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Mohammed Chatah’s Open Letter to President Rouhani

            Mohammed Chatah, a former Lebanese finance minister, wrote the following open letter to President Hassan Rouhani in late December 2013. But Chatah was killed by a car bomb on December 27 before he could gather signatures from Lebanese lawmakers. The letter originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

      Your Excellency,
      We are taking this exceptional step to address you and other regional and global leaders because these are exceptionally dangerous times for our country. Not only is Lebanon’s internal and external security being seriously threatened, but the very unity of our state is in real jeopardy. It is our obligation to do all we can to protect our nation from these threats. And today, more than ever before, the choices made by the Islamic Republic of Iran will play an important role in determining our success or failure. That’s why we are writing to you, as the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
      But these are exceptional times for Iran as well. After many years of confrontation between Iran and a major part of the international community, your election as president last summer has signaled to many in the region and the world that the Iranian people want to set their country on a new path; a path of reform and openness and peaceful relations with the rest of the world. The recent interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1, and the statements you have made since your election, have raised expectations that Iran may indeed be taking the first concrete steps along that positive path. We sincerely hope that this is the case.
            But for us, as representatives of the Lebanese people, the real test is not so much whether Iran reaches a final agreement with Western powers on its nuclear program, nor whether domestic economic and social reforms are successfully put in place – important as these objectives are to the world and to the Iranian people. For us in Lebanon, the real test is whether Iran is genuinely prepared to chart a new course in its policies toward the rest of region, and most specifically toward Lebanon.
Your Excellency,
            It is an undisputed fact that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard continues to maintain a strategic military relationship with Hezbollah, a military organization that Iran’s Revolutionary guard was instrumental in establishing 30 years ago. At that time Lebanon was still in the midst of a terrible Civil War and southern Lebanon was under Israeli occupation. Today, 23 years after the end of the Civil War and the disbanding of all other Lebanese militias, and 13 years after the liberation of the south from Israeli occupation (in which the Lebanese resistance played a crucial role), Hezbollah continues to maintain an independent and heavily armed military force outside the authority of the state. This is happening with the direct support and sponsorship of your country.
            As we are sure you would agree, the presence of any armed militia in parallel to the legitimate armed forces of the state and operating outside the state’s control and political authority is not only in conflict with the Lebanese Constitution, but also with the very definition of a sovereign state – any state. This is the case irrespective of the religious affiliations of such non-state militias or the causes they claim to champion.
            Hezbollah’s insistence on maintaining an independent military organization, under the banner of “Islamic Resistance,” has been a major obstacle in the face of much-needed national efforts to strengthen state institutions and to put an end to the legacy of the Civil War and the spread [of] weapons throughout the country. This has, inevitably, also weakened Lebanon’s national unity and exposed the country to the widening sectarian fault lines in the region, and has contributed to the rise of religious extremism and militancy.
            Moreover, the use of – or implied threat of using – Hezbollah’s weapons advantage to tilt the domestic political playing field has made the delicate task of managing the Lebanese political system almost impossible, and has led to a gradual systemic paralysis. Hezbollah’s blatant protection of five of its members who had been indicted by the Special international Tribunal for Lebanon in the case of the late Rafik Hariri assassination has compounded the suspicions and mistrust.
Your Excellency,
