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How to talk and listen to Iran
Guest Editorial by William O. Beeman
William O. Beeman is a professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He is the author ofLanguage, status and power in Iran (Indiana 1986), The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran demonize each other (Chicago 2008) and Iranian performance traditions (Mazda 2011). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme in Geneva have raised hopes that there may be rapprochement between Iran and the West. This recalls an earlier potential ‘thaw’ in US-Iran relations on 7 January 1998 when some US officials reacted to the then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s call for better relations between the United States and Iran in an interview with CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour.
But American analysts have apparently not learned from that event. The ‘thaw’ failed, largely because the Americans at that time focused narrowly on what they mistakenly thought to be the substance of President Khatami’s pronouncements, namely that Iran was willing to capitulate to a whole list of American demands for ‘better behaviour’.
In so doing, they missed the real message that Khatami wished to send. His was a message outlining how rapprochement could proceed in terms of salutary communication dynamics between the two nations. The United States has largely repeated these misunderstandings in cross-cultural communication in the current negotiations, making them exceptionally difficult.
The situation is complicated further by the fact that the United States is not acting alone in the current negotiations. The other P5+1 nations are also involved, and with so many parties with so many cultural communication dynamics, it is not surprising that these negotiations have been tortured and difficult.
The multicultural basis for the current negotiations is overshadowed by the insistence on the part of the United States that Washington’s representatives take the lead in the talks. This is problematic in and of itself, since, to put it charitably, Americans tend to be tone deaf when dealing with intercultural communication dynamics, a point made bluntly by the late Margaret Mead in assessing American prospects for world leadership following World War II.
Briefly, and particularly with regard to Iran, Americans often miss subtleties of communication in dealing with other nations for two important reasons. First, they do not appreciate the importance of status differences. Second, they believe that contrition is honourable and a precondition of improving personal relations.
Americans despise status differences, and repress the overt expression of status even when it is clearly present in interpersonal communication. The boss tells his or her employees, ‘Call me Chris’ and the employees obey, though they know that the boss has the real power in the organization.
Iranians are dramatically different. Status is of enormous importance in Iranian life, and individuals spend their careers in an elaborate dance balancing status differences, sometimes emphasizing their lower relative status, sometimes their higher relative status in order to advance their interests.
‘Getting something off your chest’ is a well-advised American strategy in interpersonal relations, requiring clear evidence of contrition in court cases in order to obtain mercy in meting out punishment or in obtaining parole or pardon. If anything, such expressions of regret for past deeds enhance an individual’s standing in the opinion of others.
Iranians may admit guilt or become contrite but only as a conscious decision to accept a decisive lower status position vis-a-vis another person or group. Contrition is only a method that is used when an Iranian accepts a lower status position. It is often insincere, as it provides for an advantage in dealing with a person known to have much more power and authority. This can be advantageous as a way of escaping responsibility and garnering favours, but it is unseemly for a leader, or group of leaders, who need to protect their status – and in Iran’s case, by extension, the status of the nation they represent. Consequently, Iran’s leaders are never going to show contrition for acts and policies they believe to be justified.
In the interview with Amanpour in 1998, President Khatami told the United States in no uncertain terms that, although Iran was more than willing to enter into negotiations as an equal partner, Iran would not enter into communication with the American government as a lower-status partner. In 2013 newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif told the United States the same thing – not just once, but over and over. Iranians have a long history of dealing with this perceived status inequality on the part of the United States. The Iranian perception of the relationship between the two nations before the revolution of 1978-79 is one where the United States assumed the status of patron (US) to client (Iran), all engineered by the Shah without any Iranian public input. This status relationship has been vehemently rejected by Iranian leaders since the revolution. President Khatami, his successor President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and current President Rouhani had to defend this position to retain their own power.
This means that Iran has not and will not respond to accusations of perceived wrongdoing from the United States with anything but denial and counter-accusations, because to accept the American accusations, even as a topic for discussion, places the United States in the higher status position. On the other hand, back in his interview in 1998, President Khatami did provide a way to talk about things of mutual concern without invoking the hot-button of status difference. In talking about the past, he was able to provide analogies in US history for all of the bad behaviour of which the Iranians have been accused. In effect, he was saying: ‘We can discuss our mutual pasts in a common framework without needing to determine who was the wrongdoer’. With regard to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, President Khatami provided statements that indicated that Iran found these to be general problems that faced the region, and indeed the world.
