Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Israeli strategic experts on the latest nuclear negotiations with Iran

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Update from AIJAC

May 2, 2014
Number 05/14 #02

This Updates offers analysis from three leading Israeli strategic experts on the state of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, its prospects over coming weeks, and especially 
the significance of reports that progress had been made on some aspects of a nuclear deal, such as the fate of the plutonium-producing Arak heavy-water reactor Iran is building.

First up is Amos Yadlin, the former senior military officer who now heads Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies. He argues that recent Iranian claims designed to showcase how they are being cooperative do not bear close scrunity - with boasts about neutralising medium-enriched uranium simply being the fulfillment of the agreement Iran signed in January, and the offer on Arak being easily reversable whenever Iran decides to stage a nuclear breakout. He says that while the US and others negotiating with Iran are stressing the importance of tight inspections of Iranian nuclear infrastructure, this will not be enough and any deal must heavily cut centrifuge numbers and stockpiles of enriched uranium to be at all effective in preventing a quick nuclear breakout by Iran later. For his full argument, CLICK HERE. Yadlin recently published a longer and somewhat more technical discussion of the nuclear negotiations as well, here.

Next up is Yaakov Amidror, another former senior Israel general who subsequently served as head of Israel's National Security Council until last year. Amidror discusses a Brookings Institute paper outlining what a nuclear agreement might possibly look like written by Robert Einhorn, who until recently served as one of the Obama Administration's top officials focusing on the Iranian nuclear issue. He strongly questions the utility of the sort of agreement Einhorn advocates on the basis that he sees it making three unwarranted assumptions - that monitoring will be watertight, that international resolve to keep Iran from going nuclear will not erode over time, and that US threats to take severe punitive action if the deal is violated will be credible to the Iranians. For Amidror's detailed explanation of why he believes these assumptions are unwarranted, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Israeli strategic analyst, Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael  Segall of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs offers his assessment of the Iranian strategy in the current talks, set to resume in mid-May. He argues that the Iranians are basing their approach to the talks on a perception of the Western weakness stregthened by recent foreign policy floundering in the Ukraine, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian sphere. Segall collects numerous statements from Iranian leaders which appear to support this view, and predicts that a toughening of the Iranian stance in the talks looks likely in the next round. For all he has to say, CLICK HERE.

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World powers must reject Iranian offer

Analysis: Headlines about compromises and concessions offered by Tehran are simply part of its negotiation strategy.

Amos Yadlin

Yediot Ahronot, April 23, 2014

Those of us who only read the headlines on news websites this week might have received the impression that Iran is prepared to make significant concessions in regards to its nuclear plan, and that the Iranian military nuclear program crisis may already be behind us.

One headline announced that "Iran has neutralized half of its stockpile of higher-enriched uranium." Another headline reported that the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Salehi, declared that Iran and the world powers had reached an agreement on the technical changes which would reduce the production of the heavy water reactor in Arak – a reactor which would not be able to produce plutonium for a nuclear weapon after being completed.

Iran is allegedly showing willingness to compromise on the two routes leading to the development of a nuclear weapon: The uranium enrichment route and the plutonium production route. This is precisely the message Tehran is hoping to assimilate in the West.

But a look through the fine print in the published reports and a better understanding of the entire Iranian nuclear program lead to a completely different picture. Cutting the stockpile, for example, is not an Iranian concession but simply an implementation of the Iranian commitment as part of the interim agreement signed in November 2013. Tehran agreed to cut its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, which is not even sufficient for one bomb, in order to preserve the low-level stockpile of the element (3.5%) which is sufficient for at least six bombs.
 
This is the Iranian strategy in the negotiations with the world powers: To preserve and maximize their achievements and to minimize the concessions. So instead of accepting the powers' demand to alter the Arak reactor so that it would not be able to produce fissile material for a bomb, Iran is offering technical changes which will reduce the production ability, but will not abolish it. Such technical changes are reversible in case of an Iranian decision to violate the agreement.
 
Iran is trying to portray itself as a country prepared to make fundamental concessions, but at the same time it is preserving the core abilities in both routes it is developing for a nuclear weapon.

