”

That prompted a Tweet from Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, saying “No amount of spinning can change what happened within 5+1 in Geneva from 6PM Thursday to 545 PM Saturday. But it can further erode confidence.” Zarif blamed the French for substantially rewriting the proposal, forcing the changes on the P5-plus-1 side, and thus scuttling the impending deal.

Of the P5-plus-one countries, France was the most susceptible to inducements from the Saudi-Israeli alliance, especially financial payoffs from Saudi Arabia. The global power and/or wealth of the United States, China, Russia and Germany mean that they have many other interests beyond making commercial deals with Saudi Arabia. And the United Kingdom is a close ally of the United States.

But France is both more independent of the big powers and more vulnerable because of its faltering economy. Relatively modest commitments of money by Saudi Arabia to France could have more impact. France, in effect, was the weak link in the P5-plus-one.

So, in October, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian concluded a $1.5 billion deal with Saudi Arabia to overhaul six of its navy ships. In July, Saudi Arabia’s ally, United Arab Emirates, signed a $913 million deal with France to buy two high-resolution Helios military satellites.

Other lucrative arms deals are reportedly in the works between France and Saudi Arabia (and its Sunni allies). Saudi Arabia also has invested in France’s sagging agricultural and food sectors, including a Saudi firm buying a major stake in Groupe Doux, Europe’s largest poultry firm based in Brittany.

Neocon Praise

Beyond pleasing the Saudis and the Israelis, France also won praise from neocon U.S. lawmakers who have criticized France in the past, like when it opposed President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. Then, France was derided as a “surrender monkey” and Republicans renamed French fries as “freedom fries” in the Capitol’s restaurants.

But the tone was entirely different after France sank the Iranian nuclear deal last weekend. “Vive la France!” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, exclaimed on Twitter. “France had the courage to prevent a bad nuclear agreement with Iran.”

“Thank God for France and thank God for push back,” said the hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “The French are becoming very good leaders in the Mideast.”

Despite Kerry’s acquiescence to the French sabotage and his dissembling that shifted the blame to Iran, the Secretary of State still got pummeled in the neocon press. For instance, Washington Post deputy editorial-page editor Jackson Diehl ridiculed Kerry’s supposedly outlandish optimism over negotiations with Syria and Iran.

Over the past week, Diehl said, Kerry was floating through “a fantastical realm created by his billowing vision of what he can accomplish as secretary of state.” Diehl added that Kerry’s “Magical Mystery Tour” ended in his ”failed attempt to close a deal with Iran on its nuclear program. Kerry’s conclusion: ‘I can tell you, without any reservations, we made significant progress.’”

Backfiring Strategy

In effect, the American neocons – along with the Saudi-Israeli regional alliance – are playing for time, hoping that some change in the political alignment might bring the U.S. military off the sidelines and make the end game for Iran and/or Syria another “regime change.” That appears to have been the Saudi/Israeli/neocon plan since 2009 when Iran began expressing a readiness to curtail its nuclear program.

The irony of the obstruction strategy, however, has been that each time the neocons succeed in thwarting a deal with Iran to limit its enrichment of uranium, the country makes further progress toward having the capability to fashion a nuclear bomb, if the leaders in Tehran ever decided to do so.

In 2009, Iran was refining uranium only to the level of about 3-4 percent, as needed for energy production. Its negotiators offered to swap much of that low-enriched uranium for nuclear isotopes for medical research.

But the Obama administration and the West rebuffed the Iranian gesture because it would have left Iran with enough enriched uranium to theoretically refine much higher – up to 90 percent – for potential use in a single bomb, though Iran insisted it had no such intention and U.S. intelligence agencies agreed.

Then, in spring 2010, Iran agreed to another version of the uranium swap proposed by the leaders of Brazil and Turkey, with the apparent backing of President Obama. But that arrangement came under fierce attack by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, considered a hawk on Iran, and the plan was derided by leading U.S. news outlets, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.