            Over the past year, Hezbollah’s direct participation in the conflict in Syria has greatly aggravated Lebanon’s already precarious situation. It is well recognized that the Lebanese public is divided regarding the war in Syria. We, as members of the broad March 14 political alliance, stand fully, both politically and morally, in support of the Syrian people. We believe the Assad regime has lost both its moral legitimacy and its ability to restore peace and unity in Syria. However as representatives of the Lebanese people, our focus and main responsibility is to protect Lebanon from the grave danger of the fire raging next door spreading into our country. In fact, the conflict in Syria has already touched many of our border towns and villages and sparked sporadic violence and despicable acts of terrorism. As you know, the Iranian Embassy in Beirut has been the target of a deplorable terrorist bombing, as were mosques and civilian neighborhoods.
            Combating this scourge and protecting Lebanon from worse spillovers cannot succeed while a major Lebanese party is participating directly in the Syrian conflict. It is, in effect, an invitation to those on the receiving end of Hezbollah’s bombs and bullets in Syria to bring the war back to Hezbollah’s homeland – our common homeland. Regrettably, this is happening with the support of, and in coordination with, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Your Excellency,
            Lebanon today is in crisis on all levels. Clearly, palliatives are not enough anymore. We need to protect Lebanon from falling further down a very slippery slope. We believe that this can be done only if regional and international powers, including Iran, are ready to take the necessary steps. The guideposts are already there. They were spelt out in the national declaration issued jointly by all political parties last year and dubbed the Baabda Declaration. The declaration had affirmed the objective of safeguarding Lebanon’s security by: 1) protecting it against spillovers from Syria and more generally neutralizing it away from regional and international conflicts and alliances; and 2) completing the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701.
            In our view, this would require the following concrete steps, to be agreed and launched through a special Security Council meeting or a special, wider support-group conference:
1. A declared commitment by all other countries, including Iran, to the neutralization of Lebanon as agreed in the Baabda Declaration. Clearly, it is not enough for Lebanon to declare a desire to be neutralized. More importantly, other countries need to commit themselves to respect Lebanon’s national desire;
2. Ending all armed participation by Lebanese groups and parties, including Hezbollah, in the Syrian conflict;
3. Establishing effective control by the Lebanese Army and security forces over the border with Syria, supported by the United Nations if needed, as permitted under UNSCR 1701;
4. Requesting the Security Council to begin the steps needed to complete the implementation of UNSCR 1701. This aims at moving Lebanon from the current interim cessation-of-hostilities status with Israel to a permanent cease-fire with U.N. security arrangements, which will end border infringements by Israel and establish complete and exclusive security authority by the Lebanese armed forces throughout the country.
            This vision and road map may seem radical, considering that Lebanon has not seen full and exclusive control by the state over its territory and over all weapons in four decades. But these are also the basic natural rights of any country that seeks to be free and independent. It is our obligation as representatives of the people of Lebanon to do all we can to regain those rights. For years, we have supported – and will continue to support – the right of Palestine to be free and independent. Similarly, we support Iran’s national right as a free and sovereign nation in control of its destiny and its security within its borders. As a small but proud nation we cannot aspire for less.
Your Excellency,
            This is Lebanon’s cause. We will do all we can to mobilize all the support it needs and deserves. Ultimately, whether we succeed or not will depend on decisions taken, not only by the Lebanese people but also by others, including your good self. Admittedly – but also understandably – there are many Iran-skeptics in Lebanon and in the region. We hope that Iran’s choices in Lebanon can prove them wrong.
Mohammed Chatah
Photo credit: Mohammed Chatah by Ronchatah (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Iran's Christmas Greetings

