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Iran News Digest- July 29, 2014

By Iran News Update Staff  

ARMS SHIPMENTS

Speaking to Fox News radio, former US ambassador Dennis Ross stated that prior to being boosted by the recent Iran-backed actions in Gaza, Hamas had been isolated by most of the Arab world.

Ross also highlighted the need to start intercepting Iranian arms shipments as a major part of the American response to the Gaza crisis. And whatever weapons Iran is capable of transferring from its domestic stockpiles, that is not the entirety of the threat posed by its shipments. An article at The Diplomat calls attention to the connections among Iran, the Gaza Strip, and North Korea, pointing out that Iran has repeatedly been used as an intermediary for North Korean arms transfers to terrorist groups in and around Palestine.

The article indicates that at least five such North Korean shipments were intercepted in the year 2009 alone. The rogue Asian state may also be connected to Hamas operations to dig tunnels into Israel, as this is a tactic used by North Korea against South Korea. The friendship of Iran and North Korea, along with the probable exchange of technical information, raises additional concerns because North Korea has developed nuclear weapons, whereas Iran has thus far been prevented from doing so but has much more sophisticated delivery systems.

SANCTIONS RELIEF CONCERNS

On the CBS Sunday news program “Face the Nation,” Representative Mike Rogers, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, discussed the Iranian connection to Hamas in context with the recent extension of nuclear negotiations and the US’s decision to release 2.8 billion more dollars of Iranian assets in order to simply keep the talks going.

Rogers expressed frustration with the Obama Administration because of its apparent failure to connect multiple regional issues and recognize that a portion of those unfrozen assets are almost certain to be channeled to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others. This probability has not be lost on the rest of the US Congress. According to the Washington Free Beacon, senators, led by Republicans Mark Kirk, Kelly Ayotte, and John Cornyn, are expected to introduce legislation this week attempting to suspend Obama’s executive authority in this case and prevent the release of the 2.8 billion dollars unless it can be guaranteed that that money will not go to fund terrorism.

But if this unfreezing of assets goes through, as it is likely to do, it may contribute to other effects that are occurring closer to home for the US government. Reuters reports that the improvements to the Iranian oil industry that have precipitated from sanctions relief have also had the effect of increasing competition against American oil condensates.

In June, the US scaled back restrictions on its own exports, allowing for oil condensates to be sold in foreign markets. But due to the increasing availability of cheap, high-quality Iranian oil with relatively few foreign constraints, China will not be one of those markets. The world’s largest energy consumer, and traditional Iran partner, will continue to increase imports of Iranian crude oil and condensates, to the exclusion of new American alternatives.

The rising tide of Chinese imports, spurred on by relief of Western sanctions, has helped Iran to increase its oil exports by approximately 30 percent since the nuclear negotiations began.

Despite all of this, sanctions technically remain in place and are being at least nominally enforced. It has been reported that California-based Epsilon Electronics will pay 4.07 million dollars in penalties due to its prior sales of 3.41 million dollars’ worth of car audio and video equipment to a company that does business with Iran. This particular enforcement, of course, has a small impact on the Iranian economy compared to the unfrozen assets.

CLINTON’S STANCE

Sanctions relief is only one topic on which criticism has been levied against the Obama administration by other members of the US government, and even by former administration officials. Recently and significantly, Hillary Clinton weighed in on the talks in an interview on the CNN program, “Fareed Zakaria’s GPS.” The former Secretary of State expressed her own preference that Iran be allowed little to no enrichment capabilities under the terms of a final deal.

While the Obama administration has not specified its bottom line demands in terms of number of centrifuges, it has shown considerably more willingness to entertain demanding Iranian proposals then the administration’s critics would prefer. Clinton’s preference for little to no enrichment does not reflect the Obama administration’s position or expectations.

An article in The Nation responds to Clinton’s comments by accusing her of taking up the position of “Iran hawks” who wish to scuttle a deal. The author claims that “by all accounts,” a mutually satisfying deal is “within reach” as long as it is not stonewalled by such hawks. But this is contradicted by repeated statements from all parties saying that there are still significant gaps between the two sides’ positions.

Iran has consistently demanded enrichment capabilities that are widely regarded as giving the Islamic Republic an unacceptably short breakout time for a nuclear weapon. But some individuals among the US and its allies, apparently including Mrs. Clinton, believe that anything more than minimal enrichment poses too great a danger.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Clinton’s successor as Secretary of State, John Kerry, has by no means taken such a hard line on the enrichment issue or any other. But although Kerry has never responded positively to critics’ recommendations that nuclear talks be used to hold Iran to account for human rights violations, he did use the State Department’s recent Report on International Religious Freedom to once again call attention to the case of American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is serving an eight year prison sentence in Iran because of his Christians beliefs.

 

 

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