Reversible Iran deal puts more pressure on final talks


By dropping earlier demands that Iran shut down an underground uranium enrichment plant and ship material out of the country as part of a preliminary deal, nuclear negotiators have kicked some of the toughest questions forward to talks for the next year.

The curbs to its nuclear program that Iran agreed to on Sunday are easier to reverse than measures that were previously called for by the six global powers seeking to prevent Tehran from developing an atomic bomb, experts say.

To opponents of the deal, like Israel, which branded it an “historic mistake”, that is a fatal flaw. But supporters say the compromise was necessary to halt Iran's nuclear advances so that the real bargaining could begin, and should help keep both sides focused on the final negotiations which lie ahead.

A senior Western diplomat acknowledged that Iran could resume its most controversial activity – production of 20 percent enriched uranium – if it should decide to abandon the deal or if final talks fail.

But by making it easier for inspectors to detect any such move, the preliminary accord requires Tehran to demonstrate its sincerity while a final deal is hammered out.

“This is all about testing their good faith. We would pick that up very quickly if they did it,” the envoy said.

“Any agreement like this represents an element of compromise. Given where we were six months ago, to get the two sides together to agree something, there had to be some compromise from both sides.”

“STOP”, BUT NOT “SHUT” OR “SHIP”

Instead of requiring Iran to take steps that would be hard to undo, the powers' demands focused on stopping the higher-grade enrichment and halting future progress in other parts of the nuclear program for six months, while increasing inspections to determine if Iran is complying.

For their part, the United States and European Union have protected their future negotiating position by leaving most of their economic sanctions against Iran in place.

“Each side would retain enough leverage – one, in the form of continued economic penalties; the other in the form of a continued nuclear program – to maintain incentives for a grander bargain and guard against the other's potential reneging,” said Iran expert Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group think-tank.

The most controversial part of Iran's nuclear program has been its enrichment of uranium, which is first turned into a gas and then spun at high speeds in centrifuges to increase the concentration of the fissile isotope that is needed to make either fuel for a reactor or the core of an atomic bomb.

Tehran says it is refining uranium only for peaceful purposes and has the right to do so under international treaties. Western countries believe it has no such right and no legitimate need for an enrichment program of its own.

In addition to lower-grade work which began in 2007, Iran has since 2010 been enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, which Western countries see as a small technical step from reaching the 90 percent level needed to make a bomb.

In fruitless meetings during 2012, the powers sought a confidence-building, interim deal that would require Iran to stop its higher-level enrichment, close its Fordow enrichment site and send its stockpile of the higher-level uranium abroad.

Those demands were dubbed “stop, shut, ship” by diplomats. In the end, the November 24 deal in effect dropped two of the three demands: it obliges Iran to “stop” 20 percent enrichment but says nothing about “shutting” Fordow or “shipping” material out.

The same number of centrifuges can continue to spin, producing lower-level enriched uranium at Fordow – built deep inside a mountain near the holy Shi'ite Muslim town of Qom to shield it from any military attacks – and at Iran's other enrichment plant close to the central town of Natanz.

And instead of sending out the stockpile of 20 percent uranium, Iran will dilute it or convert the gas to a less proliferation-sensitive oxide powder.

The United States says this will “neutralize” the material. But experts say Iran could in theory convert the powder back, although it has agreed not to build a facility to do so.

“This is not a roll-back of the program,” said Olli Heinonen, former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and now an expert at Harvard University. Instead, he said, it represents a “temporary halt” of many of the nuclear program's elements.

Apart from the enriched uranium, Western countries are also concerned that Iran could produce plutonium at Arak, an unfinished research reactor where Tehran says it intends to make medical isotopes. Plutonium can be used as an alternative to enriched uranium to build a bomb core.

Sunday's deal requires Iran to halt activity at Arak, although it may contain a loophole allowing it to build components off-site. In comments unlikely to go down well in Western capitals, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday that construction would continue at Arak, though he said there would be no new equipment installations.