These problems, he claimed, required broad dialogue for progress to be made. His call for people-to-people contacts was similarly a way of opening discussion between Americans and Iranians without confronting the status-guilt problems that loom in the government-to-government contacts favoured by Washington officials. Thus, eschewing the need to make Iran admit guilt and place it in a lower status position is what President Khatami desires for renewed dialogue with the United States.
President Ahmadinejad adopted a far more confrontational stance vis-à-vis the United States. His style and rhetoric was irritating to Americans and other nations, but if one focuses solely on his style, one misses the fact that he was essentially sending the same message as President Khatami – that Iran was not going to submit to accepting the humiliating status of subordinate to the United States. President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, both Western-educated, have returned to President Khatami’s more accommodating approach to communication with the United States, but once again, the message is still the same: Iran will not be subordinated to the United States.
Americans are not without precedent for non-status marked dialogue. The business world provides continual examples where companies sued for liability quietly fix the problems ‘out of court’ without admitting guilt. This has been the standing model for dealing with banking and financial violations over the past decade. Lawyers are often effective mediators in such situations. This model clearly shows the way to make progress with Iran. A mediated dialogue as equal status partners, without any requirements for admission of guilt, and a commitment to fix global problems of mutual interest will establish the two nations on the road to healthy communication. Tentatively the current Geneva negotiations may be inching toward this model. We cannot know precisely what is taking place behind closed doors, but it would be reasonable to assume that the presence of the other P5+1 nations may have resulted in mediation in the problematic US-Iran relationship.
Unfortunately, congressional legislators in the United States have not evolved in terms of communication with Iran. They entertain the belief that harsh economic sanctions have forced Iran into a lower status position at the negotiating table. The US Senate recently tried to pass a new bill that would actually put new sanctions in place if negotiations with Iran did not result, essentially, in the dismantling of its nuclear programme. This bill was clearly designed to humiliate and subordinate Iran even further. Foreign Minister Zarif was clear that if this bill were passed, it would result in the abandonment of negotiations. Many US legislators completely misread this statement, opining that this showed just how insistent Iranians were on making progress toward building a nuclear weapon. In fact the real objection on Iran’s part was once again the prospect of being forced into a subordinate position.
One hopes that the sophistication of President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif will allow them to accommodate the historic blind spots and deficiencies in American cross-cultural communication abilities. Secretary of State John Kerry is multi-lingual with a lot of foreign experience. He seems to be confident in his ability to talk to foreign leaders. However, it is clear that most of the accommodating is currently being done by the Iranian diplomats. The unsophisticated American leaders at home only make this job more difficult.
Since people-to-people communications cannot actually be controlled by either government, the United States would be wise to graciously endorse the suggestions of Iranian leaders to widen them. President Khatami clearly made a strong opening to Washington in 1998. President Rouhani has repeated these suggestions and has shown the way for further productive communication at informal levels. Ironically the whole world travels to Iran regularly – except US citizens (who can travel there, but largely believe they cannot).
Sadly, here again, the United States presents an obstacle. The US Treasury Department, citing currency transfer restrictions, throws up financial roadblocks for cultural and intellectual exchange at every opportunity – sometimes violating their own regulations. We can only hope that US national leaders have the sensitivity and wisdom to transcend narrow US cultural models to carry the dialogue forward both in official and unofficial settings.
Update: The Geneva talks between Iran and the P5+1 nations, led by the United States were preliminary discussions leading to a six-month negotiation period in Vienna starting on January 20, 2014. The first round of talks ended on March 7, 2014.
William O. Beeman
Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of Minnesota
One reason that the accusation of an Iranian nuclear weapons program persists is that, after so many years of truth-by-repetition, the public began to believe this. It then became an election "gimmie." No politician--Democrat or Republican--ever lost a vote by attacking Iran, and it is still true. Finally, however, the public is beginning to wake up to the fact that they have been lied to for more than 20 years. It is about time--just as right-wing forces still lust after a scenario where the United States initiates a military action against Iran.
