Iran War on the Ballot

Exclusive: War or peace with Iran will be on the U.S. presidential ballot, with Barack Obama’s reelection likely to clear the way for direct talks on resolving the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program but with a victory by Mitt Romney putting neocons in a position to seek “regime change,” reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A deal to resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute, based on face-to-face negotiations between Iranian and U.S. officials, could follow quickly upon President Barack Obama’s reelection on Nov. 6, but those bilateral relations would likely veer toward confrontation if Mitt Romney wins and his neocon advisers retake control of U.S. foreign policy.

Sources familiar with the status of the talks say the potential settlement is much closer than is publicly understood, with a reelected President Obama prepared to relax the harsh economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for tight constraints on any Iranian nuclear program, assuring that it is for peaceful purposes only.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama at the Oct. 22 debate which concentrated on foreign policy. (Photo credit:

One person familiar with the status of talks said the post-election discussions also could lead to a broader rapprochement between Iran and the United States, two countries that have been at odds since 1979 when Iranian radicals overran the U.S. Embassy and took American diplomatic personnel hostage.

However, the prospects for peace could head off in a very different direction if Romney wins. His neocon advisers are considered likely to hijack the Iran sanctions and use them to force “regime change” in Tehran, rather than for their current narrow purpose of compelling Iran to negotiate seriously on limiting its nuclear program.

By effectively shifting the application of the sanctions from nuclear negotiations to regime change, the neocons could put Iran and the United States on course for another war in the Middle East, much as the neocons did in steadily ratcheting up tensions with Iraq in 2002-2003 until a peaceful resolution became impossible.

Despite the disastrous Iraq War, Washington’s influential neocons have never given up on their dream of violently remaking the Middle East through U.S.-imposed “regime change” in countries considered hostile to America and Israel.

If the new Romney administration did redeploy the sanctions for the purpose of “regime change” in Iran, the Islamic government might press ahead toward development of a nuclear weapon for self-defense. That, in turn, could precipitate a U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran, since Romney has declared that he would not accept Iran even having the “capability” to build an A-bomb, let alone an actual bomb.

Contradictory Remarks

Though Iran’s current readiness to make major concessions on its nuclear program marks a success for the Obama administration’s diplomacy, President Obama has been reluctant to tout the pending resolution of the crisis in the final days of the campaign out of fear that it would open him to attacks as soft on Iran.

That concern left the President making contradictory remarks at last Monday’s debate. He initially disparaged a New York Times report on a tentative agreement for bilateral talks between the United States and Iran, but later in the debate seemed to confirm that such an arrangement was in the offing.

In response to a question from moderator Bob Schieffer about the shape of a possible deal with Iran, Obama responded, “Well, first of all, those were reports in the newspaper. They are not true. But our goal is to get Iran to recognize it needs to give up its nuclear program and abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place, because they have the opportunity to re-enter the community of nations, and we would welcome that.”

However, several questions later, Obama briefly returned to the topic, telling Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney: “I’m pleased that you now are endorsing our policy of applying diplomatic pressure and potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program.”

A day earlier, on Oct. 21, the Times cited Obama administration officials as saying that the United States and Iran “have agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.” But the Times added that “Iranian officials have insisted that the talks wait until after the presidential election telling their American counterparts that they want to know with whom they would be negotiating.”

The Times reported that the agreement was “a result of intense, secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials that date almost to the beginning of President Obama’s term.”

One intelligence source familiar with the talks told me that the framework for a deal was largely hammered out by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during his time as CIA director before he took the Pentagon job in mid-2011. But the source said the tough international sanctions, which the Obama administration engineered over the past year, have convinced Iranian leaders that it is time to get serious and to reach a settlement.

The source added that the scope of the bilateral talks could be much broader than just Iran’s nuclear program, which is expected to be suspended although with allowances for civilian nuclear energy. Under the plan, Iran also would tone down its rhetoric against Israel, ease bellicose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad off the political stage and clear the way for the election of a more moderate president next year, the source said.

Regionally, Iran would be pressed to use its influence with Hezbollah to halt any hostilities toward Israel and to assist in tamping down the civil conflict in Syria. In exchange, the United States would gradually lift the sanctions, allow Iran’s international oil sales to recover, and take steps toward establishing diplomatic relations.

