West Gets Future Checks – Iran Gets Cash

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Focus on Deal or on Loopholes?

As the nuclear deal was clinched under euphoric adjectives such as “groundbreaking” and “landmark”, the air seemed to fill with hope…and suspicion.

The goals are clear: The West wants to make sure that Iran’s nuclear program will not be militarized and Iran wants to rid itself of the sanctions.

What isn’t clear is Iran’s commitment to assuage the West’s fears: Following the initial euphoria in November, it seemed that there were too many loopholes allowing Iran to continue on a military path by uranium enrichment beyond the required levels and quantities.

 

More Reasons for Suspicion

So when another round of talks led to a “finalized” deal, the euphoria was mixed with suspicion… suspicion that seemed well-founded.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CNN this week that “The White House tries to portray it as basically a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program. That is the word they use time and again“. In short, Iran would momentarily freeze but not dismantle.

To the best of our knowledge, no objective parties have actually read all of the details of the agreement. As explained by veteran Iran-watcher Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi, “a lot of U.S. and European diplomats haven’t seen the text yet so how are you going to be able to guarantee full implementation?”

This seems to be strengthened by a recent admission by Iran’s chief negotiator, that the deal includes a secret 30-page “non-paper” which may or may not actually represent a side-deal.

And then there’s the comment by Ali Akhbar Salehi, head of Iran’s atomic energy organization (and previous foreign minister): “The iceberg of sanctions is melting while our centrifuges are also still working,” he said on state television. “This is our greatest achievement.”

A nuclear deal written on ice? Not exactly: Iran’s economy has been saved, so it’s already cashed in.

Syria key to Iran…and to Russia

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Syria is Key to Iran’s Foreign Policy

One of the most important issues on the agendas of world leaders right now is the still raging Syrian civil war. Its importance goes far beyond the suffering of the Syrian people and the great number of casualties quite simply because Iran is involved.

Make no mistake, it is not the fate of the Syrian people that is of interest to Iran. It is the fate of Assad, one of Tehran’s staunchest allies who is key to Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East.

Iran supports Assad with its own IRGC forces and Hezbollah troops on Syrian battlefields as well as financially. That’s why it seemed strange to invite Iran to the peace talks with Syria since Iran obviously has a vested interest in this equation. In the meantime, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visits Assad, doing all he can to maintain a high profile as a legitimate mediator while trying not to seem too pushy insisting that Iran would participate in talks only “if we are invited” while stipulating his own precondition against preconditions.

So while Zarif “innocently” maintained that “only Syrians should shape their future“, he waited for the invitation, got the invite from UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, and then got disinvited the next day.

The Tehran-Moscow-Damascus Axis

The question of whether Iran should play a part in the talks over Syria’s future is openly backed by Russia: The Russians believe that Iran is “key to Syria peace efforts” and a “Tehran-Moscow-Damascus” axis is being promoted by none other than President Putin himself.

The Russians have a lot to gain in supporting Tehran. Although they claim that they have no hidden agendas, they are focused on the “post-nuclear-deal” stage in order to reap a cool $1.5 Billion a month in oil-for-goods trade as well as sales of military equipment in the billions.

So it seems natural that Russia joined Iran in criticizing the “disinvite” to the talks regardless of the questionable legitimacy of Iran’s role as a mediator.

Needless to say, the growing ties between Iran and Russia are ruffling feathers in the West because they undermine any pressure that could have been placed by Europe and the US in the nuclear issue.

In the meantime, the Syrian people are suffering from being disposable pawns in a much larger game.

Related post: Rouhani Needs to Clean Iran of Syria

Iran’s Human Rights Unchanged By Rouhani

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Millions Still Oppressed and Hidden

It’s inevitable that in Iran’s case, the issue of human rights will get mixed up in any diplomatic effort. Iran’s human rights record is medieval: The mullah’s regime leaves very little room for basic freedoms that people in the West can hardly imagine doing without.

