Nuclear Demands and Expectations
According to the AP, the United States and its allies are firmly emphasizing that Iran must provide a full account of its past nuclear activities before a final deal is struck on topics such as enrichment capability and ballistic missile supplies.
These sentiments were expressed at the Wednesday board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is currently investigating those past activities and which announced this week that the agency is unlikely to come to a conclusion about Iran before the July 20 deadline for the Islamic state’s negotiations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. In fact, a complete assessment is unlikely any time this year, and this fact may spell trouble for the deal, which was expected to largely depend on the outcome of IAEA investigations.
At the same time that Western powers are taking a fairly firm stance on the assurances that they will expect, Iran is still maintaining unrealistic demands for a final agreement. Business Insider gives and account of this situation, explaining that if Iran is allowed to have the uranium enrichment capabilities that it says it needs for the Bushehr nuclear energy facility, it would have an unacceptably short breakout time for a nuclear weapon.
The same article also points out that Iran is continuing to develop more advanced weapons systems and that this topic is not even being dealt with by negotiations.
How Much of a Threat?
An editorial from the Gatestone Institute, which is chaired by former UN Ambassador John Bolton, raises the question of whether these nuclear and ballistic missile concerns matter anyway. Specifically, the article analyzes the assumptions of some Western observers who advocate for a very soft approach to negotiations with Iran.
Those assumptions include the ideas that Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs would not actually be used, but would only serve as defensive deterrents. Gatestone argues that each of these assumptions is false. It points out, for instances, that there is a particular danger from a nuclear Iran because of the possibility of the Islamic nation placing such a weapon in the hands of one of the terrorist organizations it supports, making it more difficult to trace any potential attack back to Iran or to hold the nation accountable.
Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has apparently come to the conclusion that the “false assumptions” debunked by Gatestone are actually representative of the dominant opinion in the US. In a speech to Iranian politicians and military leaders, Khamenei declared that the US has taken the possibility of a military response to Iran off the table.
He argued that the West has come to the conclusion that an attack on Iran would be as dangerous for them as it would be for Iran. And as if to drive home the rhetoric expressed in the speech, Khamenei stood before a banner that said “America cannot do a damn thing.”
This speech’s suggestion that the West is no real threat creates an odd contrast with Khamenei’s earlier remarks explaining that unlimited ballistic missile production was justified because Iran is under constant threat from its enemies in the US, Israel, and elsewhere. Nevertheless, this is far from being the first statement by a high-profile Iranian official arguing that Iran’s military is strong enough to repel American threats.
New Sanctions-Busting Techniques
Khamenei’s claims about the lack of a real threat from the West may provide meaningful context for Iran’s continued defiance of its obligations under the Joint Plan of Action agreed upon with the P5+1. This includes exceeding the temporary limits set for its legitimate oil exports, as well as engaging in additional off-the-books trade that violates economic sanctions that are still in place.
Forbesexplores some of the most recent techniques that Iran has been employing to coordinate with other countries like Russia and Turkey in order to circumvent sanctions and boost the Iranian economy while possibly further imperiling the negotiations, which are now pursuing a deal that some commentators say Iran doesn’t actually want anyway.
The article emphasizes that the latest and most reliable way of receiving illicit payments in local currencies entails the receipt of prepaid cards. These can often be used anywhere in the world without being connected to any particular person or institution. They are also very easily smuggled between countries that engage in illegal trade, as cards typically can hold up to 30,000 dollars, allowing for 120 million to be packed into a single suitcase.
Iraqi Air Force
Sanctions relief and sanctions evasion both provide Iran opportunities for expanding its reach throughout the Middle East. Of course, it already enjoys firm alliances in some parts of the region, not just in terms of economic cooperation, but also with respect to military defense and sectarian politics. Ironically, in some cases Iran’s adversaries in the West contribute to the strength of those alliances, whether wittingly or unwittingly.
A case in point is the emergence this week of the beginnings of an Iraqi air force – the first one in much of the country’s history. This week, Iraq receives delivery of the first of 36 new Lockheed-Martin F-16 fighter jets. Long-term plans involve the acquisition of Apache helicopters, as well.
The Christian Science Monitor’s reporting on this topic suggests that the Iranian border represents one of the reasons why Iraq will need these new resources for the defense of its own airspace. But of course Iraq’s solidly Shiite government is firmly allied with Tehran, and has allowed Iranian arms to pass through its territory, as well as directing attacks against Iranian dissident groups living in Iraq.
Iraq is not estimated to be fully capable of defending its own airspace until 2020, but in the meantime it benefits from military contracts with nations like Russia, which is another major Iran ally. The expansion of Iraq’s military may somewhat increase the power of an Asian bloc that could stand in opposition to Western interests.
Hamas Under Iranian Influence
The Tower reports that after meetings with Iranian officials, Hamas may soon be changing its strategies in Palestine, in order to match Iranian recommendations. Specifically, journalists and researchers anticipate that Hamas will “add ballots to bullets” by trying to gain a foothold in Palestinian political affairs while still continuing with direct terrorist activity. This is a direct parallel of the model of one of Iran’s other great non-state beneficiaries, Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Evidence from 2009
At the same time that Iran is interfering in the affairs of other Middle Eastern nations, new evidence is coming to light about the nature and extent of its past interference in its own political process. A video has surfaced online showing Revolutionary Guards Commander Mohammad Ali Jaafari explaining to his colleagues how the IRGC participated in rigging the 2009 election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power, and then repressing the protests that emerged as a result.
The new evidence confirms what many Iranians already knew about the events of 2009. However, it has also emerged just at a time when Ahmadinejad has reportedly been considering a return to national politics.
Windows into Life in Iran
The New York Timesand the Guardian have both printed interesting features that give readers a look at daily life in Iran, as opposed to the usual news about political repression and foreign confrontation coming out of the halls of government. Both photojournalistic stories show the stark contrast that exists between what the ordinary people of the country want and what is required of them by the theocratic ruling system.
In the Times, John Moore indicates that he struggled with the task of getting a visa for his visit to Iran. It was delayed for three months, and the approved for only a week, suggesting that there is still great fear of Western influence, as well as of Western espionage. However, his slideshow of images is accompanied by almost exclusively positive commentary on the scenery and people.
In the Guardian, Jai Brodie describes the time he spent with young rock musicians in Iran, despite the fact that they say “public brandishing of an electric guitar is an act worthy of police harassment.” The article gives the impression that most of the aspects of these young people’s lifestyle are illegal and subject to fairly severe punishment, indicating that there is a massive disconnect between the legal norms and the views of the emerging citizenry.
These facts, along with the actual government repression that is so common in Iranian society, may help to account for why, according to a recent Gallup study, Iran is the world’s second most unhappy country, second only to Iraq.