- Nations cling to talks
- Additional sanctions bear down on Iran
- Military tensions intensify
- U.S. leaders pay multiple visits to Israel to offer reassurance
- Former British spymaster estimates when Iran could have bomb; Controversy around alleged cover-up at Parchin facility
- Israel and Iran accuse each other of targeting Israeli citizens abroad
- Saeed Jalili meets with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus
Nations cling to talks
Tensions between Iran and Western powers appear to be escalating. Recent additional EU and U.S. economic sanctions have apparently been taking a heavier toll on Iran’s economy, and do not appear to have brought the two sides any closer to reaching a deal.
Deputies representing Iran and the E3+3/P5+1 group (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany) held a low-level technical meeting on July 3 in Istanbul, in an effort to keep talks alive. However, the meeting ended early the following day with no real signs of progress. EU and Iranian deputies, Helga Schmid and Ali Bagheri, met again on July 24, but this second meeting appeared equally deadlocked and plans for a higher level meeting between EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili have also been postponed until the end of August.
Additional sanctions bear down on Iran
Exemptions for EU sanctions against Iran ended on July 1. These exemptions had permitted the continuation of contracts that had been agreed before January 23 on Iranian oil imports, and also for insurers that were providing third-party and environmental liability insurance for the transport of Iranian oil. The U.S. Treasury Department announced further incremental measures on July 12 that would eradicate loopholes in the oil embargo. Under these sanctions, the assets of companies and individuals suspected of links to Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs were frozen and banned from doing business with the United States. The U.S. Treasury has also moved to identify Iran’s use of front companies to carry out transactions on behalf of its oil industry. Over a dozen companies and four individuals have been blacklisted under this action, with twenty Iranian financial institutions on a watch list. Nevertheless, Iranian ships have apparently continued to use other countries’ flags and false vessel registrations.
In addition, a bipartisan group in the U.S. Congress has worked on global measures to prevent Iranian companies from buying insurance, export goods and procure financial assistance from abroad, resulting in the passage of a new sanctions bill the first week of August. The new sanctions expand penalties on US and foreign companies doing business with Iran’s national oil company and tanker fleet to make it more difficult for Iran to extract payment for any petroleum it sells. At the end of July, the White House had announced new penalties on the purchase of Iranian petrochemical products such as methanol and xylene and also on one Chinese bank and one Iraqi bank for allegedly acting as surrogates for Iranian financial institutions.
Iranian officials have responded by framing this as an issue of principle and national pride. Even before this most recent round of U.S. penalties, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke out against the tightening of sanctions, reaffirming Iran’s refusal to concede defeat by stating that “the government will not retreat one iota from their rights, values and principles against weakening materialistic powers”. He added that Iran could use this as a means to sever its dependence on oil revenues, that currently constitute 80% of the national budget. Furthermore, Iran launched its first domestically-produced aframax oil tanker in an effort to skirt mounting sanctions.
An opinion poll that appeared on IRINN’s website at the beginning of July suggested that 63% of online respondents prefer the halting of uranium enrichment in return for the lifting of sanctions. The Iranian government hastily removed the survey, and accused the BBC of having hacked the website to change the polls results (which the BBC has denied). Iranian TV later reported that only 24% of respondents were actually of this opinion.
In mid-July, thousands of Iranians in the north-eastern city of Neishabour protested rising food prices. On August 6, the Iranian rial dropped to its lowest level ever against the U.S. dollar in street trading, continuing a trend that began in late 2011.
The London based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said in a recent report that economic measures against Iran “could yet deal a knock-out blow to the country’s development of long-range ballistic missiles” even though the impact on the uranium enrichment program has been limited. The report points out that the mounting sanctions regime may make it increasingly difficult for Iran to obtain the kind of propellant required to field long-range ballistic missiles.
Military tensions intensify
Iranian officials are reported to have reiterated threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which a large supply of the world’s oil travels. The United States has reinforced its military presence at bases located near the Strait. Simultaneously, Iran launched a three-day military exercise including missiles that it claims have the capability to target American bases as well as sites in Israel. An Air Force commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps announced that he had drawn up contingency plans in which Iran could target 35 American bases within minutes should conflict arise.
General tensions in the region were blamed for an un-related tragedy when sailors aboard a U.S. Navy vessel killed an Indian fisherman on a boat off of the Dubai coast on July 16 after the boat’s passengers apparently failed to respond to warnings to move away from the naval ship. The incident was raised as a sign of how a similar scenario could happen between U.S. and Iranian ships in the region. These developments have prompted a group of eleven former U.S. intelligence officials to propose a “Persian Gulf Hotline” to prevent the breakout of war from a misunderstanding or provocation in the Strait of Hormuz.
