Archive for the 'Iran’s Domestic Political Developments' Category

Weekly roundup

Articles and reports from the past week
“Calibrating the dual-track approach of sanctions and diplomacy”

With the EU and the US passing additional sanctions against Iran, George Perkovich calls sanctions “the least bad option” in the absence of a military option. Perkovich adds that while the EU and the US increase international pressure, “outside actors” should create opportunities for cooperation with Iran (Carnegie Endowment). However, Ray Takeyh criticizes this “dual-track” approach, arguing that Iran will be less likely to cede its “nuclear trump card” amidst the growing imbalance of conventional power. Takeyh believes internal reform through the Green Movement is necessary for constructive nuclear dialogue (Herald Tribune).

“Ahmadinejad sets conditions for negotiations”
President Ahmadinejad announced Iran’s conditions for international negotiations, which he said would not take place before the end of August. Ahmadinejad called on the P5+1 to clarify their positions on Israel’s nuclear program, their committments under the NPT, and whether they seek friendship or emnity with Iran (Reuters). However, Iran’s delay on talks does not apply to Turkey and Brazil, and Ahmadinejad described the fuel swap deal as a potential means of engagement. Turkey and Russia have stated their interest in pursuing the fuel swap deal (Christian Science Monitor), and the G8 stated that they “welcome and commend” the diplomatic efforts of Brazil and Turkey (MOFA).

“US unable to divide Syria and Iran”
The Wall Street Journal reports that Iran has supplied Syria with a sophisticated radar system that could provide early warning of any Israeli air attack. Both countries deny the report, which could complicate the US’s strategy of engaging Syria (Wall Street Journal). Nicholas Blanford reviews some of the potential factors behind the US’s inability to draw Syria away from Iran, including Washington’s prioritization of other issues, Israel’s lack of enthusiasm for peace talks with Syria, closer ties between Syria and Hezbollah, and the shift in Turkey’s Israel policy (Christian Science Monitor).

“Saudi Arabia seeks assurance on US policy on Iran”
Saudi King Abdullah met with US President Obama on Tuesday amidst growing differences of opinion regarding Iran and other regional issues. According to analysts, Riyadh believes sanctions will be ineffective but has no alternative solutions (AFP). Simon Henderson argues that Riyadh does not believe the US can stop Iran’s nuclear efforts, leading the kingdom to pursue its own nuclear energy program. Henderson adds that Riyadh also hopes to put some distance in its relationship with Washington to gain more regional credibility among Sunni states (Foreign Policy).

“Tracing history and future of Iran’s nuclear program”
Der Spiegel provides a detailed 2-part overview of Iran’s nuclear program (Der Spiegel), while Joseph Cirincione and Elise Connor look at the remaining steps Iran will have to take to develop a nuclear weapon (Foreign Policy).

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Weekly roundup

Articles and reports from the past week
“New reports of Saudi-Israeli military cooperation against Iran”

The Times reports that Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow Israel to use its airspace in an attack on Iran, conducting tests to disengage its air defenses against Israeli jets (Times). Israel and Saudi Arabia have both denied the reports (Asharq Alawsat, Haaretz).
Similar reports have surfaced before, including the summer of last year (Times, Huffington Post).

“Looking for next steps after UN sanctions”
Amid widespread criticism over the efficacy of sanctions, Matthew Levitt counters that the new UN sanctions were precisely targeted and pave the way for additional US and European sanctions (Foreign Policy). The US and the EU already imposed new sanctions this week (Reuters, AP).
However, the Wall Street Journal reports that Germany increased its exports to Iran in the first quarter, pointing out that enforcement remains a key challenge (Wall Street Journal). David Sanger writes that the US, facing expectations that the latest sanctions will fail to stop Iran’s nuclear program, is also implementing strategies involving military containment and the luring away of Iran’s nuclear experts (New York Times).

“Russia keeps options open on S-300 sale”
An unnamed Russian source claims Russia is freezing a contract to sell S-300 air defense missiles to Iran based on the stipulations of the latest UN sanctions (AFP). However, the Foreign Ministry and other officials have indicated that the sanctions will not affect the contract (RIA Novosti, RT). Oliver Bloom details how the sanctions would not specifically prohibit the sale of the S-300 and only call for “vigilance and restraint” over the transfer of arms (CSIS).
Russia’s failure to deliver the system since the contract was first disclosed in 2007 has been a point of friction with Iran (Reuters). Russia is now offering the S-300 system to Turkey as well (RIA Novosti).

