United Nations

By Ben Lutz

The Merzouga Desert. Photo Credit: Ben Lutz

In Northern Africa, there is a sparsely populated area of desert that is the main point of contention between Morocco and Algeria. This area is the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, more commonly known as Western Sahara. In 1975, Morocco annexed the land from Spain’s colonial holdings and continues administrative control of the region, spurring a war between Morocco and Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario), an organization that remains active today for independence. This low-intensity war ended in a United Nations-sanctioned ceasefire in 1991. Luckily, the peace has held in Western Sahara, but there has been no rapprochement between Morocco and Polisario.

Moroccans strongly believe that the territory is rightfully theirs from pre-colonial time due to the linguistic, historical, and cultural influences of the Berber population in Morocco’s national identity – it calls the Western Sahara its southern provinces. Although Algeria and Mauritania have significant populations of Berbers, Morocco has the strongest claim to this land. However, after gaining independence from France, Morocco claimed sovereignty over the lands to its south and east. This enraged Algeria, a French colony, and erased much of the connections between the two lands. The biggest swath of land is the Western Sahara – Morocco has controlled those lands since its annexation, and in response the Polisario has been active to counter this control.

Moroccan Flags in Marrakech. Photo Credit: Ben Lutz
Moroccan Flags in Marrakech. Photo Credit: Ben Lutz

Algeria has continued support the Polisaro throughout this conflict in order to remove Morocco’s control. Algeria has provided financial, military, and diplomatic aid to the Polisario. Furthermore, Polisario headquarters are in Tindouf Province, Algeria as a government in exile. In Tandouf, there are several refugee camps since 1975, with its residents living there for 41 years. The other country that claimed territory is Mauritania, but due to its weak economic status, has remained neutral and supports the United Nations, especially the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). MINURSO was created as a part of the ceasefire in 1991, and works to maintain the peace in Western Sahara. Although there has been little bloodshed since the ceasefire, negotiations have effectively been stalemated. Additionally, the Arab Mghreb Union (UMA), an economic organization between Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Libya, and Tunisia, has not met since 2008 over disagreements between Morocco and Algeria largely revolving around Western Sahara.

The United Nations considers Western Sahara to be a colonized territory – accordingly, Algeria has advocated for a resumption of peace talks through MINURSO. Self-determination is a principle that Algeria champions in discussing Western Sahara is largely seen as an extension of their support of the decolonization of this area. Algerian support in all of its aspects is crucial, but also one-sided and thus Polisario is advocating to the African Union, a council of 54 members, 53 countries and the territory of the Western Sahara. The African continent has 54 countries, and the only country not in the African Union is Morocco, over the dispute of the occupation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’s lands. In 1982, the African Union recognized the independence of the Western Sahara, giving them a delegation to the organization. Two years later, Morocco officially left the organization until this summer where they formally announced its wish to rejoin to African Union. The African Union is still committed to holding a self-determination referendum for the people of Western Sahara.

Apart from the land disputes with Algeria, Morocco’s control over the Western Saharan territory is contested due to the phosphate mines. Morocco owns 85% of the world’s phosphate mines, an estimated 50 billion metric tons, and it constitutes much of its export and GDP revenue. The majority of the mines are located in the territory that Morocco controls in the Western Sahara, making the negotiations over this territory more intractable. Morocco will not willingly give up a huge portion of its GDP revenue to an area it deems as its southern provinces.

With the continual failings from the refugee camps, the MINURSO, the UMA, the African Union, and phosphate production, it seems as if the Polisario is stuck fighting for independence with a war of wars. To make matters worse, on May 31, 2016, Mohamed Abdelaziz, their secretary-general, passed from illness. He was one of the main leaders of the fight for the independence of Western Sahara, and his death has reinvigorated the movement’s struggle for freedom. It has led to recent speeches in the African Union and on the United Nations floor to revisit this issue. This new wave of advocacy may be the push to end a 40-year long refugee crisis and create the 55th country in Africa.

