News : Nuclear

Iran News Digest Nov. 5, 2014

Denying a Nuclear Deal

This is certainly the perspective that many US Congressmen and conservative commentators have on the Obama administration, which they generally accuse of having given away too much of America’s position and leverage in nuclear talks, in exchange for little commitment from the Iranian regime.

Indeed, Iran has rejected numerous proposals over the ten month negotiating process, and recently its spokespeople have even made a point of shooting down media assertions that the talks were making significant progress and that Iran had simply expressed interest in a potential agreement. Algemeiner reports, for instance, that the Iranian Foreign Ministry moved quickly to deny that there had been an agreement under which Iran would transfer its medium-enriched uranium stockpiles to Russia to have them converted to fuel rods that are much more difficult to use for production of a nuclear weapon.

Algemeiner points out that Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham maintained a confrontational tone in her denials, describing the news of this agreement as “politically-motivated speculations by certain foreign media outlets” that were aimed at influencing the tone of the negotiations. The regime’s Press TV propaganda network reaffirmed that Iran’s own tone in those negotiations was one of non-compromise, insisting upon removal of all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, and the lifting of all economic sanction.

Expanding Naval Power

At the same time that the regime is confronting the West in this manner at the negotiating table, it appears also to be attempting to confront it with a military buildup and a show of strength. Such demonstrations may be largely feigned, but Iran’s Middle Eastern and Asian alliances do provide it with opportunities for military development. It was recently reported that growing naval cooperation between Iran and China might allow Iran to purchase upgrades to its own navy from the People’s Republic.

Al Arabiya notes that following closely upon joint Iranian-Chinese maneuvers in the Persian Gulf and joint Iranian-Russian maneuvers in the Caspian Sea, Iran alone has dispatched warships to the Gulf of Aden via the Strait of Hormuz, Oman Sea, and Indian Ocean, with the declared directive “to protect the interests of the Iranian Islamic Republic in international waters.” Iran has previously responded to the American presence in the international waters of the Persian Gulf by saying that if it had the chance the Islamic Republic would station warships near the East Coast of the United States.

That confrontational attitude persists, and Iran’s intractable positions at the nuclear negotiating table seem to indicate that it hopes this pressure, instead of good faith negotiations, will compel the West to alleviate sanctions. But at the same time, Iran also seems to be positioning itself to profit off of the West even in spite of sanctions. The climate of potential rapprochement has increased interest in the Islamic Republic among foreign investors, and the Iranian regime is continuing to exploit this.

Economic Outreach

According to Bloomberg, Hamid Reza Araghi, managing director of the Iranian National Gas Company, said over the weekend that Iran plans to expand its natural gas output to 680 million cubic centimeters per day in the coming months and nearly double it to one billion cubic centimeters over the next three years.

In addition to sending the message that Iran supposedly has profitable ventures forthcoming even if sanctions are not removed, these plans also emphasize the apparently growing strength of Iran’s economic and strategic alliances in the Middle East region. Araghi put his announcement in context with the Iranian presence in Iraq and its influence over Pakistan, saying that those two countries alone might be sources of billions of dollars of natural gas revenue, whether or not Western governments or Western businesses take advantage of related investment opportunities.

But many entities appear to be taking Iran’s prospective economic growth seriously, and are working to profit from it just as Iran has been encouraging them to do. The India Times reports that German exports to Iran increased by about a third between January and August of this year, amounting to 1.6 billion dollars. Germany has lost ground in other export markets due to slow growth and deterioration of relations with Russia, and so it is apparently looking to Iran as a ready source of compensation.

But these moves are surely also attributable in part to Iran’s active economic outreach, which has recently been directed at European energy companies and will soon be extended to various foreign automobile companies when they attend Iran’s second Iran Auto Industry International Conference, scheduled for December 1. 

Human Rights

In other words, if Western businesses respond only to prospects for profitability it is likely that they will respond favorably to Iran’s overtures and to Western policies of rapprochement or détente. On the other hand, if business leaders take a serious interest in human rights and other international issues, they may be compelled to think twice.

The human rights issue is harder to ignore in the United States in light of this week’s news, which has returned Ghoncheh Ghavami to the headlines. The British-Iranian woman, who was arrested for participating in a protest against laws barring women from attending men’s volleyball games, was finally sentenced to one year in prison, even though the charges against her still have not been made public.

The New York Times points out that having concluded this vague case against her, the Iranian judiciary actually has tentative plans to raise new charges, retry Ghavami, and pursue a stronger sentence.

This may be part of a broader crackdown on persons associated with Western countries. Fox News reports that the mother of American Pastor Saeed Abedini was forced to flee Iran for the United States this week after facing down near-daily threats from regime affiliates and Islamic hardliners who were frustrated with her efforts to expose the abuse that her son has suffered since being imprisoned on accusations of proselytizing for Christianity.

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