One year on, the Iran deal is still bad


A decade of nuclear negotiations with Iran were meant to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, force Iran to reveal its past clandestine activities and impose permanent restrictions on Iran’s civil nuclear program. The deal was also supposed to create effective inspection mechanisms against any potential future breach. Regrettably, the Iran nuclear deal reached in July 2015 in Vienna failed to meet these goals; instead, it managed to impose only temporary restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear activities at the price of abandoning Western economic leverage.

Iran gets to keep its full-size nuclear-industrial complex and its ballistic missile program. The investigation into Iran’s past clandestine military-nuclear activities should not have been closed but is  even as Iran stonewalled investigators from United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Tehran is not required to let the IAEA interview its scientists or conduct on-site, intrusive inspections of its vast military-industrial complex. Without anywhere, anytime access, the only way to map out Iran’s past weaponization work, then, is by relying on intelligence — hardly a reassurance, in light of past intelligence failures on weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq, Libya and North Korea.

[OPPOSING VIEW: Iran is still bad, the Iran deal is still good]

Leveraging its past nuclear experience, Iran will become a nuclear weapons threshold state by the time the nuclear deal expires in 2030. And as The Associated Press reported, in as few as 10 years, Iran will begin installing thousands of advanced centrifuges, enabling the regime to dramatically shrink its nuclear breakout time to barely a few weeks — much too brief for the international community to mount any meaningful nonmilitary response.

The Obama administration hopes that, now that Western sanctions are lifted, Tehran’s return to the world economy will transform the regime’s behavior, leading to improved relations with Washington and a more stable Middle East. The deal has already achieved the opposite: It has strengthened the most radical elements of the regime, including Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), by creating an economic windfall for their powerbase. The regime is channeling contracts to rebuild Iran’s battered infrastructure to the IRGC and the religious foundations controlled by Iran’s supreme leader, not to Iran’s fledgling private sector. Iran’s coming economic boom will enrich regime oligarchs, not ordinary Iranians.

Meanwhile, Washington’s desire to avoid any confrontation with Iran which might be used by the regime — unjustifiably — to walk away from its nuclear commitments has undermined Western support for human rights in Iran and limited its pushback against Iran’s troublesome regional behavior. Iran does not feel a similar constraint.

If Iran’s priorities were the welfare of its citizens and good relations in the region, then we would already see changes in Iran’s behavior toward its neighbors, and hints of an opening of its political environment. Instead, Tehran is enhancing its support for Syria’s Bashar Assad and delivering military support to Damascus, both to sustain the regime’s war effort and to arm its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. Tehran is escalating regional tensions in Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen. It continues to arm and train Shia militias in Iraq, fueling sectarian tensions under the pretense of fighting the Islamic State. It fuels sectarian strife in the Gulf and battles a proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Clearly the nuclear deal has strengthened the regime and its praetorians, making peaceful internal change unlikely.

It is this type of nefarious conduct that makes an Iranian nuclear bomb so dangerous. And yet, even without any change in this behavior, Iran’s paths to nuclear weapons will reopen as the deal’s nuclear restrictions begin to sunset. A nuclear weapons program has three components: nuclear fuel, a warhead and a delivery system. This is why the deal’s failure to permanently restrict Iran’s enrichment program and contain Iran’s ballistic missile program is problematic. Long-range ballistic missiles serve no other purpose than the delivery vehicles for unconventional weapons. Before the nuclear deal, United Nations Security Council resolutions prohibited Iran from conducting ballistic missile tests. A good deal should have established permanent limitations on the range and size of Iran’s arsenal, a moratorium on tests, and sanctions against missile technology procurement. Instead, the nuclear agreement gutted U.N. restrictions, enabling Iran to continue its program with impunity.

Eventually, Iran will have a nuclear-industrial complex capable of enriching weapons-grade uranium within weeks, presumably with the know-how to put it into a warhead. Meanwhile, it will also continue to perfect the delivery systems to carry a nuclear payload to target. Tehran will also have a prosperous economy able to sustain its aggressive ambitions and cushion the blow of potential new sanctions if it again violates the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Without its economic toolbox, Washington may be left with only military force to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb.

The Iran nuclear deal failed to meet America’s goals and achieve long-term stability in the Middle East. When it unravels, neither diplomacy nor economic coercion will be available to fix its shortcomings.


Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Annie Fixler is a policy analyst.

SGS, Weatherford trade blame over Iraq’s missing nuclear material


Swiss inspections group SGS and U.S. group Weatherford International Plc traded recriminations on Thursday, both denying responsibility for the disappearance last year of radioactive material used to test pipes at an oil field in southern Iraq.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that Iraq was searching for a “highly dangerous” radioactive source whose theft in November had raised fears among Iraqi officials that it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.

SGS said in a statement that the equipment and material, when not in use, had been stored in a “secured bunker” provided by Weatherford, which it said was the “main contractor” and had hired its Turkish unit to perform the tests.

“The disappearance of the equipment occurred while the equipment was stored in the Weatherford bunker,” it said, adding the loss was discovered on Nov. 3.

Weatherford said on Thursday it holds no responsibility or liability in relation to the issue and had answered all inquiries raised by Iraqi and U.S. authorities to their satisfaction.

“SGS Superviser Gozetme Etud Control had sole control and access to the material and bunker,” it said in a statement, referring to the Turkish unit of SGS.

Yet SGS said its staff required Weatherford's prior written approval to access the site.

“The site where these operations are conducted is fully secured and guarded by security guards under the responsibility of the owner of the site. SGS does not assume any responsibility for the site security and does not control accesses,” SGS said, adding that many contractors used the site.

Its Turkish business immediately notified Iraqi authorities and cooperated fully with the investigation, it said.

SGS added that it has no contractual relation with Iraq-based security company Ta'az, which it said controlled the site and employed expatriate staff.

An operations manager for Ta'az previously declined to comment, citing instructions from Iraqi security authorities.

SGS said the radioactive content of the stolen device was most likely very weak, putting its strength at nine curies, a conventional unit for measuring radioactivity.

Radioactive sources used in equipment like this are similar in strength to those used in medical radiography, it said.

“At the time of the disappearance of the equipment, the source was close to the end of its useful life,” SGS said. “It is therefore safe to affirm that the remaining radioactive content of the source is now very weak.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said separately that Iraqi authorities had reported on Thursday that no elevated radiation levels have been detected following the theft.

“They informed the IAEA that after the theft of a source, an extensive search was performed and a criminal investigation was launched,” the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a statement.

Report paving way for Iran sanctions relief likely Saturday


An IAEA report verifying that Iran has kept its promises under last year's nuclear deal with world powers and triggering sanctions relief for Tehran is likely to be issued on Saturday, a diplomatic source said on Friday.

The report, if issued, would mark the consummation of the July 14, 2015 nuclear agreement. Under the deal, Iran agreed to shrink its atomic program in exchange for the lifting of some EU, U.S. and U.N sanctions, which would allow billions of dollars of investment to flow into the country.

In a sign its implementation may be at hand, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will meet in Vienna on Saturday, the U.S. State Department said.

“All parties have continued making steady progress towards Implementation Day of the JCPOA, which will ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner, referring to the formal title of the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Iranian and other officials had previously said they expected the report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, to come out on Friday.

“Almost all details are ironed out,” said another diplomatic source, based in the Austrian capital.

The IAEA is in charge of verifying that Iran has carried out all of the nuclear-related steps required in the deal it struck with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. It must release a report once it has done so.

The IAEA declined comment on the timing of the report.

Iranian officials have said Zarif and Mogherini would issue a statement on Saturday or Sunday on the “Implementation Day” of the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions.

Since July, Iran has drastically reduced the number of centrifuges installed at its enrichment sites, shipped tonnes of low-enriched uranium materials to Russia and dismantled the core of its Arak nuclear reactor.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said there could be a meeting in relation to Iran on Saturday in Vienna, where the July 14 deal was reached, but did not elaborate.

“There may be some sort of a meeting tomorrow in Vienna, after which, if everything goes well, we will issue a statement from the Secretary-General,” he told reporters.

In another sign implementation may be near, U.S. President Barack Obama delegated authority to Kerry to take steps to ease some sanctions.

However, a U.S. official said this was “one of many preparatory steps” Washington had to take to ease sanctions once the IAEA verifies Iran has met its nuclear obligations.

Rouhani: U.N.’s closure of probe into Iran’s nuclear past is political victory


President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday a U.N. watchdog's closure of investigations into Iran's past nuclear activities is a political victory for the country, lifting the main obstacle to implementing Tehran's deal with world powers.

The 35-nation governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution on Tuesday ending the IAEA's 12-year-long inquiry into suspicions of “possible military dimensions” (PMD) to Iran's nuclear work.

“Now the main obstacle to implement the (July nuclear deal between Iran and six powers) is lifted…, Iran will start implementation of the nuclear deal within two or three weeks,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

Rouhani, a pragmatist whose election in 2013 led to a diplomatic thaw between the Islamic Republic and the West, voiced hope that sanctions on Iran would be removed in January, “delivering one of the electoral promises of the government”.

The IAEA issued a report this month strongly suggesting Iran engaged in coordinated activities aimed at developing a nuclear bomb up until 2003, though it found no credible sign of weapons-related work beyond 2009.

Despite the finding, the international response to the report has been muted, reflecting a wish to press ahead with an accord that allayed fears of a wider Middle East war over Iran's nuclear ambitions, rather than dwell on its past actions.

The Tehran government on Dec. 7 rejected the findings of the report about its program before 2003, but declared that the document showed the peaceful nature of its atomic activities.

On Wednesday, however, a defiant note about Iran's nuclear past was sounded by parliament speaker Ali Larijani, who was chief nuclear negotiator under Rouhani's hardline predecessor.

“The U.N. Security Council sanctions were based on the claim that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons. Now they (IAEA) say Iran did some research on that. Such research and studies are the right of all IAEA members and there is nothing wrong with them,” Larijani was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.

Iran has long denied having a nuclear weapons program as such. The Islamic Republic is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which bans the use of nuclear materials and know-how to develop atomic bombs. 

IMPLEMENTATION RUSH

Rouhani is hurrying to carry out Iran's side of the deal so as to bring about the removal of sanctions hobbling its oil-based economy before the parliamentary election in February.

To that end, Iran is to reduce the number of installed uranium-enriching centrifuges to around 6,100 from 19,000. It must also remove the core of the Arak heavy-water reactor so that it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium.

In a further move meant to reassure that Iran will not illicitly divert nuclear energy to bombmaking, much of its stockpile of enriched uranium is to be exchanged for a less refined form of uranium known as yellowcake. 