“It’s going to be a whole sea change,” the source said, although adding that the framework is likely to collapse if Romney wins the election. “If Mitt becomes president,” the source said, “you’ll have chaos in the Middle East.”

Romney’s Hard Line

The Times’s article also noted that plans for face-to-face talks might collapse if Romney wins: “It is also far from clear that Mr. Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, would go through with the negotiation should he win election. Mr. Romney has repeatedly criticized the president as showing weakness on Iran and failing to stand firmly with Israel against the Iranian nuclear threat. …

“The prospect of one-on-one negotiations could put Mr. Romney in an awkward spot, since he has opposed allowing Iran to enrich uranium to any level, a concession that experts say will probably figure in any deal on the nuclear program.”

During the Oct. 22 debate, Romney displayed ignorance about basic facts regarding Iran and he indicated that he shared the view of his neocon advisers that the civil war in Syria amounted to “an opportunity.”

In the third presidential debate, Romney said, “Syria’s an opportunity for us because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now. Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea. It’s the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally Israel. And so seeing Syria remove [President Bashar al] Assad is a very high priority for us. Number two, seeing a, a replacement government being responsible people is critical for us.”

The “route to the sea” gaffe mistaking Iran for some landlocked country exposed Romney’s weak sense of world geography, since Iran sits on the Persian Gulf. Iran also has no common border with Syria. Iraq rests between the two countries.

But Romney’s clumsy geopolitical statement resurrected the neocons’ longstanding goal of forcing “regime change” in Syria and Iran as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein and thus starving Israel’s close-in enemies, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas, of outside support. [For details, see’s “Moderate Mitt: Neocon Trojan Horse.”]

For Romney’s neocon advisers, who dominate his campaign’s inner foreign policy circle, torpedoing a potential settlement on Iran’s nuclear program would be their first challenge in establishing their preeminence in a Romney administration next year.

Even if bilateral talks are held after a Romney victory, the neocons could guide them toward deliberate failure and then use the collapse as a demonstration of Iranian intransigence, thus justifying an eventual U.S.-Israeli military strike.

So, in a very practical way, a possible war with Iran — and the fate of millions of civilians who could be caught up in the carnage — will be on the ballot in the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 6.

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

22 comments for “Iran War on the Ballot

  1. Hillary
    October 31, 2012 at 06:49

    President Truman referred to “the fanaticism of our New York Jews,” p. 593. There are dozens of references to domestic pressures, pp. 640, 656, 609, etc.]

    In the State Department,
    “You had to be pro-Zionist or keep quiet in order to stay in the State Department, and the net result was a whole generation of officers who are simply “Uncle Toms.” They don’t dare to speak or publish things. They are afraid that they will be sent off to Africa, or who knows to some other part of the world, and will stay there the rest of their lives”.

    Zionists consider that they have control of the Department of State, can dictate who is going to be in it and who is going to say what policy should be. It’s sort of silent terrorism that they have applied and kept up ever since.

  2. Revo
    October 31, 2012 at 00:09

    If Romney opens war on Iran, we should require Romney’s bundles of joy (his sons) to actively–not symbolically– fight their Daddy’s war. American working class parents haven’t found their darling sons in the dumpster for Romney to send them to swim in their own blood on foreign soil, under the deceptive pretexts that they are serving their country. They have raised their boys under this unjust, immoral, indecent, decadent, slave-labor criminal enterprise known as capitalism.

  3. M Henri Day
    October 30, 2012 at 16:53

    Disappointing to find so knowledgeable a journalist as Mr Parry writing about the perspective of a «new Romney administration redeploy[ing] the sanctions for the purpose of “regime change” in Iran, …». «[Redeploying]» ! Whatever does he think the purpose of the present sanctions are (aside from ensuring that the current administration is not left open for credible attacks concerning insufficient adherence to the desires of the people determining the policies of the Israeli regime), if not «regime change» in Iran ? Mr Obama’s foreign policy may possibly be a tad more sophisticated than that a future Romney administration would employ – but let us keep in mind that the current Secretary of State, the ineffable Ms Clinton, htreatened in 2008 to «obliterate» Iran – but its objectives would not differ in the slightest….


