Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Eye on Iran: Iran Vows No Retreat in Crunch Nuclear Talks

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"Iran's supreme leader vowed Wednesday no retreat from Tehran's nuclear 'rights' in an anti-Israel diatribe that France said 'complicates' crunch talks getting under way in Geneva. Predicting the demise of 'rabid dog' Israel, which Iran has accused of trying to 'torpedo' a deal, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the powers must respect the Islamic republic's 'red lines'. 'I insist on not retreating one step from the rights of the Iranian nation,' Khamenei, 74, told militiamen of the Basij force in a rare, live televised address. France said that his comments -- he said Israel's leaders were 'not worthy to be called human' -- are 'unacceptable and complicate negotiations' on Iran's nuclear programme."

NYT: "In a meeting with Senate leaders on Tuesday, President Obama failed to sway critics of his effort to sign an interim nuclear deal with Iran. But in a modest concession, they agreed to hold off on a vote to impose new sanctions on Iran until after talks in Geneva later this week. After a two-hour session that reflected deep divisions between the White House and Congress, a bipartisan group of the Senate's top foreign policy and national security committees urged Mr. Obama to reject any nuclear deal with Iran that did not include a tangible rollback of its nuclear weapons program. But after the president pleaded with them to hold off on new measures against Iran, several senators signaled that they would not seek to amend a military funding bill now under consideration with any provision including the additional sanctions. That did not stop another group, led by Senator Mark S. Kirk, Republican of Illinois, from going ahead and proposing stricter sanctions, which would take aim at Iran's remaining oil sales, as an amendment to the military bill. With the Senate going on Thanksgiving recess on Friday, however, it will be at least two weeks before any measure will come up for a vote. That gives the White House some breathing room to reach a preliminary deal freezing Iran's nuclear activities for six months, in return for modest sanctions relief."

NYT: "Senior officials from six world powers met Wednesday in Geneva in a new bid to reach an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program despite opposition from Israel, some members of the United States Congress and Iranian hard-liners... The Geneva talks are a continuation of an attempt two weeks ago to clinch a deal with Iran that would put a brake on its nuclear program in return for limited relief of economic sanctions. American officials say those terms are intended only as a first step to a comprehensive agreement that would remove the risk of Iran developing a nuclear weapon... The new round of negotiations, tentatively scheduled to run until Friday, will reveal whether the progress both sides said they made in those negotiations provided sufficient momentum to achieve the breakthrough that eluded them earlier this month.  Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief who is hosting the negotiations, began the talks on Wednesday by meeting senior officials of the P5-plus-1: the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China - plus Germany. Ms. Ashton was to meet with the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, before a formal session with all parties later Wednesday or on Thursday, Michael Mann, the European Union spokesman, said."
Nuclear Negotiations

WSJ: "President Barack Obama, defending his overture to Iran, said Tuesday that the hobbled Persian Gulf oil power would continue losing money even under a temporary deal with international powers over its nuclear program because the most punitive economic sanctions would remain in place. Mr. Obama, speaking at The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council, rebutted criticism of the talks by describing the web of economic restrictions that would remain in place during any sort of interim agreement. 'The oil sanctions, the banking sanctions, the financial services sanctions-those are the ones that have really taken a big chunk out of the Iranian economy,' he said. 'And all those sanctions and the architecture for them don't go anywhere.' ... Mr. Obama said that Iran's economy is severely strained, with oil production and sales down by more than half, more than $100 billion in Iranian oil revenue outside the country and beyond the government's reach and the currency in decline. 'Because the oil and banking sanctions stay in place, they will actually still be losing money even during this six-month period relative to the amount of oil sales they had back in 2011,' he said. Mr. Obama said he's unsure if an agreement will be reached this week when negotiators resume talks in Geneva. 'I don't know if we'll be able to close a deal this week or next week,' Mr. Obama said."

