Meant2Be: From war to wedding day

In late 1987, I sat on the cold steps outside of our home in Tehran and held a transistor radio tightly in my small, 5-year-old hands. My mother begged me to come back inside, but I adamantly refused, as I wanted some notice via radio of the expected time of the next Iraqi air raid against Tehran. 

It was the height of the devastating “War of the Cities” during the Iran-Iraq War, and I had developed such a terrifying aversion to the Iraqi ballistic missiles that pounded my neighborhood that I would sit outside for hours and listen to the latest news of impending attacks. 

There was only one thing that could draw me back inside.

“They’re playing your favorite song,” my mother would solemnly say, and I would rush back into the house and hear the heavenly contralto of the Iranian singer named Hayedeh. Of course, she herself had escaped Iran shortly before the Islamic Revolution and her music, deemed illegal by the regime, was now being recorded in Los Angeles. Like thousands of Iranians, our family was treated to all kinds of illegal music courtesy of the Voice of Israel program on our short-wave radio.

All of life has a soundtrack, even war. For me, the melody of those traumatic Iraqi attacks was trapped in a Hayedeh song called, “Shabe Eshgh,” or “Night of Love,” in which she remembered her beloved and lamented, “This one night of love / We only have this night / Why not leave the tales of despair and pain / Until tomorrow?” 

Besides the haunting vocals and rich instrumentation, the song itself was an emblem of everything the Islamic Revolution and the war against Iraq signaled for Iranians — namely, the loss of love, home, and family bonds. Hayedeh’s sweet voice offered a comforting reminder for us to live with love as she sang, “How good would it be if in the world / One tomorrow belonged to us?”

I listened to “Shabe Eshgh” until I fell asleep in my mother’s arms, and I was almost always awakened by the boom of another Iraqi bomb. 

That same year, in a city 600 miles south of Tehran named Shiraz, a 5-year-old boy spent hours huddled beneath furniture in his home as the Iraqis mercilessly targeted his once-serene neighborhood. His name, Payam, meant a “prophetic message.” I met that boy in 2013 in front of a Starbucks in Beverly Hills.

It was literally a blind date for me; I removed my eyeglasses to appear more sexy as I walked up to him, only to find that he was wearing glasses thicker than mine. As we talked that night, we felt a sense of wonder about each other, almost as if we were thinking: Who are you, and why didn’t I meet you sooner? 

We closed down Starbucks, which was full of Reform Jews. We closed down Urth Caffe, which was full of Persian Jews (and a few Saudis). And when Payam suggested that we grab some kosher schnitzel, I knew I had to play hard to get.

Payam challenged every ridiculous rule I had set up for myself, namely: Never marry a Persian guy. I mostly abided by this rule to protect myself, because Persian men never seemed to like me. Payam also defied my second rule: Never marry someone who understands Persian. I was no fool. I knew the boundaries my mother pushed in her native tongue. 

And yet, my affection for the tall, bespectacled Shirazi grew like the mustache I had tried so desperately to shed since I was 12.

Payam had arrived from Iran to Arizona (of all places) in the late 1990s, and was one of three Iranians in his high school. My alma mater, Beverly Hills High School, closed for Persian New Year. 

He had lived in Seattle for years and, having had no luck finding his soul mate there, had sacrificed evergreen trees and Mount Rainier for Pico-Robertson and a chance to meet a nice Jewish girl in L.A. He was the kindest man who had ever bought me tea. In fact, he was so kind and humble that I was sure that he was not from L.A.

We were married in 2014, exactly nine months after our first date, and exactly 25 years to the day after my family and I had arrived in Los Angeles as protected Iranian-Jewish refugees. Our little (by Persian standards) wedding was held in Yedidia Shofet Hall at Nessah Synagogue, named for the same holy rabbi, z”l, who had married my mother and father in Tehran in the late 1970s. Payam walked down the aisle to “Shah Damad,” a wonderful, classic Persian song about a glorious groom. 

As for me, I entered the hall just as the soft light of the summer day danced into the large synagogue windows and the exquisite melody of “Shabe Eshgh” played in the background, infusing my every step with peace, security and an eternal, wondrous gratitude for our tomorrow.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer.

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Russia uses Iran as base to bomb Syrian militants for first time

Russia used Iran as a base from which to launch air strikes against Syrian militants for the first time on Tuesday, widening its air campaign in Syria and deepening its involvement in the Middle East.

In a move underscoring Moscow's increasingly close ties with Tehran, long-range Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers used Iran's Hamadan air base to strike a range of targets in Syria.

It was the first time Russia has used the territory of another nation, apart from Syria itself, to launch such strikes since the Kremlin launched a bombing campaign to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September last year.

It was also thought to be the first time that Iran has allowed a foreign power to use its territory for military operations since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Iranian deployment will boost Russia's image as a central player in the Middle East and allow the Russian air force to cut flight times and increase bombing payloads.

The head of Iran's National Security Council was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying Tehran and Moscow were now sharing facilities to fight against terrorism, calling their cooperation strategic.

Both countries back Assad, and Russia, after a delay, has supplied Iran with its S-300 missile air defense system, evidence of a growing partnership between the pair that has helped turn the tide in Syria's civil war and is testing U.S. influence in the Middle East.

Relations between Tehran and Moscow have grown warmer since Iran reached agreement last year with global powers to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of U.N., EU and U.S. financial sanctions.

President Vladimir Putin visited in November and the two countries regularly discuss military planning for Syria, where Iran has provided ground forces that work with local allies while Russia provides air power.


Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday Iraq, which lies between Iran and Syria, had granted Russia permission to use its air space, on the condition the planes use corridors along Iraq’s borders and not fly over Iraqi cities.

Abadi told a press conference the same permission has been given to air forces of a separate U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State flying to Syria from Kuwait.

Russia also gave advanced notice to the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, complying with the terms of a safety agreement meant to avoid an accidental clash in the skies, the U.S. military said.

“They informed us they were coming through and we ensured safety of flight as those bombers passed through the area and toward their target and then when they passed out again,” said U.S. Army Colonel Christopher Garver, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S-led coalition.

“They did not impact coalition operations in either Iraq or Syria.”

The Russian Defence Ministry said its bombers had taken off on Tuesday from the Hamadan air base in north-west Iran.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Russian bombers were believed to have returned to Russia.

The ministry said Tuesday's strikes had targeted Islamic State as well as militants previously known as the Nusra Front in the Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al Zour provinces. It said its Iranian-based bombers had been escorted by fighter jets based at Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria's Latakia Province.

“As a result of the strikes five large arms depots were destroyed … a militant training camp … three command and control points … and a significant number of militants,” the ministry said in a statement.

The destroyed facilities had all been used to support militants in the Aleppo area, it said, where battle for control of the divided city, which had some 2 million people before the war, has intensified in recent weeks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitor, said heavy air strikes on Tuesday had hit many targets in and around Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, killing dozens.

Strikes in the Tariq al-Bab and al-Sakhour districts of northeast Aleppo had killed around 20 people, while air raids in a corridor rebels opened this month into opposition-held eastern parts of the city had killed another nine, the observatory said.

The Russian Defence Ministry says it takes great care to avoid civilian casualties in its air strikes.

Zakaria Malahifi, political officer of an Aleppo-based rebel group, Fastaqim, said he could not confirm if the newly deployed Russian bombers were in use, but said air strikes on Aleppo had intensified in recent days.