    • F. G. Sanford
      October 30, 2012 at 17:56

      Various critics made comments regarding Romney’s gaffe about Syria being Iran’s “route to the sea”. I’m surprised no one has picked up on the “Freudian slip”. Millions have been invested, and billions are at stake if Iran, Iraq and Syria were able to realize a pipeline from Iran’s massive natural gas fields to the Syrian coastline. This is precisely the pipeline Western interests are dead-set against. This is the financial motivation for regime change, and if regime change cannot be accomplished, war is probably the alternative. Regardless of what the candidates espouse, “Big Oil” is going to pull the strings which favor its interests.

  4. Cliff Gieseke
    October 30, 2012 at 14:32

    Each time I hear talk of attacking Iran the echos of innocent children playing in a school yard next to my apartment sound in my mind. That was many years years ago when I taught English on an Iranian army base in the South of Tehran .

    We need to do everything possible to avoid making war on Iran. We already have an enormous debt. Iran has very effective anti-ship missiles we have never dealr with and we could lose one or more carriers. Then things could really escalate. Lord help us

  5. F. G. Sanford
    October 29, 2012 at 23:27

    Has anyone seen the story indicating that General Carter Ham was “arrested” and relieved of his post as AFRICOM Commander? The sources I saw this in give me some pause regarding credibility, but the politics behind it, if it’s true, would probably be a real eye-opener on where we’re really headed. I’d be a little leery about speculation, but it seems an ominous change in the prevailing winds.

  6. Richard Steven Hack
    October 29, 2012 at 15:36

    Anyone who thinks Obama is going to resolve the Iran faux “crisis” by negotiations is living in a dream world.

    Obama came into office with the intent to push Iran into a corner that could only be resolved by war. He has not changed his attitude or rhetoric one iota in the last four years. He will not change it now just because he’s in a second term. He still obeys the orders of his masters in the military-industrial complex and the Zionists in the Crown and Pritzker families who financed his entire political career.

  7. leveymg
    October 29, 2012 at 10:35

    From what was said in presidential debates, I could determine only fractional differences in the Iran policies articulated by Obama and Romney. Both follow essentially the same regime change strategies of ever-tightening economic warfare and paramilitary operations and assassinations backed up by veiled threats of a massive bombing campaign if Tehran does not submit. If anyone here actually thinks Obama’s threats of use of force are merely rhetorical, look at Libya and Syria. On all those subjects, Romney’s approach only differs by a me-too and “I’ll hit them harder” bluster.

    As is, regardless of who wins, I think on Nov. 7 we’ll see a dramatic escalation in Syria, particularly the use of Libyan MANPADs.

    Yes, we all know that there are back-channel talks going on all the time between the U.S. and Iran. That is hardly new or news. I really wish that Bill identified where he is getting the (false?) optimism about the progress of talks, and clued us at least as to what part of the government his source is getting his (dis?)information.

    Mr. Parry is one of the last remaining critical national security journalists still publishing in America, and I respect him greatly. As is, without some specifics, it’s really hard to give this report a lot of credibility. I hope he’s right . . .

  8. Kevin B. McCarthy
    October 29, 2012 at 10:30

    What “current readiness to make major concessions” are you talking about that the Iranians are willing to make, all from the hard word of the Obama administration? What drugs are you on, Mr. Parry? They’ve made absolutely no suggestions of a willingness to do anything of the kind! What they have said is “drop the sanctions” and let us talk some more. Is that your “current readiness?” If so, you’ll go to the next meeting after dropping major sanctions and leave w/your dick in your hand, my friend.

  9. Vivek Jain
    October 29, 2012 at 05:56

    I’m disappointed by this piece by Parry. One might think, given the eye-opening October Surprise series, that Parry would discuss Netanyahu, the Zionist agenda, Israel’s crimes (murder of Iranian scientists), the bipartisan subservience to the right wing government of Israsel, and also investigate the consulate attack in Libya. James Petras may be more informative here, especially regarding imperialism and the Israelization of the US. A reader of this piece may come away with misperceptions about who is the aggressor in the region (US and Israel), or how hawkish Obama actually is (very).

  10. borat
    October 29, 2012 at 04:27

    the usual apologist crap about iran- doesn’t mention the myriad of exeucutions, no rights for women, no free speech, aiding and abetting terrorist organizations such as hezbollah and hamas. The list goes on and on. It’s a rogue medieval theocratic regieme period. Rehmatshit is center stage w/his antisemitic babblings and paranoid delusionalisms.