With crossed fingers, we may have finally passed a milestone. Robert Gates, who began it all is no longer in government, and the Obama administration has begun a much more positive course vis-a-vis Iran--a course that will change the world for the better if only the right-wing chicken-hawks can be headed off from their continual warmongering.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, Nov 16, 2013 at 12:43 AM
Subject: Iran Review: Concern about Arak Heavy Water Research Reactor (Hassan Beheshtipour)
Concern about Arak Heavy Water Research Reactor: Just an Excuse or a
Reality? Saturday, November 16, 2013
In this article, the author aims to answer the simple, but very important
question that whether Iran's nuclear plant in Arak should be a cause of
concern for the Western states. The Arak plant is located close to the
city of Arak, some 290 km southwest of the capital city, Tehran. It is
among 17 nuclear sites that Iran is currently operating under the
supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The plant
consists of two main parts:
A) Arak Heavy Water Research Reactor
As the useful lifespan of Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) almost reached its
end and the equipment and systems working there gradually became obsolete,
like all other similar reactors in the world, Iran decided to find a
replacement for that research reactor. In addition, domestic demand in
Iran for various radio drugs that are used for a variety of diagnostic and
therapeutic purposes as well as demand for radioisotopes that are used in
various fields of industry and research kept rising. The rise in demand
came despite various limitations that Iran has been facing even for the
provision and procurement of such radio isotopes from foreign sources. As
a result, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran made up its mind to build
a new research reactor in order to replace the Tehran Research Reactor. To
achieve that goal, a general plan was made for the construction of Arak
research reactor, which is of heavy water type and capable of generating
40 megawatts of power. The reactor is known as IR40.
The basic part of the project was finished in 2002 and construction
operations got underway in 2004. Paragraph 35 of the last report presented
to the IAEA's Board of Governors by Director General of the United Nations
nuclear watchdog, Yukiya Amano, says, “In a letter dated 25 August 2013,
Iran informed the Agency that ‘based on the practical progress of
construction work’ the previously indicated ‘start-up’ date for the IR-40
Reactor was ‘not achievable, so it cannot be the first quarter of 2014.’”
Construction of the power plant will most probably end in the fall of 2014
and its final commissioning has been scheduled for early 2015. In his
latest report dated August 28, 2013, Amano has noted that Iran has built
10 nuclear fuel assemblies all of which have been stockpiled at the
manufacturing facility. In Paragraph 47 of the same report, Amano has
informed the IAEA Board of Governors that: “On 17 and 18 August 2013, the
Agency carried out an inspection and a DIV at FMP and confirmed the
ongoing manufacture of pellets for the IR-40 Reactor using natural UO2. As
indicated above (Paragraph 34), since the Director General’s previous
report Iran has started to manufacture fuel assemblies containing nuclear
material for the IR-40 Reactor.”
B) Arak heavy water production plant
Arak heavy water production plant was inaugurated by the former Iranian
president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on August 26, 2006. According to
Gholamreza Aqazadeh, the then head of the Atomic Energy Organization of
Iran, the plant had an original production capacity of eight tons. Upon
inauguration, its capacity reached 16 tons of heavy water with a degree of
purity of 99.8 percent. The Arak heavy water production project is a
hallmark of Iran's nuclear advances and plays a determining role in
meeting the country’s need to nuclear material for medical purposes such
as control of various kinds of cancer and AIDS. The heavy water produced
there can be also used as coolant for other heavy water reactors. As this
industrial unit opened, Iran became the ninth country in the world with
necessary equipment to produce heavy water. Argentina, Canada, India and
Norway are among the biggest producers and exporters of heavy water in the
Analysis: Why Western countries are concerned about Arak project?
As Iran has frequently noted, the main goal behind the implementation of
the heavy water research reactor project was to produce radio drugs that
are used to treat intractable diseases such as various kinds of cancer.
Such drugs are needed by about 850,000 Iranians every year. The plant is
also meant to produce various radioisotopes which can be used in various
fields of industry and agriculture. The Western media, however, have
frequently claimed that Iran can reprocess the spent fuel of the reactor
to separate plutonium. They have alleged that eight kilograms of this
nuclear material is sufficient to be mounted on a missile warhead and turn
it into a nuclear warhead. Mass media in the West have been launching a
heavy propaganda campaign around this project claiming that Arak facility
will be ready at the end of 2016 to be used for the production of enough
plutonium which would be, in turn, sufficient to make one or two nuclear
bombs. Since 1992, the falsehood of such claims and invalidity of dates
given for Iran's nuclear steps has been frequently proven. One clear
reason for the falsehood and invalidity of such claims is that they have
never come true.