“The yellowcake has arrived in the country and is now in city of Isfahan,” Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency on Wednesday.

“Iran will ship its enriched uranium from Bushehr port to Russia within the next few days,” he added.

Only once the IAEA's inspectors have verified that all the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program are in effect will international sanctions be rescinded.

Iran, keen to export oil freely again once sanctions are dismantled, has repeatedly said that it has enriched uranium only to create an alternative source of electricity.

Sanctions monitor: Iran test rocket violated UN resolution


Iran violated a U.N. Security Council resolution with its October test of a ballistic missile that had a nuclear capability, sanctions monitors said.

The launch of a medium-range rocket called Emad was analyzed by the council’s panel of experts, and the panel published its findings in a confidential 10-page report, Reuters reported. The news agency reviewed the report on Tuesday.

The Security Council was expected to discuss the report on Tuesday, according to Reuters, and the findings could lead to expanded sanctions against Tehran. They also could lead to a call by congressional Republicans, who oppose the nuclear deal reached in July between Iran and six world powers, to impose additional U.S. sanctions on Iran. The agreement trades Iran sanctions relief for restrictions on its nuclear program.

Additional launches in 2012 and 2013 also violated the resolution’s ban, the report said, according to Reuters.

The resolution, which bans ballistic missile tests, was adopted in 2010 and will remain in effect until the July deal is implemented. The agreement bars Iran from developing missiles “designed to carry nuclear warheads.”

Also Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, at a meeting at its headquarters in Vienna closed its investigation into whether Iran sought to acquire nuclear weapons, according to the report.

AIPAC in a statement released on Tuesday decried the IAEA’s decision to close the investigation.

“The IAEA is closing this file even after discovering further suspicious evidence and experiencing additional Iranian obstinacy. The IAEA could have recommended delaying Implementation Day until Iran demonstrated substantial compliance with its obligation to explain its past illicit nuclear activities. This decision to whitewash the past represents an inauspicious beginning to the implementation process of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” the formal name of the Iran nuclear deal, the AIPAC statement said.

Iran made limited coordinated effort towards making nuclear bomb up to end of 2003, IAEA says


Iran made a coordinated, if limited, effort before the end of 2003 relevant to the making of nuclear weapons, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a confidential report seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

The report, required under a July deal between Tehran and six world powers, was aimed at answering questions about the true nature of Iran's past nuclear activities, some of which have dogged the Islamic Republic for more than a decade.

“The Agency assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report said.

“The Agency also assesses that these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities,” it said.

The wording of the report was clearer than some diplomats had anticipated, given that any indication Iran had sought to obtain nuclear weapons could make it more difficult to implement the July accord, which provides for a lifting of sanctions against Tehran in exchange for a shrinking of its atomic activities.

Last week, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano had said that the report would not deliver a “yes or no” answer to the question whether Iran's nuclear energy program has had military dimensions.

Iran to meet Rouhani timetable on ending sanctions, Iranian nuclear chief says


Iran will fulfill its commitments under the July nuclear agreement with major powers in time to have sanctions, that have crippled its economy, lifted by the end of the year, its atomic energy chief said on Thursday.

President Hassan Rouhani reaffirmed last week he expected sanctions to be lifted by year-end, paving the way for the return of the biggest economy to the global trading and financial system since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Iran has begun work to remove uranium enrichment centrifuges as part of the landmark agreement, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced this week.

“Whatever the president says we will accomplish,” Salehi told Reuters after a speech on Iran's nuclear future to diplomats and energy executives in Tokyo. 

Under the July 14 accord with the United States and other countries, Iran must dismantle large parts of its disputed nuclear program before international sanctions, imposed over suspicion it had bomb-making purposes, can be lifted.

Most analysts expect this process, which began on Oct. 18, to take at least four to six months, but Rouhani has repeatedly said he expects sanctions to be lifted in December.

“As far as the dismantling of the centrifuges … we anticipate no particular technical problems, because we have gone through this routine a number of times and our experts and engineers are well rehearsed,” Salehi said during the speech.

On the issue of the Arak heavy water reactor, which must be reconfigured so it can not produce weapons-grade plutonium, Salehi said Iran was waiting for an official document from the six powers.

“Until that document is produced we certainly will not take any measures vis-à-vis the Arak heavy water research reactor,” Salehi said.

U.S. to make Iran deal official in a month, no date set for sanctions relief


The formal adoption of the Iran nuclear deal will be Oct. 18, but it is not yet clear how long it will take for Iran to satisfy conditions to relieve sanctions, top U.S. officials said.

The senior administration officials, speaking Thursday afternoon in a conference call with reporters, outlined the steps Iran must take before inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, confirm that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal reached in July between Iran and six major powers.

The call to reporters came the same day that the Obama administration announced that Stephen Mull, the outgoing ambassador to Poland, would be the point person for ensuring Iranian compliance with the deal.

Among other measures, Iran must remove thousands of centrifuges from its Natanz reactor, ship overseas all but 300 kilograms of 12,000 kilograms of enriched uranium and remove the center of its plutonium reactor, the officials said.

Because of how involved the measures are, the officials would not estimate how long it would take to get to “implementation day,” when the IAEA confirms compliance and sanctions are lifted. Reports have indicated that Iran is likely to comply with conditions in from between six months to a year from adoption of the deal.

“All of this will take a lot of effort and probably a fair amount of time,” said an official. “The ball is in Iran’s court – it’s hard to predict how long it will be before sanctions relief is implemented.”

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

One condition the Iranians must complete prior to Oct. 18, or “adoption day,” is to report to the IAEA on the possible military dimensions of its past nuclear activity. Iran has insisted its nuclear research is for civilian purposes only. The deadline for Iran’s report to the IAEA is Oct. 15.

The Obama administration on Thursday said the way was clear to launch the deal now that Congress has reached the deadline to pass a bill that would kill the deal. Senate Democrats used parliamentary procedures to block votes last week, on Tuesday and then on Thursday.

Republicans oppose the deal. The Obama administration and opponents of the deal, which include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, for the last two months fiercely battled to influence Democrats and also the U.S. Jewish community on the deal.

Opponents said the deal leaves Iran a nuclear threshold state, while the Obama administration argued that it was the best means of keeping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Adam Szubin, nominated to be the Treasury undersecretary who manages sanctions relief, was a key player, reassuring Israelis and pro-Israel figures that non-nuclear sanctions against Iran – for its backing for terrorism and its human rights abuses – would not only be sustained, but intensified.

Szubin, testifying Thursday to the Senate Banking Committee, which must approve his nomination, invoked his Jewish heritage. His father, he noted, had fled Nazi-occupied Europe.

“My parents raised us to be conscious of the existence of real evil in the world, evil not as an abstract concept, but as an all too real threat that they had seen in their lifetimes: regimes — leaders and willing followers — who pursued murder and even genocide, in the Holocaust and, sadly, in other places in the decades that followed,” he said.

Experts urge release of details of IAEA inspection at Iran site


Several nuclear security experts are urging the United Nations nuclear watchdog and world powers to release details of how a sensitive Iranian military site will be inspected as part of a landmark nuclear deal reached in July.

The experts, with long experience in international weapons inspections, said the failure to disclose the details was damaging the credibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a view that is rejected by the agency itself, the United States government and another prominent non-proliferation expert.

The confidential plan for the Parchin site has led to differing reports on how it will be carried out, with some critics of the U.S. administration saying Iran had been given too much leeway to conduct its own inspections, including taking samples.

The inspections are needed to resolve questions about whether Iran did research in the past at Parchin related to building a nuclear weapon.

David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, expressed unease about the lack of public details on the arrangement.

“(Details) should be released because it's undermining the IAEA's credibility,” Albright said. “Whatever the outcome of the sampling, the secrecy makes it harder to determine whether it's a credible sampling approach.”

Former IAEA deputy director-general Olli Heinonen, now at Harvard University, said the secrecy could not be justified.

“This is a very unusual IAEA verification approach, which has no reason to be confidential unless a very special reason – proprietary, economic or security – calls for it,” he said.

The IAEA has said it has a legal obligation to keep details of the arrangement confidential, but insists it is technically sound and will ensure the samples are not compromised.

One prominent non-proliferation expert, Jeffrey Lewis of the Monterey Institute of International Studies and founder of the ArmsControlWonk.com blog, agreed. Releasing the details under pressure would undermine countries' trust in the agency, he said.

“This would severely compromise the ability of the IAEA to carry out its mission around the world,” he said.

U.S. Republicans, who tried to sink the July 14 Iran nuclear agreement in Congress, seized on a media report last month that Iran would be able to use its own inspectors to collect samples at Parchin without the IAEA present. The Associated Press report said the arrangement suggested the IAEA would be not be present at the site during the inspections.

Iranian officials have also said that international experts would not be allowed in.

Four diplomats familiar with the deal told Reuters that U.N. inspectors would be present at Parchin to oversee the inspections. In the unusual arrangement struck in July, the samples would be taken by Iranian technicians while IAEA experts present at Parchin observe and oversee the process, Western diplomats told Reuters.

The diplomats, who have knowledge of the deal, said that while the IAEA inspectors will not be next to the Iranian technicians when they take samples, they will be at Parchin overseeing the process. Cameras will record the process.

Iran cannot receive sanctions relief promised under the nuclear deal until the IAEA is satisfied it has answered outstanding questions about the so-called “possible military dimensions” of past Iranian nuclear research. Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful and that it did not conduct atomic weapons research.

After the AP report, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano rejected as a “misrepresentation” suggestions that Iran would inspect Parchin on the agency's behalf.

In response to Reuters' questions, the AP said its story had no factual errors and that it stood by the article, which was based on what it said was an authentic draft document and additional reporting.

Reuters has not been able to verify the draft text.

IAEA access to Parchin, a facility the agency has not visited in a decade, was one of the most sensitive issues during the negotiations that led to the nuclear deal.

IAEA inspectors usually take samples themselves when searching for trace nuclear particles that could be a sign of undeclared atomic work. But as Parchin is a military site the agency had to negotiate special arrangements to get in, diplomats said.

Iran is unlikely to agree to release the details, diplomats say, because it would show it has opened up Parchin to foreign experts despite public pronouncements to the contrary.

It’s time to work together, focus on strengthening constraints on Iran


Several days ago, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland became the 34th senator to announce support for the agreement reached by the representatives of the P5+1 nations and Iran over its nuclear program, thus assuring that a presidential veto of a bill of disapproval in the Congress would be sustained and the pact would go into force.

