Good cop, bad cop: Iran nuclear chief defiant on key demand

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Iran’s hardline nuclear chief vowed Tuesday that Iran would continue to produce 20% enriched uranium as long as it needs, in defiance of a key international demand in negotiations expected to resume in the coming weeks.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will not suspend 20 percent uranium enrichment because of the demands of others,” Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI), was cited Tuesday by Iranian news agencies, Reuters reported.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will produce 20 percent enriched uranium to meet its needs and for however long it is required,” he said.

Iran has said it needs to domestically enrich the 20% fuel to provide isotopes to treat Iranian cancer patients.

Abbasi’s comments came a day after Iran’s foreign minister struck a conciliatory tone, expressing optimism about prospects for progress at upcoming nuclear talks. “Both sides … have concluded that they have to exit the current impasse,” Salehi said Monday (Dec 17). “Iran wants its legitimate and legal right and no more.”

Diplomats are still uncertain when a new round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 will be held, though the working assumption is that it will come together next month. A spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told Al-Monitor Tuesday they had still not heard back from Iran on dates they had proposed last week.

“We did make an offer with regard to venue and timing for another round, but we have yet to hear from the Iranians on this,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told journalists at a press conference Monday. “So really, the ball is in the Iranians’ court.”

Amid the uncertainty on the P5+1 track,  Iran expressed interest in moving forward with talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A senior IAEA team visited Iran this month, pronouncing it a useful visit, and is due to return January 16th. Continue reading

Iran FM: Iran, world powers seek ‘exit’ from nuclear stalemate

Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Monday he is optimistic about upcoming Iran nuclear talks and that both sides seek to move past the current diplomatic impasse.

“Both sides”—Iran and the P5+1—“have concluded that they have to exit the current impasse,” Salehi said in an interview published Monday (Dec 17) by the Iran Student News Agency (ISNA), first reported in English by Reuters.

“Iran wants its legitimate and legal right and no more,” Salehi continued. “They know very well Iran will not give up its legitimate right.”

Iran’s top diplomat said he didn’t know when the next round of talks will be held.

A spokesperson for the office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told Al-Monitor Monday they had no new word from Iran on when they would meet.

Ashton’s deputy Helga Schmid spoke with her Iranian counterpart Dr. Ali Bagheri last week (Dec 12) to propose possible meeting dates as early as this week. But diplomats said they expected a meeting is more likely to materialize in January.

Salehi told ISNA he could not comment on the P5+1 package Iran had received.

Western diplomats have indicated that the proposal has been updated from the “stop, ship and shut” package presented to Iran at a meeting in Baghdad last May, but have provided no details on the changes.

“The package has the same bone structure, but with some slightly different tattoos,” a senior US official was cited by the Washington Post Friday.

“Our assessment is that it is possible that they are ready to make a deal,” the official said. Continue reading

Iran diplomat: Iran looking for endgame in nuclear talks

An Iranian diplomat tasked with liaising with foreign policy experts told reporters Friday he’s not very optimistic about upcoming nuclear talks, but did not rule out the prospect of a compromise on Iran’s 20% enrichment activities.

“Personally speaking, I am not optimistic,” Mostafa Dolatyar, the head of the Iranian foreign ministry think tank IPIS, told reporters at the Iranian embassy in New Delhi on Friday, Reuters reported.

“They”—the six powers that comprise the P5+1, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia—“have made certain connections with purely technical issues and something purely political,” Dolatyar continued. “As far as this is the mentality … from [the] 5+1…definitely there is no end for this game.”

Deputy nuclear negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 held a phone conversation Wednesday to initiate logistical planning for a new round of nuclear negotiations, Al-Monitor reported (December 12). Preparations for a new meeting have gotten underway as the six powers have been debating how to update a proposal  on curbing Iran’s higher 20% enrichment work, first presented to Iran at a meeting in Baghdad last May.

“The package has the same bone structure, but with some slightly different tattoos,” a senior US official was cited by the Washington Post Friday.

“Our assessment is that it is possible that they are ready to make a deal,” the official said. “Certainly, the pressure is on.”

Al-Monitor first reported in October that Iran’s leadership had tapped Dolatyar to serve as a central point of contact for approaches from outside-government foreign NGOs and nonproliferation experts, in an effort to reduce mixed messages ahead of anticipated resumed nuclear negotiations.