On May 17, 2010, the Washington Post’s editors mocked the leaders of Brazil and Turkey who had spearheaded the initiative. The Post called the plan “yet another effort to ‘engage’ the extremist clique of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and [then-President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

On May 26, 2010, the influential New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman weighed in, excoriating the leaders of Brazil and Turkey for negotiating an agreement with Iran to ship about half its low-enriched uranium out of the country. To Friedman, this deal was “as ugly as it gets,” the title of his column.

The ridicule of Brazil and Turkey – as bumbling understudies on the world stage – continued even after Brazil released Obama’s private letter to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva encouraging Brazil and Turkey to work out the deal. Despite the letter’s release, Obama didn’t publicly defend the swap and instead joined in scuttling the deal.

In June 2010, a New York Times editorial praised a new round of anti-Iran sanctions from the UN, but complained they “do not go far enough.” The Times also took a swipe at Brazil and Turkey, which voted against the sanctions from their temporary seats on the Security Council.

“The day’s most disturbing development was the two no votes in the Security Council from Turkey and Brazil,” the Times wrote. “Both are disappointed that their efforts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran didn’t go far. Like pretty much everyone else, they were played by Tehran.”

Though this Times point of view fit with neocon orthodoxy – that any reasonable move toward peace and away from confrontation is a sign of naivete and weakness – the fact is that the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal was torpedoed by the United States, after Obama had encouraged it. This wasn’t a case of the two countries being “played by Tehran.”

But the curious bottom line is that each time the West rebuffs an offer from Iran to limit its nuclear program, the Iranians then advance their capabilities. After the proposal to swap low-enriched uranium for the medical isotopes fell through, Iran increased its level of enrichment to 20 percent to fill its own research needs. The 20 percent meant that Iran was much closer to reaching the refinement level needed for a bomb.

Yet, this pattern continues, with American neocons and Israeli hardliners disparaging every proposal to constrain Iran’s nuclear program as insufficient. Then, after each plan collapses, Iran gets closer to a nuclear-bomb capability. That, in turn, prompts even more hysterical cries from Netanyahu and the neocon media – and spurs greater public suspicions about Iranian ultimate intent.

Iran has repeatedly declared that it has no interest in building a nuclear bomb, a claim supported by U.S. intelligence agencies since a National Intelligence Estimate in 2007. It should be noted, too, that Israel possesses a highly sophisticated and undeclared nuclear arsenal of its own.

But where this strategy of obstructing negotiations between Iran and the West ends is the big question. Some American neocons, who never faced accountability for tricking the American people into the Iraq War, apparently still hope for one or two more violent “regime changes.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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10 comments on “Neocons Still Hoping for US-Iran Clash

  1. F. G. Sanford on said:

    Pepe Escobar reports that Wendy Sherman, certified Israel Firster and chief U.S. negotiator flew to Tel Aviv first thing Sunday morning to check in with her real boss, Bibi. Meyer Habib, French Member of Parliament and holder of an Israeli passport also gave Bibi a courtesy call, apparently to reassure him that the desired derailment was “on track”. All of that aside, I can’t help picturing Lindsey Graham fondling his beloved little pet, the cheese-eating surrender monkey…whispering platitudes and plying him with Roquefort tidbits. I wonder what those “old boys” back in South Cackalakky would think about Lindsey’s new found admiration for French determinism? Sacre Bleu! Hot monkey love! How ya gonna keep him down on the farm after he’s tasted gay Pari’?

  2. Freedom fries didn’t implement the biggest nation building venture in 1776. Which basically means that that and all other attempts at building pluralist, secular democracy is bound to fail.

  3. Peter Loeb on said:

    As I wrote in a response to the other analysis in today’s consortiumnews, I think
    it would be in Iran’s best interest to seek closer ties with the SCO nations.Iran
    is already a member of SCO. The SCO represents about half the nations of the planet
    (See Nicolas Davies in Z MAGAZINE).

