Assessing President Obama’s Diplomatic Foreign Policy

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To understand why the talks have remained deadlocked, The Voiceless Sierra Leoneans want to review the Obama administration’s stance on diplomacy with Iran in the context of the long US history of favouring what many international analysts referred to as “Coercive diplomacy” over traditional negotiations in managing conflicts with adversaries.

Reliance on coercive diplomacy is deeply imbedded in the strategic culture of US National Security Institutions. It has evolved over decades of US military and economic dominance in international politics, which has allowed the United States to avoid genuine diplomacy repeatedly.

Based on that military supremacy, the United States avoided negotiations with its communist adversaries up to the early 1970s, when Henry Kissinger courted China and launched his Détente Policy with the Soviet Union. But that brief period of serious negotiating came in the wake of political pressures for reducing US military spending and foreign military presence during the long and exhausting US war in Vietnam. It soon gave way to renewed reliance on coercive diplomacy during the Reagan administration.

The concept of coercive diplomacy emerged from the belief that the United States could use the threat of force to leverage favourable outcomes in international conflicts, as the United States assumed though wrongly, as we now know that the threat of force by the John F. Kennedy had forced Khrushchev to back down in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

But the practice of coercive diplomacy came to include the use of trade and technology denial for coercive purposes as well, and Iran was one of the first applications of the concept. The Reagan administration used its diplomatic clout with France and Germany to choke off all technical cooperation with Iran’s nuclear programme in 1983, even though it acknowledged it had no reason to suspect that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons. A few years later, the former President George H. W. Bush administration banned exports of peaceful nuclear technology to Iran and pressured its allies to do the same. The technology denial policy, aimed at strangling the Iranian nuclear programme.

The George W. Bush administration’s accusation that Iran was using its nuclear programme as a cover for development of nuclear weapons was aimed at preparing the political ground for regime change by force, if necessary. But in 2005, it became part of a strategy for coercive diplomacy to force Iran to stop enrichment. United States Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice pressured Britain, France and Germany to eschew genuine negotiations with Iran and use the threat of economic sanctions to force an end to Iranian enrichment.

President Obama’s Administration on Foreign Diplomacy

Ironically, although the Obama administration appeared to be committed to traditional diplomacy with Iran on the surface, his administration has relied even more heavily on coercive diplomacy against Iran than its predecessor.

Obama sent an unpublicised message to supreme leader Khamenei in May 2009, offering to conduct talks with Iran on a range of issues “without preconditions,” Gary Samore, a former Obama official, admitted last year. But within weeks of his inauguration, Obama gave his approval to a plan for cyber war against Iran’s nuclear programme in order to gain more leverage.

Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei did not know about the cyber war decision. He did know, however, that Obama was planning to use new sanctions to compel Iran to accept these policy changes, which that included the unfreezing of assets and the lifting of some sanctions.

When Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked in the spring of 2009 for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) assistance in purchasing nuclear fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), the Obama administration blocked Iran’s recourse to the market, hoping to use Iran’s need for fuel for the TRR to put additional pressure on Iran. Samore drafted a proposal under which Iran would have to send as much 75 to 80 percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia to be turned into fuel assemblies for the reactor, giving the United States a stronger position in future negotiations.

The Washington Post reported on 22 October 2009, that US officials said the proposed uranium swap “would be only the first step in a difficult process to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and that suspension remains the primary goal.”

The administration even used its Nuclear Policy Review (NPR) in the spring of 2010 as a heavy-handed means of coercing Iran. The new nuclear policy suggested that Iran was one of the few exceptions to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons in case of a conventional attack “against the US or its allies or partners.”

Obama explicitly linked the new policy to the administration’s broader campaign of coercive diplomacy with Iran, saying: “We want to send a very strong message both through sanctions, through the articulation of the Nuclear Posture Review… that the international community is serious about Iran facing consequences if it doesn’t change its behaviour.”

The administration’s main hope for coercing Iran, however, was the imposition of the sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking sectors that took effect in mid-2012. In May 2012, United States reportedly disclosed that those sanctions, especially the moves by EU Member States to cut imports of Iranian oil would increase the leverage on the negotiations that had begun with Iran that spring.

After Hassan Rouhani was elected President of Iran in 2013, with a commitment to a negotiated solution to the issue of the nuclear programme and sanctions relief, the Obama administration assumed that its coercive diplomacy – especially in the form of sanctions – had forced Iran to negotiate. Although the administration had now given up the hope of ending Iran’s enrichment completely, the administration lost no time in making it clear that the US objective was the “dismantling” of most of the Iranian enrichment capacity.

John Kerry testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on 11 December 2013, a little more than two weeks after the Joint Plan of Action had been announced, that the United States had imposed sanctions on Iran, “because we knew that it would hopefully help Iran dismantle its nuclear programme. That was the whole point of the (sanctions) regime.”

In April 2014, Kerry announced that the administration would require Iran’s agreement to reduce its enrichment capability so that it would take at least six to twelve months to achieve “breakout capacity” i.e., enough low enriched uranium for one bomb’s worth of weapon’s grade enriched uranium. Robert Einhorn, former Proliferation Officer in the Obama administration’s State Department, explained in an article published 9 May of this year, that anything more than “a few thousand” centrifuges would give Iran “an unacceptably rapid breakout capability.”