“Mostafa Dolatyar, a career Iranian diplomat who heads the Iranian foreign ministry think tank, the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), was tapped by Iran’s leadership to coordinate contacts with American outside-government policy experts, including those with former senior US officials involved unofficially in relaying ideas for shaping a possible nuclear compromise,” Al-Monitor wrote October 31.

The appointment is the result of a desire “on the Iranian side for a more structured approach to dealing with America,” Mark Fitzpatrick, an Iran nuclear expert at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, told Al-Monitor in October.

Ahead of a new meeting–the date is still unclear, international negotiators have been debating how to update a proposal that would curb Iran’s higher 20% enrichment work on a short time table, given the size of Iran’s accumulated stockpile of fissile material and the concern that the Iranian leadership may become more politically distracted and uncompromising as it heads into its presidential elections in June.

Dolatyar, speaking to reporters Friday, offered a rationale for Iran’s 20% enrichment activities, saying it needed the fuel for medical purposes, but did not rule out the possibility of a compromise. Continue reading

Israel FM Lieberman resigns

Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has announced his intent to resign a day after he was indicted for fraud and breach of trust, though he’s still expected to stand in Israeli Knesset elections next month, the BBC reports:

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has resigned after being charged with fraud and breach of trust following a long-running investigation.

Mr Lieberman has also resigned as deputy prime minister, and said he would fight to clear his name of the charges. … His resignation comes five weeks before Israel’s general election.

Lieberman,  the leader of Israel’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, had said Thursday that he did not intend to resign, but would make a decision after consulting with his attorneys. Continue reading

Rice drops SecState bid, and other appointment RUMINT

UN envoy Susan Rice has decided to withdraw her name from consideration for Secretary of State after she came under bruising partisan attacks for her comments about the circumstances under which four US personnel were killed in Benghazi in September, the White House confirmed on Thursday, after an NBC report.

President Obama praised Rice in a statement saying he had accepted her decision, and expressed gratitude she’s agreed to stay on as his UN envoy and a key member of his national security cabinet.

With Obama huddling at the White House most of this week for fiscal cliff negotiations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton out sick with a stomach bug, and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visiting US troops in Kuwait and Afghanistan, the White House is not expected to announce new cabinet secretary nominations this week, an unnamed senior White House official told NBC’s Chuck Todd Thursday.

That has hardly stopped the rumor mill from going on overdrive, though sources close to the White House said Obama had not finally decided on some posts as of last Friday (December 7). Continue reading

Israel AG drops graft charges against Lieberman, indicts for breach of trust

Israel’s Attorney General on Thursday announced that after a twelve year investigation, he is dropping major money laundering and graft charges against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but intends to indict him for breach of trust, Haaretz reports:

On Thursday Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced Thursday the decision to close the major case against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, thereby concluding a 12-year investigation.

Weinstein closed the main case against Lieberman, which involves allegations of money-laundering, fraud, and breach of trust, on suspicion he received millions of dollars from international tycoons like Martin Schlaff and Mikhail Chernoy through foreign companies while he was serving in public positions.

However, Weinstein announced his decision to indict Lieberman for breach of trust for allegedly working to promote former ambassador to Belarus Ze'ev Ben Aryeh without reporting that Ben Aryeh had given Lieberman information about the investigation against him being conducted in Belarus. There are those in the legal community who believe that while Lieberman's alleged actions in this instance may have been ethically improper, it isn't clear that any illegalities were involved.

So can Lieberman still serve? Maybe. Haaretz: Continue reading

EU, Iran discuss new nuclear talks

European Union deputy foreign policy chief Helga Schmid on Wednesday spoke by phone with her Iranian counterpart Ali Bagheri to discuss possible dates and locations for a new round of Iran nuclear talks, a European diplomat told Al-Monitor Wednesday.

It is still unclear if talks will resume before or after the new year, the diplomat said.

“We hope that agreement with Iran can soon be reached on how to continue the talks and make concrete progress towards addressing international concerns and finding a diplomatic solution,” a statement from the office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

The phone contact to initiate logistical planning for a new meeting comes as the six powers that comprise the P5+1 have been seeking internal consensus on how to update the proposal to present to Iran at the next meeting, Al-Monitor reported this week. Pressure is high to shape and reach a deal that would curb Iran's higher 20% enrichment work on a short time table, given the size of Iran's accumulated stockpile of fissile material and the concern that Iran may become even more politically distracted and uncompromising as it heads into its presidential elections in June.