U.S. leaders pay multiple visits to Israel to offer reassurance
Talk of an Israeli military attack on Iran has increased with the lack of diplomatic progress. It was apparent that the United States was feeling the pressure as U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon travelled to Israel on July 14 to reassure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of U.S. commitments. Haaretz reported that during his visit, Donilon had shown Israeli officials U.S. plans for a military attack against Iran, but Israeli officials denied the report. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited two days later, even though she had previously vowed not to return whilst the Middle East peace process was at a standstill. She reiterated the US commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Two weeks later, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta also visited Israel to echo this assurance and urge for patience and further diplomacy, but received a cold response from Prime Minister Netanyahu who said that Iran is not convinced that the United States is “serious about stopping them”. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said during his visit to Israel at the end of July that he would “honor” whatever Israel decided to do about Iran’s nuclear programme, including a unilateral military strike.
Former British spymaster estimates when Iran could have bomb; Controversy around alleged cover-up at Parchin facility
Head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, has predicted that, if left undisturbed, Iran will be able to develop a nuclear bomb within two years. He added that progress has only been delayed until now due to interference through covert operations carried out by Western intelligence. He did not elaborate on these operations, such as whether they included the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists or cyber attacks through viruses such as Stuxnet. However, with no substantive evidence that Iran has indeed entered into a decision to create a nuclear bomb, Sawer’s statement has been controversial.
Controversy over apparent cover up operations at the Parchin military facility where some have suggested that Iran utilized an explosive test chamber have deepened accusations that Iran is pursuing a weapons programme. The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) first reported clean up activity at Parchin in May 2012 including water flows that could indicate cleaning of a hydrodynamic explosive test chamber. Iran reported this to have been routine construction work. However, more recent analysis by ISIS concluded that as of July 25, extensive demolition has taken place at Parchin, with entire buildings bulldozed and roads and security fences removed, which has served to further raise suspicions about Iran’s prior work at the site.
However, a Truth-Out report that cites interviews with Robert Kelley, a former senior IAEA inspector and three former U.S. intelligence officers has contended that “evidence” of an explosive test cylinder at the Parchin facility was foisted on the media by a state interested in isolating Iran. Kelley claims the whole story of the Parchin test chamber is technically implausible, saying that the chamber at Parchin would have to be seven times bigger and far more advanced than the world’s biggest explosive chamber at Los Alamos. He points out that the IAEA report on Parchin talks of the possibility of Iran engaging in the use of “multipoint initiation” testing (that does not require uranium nor any such chamber) whereas the media has wrongly followed up by suggesting there had been “hydrodynamic testing”. ISIS argued that the chamber may simply be there to hide illicit activity from satellite imagery, whereas Kelley counters that if this were the purpose such a test could be effectively covered up by a tent.
Israel and Iran accuse each other of targeting Israeli citizens abroad
Israel has accused Iran of being behind the fatal attacks on Israelis in Bulgaria on July 18 – blaming on Hezbollah. Prime Minister Netanyahu has proclaimed, “Iran must be exposed by the international community as the premier terrorist support state that it is, and everything should be done to prevent Iran, the world’s most dangerous regime, from developing the world’s most dangerous weapons”. The Prime Minister has warned that this may lead to a great ‘shadow war’. These accusations were in part fuelled by Hezbollah’s vow to avenge the killing of one of their leaders in Damascus four years ago.
Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, responded by claiming that only Israel’s “state terrorism” could have managed such an operation and accused Israel of killing its own citizens for “narrow political gain”. This adds to accusations of an Israeli assassination campaign and the launching of a cyber war against Iran. During the first week of August, Iranian media aired apparent confessions by suspects who had been arrested for their alleged participation in a series of killings of Iranian nuclear scientists since 2010. Iran has accused Israel and the United States of spear-heading the assassinations. The United States has denied any involvement, while Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility.
Jalili Meets with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus
Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top negotiator and secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, travelled to Damascus on August 7 to discuss the release of a group of 48 Iranian citizens who were kidnapped several days earlier by Syrian rebels. The rebels have accused the group of being part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on a mission to aid the Syrian government to stop the uprising; however, Iran has denied this and asserts that they were religious pilgrims, consisting of students and now retired government and army officials, who were on their way to visit the Sayyida Zainab shrine in the south of Damascus. The rebels have threatened to execute the hostages, although their demands are unclear, and Iran is now also seeking help from Turkey and Qatar as well as the United Nations in securing the group’s safe return. Three of the captives have already been killed during a heavy shelling by pro-government forces, reported on Sunday by the Captain of the Free Syrian Army’s al-Bara Brigade, Abdul Nasser Shumayr.