The debate over the Iran agreement has been pointed, painful and, at times, deeply destructive. Opponents of the deal have been described as warmongers or faced the anti-Semitic charge of having a divided loyalty to the country, while supporters are called appeasers in the mold of Neville Chamberlain or worse. 

In reality, the issue has deeply divided the Jewish community precisely because it has no easy answer. As you might expect from any tough negotiation with an implacable foe, there are some aspects of the deal that turned out well and others that did not. In sum, I believe, Congress would be wise to strengthen the deal, not reject it, but I well understand and share the concerns raised by many of its opponents. I am also convinced that we need to begin now to restore the torn fabric of our community and the iron-clad, nonpartisan support of Israel that has always characterized the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The primary objective of the United States in the negotiations was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Given the unthinkable consequences of Iran, the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, obtaining the bomb, this has been an overriding national security imperative of the United States for decades.

As an American and as a Jew who is deeply concerned about the security of Israel, I find this intensely personal. I believe our vital interests have been advanced under the agreement as it would be extremely difficult for Iran to amass enough fissionable material to make a nuclear weapon without giving the United States ample notice and time to stop it. We will still need to guard against any Iranian effort to obtain nuclear material or technology from proliferators abroad — a reality even if Iran had given up all enrichment — but the agreement likely gives the world at least a decade and a half without the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon and without going to war to make that so. That is a major achievement.

The United States realized this objective by securing a number of important provisions in the agreement, including the power to snap back sanctions in whole or in part, and not subject to a veto in the United Nations. The United States and its allies also procured an extensive and intrusive inspections regime that lasts for 25 years. By applying to the whole chain of the enrichment process, from the ground to the centrifuge, it realistically precludes Iran from developing a hidden and parallel enrichment process.

With respect to the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, the United States did not obtain the robust access to military sites that we sought, but this is mitigated by the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. already have considerable intelligence about the type of work that Iran has done to construct, deliver and detonate an atomic bomb.

The most troubling part of the agreement, for me, is the size, sophistication and international legitimacy of Iran’s enrichment capability allowed in only 15 years. At that point, it is the work necessary to produce the mechanism for the bomb that becomes the real obstacle to a breakout — and that work is among the most difficult to detect.

Nonetheless, I have searched for a better, credible alternative and concluded that there is none.

When it comes to predicting the future, we are all looking through the glass darkly, but if Congress rejects a deal agreed to by the Obama administration and much of the world, the sanctions regime will, if not collapse, almost certainly erode. This does not mean, as some have suggested, that Iran necessarily dashes madly for a bomb, but it will almost certainly move forward with its enrichment program unconstrained by inspections and limits on research and development of new centrifuges, metallurgy and other protections of the deal. In short, Iran will have many of the advantages of the deal in access to money and trade, with none of its disadvantages.

Instead of rejecting the deal, therefore, Congress should focus on making it stronger.

First, we should make it clear that if Iran cheats, the repercussions will be severe. Second, we should continue to strengthen our intelligence capabilities to detect any form of Iranian noncompliance. Third, we should establish the expectation that while Iran will be permitted to have an enrichment capability for civilian use, it will never be permitted to produce highly enriched uranium, and if it attempts to do so, it will be stopped with force. Fourth, we must share with Israel all the technologies necessary to maintain its regional military superiority, and if necessary, to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities no matter how deep the bunker. Finally, we must be prepared to work with Israel and our Gulf allies to make sure that every action Iran takes to use its newfound wealth for destructive activities in the region will prompt an equal and opposite reaction, and we will combat Iran’s malignant influence.

The Iranian people will one day throw off the shackles of their repressive regime, and I hope that this deal will empower those who wish to reform Iranian governance and behavior. The 15 years or more this agreement provides will give us the time to test that proposition. Then, as now, if Iran is determined to go nuclear, there is only one way to stop it, and that is by the use of force. But the American people and others around the world will recognize that we did everything possible to avoid war.

The Iran issue is a pivotal one, and it has understandably stirred great passions within the Jewish community. As we approach the New Year, let us focus on ways we can work together to strengthen the constraints on Iran and address the risks to the United States, Israel and our other allies. Preventing Iran from ever obtaining the bomb is a national security imperative for the United States and Israel, and so is maintaining undivided support for the Jewish state.

U.N. watchdog: Iran expanding Parchin facility


The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran has built an extension to its military facility at Parchin.

A segment of the confidential report seen by the Reuters news agency says that while Iran has largely been complying with agreements on curtailing its nuclear program, its activity at the site since February 2012 has likely undermined the IAEA’s ability to “conduct effective verification.”

“Since [our] previous report [in May], at a particular location at the Parchin site, the agency has continued to observe, through satellite imagery, the presence of vehicles, equipment, and probable construction materials. In addition, a small extension to an existing building appears to have [been] constructed,” the report was quoted by Reuters as saying.The report covers Iranian activity from before the signing of the long-term nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, in July. The deal lifts sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

Activities at the site since 2012, during a time Iran stonewalled IAEA requests to visit the site or receive information on it, have undermined the agency’s ability to verify intelligence suggesting that Tehran conducted tests relevant to nuclear bomb detonations at the site in the past, diplomats said Thursday.

Specifically, the IAEA believes Tehran may have experimented there with high-explosive detonators for nuclear arms.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied the allegations, saying his country was merely repairing roads near the Parchin site and not hiding evidence from the nuclear facility.

Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Iran cannot be trusted not to use the terms of the agreement to secretly advance its nuclear program while also benefiting from the lifting of sanctions to divert more funds into doing just that.

But President Barack Obama has defended the deal, saying it is the best way of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear arms. Congress will vote on the deal in September, and Obama has vowed to veto any efforts to stop the deal.

 
 
 

Could a ‘broken windows’ policing strategy work for the Iran deal?


As Congress weighs the Iran nuclear agreement, confidence that Tehran will comply must be high on its agenda. Because the revolutionary regime has a history of cheating on nuclear deals, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany have tried to ensure compliance with a “snapback” of economic sanctions as a deterrent.

What defines noncompliance, however, remains unclear. Secretary of State John Kerry, for example, talks about “material” breaches. But what if Iran nibbles away at the margins of the deal, testing specific terms to find holes it can exploit?

Possibilities abound. What if Tehran claims points are open to interpretation? What if it provides an unconvincing explanation of residues of nuclear activity uncovered by the International Atomic Energy Agency?

The “what ifs” could go on and on. Which prompts the key question: What compliance threshold should the international community hold Iran to?

Should it be a “broken windows” standard – with no tolerance for even minor infractions – that many U.S. police departments have used to discourage more serious crime? Or, ought the mullahs be granted leeway to avoid the risk of blowing up the entire deal? Or should determination be made on a case-by-case basis?

The natural inclination of diplomats is to work things out. Indeed, the Iran agreement allows for discussion, convening a joint commission of foreign ministers as well as consulting an advisory board.

But the process leaves a hole: Should all infractions be treated equally? If not, what material violation should Washington and its partners use to justify snapback or more forceful measures if the attempt at dialogue fails? Should the joint commission be convened each time a suspected infraction arises, however insignificant?

Or should the attitude be: It is not worth bickering over the “small” – save our political ammunition for something “'big”? Would such a policy encourage Iran to test the limits? Or will failing to address the small things create a political firestorm in the United States that gives deal opponents, including Israel, grist to demand action of a military sort?

Broken-windows policing allows little leeway. Based on the scholarly writings of James Q Wilson and George L. Kelling, particularly their groundbreaking 1982 Atlantic Monthly essay, proponents argued that the failure of law enforcement to address petty crimes tripwires more serious infractions.

Over the years, however, the move from theory to implementation drew mixed reviews. Some police agencies found that a broken-windows strategy did reduce major crime rates. But others concluded the drop in crime reflected other factors, including the declining use of crack cocaine, high incarceration rates and an improving economic environment.

Even with this unclear record, could the broken-windows model help enforce the Iran deal? It might be worth a shot, given Tehran's questionable history under more lenient approaches.

Consider, without the tough justice of a broken-windows approach, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the international community labored for years to get Iran to provide full nuclear transparency – which has yet to be achieved – and to curtail its nuclear program. Had the West pressed Iran more effectively earlier, Tehran might not have retained much of the reined-in nuclear activity under the July deal.

To assure the agreement's integrity, the guarantors must come to a consensus whether strict application of a broken-windows approach, a modified interpretation customized for Iran or some other approach, deserves adoption to prevent Tehran's gaming the accord. The United States and its partners should not delay in cobbling together a policy to ensure that politics does not overwhelm their decision-making at the moment of an infraction.

The time for them to begin forming a consensus is now. All the negotiators must strive to arrive at an understanding in the few months that remain before the deal is scheduled to enter into force.


Bennett Ramberg served as a policy analyst in the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is the author of “Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy.” The opinions expressed here are his own.

Iran may have built extension at disputed site, U.N. nuclear watchdog says


Iran appears to have built an extension to part of its Parchin military site since May, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a report on Thursday, as part of its inquiry into possible military dimensions of Tehran's past nuclear activity.

A resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Parchin file, which includes a demand for fresh IAEA access to the site, is a symbolically important issue that could help make or break Tehran's July 14 nuclear deal with six world powers.

The confidential IAEA report, obtained by Reuters, said:

“Since (our) previous report (in May), at a particular location at the Parchin site, the agency has continued to observe, through satellite imagery, the presence of vehicles, equipment, and probable construction materials. In addition, a small extension to an existing building” appeared to have been built.

The changes were first observed last month, a senior diplomat familiar with the Iran file said.

The IAEA says any activities Iran has undertaken at Parchin since U.N. inspectors last visited in 2005 could jeopardize its ability to verify Western intelligence suggesting Tehran carried out tests there relevant to nuclear bomb detonations more than a decade ago. Iran has dismissed the intelligence as “fabricated”.

Under a “road map” accord Iran reached with the IAEA parallel to its groundbreaking settlement with the global powers, it is required to give the Vienna-based watchdog enough information about its past nuclear activity to allow it to write a report on the long vexed issue by year-end.

“Full and timely implementation of the relevant parts of the road-map is essential to clarify issues relating to this location at Parchin,” the new IAEA report said.

According to data given to the IAEA by some member states, Parchin might have housed hydrodynamic experiments to assess how specific materials react under high pressure, such as in a nuclear blast.

“We cannot know or speculate what's in the (extended) building … It's something we will technically clarify over the course of the year,” the senior diplomat said. The report said the extended building was not the one that some countries suspect has housed the controversial experiments.