The American suggestion is to focus on the demand for a tight and unprecedented system of inspection of the Iranian nuclear program as part of a final agreement. This demand is necessary in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in the future, but it is insufficient. The international inspection systems are not perfect and have always known to fail. They already failed in the past to discover on time the efforts made by Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Iran to secretly develop a military nuclear program. These systems can cease to exist in case of a unilateral Iranian decision – like what happened with North Korea.

Agreement on limited enrichment ability

There is a need, therefore, to agree on parameters which will keep Iran away from the bomb by extending the time required to develop a nuclear weapon if it decides to expel the inspectors or quits the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As part of this demand, the powers must demand that Iran will dissolve most of the centrifuges and leave a symbolic number of non-advanced centrifuges. They must demand that the uranium enrichment stockpile in Iran will be limited to a low level and symbolic amount (less than the amount required for one bomb).

They must also demand the dismantlement of the enrichment site inside a mountain near Qom, which aims to guarantee a protected site immune to a quick breakthrough towards a bomb. They must demand that the Arak reactor will be altered so that it would not be used for military purposes and demand an answer to the open questions regarding the military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program.
 
They must also determine that the agreement will be approved by the Security Council and will be valid for many years – a period which will guarantee a real change in the Iranian strategic conduct.
 
Ali Salehi, who "reported" the agreement on Arak, spoke about the need to agree to increase (!) the number of Iran's centrifuges to 20,000 in order to produce 30 tons (!) of fuel for the Bushehr reactor. This suggestion must be rejected because Iran had no need for fuel production – it receives a sufficient amount from Russia – and because increasing the stockpile of centrifuges and enriched material will bring Iran closer to a bomb, rather than keeping it away.

The official Israeli stance still calls for a complete dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear program, but it seems that even Israel's close ally, the United States, has made up its mind to allow the Iranians to have a nuclear program under certain restrictions.

Therefore, even if the public Israeli statements play a role in preventing a further drift in the American stance in the negotiations with Iran, in closed rooms the Israelis and Americans must the outline of a final agreement Israel will be able to live with, even if it includes a limited Iranian ability to enrich uranium – providing that the time it takes Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, if it decides to do so, will be measured in years rather than in months and will enable the international community to detect a "breakthrough" towards a weapon, decide on a course of action and implement it before the Iranians reach a nuclear weapon.
 
Sticking to the official Israeli stance even in the discussion rooms could neuter the Israeli ability to influence the negotiations with Iran in which it is not present.

Major-General (res.) Amos Yadlin, a former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, serves as director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

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Israel can’t accept the emerging US-Iran accord

By YAAKOV AMIDROR
Jerusalem Post, 24/04/2014     

With such a flimsy agreement, I wonder what will be left of Western commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And Israel will have to draw its own conclusions.
 
Ostensibly, official US policy on Iran’s nuclear program is clear: The US will not allow Iran to produce a nuclear bomb. Moreover, US President Barack Obama has said that, for this purpose, “all options are on the table” – implying a military option as well. In addition, according to many reports in American newspapers, Obama has ordered the development of diversified US military capabilities with which to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, far beyond what existed in the previous administration – providing further evidence of the president’s seriousness.

But many people do not understand the meaning behind the vague statement, “We will not allow Iran to manufacture a nuclear bomb.” When will this happen? Who will decide that this is the time for action? How? What does “manufacture” mean? Robert Einhorn seeks to answer these questions in a 56-page comprehensive paper, just published by the Brookings Institution, titled “Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran: Requirements for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement.”

This paper cannot be ignored, since until a few months ago Einhorn was one of the top officials on Iran in the Obama administration, and he is very knowledgeable on the topic. (Einhorn was the secretary of state’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control. During the Clinton administration, he was assistant secretary for nonproliferation.) In addition to analyzing Iran’s intentions toward nuclear weapons and discussing the principal issues in the negotiations, Einhorn outlines the key requirements for an acceptable comprehensive agreement that, in his view, “would prevent Iran from having a rapid nuclear breakout capability and deter a future Iranian decision to build nuclear weapons.”