Hassan Rouhani’s election ticket was his promise to relieve the Iranian people from the economic effects of the sanctions by being more moderate to the West. Unfortunately his moderation is not as noticeable internally. From slowing the internet to accelerating the rate of hangings, it seems that human rights in Iran are no different than from under Ahmadinejad’s regime.

Millions of Iranians are still oppressed daily into giving up their civil, political, speech, legal, economic, social, cultural and religious rights. Unfortunately for them, they are unseen behind the regime’s walls and Rouhani is focused on juggling hardliners and the West.

 

Some Victims Naturally Stand Out

Millions of Iranians may be oppressed but none are Saeed Abedini, an American citizen and a former-Muslim-turned-Christian pastor who had set up approximately 100 house churches in Iran until the Ahmadinejad crackdown in 2005. He moved to the US but kept on visiting Iran. In his last trip in July 2012, he was arrested by the IRGC for “threatening national security,” tortured and sentenced in January 2013 to eight years in jail.

And then the nuclear deal arrived and suddenly Abedini’s name hit the nuclear negotiation table. Requests were made and heard. Promises and deadlines were not made.

 

Rouhani’s Choices Slimming

Will Rouhani view Abedini as a possible symbol for his promised moderacy on human rights as well – or will he stay focused on being a moderate only on foreign diplomacy? And if he does ignore the call, will the US turn human rights into a deal breaker?

Time will tell.

Iran Negotiations 101

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Geneva November Deal Far From Closed The Geneva deal was a victory for Iran: It recognized and legitimized Iran’s rights to nuclear enrichment (open dispute still on the %), awarded a $7 Billion (actually about $20 Billion) relief in sanctions, had loopholes (Arak, 20%, 60%, centrifuges…) and gave Tehran at least six months to continue on its nuclear track at a bargain price – opening the gates (selectively) to the IAEA inspectors. It also brought Tehran back from its diplomatic isolation (and recognized it as a regional leader) and, best of all, improved Iran’s economy. The Real and stock market strengthened immediately, and talks of “post-sanction” investments and trade flourished. But now that it comes to concrete steps, the P5+1 negotiators better be prepared for two new tactics: Divide & Conquer, Good Cop – Bad Cop.

“Divide & Conquer” – “Let’s start with Russia/China”: Ali Akbar Velayati, a “Hardliner” and close adviser to Supreme Leader Khamenei, is now calling for separate talks with the P5+1 leaders. Why? “We aren’t on the right path if we don’t have one-on-one talks with the six countries… it would be wrong if we bring the countries into unity against us, since there are rifts among them over various international issues.” Tehran will try to reach agreements with Russia and/or China which will be disagreed on by the rest P5+1. Once the spotlight is off Tehran, it will have earned a legitimate retreat into the shadows…and gain more time.

“Good Cop – Bad Cop” – “The Moderates vs. The Hardliners”: The “Moderates” clearly won the first round: Within six months, President Rouhani had a nuclear deal on the table, an upbeat economy and re-opening long-closed diplomatic doors. Enter the “Hardliners”. Although, they were silenced for the first few months of Rouhani’s presidency by the people’s vote and by Khamenei himself, they aren’t silent any more. First came the “concessions” by the “Moderates”, under pressure from the “Hardliners”, through exposing the loopholes in the deal (Arak, 20% and centrifuges). Then, the “Hardliners” bypassed them by placing a “60% Uranium Enrichment” bill, currently backed by two hundred members of parliament. Now, they added two “Hardliners” into Foreign Minister Zarif’s negotiating team. They are still unidentified but described as “legal and technical experts who will be able to prevent misunderstandings by the Americans.” “Misunderstandings” such as Arak, 20%, 60%, centrifuges, perhaps. Bottom line: the P5+1 negotiating team better get used to being told “Sorry – if it was up to me, I would, but…” and, frustrated, watch as time passes by.