By Patrick Lim

Following the unanimous adoption of UN Resolution 2254, world powers will convene in Geneva in January for the latest round of Syria peace talks. Source: US Department of State

On January 25, representatives of the United States, Russia and other world powers will convene in Geneva for the latest peace talks regarding Syria. This will be the first meeting since UN Resolution 2254 that focused on creating a roadmap for a peace process in Syria, which was unanimously adopted in December. The resolution states that all parties involved will seek to support a nationwide ceasefire in Syria and to establish a “credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance [structure]” within six months and for free and fair elections, pursuant to a new constitution, to occur within 18 months. Though this resolution may appears to be the first major step towards an end to a violent civil war, the international community should be pessimistic not only about the timelines it sets forth but also about the UN’s and other world powers’ will to see it through and affect real change.

The UN has earned a bad reputation in recent years regarding inaction in Syria. The report “Failing Syria,” which was signed by numerous aid agencies, criticized the actions of states and the failure of the UN to implement previous resolutions pertaining to Syria, namely numbers 2118, 2139, 2165, 2191 and 2204. All of these resolutions except 2204 were agreed upon unanimously. Furthermore, the UN’s reputation has recently come into question because of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Madaya. The town in southwest Syria, close to the border with Lebanon, was the subject of a flash update in early January, which discussed “desperate conditions” in which people were dying of starvation. Food costs rose astronomically, with rice costing as much as $256 per kilogram. There are reports that the United Nations knew about the dire situation for months but were only prompted to act when images of starving children started appearing in news outlets.

Brookings Fellow Michael O’Hanlon expressed his doubts over Kerry’s peace talks. He believes that forcing outside powers to halt arming combatants will cause Assad’s and the Islamic State’s power to solidify, simultaneously harming groups like the Kurds. Therefore, any ceasefire and formation of a new government will “not be built on the foundation of military balance. It would be built on a foundation of sand.” There would be no enforcement mechanism and no body to ensure legitimacy. Furthermore, the new “Syria” would demand high numbers of American soldiers and UN peacekeepers. O’Hanlon argues that the most realistic approach would be to establish a country with autonomous regions, with one or two for the “intermixed cities from Aleppo to Damascus.” He ends by assering that the international community should focus more on the three necessary parts he lists to ending war and finding a feasible political model, given that everyone is still under the illusion that the peace talks will achieve something.

The countries represented in the talks also casts doubts over the sincerity of these talks. In what has been described as a “rare display of unity among global powers,” a close advisor of Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, said that Damascus was ready to join UN-sponsored peace talks. Moreover, there are reports that the talks could break down over a dispute regarding the Kurds. The Russians demand that PYD, the political arm of the Kurds, be invited as part of the rebel delegation, which has been opposed by Turks and other powers, as they believe the PYD is not “the real opposition.” Yet, the party that will have the most influence over the talks is another point of contention. Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Prime Minister, was recently quoted as saying that Turkey has the right to a decisive influence over the talks because it hosts 2.5 million Syrian refugees, making it “the second largest Syrian country in the world.” He believes that the conflict is a serious domestic issue that could affect his country in the long term if the right solution is not found. The Prime Minister stated that with Assad in Damascus, no Syrian refugee will repatriate.

Therein lies another problem with Resolution 2254 and the upcoming talks; nowhere in the resolution does it mention the future of Assad. While the deposition of Assad may be a longer-term goal of the United Nations, the body has to ensure that his advisors are not able to assume positions of power too. If so, we may see a situation similar to Egypt post-Mubarak, in which the people had to choose to vote between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and former associates of Mubarak, thus forcing them to elect the former.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Prime Minister, who believes his country should have “decisive influence” over the peace talks because of the 2.5 million Syria refugees it hosts. Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK
Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Prime Minister, who believes his country should have “decisive influence” over the peace talks because of the 2.5 million Syria refugees it hosts. Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK

If the UN resolves the issues pertaining to representation at the talks and appeases Turkey, the pathway to peace is still not simple. It will take decades before the Syrian Civil War comes to an end: the war is not only between rebel groups and forces loyal to the governments but also terrorist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Resolution 2254 also affirms that all “Member States [must] prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Nusra Front, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL… and [must commit] to eradicating the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Syria.” Again, we must be pessimist: the UN Security Council cannot expect to have a new constitution with free elections and a new government within 18 months if the terrorist groups still have a strong presence in the country. Furthermore, even if the international efforts are able to push all terrorist activity out of Syria, the Council will then have to deal with terrorism in Iraq and fear that groups could focus attacks on reclaiming Mosul. Caution must be exercised in the event that any strategies undertaken to achieve Resolution 2254 and peace in Syria may be perceived by many as further involvement of the West, inciting attacks that could take place on Western soil. Questions also have to be raised on how to tackle the groups’ ideology, which will no doubt persist in the country even if the main actors have been dismissed.

