Iran’s hard bargaining tactics raise the stakes at Vienna nuclear negotiations

Iran’s hard bargaining tactics raise the stakes at Vienna nuclear negotiations
1 / 2
Some experts fear that a return to the JCPOA could end up offering Iran an eventual pathway toward developing nuclear weapons. (AFP)
Iran’s hard bargaining tactics raise the stakes at Vienna nuclear negotiations
2 / 2
Short Url
Updated 29 May 2021

Iran’s hard bargaining tactics raise the stakes at Vienna nuclear negotiations

Iran’s hard bargaining tactics raise the stakes at Vienna nuclear negotiations
  • Escalation of nuclear activity and other moves seen as part of strategy to get US sanctions removed
  • Experts warn that a return to 2015 deal could give Iran a pathway toward developing atomic weapons

WASHINGTON, DC: The ongoing parley in Vienna between Iran and five signatories of the 2015 nuclear accord has begun to look like the proverbial game of chicken. The hawk — Tehran — has no pressing reason to yield to the dove’s demand that it abide by the limits set by the deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Being in the role of the hawk, however, does have a downside for Iran: It runs the risk of overplaying its hand and ending up with nothing to show for its single-minded pursuit of getting the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration removed, analysts say.

Likewise, it may make sense for Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf to voice his opposition to further renewal of the deal allowing inspection of Iran’s nuclear sites, but there is no proof so far that such bargaining tactics are working.

That said, Tehran must be pleased to hear the warning just sounded by Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is “very concerning” as the radioactive metal used to power nuclear reactors is being processed to purity levels that “only countries making bombs are reaching.”

“Iran often plays hardball in negotiations, and I suspect that it’s testing the limits to see what it can get away with,” Matt Kroenig, a professor in the Department of Government and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told Arab News.

“In the end, however, I suspect we’ll see a return to the nuclear deal with the terms as formulated in 2015. Iran needs the sanctions relief, and the Biden administration wants (what it will portray back home as) an early diplomatic victory.”

But some experts fear that a return to the JCPOA — from which the US unilaterally pulled out in May 2019 — could end up offering Iran an eventual pathway toward developing nuclear weapons. Additionally, they say, if Iran is allowed to continue to violate IAEA safeguards, a dangerous precedent would be set.

“Tehran could be overplaying its hand regarding an issue that Washington and its European allies view as separate from the JCPOA — the IAEA’s ongoing safeguards investigation,” Andrea Stricker, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Arab News.

“Iran has extorted the IAEA in three key ways since February. First, Tehran forced the agency into a terrible position of negotiating a bridge monitoring agreement, something it should never do with any state.




Iran’s hardline stance on IAEA inspections have been accompanied by continuous collaboration with regional militant groups, say experts. (AFP)

“As members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, states sign up to an IAEA comprehensive safeguards agreement and can add an additional protocol, but they don’t get to pick and choose which elements of those agreements they’ll comply with. By letting Iran do this, the IAEA set a very dangerous precedent for other proliferant states.”

One of the JCPOA’s more controversial conditions was to halt any further public revelations and inspections of Iran’s military research and tests related to nuclear weapons. Six years later, there is a sense that the revelations by a 2018 Israeli spy agency raid — which yielded tons of classified Iranian documents detailing various past covert nuclear weapons work — should prompt a comprehensive IAEA investigation into the military dimensions of Tehran’s nuclear program.

“There’s a fundamental incompatibility with how the JCPOA was used from 2015 to 2018 to shelve the IAEA’s investigation, and the fact that new information about Iran’s nuclear weapons activities has since come to light,” Stricker said.

“This underscores that the IAEA can’t perfunctorily close an open safeguards investigation. It must first methodically determine whether Iran’s nuclear program has military dimensions and seek to ensure any such activities have ended.

“From 2002 until 2015, the IAEA investigated the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program. However, the JCPOA and UN Security Council Resolution 2231 pushed the IAEA into another devastating compromise: Closing its investigation and issuing an incomplete, final report.”
 