Reasons that refute Western countries’ concerns about Arak facility
1. To produce plutonium from the spent fuel, a special facility built on
the basis of cutting-edge technology for the separation of plutonium from
nuclear refuse is needed. Iran lacks such an advanced facility.
2. To produce plutonium out of nuclear waste, “hot cells,” which are big
storage facilities with special covering are needed. Iran does not have
3. For a country like Iran, which has already mastered the technology used
for the enrichment of uranium, it would not be very difficult to build a
nuclear bomb. To manufacture a nuclear bomb, it will just suffice to
repeat the process of uranium enrichment from lower levels to over 90
percent purity, which is needed to make a nuclear bomb. However, safe
maintenance of the nuclear bomb in order to prevent its detonation and
destruction of the country’s facilities, and even more importantly, using
such a hypothetical bomb at the right time and the right place against the
enemy forces, needs very complicated and more advanced technology. The
Western countries are well aware that Iran neither possesses such
technology, nor has it been ever trying to obtain it.
4. Arak nuclear plant is under strict supervision of the International
Atomic Energy Agency. The Director General of the IAEA Mr. Amano, and head
of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi, recently
signed an agreement in Tehran according to which Iran has voluntarily
allowed the IAEA to inspect its heavy water facility in Arak just in the
same way that Arak Research Reactor has been under the oversight of the
IAEA since 2006. Although production of heavy water, per se, is not
considered as part of a country’s nuclear activities, Iran has voluntarily
allowed the IAEA to inspect this facility in order to strip the Western
countries of any possible excuse to mount pressure on the Islamic Republic
Untold realities about Arak nuclear plant
Now, the important question that is posed is why a nuclear plant, which is
almost two years away from full commissioning, and is being inspected by
the IAEA in every respect, should be a source of concern for the Western
It should be noted that Arak nuclear plant is located on the surface of
the ground and is quite accessible for all kinds of enemy warplanes.
Therefore, in an extreme case, it would be easier to destroy this plant
than the underground uranium enrichment site in Fordow, which is used by
Iran to produce enriched uranium under the supervision of the IAEA.
Ephraim Asculai, a senior research associate at the London-based Institute
for National Strategic Studies (INSS), has noted that inauguration of Arak
nuclear plant will cause immunity for Iran's nuclear energy program; a
proposition which is totally unacceptable to the Western states.
Therefore, he added, concerns about the Arak nuclear plant mostly seem to
be of a tactical and military nature than being related to the
proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction.
Now, why the French Foreign Minister [Laurent Fabius] should use such a
plant as an excuse to balk at an agreement that could have been reached
between two negotiating partiers [in recent Geneva nuclear talks] and
would have been a major stride toward confidence building between the two
sides? To answer that question, it is noteworthy that the other
negotiating parties may have already reached an agreement among them in
order to play the “good cop, bad cop” game in a bid to take more
concessions from Iran.
Alternatively, one may guess that the hefty amounts of money that France
has received from Saudi Arabia have provided Paris with good incentive to
engage in such a dirty game. One may even believe that when the Israelis
saw that the United States Secretary of State John Kerry is not willing to
give in to their illegitimate demands, they have asked their old friend,
Laurent Fabius, to resort to childish excuses [to prevent a nuclear deal
between Iran and the P5+1 group]. However, in doing so, the French foreign
minister has also tarnished the political credit of France in the eyes of
the Iranian people.
Acting on the erroneous assumption that its economic sanctions are
bringing Iran to its knees, the West is just losing opportunities. The
Western countries are ignoring the fact that if they lose the opportunity
for reaching an agreement with Rouhani-Zarif team, it is not clear whether
such an experience could be repeated in the future. The forthcoming
negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group, which have been scheduled
for November 20, can be considered a turning point in this regard because
in those talks, the West will come to realize that such illogical behavior
and childish quibbling cannot continue forever.
*A researcher, documentary producer, and expert on nuclear issues, Hassan
Beheshtipour received his BA in Trade Economics from Tehran University.
His research topics span from US and Russian foreign policy to the
Ukrainian Orange Revolution.
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The Israeli government continues to spread the propaganda that "Iran" fails to acknowledge or condemn the Holocaust. President Rouhani's remarks should put this falsehood to rest. However, I don't doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu will claim that this was not "sincere" or some other rhetoric to continue impeding progress on Iranian-American rapprochement.
