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Iran News Digest- July 7, 2014

Another Day Without Nuclear Progress

 The global media continues to diligently report on the progress of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, even though there is virtually no progress to speak of. The AP reports that the two sides are no closer to an agreement on the number of centrifuges or the quantity of enrichment that Iran would be permitted. Neither has Iran shown willingness to convert the Arak heavy water facility in order to alleviate Western concerns that it is aimed at providing a plutonium pathway to nuclear weapons. With little to no progress and the deadline for an agreement now less than two weeks away, an extension of negotiations seems increasingly likely.

 An article in the Wall Street Journal quotes former nonproliferation advisor Robert Einhorn as saying that such an extension might be politically risky for the Islamic Republic of Iran, in a way that it would not be for the United States. That is, Iran will suffer the continuation of US-led sanctions and restrictions if a deal is not reached, whereas the US faces no real consequences other than a lack of access to Iranian import/export markets. Einhorn also casts doubt on the public statements coming from both sides, which claim that they are entirely focused on meeting the deadline and have not considered the terms of an extension.

 In an interview at Roll Call, Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, comments on the moves that Iran is likely to make in the event of an extension. Perhaps taking note of recent comments to this effect by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, Dubowitz says that Iran may be particularly focused on the duration of any agreement that is reached. He believes that the Islamic Republic is focused on convincing the West to eventually treat it as “a normalized nuclear power.” But he goes on to say, “I don’t think Iran’s nuclear program under this regime should ever be normalized. All of these strictures and constraints should remain in place for forever, until this regime is no longer this regime.”

  Foreign Outreach

 Perhaps recognizing the benefits of its charm offensive and the pragmatic approach to foreign policy that has defined the Rouhani presidency, Iran may be relinquishing one of its notoriously combative points of contention with the West. According to some reports, including one in Bloomberg, the regime is considering Rouhani’s current Chief of Staff Mohammad Nahavandian as a new pick for ambassador to the UN. He would replace Hamid Aboutalebi, whom the US denied a visa because of his involvement in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Iran has refused to name an alternate choice, even signaling willingness to sue Washington over the matter. To date, that remains their position. Despite the rumors, regime officials deny that Nahavandian is being considered for the post.

 Meanwhile, closer to home Iran is continuing in its quest to secure partnerships from regional players, including other oil-exporting countries. In recent weeks and months, Iran has apparently signed or at least unilaterally announced deals giving it control over aspects of exploration, drilling, or refinement of oil from other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. At the same time, the Islamic Republic is using its active role in regional conflicts to create leverage within countries that fear either Sunni militants or Shiite militias.

Thus, has stated that Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian will be touring the Persian Gulf nations and visiting with officials from Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, holding talks “mainly on the situation in Iraq and Syria.”

 Media Crackdown

 Meanwhile, Iran will not allow such power-sharing and reforms in its own country either. Part and parcel of its controls are its restrictions on the media and its systematic punishment of journalists. Multiple outlets have taken notice of this trend in Iran in recent days, and now the Committee to Protect Journalists has published a roundup of incidents in the first months of 2014 involving the arrest, interrogation, and prosecution of journalists.

 The journalists named in the report faced familiar charges in the Islamic Republic, including “spreading propaganda against the state” and “insulting the Supreme Leader.” In some instances, individuals were apparently punished for simply traveling abroad. The sentences listed in the report were as little as six years and as much as 14 years in prison plus 10 years in exile and 90 lashes. The state’s goal of intimidation is confirmed by remarks that an interrogator made to documentary filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi: “When we shape you up, the other documentary filmmakers will get the message.”

 Adding a brand new instance of media intimidation to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ list, the AFP reports that journalist Marzieh Rasouli has just been sentenced to 50 lashes and two years in Evin Prison, where many of the regime’s political prisoners are housed. Her arrest reportedly came as part of a broader crackdown on reformist news outlets, and she was tried on charges of "propaganda against the establishment and disruption of public order through participation in gatherings."

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