Archives For: Iran

Iran Talks Get An Extension, Ctd

Nov 25 2014 @ 3:55pm

Aaron David Miller and Jason Brodsky are skeptical that the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, which were just extended, will ever bear fruit, given the toxic domestic politics in both Tehran and Washington. “But,” they add, “there may well be something even more fundamental at work: a strategic disconnect”:

We can’t end Iran’s nuclear capacity, so we are working to constrain it through buying time. Iran is trying to preserve as much of that capacity as possible while easing and eliminating economic pressure. And Iran is also playing with and for time. There’s really no end state, either on the nuclear issue or sanctions relief. And thus any comprehensive agreement is, by definition, interim at best. That just doesn’t add up in today’s highly charged and suspicion-laden political environment, no matter how moderate and well-intentioned the negotiators themselves may be.

The fact is that Iran knows what it wants: to preserve as much of its nuclear weapons capacity as possible and free itself from as much of the sanctions regime as it can. The mullahs see Iran’s status as a nuclear weapons state as a hedge against regime change and as consistent with its regional status as a great power. That is what it still wants. And that’s why it isn’t prepared — yet — to settle just for what it needs to do a deal. Ditto for America. And it’s hard to believe that another six months is going to somehow fix that problem.

With Republicans champing at the bit to push through more sanctions, Jeffrey Lewis figures any future talks are doomed:

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Iran Talks Get An Extension

Nov 24 2014 @ 1:57pm

After failing to reach a permanent agreement, the officials representing Iran and the P5+1 in the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Vienna extended the talks for seven more months:

“We have had to conclude it is not possible to get to an agreement by the deadline that was set for today and therefore we will extend the JPOA to June 30, 2015,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters at the end of the talks. He was referring to the so-called Joint Plan of Action, an interim deal agreed between the six and Iran a year ago in Geneva, under which Tehran halted higher level uranium enrichment in exchange for a limited easing of sanctions, including access to some frozen oil revenues abroad.

Hammond said the expectation was that Iran would continue to refrain from sensitive atomic activity. He added that Iran and the powers “made some significant progress” in the latest round of talks, which began last Tuesday in the Austrian capital. Hammond said that there was a clear target to reach a “headline agreement” of substance within the next three months and talks would resume next month.

The failure to meet today’s deadline was not unexpected. Elias Groll and John Hudson look over the sticking points that remain unresolved:

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What Happens To The Iran Talks Now?

Nov 21 2014 @ 11:27am

Monday is the deadline for reaching a comprehensive agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program. Despite some hopeful signs in recent weeks, it is not likely to be met: not only have the negotiators failed to resolve some of the major sticking points in the talks, Senate Republicans once again made clear in a letter to Obama this week that they will kill any deal they don’t like – possibly meaning any deal at all -especially if the president attempts to circumvent Congress in enacting it. Acknowledging this reality, Fred Kaplan favors extending the talks for another interim period, given the grim alternative:

As Winston Churchill famously said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war,” and the situation is no different here, as long as it’s clear we’re not being taken for a ride. As long as the interim accord isn’t altered, Iran will not easily be able to move closer to a nuclear bomb. And on a broader level, the United States and Iran have some common interests, not least in countering Islamist extremists in the Middle East (or at least Sunni extremists, such as al-Qaida and ISIS).

The P5+1 talks are the two countries’ only diplomatic forum; as long as it’s not a forum for deception, it’s a good idea, on many grounds, to keep them going.

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Azadeh Moaveni brings up a little-discussed reason:

The hard-line political forces in Tehran most opposed to a nuclear compromise with the West also dominate the institutions—the Revolutionary Guards, the judiciary, and various security bodies—that perpetrate the most serious rights abuses, ranging from summary executions to the detention of journalists, religious and ethnic minority activists, and Iranians with connections to the West. For most of the past decade, these hard-liners exploited times of tension with the West, such as periods when the threat of a U.S. military strike was amplified, or when Iranian nuclear scientists were being assassinated. For the hard-liners these were opportunities to crack down on regime critics, and expel them from universities, newspapers, government ministries, and city councils.