Thanks to Behrad Nakhai for forwarding this.
Date: Wed, Sep 25, 2013 at 5:43 PM
Subject: Iran president acknowledges Holocaust, talks Syria and Twitter - Amanpour's Full interview with Rouhani
To: Behrad Nakhai <email@example.com>
Watch full interview:
By Josh Levs and Mick Krever, CNN
Iran's new president has acknowledged that Nazis killed Jews, furthering the stark contrast between himself and his predecessor, who called the Holocaust a "myth."
In a wide-ranging interview with CNN, he also discussed Israel and Syria.
"Any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews, was reprehensible and condemnable," President Hassan Rouhani said in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
"Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn, because genocide, the taking of the human life, is condemnable and it makes no difference whether that life is a Jewish life, a Christian or a Muslim or what. For us it's the same."
He also referred to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"But this does not mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crimes against a group, now therefore they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This, too, is an act that should be condemned. There should be an even-handed discussion," Rouhani said, speaking through a translator.
Rouhani emphasized that he is "not a historian."
The Anti-Defamation League responded quickly.
"It is about time an Iranian leader acknowledged the Holocaust as a tragic fact of history," ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a written statement.
"But in practically the same breath President Rouhani engaged in the more subtle form of Holocaust revisionism, minimizing it by accusing the Jewish survivors of taking vengeance on the Palestinians in fulfilling their 2,000-year-old dream of returning to their homeland, Israel. This was a gratuitous swipe at the survivors.
"There is no moral equivalency between the slaughter of 6 million Jews and millions of other innocent men, women and children in the Nazi gas chambers and the plight of the Palestinian people living in the West Bank and Gaza. The Iranians, apparently, are willing to come only so far."
Days earlier, in an interview with NBC, Rouhani declined to say whether the Holocaust happened.
The country's previous president, the firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, infamously called the Holocaust a myth.
"If the Holocaust is a reality of our time, a history that occurred, why is there not sufficient research that can approach the topic from different perspectives?" he once asked.
CNN asked Rouhani about another of Ahmadinejad's remarks - that Israel should be wiped off the map.
"We have no intention of attacking any country or getting into a war with any country," he said. "Even if our armed forces are built up, it is for defense purposes alone."
The "issue of Palestine" should resolved through the ballot box, he said.
In New York for the U.N. General Assembly, he brought along the only Jewish member of the Iranian parliament.
"Our effort here is to tell the world public opinion that Iran is not only not anti-Semitic, but rather that it respects the customs and beliefs of the Jewish people," Rouhani said.
"We are proud of our history of peaceful coexistence with followers of all belief systems," he said.
Human rights organizations have chronicled Iran's treatment of some religious minorities, particularly members of the Baha'i faith.
Despite the recent release of more than a dozen political and religious prisoners in Iran, "religious minorities and other prisoners of conscience in Iran continue to suffer for their beliefs, including more than 100 imprisoned members of the Baha'i community and its leadership," said Robert P. George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in a statement Monday.
Also, "a renewed crackdown on Protestant Christians in recent weeks has led to numerous arrests," the commission said. "Of those Christians already imprisoned, Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini continues to languish in Evin prison while his eight-year sentence was upheld just last month."
Rouhani told CNN he is pursuing a citizenship charter that will work to improve freedoms. "So I will spare no effort to ensure that those who are currently in prison will see an opening door," he said.
Iranian president on Syrian conflict
Rouhani also addressed Iran's role in the Syrian civil war.
Some Iran troops are fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, Amanpour noted.
Rouhani insisted the Iran's involvement does not even number hundreds of people.
"We have close relations with Syria from a long time ago," he said, adding that Iran has military attaches and experts stationed there.
Asked about Iranian weaponry being used by the Syrian regime, Rouhani cautioned against baseless "propaganda."
"Are you encouraging the regime to give up its chemical weapons as the deal between the U.S. and Russia says?" Amanpour asked.
"We believe in general that the entire region of the Middle East has - as far as that region is concerned - all weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, have to be eradicated from the region," Rouhani responded.
Iran is glad Syria has committed itself to the Chemical Weapons Convention, he said.
Rouhani on why no meeting with Obama
"I would like to say to American people: I bring peace and friendship from Iranians to Americans," Rouhani said in English, marking the first time he's spoken the language in a TV interview since becoming president. For the rest of the interview Rouhani spoke Farsi.