Obama Warns Congress Against New Sanctions

      On December 20, President Barack Obama urged Congress to hold off on new Iran sanctions while the Geneva nuclear agreement is being implemented. In response to a newly proposed sanctions bill in the Senate, Obama said that if the United States is “serious about negotiations, we’ve got to create an atmosphere in which Iran in willing to move in ways that are uncomfortable for them and contrary to their ideology and rhetoric and their instincts and their suspicions of us.” At the year-end press conference, Obama argued that Congress could pass new sanctions in a day if the negotiations on a comprehensive solution fail or Iran violates an agreement. “I'll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. But there's no reason to do it right now,” he said. The following are excerpted remarks.

            On Iran, there is the possibility of a resolution to a problem that has been a challenge for American national security for over a decade now. And that is getting Iran to, in a verifiable fashion, not pursue a nuclear weapon. Already, even with the interim deal that we struck in Geneva, we have the first halt, and in some cases, some rollback of Iran's nuclear capabilities -- the first time that we've seen that in almost decade.
            And we now have a structure in which we can have a very serious conversation to see, is it possible for Iran to get right with the international community in a verifiable fashion to give us all confidence that any peaceful nuclear program that they have is not going to be weaponized in a way that threatens us or our allies in the region, including Israel.
            And as I've said before and I will repeat, it is very important for us to test whether that's possible, not because it's guaranteed, but because the alternative is possibly us having to engage in some sort of conflict to resolve the problem, with all kinds of unintended consequences.
            Now, I've been very clear from the start, I mean what I say. It is my goal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But I sure would rather to it diplomatically. I'm keeping all options on the table, but if I can do it diplomatically, that's how we should do it, and I would think that would be the preference of everybody up on Capitol Hill, because that sure is the preference of the American people.
            And we lose nothing during this negotiation period, precisely because there are verification provisions in place. We will have more insight into Iran's nuclear program over the next six months than we have previously; we'll know if they are violating the terms of the agreement; they're not allowed to accelerate their stockpile of enriched uranium; in fact, they have to reduce their stockpile of highly enriched uranium. Ironically, if we did not have this six- month period in which we're testing whether we can get a comprehensive solution to this problem, they would be advancing even further on their nuclear program.
            And in light of all that, what I've said to members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, is there is no need for new sanctions legislation, not yet.
            Now, if Iran comes back and says, we can't give you assurances that we're not going to weaponize, if they're not willing to address some of their capabilities that we know could end up resulting in them having breakout capacity, it's not going to be hard for us to turn the dials back, strengthen sanctions even further. I'll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. But there's no reason to do it right now.
            And so I'm not surprised that there's been some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions. I think the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you're running for office or if you're in office. But as president of the United States right now who's been responsible over the last four years, with the help of Congress, in putting together a comprehensive sanctions regime that was specifically designed to put pressure on them and bring them to the table to negotiate, what I'm saying to them, what I've said to the international community and what I've said to the American people is let's test it. Now's the time to try to see if we can get this thing done.
            And -- and I've heard some logic that says, well, Mr. President, we're -- we're supportive of -- of the negotiations, but we think it's really useful to have this club hanging over Iran's head. Well, first of all, we still have the existing sanctions already in place that are resulting in Iran losing billions of dollars every month in lost oil sales.
            We already have banking and financial sanctions that are still being applied, even as the negotiations are taking place. It's not as if we're letting up on that.
            So I've heard arguments, well, but you know, this way we can assured and the Iranians will know that if negotiations fail even new and harsher sanctions will be put into place. Listen, I don't think the Iranians have any doubt that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation. We can do that in a -- in a day, on a dime.
            But if we're serious about negotiations, we've got to create an atmosphere in which Iran in willing to move in ways that are uncomfortable for them and contrary to their ideology and rhetoric and their instincts and their suspicions of us. and we don't -- we don't help get them to a position where we can actually resolve this by engaging in this kind of -- this kind of action.
Click here for a complete transcript of Obama's remarks.

Zarif: Talks Not Dead, Iran Committed to Nuclear Deal

            On December 15, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that talks on implementing the Geneva nuclear deal were “derailed” but not dead. Iranian officials had slammed Washington for blacklisting 17 companies and individuals for sanctions invasion three days earlier. “We are committed to the plan of action and the implementation of Geneva - but we believe it takes two to tango,” Zarif warned in an interview with CBS. In an interview with The Washington Post, Zarif emphasized that statements that “run counter to the very aim of the negotiations” from within the Obama administration are “extremely counterproductive.”
            Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly called Zarif on December 14 to discuss the way forward. “What I have heard from Secretary Kerry and Lady [Catherine] Ashton is that they are committed to an early finalization of the Geneva process with a view to reaching a comprehensive agreement,” Zarif told The Washington Post. In his interviews, Zarif also discussed Syria and the case of Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who went missing in Iran. The following are excerpted remarks on key issues.