“Vienna Group, Iran send cautious signals on fuel swap”
President Ahmadinejad indicated Tehran’s willingness to pursue nuclear negotiations with major powers but promised that conditions for such talks would be announced soon (AFP). US officials also stated that the nuclear fuel swap deal could be the basis for negotiations, and Laura Rozen points out that the Vienna Group’s list of concerns regarding the Tehran Declaration could be interpreted as a “position paper” for potential future talks (Politico).
Meanwhile, Iran’s parliament called on the government to continue enriching uranium to 20% in response to “the bullying countries” (AFP).

“Green Movement unable to truly challenge state”
The one-year anniversary of last year’s controversial reelection of President Ahmadinejad was marked by “sporadic but minor clashes” in Tehran after opposition leaders cancelled protests (Al Jazeera). With the government appearing to be stable after surviving its internal instability, Juan Cole analyzes the Green Movement’s limitations and argues that the US should engage with the current regime in direct negotiations (Informed Comment).
Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett accuse Western journalists of overestimating the Green Movement’s strength (Foreign Policy). However, Karim Sadjadpour argues that the government has been delegitimized and faces stark economic challenges, and the Green Movement represents a long-term effort toward civil rights (Carnegie Endowment).

Weekly roundup

Articles and reports from the past week
“UN sanctions passed without unanimity for first time”

The UN Security Council passed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran with 12 votes in favor, 2 against by Turkey and Brazil, and 1 abstention by Lebanon. No UNSC member had voted against any of the previous 3 sanctions. The US called the sanctions the “toughest” imposed on Iran, but Iranian leaders said their nuclear program would continue (Christian Science Monitor). AFP lists the new Iranian entities and individuals targeted by the sanctions (AFP).
Despite US claims of a diplomatic victory, analysts are calling the sanctions “remarkably weak” (Race for Iran) and “ineffective (Foreign Policy), and James M. Lindsay argues that division within the UNSC makes tougher sanctions in the future unlikely (Council on Foreign Relations).

“US, Iran avoid rejecting nuclear fuel swap deal”
Despite earlier warnings that new UN sanctions would derail talks on the proposed nuclear fuel swap, Iran has indicated would continue its cooperation with Turkey and Brazil (Today’s Zaman). Unnamed diplomats had previously stated that the Vienna Group (US, Russia and France) had rejected the fuel swap proposal (AP), but US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reports the US is prepared to meet with Iran to discuss the Iran-Turkey-Brazil agreement (Today’s Zaman).

“Iran sidesteps sanctions with shell companies, key alliances”
Jo Becker outlines some of Iran’s tactics for circumventing sanctions by using networks of shell companies (New York Times). Thomas Erdbrink and Colum Lynch write that Iran has also succeeded in building alliances with states such as Turkey, Brazil, India and Japan, though Karim Sadjadpour argues that these states will not jeopardize their relationship with the US for Iran (Washington Post).
The US has appointed a new Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control to oversee the implementation of all UN sanctions against Iran and North Korea (US Department of State).

“Iran threatens to downgrade relations with IAEA”
As the IAEA convened a quarterly Board of Governors meeting with Iran on the agenda, Iran’s parliament announced it will draft a bill to reduce relations with the agency (The National). IAEA head Yukiya Amano recently described Iran as a “special case” for the agency (AFP).
Mark Hibbs outlines the agenda of the Board of Governors meeting (Carnegie Endowment).

“Iran one year after Ahmadinejad’s reelection”
Foreign Policy magazine provides special coverage on Iran one year after the controversial reelection of President Ahmadinejad. A series of articles assesses the Western media’s coverage of Iran’s domestic politics and the significance of the Green Movement (Foreign Policy). Meanwhile, Abbas Milani, Gary Sick, Karim Sadjadpour and Steve Inskeep discuss the impact of last year’s elections (Carnegie Endowment).
Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the elections, but opposition leaders Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have called off planned protests due to safety concerns (New York Times).
Trita Parsi argues that international pressure on Iran is helping the government sideline the domestic opposition (Bloomberg).

Weekly roundup

Articles and reports from the past week
“Companies feeling more pressure to cut Iran ties”

The New York Times reports that US efforts to pressure Western companies to isolate Iran are extending beyond banks and financial institutions and causing major manufacturers and service providers to reduce or end affiliations with Iran (New York Times). However, Simone Dinah Hartmann strongly criticizes Austria for cultivating its business ties with Iran and increasing exports by 6% in 2009, accusing Vienna of “appeasement” (Wall Street Journal).
Iran has passed new tax exemptions for foreign investment in its capital markets and raised its cap on foreign ownership of Iranian companies from 10% to 20% (Reuters, PressTV), and officials claim the Revolutionary Guard Corps has the technological know-how to replace foreign firms on major energy projects (Associated Press).