  11. bobzz
    October 29, 2012 at 01:21

    Interesting stuff paraphrased from the Book of Mormon: certain Semitic peoples came to the shores of the Americas in barges in the 6th and 7th centuries BC where they functioned as keepers of important spiritual knowledge unknown to the rest of humanity. Supernatural signs accompanied some of the travelers. Indeed they made the trip by means of a navigational device known as a Liahona, which itself had supernatural powers. Needles pointed the way while legible writing on the device changed periodically reflecting messages from god for the prophet Lehi. Moreover, miraculous lights were provided for the interior of the boats of a different leader, Moriancumer, through 16 divinely illuminated volcanic stones. Some of the spiritual knowledge was already in their possession before their departure from Israel, but more was delivered later through spirit messengers and eventually through the resurrected Christ appearing in Central America. Some members of this spiritually enlightened people remained true to the divine teachings; some did not. This disparity became racial. The darker the skin the deeper the sin.

    I cannot say Romney believes this, because Mormons have toned down their racism, but the link with Israel…I don’t know and won’t assume, but if I were an investigative reporter, I would be…investigating.

    • incontinent reader
      October 29, 2012 at 03:29

      As a partial answer, Ronn Torosian (not Armenian despite the name) is a very smart, powerful and effective lobbyist originally from Brooklyn and the Bronx, NY, with a very right wing Israeli ideology and close ties to the Likud, who is employed both by the many major corporations including the Marriott Corporation and the Romney campaign. Torossian is one who should also be under active investigation.

  12. Bill Michtom
    October 29, 2012 at 01:05

    Thank you, Vivek Jain.

  13. Bill Michtom
    October 29, 2012 at 01:04

    “While Jewish army is afraid to fight a war-hardened Iranian army”

    It is not a “Jewish army.” It is an Israeli army.

    Anyone who substitutes Jew for Israel is a bigot.

    • bobzz
      October 29, 2012 at 01:14

      Not necessarily a bigot, but certainly misinformed.

  14. Vivek Jain
    October 28, 2012 at 23:44

    Iran DOESN’T HAVE nuclear weapons.

    Iran is NOT PURSUING nuclear weapons.

    Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Face The Nation on January 8th, 2012, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.”

    American intelligence agencies have said that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon.
    “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb”.

    Here’s list of myths about Iran’s lawful nuclear enrichment program:

    It was the Gerald Ford Administration that encouraged the US-backed dictator, the Shah, to develop a civilian nuclear energy program.

    Here’s an advertisement starring the US-supported tyrant:

  15. Vivek Jain
    October 28, 2012 at 23:39

    The US overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran in 1953 and installed and supported a cruel, brutal dictator. It is not accurate to claim that the US has been at odds with Iran since 1979.

    Parry writes, “Iran’s current readiness to make major concessions on its nuclear program marks a success for the Obama administration’s diplomacy.” Does genocide now mean diplomacy?

    “Take a look at this report (“Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (2012)”) by the U.N. Sec. General Ban Ki-moon.

    In particular, see p 15, items 42 and 43. It reads:”

    “42. The sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran have had significant effects on the general population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine. A number of Iranian non-governmental organizations and activists have expressed concerns about the growing impact of sanctions on the population and have noted that inflation, rising prices of commodities, subsidy cuts and sanctions are compounding each other and having far-reaching effects on the general population. They report, for instance, that people do not have access to lifesaving medicines. Furthermore, since the sanctions extend to banking transactions, many foreign banks have stopped doing business with the Islamic Republic of Iran altogether, which has made it considerably difficult for Iranians to transfer funds and for private business to obtain lines of credit.