According to Einhorn, the essence of an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 could be as follows: Iran will retain the capability to produce the material necessary for a bomb (full fuel cycle), so theoretically it will be able to produce a bomb should it decide to do so. But the agreement that the US should try to reach will include the most sophisticated and exacting controls and monitoring, which will immediately spot any breakthrough in Iran’s nuclear program. The capability that Iran will be permitted under the agreement will be greatly reduced compared with its current capability (for example, far fewer centrifuges), so that from the moment of the breach and its identification, the US will have enough time to respond with very severe sanctions, and with force too, if necessary.

In order to dissuade the Iranians from advancing toward a bomb, it will be made clear to them by various means that Iran will pay a heavy price for violating the agreement, and that the US will respond quickly in the event of a violation to prevent any possibility of the Iranians reaping the rewards of the violation.

Einhorn proposes a new world of “deterrence” – not against the use of nuclear weapons, but against producing nuclear weapons. This deterrence is needed because this approach would permit the Iranians to keep the capability to produce a nuclear weapon. The West (and Israel) will have to live with this Iranian production capability, because it is a fact that, Einhorn says, cannot be change.

In short, violating the agreement will be cause for penalizing Iran, not the fact that Iran will have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon.

In my opinion, Israel should oppose such an agreement for three reasons.

• The proposal assumes that it will be possible to build a control and monitoring system that the Iranians won’t be able to deceive. This system will be partly built on the basis of monitoring arrangements agreed to by the Iranians, stricter than what the International Atomic Energy Agency currently carries out; and partly based on covert intelligence efforts that have been in place for many years.

However, the reality in other places as well as Iran itself indicates that there is no such thing as a monitoring system that cannot be sidestepped. There is no way to guarantee that the world will spot Iran’s efforts to cheat. American intelligence officials have publicly admitted that they cannot guarantee identification in real time of an Iranian breakout move to produce a nuclear weapon.

The Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans, and North Koreans, just like the Iranians, succeeded in tricking the world and concealing large parts of their system for building nuclear capabilities – for a very long time. Israel, too, failed to discover these nuclear programs for a long time. In each of these cases, there are specific reasons how and why the West did not see what was happening. But the accumulation of cases forces the assessment that Iran, too, will be able to deceive the West even after signing a monitoring agreement, and in my opinion is likely to do so, with a high degree of probability.

• Assuming that a violation of a nuclear agreement is identified, will the US respond immediately or begin a plodding process to clarify, verify, and confirm the alleged violation? Afterward, won’t the US, with or without its P5+1 partners, enter into negotiations with Iran about the situation? Would not the US, in line with international practice, compromise under the new circumstances? Such compromise can be expected to further facilitate slow but steady progress of the Iranian nuclear effort, to the point where it will be completely impossible to stop Iran’s program.

Anyone who thinks that a US administration would respond immediately to an Iranian agreement violation, without negotiations, is deluding himself. This will be especially true of a US administration years down the road in the indeterminate future, which will undoubtedly be less committed to the dictates of the agreement than its predecessor. Israel cannot accept the existential threat caused by this delusion. Our experience in this matter is clear and unequivocal.

How do I know that such an erosion in P5+1 determination to halt the Iranians will develop in the future? Doesn’t everyone want to prevent Iran from going nuclear? From a thorough study of the ongoing chain of P5+1 concessions ever since the negotiations with Iran began 15 years ago, I fear, and am certain of, an erosion of P5+1 resolve.

Over time, first the Europeans, and then the P5+1, together and separately, including the US, repeatedly lowered their demands of Iran.

The current excuse for a lower threshold of demands on Iran is not that the threshold is sufficient, but rather the very sad admission that “the Iranians will not agree to a higher and more strict threshold.” This statement reveals the defeatist mind-set of today’s P5+1 negotiators. In other words, for the world, the agreement is more important than the content; and in order to secure this desired agreement, it is worth waiving or forgoing the demands of Iran that two or three years earlier were considered essential. And thus, instead of asking how to bring the Iranians to an agreement, the threshold of world demands is constantly lowered.

The Iranians understand this, which is why they are dragging out the negotiations as long as possible while intensifying their efforts to get closer to the bomb. Over the years they have won significant concessions even before starting serious discussions about an agreement.

According to US Secretary of State John Kerry, the Iranians are just two months away from a bomb, a reality which is the end result of years of negotiations.