One of the JCPOA’s more controversial conditions was to halt any further public revelations and inspections of Iran’s military research and tests related to nuclear weapons. (AFP)

Jason Brodsky, a Middle East analyst and senior editor at Iran International, says Tehran has yet to be held accountable by the P4+1 — the UK, France, Russia and China plus Germany — for its uranium-enrichment escalation and stockpiling because of their determination to preserve the JCPOA, so it may have calculated that resistance will produce even more concessions.

“It’s worth noting that the international community merely issued strongly worded demarches while continuing to negotiate following Iran’s announcement that it was enriching uranium up to 60 percent in April,” he told Arab News.

“However, if Iran adopts such a stance on the IAEA monitoring agreement, it risks further isolating itself.”

While the general consensus of analysts is that Tehran’s hard line is aimed at extracting concessions from the US and the remaining JCPOA signatories while sacrificing little in return, an unfolding power struggle in the run-up to Iran’s presidential elections in June may also be a contributing factor.

“Granted, it’s the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who makes the final decision on such matters, but the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) does have a role to play. And the SNSC’s internal dynamics have changed since the original nuclear deal was signed in 2015,” Brodsky said.

“President Hassan Rouhani faces competition from Ghalibaf and Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, both of whom joined the SNSC after the JCPOA came into being. What has further complicated matters is Raisi’s decision to run for president. This is in part why we see the mixed messages from Tehran over the IAEA monitoring agreement.”

Advocacy groups opposed to the 2015 nuclear accord have also warned that a new deal would be incomplete if it does not address Iran’s links with a number of designated terror groups and its hosting of Al-Qaeda leaders.
 




Some experts fear that a return to the JCPOA could end up offering Iran an eventual pathway toward developing nuclear weapons. (AFP)

Bryan E. Leib, executive director of Iranian Americans for Liberty, is blunt in his assessment of the Vienna negotiations. “The Biden administration is playing a dangerous game with the world’s most notorious state sponsor of terrorism that ultimately puts American allies and American troops in the region in harm’s way against the regime’s aggression,” he said.

Leib’s concerns are shared by many former Trump administration officials who enforced the “maximum pressure” campaign that revived and expanded sanctions on Iran’s nuclear research and development network, and on terror-linked individuals and organizations. Their worry is that Washington’s negotiation strategy would not only leave the US less secure but endanger the Middle East as well.

They argue that Iran’s hardline stance on IAEA inspections, its push for sanctions relief and its ramping up of its nuclear activity have been accompanied by continuous collaboration with regional militant groups.

“Because of its (the Biden administration’s) eagerness to throw away the hard-won leverage and make unprecedented concessions to the Iranian regime, I do think Iran feels it holds all the cards when it comes to the nuclear negotiations,” Simone Ledeen, a former Trump Pentagon official, told Arab News.

“In fact, in early May an unnamed senior administration official told reporters that ‘success or failure now depends on Iran.’ It’s the most stark and troubling indication that the US administration remains untroubled by the many signals that Iran will make no concessions.”

 

Ledeen’s opinion is seconded by Len Khodorkovsky, a former senior State Department official, who said: “The Biden administration’s astonishing generosity in surrendering its leverage in Vienna has undoubtedly motivated the Iranian regime to push the envelope. The big concern is that the Biden administration, like the Obama administration, is willing to sacrifice everything at the altar of a deal, even a bad deal that harms US national security and that of our regional allies.”

In the final analysis, Tehran is still no closer to achieving its goal of getting President Joe Biden to find a way back into the JCPOA than when he officially entered the White House in January. Indeed, at its current stated pace of uranium enrichment, Iran could very well end up with the wherewithal for exploding a nuclear device, but not the sanctions relief it desperately craves.

On the other hand, as IAEA chief Grossi diplomatically pointed out in the interview he gave to Financial Times, “with a program with the degree of ambition, sophistication that Iran has, you need a very robust, very strong verification system … otherwise it becomes very fragile.”

Preventing Iran from gaining the capability to build nuclear weapons will require, at a minimum, stringent measures backed by strict monitoring of all of Iran’s underground facilities, including the ones it has presumably not disclosed.