“It is much heavier,” he told Reuters. “There is no weapon they have not dropped on Aleppo – cluster bombs, phosphorus bombs, and so on.”

Aleppo, Syria's largest city before the war, is divided into rebel and government-held zones. The government aims to capture full control of it, which would be its biggest victory of the five year conflict.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped in rebel areas, facing potential siege if the government closes off the corridor linking it with the outside.

Russian media reported on Tuesday that Russia had also requested and received permission to use Iran and Iraq as a route to fire cruise missiles from its Caspian Sea fleet into Syria, as it has done in the past. Russia has built up its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean and the Caspian as part of what it says are planned military exercises.

Russia's state-backed Rossiya 24 channel earlier on Tuesday broadcast uncaptioned images of at least three Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and a Russian military transport plane inside Iran.

The channel said the Iranian deployment would allow the Russian air force to cut flight times by 60 percent. The Tupolev-22M3 bombers, which before Tuesday had conducted strikes on Syria from their home bases in southern Russia, were too large to be accommodated at Russia's own air base inside Syria, Russian media reported.

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.

Iran asks U.N. chief to intervene with U.S. after court ruling

Iran asked U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday to convince the United States to stop violating state immunity after the top U.S. court ruled that $2 billion in frozen Iranian assets must be paid to American victims of attacks blamed on Tehran.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javid Zarif wrote to Ban a week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, calling on the Secretary-General to use his “good offices in order to induce the U.S. Government to adhere to its international obligations.”

Zarif's appeal comes amid increasing Iranian frustration at what they say is the failure of the United States to keep its promises regarding sanctions relief agreed under an historic nuclear deal struck last year by Tehran and six world powers.

In the letter, released by the Iranian U.N. mission, Zarif asked Ban to help secure the release of frozen Iranian assets in U.S. banks and persuade Washington to stop interfering with Iran's international commercial and financial transactions.

“The U.S Executive branch illegally freezes Iranian national assets; the U.S Legislative branch legislates to pave the ground for their illicit seizures; and the U.S Judicial branch issues rulings to confiscate Iranian assets without any base in law or fact,” Zarif said.

Ban's spokesman and the U.S. mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter or the accusations made against the United States.

Zarif told Ban he wanted to “alert you and through you the U.N. general membership about the catastrophic implications of the U.S. blatant disrespect for state immunity, which will cause systematic erosion of this fundamental principle.”

The U.S. Supreme Court found that the U.S. Congress did not usurp the authority of American courts by passing a 2012 law stating that Iran's frozen funds should go toward satisfying a $2.65 billion judgment won by the U.S. families against Iran in U.S. federal court in 2007.

“It is in fact the United States that must pay long overdue reparations to the Iranian people for its persistent hostile policies,” Zarif wrote, citing incidents including the shooting of an Iranian civil airliner in 1988.

Last week Zarif met several times with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in New York to discuss Iranian problems accessing international financial markets.

Tehran has called on the United States to do more to remove obstacles to the banking sector so that businesses feel comfortable investing in Iran without fear of penalties.

Iran says Russia delivers first part of its S-300 defense system

Russia has delivered the first part of an advanced missile defense system to Iran, Iranian media reported on Monday, starting to equip Tehran with technology that was blocked before it signed a deal with world powers on its nuclear programme.

The S-300 surface-to-air system was first deployed at the height of the Cold War in 1979.

In its updated form it is one of the most advanced systems of its kind and, according to British security think tank RUSI, can engage multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles around 150 km (90 miles) away.

Russia's agreement to provide Iran with S-300 has sparked concern in Israel, whose government Iran has said it aims to destroy.

In a recorded transmission, state television showed Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari telling a news conference on Monday: “I announce today that the first phase of this (delayed) contract has been implemented.”

Ansari was replying to reporters' questions about videos on social media showing what appeared to be parts of an S-300 missile system on trucks in northern Iran.

Russia says it cancelled a contract to deliver S-300s to Iran in 2010 under pressure from the West. President Vladimir Putin lifted that self-imposed ban in April 2015, after an interim agreement that paved the way for July's full nuclear deal.

The U.S. military has said it has accounted for the possible delivery of the S-300 to Iran in its contingency planning.

Iran proposes nuclear power cooperation with Hungary

Iran has proposed a project with Hungary to design and develop a small nuclear reactor that could be sold across Asia and Africa and also built in the Islamic Republic, Tehran's top nuclear official said on Thursday.

“We intend to fully utilise all commercial and technical opportunities, including the pursuit of peaceful nuclear activities, emanating from this deal,” Ali Akbar Salehi told a conference in Budapest.

He was referring to a landmark deal Iran reached with world powers last year under which it curbed its disputed nuclear activity, prompting the removal of sanctions imposed on Tehran and freeing it to reconnect with the global economy.

Salehi said he had in mind a joint pilot project with Hungary to design a 25-megawatt reactor and from that to develop a reactor of up to 100 megawatts, a size he said would be marketable across Asia and Africa.

Pope asks Iran to work for Mideast peace, stop spread of terrorism

Pope Francis met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the Vatican on Tuesday and urged Tehran to work with other Middle East states to promote peace and stop the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking in the region.

Shi'ite Muslim Iran is the strongest ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Western countries back his mainly Sunni Muslim opponents in the five-year-old civil war. 

Many Western nations also accuse Iran of funding various militant groups which they deem to be terrorist organizations.

Despite being an Islamic republic, Iran has good relations with the Holy See and the Vatican has been seeking to use its influence with Teheran to help bring peace to the Middle East.

A Vatican statement spoke of the “important role Iran is called on to play, along with other countries in the region, to promote adequate political solutions to the problems that afflict the Middle East, combating the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking”.

“I thank you for your visit and I hope for peace,” Francis told the Iranian leader at the end of a 40-minute meeting in the pope's private study in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.

Rouhani, who wore a white turban and black robe, asked the pope to “pray for me”. He then held separate talks with top Vatican diplomats.

Rouhani is on a four-day trip to Italy and France and wants to rebuild Iran's ties with the West after financial sanctions on Tehran were rolled back some two weeks ago in the wake of its nuclear accord with world powers last year.

It was the first state visit by an Iranian president to the Vatican since 1999, although President Mohammad Khatami was among the many world leaders who attended the funeral of Pope John Paul in 2005.

Pope Francis has several times praised last year's deal that aims to curtail Tehran's atomic ambitions. He told the U.N. General Assembly last September it was “proof of the potential of political good will” in the international community.

Canada to lift Tehran sanctions, allow Bombardier to export to Iran

Canada confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that it plans to lift its sanctions on Tehran and said that if Airbus is allowed to sell to Iran, then its aircraft maker Bombardier Inc should be allowed to export there as well.

“If Airbus is able to do it, why Bombardier will not be able to do it? In which way it's helping Canada, or the Iranian people, or Israel, or anyone, that Canada is hurting its own industry?” Dion said in an exchange with reporters.

Asked specifically if Bombardier would be allowed to do business with Iran as soon as sanctions are lifted, Dion said: “Legitimate business, certainly.”

Iran announced plans at the weekend to buy more than 160 European planes, mainly from Airbus, and Dion said reluctance to lift sanctions on the part of Canada's Conservative opposition had helped Airbus and not Bombardier.

The United States, the European Union and other major nations have already lifted their own punitive measures, leaving Ottawa to follow suit.

“Canada will lift its sanctions but what Canada will maintain is our suspicion of a regime … that must not return to (trying to obtain) nuclear weapons,” Dion told the House of Commons moments before meeting journalists.