    “43. The sanctions also appear to be affecting humanitarian operations in the country. Even companies that have obtained the requisite licence to import food and medicine are facing difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions. Owing to payment problems, several medical companies have stopped exporting medicines to the Islamic Republic of Iran, leading to a reported shortage of drugs used in the treatment of various illnesses, including cancer, heart and respiratory conditions, thalassemia and multiple sclerosis.”

    also note, from page 14-15, all that would be destroyed by war on Iran by US/Israel:

    “37. With a population of 75 million,the Islamic Republic of Iran is an upper middle-income country which has made notable progress in human development. Its human development index value for 2011 was 0.70, placing the country in the high human development category. This represents an increase from a human development index value of 0.493 in 1985 and a total increase of 42 per cent or an average annual increase of about 1.4 per cent.The Islamic Republic of Iran is also on track to achieve most of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly Goals 1 (reducing extreme poverty), 2 (achieving universal education), 4 (reducing child mortality by half) and 5 (reducing maternal mortality by three quarters)

    “38. The Islamic Republic of Iran has showed greatly improved results in health and education. Access to health care, including reproductive health care, has improved, with increased life expectancy at birth for both men and women; more people have access to safe drinking water; maternal mortality decreased from 150 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 30 in 2008; the under-five mortality ratio decreased to 21 out of 1,000; the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel increased to 97.3 per cent; and primary health-care coverage in rural areas stands at more than 98 per cent. The country also has a literacy rate for girls of more than 90 per cent, an overall literacy rate of more than 75 per cent, social security coverage encompassing 30 million people and health insurance schemes covering about 50 per cent of the population.

    “39. The Islamic Republic of Iran has also made significant progress in women’s education and health. Literacy rates among 15-24-year-old women increased from 96.1 per cent in 2000 to 99.2 per cent in 2008, and the ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education increased from 79.2 per cent in 1990 to 98 per cent in 2007. Currently, more than half of all university students are women. This progress is reflected in the increased gender development index, which rose from 0.713 in 2004 to 0.770 in 2009.”

  16. Vivek Jain
    October 28, 2012 at 23:32

    Under Obama, we’ve seen the illegal murder of Iranian scientists, illegal cyber warfare, genocidal sanctions that target civilians and which are designed inflict maximum suffering on ordinary people, Beltway support for a designated terrorist group opposed to the Iranian government, a multimillion dollar lobbying effort followed by the removal of terrorist group hostile to Iran from the State Department’s list, a false flag plot, illegal bipartisan threats toward Iran, lies from both major party politicians about the Iranian government’s intentions and capability and nuclear program status, the undermining of several rounds of talks by US officials, and Washington’s support of terrorist groups in North Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East.

    Are we to believe that Obama would change course and bear olive branches? There’s no pressure from an anti-war movement; the movement is disorganized.

    • bobzz
      October 29, 2012 at 01:17

      Vivek says, “There’s no pressure from an anti-war movement; the movement is disorganized.” I agree. Just want to state the obvious—that is precisely why the neocons went to an all volunteer military.

  17. Morton Kurzweil
    October 28, 2012 at 23:01

    The endorsement of Mitt Romney comes as no surprise, but the excuse, that he
    can improve the economy is blatantly false and pernicious. The one time Governor
    created a job rating that was 47th in the nation. His business experience was not
    in job creation, but in profit making by skirting all the moral principles we have won
    for all the people.
    His foreign policy is nineteenth century empire building by colonizing of inferior peoples.

    I don’t like Romney. I don’t trust Romney. His every act has been to privatize the
    First Amendment, to establish ethics and morality based on a religious ideology.
    Profit is not the business of a democracy. The Preamble to the Constitution makes
    that very clear. The powers of government are derived from all the people, not the
    lobbyists and influence peddlers who pervert the service of public servants into
    self-serving zombies. There is no power or authority in any ideology political or
    religious that protects all the people from the excesses of government intrusion
    on our inalienable rights and liberties.

    He, and Ryan, are like the Walrus and the Carpenter who led the oysters into the
    wilderness. “The butter is never thick enough.”, said the Walrus. “The butter can
    never be laid on too thick.”, said the Carpenter, and ate the oysters until there were

  18. chas holman
    October 28, 2012 at 20:00

    The very second this President took office the country was bleeding 3/4 million jobs a MONTH.

    We were into 3 rounds of stimulus with George Bush and he had started the initial auto bailout by the time he was done.

    We gave a ‘temporary’ tax cut (that has thus far cost us 1.5 trillion to the top 5%) in another round of George Bush stimulus. By the time this President assumed office there was talk of the next ‘Great Depression’.

    In less than 4 years we are showing real recovery and still investing in the future.

    Like millions of Americans, I have already cast my ballot for the President, I implore the good people of this great nation to do the same.

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