Thursday, November 17, 2016

Eye on Iran: UN Watchdog Chides Iran on Minor Nuclear Deal Breach

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The head of the UN atomic watchdog chided Iran on Thursday after a second minor breach this year by Tehran of the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers. A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency last week showed that Iran's stock of so-called heavy water had inched above the level agreed under the landmark accord. Heavy water, a modified form of normal water, is used in certain types of nuclear reactors. "Iran has since made preparations to transfer a quantity of heavy water out of the country," which will bring it below the ceiling, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told the agency's board. "It is important that such situations should be avoided in future in order to maintain international confidence in the implementation" of the deal, he said in Vienna.

The U.S. Senate will vote to renew sanctions on Iran for 10 years before adjourning next month, the chamber's Republican leader said on Wednesday, sending the bill to the White House, where President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law. The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday for the decade-long extension of the Iran Sanctions Act, or ISA, first adopted in 1996 to punish investments in Iran's energy industry and deter the country's pursuit of nuclear weapons. The act will expire at the end of 2016 if it is not renewed. "We're going to take up the House bill," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters at the Senate's weekly Republican leadership news conference. "... And we're going to pass it."

President-elect Donald Trump spent much of his campaign railing against the Iran nuclear deal, even raising the possibility of scrapping the agreement immediately upon taking office. But many of the deal's most ardent critics are now saying: "Slow down." As the reality of Donald Trump's White House win sinks in among nuclear deal opponents, some are insisting that pulling out of the agreement is unwise. Instead, they say, Trump should step up enforcement of the deal, look for ways to renegotiate it, and pursue measures to punish Iran for its non-nuclear misbehavior. Such a multi-pronged, get-tough approach may even give Trump cover to fend off any criticism he may get for keeping the deal... "You don't want all the blame for the deal falling apart to land on the U.S.," argued David Ibsen, president of United Against Nuclear Iran, a group that has spent months trying to persuade companies around the world not to invest in Iran despite the lifting of sanctions. Ibsen and others said Trump can still save face on Iran by making it clear he is serious about enforcing the nuclear deal while also cracking down on Tehran's nefarious activities. For instance, since the nuclear agreement took effect almost a year ago, Iran has twice exceeded the limits on its heavy water stockpile, but the Obama administration has downplayed the incidents. Trump could be much more publicly harsh about these and other such apparent violations of the deal, the critics said. He could also use such incidents to rally other countries to warn Iran that it must not stray from the deal's fine print.


The U.S. House of Representatives approved an extension for 10 years of Iran sanctions, including many currently under waiver as part of the Iran nuclear deal, in a move that could pave the way for President-elect Donald Trump to pull out of the deal... Renewal of the sanctions could facilitate the United States opting out of the Iran nuclear deal, which exchanged a nuclear rollback for sanctions relief. To pull out, Trump as president would need only to stop waiving existing sanctions. Without renewal, pulling out of the deal could be more complicated, requiring proactive executive actions by Trump.


In the hours after Donald Trump's election victory, the Tehran Stock Exchange plummeted by 5 per cent. The sharp decline was triggered by concerns that the president-elect could seek to unravel Iran's historic nuclear accord with world powers and push the Islamic republic back into international isolation. But within minutes of Mr Trump's acceptance speech, during which he said "we will deal fairly with everyone", and "we will seek common ground, not hostility," the market rebounded. The bourse's fluctuations reflect the sense among some in the Iranian regime that a Trump presidency might not be as bad as they feared. Even Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader who often lashes out at the US, considered by many in the regime as Iran's arch enemy, gave a measured response in his first public reaction on Wednesday. He said his regime had "no concerns" about the election of a man who has described the nuclear agreement as the "stupidest deal of all time". Iran's ultimate decision maker added that his nation was "ready for any possible incident."

Donald Trump had sharp words for Iran during his presidential campaign, but Iranian leaders see reasons for hope in a Trump presidency. For hard-liners, Trump's threats to revisit the nuclear deal, which Iran struck with six world powers including the United States, bolsters their constant refrain that Washington cannot be trusted. Meanwhile, moderate President Hassan Rouhani and his allies are playing down concerns over Trump's rhetoric. Some quietly express optimism that the real estate tycoon would be open to negotiations in other areas dividing Washington and Tehran.