Dion also said Iran had a poor human rights record and was not a friend of Canadian allies such as Israel.

Canada's foreign ministry had previously said it was reviewing the sanctions and would ensure any move to relax them did not allow Iran to trade in nuclear and ballistic missiles technologies.

White House: Pleased Iran released sailors, still has concerns

The White House is pleased that Iran released 10 U.S. sailors it had detained but continues to have concerns about Tehran's sponsorship of terrorism and threats to Israel, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he was not aware of any discussions between Washington and Tehran about a U.S. apology for the incident and noted one “certainly” had not been given.

Earnest said U.S. President Barack Obama had not mentioned the incident during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night so as not to elevate the issue and jeopardize the sailors' release.

Iran threatens response to new U.S. visa restrictions

Iran will take reciprocal measures in response to any breach of this year's nuclear deal, the Foreign Ministry warned on Monday, after Tehran said new U.S. visa restrictions contravened the historic agreement.

Iran has started to restrict its nuclear program under the terms of the July 14 deal with six world powers, including the United States. When the restrictions are completed, international sanctions on Tehran will be lifted.

But decades-old mistrust between Tehran and Washington is as high as ever, and each side has accused the other of undermining the pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Earlier this month, the U.S. Congress passed a law restricting visa-free travel rights for people who have visited Iran or hold dual Iranian nationality, a measure that Iran's foreign minister called a breach of the deal.

The measure, which affects citizens of the 38 mostly European countries that have visa waiver arrangements with the United States, is framed as a counterterrorism measure and also targets Iraq, Syria and Sudan.

“Any steps taken outside the agreement are unacceptable to Iran, and Iran will take its own steps in response where necessary,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari told a televised news conference when asked about the U.S. law.

He said a committee tasked with overseeing the deal would be responsible for ordering theIranian response to any breaches. Nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi, who heads that committee, has also said the visa law contravenes the deal. 


European Union countries have criticized the visa law, which was introduced after a series of Islamist attacks by citizens of Western countries who had been radicalized abroad. U.S. officials say Iran is included because Washington designates it a “state sponsor of terrorism”, along with Syria and Sudan.

Tehran says it has nothing to do with the recent attacks and is fighting the group that inspired them, Islamic State.

Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guards have also been pushing the boundaries of the deal, most notably by test-firing a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead in breach of a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Russia, Iran have signed contract for missile system delivery

Russia and Iran have signed a contract for Moscow to supply Tehran with S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, Sergei Chemezov, the chief executive of Russian state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec, was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying on Monday.

“S-300, the air defense system, the contract has already been signed,” Chemezov was quoted as saying at the Dubai Airshow.

A nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers earlier this deal has put Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchies on edge: They fear Tehran's rapprochement with the West will allow it to pursue an expansionist agenda in the region.

Chemezov said Gulf countries had no reason to feel threatened by the deal.

“This is defense equipment. And we are ready to offer this defense equipment to any country,” Chemezov later told Reuters in Dubai, speaking through interpreters.

“So if the Gulf countries are not going to attack Iran … why should they be threatened? Because this is defense equipment.”

He said that Saudi Arabia, arch-rival of Iran, had approached his firm “several times” requesting that it not deliver the equipment.

“Five years ago … even now, up to now … And we said that the S-300 is not capable to attack … to reach the neighboring countries.”

U.S. officials: Israel wants up to $5 billion in annual military aid

Israel has made an initial request for its annual U.S. defense aid to increase to as much as $5 billion when its current aid package, worth an average $3 billion a year, expires in 2017, U.S. congressional sources said on Wednesday.

Israel wants $5 billion per year in military aid for 10 years, for a total of $50 billion, the congressional aides said. It has been signaling that it wants more money to counter threats it says will arise as a result of the international agreement on Iran's nuclear program, which Israel's government has staunchly opposed.

Congressional and other U.S. officials cautioned that negotiations on the new aid deal were still in the early stages and the proposal is not yet at the stage where it has been formally brought to Congress, which must approve the funds.

“First they have to negotiate with the White House,” one senior congressional aide said ofIsrael.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to visit Washington for talks with President Barack Obama next week, when the package is likely to be discussed and its broad outlines may be agreed.

Israeli government spokesmen declined to provide details on the defense aid talks.

One U.S. official said the Obama administration was unlikely to fully meet the Israeli request, and predicted the sides would settle for an annual sum of between $4 billion and $5 billion.

Israel has also secured hundreds of millions of dollars in additional U.S. funding for missile defense in recent years.

Netanyahu put the brakes on aid talks with Washington in the run-up to the Iran deal that was reached in July, signaling his displeasure with the negotiations. Before he did so, Israeli and U.S. officials said they were looking at a new aid package worth $3.6 billion to $3.7 billion annually.

Both sides have said that figure could rise after the Iran deal, which will place curbs on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions against Tehran.

Israel argues that Tehran's financial windfall from sanctions relief will allow it to increase backing for proxies that are hostile to Israel in Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere – a fear Washington says is exaggerated.

Iran starts taking nuclear centrifuges offline

Iran has begun shutting down uranium enrichment centrifuges under the terms of a deal struck with six world powers in July on limiting its nuclear program, Tehran's atomic energy chief said on Monday during a visit to Tokyo.

“We have already started to take our measures vis-a-vis the removal of the centrifuge machines – the extra centrifuge machines. We hope in two months time we are able to exhaust our commitment,” Ali Akbar Salehi told public broadcaster NHK.

NHK's website also quoted Salehi as saying it was important that there be “balance” in implementing the deal, signaling Tehran's stance that all sanctions against Iran should be lifted promptly in step with its dismantling of nuclear infrastructure.

Under the July 14 agreement, Iran is to curb its nuclear program under United Nations supervision to ensure it cannot be used to make a nuclear weapon, in exchange for the removal of sanctions that have isolated Tehran and hobbled its economy.

In a separate development that appeared to confirm that Iran had begun implementing its side of the deal, 20 hardline conservative members of Iran's parliament wrote to President Hassan Rouhani to complain about the deactivation of centrifuges in two enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow.

“Unfortunately in the last two days some contractors entered Fordow and started dismantling centrifuges… they said they could finish the job in two weeks,” Fars cited the lawmakers, among those loath to accept the nuclear deal, as saying. 

Iran's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, conditionally approved the deal last month, but the lawmakers said that beginning implementation so soon was against his directives.

Centrifuges spin at supersonic speed to increase the ratio of the fissile isotope in uranium. Low-enriched uranium is used to fuel nuclear power plants, Iran's stated goal, but can also provide material for bombs if refined much further, which the West has feared may have been Iran's latent goal.

Why the U.S. may still have to go to war against Iran

Effective enforcement of the Iranian nuclear deal remains a conundrum. Enshrined in the agreement is “snapback” – the restoration of international economic sanctions against Tehran should it violate the deal’s terms. Yet the expected rush of European, Russian and Chinese businesses into Iran would make such unified action questionable.

Aware that economic pressure might not be enough, U.S. officials have repeatedly declared “all options” are on the table. Though most have been reluctant to offer details, recent Pentagon talk has focused on a new bunker-buster bomb. Such talk feeds into the growing presumption that Washington would rely on air strikes if Iran violated the agreement.