In many ways, Rouhani is the "it" man of the U.N. General Assembly, as Western leaders look to gauge whether his diplomatic overtures will translate into concrete policy changes.
There was widespread speculation that he and U.S. President Barack Obama might meet face-to-face.
"There were some talks about" a possible meeting, Rouhani told Amanpour through a translator. "And preparation for the work was done a bit as well."
But no such meeting happened.
Two senior U.S. administration officials told CNN Tuesday that the encounter was called off because it was considered "too complicated" for Iran back home.
"I believe we didn't have sufficient time to really coordinate the meeting to the full extent that we needed to," Rouhani told CNN.
Given that U.S. and Iranian leaders have not met face-to-face for 35 years, he said, "we must give time for diplomacy to work itself, for dialogue to come about, for circumstances to be laid properly."
Still, the two men recently exchanged letters, and Rouhani said the ice is "already beginning to break because the environment is changing and that has come about as a result of the will of the people of Iran to create a new era of relations between the people of Iran and the rest of the world."
Resolving the standoff over Iran's nuclear program is the priority, he said. "If the nuclear issue is settled conclusively, I believe that that will pave the way for numerous other issues that can be discussed."
Iran insists its program is for energy purposes; the United States and several other countries believe it could be a guise for building nuclear weaponry.
Rouhani also called for sanctions against his country to be lifted.
Rouhani said he has full permission from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to negotiate with the West.
"I think that the president of Iran has the authority whenever the national interest of the country is involved," Rouhani told Amanpour. "The supreme leader of Iran has said that should negotiations be necessary for the national interest of the country, he is in fact not opposed to it."
"Now, if an opportunity was created today, had arisen today," the Iranian president said, "and the prep work for that had been done, most probably the talks would have haven taken place, primarily focused on the nuclear issue or the developments on the Middle East. Therefore the supreme leader, I can tell you, has given permission for my government to freely negotiate on these issues."
Rouhani: Social media may be coming to Iran
An irony surrounding Rouhani's leadership is that his office tweets and posts on Facebook - even though those social media platforms are banned in Iran.
"All my efforts are geared to ensure that the people of Iran will comfortably be able to access all information globally and to use it," he told CNN. "There are large social networks at a global level around today. And I believe that all human beings have a right, and all nations have a right to use them."
He also noted that some countries including Iran have "ethical frameworks" that they try to follow.
The Iranian government needs "to be open to criticism" expressed through social media, he said. "So one of my plans is to reduce the problems that people face currently on these issues, so that within those sort of moral frameworks that we have for ourselves, that we are able to access these social network sites."
William O. Beeman
Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of Minnesota
395 HHH Center
301 19th Avenue S.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
academic website: http://www.williambeeman.com
During 2013-2014 I will be Visiting Professor at the Department of Anthropology, Stanford University.
New America Media, Commentary, William Beeman, Posted: Sep 08, 2013
There is great division of opinion regarding potential U.S. military action in Syria. However, one group is ecstatic over President Obama’s endorsement of a military attack on Damascus. These are the Neconservatives who dominated the George W. Bush administration, and who still hold tremendous influence in Washington. An attack on Syria would be one step in fulfilling “stage two” of a longstanding neoconservative plan to bring about regime change throughout the Middle East in three stages: Iraq, Syria and finally Iran.
The pattern for this plan has been to wait for an event that can be sold to the world public as justification for military attack, and then to push forward, pressuring the military and government officials to move forward with the next stage of regime change.
President Obama is, perhaps unwittingly, fulfilling this plan, conceived in 1996 by an informal organization, the Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000, headed by Richard Pearle and including well-known neo-conservatives, Douglas Feith, Meyrav Wurmser, David Wurmser, Robert Loewenberg, Charles Fairbanks, Jr. and James Colbert. All are connected with organizations favoring right-wing extremist Israeli policies toward Palestinians and other Middle East nations. The Study Group plan, titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” was prepared for Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The “clean break” refers to their advice that Israel break from the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
The 1996 plan explicitly calls for attacks on Iraq, Syria and eventually Iran. It states: "Israel can shape its strategic environment . . . by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions."
Many of the same figures carried this plan forward two years later under another rubric, The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) founded by William Kristol and Robert Kagan. In a letter to President Clinton and House Speaker Gingrich in 1998, the members of the PNAC, including Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Zoellick called for the removal of Saddam Hussein, carrying out the first stage of the agenda of the “Clean Break” plan.
