Israeli military intel chief traveling to Washington

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IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi is traveling to Washington for consultations with American officials, defense sources told Al-Monitor.

Israeli officials declined to confirm the focus of his visit, but it comes amid signs of heightened Israeli concern about Syria.

“Hezbollah has set up several bases in Syria, near known locations where Syrian President Bashar Assad is holding parts of his chemical warfare arsenal,” Ynet’s Ron Ben-Yishai reported Monday.

Netanyahu “recently held a number of security assessments focusing on the developments in the war-torn country,” the Ynet report said. “Israel’s defense establishment has been holding similar assessments, focused on the potential shift in the balance of power between the IDF and Hezbollah, in the event that the latter would get hold of Assad’s WMDs.”

Netanyahu spoke by phone with President Obama on Monday, following a meeting Sunday with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.

Netanyahu also dispatched his National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror to Moscow, reportedly to seek Russian help in averting various Syrian contingencies.

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US seen hardening its position in Iran nuclear talks

Iran came to talks in Moscow last week (June 18-19) prepared to discuss stopping enriching uranium to 20% but refused two other conditions that might have led to a partial agreement in the nuclear standoff, Barbara Slavin and I report on the front page:

Briefings by diplomats whose countries took part in the talks portrayed the meetings as a “dialogue of the deaf,” with the two sides trading widely divergent proposals. However, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator did express willingness to discuss one key step requested by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1): stopping enrichment of uranium to 20% U-235, the isotope that gives uranium its explosive power.

The western members of the P5+1 insisted, however, that Iran had to meet all three conditions contained in their proposal: stop 20% enrichment, ship out a stockpile of more than 100 kilograms of 20%-enriched uranium and close Fordo, a fortified enrichment facility built into a mountain near Qom.

That stance has led some P5+1 members to conclude that the United States hardened its position in Moscow compared to two earlier sessions in Baghdad and Istanbul, according to diplomatic briefings shared with Al-Monitor. [...]

“Earlier, the US had implied that they were ready to address the three E3+3 demands … separately,” a briefing shared with Al-Monitor said, using the terminology Europeans employ for the P5+1. “However, this position had changed in Moscow,” where the US insisted “that the three demands should be treated inseparably, as a package.”

Indeed, after the P5+1 presented its proposal to Iran in Baghdad last month, Washington’s clear expectation was that Iran would not accept it as-is.

“There were two possible scenarios,” said Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, in an interview with Al-Monitor Tuesday. “Either the P5+1’s proposal was no more than an opening salvo,” and it would be willing to negotiate better terms with Iran based on it during the next round, “or with tougher sanctions looming in the horizon, it was simply a take-it-or-leave-it offer. And it turned out in Moscow that Washington was not prepared to offer more.”

 

Go read the whole piece.

I also report that Bob Einhorn, the State Department Iran sanctions czar and a veteran nonproliferation expert, will lead the U.S. team participating in P5+1/Iran technical talks in Istanbul next week (July 3rd).

Iran’s team is expected to be led by Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, although that is not confirmed.

 

Diplomats describe “intense and tough” talks with Iran in Moscow

Moscow_”Tense and tough” is how a western diplomat characterized the atmosphere at talks between six nations and Iran that got underway in Moscow today. But diplomats so far are not saying very much.

Russian negotiator Sergei Ryabkov, emerging briefly during a lunch break, dodged reporters’ questions. He did say that Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili had accepted a meeting tonight with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s national security council and former FSB chief.

Diplomats from the P5+1 and Iran met in a plenary session for two hours Monday morning, then broke for lunch. They then went into another plenary meeting at about 3:30  PM. That meeting ended around 6 PM, as expected, so that Jalili could make his dinner appointment with Russia’s NSC chief.

Talks will resume on Tuesday. Diplomats from the seven delegations–Iran plus the United States, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China–plan to reconvene in a plenary meeting at noon, leaving the morning open for possible bilateral discussions, EU spokesman Michael Mann said.

“We had an intense and tough exchange of views today,” Mann told journalists at the conclusion of the first day of talks Monday.

The Iranians “responded to our package of proposals from Baghdad but, in doing so, brought up lots of questions and well-known positions, including past grievances,” he continued. “We agreed to reflect overnight on each others’ positions.”

“Reflect overnight” being code–by some interpretations–for the Iranians calling Tehran to get further instructions. Continue reading

Iran, rebuffed in request for experts meeting, may seek delay in Moscow talks

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili on Wednesday wrote European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton complaining that she had rebuffed Iran’s request for an experts meeting ahead of a new round of nuclear talks scheduled for Moscow June 18-19th, Iran’s IRNA news agency reports. The letter is the latest sign of trouble for the diplomatic process and added to signs Iran may be seeking to delay the meeting.

Jalili’s letter “said that the EU failure to arrange experts meeting led by deputies of the negotiators to draft agenda of the talks created an atmosphere of doubt and ambiguity for success of the Moscow talks,” IRNA wrote.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran in light of bright logic and distinctive initiatives wants to advance the nuclear talks toward cooperation,” Jalili’s letter said, according to IRNA.

“As far as we’re concerned, Moscow goes ahead,” a Western diplomat told Al Monitor Thursday.

European diplomats earlier told Al Monitor that Iran had sought an experts meeting ahead of the Moscow negotiations, but that the EU had written back Monday asserting its contention that what was needed now was not more technical-level discussions but a meeting among political envoys.

“I am not saying technical issues are irrelevant,” a European diplomat told Al Monitor Thursday.

“We need Iran to engage seriously on the substantial proposal we have put forward” in Baghdad, he continued, “as this is a political decision for them to make that cannot be solved at a technical level. We cannot be drawn into long procedural and protocol discussions without substance for the sake of buying time.”

International negotiators “offered an experts’ meeting in Baghdad to Jalili to explain [the proposal] in more detail, but they [then] refused to have an experts’ meeting on substance,” he added.

European negotiators have, since Baghdad, proposed phone contact between deputy negotiators Helga Schmid and Ali Bagheri, “but have heard nothing,” he said.  Continue reading