IRAN’s new reactor + Antsy Arab States = One Hot Nuclear Mess Iran began loading its first nuclear reactor at Bushehr this week – a major milestone, shepherded by Russia and hailed by the Islamic Republic. In case you’ve ever wondered what Iranian gloating sounds like, this is what ran in hard-line newspaper Resalat: "By commissioning the Bushehr nuclear power plant Iran has officially joined the world nuclear club, which was a Western red line. Threats, sanctions and international and regional political pressure failed to bring the Iranian government and people to their knees. Right now, Bushehr is not only a nuclear power plant but also a symbol of national resistance against global powers." That’s bravado with broad implications. As of today, the Middle East has gone nuclear, in a public rush toward atomic energy that is a short slip away from an arms race. The State Department says there is ‘no risk’ Bushehr will boost Iran’s nuclear weapon potential because fuel gets brought in from Russia and sent back as spent rods – no at-home enrichment, no diversion of uranium. But Joe Cirincione, a noted nuclear expert with the Ploughshares Fund, says Bushehr poses a different kind of threat: it accelerates the region’s nuclear drive. ‘Israel’s program has not been a big spur to countries in the region, but Iran’s nuclear program is,’ he said. ‘In the last 4 years we’ve seen over a dozen Muslim states create their own nuclear programs…it’s about starting the decade-long process to put themselves in position to build a nuclear weapon and That’s what they think Iran is doing and they want to play catch up.’ He also worries for industrial accidents that could cast a cloud over the Persian Gulf. ‘Bushehr was pieced together from West German designs, then Russian designs, and different parts…so there’s a lot of room for things to go wrong.’ Gulp. The day after Bushehr’s open Abu Dhabi’s state-owned newspaper The National wrote about its own program in the works. The UAE was the first to sign a deal with the US, pursuing nuclear power while relinquishing the right to enrich uranium. The arrangement was hailed as a model – a hint to Iran of how to pursue the peaceful nuclear energy it says it wants, without miffing the international community. Jordan, on the other hand, has controversial plans to master the fuel cycle, producing its own nuclear material and capitalizing on its discovery of uranium deposits that could transform the Hashemite Kingdom from energy poverty to massive wealth (Jordan complains that its ally, Israel, is blocking its nuclear development). Syria and Egypt have said they want nuclear power. Saudi Arabia, like other petro-powers sitting on major energy reserves, says it is pursuing nuclear energy so that it can sell more of its oil on the open market. Jordan, on the other hand, has controversial plans to master the fuel cycle, producing its own nuclear material and capitalizing on its discovery of uranium deposits that could transform the Hashemite Kingdom from energy poverty to massive wealth (Jordan complains that its ally, Israel, is blocking its nuclear development). Syria and Egypt have said they want nuclear power. Saudi Arabia, like other petro-powers sitting on major energy reserves, says it is pursuing nuclear energy so that it can sell more of its oil on the open market. Beneath the stated goals – Abu Dhabi, for instance, says it wants to go nuclear to reduce its carbon footprint – Cirincione says ‘we have a nascent nuclear arms race underway in the Middle East.’ As the Islamic Republic steadily builds the kit for a nuclear weapon, he says, it pushes proliferation and threatens to send the region off a nuclear cliff. What does that look like? Analysts predict if Iran gets the bomb, Saudi Arabia could get its own nuclear arms with Pakistani help (some believe Saudi helped financed Pakistan’s nuclear program for just that reason).