• The third leg on which the conciliatory approach rests is deterrence. The assumption is that Iran will understand that, if a breach is identified, the US will get into the thick of things and respond extremely harshly, up to and including the use of force against Iran.

Is this assumption valid in the contemporary world? Does anyone believe that the use of force is a possible option for the US? What are the chances that the US would obtain the support of the Security Council for the use of force against Iran? What are the chances that Washington would act without UN support? Is there any reason to think that, at the moment of truth, Iran would truly fear American military action for violating the agreement in a way that does not include an act of war or violation of the sovereignty of a neighboring state? What if the circumstances that will be chosen for violating the agreement by the Iranians will be when the US is engaged in another international crisis? In that case, would the administration really have the necessary energy to apply military force? Today, we more or less know that the Iranians assess the likelihood of an American military action against Iran’s nuclear program as very, very low, close to negligible – unless Iran precipitates hostilities in the Persian Gulf. Why should Iran think that the chances of this will increase in the future? If the past proves anything, it proves that the chances of American force in the future will only diminish.

Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that the world is dealing with Iran, a murderous Shi’ite revolutionary regime that seeks regional and even global hegemony; that sponsors international terrorism and stands behind the slaughter in Syria on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s side; and that has purposefully deceived the West time and time again regarding its nuclear program. Thus, Iran cannot at all be trusted to abide by any accord with the West.

Thus, the solution to the Iranian crisis proposed in the Brookings Institution paper – which I fear represents mainstream administration thinking – is unsound. None of its assumptions can be used as a good basis for an agreement: neither the assumption that a monitoring regime can guarantee identification, in real time, of Iranian violations; nor the assumption that the US will act with alacrity if a breach is identified; nor the assumption that, in the real world, Iran will truly be deterred by US threats.

Einhorn’s proposals for an agreement with Iran are important because of his expertise, and they are worrying because they probably represent mainstream thinking in today’s Washington. In any case, the proposals fall far from meeting the needs of Israel on this very existential matter. An agreement along the lines proposed in the Brookings paper would be far worse than the absence of an agreement, because it would improperly calm the nations of the world and permit full commercial relations with Iran.

With such a flimsy agreement, I wonder what will be left of Western commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And Israel will have to draw its own conclusions.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror is the Anne and Greg Rosshandler Senior Fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Until the end of 2013, he served as national security adviser to the prime minister and chairman of the National Security Council. Previously, he was commander of the IDF Military Colleges, military secretary to the defense minister, and director of the Intelligence Analysis Division in IDF Military Intelligence.

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Iranian Strategy Feeds Off Perceived Western Weakness

Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall

Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs
Vol. 14, No. 12    May 1, 2014

  • With a further round of the nuclear talks between Iran and the West to be held in mid-May, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei continues to encourage the advancement of Iran’s nuclear program. While giving the talks a green light, he is at the forefront of pessimism about the chances of reaching a comprehensive agreement.

  • Khamenei insisted that despite the ongoing talks, no activity in the R&D field would be stopped or slowed down. He stressed that the main advantage of Iran’s nuclear program is the “strengthening of national security,” a surprising admission considering Iran’s insistence that its nuclear program is only for civilian purposes.

  • Discussing the dilution of Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium to 5 percent, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Bahruz Kamalvandi made clear that Iran would not lose its uranium stockpiles: “We can convert the uranium enriched to 5 percent to a level of 20 percent in two or three weeks if we need to.”

  • Although not much time remains until July, the talks’ next round is not expected to produce a breakthrough toward a comprehensive agreement. Now that the talks have slipped from the international agenda, there is even less warrant for optimism.

  • Given Iran’s repeated statements in this regard, the situation assessment is basically one of Western weakness. This will likely lead Iran to toughen its position in the nuclear talks, or even derail them if it sees little chance of incurring damage for doing so.

A further round of the nuclear talks between Iran and the West is supposed to be held in mid-May, apparently in New York (at the expert level) and Vienna (at the senior level on May 13).  An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman disclosed that Iran and the P5+1 will start drafting the final nuclear agreement in Vienna, adding that guidelines for such agreements had already been set.1 In recent weeks, not to Iran’s displeasure, the issue has been pushed to the margins of the international agenda by the ongoing crisis over Ukraine between Russia (a main participant in the nuclear talks) and the West. At the same time, many questions still remain regarding Iran’s commitments under the Geneva agreement and to what extent it has honored them.