Yet history shows that forceful alternatives either don’t work or are too dangerous and costly. In addition, past air strikes have proved to be unreliable. So policymakers should indeed consider all options. Previous tactics — including assassination, special-forces sabotage, technology disruption, armed forces mobiliztion, massive bombing and war — deserve another look.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to the crowd in the holy city of Qom, 75 miles south of Tehran, on Oct. 19, 2010. Photo by

Some tacks have worked better than others. Determining the best course, however, can be complicated. Here’s a list:

1)  Assassination marks the nadir on the violence spectrum. It has reportedly been applied by Israel against Iraqi and Iranian scientists — for example, the bomb, delivered by motor cycle, that struck the car in Tehran in which Majid Shahriari, a senior nuclear engineer, was riding in 2010. But the tactic has failed to seriously hinder nuclear development.

2) Sabotage by special forces of nuclear installations has had more impact but is not enduring. One early application was during World War Two, when British commandos attempted to destroy a plant in Nazi-occupied Norway that produced heavy water, a vital substance Germany required for the nuclear weapons effort. Israel’s 1979 commando detonation of the Osirak reactor core as it sat in a French warehouse awaiting shipment to Iraq marks a second case. In both instances, engineers repaired the damaged equipment within months.

Vemork Hydroelectric Plant in Rjukan, Norway in 1935. A commando team blew up heavy water production cells in 1943 to sabotage Nazi German’s nuclear energy project. Photo from Wikipedia

3) Sabotage of a different sort, including cyberattacks on Iran’s uranium- enrichment plants, as well as the adulteration of material imported to fabricate centrifuges, set back Tehran’s nuclear program by months. But that was it.

4) Air strikes. Without the precise delivery systems of current air forces, the United States tried a massive bombing campaign during World War Two to destroy the Norwegian heavy-water plant after Britain’s attempted sabotage failed. Even with that, the allies needed a follow-up commando operation to eliminate the surviving heavy-water stocks. But the success in Norway failed to halt Nazi Germany’s program back in Germany. Scientific barriers proved far more important in undermining the Nazi effort.

With more advanced aircraft, Israel’s bombardment of Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, and Syria’s Al Kibar reactor in 2007, succeeded far more efficiently. The destruction of Syria’s reactor may be the most effective use of force in history. With few resources to rebuild the North Korean-engineered plant, Damascus abandoned its nuclear effort.

Before and after photos of the Syrian reactor site released by the U.S. government after the Israeli attack in 2007. Photo from Wikipedia/commons

The attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor told another story. Here, destruction prompted Baghdad to undertake a 10-year covert effort to enrich uranium. By some estimates, Iraq was within a year of succeeding when the 1991 Persian Gulf War broke out.  

But bombing will not prevent efforts at covert reconstruction by countries with the personnel, drive, resources and effective stealth to do the job. Iran, unlike Syria, falls into this category.

5) War or the threat of war. In the end, the only forceful policy that eliminated emerging nuclear weapons programs with certainty — putting aside voluntary monitored relinquishment by former Soviet states, South Africa and Libya — was the successful wars waged against Nazi Germany in World War Two and Iraq in 1991. Occupying military forces in the first case, and international inspectors in the second, were able to eliminate all nuclear contraband.

War, however, remains the most costly option, in both blood and treasure.

It also adds a wrinkle, not in its application, but in its gestation. The Cuban missile crisis demonstrated that threat manipulation — preparations for the use of overwhelming military force to invade the island, coupled with the naval quarantine and the ramping up of the alert status of the nuclear arsenal — intimidated Moscow to abandon its Cuba gambit.

But coercive diplomacy is never a sure thing. Think about the massive buildups undertaken by U.S. and allied forces against Iraq in 1991 and 2003. Both failed to intimidate, and war ensued.

6) There is one last option of the “all options” alternative that policymakers appear loath to talk about: acceptance of Iran as a nuclear armed state. Farfetched? Even the Israelis apparently gave a nod to that possibility when Ehud Barak, former prime minister and defense minister, recently revealed that, between 2010 and 2012, Jerusalem seriously contemplated military action against Iran but then got cold feet.

For Washington to take this course would actually be consistent with historic behavior. When faced with a nuclear buildup in China during the early 1960s, North Korea in recent years and the Soviet Union at the beginning of the Cold War, the United States decided that managing an adversary with an emerging nuclear arsenal was a better course than using force to stop it. Of course, acceptance of Iran into the nuclear club banks that it will be a responsible steward of the bomb.

History’s lessons for halting Iran’s nuclear temptation are sobering. “All options are on the table” may be a nice catch phrase — but if the mullahs attempt a nuclear breakout, only a winning war would guarantee full success.

Half measures, notably air strikes, may buy time to sway Tehran to rethink its nuclear course. But the past’s inconvenient truth remains: Unless Iran complies with the recent agreement and the underlying nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Washington faces a daunting choice should snapback fail. It can go to war or bet that deterrence applied against nuclear adversaries in the past will work again against Iran’s revolutionary regime.

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.”

Nuclear deal on Iran program to be implemented this year, says Iranian official

Iran's nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said on Monday he expected a deal with six world powers on shrinking Tehran's atomic program in exchange for sanctions relief to be implemented by year-end.

“Hopefully before the end of this year certainly we would have the implementation day,” Araqchi told reporters after meeting senior officials from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France in Vienna.

The United States and the European Union took formal legal steps on Sunday that will lift sanctions once Iran meets certain conditions such as reducing the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium, and its enriched uranium stockpile.

Germany's foreign minister said the EU sanctions were likely to remain in place at least until January.

When asked whether Iran had started mothballing centrifuges, Araqchi said the process had not begun yet.

“We need an order by the president to the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation to start the job. That would be done after some preparations that we still need to do in the coming days. So it would soon start,” Araqchi said.

Sunday's moves have no immediate effect but cement a process that began with the deal reached in July to end sanctions against Iran once it shrinks its nuclear program that the West suspected was aimed at developing a nuclear bomb. Iran denies this charge.

In July Iran also agreed to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67-percent fissile purification for 15 years. Weapons grade uranium must be enriched to around 90 percent fissile purity.

Iran's stockpile of uranium enriched to under 5 percent purity stood at 7,845.4 kg, according to the latest report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

Iran could dilute the excess LEU or sell it abroad in exchange for natural uranium.

“We are on schedule and we think we can do this business instead of diluting. We can do the business and receive natural uranium in return for selling our enriched uranium to outside,” Araqchi said, declining to say whom Iran is in talks with.

Russia has in the past supplied Iran with reactor fuel.

Iran deal closer to reality as U.S. prepares sanctions waivers

The United States approved conditional sanctions waivers for Iran on Sunday, though it cautioned they would not take effect until Tehran has curbed its nuclear program as required under a historic nuclear deal reached in Vienna on July 14.

“Today marks an important milestone toward preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensuring its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful going forward,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a White House statement.

In a memo, he directed the secretaries of state, treasury, commerce and energy “to take all necessary steps to give effect to the U.S. commitments with respect to sanctions described in (the Iran deal).”

Several senior U.S. officials, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said actual sanctions relief for Iran was at least two months away.

Sunday was “adoption day” for the deal, which came 90 days after the U.N. Security Council endorsed the agreement reached by Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China under which most sanctions on Iran would be lifted in exchange for limits on Tehran's nuclear activities.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran would now have to act to restrain its nuclear program.

“These waivers will not take effect until Implementation Day, after Iran has completed all necessary nuclear steps, as verified by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency),” he said in a statement. “If fully implemented, (the deal) will bring unprecedented insight and accountability to Iran's nuclear program forever.”