“It’s funny that the IAEA claims there has been a small extension to a building … Iran doesn't need to ask for the IAEA's permission to do construction work on its sites,” Reza Najafi, Iran's envoy to the agency, was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency.

GROUNDBREAKING NUCLEAR ACCORD

Under its Vienna accord with the powers, Iran must put verifiable limits on its uranium enrichment program to create confidence it will not be used to develop nuclear bombs, in exchange for a removal of sanctions crippling its economy. Iran has said its nuclear work is for only civilian uses.

Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium gas of a fissile purity of up to 5 percent had since May decreased by around 870 kilograms to 7,845.4 kg, the report said. Once the July deal is implemented, which is expected to happen some time next year, this stockpile must be reduced to 300 kg.

Iran has for years been accused of stonewalling the IAEA inquiry into “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of its nuclear project. But the Islamic Republic delivered on a pledge under the “road map” to turn over more information by Aug. 15.

The IAEA report said the agency was still reviewing the PMD information Iran provided. Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano said on Tuesday the information was substantive but it was too early to say whether any of it was new.

The success of the deal between Iran and the powers will hinge on IAEA verification of Iranian compliance.

The agency has come under pressure, especially from U.S. lawmakers who will hold a critical vote next month on whether to ratify the deal between Iran and the powers, for not publishing its “road map” agreement with Tehran.

Amano last week rejected as “a misrepresentation” suggestions from hawkish critics of the nuclear accord that the IAEA had quietly agreed to allow Iran to inspect sections of Parchin on the agency's behalf.

IAEA received ‘substantive’ data from Iran this month


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Tuesday it received substantive amounts of information from Iran aimed at quelling concerns its nuclear past had military elements, although it was too early to say whether any of it is new.

The nuclear watchdog also warned that it will run out of money next month to monitor implementation of nuclear accords with Iran unless it gets more funding from member states to cover costs of the work set to reach around $10 million a year.

Iran had for years been stonewalling an investigation by the U.N. nuclear watchdog into the possible military dimensions of its atomic program, but delivered on its latest promise to send further data to the IAEA by mid-August.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told reporters the agency received a “substantive volume” of information from Iran on Aug. 15.

“At this stage it is premature to say if there is any new information or not… We are now analyzing it,” Amano said. “(It) could be even misleading to provide a partial assessment.”

Under the deal between Tehran and six world powers reached on July 14, sanctions relief for Iran hinges on IAEA reports on its past and present nuclear program.

IAEA NEEDS MORE MONEY

Amano said he had asked member states for contributions to ensure the IAEA's work on Iran can continue.

So far, costs for its Iran activities have been met through extra-budgetary contributions from member states. But Amano said the 800,000 euros ($924,000) per month the agency receives to verify current Iran nuclear agreements would be exhausted by the end of next month.

The IAEA will need an additional 160,000 euros per month in the run-up to the implementation of the agreement which could happen in the first half of next year. Once it is implemented, the agency will need an annual 9.2 million euros ($10.6 million) to ensure verification of the deal.

Following Amano's request, the United States – the agency's biggest financial contributor – said it was committed to ensuring it had enough money for its Iran operations.

Amano said the agency will need substantially more analysts, inspectors and new equipment to fulfill its role under last month's deal. It currently has around 4-8 inspectors on the ground in Iran at any one point.

The IAEA has come under pressure, particularly from U.S. Republicans, for not disclosing a roadmap agreement with Iran which it signed alongside the July deal to resolve concerns about PMD. Iran says its nuclear work is peaceful.

Reza Najafi, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, asked whether Tehran had submitted new information about its nuclear past to the agency, told reporters both Iran and the IAEA were bound not to disclose details of the roadmap.

He also declined to explain whether IAEA inspectors would be allowed to inspect Iran's Parchin military site, where some states accuse the Islamic Republic of having conducted nuclear-bomb related experiments.

Amano, who said he would be available for a third term to head the IAEA beyond 2017, said the verification deal with Iran would not serve as “precedent” for weaker standards, but repeatedly declined to answer questions on any details.

“This is the most robust safeguard regime in the current world,” Amano said.

AP: Iran has side agreement with UN allowing it to do its own nuke inspections


Iran has a secret agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency enabling it to choose its own experts to inspect its Parchin nuclear site.

In a finding that could have implications for the nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, The Associated Press reported Wednesday that it had obtained a document outlining an agreement, which it described as a “separate side agreement worked out between [the United Nations agency] and Iran.”

While the United States and the five other world powers that negotiated the Iran nuclear deal were “not party to this agreement,” they “were briefed on it by the IAEA and endorsed it as part of the larger package,” the AP reported.

Under the agreement, the IAEA allows Iran “to employ its own experts and equipment in the search for evidence or activities that it has consistently denied — trying to develop nuclear weapons,” the article said.

While the document obtained by the AP is a draft, and not the final version of the agreement, one official familiar with its contents told the news service it “doesn’t differ substantially from the final version.”

Opponents of the Iran nuclear deal in Israel and the United States quickly responded to the report.

While the White House declined to comment on the reported document, according to the Times of Israel, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said, “One must welcome this global innovation and outside-the-box thinking,’ he said sarcastically. “One can only wonder if the Iranian inspectors will also have to wait 24 days before being able to visit the site and look for incriminating evidence?”

He was referring to a section in the nuclear deal that gives Iran 24-days notice prior to inspections of its nuclear sites.

“This side agreement shows that true verification is a sham, and it begs the question of what else the administration is keeping from Congress,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, said, according to the Times of Israel.

 

John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican senator, said, “Trusting Iran to inspect its own nuclear site and report to the U.N. in an open and transparent way is remarkably naive and incredibly reckless. This revelation only reinforces the deep-seated concerns the American people have about the agreement.”

Responses to 20 of the president’s arguments for the nuclear deal


There are many reasons the Israeli political left is opposed to the American nuclear deal with Iran, just as there are many reasons that Haim Saban, one of the Democratic Party’s and Barack Obama’s leading fundraisers, has come out against the deal. It is terrible for America, terrible for Israel, terrible for the Middle East and for the cause of peace. 

To its credit, the Los Angeles Jewish Federation came out against the deal. Open-minded Jews who support the agreement owe it to themselves — not to mention to their fellow Americans and to their fellow Jews in Israel, both of whom, by a great majority, oppose the deal — to at least learn why.

Here, then, is a list of 20 arguments made by President Obama on behalf of the nuclear agreement — followed by my responses. 

At American University last week, Obama gave a vigorous defense of the Iran nuclear agreement. In the belief that every student who was present — indeed, all Americans — should hear the other side, here are responses to assertions the president made. 

1. President Obama: “With all of the threats that we face today, it is hard to appreciate how much more dangerous the world was at that time [when John F. Kennedy gave his peace speech at American University during the Cold War].” 

I lived through the Cold War and studied the Russian language and the communist world at the Russian Institute of Columbia University’s School of International Affairs. I do not believe the world was “much more dangerous at that time.” 

First, in the 1960s, when JFK gave his speech, the Soviet Union was headed by people who valued their own lives, and even those of their fellow countrymen, incomparably more than the Islamic leaders of Iran do. They therefore had no interest in nuclear war, which is why the doctrine known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) worked. In regard to Iran’s Islamist regime, however, MAD does not necessarily work. The Islamist fanatics who rule Iran might actually welcome a nuclear exchange with Israel. Iran has almost 10 times Israel’s population and nearly 80 times its landmass.

Second, the Soviet Union never seriously or repeatedly called for the extermination of another country, as the Islamic Republic of Iran does with regard to Israel. It is preposterous to compare Khrushchev’s promise, “We will bury you” to the Ayatollah’s aim to “annihilate” Israel. It was simply a rhetorical flourish about communism’s eventual triumph over democratic capitalism.

Third, almost no one in any communist country believed in communism. The biggest believers in communism tended to be Western intellectuals. And communists in the West weren’t beheading people or plotting mass murder. On the other hand, at least 100 million Muslims believe in imposing — by force, if necessary — Sharia on other people. And although communists in Western European countries posed an electoral threat to democratic capitalism, more than a few Muslims in European countries pose life-and-death threats to Europeans.

2. Obama: “In light of these mounting threats, a number of strategists here in the United States argued we had to take military action against the Soviets, to hasten what they saw as inevitable confrontation. But the young president offered a different vision.”

If there really were “a number of strategists” who called for “military action” against the Soviet Union during Kennedy’s presidency, that number was so tiny and so irrelevant that the president’s statement is essentially a straw man.

3. Obama: “After two years of negotiations, we have achieved a detailed arrangement that permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” 

This might be the whopper of the speech. Only an academic audience could find this statement persuasive.

To begin with, Iran has been “permanently prohibited” from obtaining nuclear weapons since 1970, the year Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. So this arms deal prohibits nothing that wasn’t already prohibited more than 45 years ago. 

Even more important, the statement is utterly meaningless. It is like saying, “The United States has permanently prohibited murder.” It’s true, but so what? Iran’s behavior clearly indicates that it wants to develop nuclear weapons, and being “prohibited” from doing so did not and will not stop it. Again, it would be like saying, “Nazi Germany was prohibited from attacking Poland.”

4. Obama: “It cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb.”

The only question is whether Obama believes this. 

There are two types of falsehoods — those one knows to be false and those the person believes. The former is more immoral. The latter is more dangerous.

Even if one believes the agreement to be effective, it does little or nothing to prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons in 10 years.

Furthermore, the agreement enables Iran to cheat the whole time. There is no inspection “any time, anywhere” — which is the only type of inspection that matters. 

a) If the International Atomic Energy Agency suspects cheating, it gives Iran up to a 24-day notice. If Iran objects, the issue goes before the P5 nations, which, of course, include Russia and China. Charles Krauthammer quoted comedian Jackie Mason as observing that New York City restaurants get more intrusive inspections than the Iranian nuclear program.

b) The United States is prohibited from ever sending in its own inspectors.

c) No military sites can ever be inspected. Iran therefore can establish or move nuclear facilities to whatever area it wishes and label those areas “military.”

d) How are Congress and the American people supposed to trust the president’s claim, given the existence of two secret appendices to the agreement?

5. Obama: “It contains the most comprehensive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.”

In light of all of the agreement’s fatal weaknesses in preventing Iran from cheating, “most comprehensive ever negotiated” means nothing.

6. Obama: “Congress decides whether to support this historic diplomatic breakthrough or instead block it over the objection of the vast majority of the world.” 