“Despite hard talk, Russia seeks to maintain Iran ties”
Foreign companies withdrawing from Iran include Russian’s Lukoil, which was involved in a major oil development project named Anaran, but Russian firms with fewer US ties, such as Gazprom, remain engaged in other development projects (Mianeh).
A Xinhua analysis argues that Russia is hardening its stance against Iran to facilitate improving ties with the US but remains unlikely to substantially cut ties with Iran (Xinhua). However, Iranian daily Tehran-e Emrooz speculates that Russia is now attempting to persuade Turkey to adopt an anti-Iran stance and support international sanctions (MEMRI).

Iranian economy’s biggest vulnerability: Iran (Middle East Channel)
Patrick Barry provides a detailed outline of systematic weaknesses in Iran’s economic infrastructure, arguing that the US should refrain from imposing sanctions and allow Iran’s economy to deteriorate of its own accord. Barry adds that Iran’s plan to achieve self-sufficiency in gasoline in 2 or 3 years will nullify the effects of sanctions targeting gasoline imports.

Iran strikes secret nuclear mining deal with Zimbabwe (Daily Telegraph)
The Telegraph reports that Iran has signed a secret deal with Zimbabwe to obtain access to the latter’s uranium deposits in exchange for supplying oil.

Iran’s opposition urges protests on anniversary of disputed election (The National)
Leaders of Iran’s opposition Green Movement are calling reformist groups to file official requests to hold rallies on June 12, the anniversary of last year’s controversial election.

Weekly roundup

Articles and reports from the past week
“Iran unveils new centrifuges; US predicts bomb capacity in 2-5 years”
Iran’s new third-generation centrifuges have six times the separation capacity of previous centrifuges and can handle higher quantities of uranium, according to AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi (Press TV). ISIS provides an outline of available information and key remaining questions on the new centrifuges (ISIS).
US military officials testified to the senate that Iran could produce enough weapons-grade fuel for at least one bomb in 1 year and manufacture a workable nuclear bomb in 2 to 5 years, though there is no evidence that Iran’s leaders have decided to do so (New York Times).

“Turkey, Brazil step up efforts during US nuclear security summit”
At the sidelines of the US Nuclear Security Summit, the heads of state of Turkey and Brazil urged US President Obama to pursue an Iran strategy based on diplomacy rather than sanctions. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is visiting Brazil ahead of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s visit to Tehran next month (Today’s Zaman). Davutoglu stated that the nuclear fuel swap deal could still be revived (Reuters).

Iran: US using ‘nuclear blackmail’ (CBS News)
Iranian leaders are criticizing the US for indicating that nuclear weapons could be used against Iran. CBS News provides a copy of Iran’s letter to UN leaders accusing the US of engaging in “nuclear blackmail” with its new Nuclear Posture Review and comments made by top US officials.

“Parliament blocks full subsidy cuts, limits own regulatory authority”
President Ahmadinejad has agreed to facilitate the Iranian parliament’s decision to cut subsidies by $20 million. Ahmadinejad had previously been pushing for a $40-million cut to subsidies on gasoline and other basic goods (Press TV).
In a separate decision, the parliament delegated the role of regulating the powerful Guardian Council, Assembly of Experts, Supreme National Council and Expediency Council to the Supreme Council of Revising Laws. Nazila Fathi describes the move as another step demonstrating the power of officials appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei over elected representatives (New York Times).

“China remains cautious on sanctions”
Despite headlines (1, 2) suggesting that China is now supporting sanctions against Iran, Chinese officials have agreed only to participate in discussions while maintaining that sanctions will not resolve the nuclear issue. The US has offered China support to secure alternative energy suppliers (Agence France-Presse). The P5+1 held their third meeting on sanctions on Thursday, emphasizing a “dual-track” strategy of diplomatic engagement and pressure through sanctions (Associated Press).

Iran reaches out to Saudi Arabia (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Asharq Al-Awsat reports that Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is reaching out to Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal to discuss regional issues, possibly including Iran’s nuclear program.

Weekly roundup

Articles and reports from the past week
“US seeks momentum with NPR, START ahead of NPT Review Conference”
The new US Nuclear Posture Review, the first to be fully unclassified, makes the following declarations:

“The fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons, which will continue as long as nuclear weapons exist, is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners.”