In Brussels, the European Union on Sunday published legal acts that open the way for the bloc to lift sanctions if Tehran meets the conditions tied to the landmark nuclear agreement.

Iran told the IAEA on Sunday it would fulfill a commitment under the deal to implement the Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, allowing U.N. nuclear inspectors more intrusive access to Iranian facilities.


Iran will take that step on “implementation day”, the IAEA said in a statement. Under the deal, that is when the agency is due to have verified that Tehran has implemented restrictions on its nuclear activities and sanctions should be lifted.

Kerry said Tom Shannon, the appointee for Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and the U.S. point-man on Iran, Stephen Mull, would join senior officials from the six powers, Iran and the European Union in Vienna this week to discuss implementation of the deal.

In addition to Washington's conditional orders to suspend U.S. nuclear-related sanctions, U.S. officials said the United States, China and Iran were re-emphasizing their commitment to the redesign and reconstruction of the Arak research reactor so that it does not produce plutonium.

The fate of the Arak reactor was one of the toughest sticking points in the nearly two years of negotiations that led to the July agreement.

Other steps Iran must take include reducing the number of uranium-enrichment centrifuges it has in operation, cutting its enriched uranium stocks and answering U.N. questions about past activities that the West suspects were linked to work on nuclear weapons.

Kerry noted that the IAEA had already said Iran had met its obligation to provide answers and access to the agency.

However, one U.S. official suggested on Saturday that the quality of answers Iran provides to the IAEA and the agency's assessment are not relevant when it comes to deciding on pressing forward with sanctions relief.

“That final assessment, which the IAEA is aiming to complete by December 15th, is not a prerequisite for implementation day,” he said.


Tehran denies allegations from Western powers and their allies that its nuclear program was aimed at developing the capability to produce atomic weapons.

Unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran not tied to its atomic program, such as those related to human rights, will remain even after the nuclear deal is implemented.

The U.S. officials were asked about Iran's decision to test a ballistic missile a week ago in violation of a U.N. ban that will remain in effect for almost a decade. The United States has said the missile was capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

The officials reiterated that the launch was not a violation of the nuclear deal.

“This is not, unfortunately, something new,” a U.S. official said, adding that the missile test should not be seen as an indicator of Iran's willingness to comply with the nuclear deal.

“There is a long pattern of Iran ignoring U.N. Security Council resolutions on ballistic missiles,” the official said.

Washington has said it will seek Security Council action against Iran over the missile test. Once the deal is implemented, Iran will still be “called upon” to refrain from undertaking any work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for a period of up to eight years, according to a Security Council resolution adopted in July.

U.N. says Iran meets deadline for investigation of nuclear past

Iran has met a deadline to give the U.N. nuclear watchdog information it needs to assess whether Tehran sought to develop nuclear weapons in the past, the agency said on Thursday, a step towards carrying out a deal between Tehran and world powers.

The apparent progress reported in the longstanding U.N. investigation coincided with increasing Western disquiet over Iran's test of a ballistic missile this week in defiance of a U.N. ban, a move France said sent a disconcerting message.

It also followed an unusual broadcast by Iranian state television of footage of an underground tunnel crammed with missiles and launchers that appeared to signal Tehran's determination to expand its large missile inventory.

The Islamic Republic's missiles are viewed with concern by its Western-allied Gulf Arab neighbors given what they see as the risk of Tehran tipping missiles with nuclear weapons, should it ever develop any in future.

Iran has long denied that its enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel has any military ends, saying it is for civilian energy only. But its restrictions on U.N. inspections and intelligence suggesting it has researched nuclear bombs in the past raised concern and led to international sanctions.

In July, Iran struck a deal with six world powers under which it must restrict sensitive aspects of its nuclear program to help ensure they can never be put to bomb-making, in exchange for the removal of sanctions.

Under a roadmap agreement reached parallel to the Vienna deal, Iran had to provide by Thursday the cooperation necessary for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to complete an assessment of Iran's nuclear work by Dec. 15.

“In the period to 15 October 2015, activities set out in the 'road-map for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran's nuclear program' were completed,” the IAEA said in a statement.

The Vienna-based watchdog added that it would provide its assessment by Dec. 15, on schedule. A spokesman for the IAEA declined to elaborate on Thursday's statement.

The IAEA said last month it had sent Iran questions on “ambiguities” in its submissions to the agency. Cooperation with a view to resolving those questions is a pivotal aspect of what Iran had to supply by Thursday.


The investigation is now due to move into a phase in which the agency assesses the materials provided by Iran, including environmental samples at the Parchin military site, which IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano visited last month.

One of the questions the IAEA aims to resolve is whether Iran carried out high-explosives testing at Parchin applicable to making a nuclear warhead. Last month's visit was the IAEA's first access to Parchin in a decade.

On Wednesday, the last procedural hurdle to putting Iran's deal with major powers into effect was cleared when its Guardian Council, a top vetting body, ratified a bill endorsing the accord approved by a big parliamentary majority on Tuesday.

The vote was a victory for President Hassan Rouhani's government over hardline conservative foes of the deal and of any form of detente with the West after decades of antagonism.

The precise stance of Khamenei, a veteran hardliner who has the last word on all matters of state, is not known. To date, he has neither approved nor rejected the agreement, but has commended the work of Rouhani's negotiating team.

Despite barriers to the implementation of the deal falling, Iran stirred fresh jitters with its test on Sunday of a new precision-guided ballistic missile, indicating advances in Iran's attempts to improve the accuracy of its missile arsenal.

As if to drive the point home, Iranian state television broadcast on Wednesday video from an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base under a mountain filled with missiles on their launch vehicles with uniformed personnel standing nearby.

State media quoted a senior Revolutionary Guards general as saying Iran was completely overhauling its missile technology, replacing the current stockpile with newer weapons, and that the base shown on TV was one of many scattered across Iran.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said on Thursday the ballistic missile test was a clear violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution and sends “a worrying message … to the international community”.

The United States said on Tuesday it would raise the matter at the Security Council.

Ballistic missile tests by Iran are banned under Security Council Resolution 1929, which dates from 2010 and remains valid until the July nuclear deal goes into effect.

Once that happens, Iran will still be “called upon” not to undertake any work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for a period of up to eight years, according to a Security Council resolution adopted in July.

Washington Post says Iran’s conviction of its reporter is ‘contemptible’

The Washington Post on Monday denounced the conviction in Iran of the newspaper's U.S.-born Tehran correspondent in an espionage case as an “outrageous injustice” and urged Iranian leaders to overturn it.

Jason Rezaian, who was arrested in July 2014, had 20 days to appeal the verdict, the Iranian news service ISNA said, citing an Iranian judiciary spokesman.

The case is a sensitive issue in Washington's contentious relationship with Tehran and it played out as the United States and other major powers forged a deal in July with Iran to curb its nuclear program in return for relief from sanctions.

Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said the verdict against Rezaian was indefensible and that no sentence had been announced.

“The guilty verdict announced by Iran in the trial of the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian represents an outrageous injustice,” Baron said.

“Iran has behaved unconscionably throughout this case … The contemptible end to this 'judicial process' leaves Iran's senior leaders with an obligation to right this grievous wrong.”

Post officials said Rezaian had been used as a bargaining chip. The newspaper's foreign editor, Douglas Jehl, told Fox News that Rezaian's wife, mother and lawyer had gone to court in Tehran seeking an explanation of the court's action but were turned away after being told no translators were available.

