Shadow Government

At Midterm, Iran's Implementation of Its Nuclear Obligations Gets an 'F'

The latest round of nuclear negotiations with Iran, the April 8-9 talks that just concluded in Vienna, marked a midpoint between the interim accord of Jan. 20 and the July 20 date to sign a permanent deal. So how's Iran doing at midterm? Let me put it this way: If Iranian President Hassan Rouhani were my student at Michigan or Georgetown and I graded him for meeting the interim accord, he would be looking at a midterm "F," for failing. If, however, he were being graded on outfoxing Professor Barack Obama of the University of Chicago at midterm, Rouhani would earn an "A."

According to the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Tehran must be complying because he expects the talks to include drafting of the July agreement when they resume on May 13. He made that statement before the April talks even began, which implies back channels between American and Iranian negotiators to cook a deal for formalization in Vienna, which the leader of the U.S. delegation acknowledged.

Having represented the secretary of defense on a State Department-led delegation in 1985 arms talks that also met at the Hofburg in Vienna, I am concerned. As parties place brackets around "not agreed upon texts," the U.S. delegation may be too forthcoming in the bracket removal process. In our talks with the Russians in Vienna, contrary to the tougher approach of Defense, State delegates were too eager for proposal-counterproposal bargaining, while the Russians pocketed our concessions. I fear the same may be recurring at the Hofburg, but this time Iranians are picking our pockets.

Tehran is also bargaining by pushing the envelope of noncompliance. It is on a trajectory of cheating on its obligations in the Jan. 20 Joint Plan of Action. United Against Nuclear Iran states that, "Iran's oil exports have increased 117% since October. It is now statistically impossible for the [Obama] administration's assurances to be correct, unless oil sales go to effectively zero."

There are reports that Iran's oil exports stayed above levels allowed under sanctions for a fifth month. Tehran's exports should average 1 million bpd for six months to July 20. Shipments to Asia, however, have exceeded that threshold since November. To provide a happy face to naysayers, Team Obama assumes exports will fall in the next three months so the average will meet the 1 million bpd level of the interim agreement. But as economies pick up, so oil demands will increase.

This overstepping of the terms of the interim accord understandably prompted Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to pen a letter to President Obama recommending "re-instating ... and sanctioning any violations" of crude oil sanctions, if Iran's oil exports stayed above levels allowed under sanctions. I concur.

It has also been reported that the oil-for-goods deal heating up between Moscow and Tehran would be worth up to $20 billion. What if Russian S-300 missiles that could defend Iran's nuclear sites from Israeli or American air strikes were in the mix? If so, the deal might be a game changer. Tehran would have both smashed the sanctions and received a deterrent that raised the cost of attacks by Jerusalem or Washington, in the event of Iranian moves toward breaking out -- dashing for the bomb before inspectors can detect it. The current western assessment for Iranian breakout time is two months.

Why the concern with likelihood of Iranian noncompliance at midterm? If Tehran cheats and we retreat, there may be more challenges across the globe against American interests and allies. Because the Obama administration lacks an overall strategy that measures actions in one arena by effects elsewhere, it tends to act tactically. Precipitous withdrawal from Iraq had unintended effects in Syria. Precipitate pullout from Afghanistan will reverberate in Pakistan and India. As Russia threatens more forays into bordering countries, China makes threats against Japan, and North Korea warns South Korea, now is not the time to show a weak hand to Tehran.

A feckless policy toward Iran in the nuclear talks is also manifest in abandonment of pro-American Iranian dissidents in Iraq, the Mojahedin. Although there was a Bush administration pledge to protect these dissidents if they disarmed during the takedown of Saddam, Obama left them exposed to proxies of Iran operating freely in Iraq.

And while Bush said to the Iranian people, "As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you," Obama declines to reach out to them with such inspirational rhetoric. Given the failing grade at midterm, now is the time to take a tough stand against Tehran in nuclear talks and to reach out to the Iranian people.

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Shadow Government

U.S. Offer Hampers U.N. Missions

The ongoing debate on U.S. immigration reform tends to focus on domestic aspects of this legislation still pending with Congress, but there is another issue worth looking at that has global impact.

A little known provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 USC § 1101(a)(27)(I)) authorizes the U.S. government to grant permanent residency to retired staff members of international organizations who, while working for multilateral institutions such as the U.N., live in the U.S. for 15 years.

Those engaged in the immigration debate rightly focus on the costs and benefits to the U.S. of immigration reform, but they are likely unaware of the detrimental impact this particular provision has on the work of the U.N. and other international organizations based here. Opening borders and welcoming others to stay in the U.S. may be beneficial in many ways, but it can hurt these institutions whose budgets are largely funded by American taxpayers.

By offering legal permanent residency to international bureaucrats, the U.S. is encouraging them to avoid being sent overseas on field missions -- where they would share with their colleagues the challenges and benefits of being posted in a variety of locations, including hardship postings. These organizations are deprived of staff rotations and turnover, and those not already posted to the U.S. are unlikely to find many openings here. The result is a stagnant working environment, rather than a dynamic and vibrant workforce that could be more effective in tackling today's global challenges.

For the past few years, this is precisely what U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and others seeking to reform the system have been striving to achieve. In August 2012, the secretary general presented his report on staff mobility as part of his human resources management reform proposal.

The report states his goal as "to improve the ability of the Organization to deliver its mandates, helping to ensure that the right people are in the right position at the right time, and allowing the Organization and staff to benefit systematically from the opportunities that mobility affords."

Since then, Ban has faced an uphill battle fighting those most resistant to his proposal, namely the headquarters-based staff unions and many delegates in the U.N. General Assembly (who would have to vote to implement these changes). Both groups prefer the status quo to protect themselves or their fellow nationals.

The secretary general proposes a seven-year limit on postings at headquarters locations (like New York, Geneva, and Vienna) -- which seems very generous when compared to the tours of duty of U.S. career diplomats based in Washington.

The U.N. already has a general policy -- on paper -- of placing a five-year limit on staff postings, but Ban has discovered that many U.N. bureaucrats are able to remain in their positions for far longer. So even if the U.N. General Assembly adopts his proposal, one wonders if the bureaucrats would find new ways to circumvent it.

Ban's seven-year limit would still prevent G-4 visa holders of international organizations from automatically becoming eligible for U.S. green cards upon retirement, because they would effectively be unable to attain the 15 years of required residency needed to apply.

So we face a very unusual situation: The U.S. is now being far more generous handing out green cards than the U.N. secretary general would like it to be. The United States' official position is to favor staff reform and mobility within the U.N. system, yet U.S. law provides a very strong incentive for international bureaucrats to remain here for long periods, rather than seeking assignments abroad.

Even more puzzling, the U.S. appears to be the only country in the world whose visa policies discourage international staff mobility. No other nation is as generous -- and none reciprocates by offering permanent residency to U.S. citizens working for international organizations on its territory.

There is no justifiable purpose to continue this policy. The U.S. is already in the enviable position of attracting the best talent from around the world who also seek permanent residency, and ultimately citizenship. Whether retirees of international organizations spend their pensions here or elsewhere would have no appreciable impact on the American economy. The U.S. can afford to stop offering them green cards.

The bigger question though is whether the U.S. truly wants what it calls for: effective and creatively-managed international institutions. If the answer is yes, it should close a loophole in domestic legislation that only serves to impede this goal.

This article was originally published in The Hill.

Lagon is professor in the Practice of International Affairs at Georgetown University, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and former specialist on U.N. reform at the State Department and Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff. Rafii worked for the U.N. for 13 years and is now a reform advocate.

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