    I am not a “neocon”. I do not “know” of course, but I very seriously doubt that
    the US would strike Iran militarily. In the first place, Americans of all political
    types oppose an additional adventure. They opposed such a strike in Syria and
    would do so again elsewhere. In addition, a military strike while it has obvious
    political and cultural significance for both Saudi Arabia and Israel (For Israel
    see Max Blumenthal’s recent “GOLIATH: LIFE AND LOATHING IN GREATER ISRAEL”
    2013), it lacks that meaning in the US. Whatever is said by the governments involved, it is a lose-lose policy.

    Its only plus (from the Administration’s point-of-view would be that a military
    strike employs Americans and the expenditure for murder is a popular one despite the
    deaths of many Americans and serious injury to others. The barbarac slaughter of
    non-Americans is never appreciated with any seriousness in the US. In Iraq,
    for example, “deadchecking” was common for US troops. A soldier stomps his
    boot on the eyes of an Iraqui on the ground. If the Iraqui flinches at all, he is shot
    again at point blank range through the head. A common rationale was: “If they
    are worth killing once, they are worth doing it again.”.

    • How many Americans believed George Bush would invade and occupy IRAQ back in 1996 when PNAC was published, or even 1997, 1998, 1999, or even in 2000 when Bush started adding PNAC neocons to his cabinet. After September 11 2001 nobody thought Bush would invade Iraq even though the bi-partisan consensus was forget Osama Bin Laden it must have been Saddam Hussein. In 2002, when Bush was telling us every day we gotta go to war, and getting his 2002 AUMF, AUMF being the “authorization for use of military force” against Iraq, in 2002 the bi-partisan consensus was “sure Bush is begging to start a war, but surely that is just posturing so Iraq will REALLY allow inspectors in”. Even up to the very final day of peace, the bi-partisan consensus was that Bush would not actually do Iraq. It was not until the war began that people faced facts. See, if Bush was going to actually do Iraq while Gore was going to actually get called a terrorist sympathizer and a Neville Chamberlain for opposing it before the AUMF vote when it mattered, it would mess up this both-sides equivalency narrative.
      You should also not discount the ability of the bi-partisan consensus to put daily headlines over a period of about 2 years, saying we gotta go to war over and over, for example maybe because of claims that supposedly Iran is the ones killing all the GIs over in Iraq, which wasn’t ever substantiated.
      You also have to consider the “new Pearl Harbor” strategy of the neo-cons, where, Bush ignored the intelligence about terrorist attacks because allowing the attack to happen was the only way he could get his war, which PNAC acknowledged on the un-revised edition on page 51.

  4. The #1 cause of Global Warming is the US military, so, what about the Iraq war, and the even bigger Iran war that has been planned since the PNAC document was published in 1996. Maybe the reason the results are turning out worse than all of the projections is because nobody took into account these wars.

    Iran is the Grover Nordquist bath tub. Democracy can be drowned there, it is a war big enough to produce enough blowback and bankruptcy which will allow the Conservatives to get rid of human rights inside the USA. By drowning Democracy in a bath tub, as Nordquist proposed, the Conservatives will be able to get debt-slavery, public torture, monopolies, and they will be able to run over pedestrians without the cops pulling them over.

    The war against the Iranians is really a war against the American middle class.

  5. Ben Noweizer on said:

    Tell us Robert, what have changed since you broke the story of Iran-Contra & the secret alliance Between Iran & Israel??

    Of course Iran got the right to Nuclear technology and its civilian applications process but why the secret underground locations?? Do you see Iran a champion promoting peace and human rights in the region?? Instead why you don’t call for a nuke free middle east??

    How come you don’t mention the 40 years of alliance & secret cooperation Between Assad of Syria and Israel??

    Iranian generosity makes wonders.

    • TheTruthWillSetYouFree on said:

      Having a Nuclear weapon in this age and time is a show of force. It gives you the right to wield Imperialistic power the more you have. It also a survival card as Imperialistic Nations seek to undermine destroy other Nations by ANY means.

      The lives of Civilians mean NOTHING to them. The minds of people who have been hammered with propaganda their entire lives also mean nothing to them.

      The hypocrisy of Imperialistic Nations and those who defend their propaganda are boundless.