Iran accused Rezaian, 39, of collecting confidential information and giving it to hostile governments, writing a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and acting against national security.

The Post and his family denounced the charges against Rezaian, who holds both U.S. and Iranian citizenship, as absurd.

A watchdog group, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said Rezaian's trial, which concluded in August, was a “judicial farce” and challenged Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to correct it.

“Rouhani's unwillingness to address this miscarriage of justice calls into question his stated commitment to ensure Iran is a country ruled by law,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the group's executive director.

A senior Iranian official dismissed in August speculation that Iran was considering a prisoner exchange with the United States. Iran holds other U.S. citizens, and said at the time that the United States holds some 16 Iranians for bypassing sanctions and around 60 prisoners for other crimes.

The other U.S. citizens detained in Iran are Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. Robert Levinson, a private investigator, disappeared in Iran in 2007.

Skepticism on Iran still fills the Gulf

The nuclear deal with Iran will shortly come into effect and the world powers will lift their economic sanctions on Tehran. For many, this third and final phase of the nuclear agreement represents a moment of hope for the Middle East. Supporters of the pact believe that the sanctions relief will strengthen the moderates in Iran and prevent the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons.

Yet not everyone is as optimistic. The negotiations leading up to the deal focused solely on Iran’s nuclear program without addressing Tehran’s military involvement in countries like Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. With sanctions lifted, many fear that Iran will channel billions of dollars into strengthening its armed proxies in the region. Chief to this concern is Saudi Arabia – Teheran’s longtime rival for supremacy in the Middle East that is currently fighting the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi militias in Yemen.

With the nuclear deal underway and the expected warming of Iran’s ties with the West, a fight over regional dominance between the two powers seems highly probable. While King Salman officially endorsed the nuclear deal in several public statements, Riyadh has been deeply concerned with the agreement’s ramifications on its future stance in the region.

“The main issue for the Saudis is not whether it will keep Iran from getting a bomb, but whether it will open the way to closer US-Iranian relations at the expense of the Saudis,” explains William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. “And Washington has gone all in on the Saudi side in the Yemen war as a way to reassure them, as the nuclear deal moves forward,” he told The Media Line.

Yet, if it feels threatened, Saudi Arabia could go down the nuclear path. Funding is certainly not an issue for the Kingdom, which is the biggest net exporter of oil in the world. “I think that for the moment the Saudis would like to sew uncertainty as to whether they might develop a nuclear weapon. It would be a disastrous development, which among other things might prompt Iran to break out of the just concluded nuclear deal,” Hartung said.

Hussein Ibish, a Senior Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, was more doubtful about the prospects of Saudi Arabia pursuing a nuclear program, but did not rule it out. Ibish told The Media Line that, “The decisions Riyadh makes in the next few years on this issue will depend hugely on the outcome of the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, and on the policy moves by others, especially Iran and the US. They would be willing to go there, ultimately, if they conclude they have no choice.”

Meanwhile, Washington is working hard to reassure Saudi Arabia of what President Obama described as “ironclad support” for the Kingdom. The White House has expedited hundreds of weapon orders that have already been made by Riyadh in recent years. Discussions have also been held regarding a Gulf-wide missile defense system that would be deployed at the behest of the United States. A $1 billion deal for new littoral warships is being finalized these days between Lockheed Martin and the Saudis, as well as the supply of new Seahawk helicopters used by the US Navy.

Washington, however, cannot easily quell all of Riyadh’s fears. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – consisting of the six Arab monarchies in the Gulf and led by Saudi Arabia – is witnessing rising tensions regarding its stance on Iran. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have taken a bellicose position towards the deal and opposed the normalization of ties with Tehran, while Oman and Qatar formally announced plans to renew trade with their neighbor from the East.

Falling oil prices, on which most of the Gulf economies are based, are only one reason for increased trade with Tehran. Iran’s important role in fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) is another reason for Gulf leaders to court Iran. In fact, in his first state visit following the signing of the nuclear deal, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made it a point to visit Kuwait and Qatar in order to discuss the Gulf’s interest in fighting terrorism alongside Iran. Oman has also kept an open communications channel with Tehran, with which it shares a maritime border in the Strait of Hormuz.

But the Council might prove to be stronger than some expect. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political scientist with ties to the UAE government, believes that despite minor differences, the Gulf States will remain strongly united on Iran. “Iran always was, and always will be, a difficult neighbor for the Gulf States,” he told The Media Line. “What binds the GCC since its inception in 1981 is Tehran’s negative involvement in the region. That did not change a single bit; Iran is still the same aggressive Iran, exporting its revolution and aiding radical groups,” he added.

Abdulla also rejected the belief that the deal will influence the ongoing fighting in Syria and in Yemen.  “The nuclear deal is exactly what it is: a technical nuclear deal. As such, it has no bearing on the situation in these two countries.” Asked about what Saudi Arabia’s next steps would be, Abdulla suggested that all options are on the table. “The Saudis have made it very clear to the international community that they would match any Iranian capability dollar-for-dollar, weapons-for-weapons. There is no way Saudi Arabia would allow Iran to become to dominant power in the region,” he concluded.

At U.N., Yemen accuses Iran of pursuing its destruction

Yemen's president accused Iran on Tuesday of pursuing the destruction of his country, where government forces and a Saudi Arabia-led coalition are fighting Tehran-backed rebels.

Speaking at the United Nations, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi thanked Saudi King Salman for acting with “utter determination” by leading an air campaign by Gulf states against Houthi rebels, who seized the capital, Sanaa, a year ago.

The Houthis took over much of the country, forcing Hadi's government to flee to Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The Gulf-backed forces recaptured Aden in July before pushing north, allowing Hadi to return to his country last week.

Those forces are now preparing for a thrust against Sanaa.

“We find ourselves mixed in this battle, this fight for the country and the legitimacy of the state to ensure that the country not fall into the hands of Iran, which would like to see the destruction of the country,” Hadi told the annual U.N. General Assembly gathering of world leaders.

The Houthis, part of a Shi'ite Muslim minority in Yemen, are backed by Shi'ite-dominated Iran, Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia's regional power rivla.

The United Nations has designated Yemen as one of its highest-level humanitarian crises, placing it alongside emergencies in South Sudan, Syria and Iraq. It says more than 21 million people in Yemen need help, or about 80 percent of the population.

Yemen relies on imports, but a near-total blockade led by Saudi Arabia has slowed shipments to the Arabian Peninsula country to a trickle. The Arab coalition is inspecting shipments in a bid to thwart any arms deliveries to the Houthis.

Hadi blamed the Houthis for the humanitarian crisis.

“You are aware of the human tragedy of our people, and this is due to the blockade imposed by the militias,” he said.

The Iran mission to the United Nations was not immediately available to comment on Hadi's remarks.

Clinton vows tough approach to Iran on nuclear deal

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton vowed on Wednesday she would not shrink from military action against Iran if it tries to obtain atomic weapons and threatened to impose penalties on Tehran for even for small violations of its nuclear deal with world powers.

In a speech to a Washington think tank, the former secretary of state reiterated her support for the accord but cautioned that she would take an approach of “distrust and verify” toward Iran if she won the November, 2016 presidential election.

“As president, I will take whatever actions are necessary to protect the United States and our allies. I will not hesitate to take military action if Iran attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon,” she said.

Clinton expects the Islamic Republic “to see how far they can bend the rules” of the agreement it reached in July with the United States and other major nations including Russia and China.