Reuters: "Senior U.S. lawmakers urged the Obama administration on Tuesday to take a tougher line in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, saying Tehran should roll back its nuclear program before economic sanctions are eased. Democratic Senators Charles Schumer, Robert Menendez and Bob Casey, as well as Republicans John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins signed the letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, released a day before a third round of talks in Geneva between Iran and six world powers... The senators expressed support for the negotiations, but urged against accepting any deal that would roll back economic sanctions without also rolling back Iran's progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. 'We feel strongly that any easing of sanctions along the lines that the P5+1 is reportedly considering should require Iran to roll back its nuclear program more significantly than now envisioned,' the six senators said in the letter. Separately, another six senators, all Republicans and including Mitch McConnell, the party's leader in the Senate, said they had introduced a new round of sanctions on Iran as an amendment to a defense bill being considered in the Senate."

Reuters: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Russia on Wednesday to appeal for tougher terms in a nuclear accord with Iran after failing to convince the United States that world powers are pursuing a bad deal... 'Our job is to try to sway the Russians, as we have been doing with all the players,' said Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin, who accompanied Netanyahu to Moscow. 'Russia is not going to adopt Israeli positions wholesale. But any movement, even small, in the Russian position can affect the negotiations,' Elkin told Israel Radio."

AFP: "President Hassan Rouhani in a telephone call with British Prime Minister David Cameron stressed Tehran's firm right to pursue a peaceful nuclear programme, Iranian media reported Wednesday. Cameron's call on Tuesday to Rouhani, the first such high-level exchange in a decade, came on the eve of a new round of talks in Geneva between world powers and Iran on Tehran's nuclear programme. 'As Iran is determined that its nuclear activities will remain peaceful, it will strongly defend its nuclear rights,' the official IRNA news agency reported Rouhani as telling Cameron. 'We will accept no discrimination on this issue. The language of respect must replace that of threats and sanctions,' he added."


Reuters: "Iran's growing reliance on burning oil products to make electricity, due to its inability to extract more natural gas, has cost tens of billions of dollars, the head of the National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC) said on Tuesday. Iran sits on the world's largest known gas reserves, according to estimates by BP but, while demand has surged, it has made slow progress in developing them, largely because of Western sanctions over its nuclear programme. Iran's use of oil middle-distillates for power generation has risen from 8.4 billion cubic metres (bcm) in 1996 to 22.3 bcm in 2012, and has already hit 30 bcm in the last seven months, NIGC director Hamidreza Araqi told the Energy Ministry news website Shana. Araqi said the use of liquid fuels rather than gas had in effect cost Iran $28 billion, but he did not specify a time period or spell out how he had arrived at the figure."

Syria Conflict

WashPost: "The debris-strewn, bloodstained street outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut lay as mute testimony of another dark day in Lebanon on Tuesday, when nearly two dozen people were killed in a double suicide bombing, the latest in a string of sectarian attacks to blight the country. The first bomber, on a motorcycle, struck at a checkpoint just yards from the embassy in the Bir Hasan area of the capital, according to security officials and the army. The blast drew residents out onto the street and their balconies, exposing them to the more powerful suicide car bombing that occurred minutes later.  By day's end, the death toll from the twin blasts stood at 23, with 147 people injured, according to the Health Ministry. Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) confirmed that the country's cultural attache, Ibrahim Ansari, was among the dead. The long-running Syrian civil war has inflamed sectarian tensions across the region, as a largely Sunni insurgency backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar battles to oust President Bashar al-Assad, who has received support from Shiite fighters from Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, an Iranian ally."

Human Rights

RFE/RL: "The UN General Assembly's human rights committee is criticizing Iran for serious rights violations, including torture, frequent use of the death penalty, and widespread restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression. The committee passed a resolution on November 19 in New York urging Iran's new government, led by President Hassan Rohani, to address the ongoing human rights violations. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 83-36 with 62 abstentions. The resolution was sponsored by Canada, which broke diplomatic relations with Iran in September 2012. Iran's UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee accused Canada of brushing off 'Iran's enormous advancement' and presenting a resolution 'devoid of facts.' The 193-member General Assembly is expected to give final approval to the resolution next month."