In order to achieve peace in Syria, the UN Security Council must stick to the language of the resolution: there must be a “Syrian-led political process.” While the UN may moderate, it must ensure that it does not overstep. However, it must also take steps to rebuild its reputation and ensure that the future of Syria is moving in the right direction – that is, without Assad and his regime. Without taking the proper steps, the peace talks scheduled this year are doomed, much like all previous efforts to end this bloodiest of civil wars.

By Joshua Shinbrot

Editor’s note: This piece is the first in a several part series by the US-Middle East Network’s Chief Technology Officer Joshua Shinbrot on Iran.

The White House has launched a major campaign to produce American support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known colloquially as “the Iran Deal.” President Obama’s negotiating position with the American people has been unambiguous: accept the Iran deal or embrace war. Supporters and critics of the Iran Deal alike should demand a discussion of the actual merits and drawbacks of the Iran deal rather than the oversimplified slogan that the only alternative to this particular deal with Iran is war.

Assume that the White House has framed the options accurately and that rejection of the Iran deal really will mean war. Armed conflict between the United States and Iran would not be pretty, but military realities simply dictate that the winner of such a war would not be Iran. The fact that Iran would lose a war with the United States is certainly not a call to arms. However, it does provide grounds for questioning whether or not President Obama means what he says when he frames the acceptance or rejection of the Iran deal as a choice between diplomacy and war. Proponents and critics of the deal agree that the JCPOA is a really good deal for at least one party to these negotiations. That is, they agree it’s a really good deal for Iran. The Iranian negotiators who were smart enough to produce such a good deal for Iran are certainly smart enough to know that Iran would not win a war with the United States. This should lead proponents and critics of the deal alike to wonder: Did the United States have the same intractable negotiating position with the Iranians that President Obama now has with the American people? Did the United States present a list of demands to Iran and hold the line that it now holds with the American people: accept this deal or risk war with the United States? If so, why are there so many drawbacks to the deal?

It is easy to see that the negotiating position that President Obama has outlined with the American people is far more aggressive than the one the Administration has adopted with Iran. This is not mere conjecture, but rather a verifiable fact. The publicly available text of the deal outlines the choices that the Iranians faced at the negotiating table and the choices they stand to face when the JCPOA is implemented. President Obama and Secretary Kerry have spoken openly about the consequence if Iran violates the nuclear deal. They have threatened the use of “snap-back,” a mechanism that at least theoretically, allows the United States to re-impose sanctions on Iran – unilaterally if necessary.

Iran faced a clear choice at the negotiating table: make a deal or continue to suffer under the most comprehensive international sanctions regime ever created. After the deal is implemented, the Iranians face a less-stark choice: keep the deal or face the re-imposition of sanctions. The choice is less-stark after implementation of the deal because all of the contracts that Iran enters between the implementation of the deal and the violation of the deal are grandfathered in and will not be affected by the re-imposition of sanctions. Consequently, it appears that the American negotiators never forced Iran to choose between a deal and war with the United States.

It is unacceptable for any president of the United States, Democrat or Republican, to adopt a tougher negotiating position with the American people than he did with the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. The American people, whether they are supporters or opponents of the deal should demand better.

Proponents of this deal believe that it is likely the world’s best option for preventing, at least temporarily, Iran from developing nuclear weapons. They argue that the military option, if exercised, will only set the Iranian nuclear program back by a few years. This deal, they believe, will prevent the Iranians from obtaining a nuclear weapon for at least as much, if not more time than military strikes. Critics of the JCPOA argue that a better deal would include a more robust inspections regimen that would give inspectors anytime, anywhere access to ensure that Iran is not pursuing a covert path to develop nuclear weapons. They believe that the “snap-back” mechanism is fundamentally flawed. While the mechanism theoretically allows the United States to unilaterally re-impose sanctions on Iran, the actual re-imposition of sanctions on Iran will require international cooperation. Thus, no member of the P5+1 can truly re-impose all international sanctions against the will of its partners, even if it seems like it can on paper.