“I’ll hold the line against Iranian noncompliance. That means penalties even for small violations,” she told the Brookings Institution.

She said she is extremely skeptical of Iran given its long history of concealing aspects of its nuclear program and destabilizing the Middle East.

Iran denies its nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons.

As America's top diplomat from 2009-2013,Clinton helped lay the groundwork for the Iran deal by building support for sanctions that the Obama administration credits with bringing Tehran to the negotiating table.

The U.S. Congress is expected to begin voting this week on a Republican-led measure to block the deal, which is aimed at preventing Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

But President Barack Obama has enough support in the U.S. Senate to prevent lawmakers from derailing the accord. Republicans and some of Obama's own Democrats say they deal is not strict enough.

“By now, the outcome in Congress is no longer in much doubt. So we’ve got to start looking ahead to what comes next: enforcing the deal, deterring Iran and its proxies, and strengthening our allies,” she said. 

Clinton promised to deepen U.S. commitment to Israel's security, reaffirm that the Persian Gulf is a vital area of U.S. interests, stand against Iranian rights abuses at home and build a coalition to counter Iran's proxies like Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah.

Khamenei says Israel will not last 25 more years; will not negotiate with U.S. beyond nuclear talks

Iran's Supreme Leader has said Tehran will not negotiate with the United States on any issue after the landmark nuclear deal with world powers in July and that Israel “will not see next 25 years” and adds that the Jewish state will be hounded until it is destroyed, according to his official website on Wednesday.

The comments appeared to contradict more moderate president Hassan Rouhani, who said on Tuesday the Islamic Republic was ready to hold talks with the United States on ways to resolve Syria's civil war.

“We negotiated with the U.S. on the nuclear issue for specific reasons. (The Americans) behaved well in the talks, but we didn't and we won't allow negotiation with the Americans on other issues,” Ayatollah Khamenei was quoted as saying.

“The Americans are not hiding their animosity towards Iran… Americans in the Congress are plotting and passing bills against us… Negotiations are a tool for them to influence Iran and to impose their will,” Ayatollah Khamenei said to hundreds of visitors to his offices.

Following the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, several high diplomatic delegations from Europe have visited Iran, in a possible sign of a thaw after a decade of isolation brought on by international sanctions.

But long-time rivals Tehran and Washington have yet to normalize relations or open a dialogue on their contending policies in the war-torn region.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday secured 42 votes in the U.S. Senate to secure the nuclear deal of which Republicans and pro-Israel lobbies disapprove.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a vociferous opponent of the Iran deal, calling it a threat to his country's existence.

“God willing there will be nothing left of the Zionist regime in 25 years,” Khamenei said. “Meanwhile, the heroic jihadi Islamic spirit will not leave the Zionists in peace for a second.”

Netanyahu says U.S. public and Israel see eye-to-eye on Iran nuclear issue

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on Thursday most Americans agreed with Israel over dangers posed by Iran, even as he lost a battle to persuade the U.S. Congress to reject Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers including Washington.

In remarks at a Jewish New Year's reception at the Foreign Ministry, Netanyahu made no direct mention of President Barack Obama's victory on Wednesday in securing enough Senate votes to protect the July 14 agreement in Congress.

But Netanyahu, who angered the Democratic White House by addressing Congress in March at the invitation of the Republican leaders as part of his campaign against the deal, seemed to suggest his efforts were not futile.

Speaking of a need to preserve Israel's traditionally close ties with Washington despite what he called “differences of opinion”, Netanyahu told the diplomatic staffers: “I must say, however, that the overwhelming majority of the American public sees eye-to-eye with us on the danger emanating from Iran.”

He cited no evidence for his remark. A Reuters-Ipsos poll taken in the United States found that as of Sept. 1, 30 percent were in favor of the agreement, 30.7 percent against with 39.4 saying they did not know.

But support and opposition is highly partisan. About 60 percent of Republicans oppose the deal. That number drops to 19 percent for all non-Republicans, including Democrats and independents. The poll had a credibility interval of 2.6 percent.

Israel's message to ordinary Americans, Netanyahu said, would continue to be that “Iran is the enemy of the United States – it declares that openly – and Israel is a U.S. ally”.

Ensuring the U.S. public understands that point will have “important ramifications for our security down the line”, Netanyahu said, according to an official statement.

In an interview last Friday with the Forward, a U.S. Jewish newspaper and news website, Obama held out the prospect of enhanced military and intelligence cooperation with Israel once the deal with Iran is implemented.

“There are always going to be arguments within families and among friends. And Israel isn’t just an ally, it’s not just a friend – it’s family,” Obama said.

Netanyahu and other opponents of the pact say it gives Iran too much sanctions relief in exchange for an insufficient regime for inspecting Iran's nuclear facilities. They worry Tehran will use a $50 billion “windfall” to finance Islamist militant groups that might threaten U.S. allies, including Israel.

Last month Obama touted the deal as “the strongest non-proliferation agreement ever negotiated” and said that if Congress scuttled it, Tehran's pathway to an atomic bomb would be accelerated and America's international credibility severely damaged.

Some U.S.-based pro-Israel groups have spent millions of dollars on campaigns urging Congress to reject it.

But on Wednesday, Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski said she would support the deal, bringing the list of backers in the Senate to 34 – enough to sustain Obama's promised veto if the Republican-controlled Congress passes a disapproval resolution.

Netanyahu's critics have said his decision to address Congress at the Republicans' behest only alienated potential Democratic opponents of the accord and ultimately foiled his efforts to sink the agreement.

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.

Switzerland lifts sanctions against Iran

Neutral Switzerland will lift on Thursday sanctions against Iran that had been suspended since January 2014, the government announced on Wednesday, citing a deal between Tehran and big powers to curb Iran's nuclear program.

“The Federal Council (government) wishes today's steps to be seen as a sign of its support for the implementation of the nuclear agreement and its interest in deepening bilateral relations with Iran,” a statement said.

Victims of attacks sue U.S. to keep Iran sanctions in place

Twenty U.S. citizens who won more than $1.5 billion in court judgments against Iran for its support of militant attacks sued the U.S. government on Wednesday to try and prevent it from lifting sanctions on Tehran under an international nuclear deal.

The lawsuit in federal court in New York said that unfreezing Iranian funds would rob the victims of the attacks in Israel and the Gaza Strip of “their last remaining opportunity to pressure Iran to satisfy their judgments.”

The plaintiffs, who have not yet received any money, include victims of several attacks between 1995 and 2006 carried out by groups backed by Iran – Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad. The lawsuit names the U.S. State Department and the Treasury Department as defendants.

The White House declined to comment on the lawsuit. A spokesman for the Department of Justice did not immediately comment.

The U.S.-led July 14 accord between Iran and six world powers would lift some of the harshest economic sanctions against Tehran in exchange for a verification program intended to restrict Iran's nuclear program.

Congress has until Sept. 17 to approve or reject the pact. President Barack Obama delivered a speech on Wednesday defending the deal and urging lawmakers to vote in its favor, despite fierce opposition from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Wednesday's lawsuit was brought by some of the same lawyers who in February won a $218 million jury verdict against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization for victims of militant attacks in Israel.

The Palestinian groups are appealing. A lawyer for the groups said in court in July that the judgment, which is automatically tripled under federal law, could “be the end of the Palestinian Authority.”

The U.S. government has said it may weigh in on the case and would decide by Aug. 10.