Today Iran’s nuclear program chugs along, largely unchecked. Leon Panetta told ABC News that Iran has enough uranium for two nuclear weapons, though there is a consensus that it would need at least one year to build a bomb, and there would be no way to do it in secret (they’d have to kicked inspectors, unseal their uranium stockpile, etc). Iran and the US have suggest they’ll launch new talks after Ramadan, but so far there’s no date on the map. For now the process sits on the table, as the Bushehr reactor is set to start churning and the region’s nuclear clock ticks away. More links:
» CS Monitor: Iran’s Nuclear Program Timeline | World Nuclear Association: Nuclear Fuel Cycle in Brief | Council on Foreign Relations: Nuclear Energy Guide
» The Atlantic: Living with a Nuclear Iran
» Arms Control Wonk: National Security Strategy & Iran
Turkey’s Struggle With Itself Heats Up & Hits The Polls ‘K Ataturk’ tattoos have popped up around Turkey – young people tied heart and soul to the secular vision of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk looking to brand their bodies with his signature. It’s a physical mark of the intensity surging through Turkish politics, directed toward a heated referendum on September 12. That’s when Turks vote on a package of reforms, proposed and heavily promoted by Prime Minister Erdogan, that would reduce secular influence over of the judiciary and strengthen his party’s hand over the courts (a kind of sweet political revenge – the courts almost declared his party, the AKP, illegal for its Islamist leanings). ‘The real significance of this referendum is that the party in power is going for a vote of confidence. If they win this referendum then they will surely win the parliamentary elections early next year,’ said Faruk Logoglu, a former Turkish Ambassador to Washington.
Here’s why it whips Turkey’s politics into a froth: it summons the politics of identity, with a huge and hot divide between the secularists, pointing to Europe and perhaps sporting an Ataturk tattoo, and Islamists, looking Eastward and wearing headscarves in the public square. Whether you go secularist or Islamist is not just a matter of how you vote, it’s a question of who you are and what you passionately believe your country should be.
’There has been a debate for some time, and it’s coming to a crescendo,’ says Steven Cook, an expert on Turkey with the Council on Foreign Relations.
‘This has been this ongoing culture war in Turkey, and it says a lot about identity politics…all at once Turkey is more European, more democratic, more Islamic, and more nationalist at the same time. The so-called identity repertoires are coming out in the debates.’
However Turkey sways domestically gets reflected in its foreign affairs. Much has been said of Turkey’s ‘turning east,’ a rising engagement in the Middle East that favors its ties with Iran and Arab states. Ambassador Logoglu says it is a real and felt change on the ground.
‘Turkey is putting its eggs in the Arab basket, the Palestinian basket,’ he said.
‘There are no longer Israeli tourists coming, some of the Turkish companies that do business with Israel are complaining that it’s now harder. As for the military, the relationship of 100% of 3 to 4 years ago is now down to 10%…so it’s not true that the military relationship remains intact.’
Back on the domestic front, the heat coming off this referendum has some analysts worried about overall stability in Turkey. If the AKP’ reforms win on September 12, experts predict a smooth extension of the status quo. If they lose, that could mean political uncertainty and an economic jostle.
Add to that the ongoing battle, physical and political, between the Turks and the Kurds – at its core an issue of identity politics, in which the Kurds remain ethnically independent in a country that stresses unity and conformity.
‘We’re coming up on a year when these issues are going to be front and center, and they’re absolutely raw,’ said Cook. ‘It’s a tinder box.’ More links:
» AP: Turkey Gears Up with Referendum | IFES Election Guide: Profile of Turkey Referendum
» Jerusalem Post: Tilting the Turkey-Israel-US Triangle | Turkey denies clash with US | Arab News (Saudi Arabia): Editorial: US-Turkish ties
» CIA World Factbook: Turkey Country Profile
What Palestinian Refugees Mean for Israel It seems like no one is optimistic about the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that resume next month, other than, maybe, President Obama and his team. But this past week there’s been a small, but significant breakthrough on a quiet, but critical issue: Palestinian refugees, 1.4 million of whom are scattered throughout the Arab world (some say that the ultimate success of negotiations rests on the two thorny issues of refugees and Jerusalem). The breakthrough came from Lebanon granting refugees the right to work – legally, as opposed to whatever they’ve been doing for the past 60 years. Why is that such a huge step? Because aside from rhetoric and emotion, it is widely acknowledged that the majority of Palestinian refugees won’t return to present-day Israel. That means many of them will be integrated into the Arab societies that have hosted them for three generations. And that means that Lebanon will have to get over its current policy of having refugees live in squalor, without basic rights, in camps where the only rule of law comes from Palestinian militias and their jihadi friends.
