Shadow Government

Is Iran About to Lash Out at Its Dissidents?

The United States and five other major powers negotiating about the Iranian nuclear program agreed to a four-month extension of the talks until Nov. 24. This period is a time of peril for opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who have been of great value in revealing intelligence about its nuclear cheating. It's possible that Tehran may use its negotiating leverage in this phase to attack its dissidents in Iraq, including the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the main resistance group that rejects clerical rule, and its largest unit, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).

Because the resistance is instrumental in exposing double-dealing by Tehran, it may attack to end dissidents' ability to reveal regime secrets. It's time for Washington, for which the regime opponents have long been a useful ray of light on the covert Iranian nuclear weapons program, to use its diplomatic leverage with Baghdad to protect them while getting the dissidents out of Iraq to safer countries, including the United States.

As the July 20 target date approached for reaching the nuclear accord, the Iranian regime's media person at the U.N. penned a letter to the Wall Street Journal, which I countered with an accompanying one. The regime spokesman launched an ad hominem attack on the main source of a Journal editorial, the NCRI, without dealing with the substance of the evidence. Because that organization has an excellent track record exposing the regime's lack of transparency and noncompliance with its financial and nuclear commitments, the PR attack failed.  

During his first news conference in June 2013, Iran's President-Elect Hassan Rouhani claimed that its nuclear programs were completely transparent but promised "even more." Because of Iran's deceitful record on financial and trade sanctions, however, Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), demonstrate there is "no such thing as a good Iranian Bank." They argue, "History will judge whether the president [Barack Obama] was right to compromise with a regime that has a long track record of nuclear mendacity." 

Despite Rouhani's claims, Tehran is not transparent in its nuclear program, particularly regarding possible military dimensions. In referring to NCRI revelations about Tehran's nuclear activities, President George W. Bush stated in 2005, "Iran has concealed its...nuclear program. That became discovered not because of compliance" with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "but because a dissident group pointed it out to the world."

The Center for Strategic and International Studies noted the NCRI role shedding light on Iran's nuclear program. A 2006 report declared, "The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revelations about Iran's secret nuclear program did prove to be the trigger point in inviting the IAEA into Tehran for inspections."

Contrary to Iran's disingenuous offers to be transparent in nuclear talks of Jan. 17, 2005 and March 23, 2005, NCRI intelligence revealed in late 2005 that Iran may be engaged in nuclear-related work at a site near the city of Qom.

Three Western allies disclosed on September 25, 2009 intelligence also about the Qom site during a G-8 economic summit in Pittsburgh, implicitly validating a resistance disclosure of the same date. And by Jan. 2012, Iran had acknowledged it had begun enrichment at revealed a heavily fortified site, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.

Meanwhile, during June 2009, the regime cracked down on country-wide demonstrations in which dissidents tied to the NCRI participated. Iraqi forces acting on behalf of Tehran then attacked NCRI associates in Camp Ashraf, Iraq in July. Iraqis killed 11, held 36 as hostages, and then only released them in October under intense international pressure.

After moving to Camp Liberty, a former American base in Iraq, on Feb. 9, 2013 rocket and mortar shells fell on the dissidents, killing six and wounding over fifty. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called these attacks, "a despicable act of violence," describing residents as asylum seekers entitled to international protection.

The most evident case of retaliation as it relates to nuclear revelations of the NCRI came on Sept. 1, 2013. The organization had in previous years uncovered a number of undeclared nuclear sites and announced them in a series of press conferences, e.g., in Washington during July. Tehran retaliated to take advantage of ongoing secret nuclear talks with Washington; it let the regime off the hook by saying very little about the assault. Yet in October 2013, the resistance disclosed additional intelligence, that time about suspect weaponization activities by Iran.

As the new date to complete the nuclear accord approaches, resistance intelligence reveals Tehran has Farsi-speaking Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force agents in positions at key locations around Camp Liberty. It houses almost 3,000 residents. Under the charge that they are working with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Iranian regime and its Baghdad proxies are in place to destroy the camp.

The prime minister of tiny Albania accepted a few hundred NCRI supporters from Iraq; now is time for President Obama of mighty America to stand his ground against Tehran and take in the remainder. Iran will not bolt the talks that promise it so much benefit. 

It is in our national interest to accept NCRI supporters because they maintain a capacity to expose Tehran's cheating on its nuclear commitments. As negotiations enter the final lap, it is critical to have ties with our friends who have a vast network of human intelligence in Iran.