Since when does “vast majority of the world” matter to making America — and, for that matter, the world — secure? President Ronald Reagan put Pershing missiles in Europe “over the objection of the vast majority of the world.” Good thing Reagan did. Israel knocked out Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi nuclear reactor “over the objection of the vast majority of the world.” Good thing Israel did.

7. Obama: “Between now and the congressional vote in September, you are going to hear a lot of arguments against this deal, backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising.”

There can be only one reason the president mentioned “backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising” — to imply that there is something nefarious about such ads. The president and the rest of the American left are beside themselves over the fact that their views are not the only ones that Americans get to hear. In Europe, this is not a problem for the left. There are essentially no paid ads for alternate political views, no talk radio, no Fox News, no Wall Street Journal opinion page (or at least none with anywhere near the clout of the American edition), no huge nonleft intellectual and activist presence on the Internet, etc. 

The left has the presidency, and dominates education from pre-K through post-grad, and mainstream print, electronic news and entertainment media. But that’s not enough. Paid ads that differ with the left must be delegitimized. Of course, there are also millions of dollars in advertising favoring the agreement — but somehow that’s legitimate.

But there is an even more sinister aspect to the president’s comment.

He doesn’t say it outright, but the left does. Those “tens of millions of dollars” are assumed to be Jewish dollars. This is now a major theme on the left — that the “Jewish lobby” and its money are the primary reasons for the opposition to Obama’s Iran agreement. 

A good example is a piece published this past weekend in the Huffington Post by a left-wing Yale University professor of English, David Bromwich. He labels as “treason” an address given by the Israeli prime minister to the annual meeting of the Jewish Federations of North America on reasons to oppose the Iran nuclear agreement. That’s the oldest of anti-Semitic libels — that Jews are disloyal to the countries in which they live.

And the title of Bromwich’s article — “Netanyahu and His Marionettes” — exemplifies another age-old anti-Semitic libel — of Jews pulling the strings of the world’s major nations: 

The president’s reference to “tens of millions of dollars” has only helped reinforce those libels.

8. Obama: “Many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.”

Many of the same people — such as John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden — who voted for the war in Iraq are now making the case for the Iran nuclear deal. So the point is just an ad hominem attack on the deal’s critics.

Moreover, whatever one thinks of the war in Iraq, the reason Islamic State has taken over large parts of Iraq is not the war in Iraq, it’s that Obama, against the advice of his military advisers, removed all of America’s troops from a pacified Iraq, creating the vacuum Islamic State now fills. 

9. Obama: “There will be 24/7 monitoring of Iran’s key nuclear facilities.”

This is a sleight of hand. There is no 24/7 monitoring of anything Iran doesn’t want monitored 24/7, and no monitoring at all of any facility Iran labels “military.”

10. Obama: “If Iran violates the agreement over the next decade, all of the sanctions can snap back into place.”

“Can” is the operative word here — as in “a third party candidate can be elected president.” It theoretically can happen, but it won’t. Does the president believe that Chinese and Russian sanctions will “snap back” if Iran cheats? If he does, he is frighteningly out of touch with reality. Nor will European sanctions likely snap back. French and German companies are already negotiating deals with the Iranian regime.

11. Obama: “Unfortunately, we’re living through a time in American politics where every foreign policy decision is viewed through a partisan prism. … before the ink was even dry on this deal, before Congress even read it, a majority of Republicans declared their virulent opposition.”

As usual with Obama, opposition to his policies is “partisan.” But support for his policies is nonpartisan.

12. Obama: “The bottom line is, if Iran cheats, we can catch them, and we will.”

That is not the bottom line. The bottom line is that Iran will cheat, we won’t always catch them, and the Obama administration will likely have little inclination to call Iran out on it. In fact, the Iranians are already cheating. As Bloomberg reported last week:

“The U.S. intelligence community has informed Congress of evidence that Iran was sanitizing its suspected nuclear military site at Parchin, in broad daylight, days after agreeing to a nuclear deal with world powers.”

There are so many loopholes that we will awaken one day to find out that Iran is testing nuclear weapons just as North Korea did after signing its nuclear agreement with the United States.

13. Obama: “Third, a number of critics say the deal isn’t worth it because Iran will get billions of dollars in sanctions relief. Now, let’s be clear. The international sanctions were put in place precisely to get Iran to agree to constraints on its program. That’s the point of sanctions. Any negotiated agreement with Iran would involve sanctions relief.”

If the United States had held firm for anytime/anywhere inspections, Iran would either have agreed to such inspections or, if not, sanctions might well have remained in place. Our European allies were on board. As recently as June, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was warning that “a possible nuclear deal with Iran risks sparking a nuclear arms race in the Middle East unless the agreement grants international inspectors access to Iranian military sites and other secret facilities. … The best agreement, if you cannot verify it, it’s useless.”

But the U.S. is led by a president who wanted any agreement, even a useless one.

14. Obama: “Our best analysts expect the bulk of this revenue to go into spending that improves the economy and benefits the lives of the Iranian people.”

Even if that is what happens, this money massively strengthens the Iranian regime. But everyone knows that much of the $40 billion to $140 billion to be released will go to Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and other pro-Iranian terror groups.

15. Obama: “Contrary to the alarmists who claim Iran is on the brink of taking over the Middle East, or even the world, Iran will remain a regional power with its own set of challenges.”

Every country — whether free or a police state — has “its own set of challenges.” That point is meaningless. But it is hardly “alarmist” to fear Iran seeking to dominate the Middle East and helping to prop up anti-American regimes around the world. It is already doing so in Latin America.

16. Obama: “We will continue to insist upon the release of Americans detained unjustly.”

Well, that’s reassuring. If the U.S. president and secretary of state couldn’t even get Iran to release four illegally imprisoned American citizens in exchange for the ending of sanctions and a porous nuclear agreement, how will he get them released now?

17. Obama: “Just because Iranian hard-liners chant ‘Death to America’ does not mean that that’s what all Iranians believe.”

This comment is noteworthy — for its naiveté. Of course not all Iranians believe in death to America. But the Iranians who don’t believe in it are irrelevant in Iran, just as good Germans were irrelevant in Nazi Germany and good Russians were irrelevant in the Soviet Union. All that matters in a police state is what the regime believes.

18. Obama: “It’s those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus.”

Likening Iranians who chant “Death to America” with Republicans may be a new low in American presidential rhetoric. 

And it’s not just mean-spirited. It’s factually wrong. If anyone is “making common cause” with the Iranian hard-liners, it is Obama and his supporters. The hard-liners in Iran want sanctions dropped and to be able to continue their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Now they can. 

19. Obama: “As members of Congress reflect on their pending decision, I urge them to set aside political concerns.”

So do those of us who oppose the Iran nuclear agreement. But it’s the Democrats who cannot set aside political concerns. Let’s be real: If a Republican president had negotiated this deal, the vast majority of Democrats would oppose it — and so would the vast majority of Republicans.

20. Obama: “My fellow Americans, contact your representatives in Congress, remind them of who we are, remind them of what is best in us and what we stand for so that we can leave behind a world that is more secure and more peaceful for our children.”

On that, we agree.

For the edification of my readers, I made a five-minute Prager University video on the agreement that garnered 5 million views on YouTube and Facebook in its first week. Americans are clearly concerned about this issue.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles from 9 a.m. to noon on KRLA (AM 870). His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Shilling for Iran is unworthy of Senator Dianne Feinstein


The basis of any democracy is trust between the people and their representatives. When that trust is violated not only are the violators seen as lacking legitimacy but so too are the very institutions they represent.
 
Like many concerned Americans, I wrote to my elected representative about the Iran nuclear framework. My representative is California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who sits on the powerful Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
 
If anyone should be both concerned about and knowledgeable of the potential Iranian nuclear deal, it should be someone who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, unless of course allegiance to the administration transcends allegiance to the nation.
 
Senator Feinstein’s email response begins with the usual bromide about the US being the leader (no leading from behind here) in the negotiations and how the Iranian nuclear program has been frozen in place. Ironically, the email arrived after the New York Times revealed that over the period of negotiation Iran’s supply of enriched uranium had grown by more than twenty percent.
 
Feinstein despite her access to the intelligence community and the New York Times was either ignorant of this piece of public information or thinks her constituents are all lemmings who are more willing to walk off the ideological precipice than deal with reality.
 
Counter to the administration’s palliative assurance of a frozen nuclear program, the numbers published by the International Atomic Energy Agency—no member of the vast rightwing conspiracy—show that Iran not only failed to convert its existing stockpile into reactor rods, it has also continued to enrich uranium aggressively.
 
The ever-sycophantic New York Times suggested that, perhaps, we need not worry about this since it might be simply a bargaining chip for the Iranians. And the ever-bumbling state department spokesperson, Marie Harf, told us not to worry because Iran still has until the end of June to meet the goal of reducing its supply of enriched uranium. If this is possible, the laws of physics no longer apply, at least not in Iran.
 
Feinstein also assures me that the IAEA has access to all (emphasis mine) of Iran’s nuclear facilities. The problem with that assertion is its contradiction by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word for his country on the negotiations.
 
 In case Feinstein thinks there is some ambiguity about Iran’s position, here is the supreme leader in his own words, “The impudent and brazen enemy expects that we allow them talk [sic] to our scientists and researchers about a fundamental local achievement, but no such permission will be allowed. No inspection of any military site or interview with nuclear scientists will be allowed.”
 
The military site in question is the one looming out of the desert at Fordow. The surreptitious site that was discovered by American intelligence is a critical part of Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
 
Under the proposed agreement, Fordow would be permitted to keep 1,000 centrifuges running, and the type is unspecified, meaning the Iranians could use high yield centrifuges that would reduce the breakout time for a nuclear weapon to three months, hardly long enough for any decision on a military strike. Feinstein assures me that there is strict limitation on activity at Fordow. If 1000 high yield centrifuges comprise a strict limitation, I hesitate to discover with a lenient one is.
 
Feinstein reassures me that if Iran breaks the rules, sanctions can be re-imposed, but we are all aware that with Europe in an economic crisis and major oil companies chomping at the bit to do business with Iran, there is no way the sanctions genie can be put back into the bottle.
 
Like the ungainly Ms. Harf, Feinstein represents the administration’s deceptive shilling for Iran. In the age of the Internet, elected representatives no longer have a monopoly on the nuanced information related to negotiated agreements.
 
Responses like Feinstein’s only increase the credibility gap between her and her constituents. They do not reinforce the vital structures that legitimize our democracy.
 
 
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. Follow @salomoncenter

 

U.S. will insist on full access for inspectors in Iran deal, Blinken tells AJC


The United States continues to insist on nuclear inspectors’ unfettered access as part of a nuclear deal with Iran, the deputy U.S. secretary of state told an American Jewish group.

