Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Daily Tip

  • Veteran diplomats and analysts: Obama administration will have to "take into account Congress's perspective and heed its warnings" for robust Iran deal
  • New WSJ documents show Iran has "kept active and intact its core team of weaponization researchers," as France blasts foot-dragging over "possible military dimensions"
  • State Dept. pressed over Iran sanctions-busting, as concerns mount over eroding leverage
  • Hamas launches West Bank rallies amid public reconciliation push with Iran

    The Washington Post late last week carried calls from a bipartisan group of veteran diplomats and analysts calling on the White House to work with Congress in order to "develop a bipartisan consensus about parameters of an acceptable agreement" between the P5+1 global powers and Iran, worrying that unaddressed concerns on the Hill will undermine the formation of a durable comprehensive deal regarding the Iranian nuclear program. Eric Edelman, Dennis Ross, and Ray Takeyh - respectively a former undersecretary of defense during the George W. Bush administration, a special assistant to President Obama, and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations - pointed to among other things "deep distrust of Iran's leaders" among key members of Congress, which would have to be put to rest in order to secure legislative buy-in to any deal. From a policy perspective the issue is straightforward: New congressional action is needed to undo past congressional sanctions, and the alternative - under which President Obama would unilaterally suspend enforcement of those sanctions - could be undone by a future president who ordered enforcement of the restrictions. Edelman, Ross, and Takeyh bluntly declared that "the White House [will have] to take into account Congress's perspective and heed its warnings... [because] the failure to do so could mean that any agreement negotiated by Obama will not survive his presidency." The reasoning also formed the basis for a March article in Congressional Quarterly (CQ) assessing that "groups on opposite sides of the Iran debate" were calling for the administration to go to Congress, and which cited the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) declaring that "[i]t is critical that Congress work with the Administration to ensure necessary authorizations are in place to enable nuclear-related sanctions to be lifted." NIAC has been accused by sitting members of Congress of peddling Iranian propaganda.
    The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday revealed that it had obtained evidence indicating that Iran "has kept active and intact its core team of weaponization researchers" - with the outlet tracing a decades-old scheme to shield entire military-linked agencies from U.N. investigators - as international criticism deepened over what appears to be a deliberate campaign by Tehran to skirt core obligations regarding the disclosure of possible military dimensions (PMDs) of its atomic program. The Journal contextualized the new revelations as a potential corrective to the "palliative effect" of ongoing talks combined with a recent report by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog (IAEA) describing halting progress on some PMD-related issues. The IAEA report received broad coverage as an indicator that Iran had "for the first time addressed concerns about the so-called [PMDs] of its nuclear programme" - specifically in the context of detonation experiments believed to be linked to the development of nuclear warheads - triggering clarifications from analysts and diplomats that PMD concerns range far beyond those tests. Observers have instead treated the issue as a key condition for establishing a robust verification regime. Various agencies linked to the Iranian military are thought to have their hand in everything from mining to enrichment to full-blown weaponization efforts, and untangling them from Iran's atomic program has been treated as a prerequisite to establishing the conditions needed to assure the international community that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon. Washington Institute Managing Director Michael Singh emphasized months ago that "[w]ithout insight into the full extent of Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities, no amount of monitoring and inspection can provide true confidence that Iran lacks a parallel program beyond inspectors’ view." The French Foreign Ministry on Tuesday according to Reuters blasted Iran for dragging its feet on genuinely establishing transparency around PMDs, with ministry spokesman Romain Nadal declaring that Tehran's "cooperation with the IAEA on a possible military dimension (to its nuclear program) is progressing too slowly despite the agency's repeated efforts," and that "concrete results (in the IAEA-Iran talks) are indispensable before the possible finalisation of a long-term agreement." The wire wrote up the remarks above and below the observation that "Paris has long held out for strict terms in talks." News emerged last week that the White House was contemplating establishing channels for negotiations with Iran that would freeze out the French.
    The State Department was pressed on Tuesday over mounting evidence that Iranian crude export violations - in which the Iranians have for the last six months exceeded the cap of 1 million barrels per day (bpd) set by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) - will not be balanced out by the end of the JPA's six-month negotiation period, and will instead have provided the Iranians with significant sanctions relief in excess of what administration officials publicly disclosed. Veteran Associated Press diplomatic correspondent Matthew Lee asked State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki about the status of previous assurances, in which Psaki had brushed off concerns regarding Iranian violations by declaring that future drops in exports would make everything balance out over six months, given "new statistics... which show that that will be mathematically impossible, that keeping that average where [she] said it was... can't be done now because there's been such a surge in their exports." Psaki said she would "talk to [State's] team and see what their view is." The exchange came a few days after Timothy Wilson, a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy (FDD), published numbers based on Iranian statements and tanker capacities that suggested that "only four months into the six month [JPA] period" Iran's sailings have already exceeded a capacity "greater... than the average of a full six month period in 2013." At stake are deepening worries that Iranian sanctions-busting will erode Western leverage as negotiators try to wrap up a deal with Iran before a self-imposed July deadline. FDD Executive Director Mark Dubowitz worried last week that eroding leverage may prevent American diplomats from securing "[a]n agreement that is verifiable, enforceable and that prevents Iran from pursuing both a uranium and a plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon would be a tremendous achievement." Iranian media bragged on Monday that domestic companies participating in a trade exhibition had "signed six contracts for technology transfer and 9 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) on exchange of technical knowhow with the foreign companies."
    Various outlets and aggregators late last week carried public reports about a string of Hamas rallies in what has until recently been the Fatah-dominated West Bank, as concerns deepened that an impending unity agreement between the two traditional Palestinian rivals would allow Hamas to halt a year-long downward spiral by expanding its reach beyond its seat of power in the Gaza Strip. Turkey's Anadolu Agency specifically quoted Hussein Youssef, whom the site described as a "leading Hamas figure," declaring at one rally that "Palestinians will keep up street pressure to resist the occupation and stand by the prisoners." The reports came just a few weeks after a spike in Hamas activity fueled fears that the terror group was maneuvering to use the political rearrangement to boost its status regionally. Meanwhile reports emerged over the weekend that Iranian and Hamas figures - specifically the latter's political bureau head Khaled Meshaal and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian - had met publicly, the first time that figures from the two sides had done so in three years. The prospect of a resurgent Iran-backed Hamas seems set to deepen criticism of moves by Fatah to forge an agreed unity government.

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