The fear among Iranian dissidents is that a breakdown in nuclear talks would prompt another wave of repression. Inevitably, a breakdown would be seen in Iran as the West having rejected reasonable Iranian overtures (just as the West would see it as Iranian rejection of reasonable Western overtures). Hard-liners would depict this rejection as more evidence of Western disrespect, even contempt, for Iran, and would try to exploit any sense of renewed tension to push their oppressive agenda. That would be especially easy if threats of a military strike by the United States or Israel were revived.

Yesterday, the WSJ broke the news that President Obama sent a secret letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last month, “aimed both at buttressing the campaign against Islamic State and nudging Iran’s religious leader closer to a nuclear deal”:

Mr. Obama stressed to Mr. Khamenei that any cooperation on Islamic State was largely contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement with global powers on the future of Tehran’s nuclear program by a Nov. 24 diplomatic deadline, the same people say. The October letter marked at least the fourth time Mr. Obama has written Iran’s most powerful political and religious leader since taking office in 2009 and pledging to engage with Tehran’s Islamist government. The correspondence underscores that Mr. Obama views Iran as important—whether in a potentially constructive or negative role—to his emerging military and diplomatic campaign to push Islamic State from the territories it has gained over the past six months.

The letter represents a significant shift in the administration’s approach to Iran:

The disclosure of the letter is likely to raise the political pressure on the White House, which is already coming under fire from lawmakers in both parties concerned that the administration is prepared to make far-reaching concessions to Tehran in order to strike a landmark nuclear deal before a Nov. 24 deadline. It also raises new questions about the precise contours of the White House’s Iran policy. Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last month, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said the U.S. wasn’t working with Iran on the fight against the Islamic State.

Tom Rogan rejects that shift:

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Amid all the drama of the last few days – in which the inevitably triumphant Democratic coalition scenario segued seamlessly into the Republican lock on the Congress for decades – it’s worth taking a deep breath to see what’s really changed under Obama. On domestic policy, we had a huge shift toward universal health insurance – a shift that looks very likely to stay in place. On foreign policy, Obama has bet a huge amount on a long-game engagement with Iran. So far, the strategy has worked far better than most predicted. The sanctions have been effective in both getting rid of Ahmadinejad, and getting Iran to the negotiating table; the international coalition has stayed rock solid; Rouhani’s election made detente feasible; lower oil prices have given Iran an incentive to deal to save its economy; and slowly, Iran itself has changed in a way that makes an opening to the West much more feasible. For a sample of that, I recommend the Economist’s latest survey on the country. Money quote:

While the world has been cut off from Iran, it has failed to notice how much Iranians have changed. No longer is the country seething with hatred and bent on destruction. Instead, the revolution has sunk into the disillusion and distractions of middle age. This is not always a nice place, perhaps, but not a Satanic one, either.

As if on cue, this week saw a potential breakthrough in the nuclear negotiations, three weeks before the looming deadline for a deal:

Iran has tentatively agreed to ship much of its huge stockpile of uranium to Russia if it reaches a broader nuclear deal with the West, according to officials and diplomats involved in the negotiations, potentially a major breakthrough in talks that have until now been deadlocked. Under the proposed agreement, the Russians would convert the uranium into specialized fuel rods for the Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran’s only commercial reactor. Once the uranium is converted into fuel rods, it is extremely difficult to use them to make a nuclear weapon. That could go a long way toward alleviating Western concerns about Iran’s stockpile, though the agreement would not cut off every pathway that Tehran could take to obtain a nuclear weapon. … For the United States, the fuel agreement would give negotiators more flexibility.