Supporting this deal does not mean opposing war, and rejecting this deal does not guarantee war. Whether you are a proponent or critic of this deal, it is a fact that if this deal is implemented Iran will be a threshold nuclear state that will be able to quickly produce a nuclear weapon in roughly 8-15 years. The reason that Iran will be a threshold nuclear state in less than two decades is that Iran will be treated like a normal member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) before forcing it to behave like every other member of the NPT. Economically crippling sanctions have not prevented Iran from using terrorist proxies to achieve its regional ambitions. They have not prevented Iran from supporting the Assad regime in continuing the Syrian civil war that has killed more than 300,000 people. A resistance mentality has led the Iranian regime to achieve, through this deal, the lifting of sanctions and the right to be a nuclear threshold state. Now, the question is: Will a deal that legitimizes and emboldens that same oppressive, extremist, homophobic, and misogynistic Iranian regime lead it to begin behaving like Germany or other normal members of the NPT?

If Congress rejects this deal with Iran and diplomacy fails to produce a better one, technological sabotage and the use of force will likely be the only options that remain to prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb. By framing the Iran deal as a choice between diplomacy and war, the President is making the claim that the rejection of this deal will indicate the failure of diplomacy and the use of force will be the only option that remains to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This President has threatened the use of force before (most notably in Syria) and ultimately backed off when he believed a better diplomatic option presented itself. Proponents and critics of this deal alike should test the President when he claims that the failure of this deal will mean war. They can do this by challenging the President to support Congressional legislation that would authorize the use of all necessary means to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon if Iran violates the JCPOA. If the president means what he argues when he states that the failure of this deal means the use of force will be necessary, he should have no problem putting that in writing by signing legislation that would authorize its use if the deal fails.

Proponents of the deal should demand to know that the President truly believes that the choice between acceptance and rejection of this deal is a choice between diplomacy and force. Critics of this deal need to know that the President is really willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that Iran doesn’t obtain a nuclear weapon covertly or in time. And Iran needs to know unambiguously that today or in 25 years, if it tries to cheat or build a bomb, the United States will use any means necessary, including force to prevent it from obtaining one. Reasonable proponents of the JCPOA will admit it has some drawbacks. Reasonable opponents of the JCPOA will admit the deal has some merits. A discussion of those merits and ways to address the deal’s drawbacks would contribute much more to the public debate than the oversimplified classification of critics as warmongers and supporters as diplomats.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (Left) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif (Right) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Source: http://mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/wabe/files/IranianNegotiations_033015.jpg

By Joshua Shinbrot

Since the August 2002 revelation of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, efforts have been made to prevent the development of nuclear weapons by the Iranians. Initial attempts to curtail the Iranian nuclear program were led by the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. In 2006, the United States, China, and Russia joined the Europeans in their endeavor to prevent Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, forming the P5 + 1 (the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).

In March 2013, the United States held secret, direct talks with Iranian officials in Oman. Only three months away from Iranian presidential elections, the Islamic Republic seemed unwilling to budge due to domestic political considerations. The Obama administration became more hopeful about talks after Hassan Rouhani became president of Iran in June 2013.

Since Rouhani’s approval of talks, two deadlines for the conclusion of a comprehensive nuclear agreement have passed, but no final agreement has been reached and deadline extensions have been repeatedly granted. Most recently, in November 2014, the P5 + 1 and Iran agreed to extend the deadline for concluding a final deal until June 2015. As part of the extension agreement, the US and Iran were supposed to produce a “framework understanding” by the end of March. Despite its release two days past the limit set by negotiators, a framework was agreed upon on April 2.

Ever since the release of this framework agreement, media pundits on every major US news network have been praising or condemning the Iran deal. At this point, however, there really is no deal. What exactly was reached, then, after the most recent marathon round of negotiations between the US and Iran hosted in Lausanne, Switzerland? In his April 2, 2015 speech, US Secretary of State John Kerry referred to the outcome of these talks as a “political understanding with details.” For those readers not fluent in ‘Bureaucrat’ who are wondering what a “political understanding with details” actually is, so am I. But, when I attempt to translate from Bureaucrat-speak to English it means something like, “we have a handshake agreement on the outline of a possible deal.”

