Info-War in the Iran-Nuke Talks

Information warfare — or “info-war” — is all the rage inside the Obama administration, which delights in distorting or misrepresenting facts as a “soft power” weapon to advance its international goals. Those games have reached into the Iran nuclear negotiations, reports Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

A public diplomacy campaign by the Obama administration to convince world opinion that Iran was reneging on the Lausanne framework agreement in April has seriously misrepresented the actual diplomacy of the Iran nuclear talks, as my interviews with Iranian officials in Vienna make clear.

President Barack Obama’s threat on Tuesday to walk out of the nuclear talks if Iranian negotiators didn’t return to the Lausanne framework especially on the issue of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s access to Iranian sites — was the climax of that campaign.

Iranian women attending a speech by Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Iranian government photo)

Iranian women attending a speech by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Iranian government photo)

But what has really been happening in nuclear talks is not that Iran has backed away from that agreement but that the United States and Iran have been carrying out tough negotiations especially in the days before the Vienna round of talks began on the details of how the basic framework agreement will be implemented.

The U.S. campaign began immediately upon the agreement in Lausanne on April 2. The Obama administration said in its fact sheet that Iran “would be required” to grant IAEA inspectors access to “suspicious sites.” Then Deputy Security Adviser Ben Rhodes declared that if the United States wanted access to an Iranian military base that the U.S. considered “suspicious,” it could “go to the IAEA and get that inspection” because of the Additional Protocol and other “inspection measures that are in the deal.”

That statement touched a raw nerve in Iranian politics. A few days later Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei insisted that Iran would not allow visits to its military bases as a signal that Iran would withdraw concessions it made in Lausanne. That reaction was portrayed in the Western media as evidence that Iranian negotiators were being forced to retreat from the Lausanne agreement.

In fact it was nothing of the sort. The idea that IAEA inspectors could go into Iranian military facilities at will, as Rhodes had suggested, was a crude oversimplification that was bound to upset Iranians. The reason was more political than strategic. “It is a matter of national dignity,” one Iranian official in Vienna explained to me.

The Iranian negotiators were still pushing back publicly against Rhodes’s rhetoric as the Vienna round began.  Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi appeared to threaten a reopening of the provisions of the Lausanne framework relating to the access issue in an interview with AFP last Sunday. “[N]ow some of the solutions found in Lausanne no longer work,” Araghchi said, “because after Lausanne certain countries within the P5+1 made declarations.”

But despite Araghchi’s tough talk, Iran has not reversed course on the compromise reached in Lausanne on the access issue, and what was involved was a dispute resolution process on the issue of IAEA requests for inspections. In interviews with me, two Iranian officials acknowledged that the final agreement will include a procedure that could override an Iranian rejection of an IAEA request to visit a site.

The procedure would allow the Joint Commission, which was first mentioned in the Joint Plan of Action of November 2013, to review a decision by Iran to reject an IAEA request for an inspection visit. The Joint Commission is made up of Iran, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) and the European Union.

If this Joint Commission were to decide against an Iranian rejection, the IAEA could claim the right to access even to a military site, despite Iran’s opposition.

Such a procedure represents a major concession by Iran, which had assumed that the Additional Protocol to Iran’s “Safeguards” agreement with the IAEA would have governed IAEA access to sites in Iran. Contrary to most media descriptions, that agreement limits IAEA inspection visits to undeclared sites to carrying out “location-specific environmental sampling.” It also allows Iran to deny the request for access to the site, provided it makes “every effort to satisfy Agency requests without delay at adjacent locations or through other means.”

The dispute resolution process obviously goes well beyond the Additional Protocol. But the Obama administration’s statements suggesting that the IAEA will have authority to visit any site they consider “suspect” is a politically convenient oversimplification.

Under the technical annex to the Lausanne agreement that is now under negotiation, Iran would have the right to receive the evidence on which the IAEA is basing its request, according to Iranian officials. And since Iran has no intention of doing anything to give the IAEA valid reason to claim suspicious activities, Iranian officials believe they will be able to make a strong argument that the evidence in question is not credible.

Iran has proposed that that the period between the original IAEA request and any inspection resulting from a Joint Committee decision should be 24 days. But that number incensed critics of the Iran nuclear deal. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is unhappy with the whole idea of turning the decisions on inspections over to a multilateral group that includes adversaries of the United States, has criticized the idea of allocating 24 days to the process of dispute resolution.

