Archives For: Iran

Inching Closer To An Agreement?

Oct 16 2014 @ 7:29pm

Iranian officials are reportedly considering a compromise offer by the US that would resolve one of the main sticking points in the slow-going negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program:

At issue is Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which can make both reactor fuel and the fissile core of nuclear arms. Tehran insists the program is only for future energy needs. Iran is refusing U.S. demands that it cut the number of working enriching centrifuges from nearly 10,000 to only a few thousand. That dispute has been the main stumbling block to progress since the talks began early this year.

Ahead of a Nov. 24 deadline to seal a deal, diplomats told the AP last m nth that U.S. had begun floating alternates to reducing centrifuges that would eliminate the disagreement but still accomplish the goal of increasing the time Iran would need to make a nuclear weapon. Among them was an offer to tolerate more centrifuges if Tehran agreed to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which can fuel reactors but is also easily turned into weapons-grade material. Back then, Iran was non-committal. But the two diplomats said Thursday it recently began discussions with Moscow on possibly shipping some of its low-enriched stockpile to Russia for future use as an energy source.

Suggesting some other potential compromises, Reza Marashi hopes that both the Obama and Rouhani administrations can overcome the domestic political challenges that stand in the way of an otherwise feasible and necessary deal:

The reality facing both sides will not change:

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A Well-Timed Mishap

Oct 7 2014 @ 3:59pm

The was a mysterious explosion near Tehran on Sunday, allegedly at the Parchin military facility. Some observers are wondering whether it was an accident or an act of sabotage:

According to the BBC, one Iranian opposition site described the event as a massive explosion that lit up the sky and shattered windows over nine miles away. The semi-official Islamic Republic News Agency dubbed the episode a “fire [that] broke out in an explosives producing factory in eastern Tehran,” neglecting to include the name Parchin and adding that two people had died. Neither source mentioned or even speculated upon the cause of the incident.

It’s widely believed that the United States and Israel have engaged in a heavy regimen of sabotage against the suspected Iranian nuclear program including, but not limited to, crippling computer viruses, the assassination of nuclear scientists, and a series of mysterious explosions that have killed high-level targets and damaged facilities. This development comes just hours before Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were reportedly set to meet in Tehran. The Parchin complex, which has long been a site that the U.S. and Israel say might be part of an illicit Iranian nuclear program, has not been inspected by the IAEA since 2005. If the episode in Iran is some kind of sub-rosa attack, the timing couldn’t be better.

Jim White speculates:

Another possibility that I haven’t seen mentioned is the potential of a semi-intentional accident that would destroy the building that is at the heart of the negotiations.

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Looking over Russia’s budget for the coming year, Callum Williams observes how many of its assumptions depend on oil prices remaining pretty high:

graph_3In 2015 Russia will need an oil price of about $105 a barrel to balance its budget (see chart). But crude is currently trading in the mid-$90s, down by about 10% since May. Weak demand from China and healthy supply from America help explain the drop.

Lower dollar-denominated oil prices are not so bad for Russia, given that the rouble has weakened so much. But over the past few years the budget’s reliance on oil revenues has increased. When excluding oil, there was a shortfall of 3.6% of GDP in 2007, but now it is more like 10%. Russia expects to run a small budget deficit (about 0.6% of GDP) this year. That prediction is optimistic—the Kremlin is banking on an oil price of $100. The latest predictions from Energy Aspects, a consultancy, show that the price of Brent is not expected to pass $100 for about nine months.

Steven Mufson details how the dip in demand and surge in US production is bad news not only for Russia, but Iran as well:

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As Iran and the P5+1 resume negotiations at the UN in New York over the country’s nuclear program, Trita Parsi flags a new poll of Iranians that “may shed light on the thinking behind Iran’s negotiating position, but also explain why the Rouhani government may think it can live with a no-deal scenario”:

The poll shows that the Iranian public is resistant on two key matters: rolling back the number of operating centrifuges and limiting Iran’s ability to conduct nuclear research. Demands for strict limitations on these issues by the P5+1, the group of six world powers negotiating with Iran, would essentially be deal breakers for the Iranian public: 70 percent oppose dismantling half of Iran’s existing centrifuges and 75 percent oppose limits on Iran’s research activity.

The public’s position on these matters is likely rooted in both a long-standing narrative of the West seeking to keep Iran weak, dependent, and downtrodden by depriving it of access to advanced science, as well as the government’s own rhetoric about nuclear “red lines” on centrifuges and nuclear research. Regardless, the public’s position on these critical variables poses a major challenge for the Rouhani team. It’s not a coincidence that these are the very issues that have caused a deadlock in the talks.

Mitchell Plitnick considers Rouhani’s motivations, noting the political pressures the Iranian president faces from all sides. He also cautions against assuming that Rouhani will agree to a deal for the sake of his political survival:

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A day after Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi ruled out allowing the US to re-station ground forces in his country, Juan Cole observes that the country’s Shiite militias, widely considered proxies of Iran, are also warning against American intervention:

Hamza Mustafa reports from Baghdad that Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Iran-backed Badr Corps, warned that the American plan is to take credit for the victories of the Iraqi armed forces and the popular militias. He called for a rejection of the plan and dependence solely on Iraqi military and paramilitary to defeat ISIL. … The Bloc of the Free (al-Ahrar) led by Shiite cleric Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr called on al-Abadi to reject the US plan. Muqtada al-Sadr warned the US against trying to reoccupy Iraq and threatened, “If you return, we will return.” This was a reference to his Mahdi Army, which had subsided in importance after the US withdrawal. Muqtada boasted that the militia had inflicted heavy casualties on US troops and forced the US out. He also said that if the Mahdi Army “Peace Brigades” discovered an American presence in any province where they were fighting ISIL, they should immediately withdraw from the fight.