Perhaps the most striking thing is the role of the Russians. Despite a dramatic worsening of the relationship with the US, Russia has twice now cooperated in key WMD restrictions in the Middle East – first by brokering the deal that destroyed Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons, and now in helping nudge the negotiations past a stumbling block. At some point, those dismissing the reset may have to rethink when it comes to broader international problems. I’d argue that the next deadline can be breached, as long as serious progress is still being made and as long as Iran’s ongoing suspension of its nuclear program continues. But the deal is easily the most substantive foreign policy achievement in a generation. It should not be lost over an arbitrary deadline.

The incoming Republican Congressional leadership, of course, has other ideas:

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The Return Of The Hawks, Ctd

Nov 5 2014 @ 11:46am

Following the victories of pro-war candidates like Tom Cotton and Joni Ernst, Rosie Gray looks ahead to how the Republican Senate is likely to muck up Obama’s foreign policy agenda:

Most immediately and maybe most importantly, Republicans will try to nix any Iran deal that they deem unsatisfactory — and on this, they have the support of plenty of Democrats. The deadline for the nuclear talks is Nov. 24. The new Senate will have the will and the manpower to push through new sanctions legislation if it chooses, and the fight over Iran policy could prove to be one of the defining battles of the waning Obama presidency.

It’s unclear where exactly the new Republican conference will be when it comes to foreign policy, but Tom Cotton and Joni Ernst, the new senators from Arkansas and Iowa, have seemed to exhibit a fairly hawkish foreign policy instinct. Foreign policy isn’t the top issue voters care about, but their election could represent a cooling of enthusiasm for the anti-interventionist policies of libertarian Republicans that have garnered much attention in the past few years.

Fairly hawkish? Cotton’s view is that the Iraq War was a fantastic moral cause and we should be on the look out for more opportunitiees to spread “democracy” at the barrel of a gun. Juan Cole braces for the worst:

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Acid Burns In Isfahan

Oct 24 2014 @ 3:41pm

A series of acid attacks on women in Iran’s third-largest city prompted thousands to protest on Wednesday, denouncing the attackers and demanding that authorities take action. The attacks “had coincided with the passage of a law designed to protect those who correct people deemed to be acting in an ‘un-Islamic’ way”:

A local official said on Wednesday that “eight to nine” women had been attacked over the past three weeks by men on motorcycles who splashed them with acid in Isfahan, one of Iran’s largest urban centers and the country’s chief tourist destination. Some of the women were blinded or disfigured. The protesters — more than 2,000, according to the semiofficial news agency Fars — gathered in front of the local judiciary office and shouted slogans against extremists whom the protesters likened to supporters of Islamic State militants. They also called for the city’s Friday Prayer leader and the prosecutor to step down, witnesses said. Critics have long accused the Iranian authorities of playing down episodes that could embarrass leaders rather than investigating the cases.

Acid attacks on women are depressingly familiar events in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but rare in Iran. Rick Noack focuses on the new law, to which President Rouhani has come out in opposition:

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Earlier this week, David Sanger reported that the administration is looking at ways to avoid a Congressional vote on a nuclear agreement with Iran, including ways to suspend sanctions via executive fiat. Jack Goldsmith takes issue with that approach, arguing that it would make any eventual deal very tenuous:

The fact that the President does not think he can get Congress on board for any deal with Iran signals to Iran that any deal would be with the President alone, and would last only as long as his waiver authority – i.e. two more years. The deal could last longer, as it did with the last major unilateral presidential deal with Iran, the 1981 Algiers Accords that effectuated the release of the hostages. In the transition between the Carter and Reagan administrations in January 1981 some in Congress and the press questioned whether President Reagan should honor the deal that Carter struck with Iran through Algerian intermediaries. President Reagan did honor it, of course, and the courts upheld his and Carter’s actions. But the situation with Iran today is different than 1981. …

The bottom line, then, is that any deal struck by President Obama with Iran will probably appear to the Iranians to be, at best, short-term and tenuous. And so we can probably expect, at best, only a short-term and tenuous commitment from Iran in return.

William Tobey is on the same page:

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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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