During the meeting in Damascus, Jalili committed to supporting Assad’s government against “foreign interference” and also urged Assad to push for a internal resolution of the ongoing civil war “based on national dialogue among all Syrian groups to settle the country’s issues”, while simultaneously reassuring Iranian opposition to foreign “approaches”. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, is scheduled to visit Ankara next week to discuss the Syrian conflict and the hostage situation with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu.
Shivani Handa and Cormac Mc Garry, BASIC
Stories and Links:
- Iran Says Retired Guards among Hostages Held in Syria
BBC News, August 8, 2012
- Iran pledges support for Syria as battle rages for Aleppo
Babak Dehghanpisheh and Liz Sly, The Washington Post, August 7, 2012
- Iran and Turkey to Meet for Syria Talks
Reuters via The Financial Times, August 7, 2012
- Iran, Syria Huddle as Fighting Rages
CNN, Wire Staff, August 7, 2012
- Iran on Diplomatic Blitz to Free Hostages in Syria
Ramin Mostaghim, The Los Angeles Times, August 7, 2012
- Iran Rial Continues to Fall vs Dlr as Devaluation Expected
Reuters, August 7, 2012
- Israel and Iran Launch new Armaments Race
Hurriyet Daily News, August 6, 2012
- Reports: US Airs Details on Potential Iran Airstrike
Global Security Newswire, August 6, 2012
- Syrian Rebels say hostages ‘Iranian Soldiers’: at least 48 Iranians, in Syria to visit Shia pilgrimage site, are being held by armed gunmen
Al Jazeera, August 6, 2012
- Israel and Iran Launch new Armaments Race
Hurriyet Daily News, August 6, 2012
- 48 Captives are Iran ‘Thugs,’ say Rebels in Syria
Damien Cave, The New York Times, August 5, 2012 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/world/
- Iran tests Upgraded Version of Short-Range Missile
Hurriyet Daily News, August 4, 2012
- Ashton, Jalili Fail to Set Date for New Iran Nuclear Talks
RIA Novosti, August 3, 2012
- Panetta asks Israel for Patience on Iran
Robert Burns, Associated Press, August 1, 2012
- Iran Dismisses New Virus Attack on N. Installation in Natanz
Fars News Agency, August 1, 2012
- Mitt Romney Declares Unity with Israel over Iranian Nuclear Threat
Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian, July 29, 2012
- Diplomats: Iran Nuke Talks Remain Stalled
George Jahn, Associated Press via Bloomberg Businessweek, July 27, 2012
- Iran: Ahmadinejad Speaks on Sanctions,
Associated Press via The New York Times, July 27, 2012
- Bulgaria Bomb Blast: Iran Accuses Israel of Killing its Own Citizens
RT News, July 26, 2012
- North Korea, Iran agree to deepen Strategic Ties: Insider
Global Security Newswire, July 25, 2012
- Iran Nuclear Plant Hit By Virus Playing AC/DC, Website Says
Ladane Nasseri, Bloomberg News, July 25, 2012
- Iran to Open Cases Against Nuclear Terrorism at National Courts
Fars News Agency, July 24, 2012
- Iran Launches its First Home Built Oil Tanker
Reuters, July 24, 2012
- Iran could Face “Knock Out Blow” on Ballistic Missile Development: Report,
Global Security Newswire, July 23, 2012
- Iranians Squawk at Chicken Prices
Farnaz Fassihi, Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2012 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443295404577545373520451172.html
- U.S. says Iran ships using foreign flags to evade sanctions
Reuters, July 19, 2012
- Israel will not rush into war with Iran or Hezbollah despite government blaming ‘Iranian terror’ for Bulgarian bomb attack
Dan Williams, The Independent, July 19, 2012
- Benjamin Netanyahu: Iran is the most dangerous regime in the world
Telegraph, July 19, 2012
- Israel vows to strike back at Iran
CBS News, July 18, 2012
- Clinton: Iran proposals in P5+1 talks “non starters”
Reuters via Alertnet, July 16, 2012
- British Spymaster Says Iran Is 2 Years From Nuclear Bomb Capability
Alan Cowell, The New York Times, July 14, 2012
- US Imposes New Rules to Tighten Vice on Iran
Mark Landler, The New York Times, July 12, 2012
- Statement by the Spokesperson of High Representation Catherine Ashton Following the Meeting of Experts of E3+3 and Iran, July 4,2012 http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/
- Iran Nuclear Talks Are to Continue as Their Tone Heats Up
Rick Gladstone and Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times, July 4, 2012
Editorials, Analysis and Reports:
- A tale of missed opportunity over Iran
Peter Jenkins (former UK ambassador to the IAEA), Asia Times, August 8, 2012
- Israel’s diplomatic scare game
Trita Parsi, Salon.com, August 8, 2012
- Security Insiders to Mitt Romney: Nuclear Iran Not World’s Greatest Threat
Sara Sorcher, National Journal, August 7, 2012
- Iran Eyes role as Post Arab Spring Anchor, interview with Dr. Abbas Maleki former Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran
Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Asia Times, August 7, 2012 http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/NH07Ak02.html
- The Middle Eastern Time Bomb
Amy Payne, The Heritage Foundation Morning Bell, August 7, 2012
- October Surprise: Israel said to be readying October attacks on Iranian nuclear sites
Bill Gertz, The Washington Free Beacon, August 7, 2012
- Bad Analogy Cleanup in the Israeli Aisle!!