INFRASTRUCTURE RETAINED

Western officials and experts accept that the deal leaves Iran's nuclear program largely in place for now.

“For the time being, Iran will be allowed to retain most of its current infrastructure, which will have to be substantially reduced at a later stage,” said Robert Einhorn, the U.S. State Department's non-proliferation adviser until earlier this year.

“But the first step will prevent Iran from sharply ramping up its capabilities in the next six months,” he wrote in Israel's Haaretz newspaper.

Former chief U.N. nuclear inspector Herman Nackaerts said Iran, if it wanted to, could quickly resume higher-level enrichment at Fordow, but because of expanded inspections, including daily visits by IAEA monitors, it would easily be caught if it did so.

“It is technically easy to do that and it can quickly be done,” Nackaerts, who retired in September, told Reuters. “Of course, when the inspectors are there every day they will notice that.”

Western diplomats acknowledge that Iran's commitments are largely reversible so far, but say the deal takes care of the most urgent concerns while talks are under way.

“This first stage is one where the program is slowed in some ways, capped in others, but Iran can resume quickly,” said a second Vienna-based diplomat.

“The main issues that we were concerned about are all covered by this. As we move on we will tackle more and more difficult things,” said the first senior Western diplomat.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Peter Graff

Netanyahu: Deal with Iran a ‘historic mistake,’ Israel not bound by it


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling an interim deal with Iran on its nuclear program a “historic mistake,” said Israel “has the right and the obligation to defend itself by itself against any threat.”

“What was agreed to last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the regular Cabinet meeting, several hours after the agreement was announced. “Today the world has become much more dangerous because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step to getting the most dangerous weapon in the world.”

President Obama reportedly was scheduled to call Netanyahu on Sunday to discuss the deal, under which Iran will freeze some nuclear activity in exchange for some sanctions relief.

The United States and five other world powers signed the deal late Saturday night with Iran.

“Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction, and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself by itself against any threat,” Netanyahu said. “Israel is not obligated by this agreement. I want to make clear we will not allow Iran to obtain military nuclear capability. ”

According to a White House statement, Iran will stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, but will be able to continue enriching to 5 percent. Iran will neutralize its existing stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium and will not install or build any new centrifuges, except to replace damaged machines.

Five percent is well below the enrichment level needed for weaponization. But Netanyahu has warned that allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium even at low levels brings it too close to a breakout capacity for nuclear weapons.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the agreement “a new reality in the whole Middle East,” and “the Iranians’ greatest victory” during an interview Sunday morning with Israel Radio in the hours after the agreement was announced.

In terms of the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear sites, Lieberman said, “As always, all options are on the table.”

He said Israel would look to other allies in deciding how to deal with Iran.

“Israel must look into new directions in addition to the U.S.,” he said. “We must take responsibility regardless of the stance of the Americans or of others. We must make our own independent decisions.”

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Ynet, “This is a terrible deal that will threaten not only us but the entire world.” Livni, the lead negotiator in talks with the Palestinians, said Israel must work with the United States and other allies to make sure the final deal offers better terms.

Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home party and a government minister, also came out against the deal.

“If a nuclear suitcase blows up five years from now in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning,” he said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Israel,” he added, “will not be committed to a deal that endangers its very existence.”

Iranian officials reportedly welcomed the agreement, saying it confirmed the country’s right to enrich uranium and that “all plots hatched by the Zionist regime to stop the nuclear agreement have failed,” the state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said in a statement:  ”The success or failure of the deal will be judged by results, not by words. I would like to say to the Iranian people, you are not our enemies and we are not yours. There is a possibility to solve this issue diplomatically. It is in your hands. Reject terrorism. Stop the nuclear program. Stop the development of long-range missiles. Israel like others in the international community prefers a diplomatic solution.”

Knesset lawmaker Isaac Herzog, the newly elected chairman of the opposition Labor Party,  said “the deal that was struck between the world powers and Iran is a fact and Israel must adjust itself to the new situation.”