The recent internal consultations have been close-hold, given the desire to maintain and project unity among the six powers, amid different thinking and constraints on what can and should be put forward, and the diplomatic challenge of how to persuade Iran of the sense of urgency to take a deal soon.

“We are deeply engaged in consultations right now with our P-5+1 colleagues, looking to put together a presentation for the Iranians at the next meeting that does make it clear we’re running out of time, we’ve got to get serious, here are issues we are willing to discuss with you, but we expect reciprocity,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Saban Forum November 30th.

Continue reading

P5+1 to propose new meeting dates to Iran

Diplomats from six world powers, following further unpublicized consultations in recent days, have decided to propose to Iran dates for holding a new round of nuclear talks as early as this month, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor Monday. However, a meeting is not expected to materialize before January, they said.

Diplomats from five of the six nations in the so-called P5+1 also agreed in their latest consultation to “update” the package presented to Iran at a meeting in Baghdad last May, the diplomatic sources said, although they downplayed expectations for major changes to the package. In addition, one country, believed to be Russia, had not yet formally signed on to that decision, one expert briefed by the US administration told Al-Monitor Monday, adding that it was his understanding the dissenting nation wanted a more revamped, generous package. That position is apparently now at odds with the consensus of other members of the international negotiating group, comprised of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia.

“Dates in December will be proposed, but I doubt a meeting will materialize before January,” one western diplomat, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Monday.

“The package needs a little bit of updating, as things have evolved since the package was defined, but nothing radical is to be expected,” the diplomat added.

A spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, asked by Al-Monitor Monday about the consultations, said that a date for the next round of Iran nuclear negotiations “is still under discussion.” There had been no physical meeting of the P5+1 in recent days, he added.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking to the Saban Forum of Middle East experts in Washington late last month, alluded to intense consultations on the issue of what the international group should present to Iran at resumed nuclear talks.

“We are deeply engaged in consultations right now with our P-5+1 colleagues, looking to put together a presentation for the Iranians at the next meeting that does make it clear we’re running out of time, we’ve got to get serious, here are issues we are willing to discuss with you, but we expect reciprocity,” Clinton told the  Saban Forum November 30th.

The Obama administration had in recent weeks been debating whether the “stop, shut and ship” package presented to Iran last May should be “refreshed” and possibly broadened to what some in the administration called “more for more.” The “more for more” offer, as one US source explained it to Al-Monitor last month, would envision updating the Baghdad 20% proposal to get more verifiable limits on the rest of Iran’s nuclear program, in exchange for greater international concessions, including some form of sanctions relief.

But the diplomatic sources told Al Monitor Monday that the changes to the package were not expected to be large scale.

Some Washington Iran watchers expressed concern at the contradictory signals the international group was sending, including regarding their sense of urgency for getting back to negotiations, in light of the fact no new talks had been scheduled more than a month after the US presidential elections, held November 6th. Continue reading

Wieseltier: Losing hope on Israeli-Palestinian peace

Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of the New Republic who has long pro-Israel ties, captured the sense of despair among some in Washington at the direction of Israeli politics in the wake of Israel’s decision to build in the sensitive E1 corridor and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s uncomfortable presentation to the Saban Forum earlier this month:

I no longer believe that peace between Israelis and Palestinians will occur in my lifetime. I have not changed my views; I have merely lost my hopes. […]

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu petulantly responds to the General Assembly vote with an outrageous proposal for Jewish housing in the area east of Jerusalem known as “E1,” which would scuttle any cartographically meaningful state for the Palestinians. He allies his party with the party of Avigdor Lieberman, the fascist face of Israel, who has proposed loyalty oaths for Israeli Arabs, and then his party, I mean the Likud, demotes its moderates and promotes the odious likes of Moshe Feiglin, who refers to Arabs as Amalek and advocates their “voluntary transfer” from Israel. As these anti-democratic maniacs flourish in Netanyahu’s base, one increasingly hears in those quarters the ugly old refrain that Jordan is the Palestinian state. And there is no significant opposition to Likud […] People assure me that all this can change if there is the political will to change it; but I do not detect the political will. So what if the two-state solution is the only solution, when nobody is desperate to solve the problem?…

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who announced upon his return to Israel from the United States this past week that he will not run in elections next month, warned that Israel's E1 building policies are further isolating Israel from the rest of the world, including its friends in the United States.

Continue reading

Roundup: Israel chooses Hamas

(Photo: Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal reacts upon his arrival at the Rafah crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip December 7, 2012. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah.)

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