What are the actual “details” contained within Secretary Kerry’s “political understanding?” Iran must reduce the number of centrifuges it is spinning to 5,060 for the next ten years. The Islamic Republic is only allowed to spin its first generation centrifuges. All centrifuges remaining beyond the first 6,104 are to be placed in “IAEA monitored storage.” This means that the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, will have access to the facility where Iran’s 12,896 remaining centrifuges are stored. All 19,000 of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges (devices used to produce and enrich fissile material) will remain on Iranian soil. Iran is only obliged to limit the number of centrifuges it is spinning for ten years. Leaving all 19,000 centrifuges on Iranian soil ensures Iran retains all the components needed to reignite an industrial sized nuclear weapons program the moment this agreement expires.

The Impermanent Portions of the Deal

In fairness, not all aspects of this “political understanding with details” will expire after ten years. The President of the United States, Secretary Kerry, and other members of the Obama administration have attempted to reassure skeptics by stating that some components of this deal will remain in place indefinitely. What exactly are those indefinite components of the deal?

“Iran has committed indefinitely to not conduct reprocessing or reprocessing research and development on spent nuclear fuel.” Iran has a heavy water reactor at Arak. The spent fuel from this reactor could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium. The detail of Kerry’s “political understanding” quoted above seems designed to prevent Iran’s ability to weaponize spent fuel from the Arak reactor, which must be modified according to the terms of the agreement. In addition to the ban on research and development, Iran must not build any additional heavy water reactors for fifteen years.

While the Obama administration is correct in asserting that some aspects of the “political understanding with details” are indefinite, a deal based on this “political understanding with details” is simply inadequate to reassure skeptics that Iran will never develop a nuclear weapon. Iran’s “indefinite” moratorium on research and development simply means that it agrees to halt this research for a period of time that is undetermined. It would be unreasonable to assume that this agreement is so ambiguous that Iran could resume reprocessing research on spent fuel from its nuclear reactors tomorrow. Nevertheless, it is much less unreasonable to assume that Iran will resume reprocessing and reprocessing research after the expiration of Iran’s fifteen-year commitment to refrain from building additional heavy water reactors. In fact, according to an agreement based on this outline, in ten or fifteen years Iran could resume reprocessing and reprocessing research while claiming it is still abiding by the terms of its agreement with the P5 + 1. According to its understanding with the P5 + 1, the ban on reprocessing and associated research is not permanent. It is only indefinite.

This is not merely playing semantics. The word “permanent” does appear in another portion of the text of the political understanding between the US and Iran released by the State Department. According to the text of the agreement, “Iran’s adherence to the Additional Protocol of the IAEA is permanent, including its significant access and transparency obligations.”

Iran has invested copious resources to develop an industrial-size military nuclear program, even under severe economic sanctions. An agreement with Iran must be specific regarding the limits that are placed on research and development. Prohibitions on research and development that could allow Iran to better understand how to build a bomb should be permanent and any final nuclear deal should specifically delineate those unending restrictions.

Is No Enrichment Really Unreasonable to Ask of Iran?

Some have insisted that in order for a nuclear deal with Iran to be acceptable, Iran must not be allowed to enrich any Uranium. In other words, some have insisted that an acceptable deal could allow Iran to have a civilian nuclear energy program. However, given Iran’s support of terrorist organizations, bellicose rhetoric, and violent behavior, Iran should not be allowed to enrich its own Uranium. Instead, Iran could obtain the fissile material it needs for civilian nuclear power and medical purposes abroad.

Iran’s negotiating position calls for domestic enrichment. The Obama administration has generously sought to construct a deal that enables Iran to say that it is continuing to enrich Uranium, while the P5 + 1 can say that Iran will be unable to build a bomb. However, the President has not done anything to ensure the fearful Saudis, Egyptians, Emiratis, and Jordanians that this deal does not “pave Iran’s way to the bomb,” as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated.

In his speech to the United State Congress that received much media coverage, Prime Minister Netanyahu notably did not call for a deal that prevents the Iranians from all nuclear enrichment. This seems to be an even more moderate position than the one taken by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states at their meeting with President Obama at Camp David in early May. At this meeting the Saudis and other Arab states have committed to match any enrichment program that the Iranians are allowed to retain.

When the United Arab Emirates decided to act upon its desire for a peaceful nuclear program, it signed a cooperation agreement with the United States that prevents domestic nuclear enrichment. Instead, the UAE is assured a supply of needed nuclear fuel from outside sources.