Twitter: @OS26

 


US official lands in Sudan to support democratic transition

US official lands in Sudan to support democratic transition
Updated 32 min 56 sec ago

US official lands in Sudan to support democratic transition

US official lands in Sudan to support democratic transition
  • Samantha Power is set to meet with top Sudanese officials including Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan
  • She will also travel to Sudan’s western region of Darfur where she said she investigated atrocities in the its civil war in the 2000s

CAIRO: The US official who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on genocide landed Saturday in Khartoum, aiming to support Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy before traveling to Ethiopia to press the government there to allow humanitarian aid to the war-torn Tigray region.
Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, is set to meet with top Sudanese officials including Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, the civilian face of Sudan’s transitional government.
She will also travel to Sudan’s western region of Darfur where she said she investigated atrocities in the its civil war in the 2000s.
“I first visited Sudan in 2004— investigating a genocide in Darfur perpetrated by a regime whose grip on power seemed unshakeable. I couldn’t imagine Sudan would one day be an inspiring example to the world that no leader is ever permanently immune from the will of their people,” Power wrote on Twitter upon her arrival in Khartoum.
Power’s visit to Khartoum is meant to “strengthen the US Government’s partnership with Sudan’s transitional leaders and citizens, explore how to expand USAID’s support for Sudan’s transition to a civilian-led democracy,” USAID said.
Sudan is now on a fragile path to democracy and is ruled by a military-civilian government after a popular uprising led to the military’s ouster of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in 2019. The Khartoum government, which seeks better ties with the US and the West after nearly three decades of international isolation, faces towering economic and security challenges that threaten to derail its transition into chaos.
The US official would also meet with Ethiopian refugees in Sudan who recently fled the conflict and atrocities in the Tigray region which borders Sudan.
Since the Tigray war began in November, tens of thousands of Ethiopians have crossed into Sudan, adding to the country’s economic and security challenges.
Power’s five-day trip will also take her to Ethiopia as part of international efforts to prevent a looming famine in Tigray, a region of some 6 million people that has been devastated by the months-long war.
Power will meet with Ethiopian officials “to press for unimpeded humanitarian access to prevent famine in Tigray and meet urgent needs in other conflict-affected regions of the country,” USAID said.
The world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade is unfolding in Tigray, where the US says up to 900,000 people now face famine conditions and international food security experts say the crucial planting season “has largely been missed” because of the war.
Ethiopia’s government has blamed the aid blockade on the resurgent Tigray forces who have retaken much of the region and crossed into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, but a senior official with the US Agency for International Development this week told the AP that is “100 percent not the case.”


Jordan lifting border crossing with Syria to full capacity from Aug. 1

This photo taken in 2015 shows the Jaber border crossing with Syria, some 90 kilometres north of Amman. (AFP/File Photo)
This photo taken in 2015 shows the Jaber border crossing with Syria, some 90 kilometres north of Amman. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 40 min 41 sec ago

Jordan lifting border crossing with Syria to full capacity from Aug. 1

This photo taken in 2015 shows the Jaber border crossing with Syria, some 90 kilometres north of Amman. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The number of arrivals through the border crossing will be increased
  • All nationalities will be allowed to leave Jordan through the crossing

AMMAN: The border crossing between Jordan and Syria is set to operate at full capacity from Aug. 1, following almost 10 years of complete and partial closure due to rising violence in Syria and the coronavirus pandemic.

Jordanian Interior Minister Mazen Al-Faraya recently announced that the Jaber-Nasib crossing will operate at full capacity after all technical and administrative arrangements were completed with the Syrian side.

Al-Faraya said that the decision came after directives from Prime Minister Bishr Khasawneh following his field visit to the crossing on July 8.

The minister added that a set of new measures will be implemented at the border crossing — located about 90 kilometers north of Amman — to increase passenger and cargo traffic between Jordan and Syria, including the cancellation of the back-to-back shipment protocol.

“This means that the Syrian trucks will continue their way to Saudi Arabia and other the Arab Gulf countries without anymore needing a Jordanian freight forwarder,” he said.

Al-Faraya added that the number of arrivals through the border crossing will be increased and that all nationalities will be allowed to leave Jordan through the border crossing with no prior approval from the interior ministry.

In April 2015, Jordan completely closed its border crossing with Syria as a result of escalating violence in the Syrian bordering town of Nasib, which, at the time, was reportedly captured by the Syrian rebels and fighters from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.

With Syrian government forces recapturing the southern regions and raising the country’s red-white-and-black flag above Nasib, Jordan reopened the crossing with Syria in October 2018, but only partially, and for a limited number of passengers and cargo traffic.