Reuters: "Afghans fleeing fighting at home and seeking refuge in neighbouring Iran face increasing persecution by the Iranian government, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Wednesday. The report, 'Unwelcome Guests', details a growth in arbitrary arrests, detentions, beatings and harassment of more than a million Afghans as Iran faces its own economic problems worsened by international sanctions. The New York-based rights group cited unidentified Afghan officials accusing Iran of using deportations as a form of political blackmail against the Afghan state, which already struggles to provide for citizens living within its borders. 'In recent years conditions have worsened and pressures increased for nearly all Afghans in Iran,' the rights group said. 'They face higher barriers to humanitarian aid and social services, arbitrary arrest and detention, and have little recourse when abused by government or private actors.'"

AP: "An Idaho pastor who is being detained in a notorious prison in Iran has been allowed to visit members of his family, a development that human rights groups attribute to international pressure calling for his release. The American Center for Law & Justice said the visit granted Monday to Christian pastor Saeed Abedini was the first since his transfer to Rajai Shahr prison more than two weeks ago. Jordan Sekulow, executive director of ACLJ, said it's also the first time anyone outside the prison has been able to gauge his health since the transfer. Abedini's situation remains dire, Sekulow said. The 33-year-old pastor, who is of Iranian origin but had been living with his wife and children in Boise, Idaho, is being held in the lockup's violent criminal ward and is sharing a 10-by-10 cell with five other prisoners."

Domestic Politics

Reuters: "Iran's state news agency dismissed a series of reports by Reuters about a multi-billion dollar organisation controlled by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as 'disinformation' intended to undermine public trust in the Islamic Republic's institutions. Last week, Reuters published a three-part series entitled Assets of the Ayatollah ( detailing how the organisation, called Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam, has become one of the most powerful institutions in Iran through the systematic seizure and sale of thousands of properties belonging to ordinary Iranians. Setad's total worth is difficult to pinpoint because of the secrecy of its accounts. But its holdings of real estate, corporate stakes in a variety of industries and other assets total about $95 billion, Reuters has calculated. Through Setad, Khamenei has at his disposal financial resources whose value rivals the holdings of the shah, the Western-backed monarch who was overthrown in 1979. In an editorial, state news agency IRNA said the aim of the series was to tarnish the image of the institutions and undermine 'the pillars of the Islamic Revolution.'"

Foreign Affairs

Reuters: "Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Tehran wanted friendly ties with all countries, including the United States, on the day Iran begins a new round of talks with world powers on its disputed nuclear program. 'We want to have friendly relations with all nations, even the United States,' he told an audience of Basij militiamen. 'We are not hostile to the American nation. They are like other nations in the world,' he said. 'Death to America,' the militiamen chanted in response."
Opinion & Analysis

Claudia Rosett in WSJ: "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emerged from the latest round of Iran nuclear talks in Geneva earlier this month to say that negotiators are 'clearly further down the road in understanding what the remaining challenges are.' Yet with talks due to resume Wednesday, Mr. Kerry and his team have yet to address one of the biggest challenges: the example set by North Korea, which over the past two decades has shown the world-Iran, not least-how a rogue state can exploit over-eager western diplomacy to haggle and cheat its way to the nuclear bomb.  Since 1994, North Korea has cut a series of nuclear freeze deals, collecting security guarantees, diplomatic concessions and material benefits along the way. North Korea has cheated and reneged on every deal. Today, the Kim regime has uranium enrichment facilities, has restarted (again) its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, has conducted a series of increasingly successful long-range missile tests, and has carried out three nuclear tests, in 2006, 2009 and 2013. Recent commercial satellite imagery of North Korea's Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site shows two freshly dug tunnel entrances and continuing excavation, according to a recent report from the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. If past activity is any guide, these signs augur the next nuclear test. To understand the scale of Korean nuclear perfidy, one needs to trace the history of the three grand bargains struck in 1994, 2005 and 2007, not to mention a spate of lesser deals. Under the 1994 Agreed Framework reached under former President Bill Clinton, North Korea agreed to freeze and ultimately dismantle its nuclear weapons program, including its main reactor at Yongbyon. In return, the U.S. would move toward normalizing relations with Pyongyang, lead a consortium to finance and build two lightwater reactors on North Korea's east coast, and, pending their completion, provide North Korea with 500,000 tons annually of heavy fuel oil. The idea, similar to the step-by-step approach the U.S. is now pursuing with Iran, was that the deal would unfold in phases, each replete with verification and rewards, leading to a more friendly and benign North Korea. Instead, North Korea carried on with missile proliferation not directly covered in the Agreed Framework."

Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control: "In March, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a 'game changer.'  Earlier, in August 2012, he warned that for the United States, the use of such weapons in Syria would cross a red line and would lead to 'enormous consequences.' The August 21, 2013 sarin gas attack in a Damascus suburb - widely assessed to have been carried out by the Assad regime - resulted in the threat of U.S. missile strikes, then an effort to have the U.S. Congress endorse such strikes, and then hurried diplomacy by Russia that produced a chemical weapon disarmament plan. What does the U.S. response to the use of unconventional weapons in a Middle Eastern conflict tell us about present U.S. efforts to prevent another country - Iran - from developing nuclear weapons?  What lessons might Iran, and U.S. allies, draw from the Syrian example? These questions were addressed at a private roundtable discussion hosted by the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control on October 28, 2013 - about one week before a new round of nuclear talks among the P5+1 countries and Iran began on November 7.  The panelists were Joseph DeThomas, who served most recently as an advisor in the Office of the Secretary of State's Senior Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, David Kay, a Senior Fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, and Michael Singh, Managing Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The panelists concluded that the U.S. response in Syria provides important insights into the situation in Iran.  The likelihood that the United States will use force in Iran during the remainder of the Obama administration, and the credibility of that threat, have both decreased following the Syria episode.  U.S. leadership and credibility in the region have also been damaged.  Congress remains more likely to support the use of force in Iran than it did in Syria, though the overall appetite for military action, in Congress and among the public, has decreased.   As in Syria, the panelists found that a third party - most likely Russia or China - could play a role in brokering a negotiated solution with Iran.  The panelists also agreed that such a solution may be more likely with Iran at present, though there was a difference of opinion as to the reasons for this.  While Iran's new president is anxious to deliver on a campaign promise of sanctions relief, the panelists were uncertain as to whether this would be enough to motivate Iran to accept sufficient restrictions on its nuclear work. Following is the moderators' summary of the discussion. The findings are a composite of the panelists' individual views. No finding should be attributed to any single panelist, or be seen as a statement of policy of any government."

Stuart Appelbaum & Benjamin Weinthal in NYDN: "The expectation that the election of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would curtail persecution of minorities has proved a bitter disappointment for his country's struggling gay community. Sadly, human rights under the so-called 'moderate' Rouhani presidency is a case where past is prologue. Rouhani has not openly expressed anti-gay rhetoric like his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said while visiting New York, 'In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country.' Still, the situation for gays in Iran has not improved under the new leadership. 'Nothing essential has changed. The structure is still the same. It's a play, a comic and ugly performance. They're relying on the naivete of people to be able to succeed,' said the openly gay Iranian poet Payam Feili about Rouhani's policies. Rouhani made an election promise to end bias and move away from the hostile domestic climate fostered by Ahmadenijad against minorities and political opponents. But Iran's LGBT community considers these sweeping verbal gestures empty rhetoric because Rouhani's track record says otherwise. Just shy of 100 days in office Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corp arrested 'a network of homosexuals' in the city of Kermanshah near Iraq's border. Militia forces stormed a ceremony hall and seized some 80 people."

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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