John Moore/Getty Images

Shadow Government

The BRICS Bank, Bretton Woods, and U.S. Disengagement

American disengagement in the world is not consequence free. The new BRICS bank announced in Fortaleza by Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa is largely a political exercise, which has been given a big boost by American indecision on IMF quota reform. U.S. detachment and inaction have given the BRICS the political cover to start something that would likely die with a whimper if Congress could muster the political will to pass IMF quota reform. The United States suffers from a lack of presidential leadership in the Bretton Woods arena; as we withdraw others fill the vacuum, and we cannot choose our replacements. American leadership always starts at the Presidential level, but Republicans share blame for the rise of the BRICS bank based on their inability to get IMF quota reform done in Congress.

The BRICS have complained about "vote" and "voice" in the Bretton Woods institutions. If we address the ostensible political grievances of countries like China and others at the IMF by passing quota reform their arguments for a BRICS bank largely collapse.

As long as the United States maintains implicit veto and influence over the selection the Bretton Woods institutions' leaders, we should accept marginal adjustments in shareholdings -- this has already happened at the World Bank, and the rest of the G20 has signed off on reform at the IMF. The IMF Quota reform is a good arrangement for the United States until a time when we can trade the U.S. held presidency at the World Bank for the managing director role at the IMF with the Europeans.

The international system still operates under the same essential structures and assumptions that were laid out in "the world America made" at the Bretton Woods Conference and elsewhere following WWII, and that international system works best under vigorous U.S. leadership. The BRICS bank is one of a growing number of efforts to "defect" (I think we should bring that verb back in its Cold War form) from an American led system, which serves both U.S. and world interests.

The BRICS have used U.S. failures on IMF governance reform to push these new institutions. For all their faults, the IMF and World Bank remain effective force multipliers of an American form of globalization, as I've written here, here, and here. It is in the best interest of the United States, and the western world, to keep the BRICS engaged in these forums rather than allowing them to start new ones.

Unsurprisingly, there are limited details available regarding the bank and its operation. We do know that the New Development Bank will have initial authorized capital of $100 billion (with $50 billion in initial subscribed capital) and that the Contingent Reserve Agreement will have an initial size of $100 billion. The bank will be headquartered in Shanghai, the first CEO will be Indian, the first chairman of the Board of Governors will be Russian, and Brazil will appoint the first chairman of the Board of Directors. After failing to land the headquarters, South Africa will host an African regional center.

There are very few cases of successful non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development led multilateral development banks. Latin America's Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF) is one example, but its operations are tightly bound both regionally and sectorally. The New Development Bank is being envisioned along a much more ambitious premise. This will certainly effect its viability. The bottom line is that the BRICS have political and economic aims that are at best disparate, and often, directly at odds with each other. Do we think India would really be willing to foot the bill if there was a Russian or Chinese mega-financial crisis? The Greek bailout cost over $300 billion, and it's safe to assume that a fiscal crisis in any of the BRICS nations would be on a larger order of magnitude.

Here are the questions that I consider central to the success of this political enterprise:

  • In what currency will the deals be denominated? These countries are not big on using the U.S. Dollar so what currency will they use? Certainly not the Yen and certainly not the Euro. There have been suggestions of an alternative currency approach. I'll believe it when I see it.
  • Under which legal system will the bank operate? Most multilateral development banks adopt the U.S. or British legal system, but those both seem inconvenient and unlikely choices for the New Development Bank.
  • How will procurement award decisions, especially for infrastructure, work? For example, a "low-bid" system will favor China, whereas a "life-cycle" approach will favor other countries.
  • The Fortaleza Declaration repeatedly notes the BRICS recognition and commitment to "human rights." Ukrainians and Tibetans might dispute that commitment. The big projects that the World Bank and other multilateral development banks enter into are often socially and environmentally complex -- let's see how this issue is handled.

For my day job, I spend a lot of time analyzing middle-income countries. My take is that the BRICS like to wear the Rolexes and "bling" afforded by their economic rise, but they don't want to pay the condo fees of collective action and global leadership. With the exception of the lowest common denominator issues these challenges will still fall to an American-led West. Incongruent interests and operational challenges will likely cause the BRICS proposed bank and reserve agreement to fall under their own weight, but the U.S. shouldn't wait for this to happen. By passing IMF quota reform, Republicans could expose this as the political exercise that it is. On the other side of the aisle, the administration needs to cut a deal on this issue, and must be prepared to offer real concessions to make it happen -- the XL Keystone pipeline or Bush-43-era missile defense in Eastern Europe would be a good trade for Republicans. Time to call Joe Biden.