Following concerns of the crossing becoming a coronavirus hot spot, Jordanian authorities closed the country’s sole gateway into Syria in August 2020 to reopen it shortly afterward, but also at a limited capacity.

The Nasib crossing is the only functioning crossing between Jordan and Syria and is considered a vital economic artery for Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese traders and merchants.

Strategic analyst Amer Sabaileh said that Jordan “getting closer” to Syria has to do with Amman’s frustration with the international community’s inaction on Syria and its failure to resolve the ongoing crisis.

“After 10 years of crisis, nobody is offering solutions for the Syrian conflict and this puts more pressure on Jordan to start at least exploring for new opportunities to put an end to this crisis, because it is the most affected by its ongoing consequences, be they economic, security or social,” Sabaileh told Arab News.

Jordan is home to about 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, according to the UNHCR.

Asked whether Jordan’s emerging activism on Syria was approved by the US following King Abdullah’s visit to Washington, Sabaileh said: “These attempt were before his visit to the US, but the activism became more active after he returned home. If there was no green light given from the US, at least there was no rejection.”

Political commentator Shaqfiq Obeidat hailed Jordan’s decision to reopen the border crossing with Syria as “wise and historic,” and reflective of “brotherly ties” between Amman and Damascus.

Obeidat said that the reopening of the Jaber border crossing with Syria is in line with Jordan’s “unaltered position” on Syria which, he said, had always been to promote a comprehensive political solution to the ongoing conflict there.

Describing Syria as “Jordan’s northern gateway” to the world, Obeidat said that the reopening of the border crossing at full capacity will generate “immeasurable” contributions towards enhancing bilateral trade and increasing Jordanian exports to Syria, Lebanon and eastern Europe.


Egypt, Libya pledge closer ties in terror, trafficking probes

Egypt, Libya pledge closer ties in terror, trafficking probes
Updated 31 July 2021

Egypt, Libya pledge closer ties in terror, trafficking probes

Egypt, Libya pledge closer ties in terror, trafficking probes
  • El-Sawy hailed the cooperation over common interests between the two prosecution services
  • The Libyan attorney general expressed hope that his delegation’s Egypt visit will help the restructuring of the public prosecution in Libya

CAIRO: Egypt and Libya have pledged to improve cooperation in investigations into terrorism, misappropriation of public funds, petroleum smuggling and the recovery of antiquities and cultural property.
Hamada El-Sawy, Egypt’s attorney general, and his Libyan counterpart, Al-Siddiq Al-Sour, signed a memorandum of understanding on the issue after discussing bilateral cooperation on Friday.
The two officials pledged to use their ties to combat organized crime, corruption, human trafficking and cybercrime based on existing treaties in force in the two countries.
El-Sawy welcomed the Libyan delegation headed by Al-Sour, and hailed the cooperation over common interests between the two prosecution services.
The Libyan attorney general expressed hope that his delegation’s Egypt visit will help the restructuring of the public prosecution in Libya, pointing to the creation of mechanisms for direct communication between the two sides.
An adviser to Al-Sour thanked his Egyptian counterpart for the invitation to visit the country and experience technical presentations, which generated great interest among the Libyan officials.
Al-Sour said that Libya and Egypt are “united through history, geography and deep-rooted ties,” noting the Libyan public prosecution’s keenness on “serious and effective cooperation” with its Egyptian counterpart.
The Libyan public prosecutor stressed the need to put in place “new mechanisms and patterns” to ensure close cooperation between the two prosecutions, and preserve evidence and confidentiality in investigations.