Iran is one of four countries on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. The United Arab Emirates is not on that list. According to the State Department’s 2013 Country Report on Terrorism, Iran has armed Houthi rebel groups in Yemen and Shia rebels in Bahrian. Iran has continued to sponsor Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In Syria, Iran has continued to actively support Assad, even after he used chemical weapons on his own people. Iran has also aided Al-Qaeda and used its proxy, Hezbollah, to train Shiite militants who have killed Americans in Iraq.

Why is Iran, perhaps the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, allowed to enrich Uranium while the United Arab Emirates is not? The United Arab Emirates is not on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List and the UAE did not plan a raid in Iraq in which five American soldiers were killed. This is not to argue that the UAE should be allowed to enrich Uranium. It shouldn’t be permitted to enrich its own Uranium and it seems perfectly happy to be obtaining its own Uranium abroad.

Perhaps the case of the UAE illustrates the clear difference in the intentions between the Iranians and the Emiratis. The Emiratis want nuclear power for civilian purposes. They are willing to forgo domestic enrichment and obtain nuclear fuel abroad. Despite maintaining that it only seeks a peaceful nuclear program, Iran has all the components of a military nuclear program. Beyond its industrial-sized and extensive nuclear enrichment program, Iran has a vast ballistic missile program. It is important to mention that the other components of Iran’s military nuclear program, including its ballistic missile program are not limited in any capacity according to the “political understanding with details” between the P5 + 1 and Iran. Unlike the UAE, Iran insists on enriching its own Uranium and on keeping the 13,940 centrifuges that it is not permitted to use within its borders.

The “political understanding with details” that the Obama administration has produced is not a framework for an agreement that ensures that the only type of nuclear program Iran maintains is a peaceful one. Any Iran deal that Obama signs based on this framework is one that merely kicks the can down the road and will leave a future American President with no option to prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb but military intervention. As Iran is allowed to continue nuclear research and development, its breakout time will be continually reduced. President Obama himself has said that in a mere thirteen years, Iranian breakout time will be near zero.

In 2028, with an Iranian breakout time of zero, the President of the United States will not have the luxury that President Obama has now of extending deadline after deadline in the hope of negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran. The President will be faced with the choice of either eliminating Iran’s nuclear program or permitting the development of nuclear weapons by the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and allowing for the outbreak of a massive nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

Negotiating a Better Deal

At present, the US has a tremendous opportunity to alter its negotiating tactics and lock down a better deal with Iran that ensures any Iranian nuclear program will be a peaceful nuclear program. Realities of the negotiating situation have changed. Although Iran needs a nuclear deal more than the US, the Obama administration has negotiated as if it wants a deal more than the Iranians. On May 21, the President signed a bi-partisan law granting Congress the power to review any deal he makes with the Iranians. Regardless of whether or not the President wants a deal more than Iran does, the President will only get a deal, if any, that Congress can accept. Moreover, the insistence by Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council that they will match any enrichment capability that Iran retains provides the US with additional bargaining power and it may change the president’s calculations.

Can President Obama accept responsibility for Iran as a threshold nuclear power in the Middle East if it does not develop a nuclear weapon on his watch? Perhaps. Can the crowning foreign policy achievement of Obama’s presidency be the creation of multiple threshold nuclear powers in the Middle East, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council? President Obama has coined himself as an opponent of nuclear proliferation and claims to be opposed to a nuclear Iran partly because of the arms-race that a nuclear Iran would initiate in the Middle East. If a deal with Iran based on the released framework guarantees the development of industrial sized nuclear programs within many Middle Eastern states, this will constitute a threat not only to American national security, but also to Obama’s legacy.

Americans need to reevaluate whether or not Iranian nuclear enrichment is tolerable if other Middle Eastern states intend to match that enrichment capacity. The United States should also re-examine whether or not it is really wise to allow Iran to keep all 19,000 of its centrifuges within its borders. Saudi Arabia has insisted that it will match Iranian enrichment capacity. This could mean that Saudi Arabia will decide to keep 19,000 centrifuges within its borders, but promises only to spin 5,060 of them. Could the United States really prohibit its Saudi friends from pursuing this type of enrichment program after approving it for the Iranians?

Would the United States be changing the rules in the middle of the game if it were to deviate from the understandings reached in the political framework? It may be more accurate to characterize such a move as an acceptance of the Iranian rules of negotiation, rather than a change of the rules by the US. After all, the adoption of a position insisting upon enrichment was a change in the middle of the process by the Iranians. In 2003, when the UK, France, and Germany threatened to bring Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program, Iran agreed to “cooperate fully with the IAEA and suspend all Uranium enrichment.” This demonstrates that in the past, the Iranians have been willing to accept a position of zero-enrichment in order to prevent possible sanctions.