Khamenei Sees the Nuclear Program as Strengthening National Security

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who met early in April 2014 with employees of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) in connection with National Nuclear Technology Day (April 9), continues to encourage the advancement of Iran’s nuclear program. At the same time, he is at the forefront of pessimism about the chances of reaching a comprehensive agreement even as he continues to the give the talks a green light. Khamenei told the AEOI employees that whatever the circumstances, and despite the ongoing talks, no activity in the R&D field would be stopped or slowed down, and that the main advantage of Iran’s nuclear program is the “strengthening of national security.”

Khamenei again asserted that the West is using the nuclear issue to damage Iran’s international status, and said that was why “the government’s new policy of holding nuclear talks was adopted…so as to improve the international atmosphere regarding Iran and so that the other side would lose momentum and international public opinion would see the truth.” Khamenei also made clear, however, that the talks do not entail any Iranian retreat from scientific and nuclear progress, and called on the negotiating team to emphasize the ongoing R&D activity to the other side since “it is impossible to stop Iran’s nuclear achievements….No one has the right to negotiate about this and no one will do so.”

Khamenei stressed further that the negotiating team must not consent to any “forced statements” and that Iran’s relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should be “standard and non-extraordinary.”2 After the meeting Asghar Zare’an, the AEOI’s deputy security director, said that Khamenei “is not permitting the AEOI to stop any element of the nuclear program in light of the great debt we owe to the martyrs and especially those in the nuclear field.”3

President Rouhani also addressed the nuclear issue in a speech for National Army Day (April 18), during which he harshly criticized the Revolutionary Guard Corps (which made sure to get him back) for its involvement in the political arena.4 He had high praise for Iran’s international diplomatic power in the context of the nuclear talks. This diplomatic power, he said, stems from the popular will of the electorate, the instructions of the Supreme Leader, and the authority of the armed forces and the Iranian army. Rouhani asserted that the security forces and the courageous Iranian people are what enable the negotiating team and the other diplomatic actors to protect Iran’s interests effectively.5

Confidence-Building Measures

Meanwhile, Iran has been signaling to the West through statements and concrete steps that it is serious about reaching a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Some of these statements and measures have stirred bitter controversy between the different power centers in Iran. Associates of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad keep accusing the current government of weakening Iran’s nuclear program in the context of the talks with the West.

The head of the AEOI, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Iran had completed the process of diluting its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, converting 103 kilograms of it to the 5 percent enriched level. Salehi added that Iran intended to retain twenty thousand centrifuges for a period of five years to meet the nuclear fuel consumption requirements of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which is estimated at 30 tons. Iran, he said, had presented its plans regarding uranium enrichment to its partners in the talks, plans that include increasing the number of centrifuges from eighteen thousand to twenty thousand so as to supply the Bushehr reactor.6

At the same time, it was reported that beyond the requirement to dilute its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, Iran has begun, in line with its commitment in the Geneva agreement, to convert portions of its 5 percent enriched uranium UF6 (which it produced since the signing of the nuclear deal on November 24, 2013) to oxide (UO2).7 As for the Arak heavy water production plant, Salehi said no substantial changes would be made in the reactor at Arak, but its capacity to produce plutonium would be reduced to one-fifth, and therefore the dispute on this issue between Iran and the West “has virtually been resolved.”

Salehi added that Iran “has no problem” with the IAEA visiting its Parchin military site if the organization offers a

logical reason and conclusive evidence….We still do not know why they want to visit Parchin for a third time….They say they have some information and we have told them to pass the information to us to make sure about its validity, which they have refused to do so far.8

From 5 to 20 Percent Enrichment in Two Weeks

Following reports in the local and international media about the dilution of Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium to 5 percent, AEOI spokesman Bahruz Kamalvandi emphasized that Iran had not yet begun the process of converting its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to uranium oxide, or the 5 percent enriched uranium that had accumulated since the signing of the agreement, since the building of the facilities required for this process was not yet complete.9 He said Iran would honor its commitments by July 20, 2014, the prospective date for the signing of the comprehensive agreement.10 Kamalvandi made clear that oxidizing 5 percent enriched uranium does not mean destroying all the uranium Iran possesses and that Iran would not lose its uranium stockpiles: “We can convert the uranium enriched to 5 percent to a level of 20 percent in two or three weeks if we need to.”11