The Senate will move to pass a 10-year extension of existing sanctions against Iran before disbanding for the year, leaving the grittier fight over expanding the scope of punitive measures against Tehran until next year. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters Wednesday that the Senate would tackle "just the straight extension" - either as a stand-alone bill, or attached to a must-pass spending measure - "and when we get back, we'll do something that is much broader." ... Corker said the Senate would follow the House's lead for now, explaining that he had attempted to push a broader package of sanctions because the need to come down harder on Iran is "something that so many people agree on." Corker faulted the Obama administration for pressuring Democrats away from efforts to adopt additional limits against Tehran, but predicted that many would vote for expanded measures once President Obama is out of office. "If you don't have a president that's pushing back on Democrats, they're now free to express themselves," Corker said. "They felt hamstrung, I think, before."

Putting U.S. financing off-limits for Iran to buy or lease commercial Boeing aircraft was the first order of business for the House Rules Committee, on its first day back after a long recess and the presidential election of Donald Trump. The measure passed the committee 7-2 late Monday, but President Barack Obama has promised to veto the bill, saying it would undermine U.S. commitments to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran nuclear deal. "The bill would undermine the ability of the United States to meet our JCPOA commitments by effectively prohibiting the United States from licensing the sale of commercial passenger aircraft to Iran for exclusively civil end uses, as we committed to do in the JCPOA, and seeking to deter companies from pursuing permissible business with Iran," an administration statement on the bill says.


Iran's resurgent oil industry has confounded skeptics. Production is up by almost a third since sanctions were eased in January and foreign companies are lining up to help boost output further. Yet Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. casts doubt on whether the momentum can last. "The risk is heightened for future projects," said Robin Mills, who founded Dubai-based consultants Qamar Energy and worked for Royal Dutch Shell Plc in Iran. "It's gotten more complicated." The U.S. president-elect has vowed to tear apart the international nuclear deal with Iran that unlocked the country's oil exports this year. Such a move could obstruct its plans to pump a further 800,000 barrels a day with $100 billion of foreign investment. The oil market has been counting on Iran as a key new source of supply, and the current uncertainty may see investors step back. "International oil companies are likely to adopt a wait-and-see position on Iran until it becomes clear what Trump does," said Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and a former official in the Obama administration... Even before Trump's win, progress on Iran's new oil-contract terms had been slow, and producers are still awaiting full details of the tendering process for fields, the officials said.


When Iran conducted a mass hanging in August of Sunni prisoners accused of attacks in its restive western Kurdish region, the executions were widely criticized as an egregious human rights violation. But death-penalty opponents also were appalled at what came next. Videos that showed apparently coerced confessions of the prisoners - interwoven with ominous-sounding music and clips of unrelated assaults by militants of the Islamic State - have been shown on Iranian state television in the months since the executions. Produced and disseminated by official media outlets, the videos contain no apologies for the mass hangings. They apparently are meant to exploit fears among the country's majority Shiite population about the Islamic State, the Sunni extremist group ensconced in Syria and Iraq that shares antipathy for both Iran and the West. Human rights groups say the hangings in Iran on Aug. 2 put 20 to 25 prisoners to death, one of the largest mass executions ever carried out in that country. In a report about the videos issued Wednesday, titled "Broadcasting Injustice, Boasting of Mass Killing," the rights group Amnesty International accused Iran of having used stage-managed confessions, falsehoods and sensationalist screen titles like "In the Devil's Hands" and "In the Depth of Darkness" to justify the mass hangings to a domestic audience.