“We would not agree to a deal unless the IAEA is granted access to whatever Iranian sites are required to verify that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful – period,” Tony Blinken said Monday, addressing the annual global forum of the American Jewish Committee and referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran’s leaders have in recent weeks said they would restrict inspections under a deal.

The major powers and Iran are due to come to a comprehensive agreement by June 30. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a number of pro-Israel groups, including the American Jewish Committee, say the emerging sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal concedes too much to Iran.

“The United States continues to believe – as we have from day one – that no deal is preferable to a bad deal,” Blinken said.

He also pushed back against criticism that some provisions of the deal would lapse within 10 to 15 years.

“Different requirements of the deal would have different durations, but some – including Iran’s commitment to all of the obligations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, including the obligation not to build a nuclear weapon, as well as the tough access and monitoring provisions of the Additional Protocol – those would continue in perpetuity,” Blinken said.

IAEA says needs more money to monitor extended Iran nuclear deal


The U.N. atomic agency will need more funds from member states to help pay for its monitoring of an extended interim nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, it said on Wednesday.

Iran and the United States, FranceGermany, Britain, China, and Russia failed to meet a Nov. 24 deadline for resolving a 12-year-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program and gave themselves until the end of June for further negotiations.

As a result, a preliminary agreement reached late last year, under which Iran halted its most sensitive nuclear activity in exchange for limited sanctions easing, will remain in force. It was designed to buy time for the talks on a final settlement.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has seen its workload increase significantly under the preliminary accord, including its inspectors visiting Iran's uranium enrichment facilities of Natanz and Fordow daily, compared to about once a week before. The preliminary accord was initially due to run for six months from January but first extended in July and again this week.

The IAEA did not say how much more money it would need. It earlier this year asked for voluntary financial contributions of about 6.5 million euros to cover its extra Iran-related costs.

Because of the deal's political importance, diplomats have said there should be no problem raising the required funds.

“Taking into account the extension period, additional contributions will be required,” senior IAEA official Serge Gas said in an email. “The agency will communicate with member states as soon as we identify our needs.”

The U.N. agency's “verification effort in Iran has doubled” under the interim accord, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told the United Nations General Assembly this month.

Iran denies Western allegations it has been seeking to develop the capability to make nuclear weapons. But its refusal to scale back its uranium enrichment program has drawn international sanctions hurting its oil-dependent economy.

Despite the missed deadline, Western officials said progress was made during the latest round of talks between Iran and the world powers in Vienna.

A senior European diplomat said there was “a clear commitment to capitalize on the momentum and get (a final agreement with Iran) done much earlier” than June 30.

“There was an absolute commitment to reach a deal but it was not enough to bridge the gaps,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We will meet again in December. The format, place and level is yet to be decided.”

Fire at Iranian defense industry plant kills two people: IRNA


An Iranian defense industry body said two workers were killed in a fire at an explosives factory in an eastern district of Tehran, the official IRNA news agency reported on Monday.

An Iranian opposition website, Saham, described the incident as a strong explosion and said it took place near Iran's sprawling Parchin military facility, which is located around 30 km southeast of the capital. It did not give a source for its report, which could not be independently verified.

Iran's Defense Industries Organisation said the fire broke out on Sunday evening, IRNA said, giving no further detail.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency suspects Iran around a decade ago may have carried out explosives tests at Parchin that could be relevant for any attempt to develop a nuclear weapons capability. The IAEA wants to visit a specific location at the site, but Iran has so far not granted access.

Iran says Parchin is a conventional military facility and that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful. It has often accused its enemies of seeking to sabotage its atomic activities.

Israel and the United States have not ruled out military action against Iran if diplomacy fails to resolve a decade-old dispute over Tehran's nuclear program. Israel is widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power.

Three years ago, Iran said a massive explosion at a military base 45 km (28 miles) west of Tehran killed 17 Revolutionary Guards, including the head of the elite force's missile program. It said the blast was caused by an accident while weapons were being moved.

Explosion viewed in vicinity of Tehran site linked to nukes


An explosion at or near an Iranian military complex believed to be a site for nuclear testing created a large orange flash over Tehran.

The New York Times reported that the explosion on Sunday night came from the direction of the Parchin complex, where Iran has been accused of testing nuclear weapons.

Iranian officials denied the explosion originated there.

Iran’s Defense Industries Organization said that two people were missing after “an ordinary fire” caused by “chemical reactions of flammable material” at an unspecified location, the Times reported.

Witnesses near the site said that windows had been shattered in the vicinity and that all trees in a hundred-yard radius of two villages on the outskirt of the military facility were burned.

The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors visited Parchin in 2005, but since then have not been allowed to return, despite repeated requests.

Deadline passed, no sign of breakthrough in Iran nuclear probe


Iran may have failed to meet a deadline for addressing U.N. concerns about suspected nuclear bomb research, but it could still act to influence a key report due next week, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.

The sources, who follow the nuclear issue but declined to be identified, said they had seen no indications so far that Tehran had replied in substance to questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by the agreed Aug. 25 date.

They suggested, however, that there was still time for Iran to provide information in the coming days in order to avoid any negative impression in the IAEA's closely-watched quarterly report on Tehran's nuclear programme, expected around Sept. 3.

“Probably, they are late,” one envoy said. “They only give as much as they have to.”

There was no comment from the Vienna-based IAEA, which is expected to give details about its contacts with Iranian officials in the report.

Western officials say it is vital for Iran to address the IAEA's questions for the chances of success in parallel diplomatic efforts to end a decade-old standoff with the West which has imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic over concerns it is developing a nuclear weapons capability, something Iran denies.

Tehran agreed in May to carry out five specific steps by late August to help allay international concerns.

They included providing information on two issues that are part of the IAEA's inquiry into the possible military dimensions of the country's nuclear programme: alleged experiments on explosives that could be used for an atomic device, and studies related to calculating nuclear explosive yields.

Iran has promised to cooperate with the IAEA since Hassan Rouhani, seen as a pragmatist, was elected president in 2013.

“VERY FAR APART”

Iran's atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, was quoted on Monday as saying that Tehran was “in the process” of completing the measures on nuclear transparency that were agreed with the IAEA three months ago. He gave no details.

Apart from clarifying the two issues in the IAEA's investigation, the U.N. agency wants Iran to agree on future steps to address other outstanding topics.

It appears no closer, however, to being allowed access to a location at a sprawling military plant, Parchin southeast of Tehran, where it suspects that nuclear-related tests were carried out a decade ago. Iran denies the allegation.

“Right now there is no point for the IAEA to visit Parchin,” Defence Minister Hassan Dehghan was quoted by Iranian media as saying on Saturday.

In 2011, the IAEA published a report that included intelligence indicating Iran had a nuclear weapons research programme that was halted in 2003 when it came under increased international pressure. The intelligence suggested some activities may later have resumed.

After years of what the West saw as Iranian stonewalling, Iran as a first step in May gave the IAEA information about why it was developing “bridge wire” detonators, which can be used to set off atomic explosive devices. Iran says they are for civilian use, and wants this topic in the investigation closed.

In mid-July, the separate negotiations on a diplomatic settlement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia were extended until late November.

Those talks are focused on persuading Iran to curb its atomic activities. In exchange, the West would phase out sanctions that are hurting Iran's oil-dependent economy.

“The nuclear negotiations are not progressing. The positions are still very far apart,” one senior Western diplomat said, ahead of next month's expected resumption of the talks.

Additional reporting by John Irish; Editing by Ralph Boulton

Don’t lose sight of the Iranian threat


The bloody sectarian warfare in Iraq and Syria and the swift takeover of wide swaths of territory by the Sunni fundamentalist ISIS — now calling itself a “caliphate” — has triggered calls to cooperate with Shiite Iran as a counterweight.

Yet we must not allow our justified concerns about ISIS to blind us to the even greater danger to regional security posed by a nuclear Iran.

We must remember that a nuclear Iran could credibly threaten our allies with destruction — especially Israel, which Iran has promised to wipe off the map — furnish Hezbollah and other non-state terrorist groups with nuclear weapons, and start a nuclear stampede as other countries in the area initiate nuclear programs of their own.

International negotiators resumed talks in Vienna on July 2 to address this danger to world peace. With a July 20 deadline looming, it is the latest — and, unless they are extended, the final — round of negotiations between Tehran and the P5+1 nations (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) aimed at preventing Iran from achieving military nuclear capacity, in return for which the international community will end the economic sanctions that have been placed on the country.

This series of talks was agreed upon in an interim agreement, announced on November 24, 2013, after Hassan Rouhani, viewed as a comparative moderate, assumed the presidency of Iran. When the interim accord went into effect in January, Iran froze elements of its nuclear program and the U.S. eased some of the sanctions.

Since it was the economic sanctions that had forced Iran to the negotiating table, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) proposed legislation, to take effect after the July 20 deadline, that would hold Iran’s feet to the fire by ratcheting up sanctions if the current talks collapsed or Iran violated its obligations. But when the Iranians protested this threat of new sanctions, the administration convinced the senators to stand down. Nevertheless, Secretary of State John Kerry publicly stated that the sanctions would be re-imposed and strengthened should the talks fail.

The key issue separating the two sides is Iran’s enrichment of uranium, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes, but the P5+1 warn can be used to produce nuclear weapons. Iran today has some 10,000 operating centrifuges, the mechanisms that do the actual enrichment, and the “breakout time” — how long it would take Iran to produce a nuclear bomb should it decide to do so — is estimated at a few months.

Western observers say that little progress has been made toward a comprehensive agreement due to Iranian defiance and refusal to diminish its nuclear facilities already built. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, has issued several reports raising questions about the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. On June 2, the IAEA’s director general, Yukiya Amano, called Iran’s posture a “jigsaw puzzle” and made clear that the IAEA’s inquiries would not be completed by the July 20 deadline.

“That is not our timeline. It is their timeline,” said Amano, referring to the P5+1. “We will take the necessary time to resolve all the outstanding issues.”

Leading figures in the American administration have said — almost like a mantra — that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” And Secretary of State John Kerry, in a June 30 Washington Post opinion article, noted that the “public optimism” shown by the Iranian negotiators “has not been matched, to date, by the positions they have articulated behind closed doors.”

Emphasizing the large gap between Iran’s professions of peaceful intentions and “the actual content” of its nuclear program, Kerry cited numerous previous instances of the country’s violation of international obligations. He wrote that the P5+1 will not agree to an extension of the July 20 deadline “merely to drag out negotiations,” and warned that should Iran not satisfy the demands of the international community, “sanctions will tighten and Iran’s isolation will deepen.” If that doesn’t deter Tehran, the administration has said that “all options are on the table.”