Under pressure from Corker and Senate Republican opponents of the nuclear deal, the U.S. negotiating team has been demanding a shorter period, Iranian officials say.

The determining factor in how the verification system being negotiated would actually work, however, will be the political-diplomatic interests of the states and the EU who would be voting on the requests. Those interests are the wild card in the negotiations, because it is well known among the negotiators here that there are deep divisions within the P5+1 group of states on the access issue.

There are divisions within the P5+1, especially over aspects of what the Security Council should be doing, on how sanctions would be lifted and on access [verification regime]. “We can say with authority that they have to spend more time negotiating among themselves than negotiating with us,” one Iranian official said.

Even as Obama was publicly accusing Iran of seeking to revise the basic Lausanne framework itself, U.S. negotiators were apparently trying to revise that very same framework agreement itself. A U.S. official “declined to say if the United States might agree to adjust some elements of the Lausanne framework in return for new Iranian concessions,” according to a New York Times report.

The Americans may have been doing precisely what they were accusing the Iranians of doing.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This article originally appeared at Middle East Eye at http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/us-spin-access-iranian-sites-has-distorted-issue-1989199085#sthash.9VfPAZnk.dpuf]

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8 comments for “Info-War in the Iran-Nuke Talks

  1. Aarky
    July 8, 2015 at 16:19

    We should have known that Ben Rhodes was one of the many Israeli Agents that have infiltrated to the top levels of the government. It was his job to create another moving of the goal posts, making additional demands, that would lead to the failure of the talks. Was he also the one who suggested to Obama to use the term “Red Line” in a speech about Syria?

  2. Peter Loeb
    July 7, 2015 at 06:14

    ROUND AGAIN

    The value of Gareth Porter’s article is that it makes clear
    the PR games with reference to an “Iran deal” which has
    been “negotiated” but which in fact has been forced by the
    US.

    The next “round” should not be focused on Iran but on
    the establishment of a Mideast Nuclear Free Zone.
    Such a zone must include Israel on the identical terms
    as Iran and other nations involved. It should require
    the ratification by Israel of the NPT by Israel and also
    the manufacture and/or capacity to manufacture
    WMD’s, cyberwar techniques.

    While this may sound “radical” to some these items
    were passed overwhelmingly by the UN General
    Assembly against the votes of the US and Israel
    (occasionally joined a a very few other nations
    dependent on the US.)

    There is no reason why the US and Israel should
    “allow” Iran this and that, make requirements
    which it abolustely refuses to even discuss
    for other for other nations.

    As described in his book THE HOLOCAUST
    INDUSTRY” Norman Finkelstein discusses
    the total immunity of “helpless little” Israel
    from all examination and rules of international
    law. It is protected by its alleged “victimhood”
    while remaining the most powerful nuclear
    nation.

    It would be fascinating to know specifically
    what the disagreements of the P5+ 1 nations
    are but one must make undocumented
    assumptions. One cannot listen only to
    the US which consistently maintains that it
    alone speaks for the happy family of the
    “world community”.

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  3. ray makim
    July 5, 2015 at 20:03

    This will never end.
    Iran might as well tell them (p5&1) to go to hell, and then prepare for war!
    That’s what Amerika and Isreal want anyway.

    • Brian Vercoe
      July 6, 2015 at 00:42

      I agree Ray. The Americans want the Iranians to look like the culprits who cause the next war in the middle east.This kind diplomatic deception has been well honed since before the first world war when the British made the Germans appear responsible the starting of hostilities.The p5+1 are bidding their time.Perpetual war has been the name of the game since the early part of last century.

      • henry
        July 6, 2015 at 12:17

        o boy do I ever agree with that the u s wants to force any countriy with oil to sell only for dollars and Israel wants to be the only one with bomb to tell all other countries who is boss and be able to steal land from all her neighbours

  4. Abe
    July 5, 2015 at 12:45

    The Americans are always doing precisely what they are accusing their opponents of doing.

    If you want a summary of American foreign policy, that’s it.

    • Joe Wallace
      July 6, 2015 at 22:29

      Abe:

      Agreed. Projection . . . that’s what it’s all about.

    • Alana
      July 7, 2015 at 16:41

      Spot-on comment, Abe.

Comments are closed.