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Iran News Digest- July 15, 2014

DIMINISHED DEMANDS?

The New York Times reports that on Monday, following two days of meetings with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif introduced a new outline for a possible nuclear deal, which took the unprecedented move of accepting limits on Iran’s enrichment capabilities. However, these purported limits would go no farther than freezing the current enrichment levels, which are far in excess of what Western powers are willing to accept.

Furthermore, Zarif’s proposal would only be temporary, with the freeze lasting as little as three years, after which Iran would be permitted to pursue any amount of enrichment that it desired. There is no indication that Zarif’s outline has met with the approval of Ayatollah Khamenei, who has maintained that enrichment capacity, despite being at the very center of talks, is not up for debate. Even if the Iranian supreme leader were to accept the proposal, it hardly brings Iran’s position closer to that of the United States.

What Zarif’s minimal concessions may do, however, is increase the likelihood of an extension of the talks, which may last as much as six months if agreed upon by all parties. Further suggesting that the goal of Zarif’s new position is to add time to the clock, they came on the same day that Zarif specifically called for an extension.

"As we stand now, we have made enough headway to be able to tell our political bosses that this is a process worth continuing," Zarif said, according to AFP.

THREE QUESTIONS FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The Wall Street Journal raises three crucial questions as Western diplomats look to the possibility of extending the nuclear talks. It says that the fate of those talks largely depends upon how vital Iran considers a deal to be, whether the Iranian negotiators actually have the blessing of Ayatollah Khamenei, and to what extent Iran feels pressured to deal with the West in light of the changing situation in the Middle East.

The article points out that Iran certainly would prefer a deal, but that particularly given the effects of sanctions relief under the interim agreement, it may not see a permanent accord as essential to the regime’s survival and political activities. The article also points out that Khamenei’s rhetorical comments on the talks may indicate that the negotiators are not able to speak for themselves as was formerly assumed. Finally, it remains possible that Iran may see the worsening conflicts in Iraq and Syria as a reason to reach out to the West, or as an opportunity to pursue regional hegemony on the assumption that the West will not get directly involved.

COMMENTARIES ENCOURAGE TOUGHNESS FROM U.S.

Two commentaries on Monday criticized the Obama administration and its defenders for their approach to the talks in the immediate run-up to their deadline. The Brookings Institution’s Michael Doran responded to a recent editorial in the Washington Post urging President Obama to avoid walking away from the negotiations. Doran suggests that it is dangerous to regard Iran as the defender of American interests in the Middle East, even in light of the rise of Sunni extremists affiliated with the Islamic State.

Partly answering one of the Wall Street Journal’s questions, Doran says that Iran is not as threatened by the breakup of Iraq as some in the West assume. The Sunni foothold in the West is certainly not ideal, but it brings the Baghdad government closer to Tehran. Also, far from being a bulwark against the Islamic State, Doran says, Iran has both directly and indirectly contributed to its rise. Iran buys oil from the Islamic State daily and has a long history of supporting its parent organization, Al Qaeda.

Given these facts, Doran argues that the best course of action for the Obama administration is to maintain a strong position in nuclear talks and to walk away if Iran proves unwilling to make serious concessions that prove it is worth negotiating with.

At Commentary Magazine, Jonathan Tobin accuses these people of maintaining a false narrative by saying that extremists on both sides of the discussion are equally to blame for a lack of progress. He emphasizes that the track record of the two sides is tremendously different, meaning that the Iranian side has a much greater responsibility to cooperate.

“The assumption that there is any real support in Tehran for reconciliation or willingness to give up their nuclear quest is probably a pointless diversion,” Tobin says. He also worries that the leeway that has been shown to Iran so far will make it more difficult to deal toughly with the Islamic Republic when that becomes necessary. For instance, Tobin argues that the “process of unraveling support for sanctions” with the interim agreement will make it more difficult to organize an internationally-backed oil boycott.

RAHMAN GHASSEMLOU

Sunday, July 13 marked 25 years since a prominent Kurdish leader was assassinated in Europe by agents of the Iranian regime. Rudaw reports that a book on the life and death of Rahman Ghassemlou, by Argentine author Carol Prunhuber, is now available in English, Spanish, and Kurdish. Rudaw has also made available online a nearly hour-long interview with Prunhuber.

 

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