Israeli war drums threaten autumn strike

A Boeing 707 aerially refuels three F-15 Eagles. Photography: Yonatan Zalk,  Israeli Air force

With limited air-refuelling planes, Israel cannot conduct a sustained campaign against Iranian nuclear sites

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The debate about whether to attack Iran is again dominating Israeli media. The government speaks of a deadline measured in weeks. Although the national security establishment is solidly opposed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that the decision will be made by the political leadership. As yet, there is no consensus in the eight-member security cabinet for a strike, and apparently no majority either. The public at large is opposed to unilateral action (46% opposed, 32% in favour, according to one poll).

There is surely an element of bluff whenever Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak talk about the military option. Yet they also are determined not to allow Israel to fall under an Iranian nuclear shadow nor to put Israel’s security entirely in US hands.

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Closing the deal with Iran

Saeed Jalili, of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and P5+1 chief nuclear negotiator Catherine Ashton at talks in Moscow in June

Saeed Jalili, of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and the West’s chief nuclear negotiator Catherine Ashton at talks in Moscow in June

By Andrew Parasiliti, Executive Director, IISS-US; Corresponding Director IISS-Middle East

There could yet be a deal over Iran’s nuclear programme between Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany; led in talks by the EU). The endgame, however, needs to be transparent: a comprehensive package that includes sanctions relief in return for Iran’s closing the nuclear file. Diplomacy with Iran should be seen as a process, with benchmarks and objectives, like any other high-stakes negotiation. These benchmarks would include a compromise on Iran’s right to enrichment; agreement on the latest fuel-swap proposal; a strategic pause in both Iranian enrichment and further sanctions; Iran’s involvement in regional security dialogue, including on Syria; and sanctions relief as a clear outcome for Iranian cooperation.

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Talking with the Iranian media

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Given the depth of distrust and misunderstanding between Iran and the West, I try to take whatever opportunities present themselves for communication. And having been enjoined from official contacts with Iranians during the 26 years that I represented Uncle Sam, it’s a welcome liberation.

I particularly appreciate opportunities to speak to the Iranian public. So when the BBC Persian service, VOA or other Iran-directed broadcasts ask for an interview, I accommodate. I don’t see much value in giving interviews to Iranian English media outlets like Press TV that are outwardly a direct propaganda arm of the regime. But I do talk with the state Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) because their stories are usually for both domestic and international audiences.

Giving interviews to IRNA can be fraught, though, and on both sides. On the eve of the Moscow talks, an IRNA journalist posed 13 questions to me about the West’s position. I tethered my answers to orthodoxy, knowing that any hint of disagreement with Washington’s views would be highlighted and possibly taken out of context.

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An opportunity for EU action in North Korea

North Korean Military Parade (Photo: Korean Friendship Association)

The bête noire of the global non-proliferation regime, North Korea has defeated every effort to rein in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons and illicit arms trade, argues Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the IISS non-proliferation programme, in a new paper for the EU-Non Proliferation Consortium.

Neither sanctions, incentives nor ‘strategic patience’ have succeeded in bringing about anything more than a temporary stall in the development of these weapon systems. There appears to be no prospect that North Korea would barter its nuclear arsenal for diplomatic or economic gain.

Having fewer stakes in North East Asia than the actors in the Six-Party Talks process, the European Union has played, at most, a supporting role, providing aid when incentives were called for and applying sanctions when that was in the script, while consistently promoting human rights.

Yet, suggests Fitzpatrick, if North Korea moves under new leadership towards market reforms, in order to overcome its poverty trap, there may be opportunities for a greater EU role. Whether in conjunction with the EU’s closer relations with South Korea or through finally establishing a delegation office in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, a more direct application of European soft power would better position the EU to assist the Korean Peninsula in future crises and to benefit from any positive turn of events.

Read the paper

IISS Strategic Dossier: North Korean Security Challenges

Hitting the Hay Festival

Mark Fitzpatrick at the Hay Festival

Portrait of the artist as a non-proliferation wonk: Mark Fitzpatrick at the Hay Festival

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

My kids will find it amusing that their wonky father was categorised as an ‘artist’ this past weekend. The occasion was the Hay Festival in Wales, which sprinkles in some policy discussions among the talks on literature and the arts.

I was invited to lead off on a panel on the Iran nuclear issue because I had written a feature article for Prospect in April entitled ‘Iran can be stopped’. At first glance, the headline might have been mistaken for a war drumbeat. To the contrary, my argument in the piece is that Iran can be deterred from crossing the line to manufacturing nuclear weapons; Tehran will be content to have the capability.

The problem is that the capability is getting increasingly worrisome: Iran produces 30% more enriched uranium each month than when I wrote the Prospect piece and has expanded work at the deeply buried facility at Fordow, producing higher enriched uranium that is on the cusp of being weapons usable.

The good citizens at the Hay Festival didn’t want to hear much about that, though – at least not the vocal ones who came to the Iran panel. They were more interested in Israel, and why we weren’t talking about that country’s nuclear arsenal. As chair, BBC World News anchor Nik Gowing tried to keep the discussion on topic, but he had to bow to popular demand.

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Myanmar comes in from the nuclear cold (almost)

Myanmar Defence Minister Hla Min made headlines yesterday with his announcement that the country had abandoned all nuclear activity and suspended military cooperation with North Korea.

‘This is a good news story’ Mark Fitzpatrick, the Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, told Alexander Nicoll, and he sketched out the background to international concern about possible nuclear proliferation in the country. However, he also cautioned that the General’s comment that was no need for the IAEA to visit Myanmar as there was nothing to inspect was ‘the wrong answer.’

IISS Strategic Dossier: Preventing Nuclear Dangers in Southeast Asia and Australasia

Can Iranian nuclear talks progress at Baghdad?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the press following of a P5+1 meeting at the UN headquarters during the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City, New York September 23, 2009. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

By Dina Esfandiary, Research Analyst and Project Coordinator, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The positive atmosphere  surrounding the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Istanbul this month will be tested just over three weeks from now in a further meeting in Baghdad. Both sides seem to have embarked on an intensive PR campaign to lighten the mood, dampen the calls for war and demonstrate the willingness to compromise in the upcoming talks over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme and uranium enrichment.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi recently said the Istanbul talks had produced ‘results that satisfied both sides’. ‘At the Baghdad meeting, I see more progress,’ he predicted.

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