Daniel W. Drezner, Foreign Policy, August 7, 2012 http://drezner.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/08/
- Iran as Political Football
Danny Schechter, Consortium News, August 6, 2012
- Panetta Reaffirms U.S.’s “Wretched” Red Line on Iran’s nuclear program
Jasmin Ramsey, LobeLog blog, August 6, 2012
- Five Myths About the U.S.-Iran Conflict
Reza Marashi and Reza Sanati, The National Interest, August 6, 2012
- Can We Still tell If Iran Decides to Build A Nuclear Bomb?
Micah Zenko, The Atlantic, August 6, 2012
- Why Iran Should Get the Bomb
Kenneth N. Waltz, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2012
- The Case for Continued Engagement with Iran
Mary Kaszynski, The Diplomat, August 2, 2012
- Iran in Brief: Potential Change in Iran’s Nuclear Fatwa?
Lyle Bacaltos, ISIS, August 2, 2012
- The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran
David Crist and James Jeffrey, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Watch 1968, August 2, 2012
- Should the United States Rethink Sanctions Against Iran?
FAS Debate, August 1, 2012
- Cleanup Activity at Suspected Parchin Test Site Appears Complete: Site Considerably Altered
David Albright and Robert Avagyan, ISIS, August 1, 2012
- Preventing War by Making it Credible
Anthony H. Cordesman, CSIS Commentary, August 1, 2012
- The Iranian Nuclear Dispute: Origins and Current Options
Hossein Mousavian, Arms Control Today, July/August 2012
- The Rocky Road of Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran
Olli Heinonen, Arms Control Today, July/August 2012
- On the Record Conference Call on Iran Sanctions
(Includes Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications; David Cohen, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the Department of Treasury; and Bob Einhorn, Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control at the Department of State)
The White House, July 31, 2012
- A Persian Gulf ‘Hot Line’ Proposed
Letter posted online via Consortium News, July 31, 2012
- Talking with Tehran: An Overview of U.S.-Iran Nuclear Negotiations
Mary Kaszynski, American Security Project, July 30, 2012
- Iran prepares Excuses for Bomb-grade Uranium Outside Safeguards
Christopher Ford, New Paradigm Forum, July 24, 2012
- Brzezinski to Newsmax: War With Iran Could Last Years, Devastate Global Economy
Todd Beamon and Kathleen Walter, Newsmax, July 18, 2012
- Colin H. Kahl and Kenneth N. Waltz, Iran and the Bomb
Foreign Affairs, July 17, 2012
- Iran, the bomb, and U.S. public opinion
Stewart Patrick, CNN, July 17, 2012
- Iran Sanctions: War by Other Mean
Conn Hallinan, Asia Times, July 18, 2012 http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East
- Iran’s Revolutionary Guards ‘overseeing huge expansion of country’s nuclear programme’
Con Coughlin, Telegraph, July 17,2012
- Bolton Ignores the True Costs of Military Action Against Iran
Ari Kattan, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, July 13, 2012 http://armscontrolcenter.org/issues/iran/articles/
- MI6 ‘Claims to have Foiled Iran Nuclear Weapons Bid’ – Report
Julian Borger, The Guardian, July 13, 2012
- Fact Sheet: Increasing Sanctions Against Iran
U.S. Treasury Department Press Release, July 12, 2012
- Iran and the Gulf Military Balance II: The Missile and Nuclear Dimensions
Anthony Cordesman and Alexander Wilner, CSIS, July 12, 2012
- Iran’s UN Envoy: We Will Not Initiate Confrontation
Laura Rozen and Barbara Slavin, Al-Monitor, July 11, 2012
- Iran Mil Power Report
Jeffrey Lewis, Arms Control Wonk, July 11, 2012
- Thinking about a Poly-Nuclear Middle East
Christopher Ford, New Paradigms Forum, July 9, 2012
- Will Iran Crack?
Meghan O’Sullivan, The Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2012
- Some Facts Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Talks with 5+1: A framework for comprehensive and targeted dialogue for long term cooperation among 7 countries
Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, document made available via Al-Monitor, July 3, 2012
- How a Non-existent Bomb Cylinder distorts the Iran Nuclear Issue
Gareth Porter, Truth Out report, July 2, 2012