Any deal with Iran must not only prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in the short term, but assure the United States and its friends that Iran will never be able to develop a military nuclear program. This will involve strict limitations on the types of nuclear components and dual-use items that can be kept inside the country. Moreover, the world will not be confident that Iran only seeks a peaceful nuclear program until it demonstrates a change in its intentions. The P5 + 1 should craft a deal that compels Iran to restrain its ballistic missile program, forces it to abandon its sponsorship of terror, permanently limits Iranian nuclear research and development, and puts a comprehensive and intrusive nuclear inspections regime in place. Inspectors should be allowed to go anywhere in the country at any time. Failure to accept such a deal will reveal Iran’s true intentions and the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program should be dealt with accordingly.



By James P. Abate

Yazidis gather to light candles at the holy shrine of Lalish. (AP Photo/Seivan M. Salim)

Last Wednesday (April 15) marked the beginning of the Yazidi New Year. Thirty-six miles northeast of Mosul, Iraq is the small village of Lalish, the most sacred place on Earth to the Yazidi religion. Followers of the faith believe the village, surrounded on all sides by mountains lined with oak trees, to be the center of the universe: the only place on Earth to be saved during the biblical floods. Twelve cone-shaped domes are scattered across the valley as shrines to the Yazidi saints. Each year on this day thousands of Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious group located in northern Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, gather on what they call Red Wednesday for a time of feasting, repentance, and performing ancient rituals set amid the temple grounds. Worshipers take off their shoes to walk the hallowed grounds and perform fire-based prayer rites. In accordance with tradition, worshipers leave colored eggs outside of their homes on the New Year hoping they will help God identify them.

This New Year, however, is eerily different. When fighters for the Islamic State invaded northern Iraq last summer, they destroyed the villages of the Yazidi people along with the homes of Christians and other Kurdish groups. In a storm of murder, torture, and sexual violence, Islamic State fighters executed and buried in mass graves young Yazidi men. They simultaneously displayed their unimaginable violent ways by capturing young girls and women who were to be used as both sex slaves and pieces of property by the militants. Hala Rasho Hamo, a worshiper at the Lalish temple this New Year said, “We did not paint eggs or hang red tulips on our doors this year: our heart is in pain. We came here to pray to God and the [Yazidi saint] Sheikh Adi to end our misery and bring back our women and children.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report earlier this week revealing some of the most heinous war crimes committed by Islamic State forces against the Yazidi women captured. The detailed report reveals that one girl as young as 12 was abducted from her village and handed over to seven Islamic State fighters who would trade and rape her. The victim recounts her story: “Sometimes I was sold. Sometimes I was given as a gift. The last man was the most abusive; he used to tie my arms and legs.” Many of the women have suffered unimaginable trauma and abuse. Many have attempted suicide only to be further physically assaulted when the fighters caught them attempting to hang themselves or cut their wrists. Various reports claim that an estimated 5,000 Yazidis have been killed, abducted, or remain missing.

The United Nations is currently investigating reports from Yazidi men and women who have escaped in an effort to judge whether or not the Islamic State is committing genocide. Iraq currently is not a member of the International Criminal Court in The Hague and therefore any crimes cannot be investigated and tried under international law until the nation joins.

It is almost too overwhelming to comprehend the magnitude of horror that this population has endured. It is even more difficult to comprehend how the United Nations or other international peace keeping institutions have not intervened for these people. It is understandable that these organizations are often just as terrified about the threat that the Islamic State poses in the region. However, I cannot comprehend how the world is able to stand by and watch as this militant organization commits genocide in a similar fashion to that of every other mass killing movement in history. Reminiscent of the Bosnian and Rwandan genocide, the mass killing and capture of the Yazidi people has for almost a year gone unnoticed by most of the world’s population. As a more integrated world, we must not stand by and watch as a minority population is massacred for their beliefs and identity. They too should enjoy the ability to worship in peace on this New Year’s celebration without the grief of reflecting for the thousands that have been massacred or abducted from their friends and families.


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On several occasions throughout her campaign, Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has mentioned that part of her plan to defeat terrorist organization “The Islamic State...