“Netanyahu must do everything in order to fix the damage that was caused from the public clash with the U.S. and return to an intimate relationship with President Obama and other world leaders,” he said.

Abbas faults Arab refusal of 1947 U.N. Palestine plan


Arabs made a “mistake” by rejecting a 1947 U.N. proposal that would have created a Palestinian state alongside the nascent Israel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview aired on Friday.

Palestinian leaders have always insisted that General Assembly Resolution 181, which paved the way for Jewish statehood in parts of then British-ruled Palestine, must be resisted by Arabs who went to war over it.

Decades of regional fighting have hinged on challenges to Israel’s existence and expansion. By describing historical fault on the Arab side, Abbas appeared to be offering Israel an olive branch while promoting his own bid to sidestep stalled peace talks by winning U.N. recognition for a sovereign Palestine.

“At that time, 1947, there was Resolution 181, the partition plan, Palestine and Israel. Israel existed. Palestine diminished. Why?” he told Israel’s top-rated Channel Two television, speaking in English.

When the interviewer suggested the reason was Jewish leaders’ acceptance of the plan and its rejection by the Arabs, Abbas said: “I know, I know. It was our mistake. It was our mistake. It was an Arab mistake as a whole. But do they punish us for this mistake (for) 64 years?”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has blamed the Palestinians for the diplomatic deadlock, citing what he described as a refusal by Abbas to recognize the roots of the conflict and encourage his people to accept the Jewish state.

Netanyahu’s office declined immediate comment on Abbas’s remarks, which Channel Two broadcast over the Jewish Sabbath.

Abbas, whose U.N. maneuvering is opposed by Israel and the United States, says the problem is the Netanyahu government’s continued settlement of the West Bank, where, along with the Gaza Strip, Palestinians now seek a state.

U.N. solemnization of their independence would help Palestinians pursue negotiations with Israel, which in turn could produce an “extra agreement that we put an end to the conflict,” Abbas told Channel Two.

His language raised the hackles of his Islamist Hamas rivals, who control Gaza and with whom Abbas is trying to consolidate an Egyptian-brokered power-sharing accord.

Hamas opposes permanent coexistence with the Jewish state and has drawn core support from Palestinians dispossessed in the 1947-1948 war, when Israel overran Arab forces to take territory beyond that allotted it by Resolution 181.

“No one is authorized to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people and no one is authorized to wipe out any of the historical rights of our people,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

“There is no need for Abu Mazen (Abbas) to beg the Occupation,” Barhoum said, using a Hamas term for Israel.

Alluding to political turmoil which, in U.S.-aligned countries such as Egypt and Jordan, has emboldened popular hostility to Israel, Barhoum said Abbas “should arm himself with the emerging Arab support.”

Asked on Channel Two how he could bring Hamas to agree to peacemaking, Abbas, himself a refugee from a town now in northern Israel, said: “Leave it to us, and we will solve it.”

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Louise Ireland

Financial mistakes can haunt estate executors


Two chores that most people will gladly put off are writing a will and keeping it up to date to reflect changed circumstances. However, when you do get around to writing and revising your will, consider carefully when you select or replace an executor—the legal term for the person who is the key figure in the settlement of your estate.

The executor’s job is a potentially time-consuming and demanding position that requires a lot more work than many people realize. An executor has to perform four major functions.

The first chore is to assemble and value assets. It can be a formidable task to put together records of such assets as bank accounts and automobiles; loans to family members or others; traditional and Roth IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement plans at work; brokerage accounts; mutual funds; insurance policies; and other property like real estate, jewelry or artworks. Add to that list gathering information about mortgages and other debts, tax returns and the location of safe-deposit boxes.

The next responsibility for executors is to pay all bills and charges, a task that often requires professional help, as it includes the timely filing of returns for federal estate taxes and state inheritance taxes, final income taxes for the deceased and current income taxes for the estate, as well as payment of those levies.