Turkish wildfire leaves charred home and ashes, as blazes continue

Turkish wildfire leaves charred home and ashes, as blazes continue
Updated 31 July 2021

Turkish wildfire leaves charred home and ashes, as blazes continue

Turkish wildfire leaves charred home and ashes, as blazes continue
  • Wildfires are common in southern Turkey in the hot summer months but local authorities say the latest fires have covered a much bigger area
  • Turkey’s Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said a total of 98 fires had broken out in the past four days

MANAVGAT: Days after a raging wildfire in southern Turkey drove his family from the home they lived in for four decades, Mehmet Demir returned on Saturday to discover a burnt-out building, charred belongings and ashes.
Bedsprings, a ladder, metal chairs and some kitchenware were the only things left identifiable after some of the worst fires in years tore through the region, with several still burning four days after they erupted on Wednesday.
Demir’s home, near the coastal Mediterranean town of Manavgat, not far from the popular tourist resort Antalya, was hit by one of almost 100 fires which officials say erupted this week across southern and western Turkey, where sweltering heat and strong winds fanned the flames.
“The blaze spread through the highlands and raged suddenly,” Demir told Reuters as he looked around the wreckage of his home, built in 1982. “We had to flee to the center of Manavgat. Then we came back to find the house like this.”
“This was our (only) saving for the past 39-40 years. We are now left with the clothes we are wearing, me and my wife. There is nothing to do. This is when words fail.”
The death toll from the fires rose to six on Saturday, as two firefighting personnel died during efforts to control the fire in Manavgat, broadcaster CNN Turk said.
Satellite imagery showed smoke from the fires in Antalya and Mersin was extending to the island of Cyprus, around 150 km (100 miles) away.
Wildfires are common in southern Turkey in the hot summer months but local authorities say the latest fires have covered a much bigger area.
With deadly heatwaves, flooding and wildfires occurring around the world, calls are growing for urgent action to cut the CO2 emissions heating the planet.
Turkey’s Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said a total of 98 fires had broken out in the past four days, of which 88 were under control.
Fires continued in southern coastal provinces of Adana, Osmaniye, Antalya, Mersin and the western coastal province of Mugla, a popular resort region for Turks and foreign tourists, where some hotels have been evacuated this week.
Weather forecasts point to heatwaves along the Aegean and Mediterranean coastal regions, with temperatures expected to rise by 4 to 8 degrees Celsius over their seasonal average, Turkish meteorological authorities say.
They are forecast to reach 43 to 47 degrees Celsius in the coming days in Antalya, the main province of Manavgat.
“The weather is extremely hot and dry. This contributes to start of fires. Our smallest mistake leads to a great disaster,” Turkish climate scientist Levent Kurnaz said on Twitter.


UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel

UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel
Updated 31 July 2021

UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel

UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel
  • Israeli FM blames Iran for drone attack off Oman coast
  • UK govt spokesman: “Vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law”

LONDON: Israel has told the UK to “respond severely” after a British citizen was killed in a drone attack on a ship in the Arabian Gulf.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid blamed Iran for the attack which, US officials say, saw several drones laden with explosives flown into the Mercer Street tanker, one of which hit the crew’s living quarters.
The assault on the vessel, operated by Israeli-owned firm Zodiac Maritime, occurred off the coast of Oman on Friday, killing the Briton — who is thought to have been working as a security guard on board — and a Romanian citizen.
The UK government has yet to comment on who it believes is responsible for the attack, or to identify the deceased.
“Our thoughts are with the loved ones of a British national who has died following an incident on a tanker off the coast of Oman,” a UK government spokesman said.
“Vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law. We are working with our international partners to urgently establish the facts.”
Tensions between Iran and Israel have escalated in recent months amid talks between Tehran and Western nations in Vienna to reignite the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.
Israel is thought to be behind a series of strikes on Iran’s infrastructure relating to its uranium enrichment program.
Both sides are believed to have launched cyberattacks against each other and targeted their respective maritime links, including ships and ports.
“Iran is spreading violence and destruction in every corner of the region,” an Israeli official told the Daily Telegraph. “Due to its enthusiasm for attacking an Israeli target, they have gotten themselves tangled up and have incriminated themselves by killing foreign citizens.”
Iranian news network Al-Alam claimed that the attack on the Mercer Street was retaliation for Israeli airstrikes in Syria on Iranian targets last week that killed two “resistance fighters.” Tehran, though, has yet to comment on Lapid’s accusation.
Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the US Foundation for Defense of Democracies said: “It would be no surprise to me that Iran would use a drone to carry out its tit-for-tat against Israel and maritime vessels. Iran has shown a gradual escalation in (the) maritime domain.”
He added: “This sort of tit-for-tat escalation is going to continue and Iran is likely to step up these attacks ... to signal that it will not take any cyber sabotage against it lying down.”