U.S. Sanctions
            “That [blacklisting] was a very wrong move… We are committed to the plan of action and the implementation of Geneva - but we believe it takes two to tango.
            “The process has been derailed, the process has not died. We are trying to put it back and to correct the path, and continue the negotiations because I believe there is a lot at stake for everybody.”
            Dec. 15, 2013 on CBS’ “Face the Nation”
            “When you hear voices from inside the administration question the very raison d’etre of the negotiations, it becomes intolerable — whether it is in the strict sense of the term a violation of the term of the Geneva plan of action or not… So we needed to bring that to the attention of our negotiating partners in very strong term terms. And we believe we did. That does not mean that negotiations are dead. That means negotiations have hit a snag...”
            Dec. 15, 2013 to The Washington Post
Opposition to the Deal
            “Now, there are statements coming from Washington — we understand that Tehran and Washington, as well as many other members of 5 + 1 [the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China and Germany], are not monolithic societies, not even monolith polities. We have various views in Iran. Some of them have been very frankly and vehemently expressed by the opponents of the agreement, to the extent that some have asked for my removal. I believe that’s only natural in a democratic society where you have different forces, different political views and different branches of government operating to check and balance the exertion of political power. The same is true in the United States. I believe it is only natural for U.S. lawmakers to be concerned.”
            Dec. 15, 2013 to The Washington Post
The Way Forward
            “What I have heard from Secretary Kerry and Lady Ashton is that they are committed to an early finalization of the Geneva process with a view to reaching a comprehensive agreement. I share that objective. I’m sure that we will hit other obstacles on our way. This is going to be an extremely difficult process — not because the objective is difficult to attain but because the modalities of reaching the objective are difficult — because of the lack of confidence that we certainly have in Iran, particularly the Iranian people and leadership toward the intentions of the other side, and some misgivings that they may have about our intentions. So it is going to be difficult; it’s going to be a bumpy road. There are very strong forces that are working to undermine, unfortunately, this process. We need to be aware of this, and we need to work with an open mind.”
            Dec. 15, 2013 to The Washington Post
Uranium Enrichment
            “Iran did not decide to enrich. Iran was forced to enrich, because we had a share in a consortium in France called “Eurodif,” which we had paid for fully, but we were not able to get a gram of enriched uranium, even for our research reactor that was built under the “Atoms for Peace” Program of President Eisenhower. We did not decide to enrich to 20 percent. We tried for 20 years to buy 20 percent-enriched uranium for fuel for that reactor. We were intimidated, insulated, pushed back and forth to the point that we said we’ll do it ourselves: We’re not going to take this from anybody!
            “Now this doesn’t mean that if they provide us with fuel now we will accept it, because first of all we have made this investment domestically, and secondly we do not have any trust and, third we do not see any reason now that we have put so much time and effort in it and brought them to the point of abandoning the illusion of zero enrichment in Iran, why should we accept anything less.”
            Dec. 15, 2013 to The Washington Post
Heavy Water Reactor at Arak
            “We offered the option — every single program that Iran has was sought from the West first; they refused, we then relied on our own technology. We did not want to start from scratch in building all these research reactors. We wanted to use the technology. Everybody wants to use sophisticated technology. It was denied to us, in denial of the NPT [Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty], because mind you, it requires countries to provide energy for peaceful purposes. It’s not just a right, it’s a requirement — it’s an obligation to provide. So they have been in violation of the NPT for the past at least 22 years, since 1990, almost every single Western country…”
            Dec. 15, 2013 to The Washington Post
            “Fordo is a facility that is under daily inspection by [the International Atomic Energy Agency]. Daily! So we cannot do anything in Fordo. The only difference that Fordo has from the enrichment facility at Natanz is that Fordo cannot be hit. So if you insist that I should dismantle Fordo, or do something with Fordo, that means that somebody has an intention of a military strike. And I have to say that a military strike is a violation of the most fundamental principles of international law. I mean, that is not a basis for negotiation… So they’re asking me to consider an issue that is fundamentally unreasonable.”
            Dec. 15, 2013 to The Washington Post
Robert Levinson
Elizabeth Palmer (CBS): Let me move ton another story that surfaced at the end of last week in the United States. And that is the case of Mr. Levinson. Where is he?
Mohammad Javad Zarif: I have no idea.
Palmer: Your security services, very professional and very good have done an extensive investigation according to your government. What do you know about that last day? What were you able to discover about -- he walked out of the hotel, got in to a taxi and...
Zarif: And then they don't know. That's all...
Palmer: Nothing?
Zarif: ...what they have told us that is what people have been told outside. If that's why it's a mystery. What we know that he is not incarcerated in Iran.
Palmer: How do you know that?
Zarif: If he is he is not incarcerated by the government. And I believe the government runs pretty much good control of the country.
Palmer: If he did surface here, could you give him back to America now that we know his CIA connections?
Zarif: I cannot talk about hypothetical situations but if we find -- if we can trace him and find him we will certainly discuss this.
Palmer: So, it is possible.
Zarif: Anything is possible. But I'm saying that we have no trace of him in Iran.
            Dec. 15, 2013 on CBS’ “Face the Nation”
            “We all know that there needs to be an agreement in Geneva and that agreement has to be a Syrian agreement. Others cannot decide for the Syrians. Others can only facilitate a Syrian solution based on the consent of the Syrian people. And I believe that at the end of the day the best way to make permanent that consent is through the ballot box, and we should not be afraid of the ballot box. I’m concerned that people who believe in democratic principles are worried about the outcome of elections and are trying to put preconditions [in place]. A serious precondition can be fair elections... I believe Iran can play a positive role in the Syrian case, but it’s for them to decide. I’m not running that show.”
            Dec. 15, 2013 to The Washington Post
Gulf States
            “I wrote an oped piece in the Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al Awsat in which I proposed the establishment of a regional security and cooperation scheme. And I believe that we should have done this a long time ago... So we believe that confidence-building measures, dialogue and cooperation between nations of this region are not only necessary, but unavoidable. All of us need it. All of us have to come to our senses. We cannot choose our neighbors…
            “I’ve had very good meetings [earlier in December] with leaders in the states of the Persian Gulf. I believe we all agree that what has been taking place in Geneva is good for our future and is not against anybody. We don’t see any reason for those who have shown some anxiety. All of them who talked to me [in the Gulf] told me that they welcomed this.”
            Dec. 15, 2013 to The Washington Post