After executors have valued assets and paid bills, they are able to distribute what is left of the property in accordance with the will.

Their final responsibility is to submit an accounting to the court (usually designated probate and sometimes called orphan’s or surrogate’s) for everything that they have done.

Many executors have learned the hard way that they are not off the hook for mistakes just because they rely on the counsel of attorneys, accountants or other professional advisers. When something goes wrong with, say, federal taxes, the IRS bills the executors, because they are personally responsible when assets are distributed and taxes remain unpaid or forms are filed late.

The need to obtain proper tax advice was made expensively clear to the son and daughter-in-law of Henry Lammerts, who had designated them as his executors. On Lammerts’  death, his son took over leadership in settling the estate. Although under the impression that a tax return had to be filed for his father, the son was unaware that it was also necessary to file an income-tax return for the estate. This is where matters stood until his accountant discovered that no return had been filed reporting income received by the estate. The filing was eventually made seven months after the due date.

The IRS assessed a sizable late-filing penalty and the usual interest charges. The executors argued that they were new at this sort of thing and had relied on their accountant and the estate’s lawyer to do whatever was necessary.

But the accountant, in his own defense, testified that there was nothing in his past services to the family to suggest that, on his own initiative, he would have to file an income-tax return for the estate. Similarly, the estate’s lawyer pointed out that neither of the executors had asked him for a rundown of the responsibilities attached to being an executor. Consequently, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld imposition of the penalty.

Julian Block is a syndicated columnist, attorney and former IRS investigator. He is on the Web at www.julianblocktaxexpert.com.

Swimmer Jaben kicked off Israel’s Olympic team


The only U.S.-born Jew on Israel’s Olympic team has been kicked off after failing two drug tests.

Swimmer Max Jaben, 22, who was slated to compete in the 200- and 400-meter freestyle events in Beijing, tested positive for the anabolic steroid boldenone in separate tests.

Jaben, a native of suburban Kansas City who made aliyah last summer, denies ever taking the drug.

“I’m extremely upset,” he said after his second test came back positive. “I cannot believe that this happened. There has obviously been a mistake somewhere.”

—Jewish Telegraphic Agency

CAMERA Is Out of Focus


The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America’s (CAMERA) Andrea Levin wants to start a boycott. She has urged Jewish listeners to stop supporting National Public Radio (NPR). Levin said that NPR’s coverage of events in the Middle East amounts to biased reporting and a "defamation of Israel."

As the ombudsman at NPR, I have received much mail about NPR’s coverage of the Middle East. My role is to make sure that the listeners’ concerns are conveyed to management and to help NPR journalists understand how their reporting is perceived. Many of the criticisms have been very helpful. But some critics are not interested in bettering our coverage. The idea of a boycott falls into that latter category. Levin said it’s not really a boycott, but ending funding for NPR is precisely what she wants, and that sounds like a boycott to me.

As history has shown, boycotts have had a dangerous role in the life of the Jewish community — whether it is the Arab boycott of Israel or the calls today for universities to divest themselves of their Israeli investments.

I would like to speak against this dangerous proposal by CAMERA and why a boycott of NPR would work against the best traditions and best interests of the Jewish community:

NPR is one of the very few American news organizations to maintain a continuous presence in Jerusalem since 1982. In Israel, NPR has two permanent correspondents, Linda Gradstein and Peter Kenyon. A third correspondent will join them over the next few months. NPR reporting has been recognized as a leader in its international coverage from the Middle East and around the world. Other news organizations have reduced their presence overseas. Many news bureaus have been closed as money-saving measures. NPR now operates 12 foreign bureaus. CBS, once the gold standard for foreign broadcast journalism, now has only six.

That does not mean that NPR gets it right every time. Like every other news organization, it makes mistakes. But NPR does try to report this story with all its complexity and in context. NPR also reports on an hourly basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like CBS and CNN and the Los Angeles Times, it makes mistakes. When they happen, NPR corrects them quickly — both on the air and on the NPR Web site.