Should the deadline pass without an agreement or a time-specific extension, we must be prepared to follow through on the administration’s wise words, and encourage the international community to follow suit. Nothing that is happening in Syria or Iraq mitigates the specter of a nuclear Iran.

(Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee’s director of publications.)

 

Israel says Iran giving ‘false explanations’ to U.N. nuclear inquiry


Israel has condemned as unacceptably slow Iran's cooperation with a U.N. watchdog inquiry into suspected nuclear bomb research and accused Tehran of providing “false” explanations for its disputed activities.

Iran, which says its nuclear program is peaceful and that it is Israel's assumed atomic arsenal that threatens Middle East peace, insisted there had been “steady and constant progress” in its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The contrasting statements by the two arch-enemies were made during a board meeting this week of the U.N. agency, where IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Iran had finally begun to engage with an investigation into allegations that it has worked on designing a nuclear warhead, but that more was needed.

Western envoys cautiously welcomed Iran's increased nuclear transparency, while also calling for Tehran to pick up the pace of its cooperation. But Israel's ambassador suggested Iran was just trying to buy time while pressing on with its nuclear work.

Widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, Israel sees Iran's atomic program as a direct threat and has in the past warned it could carry out unilateral strikes on Iranian nuclear sites. Iran rejects accusations that it has been trying to develop a nuclear bomb capability.

“Iran continues to abuse what is termed as a 'step-by-step' approach to the resolution of outstanding issues,” Israeli Ambassador Merav Zafary-Odiz said, referring to a phased cooperation pact agreed in November between Iran and the IAEA.

“This pace of investigation is unacceptable … Iran will continue to provide false explanations and to hide the true nature of its activities,” she said, without giving details.

Because of a Jewish holiday, Zafary-Odiz did not deliver her statement during Wednesday's IAEA board debate on Iran, but it was posted later on the United Nations agency's web site.

WEST WARY

Israel is also deeply skeptical of U.S.-led efforts to reach a final international accord to scale back a nuclear program which Iran says is for energy purposes but the West fears may be a covert bid to develop the means and expertise to build bombs.

U.S. officials say it is vital for Iran to resolve the IAEA's concerns if the parallel negotiations between Tehran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia on the long-term agreement to settle the dispute are to succeed.

Those talks aim to set verifiable, civilian limits to Iran's nuclear program and end punitive sanctions imposed on Tehran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has complained that sanctions on Iran are being eased prematurely.

Seeking to narrow big differences between Iran and the powers on what such a deal should look like, their experts were meeting in Vienna this week ahead of the next round of political level talks on June 16-20, also in the Austrian capital.

The sides aim to hammer out an agreement by a self-imposed July 20 deadline, although some diplomats and analysts say the talks will likely have to be extended.

The IAEA's inquiry focuses specifically on what it calls the possible military dimensions of Iran's atomic activities.

Iran says the accusations are baseless but has offered to address them since pragmatist Hassan Rouhani took office as Iranian president last year, partly on a platform to end the Islamic state's international isolation.

“We do not recognize the … unsubstantiated allegations,” Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, told the board in a statement made available to Reuters on Thursday. “However, we have already announced our readiness to cooperate with the IAEA on some of the ambiguities in order to clarify them.”

Last month, Iran gave the IAEA information requested in the inquiry as to its purpose in developing Exploding Bridge Wire (EBW) detonators, which can be used to set off an atomic explosive device. Iran says it was for civilian use.

In a meeting in Tehran on May 20, Iran also agreed to address two other areas of the investigation by Aug. 25.

Western governments regard Iran's increased readiness to cooperate as positive but are likely to remain skeptical until it has cleared up all allegations of illicit atomic work.

Editing by Mark Heinrich

Iran cuts nuclear stockpile, engages with bomb probe, IAEA says


Iran has sharply cut its most sensitive nuclear stockpile under an interim pact with world powers and has begun engaging with a long-stalled IAEA investigation into suspected weapons research, the U.N. nuclear agency said on Friday.

The findings, in a quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, are likely to be welcomed by the six powers trying to negotiate a long-term deal with Iran on ending a decade-old dispute over its nuclear program that has raised fears of a new war in the Middle East.

Iran rejects Western allegations that it has been trying to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons. But it has offered to work with the IAEA to resolve its concerns after pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani won office last year on a platform to end the Islamic Republic's isolation.

The IAEA, which has a pivotal role in verifying that Iran is living up to its part of the six-month accord reached in November, made clear that Iran so far is undertaking the agreed steps to curb its nuclear program.

Under the breakthrough agreement that took effect on January 20, Iran halted some aspects of its nuclear program in exchange for a limited easing of international sanctions that have laid low the major oil producer's economy. It was designed to buy time for talks on a final deal that began in February.

The IAEA report showed that Iran since January had acted to reduce its stockpile of higher-grade enriched uranium gas – a relatively short technical step away from weapons-grade material – by more than 80 percent.

The amount that remains after most of the material was either converted or diluted to less proliferation-prone forms – less than 40 kg – is far below the 250 kg which experts say is needed for one nuclear bomb.

On another closely watched aspect of Iran's nuclear program, the IAEA report said Iran at a meeting in Tehran this week had shown the U.N. agency information that a fast-functioning detonator was tested for a civilian application.

The IAEA, which for years has been trying to investigate allegations that Iran may have worked on designing a nuclear bomb, had asked Tehran for explanations about the so-called Exploding Bridge Wire (EBW) detonators as part of its probe.

IRAN'S COOPERATION WITH PROBE “IMPROVING”

How Iran responds to the U.N. agency's questions is seen as an important test of its willingness to cooperate fully with the

investigation of concerns about nuclear weapons-related work.

“This is the first time that Iran has engaged in a technical exchange with the agency on this or any other of the outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program since 2008,” the report said.

“The agency's assessment of the information provided by Iran is ongoing.”

Iran agreed at this week's meeting in the Iranian capital to address two other issues that are part of the IAEA's investigation by late August, a potentially important step forward for the agency's efforts to look into the allegations.

A senior diplomat familiar with the Iran file said its cooperation “has been improving all the time”.

Western diplomats and experts caution that Iran must still do more to fully address suspicions about what the IAEA calls the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.

Iran's discussions with the IAEA are separate from its talks with the powers, but both are aimed at ensuring that it does not develop nuclear weapons. The United States and Israel, itself believed to be nuclear-armed, have not ruled out military action against Iran if diplomacy fails to resolve the standoff.

After years of confrontation with the West under Rouhani's hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran and the powers aim to reach a final agreement by July 20.

But the latest round of negotiations failed to make much headway last week, raising doubts over the prospects for a breakthrough by late July. The powers want Iran to sharply scale back its nuclear program, but Iran resists that demand.

Editing by Andrew Roche

U.S. issues warning at nuclear talks, Iran sees ‘excessive demands’


Iran and six world powers are making little progress in arduous talks on ending their dispute over Tehran's nuclear program, a senior U.S. official said on Friday, fanning doubt about the prospects for a breakthrough by a self-imposed July deadline.

Tehran also said the latest round of negotiations, which began in Vienna on Wednesday and were expected to end later on Friday, were difficult and slow.

The powers want Iran to agree to scale back uranium enrichment and other sensitive nuclear activity and accept more rigorous U.N. inspections to deny it any capability of quickly producing atomic bombs, in exchange for an end to economic sanctions. Tehran denies having any such underlying ambition, saying its nuclear program is for civilian energy only.

After three months of mostly comparing expectations rather than negotiating viable compromises, the sides planned at the May 13-16 meeting to start drafting the text of a final agreement that could end many years of enmity and mistrust and dispel fears of a devastating, wider Middle East war.

Both sides made clear on Friday this was an uphill struggle.

“The West should avoid having excessive demands,” an Iranian source close to the country's negotiating team was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars News Agency. “The Iranian nation has shown that pressure on them always backfires.”

The U.S. official, who declined to be named, said: “Talks have been slow and difficult. Significant gaps remain. Iran still has some hard decisions to make. We're concerned that progress is not being made and that time is short.”

The U.S. and Iranian statements might be designed in part to raise pressure on the other side but they also betrayed stubbornly deep differences that must be overcome if intense diplomacy is to succeed in clinching a final accord.

Still, the atmosphere remained businesslike enough for Iranian-U.S. bilateral talks that lasted over two hours. Such meetings, once almost unimaginable, have become more common as the two foes have sought to re-establish official communications channels closed since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

This week's Vienna gathering was the fourth round of negotiations between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia since February with the goal of a long-term deal by July 20.

Diplomats have disclosed that some headway was made during the previous three rounds on one of the thorniest issues – the future of Iran's planned Arak heavy-water reactor. The West worries it could prove a source of plutonium for nuclear bombs once operational but Iran has offered to alter its configuration so that any plutonium output would be minimal and insignificant.

But diplomats say positions remain far apart on the issue of pivotal concern for the West: Iran's capacity to refine uranium, which can be used to generate electricity but also, if processed to a high degree, provides material that detonates an atom bomb.

The Islamic state says it wants to expand the number of centrifuges it has refining uranium, maintaining that it needs them to fuel a future network of nuclear power stations.

That is unacceptable for the United States and its allies, concerned that the same activity can be put to building bombs. They want Tehran to instead significantly reduce the number of centrifuges – roughly 10,000 – it now operates.

DESPITE SLOW TALKS, ATMOSPHERE IS “GOOD”

Iran rules out shutting any of its nuclear facilities, which it regards as synonymous with national pride and achievement. Its priority for any deal is an end of international sanctions that have severely damaged its oil-reliant economy.

Other big points of contention include the duration of any limitations of Iran's atomic activities and the speed of lifting sanctions, as well as whether any agreement should cover the future scope of its ballistic missile program.

On Wednesday, the first day of this week's meeting, the U.S. delegation made clear that it wanted to discuss both Iran's ballistic missile program and possible military dimensions of its past nuclear research.

But in a sign of the wide divergence between the U.S. and Iranian positions, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif merely laughed and ignored the remarks, according to an Iranian official present. An American official declined to comment, but referred to remarks from a senior U.S. official earlier this week, who said “every issue” must be resolved.

Shadowing the background of the talks have been threats by Israel, widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear weaponry but which sees Iran as a existential threat, to attack Iranian nuclear installations if it deems diplomacy ultimately futile in containing Tehran's atomic abilities and potential.

