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Iran News Digest- June 3, 2014

Nuclear Deal Likely to be Delayed

There is now less than two weeks until the next round of nuclear negotiations, and the outlook for them is increasingly uncertain. The latest obstacle comes in the form of the slow pace of dealings between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Authority, which is investigating Iran’s past nuclear advancements to confirm or deny its pursuit of an atomic bomb. This process is technically separate from the six-party negotiations, but it is generally accepted that the outcome of the investigation, as well as Iran’s transparency with the IAEA, will determine the final Western position. 

That transparency has so far been lacking. Although Iran has finally provided documents supposedly explaining the civil uses of its exploding bridge wire research, it has taken the regime literally years to do so, suggesting that it may have been working to conceal incriminating evidence in the meantime. Similar suspicions surround Iran’s Parchin military facility, which the IAEA suspect of being connected to a nuclear program, and at which Iran has been doing extensive construction and cleanup while denying investigators access. 

What’s more, the IAEA indicates that it has documents that contradict Iran’s claims about the civil uses of its detonators. These discrepancies and delays all point to a long-term investigative process, and Yukiya Amano, the head of the IAEA, has acknowledged the delay, saying that the agency’s investigation will not be complete by the July 20 deadline for P5+1 negotiations, and likely will not be complete until next year.                                 

Canadian Media Dust-Up 

Some commentators are especially hard on Western nuclear negotiators, while others take quite the opposite tack, even going so far as to suggest that Iran’s nuclear efforts may be justified in light of the perception of excessive Western aggression. This is the sort of view advocated by Canadian columnist Troy Bridgeman, who wrote an editorial in the Guelph Mercury in which he parroted Iranian denials about its weapons programs while chastising Israel and the US for their sanctions and other efforts to pressure the Iranian regime. He concludes by saying that no party “can claim to be the sole occupant of the high moral ground” in the conflict over the nuclear issue.

On Tuesday, the column came to the attention of Honest Reporting Canada, which called Bridgeman’s claims “absurd” and a “false moral equivalence.” Mike Fegelman, the organization’s executive director, emphasized the Iranian regime’s ideological stance with respect to the Jewish state and its tendency to “incite genocide in its calls for Israel’s demise.” Fegelman claims that these things make a nuclear-armed Iran a significantly greater threat than its major rivals. 

Declaring Victory in Syria 

Apart from the nuclear threat and the issue of Israel, Iran is continuing to push for continued influence in other parts of the Middle Eastern region, through conventional military and political means. In fact, the Washington Post reports that Iran is preemptively declaring victory for its own side of the Syrian conflict, based on the anticipated reelection of Bashar al-Assad in a virtually uncontested election that has been described as a “parody of democracy.”

Officials including Iran’s Foreign Minister JavadZarif and Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi have declared that the elections mark the failure of a Western conspiracy to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, whom Iran has actively supported with shipments of weapons, equipment, and soldiers. By contrast, the rebels opposing Assad have received lukewarm Western support, at best.

This leads Lebanese journalist KhairallahKhairallah to analyze the question of whether Iran has prevented the Syrian regime’s collapse. He acknowledges that it has, but further questions whether this gives Iran reason to believe that it effective owns Syria now. He concludes by emphasizing that “the Syrian people’s revolution hasn’t yet said its final word” and that “the sweeping majority of the Syrian people don’t want Iran.” 

Oil Ministry on Cyber-Alert 

According to UPI, Vahid Reza Zeidifar, a civil defense administrator at Iran's Oil Ministry, has issued a statement indicating that the ministry closely monitors its computer system for any cyber security threats, and that such threats will be successfully kept at bay. 

That statement named no specific, current threats, and may have simply served as general propaganda about the regime’s capabilities. However, the desire for such propaganda underscores the fact that conflict between Iran and its rivals is increasingly finding some outlet in cyberspace. 

On Saturday, it was announced that Iranian hackers had attempted to acquiring information about weapons systems through a phishing attack. The nation’s cyber espionage capabilities have made considerable strides in the past year, but continue to lag far beyond the US, Europe, and Israel. Cyber-attacks on Iranian infrastructure have previously damaged nuclear centrifuges and forced the shutdown of oil facilities.

Comeback for Ahmadinejad? 

Amnesty International identifies many negative trends in Iranian education as having begun in earnest under the Ahmadinejad administration, although it also points that the situation has not noticeably improved under the leadership of his successor. The general lack of domestic change suggests that despite Rouhani’s pragmatic approach to dealings with foreign powers, the overall conservatism of the Ahmadinejad administration still has a welcome home in the Iranian system. 

 

This fact may explain why Ahmadinejad reportedly feels that the time may be coming for a political comeback. According to the Brookings Institution, the former Iranian president’s estranged brother Davoud has said that there is a “strong chance” of Ahmadinejad running for president again, and an article at the website Fararu suggests that he may currently be attempting to gauge his own popularity.

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