On November 9, 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its fourth report on Iran's compliance with United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2231 (2015).  UNSCR 2231 codified into international law the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran in July 2015 aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear program.  The JCPOA was implemented on January 16, 2016, a date known as Implementation Day.  The latest IAEA report again states: "Since Implementation Day, the Agency has been verifying and monitoring the implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments" under the Iran deal.  Nowhere in the report does the IAEA state that Iran is fully compliant with the JCPOA.  The report lists many areas where Iran has met the conditions of the JCPOA's provisions.  However, it states that Iran has exceeded its cap on heavy water, and the IAEA is still unable to determine or provides no information about its efforts to determine the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.  Moreover, the IAEA reporting is so sparse as to confirm suspicions that compliance controversies are being deliberately omitted from the report... We are increasingly concerned that Iran is not fully complying with the JCPOA.  Based on discussions with senior United Nations officials close to the IAEA, while Iran had appeared to be following exactly what it is supposed to do with respect to the deal, increasingly, Iran has stated to inspectors that it did not understand the meaning of the requirements or acted surprised when confronted.  In earlier periods, when Iran was resisting IAEA safeguards requirements, Iran used a similar strategy, professing not to grasp what was required, as one official remembered.  These developments need to be closely followed.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) and Iran remains a controversial and potentially dangerous deal. During the election campaign, president-elect Donald Trump vowed to scrap it. Trump is no doubt correct that the JCPOA is deeply flawed, and did not achieve what it originally set out to do; nor was it signed nor ratified by any of the parties. Still, the deal indicates strong commitment on the part of all sides to uphold its terms and timetables, in order to get what they want from the deal. Serious questions arise, however, with regard to what each side has been gaining - and losing - from the deal, and make it imperative for the next president to take steps to strengthen compliance, and deliver new messages of determination to Iran... Since the deal was announced last July, the major problem encountered has been Iran's attempts to test the resolve of the P5+1, and the US in particular, by pushing the envelope on a number of issues - from illegal ballistic missile tests to military cooperation with Russia in Syria to protect the Assad regime. Iran has also twice exceeded the produced heavy-water storage limit in the deal, and attempted to procure technologies and components with nuclear applications. Rather than confronting Iran on these issues, the Obama administration has tended to turn a blind eye, explaining everything away as minor and insignificant. As such, the first order of business for the new administration is to change this attitude, and take a more determined stance towards Iran's activities, something president-elect Trump seems poised to do... In conclusion, despite Trump's pre-election rhetoric, it is reasonable to assume that he will not rip up the deal. Instead, he should focus on the weaknesses of the JCPOA, and on repairing the damage that has been done. To do so, the new administration should fully utilize the provisions of the JCPOA, the valid safeguards commitments of Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and introduce some essential additions and modifications. In addition to improvements regarding the JCPOA itself, things need to change in terms of US-Iran interactions. Iran has been exploiting the eagerness of the Obama administration to ignore and/or attempt to explain away all moves Iran has made over the past year to strengthen its position in the military realm, and across the Middle East. This trend can still be reversed. Until Iran indicates that it plans to be a willing international and regional player, it cannot be treated as one, especially when it comes to the nuclear realm.

On 2 August 2016, 25 Sunni men were executed in Iran for the vaguely worded crime of "enmity against God" without their families being notified. The authorities issued statements that attributed to the men a range of criminal activities and aired "confession" videos seemingly intended to dehumanize them. Amnesty International's research shows that Iran's justice system blatantly violated the men's right to a fair trial, including their rights to access a lawyer, not to be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, to remain silent, to have their cases heard in public hearings, and to have a meaningful review of their sentences.

The signing of a heads of agreement (HOA) between Paris-based Total SA, China National Petroleum Corp. and Iran's Petropars on the development of phase 11 of the South Pars gas field is an important development in post-sanctions Iran. In fact, the country had been deprived of Western technology in its petroleum sector since the departure of major European companies in 2008-2009 due to an intensification of nuclear-related sanctions. Though an HOA is not considered a full-fledged contract, it is a symbolic step underlining that Western international oil companies (IOCs) are returning to Iran. This specific HOA is symbolic for two more reasons: It was signed on Nov. 8, Election Day in the United States, indicating that the outcome of the election had no impact on Total's decision to re-engage the Iranian market. Furthermore, the creation of a consortium consisting of a Western IOC, an Eastern IOC and an Iranian company is a reflection of what the Iranian stakeholders expect: Western technology, potentially some Chinese financing as well as capacity building for an Iranian company. The question is whether this signing represents the starting point of a process in which European IOCs will return to the Iranian market. Evidently, being located in a low-cost, oil-producing region, oil and gas fields in Iran offer an opportunity for IOCs in the current low oil price era. Furthermore, Iranian projects do not present any major geological risks. However, political and legal risks are certainly the key factors influencing the investment decisions of IOCs with regard to projects with Iran.

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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