His conclusion:

It is difficult to tell how serious these militia leaders’ pronouncements are, since they might be attempting to save face with their followers even as they benefit from the US air cover. On the other hand, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq actually did in the past kidnap US troops, and the Mahdi Army fought them tooth and nail in spring of 2004, inflicting high casualties on them. Since President Obama’s air campaign requires Special Ops forces like Navy Seals or Green Berets to be on the ground with the Iraqi Army, they should apparently watch their backs. The people they are trying to help against ISIL don’t seem to appreciate their being there. And many of them seem to prefer Iran’s help.

So there are indigenous forces against ISIS that are telling us: we’ve got this. And we’re over-ruling them. Eli Lake, on the other hand, interprets these statements as evidence that Iran is working against us, noting that Tehran itself opposes US involvement in the conflict on the ground:

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Ali Murat Yel defends Turkey’s reluctance to join the war coalition against ISIS:

Public opinion in Turkey holds that a Muslim cannot be a terrorist and any terrorist cannot be a Muslim. In other words, terrorism and Islam cannot be reconciled. This public conviction is certainly the real attitude of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has formed the Alliance of Civilizations with Spain against the expectation in some quarters of a “clash of civilizations” and has been trying to restore peace with different ethnic groups in Turkey. The President himself and the majority of Turkish people believe that terrorism could be defeated intellectually not through waging war on them.

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The Obama administration is now saying that “several” Arab countries will participate in an air war against ISIS but won’t say which:

Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking from Paris, declined to say which states had offered to contribute air power, an announcement that White House officials said could await his return to testify in Congress early this week. State Department officials, who asked not to be identified under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters, said Arab nations could participate in an air campaign against ISIS in other ways without dropping bombs, such as by flying arms to Iraqi or Kurdish forces, conducting reconnaissance flights or providing logistical support and refueling. “I don’t want to leave you with the impression that these Arab members haven’t offered to do airstrikes, because several of them have,” one State Department official said.

Ian Black considers the interests of our likely partners, saying Arab support is symbolically important but might not be that helpful:

Military capability is not a problem: Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar together have hundreds of advanced fighter aircraft, though the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has next to no experience of coordination. Politically, however, fighting with the US would require greater determination than they have yet shown to tackle the jihadis who have sent shockwaves across the region.

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The Problem With Partners, Ctd

Sep 12 2014 @ 1:02pm

John Kerry - Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Thomas Seibert scrutinizes Turkey’s reluctance to commit to anything beyond a “passive role” in the war on ISIS:

Officially, Turkey argues it has to keep its operations low-key because a more active posture would endanger the life of 46 of its citizens held hostage by ISIS. The jihadists kidnapped the Turks and three of their Iraqi colleagues when they overran the Turkish consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June. Ankara says it is trying to secure the hostages’ release, but has ordered a news blackout that makes it difficult to assess where those efforts stand. …

Even without the hostage situation, Ankara would face difficult options. Turkey could take part in Western strikes against ISIS and risk a backlash from the jihadists themselves and other Islamist groups in the region. Or Turkey could refuse to have anything to do with the strikes, angering its Western allies and being a mere spectator despite its ambition to become a regional leader. Faced with that choice, Ankara appears to have decided to muddle through, officially joining the alliance against ISIS, but keeping out militarily.

Shane Harris expects the US to depend heavily on Jordan, particularly its intelligence service:

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Will We Ally With Iran?

Sep 11 2014 @ 9:27am

In his ISIS speech, the president stressed that the US would not enter a partnership with Bashar al-Assad to fight ISIS, but didn’t explicitly rule out working with Iran. Now the chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council, Hashemi Rafsanjani, says Tehran is ready to cooperate with the US. Obama might not be, but Murtaza Hussain suspects he won’t have much choice:

Thus far, U.S. hopes against ISIS have been pinned on the group’s most palatable enemies: The Iraqi Army, Kurdish Peshmerga, and more moderate Syrian rebels. While those groups have not been defeated, their position today is weaker than ever. As such, some cooperation with America’s ostensible enemies in the Iranian military will likely be necessary to any plan to defeat the Islamic State. Obama’s non-Iranian options look particularly bleak after [Tuesday’s] shocking assassination of one of Syria’s top anti-ISIS rebel commanders and dozens of his lieutenants. The commander, Hassan Abboud, was killed in an explosion during an underground meeting. So many members of his group, Ahrar al-Sham, were killed in the explosion that it’s now unclear whether it will continue to exist and provide a key counterweight to ISIS. Ahrar al-Sham was one of the best organized Syrian opposition factions aside from ISIS.

Brian Murphy believes that “Iran is likely to be drawn into any Western-led scenarios against the Islamic State militants and their networks.” One reason why:

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Flagging the above tweet, Jacob Siegel points to Iran’s deepening involvement in the ISIS conflict:

The photo reportedly shows the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Qods force, Tehran’s chief military strategist, and the man many American officials consider to be America’s most dangerous foe on the planet. His visit to the site underscores the convergence of U.S. and Iranian interests in Iraq, and Iran’s desire to be seen as orchestrating the efforts. Amerli was clearly a defeat for ISIS and a relief for the townspeople who had held off the group for six weeks. But it’s less clear what the alliance between U.S. airpower and Iranian-backed militias says about the vision guiding the mission in Iraq. Even leaving aside questions of a grand regional strategy for the Middle East—and how our track record suggests that U.S. led wars in Iraq can benefit Iran—its not clear how the precedent set in Amerli will serve the President’s more immediate goals for resolving the war in Iraq.

Juan Cole suspects Washington and Tehran are already coordinating their efforts to some extent:

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