It seems a straightforward change on Lebanon’s part, calling on basic human compassion and the ‘Palestinian cause’ that plays so significantly in Arab political rhetoric. But in practice, Palestinian refugees get stuck in sectarian politics – Lebanese Christians being wary of integrating 425,000 Palestinians, mostly Sunni Muslims – and punished for a lingering sense that they, led by Yasser Arafat and the PLO, sparked the Lebanese Civil War . ‘It’s the fear of ‘Tawteen’ – the concept of naturalization of the Palestinians, upsetting the national balance. Last week was the first break in the Lebanese discourse,’ said Taufiq Rahim, an expert on regional politics with the Dubai School of Government.
‘It’s the first step to some kind of integration, but it’s still a long ways away,’ he said. Palestinian refugees in Syria and Jordan are better off. But there still needs to be a rethink of how these countries treat their Palestinian guests before any final status that makes them permanent. Right now, said Rahim, ‘They’re frozen in time.’ Scott Lasensky, a scholar with the US Institute of Peace, says it’s an issue of conditioning publics – Arab governments making their people adjust to the idea of Palestinian integration and Israeli and Palestinian leaders preparing theirs for some compromise on where the refugees go. It is partly managing the politics of emotion – getting some Palestinians to put down the keys around their necks and getting Israelis comfortable with some solution.
‘The question is how to you get to the current politics of taboo to what polls and other data suggest, which is that both sides are willing to compromise,’ he said.
Lasensky sees the September talks leading off with security and border issues, then moving into the thornier space of final status issues. He also sees the American position on refugees landing near the Clinton Parameters of 2000, which called for ‘a comprehensive settlement plan for refugees that offered them several options: return to the new state of Palestine; return to the state of Israel (with restrictions); resettlement in a third country; and/or compensation.’
Compared to what refugees have today that sounds like a pretty sweet deal. They just need the chance to take it, and the will to accept. More links:
» UNRWA Statistics on Refugees | Publications
» Rahim: Good Palestinian, Bad Palestinian | Lasensky: Israel Policy Forum
» PostPartisan/David Ignatius: What it Took to Get Israelis and Palestinians to Agree to Talks | Washington Post/George Will: Many Israeli Concessions Would Be Suicidal
GENERAL ODIERNO: IRAQ WILL BE READY FOR US PULLOUT IN 2011 | US SOLDIER KILLED IN ROCKET ATTACK IN SOUTHERN IRAQ |POST-WAR IRAQ REMAINS UNCERTAIN | LA TIMES: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED? | GRIM STRUGGLE CONTINUES FOR IRAQI REFUGEES THE KING OF IRAQ: FOREIGN POLICY ON MOQTADA AL SADR’S WIN WITH THE US WITHDRAWAL BLACKWATER FOUNDER MOVES TO ABU DHABI, COURT RECORDS SAY
AMNESTY URGES SAUDI ARABIA NOT TO PARALYZE MAN AS PUNISHMENT EGYPT’S HUNT FOR A VAN GOGH+ GREAT ART HEISTS IN HISTORY AL QAEDA IN YEMEN SUPPORTS IRAN ATTACK | BROOKINGS’ BRUCE REIDEL: AL QAEDA PLANS FOR WAR WITH ISRAEL IN EGYPT, CARRIE BRADSHAW IN A HEADSCARF HEZBOLLAH NO LONGER RECOGNIZES HARIRI TRIBUNAL, CALLS FOR ITS ABOLITION | LEBANON BRACES FOR JUDGMENT DAY THE ECONOMIST: THE LAST OF THE JEWISH ARABS|ISRAEL MATZAV BLOG: YEMEN’S LAST JEWS ARE LEAVING LA TIMES: TENSIONS RISE IN BAHRAIN AMID SHIITE ARRESTS | HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH TO BAHRAIN: CHARGE OR RELEASE OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS AMERICAN WOMAN IN QATAR USES EXTREME HEAT IN HER CAR TO BAKE COOKIES
HAARETZ/AKIVA ELDAR: PEACE TALKS WITH SYRIA CAN AVERT WAR WITH LEBANON YEMEN POST/EDITORIAL: PRESIDENT SALEH, CHOOSING YEMEN’S FUTURE RULER DAILY STAR/BILAL SAAB: BEWARE OF RADICALISM IN LEBANESE PRISONS