Iran Slams US Sanctions Enforcement

            On December 13, Iran’s foreign ministry slammed Washington for blacklisting more than a dozen companies and individuals for sanctions evasion. “The U.S. administration is fully responsible for the consequences of these indiscrete measures,” said Foreign Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham. She acknowledged the Obama administration’s attempt to persuade Congress to hold off on new sanctions. But Afkham argued that sanctioning companies and individuals under existing sanctions is a “questionable move” that demonstrates “serious confusion” in U.S. policy. The chairman of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, called the blacklisting a “flagrant violation of the Geneva nuclear accord.”
            In Vienna, expert-level talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers halted just hours after Washington imposed the sanctions. “America's move is against the spirit of the Geneva deal,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi on the way back to Tehran. The team decided to return for consultations before continuing discussions on implementing the November 24 nuclear agreement.  “After four days of lengthy and detailed talks, reflecting the complexity of the technical issues discussed, it became clear that further work is needed,” said Michael Mann, a spokesman for E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. He clarified that officials would return to their capitals with the “expectation that technical talks will continue soon.”
            When asked about the halted talks, U.S. Spokesperson Jen Psaki said pausing to consult a “normal part of the process in developing the implementation plan.” The following are excerpted remarks by Iranian and American officials.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham
      “On the one hand, U.S. administration officials are seemingly persuading Congress to refrain from passing fresh sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran within the framework of furtherance of the Joint Plan of Action between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1. On the other hand, in a questionable move, the U.S. Treasury and State Department... have blacklisted firms from Iran and a number of foreign countries in an unconstructive measure.”
      “The U.S. administration is fully responsible for the consequences of these indiscrete measures.”
      “Unfortunately, we are witnessing serious confusion in U.S. officials’ attitudes, decisions and remarks.”
           Dec. 13, 2013 to the press
Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal Affairs Abbas Araqchi
      “This is a game of double standards — it is not in accord with the talks we have had and it is against the spirit of the Geneva agreement… We are evaluating the situation and will make the appropriate response.”
      “On the one hand they tried to halt sanctions in Congress, and on the other hand they made a new move and the Treasury added new companies to the list.”

      Dec. 13, 2013 to the press

      “Such a measure is by no means constructive and we are seriously critical of it.”
      Dec. 13, 2013 on state television


Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Chairman Alaeddin Boroujerdi
      “Undoubtedly, the latest U.S. move to blacklist a number of Iranian companies and institutions is the flagrant violation of the Geneva nuclear accord, and the US officials revealed that they are not trustworthy.
      “The recent U.S. action showed that this country, despite its claim of being a world superpower, is in practice a follower of Zionist lobbies and is incapable of acting independently concerning its affairs and policies.
      “Given the hostile approach of this country [the United States] and the violation of the Geneva agreement, one cannot be optimistic about the future of the nuclear talks. We should in fact take necessary measures to expedite our peaceful [nuclear] activities.”
            Dec. 13, 2013 to the press


State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki
      “We’ve been hard at it in Vienna, a lot of discussions taking place. I've talked with Cathy Ashton the last days. We’re making progress, but I think we’re at a point in those talks where folks feel a need to consult, take a moment. There is every expectation that talks are going to continue in the next few days, and that we will proceed to the full implementation of that plan. This is sort of the normal part of the process in developing the implementation plan.”
      Dec. 13, 2013 to the press during a visit to Israel




Photo credits: www.mfa.gov.ir, http://rc.majlis.ir, www.state.gov


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