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Iran News Digest - May 16, 2014

Negotiators Leaving Vienna:The latest round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 ended on Friday in Vienna, and reports indicate that no significant progress was made towards reaching a final accord before the July 20 deadline. A number of commentators and analysts have speculated that the negotiations may be extended for another six months. 

 

Spokespeople from both sides of the negotiating table described Iran and the United States as being almost irreconcilably far apart in their views on key issues. Chief among these is the issue of Iranian enrichment capability and the number of centrifuges that the country is allowed to have in operation. The US wants to cut them to about half of their current number. Iran wants to upgrade them and increase their numbers by about five times.

In fact, early on Friday, Tehran’s Provisional Prayer Leader, Ayatollah Kazem Sediqi outlined some of the red lines that nuclear negotiators were expected to maintain. One of these specifies that the quantity of Iran’s centrifuges is non-negotiable, according to Tasnim News Agency. Sediqi also insisted that Iran should be permitted to enrich up to whatever level it deems appropriate, without yielding to restrictions set by the international community. 

These red lines essentially dismiss the entire question of limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Meanwhile, ongoing weapons development in the country indicates that Iran is unwilling to curtail its nuclear weapons program at the point of delivery systems. Reuters reports that Iran is continually expanding its ballistic missile program. This news comes merely days after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei urged Iranian weapons manufacturers to mass produce missiles in defiance of “stupid and idiotic” Western attempts to limit that arsenal.

In light of this Iranian intransigence, US officials may be firming up their own positions, or at least attempting to project more of an image of firmness. ABC News reports that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has received some criticism from Republic senators and certain policy analysts for her claims about having pushed for sanctions at the United Nations Security Council. 

Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois describes this as revisionist history, noting that Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration stood against Republican attempts to issue sanctions against Iran. The administration has generally been criticized for a weak approach to dealings with Iran, and for excessive optimism about the prospects for a deal. That optimism has been notably absent from statements that coincide with the most recent round of talks.

More Outright Aggression Towards US 

So far, a firm stance from the US has only taken the form of insistence upon the point that Iran must be stopped from obtaining a nuclear weapon or from having a short breakout time for doing so. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who has also been accused of a weak overall approach to Iran, reiterated exactly this stance while visiting Israel on Friday, at the end of his Middle East tour.

“I want to assure you of the United States’ commitment to ensuring Iran does not get a nuclear weapon — and that America will do what we must to live up to that commitment,” Hagel said 

However, a firm stance from Iran has often been characterized by bellicose statements about its readiness for war. For instance, Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi gave an interview to Iranian state-run media in which he explained the tactics and resources that he would employ to defeat the US Navy in the event that a conflict breaks out. These include drone strikes, suicide attacks, and faith, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

This news outlet repeats a quotation from Iranian media in which Fadavi said of American technological superiority: “These weapons are ineffective against a new [Iranian] strategy relying on faith, on a desire for martyrdom, and on [Iran's] unique speedboats.” 

The interview went on to reiterate recent claims about the Iranian navy’s ability to sink US aircraft carriers in as little as 50 seconds – claims which were said to be based on drills with immobile, faulty mock-ups of aircraft carriers created by Iran. 

But the aggressiveness of Fadavi’s remarks pales in comparison to a statement by IRGC commander Mohammad Eskandari, which was re-published in Commentary Magazineon Friday. “Today’s war in Syria,” he said, “is in fact our war with the United States that takes place in Syrian territory.”

New Dimensions of Regional Meddling

Eskandari made these remarks about a proxy war in reference to 42 brigades and 138 battalions that have apparently been trained by the IRGC to fight in Syria, in support of Bashar al-Assad.

But this is not the full extent of the personnel-based support that Iran has been providing. The Afghan News Agency indicates that Iranian leaders have also been recruiting Afghan mercenaries, smuggling them to Syria, and paying them to fight on behalf of Iran’s ally. 

Meanwhile, the Kurdish news site Rudaw points out that Iran has essentially laid personal claim to the Kurdish people. An article on an Iranian consular website disregarded the ethnic individuality of the Kurds, calling their language merely a dialect of Persian, and describing Iran as the Kurds’ “true great house and motherland.” These statements have drawn protest from Kurdish groups.

The article also emphasized a need to repress efforts for Kurdish independence, a long-standing issue in the Middle East. This emphasis came in context with Iran’s relationship with Iraq, which, along with Iran, Turkey, and Syria, houses a large portion of the Kurdish population. The region of those four countries that is informally known as Kurdistan happens to be quite oil-rich, making Kurdish independence a geopolitically difficult proposition. 

That fact also may shed some light on why an Iranian consulate would issue a statement saying that the Kurds, as a whole, are Iranian. Between deals to assist with drilling in Tunisia and Turkmenistan and efforts to build pipelines to other oil exporting countries, Iran may be attempting to secure control over a broader supply of Middle Eastern and North African oil. 

Iran’s close relationship with Iraq makes joint oil ventures practical, but only if the Kurdish region can be effectively controlled by Iran and by Iraq’s Shia government. Among the pipelines that Iran is planning, two are intended to connect to Kurdish Iraq in order to import crude oil for refining and to sell finished products back.

Transportation Figures

Iran Daily has published figures for commodities trading across Iran’s border. It claims that 863,000 tons were transported in the first month of the Iranian year. This may signify one or both of two things: the increase in trade that Iran has enjoyed in the wake of partial sanctions relief, or the amount of illicit trade going on between it and its neighbors, including arms shipments to Syria and Iraq.

Naturally, Iranian media reports do not indicate whether such shipments are actually reported as a part of legitimate economic figures, but it is known that they have been ongoing. In fact, at the peak of Iranian arms shipments to Syria, up to five tons of equipment were estimated to be conveyed in a single flight.

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