Once George W. Bush was elected president, many of these figures took up prominent positions within his administration. Following the tragic destruction of the Twin Towers in New York and the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the removal of Saddam Hussein became a policy objective for the United States.
The PNAC wrote a letter to President Bush in 2001 stating: “...even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”
It was at this time that Iran came more clearly into focus for the neoconservatives. The theory they promulgated was that Iran was the prime mover in all anti-Israeli activity in the region through Iran’s purported support for Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas. Syria was seen as complicit in this, and was regularly identified as a “client state” for Iran. However, neither legislators nor the public could be incited by this theory, for which there was, and continues to be, no credible evidence.
In 2003, the neoconservatives, working through right-wing think tanks such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were able to convince the Bush administration that Iran’s 40 year old nuclear energy program was really a plot to develop nuclear weapons to be used against Israel. This theory eventually became accepted as gospel in Washington, notwithstanding that American and International intelligence agencies asserted there was no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. However, based on this baseless assertion, these same players called for military action against Iran.
Following the “Arab Spring” popular revolts against standing regimes in the Middle East the longstanding tension between the Sunni Muslim majority and the Alawite ruling minority in Syria exploded in resistance against Syrian ruler Bashar Al-Assad. This conflict had been festering for two generations. In 1982, armed resistance from the Sunni population resulted in a massacre in the city of Hama under orders from Hafiz al-Assad, Bashar’s father. Bashar retaliated to the more recent revolt with unprecedented cruelty, and has been accused of using chemical weapons against Syrian rebels. Whatever the United States or other nations might do to remove the Assad regime, the civil war there will continue unabated.
However, neoconservatives have seized on this more recent revolt against the Assad government as justification for military action to carry out regime change there, but not just because the Assad regime is objectionable, but rather because in an attack on Syria they see an opportunity to strike a crippling blow against Iran. As conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks stated on the PBS News Hour on September 6, “this isn’t really about Syria. . . . the real issue is the broader credibility of the President, the international credibility of the United States, especially vis-à-vis Iran. This is really about Iran more than Syria.”
Brooks’ widely held view is a miscalculation. Even if the Assad regime is removed from power, Iran will not be significantly damaged in its foreign, nuclear or economic policy.
A quick examination of all of these efforts—the pretext based on the 9/11 tragedy for ousting Saddam Hussein, weak justification for U.S. involvement in a longstanding and ongoing civil war in Syria, and the claim that Iran is not only directing all anti-Israeli action in the Middle East, but is also a nuclear threat show that the neoconservative agenda is a tissue of fantasy designed to convince the world, episode by episode, to completely reshape the region with U.S. military firepower.
Americans should not be listening to these neoconservative voices. They have been responsible for a debilitating and useless conflict in Iraq already. Their “advice” to President Obama and his administration will only drag the United States into another useless and debilitating conflict in the Middle East that will accomplish nothing, and will exacerbate violence rather than bringing the world closer to peaceful resolution of the tensions in the region.
William O. Beeman is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and Visiting Professor at Stanford University. He has worked in the Middle East for more than 40 years.
William O. Beeman
Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of Minnesota
Former New York Times reporter Thomas Wark with dismay the latest New York Times Report on the Iranian nuclear program by David Sanger and William Broad. Not surprisingly, Sanger and Broad have completely fabricated information to substantiate the claim that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. This information has infected U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, who has passed the false information on to his constituents. When a staunch Democrat like Schumer can be taken in by this false information, it becomes difficult to counter the lies.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
The study group Just Foreign Policy says the New York Times has "gone Judy Miller" again, a reference to the discredited NYT reporter who shilled for the invasion of Iraq. JFP's complaint centers on the paper's stenographic reportage of the U.S. government line rergarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war, without a scintilla of responsible journalistic skepticism or supplemental reporting.TW
In my opinion the Times "went Miller" a long time ago in its reporting on Iran's nuclear program, and continues to do so in articles like the recent story by William Broad and David Sanger under the headline "Iran Is Seen Advancing Nuclear Bid." For several years, these two reporters and others at the Times have been, at the very least, writing about Iran's nuclear program in loaded language, reeking of pro-hawk bias. At worst they seem to have been weaving into their stories tainted information, colored by Mossad, concocted by Likud, conveyed by AIPEC and intended to influence world and American public opinion against Iran.