“[T]he United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations”

Although the NPR declares Iran to be in “non-compliance with non-proliferation norms”, key questions remain over how to determine “compliance with…non-proliferation obligations” and Iran’s nuclear status, and the nature of the non-“fundamental” purposes of US nuclear weapons are unspecified (Examiner, Guardian).
However, some analysts argue the NPR and the newly signed START follow-on treaty give the US momentum and political credibility ahead of this month’s US Nuclear Security Summit and the May NPT Review Conference (Council on Foreign Relations).

“P5+1 press ahead with sanctions meeting”
The UN ambassadors of the P5+1 states met to discuss UNSC sanctions against Iran (BBC). China, while reiterating its call for continued dialogue, has confirmed it will participate in relevant discussions (Associated Press). Russian President Medvedev stated that he had “outlined [Russia’s] limits on sanctions” in discussions with US President Obama, and any new sanctions are expected to target Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Guardian).
Iran restated its willingness to negotiate a nuclear fuel swap on Iranian territory (Reuters).

“Israel reaffirms nuclear policy amid growing attention to undeclared arsenal”
Israel has reaffirmed its policy of deliberate ambiguity over its undeclared nuclear arsenal (Global Security Newswire). The comments came as Israel moves ahead with plans to develop new civilian nuclear reactors despite challenges in finding international partners due to its status outside the NPT (ISN).
Prime Minister Netanyahu has reversed his decision to attend the US Nuclear Security Summit reportedly after learning Egypt and Turkey would call on Israel to sign the NPT, though US commentators believe the real reason is tensions with the US over settlements in East Jerusalem (Politico).

Can the CIA sabotage Iran’s nuclear project? (Agence France-Presse)
Dan De Luce writes that Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri’s defection has renewed speculation over CIA efforts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear efforts, though it remains unclear how much intelligence Amiri can provide. Covert US efforts have involved drawing human resources out of Iran and introducing faulty components into Iran’s nuclear supply chain.

“Khamenei supports Ahmadinejad’s campaign for more subsidy cuts”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has voiced his support for President Ahmadinejad’s continued campaign to cut $40 billion in state subsidies on gasoline and other basic goods (New York Times). The parliament approved a $20-billion cut in January. The cuts could reduce Iran’s vulnerability to international sanctions on gasoline imports, though officials continue to insist that sanctions would be ineffective (Associated Press).

Weekly roundup

Articles and reports from the past week
“Economic challenges, subsidy-cut legislation threaten more domestic unrest”
President Ahmadinejad suggested a referendum to pass subsidy cuts that have been blocked by parliament. The cuts are raising concern over increased inflation and domestic unrest (Daily Star).
Jahangir Amuzegar outlines Iran’s economic difficulties, arguing that worsening conditions will add stress to domestic political turmoil (Carnegie Endowment).
Related post: “Growing economic concerns add to Tehran’s troubles”

“Sanctions watered down in face of continued difficulties”
David E. Sanger outlines some of the challenges faced by the US in pushing for additional UN sanctions against Iran, concluding that each successive round of sanctions becomes more difficult to pursue (New York Times).
In light of expected Chinese and Russian opposition, US and European officials have reportedly softened their proposals, dropping an attempt to ban trade of refined petroleum products (Los Angeles Times). European officials are denying reports that the UK and Germany are urging the US to soften the potential UN resolution on Iran (Politico).
Persia House reports that Iran has been “hoarding” gasoline ahead of potential sanctions (Persia House).

“China and Russia pressed Iran to accept U.N. deal”
The New York Times reports that Russia and China unsuccessfully urged Iran to accept the proposed nuclear fuel swap deal earlier this month, indicating that the two UNSC permanent members may be feeling pressure as Western efforts toward additional sanctions continue (New York Times).
Despite its declared opposition to sanctions, China joined a conference call of senior foreign ministry officials from the P5+1 states to discuss the proposed UN resolution (Reuters).

“Defining a containment strategy for a nuclear-armed Iran”
Mark Heinrich writes that some Western analysts are looking toward defining a “Cold War-style” containment strategy to deal with a nuclear-armed Iran. Such a strategy would work to prevent Iran from starting a conventional war, transferring nuclear information or materials to others, and support militant attacks abroad (Reuters).
See also “After Iran Gets the Bomb” by James M. Lindsay and Ray Takeyh (Foreign Affairs).

“Israel faces increased criticism over recent foreign policy”
Juan Cole argues that Israel’s controversial decision to expand settlements in East Jerusalem is hindering US and Israeli efforts to push for strong sanctions against Iran (Informed Comment). Orly Halpern argues that Israel is undermining its own security and international standing with its recent actions, including its continued exaggeration of the Iranian threat (Middle East Channel).