Iran claims that the replica US RQ-170 Sentinel drone is currently ready for test flight, but no independent sources have confirmed that the object in propaganda photos is actually capable of flight or is a genuine copy of the American version, inside and out.

Recently, Iran claimed to have completed work on a replica of a US aircraft carrier to be used in training exercises aimed at being able to sink such powerful naval vessels. American military, however, dismissed those claims, observing that while Iranian replicas look superficially like the American ships on which they’re based, the replicas are barely buoyant and have no working engines or weapons.

Whether the replica drone is a real Iranian military breakthrough or just a propaganda ploy, the announcement is part of a pattern of antagonism that Iranian officials have displayed towards the West in recent days.


Pakistani PM Visits Tehran

As was anticipated last week, Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif made his two day-visit to Tehran on Sunday and Monday, meeting with both the President and the Supreme Leader. The historic visit offered an opportunity for the two nations to discuss closer economic and military relations, as well as giving Ayatollah Khamenei a chance to deliver yet another bout of aggressive rhetoric regarding the United States.

Saying that its “wickedness is plain to all,” Khamenei accused the US and other unnamed foreign powers of engaging in subterfuge on the Iran-Pakistan border in an attempt to destabilize relationships between the two countries. It was unclear whether he was referring specifically to kidnappings and attacks for which Jaish al-Adl, the Sunni rebel group has taken responsibility.

While Khamenei used the phantom threat of foreign powers to try to compel a sense of Islamic unity from the Pakistani PM, President Rouhani used Sharif’s visit to urge Pakistan to quickly re-start work on the pipeline between the two countries, presumably to help Iran in its quest to control regional oil before nuclear talks with the West either conclude or break down.


Troubled Negotiations

There are multiple signs that former optimism, especially from the United States, about the prospects for a nuclear deal is finally beginning to wane. The AP reports that the Obama administration now estimates the chances of success as only 50 percent. Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters that talks are progressing at an “unexpectedly fast pace.”

On their own, Zarif’s words can be interpreted in a number of different ways. The interpretation that one chooses depends in part on whether one believes that Iran is deliberately trying to maintain a slow pace of negotiations, while it works out its overall strategy or conceals evidence of continuing nuclear weapons research.

Recent dealings with the IAEA could be seen as supporting that view. The organization met with representatives of the Iranian regime in Vienna on Monday, and all parties avoided speaking to reporters afterwards. A spokeswoman for the IAEA was only quoted as saying that the talks had ended. The silence left observers with no grounds for concluding that an agreement had been reached, especially since relations between the two parties have so far been lukewarm at best.

The main issue at the talks was presumably Iran’s known work on detonators that could be used for nuclear devices. The IAEA’s concerns about this research date back some six years, and Iran has yet to explain it in a way that is satisfactory to the UN organization. And this reportedly has not prevented the IAEA from raising other outstanding issues.

Gary Samore, an advisor to President Obama on the topic of weapons of mass destruction and a former nuclear negotiator, is quoted by the AP as saying that he thinks the negotiations will miss their July deadline, since there are still extremely important issues that haven’t been worked out.

Meanwhile, Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is skeptical about the prospects for a deal being reached at all. He points out that Iran’s position is “unrealistic,” especially with regard to the number of centrifuges that it insists on keeping in operation – 50,000 of them. If this was permitted, the Iranian nuclear program would be able to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon in an unacceptably short period of time.

These unrealistic demands, together with public remarks like Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh’s rejection of oil export limits and Ayatollah Khamenei’s statement that Western attempts to limit Iran’s ballistic missile supply are “stupid and idiotic,” call into question whether Iran even wants a deal. In fact, Bret Stephens, writing in the Wall Street Journal, argues that they don’t.


Oily Motives

While Iran may not actually want a deal, the same probably cannot be said of the European Union, or at least parts of it. The ongoing crisis in the Ukraine threatens to have ramifications for situation with Iran, because Russia has been threatening to cut off the Ukrainian energy supply route, and if it follows through, Europe will need to make up the deficit somewhere.

Thus, the Wall Street Journal reports that the EU is looking to Iran as a potential partner against Russia. The article notes that Iran and Russia have historically seen each other as rivals, though it also acknowledges their strategically closer relationship in recent economic and security matters. Russia and Iran have cooperated to support the Assad regime in Syria and have even had private talks to plan for energy trade agreements that would circumvent Western sanctions.

Iran is perhaps not an impossible resource in the conflict with Russia, but it is a complicated and dangerously unreliable one.


Ties to Terrorism Reiterated

If Western powers decide to begin investing heavily in Iran and courting it as an alternative, large-scale oil supplier, they must be aware of some of the places their money might end up. In April, the US State Department issued a report that pointed out that Iran remains a major state sponsor of terrorism.

Now, the Long War Journal reports that despite sectarian differences, Iran provides consistent support networks inside its borders for al-Qaeda. A spokesman for a branch of the diffuse organization, namely the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, has admitted as much in a statement. Abu Muhammad al Adnani said that al-Qaeda had disallowed its fighters from staging attacks in Shia Iran, in order to “safeguard its interests and supply lines” in the country. Adnani went on to say, “Let history record that Iran owes al-Qaeda invaluably.”

If Adnani’s statements are accurate, then it means that Iran’s support for terrorism has an arguably surprising breadth and diversity. That is, it is willing to make strategic partnerships with terrorist organizations even when ideology is not a motivating factor, as it ordinarily is.

One example of ideological motives leading Iran to support terrorism abroad is clarified by the Small Arms Survey, which has just released its results after two years of research. The report finds that military relations between Iran and Sudan have grown strong in recent years, and that between 2001 and 2012 Iran provided 13 percent of Sudan’s conventional weapons, as well as helping to train Sudanese arms manufacturers, who have in turn become major suppliers for the African continent.

The Small Arms Survey also specifically indicates that Iran’s arms trade with Sudan is not based on financial or mutual security concerns, but is “primarily ideological,” with many Iranian weapons ultimately going into the heads of Islamic terrorists and other non-state actors.