Iran had already declared that dismantling its nuclear infrastructure was a “red line” in the talks, but that it would take measures that would assure that its low-enriched uranium could not be enriched to weapons grade level. Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif revealed to on 14 July that Iran had proposal to retain 9,400 “Separative Work Units (SWU), which would represent less than half the enrichment capacity installed in its two enrichment facilities.

Later, Iran agreed to draw down its stockpile of low-enrichment uranium by shipping it to Russia to be converted into fuel assemblies for its nuclear reactor at Bushehr. That would have the same effect in increasing the “breakout” timeline announced by Kerry as the deep centrifuge reduction the US was demanding. But by then, the United States had escalated its demands on Iran, saying that it would have to increase that mythical measure of risk to at least a year.

US negotiators continued to demand that Iran accept a dramatic cut in existing operational enrichment capacity to as few as 5000 centrifuges. Meanwhile, the US delegation was making it clear that the P5+1 would not provide “extensive” relief from sanctions until late in the implementation of the agreement, keeping the “architecture of sanctions” in place as leverage on Iran.

The whole US posture in the talks has thus reflected the perspective of a dominant power accustomed to employing coercive diplomacy, with sanctions replacing military force as the source of presumed coercive power. Iran’s refusal to play its assigned role in the relationship between superpower and lesser state challenges Washington’s strategic assumptions. Now, President Barack Husein Obama must weigh the appeal of coercive diplomacy to the US national security state against his own strong desire for an agreement.

Africa Solidarity Trust Fund Pledges US$1.5m to Support Ebola-hit Countries

By Mukeh Sannoh

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic, will each receive $500 000 to help curb the potentially devastating impact of the disease on food security and on the livelihoods of farmers and others in rural areas.

The $1.5 million grant comes from the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund and will be used in support of FAO’s recently launched Regional Response Programme to tackle food security and agriculture issues related to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa.

The funds will be used over a 12-month period to assist 7 500 households – about 45 000 people – in the three targeted countries.

Activities include social mobilization and training to help stop the spread of EVD; the strengthening of savings and loan schemes, particularly those involving women beneficiaries; and the provision of agricultural inputs to help rural families safeguard their livelihoods and incomes.

The agreement is one of three signed today in which the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund is granting a total of $6.5 million to support FAO’s work in continent-wide programmes including youth employment in rural areas and South-South Cooperation.

“The grants made available today signal the ongoing willingness of African countries to assist each other, not only during times of urgent need, as is the case now with the Ebola crisis, but also to secure their continent’s future growth and prosperity”, said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

“The Africa Solidarity Trust Fund for Food Security is a unique initiative for mobilizing resources from Africa for Africa with potential to help wipe out hunger and build resilience of vulnerable people”, declared, Crisantos Obama Ondo Ambassador of Equatorial Guinea to the Rome-based UN agencies and Chair of the Steering Committee for the ASFT.

Commenting on the new grants, Sierra Leone Minister of Agriculture Joseph Sam Sesay said: “Beyond the current human tragedy, Ebola also threatens to reverse the hard-earned development achievements of the entire region of West Africa. We thus warmly welcome the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund’s support as a true example of ‘Africans for Africans’ solidarity.”

More funds urgently needed to thwart Ebola threat

Last month FAO appealed to donors for the estimated $30 million urgently required to mitigate the impact of EVD on the food and nutritional security of affected communities in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and neighbouring at-risk countries.

FAO has already committed around $1.8 million of its own emergency funds to the agency’s Ebola Regional Response Programme and the grant made available by the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund is a much-needed contribution to FAO’s efforts.

New milestones for “by Africans for Africans” initiative

The other two agreements signed with the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund will support two FAO programmes: helping to create jobs for young people and women in the continent’s rural areas; and safeguarding food security in Africa through South-South Cooperation amongst African countries.

The programme on enhancing employment opportunities for rural youth, run by FAO in partnership with the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) will receive $4 million. Activities include helping countries to draw up and implement policies to boost enterprise development in rural areas and the transfer of entrepreneurship skills.

Today, the FAO Director-General and NEPAD Chief Executive Officer, Ibrahim Hassane Mayaki, signed a Letter of Intent through which the two organizations agree to join forces to implement the project. “This programme is a concrete way to empower young men and women with the necessary capacities and skills to engage in the socio-economic transformation of their countries. The joint implementation of the programme demonstrates the strong partnership that exists between FAO and the NEPAD Agency,” Mayaki said.

The second initiative relates to Africa’s South-South Cooperation Facility for Agriculture and Food Security. It will receive $1 million to support African countries share and exchange development solutions including knowledge, expertise, best practices, innovations, technologies, innovative policies and resources.

About the fund

The Africa Solidarity Trust Fund was launched in 2013 as a unique Africa-led initiative to improve agriculture and food security across the continent. It includes contributions from Equatorial Guinea ($30 million), Angola ($10 million) and a symbolic contribution by civil society organizations in the Republic of the Congo.

Since its inception, the Fund has already provided financing for projects in 30 countries including building resilience for conflict affected rural communities, reducing rural poverty through youth employment opportunities and building best practices to increase crop and livestock production.

Administered by FAO in partnership with key collaborators, the Fund aims to pool resources from Africa’s strongest economies and use them across the continent to implement initiatives in the framework of the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) to boost agricultural productivity and food security in the region.

It is governed by a steering committee currently consisting of Equatorial Guinea, Angola, the Chair of the Africa Group, the Chair of the Regional Conference for Africa, the African Union and FAO.

Meanwhile, the grant is part of $6.5 million to boost Africa-wide initiatives including youth employment and South-South Cooperation