CAMERA, along with other media watchdogs, tells NPR when it has made an error. NPR acknowledges those mistakes and learns to be a better news organization as a result. One important result of the criticisms was to place all reports in written form on the NPR Web site (www.npr.org). Listeners can now go back and read the reports to decide for themselves.

Another result was to create a nimble corrections policy so that errors are caught and acknowledged in a much more timely fashion.

NPR has reinforced its own policies on attribution of sources, the use of interviews and the use of natural sound from the scene. It remains NPR policy that all reporting must be fact based and fair.

But for some critics, those improvements are too little and too cosmetic. Many listeners still feel that NPR’s reporting on the Middle East remains subtly — or not so subtly — biased.

Some of that is because this story is enormously painful and deeply disturbing to many listeners — both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian. We hear from people in both communities how the coverage seems tilted away from their concerns. The intensity of this feeling from the Jewish community has been powerful.

In July 2002, NPR’s President Kevin Klose, along with News Vice President Bruce Drake and I went to Israel to see for ourselves. The goal was to talk to our correspondents, to meet with Israeli politicians, academics, pollsters and journalists and to meet their Palestinian counterparts. We came back with a renewed commitment to this story and a deeper understanding of the need to broaden our perspectives beyond the violence. While the terror attacks and the military pressure can’t and mustn’t be ignored, there are other stories as well. We resolve to tell those stories about the anguish along with the hopes of individuals and communities.

We also need to continue to report on the political and military events in the region and the effects they might have back here in the United States. As the United States continues to press the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and against Iraq, the situation in the Middle East becomes increasingly critical and dangerous. This is not a time to reduce our reporting, or to confine it to one side or the other. CAMERA would like NPR to do precisely that. When it comes to NPR, CAMERA sees only the faults and presumes only a malign intent.

We will continue to listen to the critics, and provide our stations with the most reliable information possible. The listeners deserve no less. But the most serious consequence of CAMERA’s disingenuous appeal lies in what might happen to the entire public radio system if a boycott should succeed.

Most of NPR’s funding comes from its more than 600 member stations. NPR collects dues for the programs it produces, and the stations subscribe to the service. So a boycott of NPR is really a boycott of the local public radio stations — not just NPR. In Los Angeles, that includes several public radio stations such as KPCC, KUSC and KCRW.

Public radio has an increasingly important role for communities around the country. Not only do the stations provide quality information, the stations also nourish their communities by playing a critical cultural role. Many also have their own local news programs. There are more than 1,000 public radio stations throughout the United States. They represent a reflection of their communities by providing local information, music, drama and discussion of significant local issues. More than 30 million listeners a week now listen to public radio in order to find a serious source of news and culture that is, frankly, better than anything else that can be found on the radio. Public radio stations play that role brilliantly. More and more community groups around the United States are asking NPR how they can set up public radio stations in their towns.

NPR can always do better reporting. And it must. Public radio will continue to serve the cultural and information needs of all its listeners. But NPR also needs the support of all its listeners at this critical time in our history.

Public radio has always found some of its deepest support inside the Jewish community. It is because public radio’s commitment to quality information and humanist culture finds a kindred spirit among many in the Jewish community. Rather than exacerbating community anxieties and tensions, a more useful role for CAMERA would be to redefine its role to that of media critic and gadfly. Every news organization — NPR included — can benefit from that kind of constructive criticism.

CAMERA needs to find a way to engage in effective feedback, something it has failed to do as it attempts to demonize the media. Should it do so, it might be surprised at the response from news organizations that now view CAMERA as shrill and unrepresentative of the community it purports to serve.

NPR and public radio are much more than just the Middle East coverage. In these times, never has public radio been more needed and more valued. Never has a call for a boycott seemed more shortsighted.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR’s ombudsman, writes a regular column on media criticism at www.npr.org/yourturn/ombudsman/ and can be reached by e-mail at ombudsman@npr.org.

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