The Times's public editor, an independent monitor of the paper's ethics, reportedly is looking into the Syria business. Let us here and now look once again at the Iran reporting, because the Times and other complicit journalists like George Jann of the Associated Press have created a climate wherein, when a reader sees the phrase "Iran's nuclear program," he or she thinks "Iran's nuclear weapons program." There is no credible evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran.
At least as far back as 2010, the Times has used quarterly reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to introduce hints, innuendo or outright falsehoods. On March 1, 2010, an independent online analyst wrote, "The Times imputes to the IAEA report statements, declarations anad conclusions that just are not there." The very same statement can accurately be made about the latest Broad-Sanger piece.
The headline writer obviously intends one to infer "weapons bid." The lede paragraph reports what the IAEA reports -- that Iran continues to enrich uranium -- but immediately invites the reader to doubt that it's doing so for peaceful purposes. It goes downhill from there.
Two essential points must be made here: 1. Iran, thanks to technology originally given to it by the United States during the reign of the Shah, has been enriching uranium for years. As new technology has become available, Iran has acquired some of it. The enrichment levels it produces are about 5% -- suitable for a wide range of medical procedures and treatments -- and exactly 19.7%, suitable to produce fuel for nuclear power plants like the 105 now operating in the United States. According the the American Federation of Scientists, 90% enrichment is the minimum threshhold for "weapons grade" material. Broad and Sanger, in their latest article, describe Iran's uranium as being "close to" weapons grade. That is like saying $19.70 is "close to" $100. Second point: As a signatory to the international accord on atomic energy, Iran was legally entitled to enrich uranium up to the maximum levels for peaceful (power, medicine, etc.) use. The Islamic republic insists that it retains that right. Israel and its western allies, particularly the United States, the U.K. and France, say, "No, we took that right away from you because you broke the rules." But the issue has never been adjudicated in anything resembling an international body of law. A diplomatic solution has been sought through negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 -- the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany. No new talks were scheduled when the April session ended with little progress. Broad and Sanger characterized the talks as "collapsed." An American government official said, however, “There may not have been a breakthrough, but there also was not a breakdown." Surely the difference between these characterizations cannot be lost on such experienced diplomatic reporters. Sober analysts in such diverse countries as Japan and Canada have suggested the obvious: the talks are in suspended animation until Iran elects a new president in a little more than two weeks from now.
Once they've written circles around the fact that there's very little news in the latest IAEA report, Broad and Sanger go off on a tangent that seems as transparent as the bizarre Rube Goldberg devices the AP's Jann has fallen for. I've reread the IAEA text half a dozen times and find nothing in it to substantiate their claim that it bares a new three-part strategy for Iran to get A-weapons before Israel and the U.S. can stop them by going to war. It reads like a "what-if" memo written by a Mossad intelligence analyst.
It concludes: "The third element of the strategy involves speeding ahead with another potential route to a bomb: producing plutonium. The energy agency’s report indicated that Iran was making significant progress at its Arak complex, where it has built a heavy-water facility and is expected to have a reactor running by the end of next year."
Nowhere -- repeat, nowhere -- in the IAEA document does the word "plutonium" appear. Nor does its U.N. chemical ID symbol (Pu) or any of its variations appear in the text. Its mention of the Arak heavy water plant notes that its inspectors were there in August of last year, but since have had to rely on satellite images to monitor its activity.
Perhaps the Times raised eyebrows at those parts of the IAEF report that mentioned the production or transfer to other facilities of small quantities of UO2 or U3O8. While these could be used to produce plutonium, they are also consistent in their reprocessed state with efforts to produce high-efficiency fuel for a new Iranian nuclear power plant nearing completion.
Just as one must learn to walk before one runs, so also most of the verified Iranian nuclear activities could be stepping stones to starting work on nuclear weapons. My neighbor just bought shoes for his two-year-old toddler. Ergo, the kid plans to enter the Olympic Games.
No wonder Sen. Chuck Schumer thinks Iran already has enough weapons-grade material to arm a nuclear warhead, and has broadcast that lie to his constituency. He read it in his hometown paper. The one that used to be respectable.
April 30, 2013
Meet Ahmadinejad’s Chosen Successor
"People have only as much liberty
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William O. Beeman
Professor and Chair
Department of Anthropology
University of Minnesota
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