Israel on Friday cited a U.N. Panel of Experts report obtained by Reuters that said Tehran was pressing ahead with its ballistic missile program in violation of U.N. sanctions, complicating the nuclear talks.

U.S. President Barack Obama has not ruled the last-ditch option of military action either. Iran says it would hit back hard if it were attacked.

Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Iran and IAEA end talks, unclear if progress made


The U.N. nuclear watchdog and Iran ended a three-hour meeting on Monday without announcing any new action to allay concerns about Tehran's atomic activities, leaving it unclear whether headway was achieved.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicated after the talks that some more work was still needed for the full implementation of a series of nuclear transparency steps that Iran had agreed to take by May 15. It did not give details.

Reuters last week cited diplomatic sources as saying the IAEA is seeking further clarification from Iran about one of those measures – information about fast-acting detonators that have civilian and military uses, including setting off an atomic explosive device.

The meeting took place a day before the Iran and six world powers start a new round of negotiations in Vienna on a broad diplomatic settlement of the decade-old nuclear dispute.

Under a transparency and cooperation agreement reached with the IAEA in November, Iran was to take seven measures by May 15 in a phased process to shed more light on a nuclear programme the West fears may be aimed at developing atomic bomb capability.

The IAEA statement said the two sides had reviewed progress on implementation of the steps.

“The agency noted that Iran has taken several actions and that some related work continues,” it said, without elaborating.

The lack of a clear outcome in Monday's meeting may disappoint Western diplomats, who want Iran to move much faster in addressing suspicions about past atomic bomb research. Tehran denies any such work.

Iran says it has already implemented the seven steps – including access to two uranium sites – but the sources suggested the IAEA still wanted more clarification about the so-called Explosive Bridge Wire detonators.

How Iran responds to questions about its development of this type of equipment is seen as an important test of its willingness to cooperate fully with a long-stalled IAEA investigation into suspected past activities relevant to the development of nuclear weapons.

Iran says allegations of such work are baseless and has offered to help clear up the suspicions.

LONG-STALLED INVESTIGATION

The diplomatic sources also said the IAEA wants to agree with Iran on new measures to be taken after May 15, to tackle other sensitive issues linked to what the agency calls the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme.

“Discussions on additional practical measures to be implemented in the next steps are ongoing,” the IAEA said in the

statement, suggesting no agreement had yet been reached.

Western diplomats say Iran must start engaging with the IAEA's investigation and that this is central to the success of the separate talks between the six powers and Tehran aimed at an accord by late July.

But diplomats say Iran and the powers – the United States, France, Germany, Russia, China and Britain – remain far apart on what a long-term deal to resolve the dispute, and dispel fears of a new Middle East war, would look like.

Editing by Mark Heinrich and Robin Pomeroy

Israel blasts IAEA’s reported shelving of Iran nuke report


Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz criticized the International Atomic Energy Agency’s reported decision to shelve for now a report on Iran.

Steinitz’s criticism Friday was in response to a Reuters report that the agency decided not to publish a report it had prepared last year so as not to disrupt talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

According to Reuters, the contents of the report are unknown but may have included what the IAEA calls possible military dimensions, or PMD. In his statement, Steinitz said that postponing release of the report “does not appear to be a valid move.”

The task of the IAEA “is to expose to the international community any information regarding the military aspects of the Iranian nuclear program and not to shelve it out of considerations pertaining to diplomatic sensitivity,” said Steinitz, whose official title is minister of intelligence, minister of international relations and minister of strategic affairs.

“I call on the IAEA to complete and publish the report as soon as possible, precisely because of the importance of the PMD issue for a final agreement with Iran,” he added.

Iran struck an interim nuclear deal with six world powers in November, which Israel denounced as an “historic mistake” as it did not require Tehran to dismantle its uranium enrichment sites. The deal removes some sanctions in exchange for a rollback of some nuclear activity. Iran and the six nations — Germany, the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — are conducting talks on reaching a final agreement.

The IAEA’s dossier in November 2011 contained a trove of intelligence indicating past activity in Iran which could be used for developing nuclear weapons, some of which it said might still be continuing. Iran rejected the allegations.

The dossier helped Western powers step up the sanctions pressure on Iran, including a European Union oil embargo imposed in 2012.

The IAEA had no immediate comment to the Reuters report, the news agency said.

Iran, six powers meet on steps to carry out nuclear deal


Iran and six world powers began expert-level talks on Monday to work out nitty-gritty details in implementing a landmark accord for Tehran to curb its disputed nuclear program in return for a limited easing of sanctions.

The preliminary accord is seen as a first step towards resolving a decade-old standoff over suspicions Iran might be covertly pursuing a nuclear weapons “breakout” capability, a perception that has raised the risk of a wider Middle East war.

Officials from Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia met at the Vienna headquarters of the U.N. nuclear agency, which will play a central role in verifying that Tehran carries out its part of the interim deal.

The outcome of the meeting is expected to determine when Iran stops its most sensitive nuclear activity and when it gets the respite in sanctions that it has been promised in return.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it would have “some involvement” in the discussions, which are expected to continue on Tuesday. Media were barred from the floor where the meeting, held under tight secrecy, took place.

The talks are aimed at “devising mechanisms” for the Geneva accord's implementation, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted by state Press TV as saying. Iranian nuclear as well as central bank officials would take part, he said.

Western diplomats said detailed matters not addressed at the Nov. 20-24 talks in Geneva must be ironed out before the deal can be put into practice.

These include how and when the IAEA, which regularly visits Iranian nuclear sites to try to ensure there are no diversions of atomic material, will carry out its expanded role.

A start to sanctions relief would hinge on verification that Iran was fulfilling its side of the accord, they said.

The deal was designed to halt Iran's nuclear advances for a period of six months to buy time for negotiations on a final settlement of the standoff. Diplomats say implementation may start in January after the technical details have been settled.

Scope for easing the dispute peacefully opened after the June election of a comparative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as Iranian president. He won in a landslide by pledging to ease Tehran's international isolation and win relief from sanctions that have severely damaged the oil producer's economy.

ARAK REACTOR

Diplomats caution that many difficult hurdles remain to overcome – including differences over the scope and capacity of Iran's nuclear project – for a long-term solution to be found.

In a sign of this, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressed the powers on Sunday to take a hard line with Iran in negotiations on a final agreement, urging them to demand that Tehran abandon all uranium enrichment.

A day after President Barack Obama deemed it unrealistic to believe Iran could be compelled to dismantle its entire nuclear infrastructure, Netanyahu said Tehran should have to take apart all centrifuges used to refine uranium.

Israel sees Iran, which has repeatedly said it seeks only civilian energy from uranium enrichment, as a mortal threat. Iran says it is Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, that threatens peace.

Under last month's pact, Iran will halt the activity most applicable to producing nuclear weapons – enrichment of uranium to a higher fissile concentration of 20 percent – and stop installing components at its Arak heavy-water research reactor which, once operating, could yield bomb-grade plutonium.

In the Vienna talks, government experts will also discuss details of which components Iran is not allowed to add to the Arak reactor under the deal, as well as issues pertaining to the sequencing of gestures by both sides, the diplomats said.

Officials from the office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates talks with Iran on behalf of the six powers, were also at the meeting.

Additional reporting by Isabel Coles in Dubai; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Delay in launch of nukes deal gives Iran an edge, some say


There’s the six-month interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program that trades some sanctions relief for a freeze on Iran’s nuclear program. And then there’s the interim before the interim begins.

Little noticed in the wake of the historic pact reached last month by Iran and the major powers is the fact that technically, the deal is not yet underway. A commission of experts from the United States, Russia, Germany, Britain, China and France, working with Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, first must work out the technical details before the deal officially goes into effect.

The commission is not scheduled to meet until January. And even then it’s not clear how long it might take to reach an agreement.

“Obviously, once that’s — those technical discussions are worked through, I guess the clock would start,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a news briefing on Nov. 27.

Under the terms of the deal reached in Geneva last month, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium to 5 percent, freeze most of its centrifuges and halt construction on its plutonium reactor. In exchange it would receive sanctions relief totaling approximately $7 billion.

President Obama strongly supported the deal, which was intended to provide a six-month window in which to conclude a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Critics, foremost among them Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saw the agreement as a historic blunder, arguing that it would advance Iran toward the acquisition of a nuclear weapon.

Some critics say the uncertainty over when the deal kicks in also works in Iran’s favor.

“Every day that goes by where Iran is not bound to roll back its nuclear program but still can benefit from a shift in the market psychology from fear to greed puts money in the regime’s pocket without doing anything to address their growing nuclear weapons capacity,” said Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which has helped shape many of the tough sanctions passed in recent years by Congress.

Dubowitz’s colleague, Foundation for Defense of Democracies vice president Jonathan Schanzer, on Tuesday tweeted links to Arab media reports that some European oil companies already are considering new business with Iran. The French oil giant Total reportedly said last month that it would resume dealings with Iran if sanctions are revoked.

Ron Dermer, the new Israeli envoy to Washington, also has cast the argument as one of momentum. In briefings to members of Congress and Jewish groups, Dermer has argued that before the deal, tough sanctions and the likelihood of more to come had Iran on the ropes. With a deal in place, however, the momentum could reverse direction — companies that once feared being cut off from the U.S. economy might consider deals with Iran.

Obama administration officials adamantly deny the scenario. The principal sanctions targeting Iran’s energy and banking sectors will stay in place even during the interim deal, they say.

“Right now our sanctions remain in place,” John Sullivan, spokesman for the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Treasury section that monitors sanctions compliance, told JTA. “More guidance on the relief package will be forthcoming from Treasury and our interagency partners.

“What we agreed to is clear and limited. We will continue to enforce our sanctions aggressively.”

Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the Rand Corp., a think tank with close ties to the U.S. defense establishment, said that even those nations and companies eager for sanctions relief would not bust sanctions now for fear of alienating the United States. India and China, he said, would risk U.S. waivers granted them on some dealings with Iran should they be seen as planning new business with the country.

“Most countries are still wary of having normal energy ties with Iran,” he said.

Michael Adler, an Iran expert at the congressionally funded Wilson Center, acknowledged that the momentum argument has merit. But he noted that provisions in the deal that would resume sanctions should Iran not comply ultimately are enough to scare companies away from resuming business with the country.

“To say that it will lead to Total resuming contracts with Iran is wrong,” Adler said. “You can be concerned you’re changing from a tightening mode to a lightening mode, but the deal is structured in such a way that all the sanctions are reversible and the money they’re getting is a drop in the bucket.”