Iran’s Rights Enshrined in the NPT

Spokesmen for the Iranian negotiating team continue to emphasize, amid growing domestic criticism, that Iran will keep insisting on its right to maintain a peaceful nuclear program and will not submit to the pressures of its negotiating partners. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, a senior member of the negotiating team, noted during a debriefing with members of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee that Iran has attained scientific and technological capabilities in the nuclear domain, and is engaging in the negotiations as “a power with peaceful nuclear capabilities.” He added that the comprehensive agreement would guarantee Iran’s right to nuclear technology in line with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.12

Mohammad Ali Esfanani, spokesman for the Majlis Legal and Judicial Commission, claimed that the Geneva agreement actually guarantees Iran’s right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The West, he said, will not be able to manipulate the wording of the comprehensive agreement to undermine Iran’s rights as enshrined in the NPT. “Iranian nuclear activities are under the NPT rules and regulations and Tehran will not accept any demand beyond it.”13

Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said during the council’s first session of the year that

the [nuclear] negotiations which began upon a decision by the Supreme Leader are going ahead with full supervision of the leadership to ensure that Iranian rights enshrined by the Non-Proliferation Treaty be respected.

He said that the Iranian negotiating team needs support from all political parties in the country to help the nuclear negotiations yield fruit.14

The Talks Reveal the True Face of the West

With the new round of talks approaching, Friday sermonizers have been focusing on the issue and stressing Khamenei’s firm stance and pessimistic view of the nuclear negotiations’ likely results. For example, Hojjat Al-Islam Mehdi Mohammad Saeedi, a Friday preacher in Qom (Iran’s religious-political center), asserted:

Iran’s enemies are acting to create a negative atmosphere against Iran in the international arena, but their scheme has been thwarted by the wisdom of the Leader Khamenei….The nuclear talks are just [another] excuse to vilify Iran….The talks with the enemy do not solve Iran’s problems but continue to reveal the true Satanic face of the enemy to everyone.15

Meanwhile, conservative elements continue to accuse the Rouhani government of lack of transparency regarding the negotiations and “silencing” of critics of the conduct of the talks. Majlis member Seyyed Mahmud Nabavian said that “most unfortunately and despite its promises to protect freedom of speech, the government is not allowing its critics to express themselves,” and complained that the Supreme National Security Council had filed charges against him for criticizing the Geneva agreement. He added that before publicly criticizing it, he had conveyed his text to Araqchi and requested his response.16

Mohammad Reza Mohseni-Sani, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said the U.S. decision to deny a visa to Iran’s appointed ambassador to the United Nations would likely have a negative effect on the nuclear talks:

Naturally the issue…will leave impacts on the negotiation process and our negotiators should be careful about such U.S. behavior during negotiations and about the (existing) distrust.

The Iranian lawmaker further said Obama’s recent move signified the fact that “the wall of distrust” between the two countries has grown taller.17

Situation Assessment: Western Weakness

Although not much time remains until July, the talks’ next round is not expected to produce a breakthrough toward a comprehensive agreement. Now that the talks have slipped from the international agenda, there is even less warrant for optimism. This situation, however, further highlights Iran’s internal tensions between the Rouhani government and the conservative elements, led by the Revolutionary Guard Corps, over the conduct of the negotiations. At the same time, it is clear that both sides want to reach the goal of a military-nuclear threshold capability.

Khamenei remains in the sidelines, trying to balance the internal power equation regarding the nuclear issue, which also has implications for Iran’s economy. Maneuvering carefully between the camps, his statements indicate that, on the one hand, he favors the talks as a means of improving Iran’s international status (like Rouhani) while, on the other, he is deeply pessimistic about their chances of success, given the “Satanic” nature of the United States. His instructions to the negotiating team reflect his awareness of the critics’ demands.