Top U.S. general says Iran deal lowers near-term atomic arms risk

The top U.S. military officer supported a proposed nuclear deal with Iran on Wednesday, saying it reduced the risk of Tehran developing atomic arms while buying time to work with allies to confront the Islamic Republic over other “malign activities.”

Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate hearing he had advised the White House to keep sanctions on Iran's ballistic missile program and arms trafficking for “as long as possible.”

The deal between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France would lift the ban on ballistic missile technology for eight years and retain an arms embargo for five.

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee asked Dempsey how he squared his backing for the deal with his statement to the panel earlier this month that “under no circumstances” should pressure be eased on Iran over ballistic missiles and arms trafficking.

“My recommendation was to keep pressure on Iran on the other malign activities for as long as possible,” Dempsey told the panel. “I will say that I think time works for us as well as Iran … and so with the agreement made and having the opportunity to give my advice, I support it.”

Dempsey appeared alongside Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to discuss the military implications of the deal.

Iran agreed to stop producing highly enriched uranium and submit to U.N. inspections in exchange for an end to international economic sanctions.

The deal would free up $50 billion to $60 billion in Iranian funds frozen in bank accounts in other countries, Lew said.

He said Tehran needed much of that money as foreign reserves to settle purchases made in other countries and it would be “highly exaggerated” to think it all could be used to support militant groups and other “malign purposes” in the Middle East.

Iran supports Hezbollah, Hamas and Houthi rebels in regional conflicts against U.S. partners such as Israel and Yemen.

“There is clearly the opportunity for Iran to use some of the revenue that they gain for malign purposes, and that bears watching and collaboration with our regional partners, including Israel,” Dempsey told the hearing.

He said the deal would reduce the near-term risk of Tehran acquiring nuclear arms but increase the need to strengthen collaboration with partners in the Middle East.

Kerry warns U.S. Congress that scrapping Iran deal would mean path to nuclear weapon

Secretary of State John Kerry told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday he wanted to set the record straight on the Iran nuclear deal and equated walking away from the agreement to giving Tehran a fast track to a nuclear weapon.

“There are conclusions that have been drawn that don't in fact match with the reality of what this deal sets forth. And we happily look forward to clarifying that during the course of this hearing,” Kerry told the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee.

Joined by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, two other members of President Barack Obama's Cabinet, Kerry was part of the administration's blitz to coax skeptical lawmakers into supporting the nuclear deal.

The Republican-controlled Congress has until Sept. 17 either to endorse or reject or do nothing about the agreement. Rejection would prevent Obama from waiving most U.S.-imposed sanctions on Tehran, a key component of the deal.

Under the July 14 deal, world powers agreed to lift sanctions on Tehran in return for long-term curbs on a nuclear program the West suspects was aimed at creating an atomic bomb, but which Tehran says is peaceful.

Kerry insisted that walking away from the deal would isolate the United States.

“If we walk away, we walk away alone. Our partners are not going to be with us. Instead, they'll walk away from the tough multilateral sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place,” Kerry said.

House members signaled the difficulties the administration will face getting Congress on board.

Representative Ed Royce, the Foreign Affairs Committee's Republican chairman, said the deal would provide Iran with a “cash bonanza,” while weakening Washington's ability to pressure Tehran.

Representative Eliot Engel, the committee's top Democrat, also said he saw a number of troublesome issues in the agreement.

Both Republicans and Democrats expressed concern that four Americans are being held in Iranian prisons. Kerry said he was in “direct talks” with Tehran about the detainees.

Others worried about Iran's support for militants fighting U.S. allies. “They support Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthi, and those are just the organizations that begin with the letter 'H,'” said Representative Brad Sherman, a California Democrat.

The administration officials insisted the deal was a better way to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon than more sanctions or military action.

Kerry, Lew and Moniz also testified in the Senate on Thursday, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter is due to speak to lawmakers later this week.

Kerry: critics of Iran deal spinning ‘fantasy,’ urges approval

Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday mounted a furious counterattack against critics of the Iran nuclear deal, telling skeptical lawmakers it would be fantasy to think the United States could simply “bomb away” Tehran's atomic know-how.

Testifying publicly before Congress for the first time since world powers reached the landmark accord with Iran last week, America's top diplomat was confronted head-on by Republican accusations that Iranian negotiators had “fleeced” and “bamboozled” him.

[POLL: U.S. Jews support the Iran nuclear deal]

The vitriolic exchanges at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Kerry once chaired, reflected a hardening of positions as Congress opened a 60-day review of the deal considered crucial to its fate.

Iranian hardliners are also trying to undermine the pact, which U.S. ally Israel calls a dire security threat.

Kerry insisted critics of the agreement, which curbs Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, are pushing an alternative he dismissed as a “sort of unicorn arrangement involving Iran's complete capitulation.”

“The fact is that Iran now has extensive experience with nuclear fuel cycle technology,” the former senator said. “We can't bomb that knowledge away. Nor can we sanction that knowledge away.”

On crutches from a cycling accident, Kerry entered the hearing room to cheers from the anti-war group Code Pink.

Kerry said that if Congress rejects the accord, “the result will be the United States of America walking away from every one of the restrictions we have achieved, and a great big green light for Iran to double the pace of its uranium enrichment.”

“We will have squandered the best chance we have to solve this problem through peaceful means,” he said.

The 4-1/2-hour-long hearing was part of an intense Obama administration push to convince Democrats in particular to back the deal. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz also testified.

The three cabinet secretaries briefed the full House of Representatives and Senate behind closed doors on Wednesday and met privately with House Democrats after Thursday's hearing.

Other senior administration officials, including President Barack Obama, have also been talking to undecided lawmakers. About a dozen met with him at the White House on Thursday.

Opening the hearing on a contentious note, the committee’s Republican chairman, Bob Corker, criticized Kerry for the terms he negotiated. “I believe that you’ve been fleeced,” he said.

Another Republican, Jim Risch, said he had been “bamboozled.”

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer called such accusations “disrespectful and insulting.”

Corker chided Kerry and other administration officials for contending that the only alternative to the accord would be more war in the Middle East, saying the real alternative would be a better deal.

Kerry strongly disagreed.


Senator Marco Rubio faulted Obama for rewarding Iran for “its atrocious human rights record.”

“This is a deal whose survival is not guaranteed beyond the current term of the president,” said Rubio, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate.

Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the committee, said he has not yet decided how he would vote but that he felt “our negotiators got an awful lot.”

Under a bill Obama reluctantly signed into law in May, Congress has until Sept. 17 to approve or reject the agreement. Republicans hold majorities in both houses of Congress, and many have come out strongly against the pact, which they say will empower Iran and threaten Israel.

Obama, who could boost his presidential legacy from his diplomatic outreach to Iran, needs his fellow Democrats.

If a “disapproval” resolution passes and survives Obama's veto, he would be unable to waive most of the U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran, which could cripple the nuclear pact.

Responding to criticism that sanctions would be lifted too quickly, Lew said it would not prevent the United States from imposing additional sanctions over issues such as human rights violations if deemed necessary.

Moniz, seeking to counter criticism of “loopholes” in the nuclear inspections regime, said: “I am confident that the technical underpinnings of this deal are solid.”

Seeking to reassure Israel and its U.S. supporters, Kerry said Washington would increase security coordination. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed concerns that Iran will use unfrozen assets to increase funding and weapons to militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Kerry said the Iran deal carried the “real potential” for change in the Middle East but acknowledged it “does not end the possibility of a confrontation with Iran.”