Iran is constantly updating its situation assessment regarding the talks, taking account of the domestic tensions but mainly focusing on regional and international developments and the prospects and risks they pose for Iran. In the regional arena, as statements by senior figures make clear, Iran sees its main ally, Bashar Assad, and main proxy, Hizbullah, as succeeding in the Syrian arena despite Hizbullah’s casualties and the impact on Lebanon. Iran is also well aware that U.S.-Saudi tensions are mounting and that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has apparently run aground, while the actors subject to Iran’s influence – Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – are gaining strength.

In the international arena, Iran sees ongoing weakness and lack of vision in U.S. and European policy toward the Ukrainian crisis as well as the Palestinian issue, and the ignoring of the continued use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The situation assessment, then, is basically one of Western weakness. This will likely lead Iran to toughen its position in the nuclear talks, or even derail them if it sees little chance of incurring damage for doing so. The ongoing erosion of the sanctions regime and a sense of gaining the upper hand are factors impelling Iran in that direction. The weekly bulletin of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, in analyzing the nuclear talks so far, asserted that the United States and the West face daunting problems in the regional and international arenas, economic challenges at home, growing competition among the powers, and no longer have unlimited options as they once did. Over the past two years they have displayed a passive approach to significant developments. It is this reality that explains their conduct in the nuclear talks, since they have no other option in the international arena if the attempt at an agreement fails.18

If this is the prevailing mood in Iran on the eve of the next round of talks, there is cause for concern.

Notes

  1. http://tinyurl.com/ForeignMinistrySpokeswoman
  2. https://twitter.com/khamenei_ir/status/454527711667425281; http://farsi.khamenei.ir/video-content?id=26124
  3. http://mobile.tasnimnews.com/fa/%D8%AE%D8%A8%D8%B1/1393/01/21/333726
  4. http://www.rouhani.ir/event.php?event_id=402
  5. https://twitter.com/HassanRouhani/status/457181004885549057/photo/1
  6. http://aftabnews.ir/fa/news/240314/%D8%B5%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%DB%8C%E2%80%8C-%D8%B1%D8%A2%DA%A9%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A7%DA%A9-%D8%A2%D8%A8-%D8%B3%D9%86%DA%AF%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%82%DB%8C-%D9%85%DB%8C%E2%80%8C%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AF
  7. http://www.tasnimnews.com/Home/Single/344427?ref=ghatreh
  8. http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2014/04/19/359273/dispute-over-arak-reactor-almost-over/
  9. According to the Geneva agreement, Iran has to dilute half its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, about 200 kilograms, to uranium oxide (UO2).
  10. http://isna.ir/fa/news/93013012680/%DA%A9%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%88%D9%86%D8%AF%DB%8C-%D9%87%D9%86%D9%88%D8%B2-%D8%A7%DA%A9%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%AF-%DA%A9%D8%B1%D8%AF%D9%86-%D8%B0%D8%AE%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1-%D8%AC%D8%AF%DB%8C%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C%D9%88%D9%85
  11. http://isna.ir/fa/news/93020100486/%DA%A9%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%88%D9%86%D8%AF%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%AE%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA-%D8%B4%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A7%DB%8C%DB%8C-%D8%AD%D9%82-%D8%BA%D9%86%DB%8C-%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%B2%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%B1
  12. http://www.irna.ir/en/News/2673182/Politic/Iran_determined_to_continue_with_nuclear_talks_with_West__Dy_FM
  13. http://www.irna.ir/en/News/2673107/Politic/Interim_nuclear_agreement_guarantees_Iran%CB%88s_rights__MP
  14. http://www.irna.ir/en/News/2672533/Politic/Rafsanjani__Iran_insists_on_nuclear_rights_amid__rapprochement_with_West
  15. http://kayhan.ir/fa/news/10305
  16. http://farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=13930128000503
  17. http://www.tasnimnews.com/English/Home/Single/343364
  18. http://ssweekly.ir/%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%87-%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%B7%D8%B1%D8%AD-%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%AA%D8%B1%DA%A9-%D9%88-%D9%85%D8%B0%D8%A7%DA%A9%D8%B1%D8%A7/
IDF Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael (Mickey) Segall, an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East, is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Terrogence Company.

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