Belfer Iran Brief—January 18–24, 2014

Andrew WojtanikWhile Iran began implementing constraints on its nuclear program, eyes this week turned to two significant meetings in Switzerland. First, the UN hastily withdrew Tehran’s invitation to Syria peace talks beginning in Montreux. A day later, President Rouhani assured an audience of policy influentials at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Iran is committed to “constructive engagement” with the world.

 

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By Andrew Wojtanik

Highlights

  • P5+1 and Iran began implementing terms of the Nov. 24 interim nuclear deal. Iran halted enrichment of uranium to 20% and began reducing its stockpile, and the U.S. and EU suspended sanctions against Iran’s auto industry, petrochemical sector, and gold and precious metals imports.
  • Less than 24 hours after inviting Iran to attend peace talks on Syria, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rescinded the invitation. The peace conference began Wednesday without Iran’s participation.

 Diplomacy and deal implementation

  • In accordance with the interim nuclear deal, Iran began converting part of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to oxide on January 20. (AP, 1/20) Note: Iran must dilute half of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to 5% within three months and convert the rest to oxide within six months.
    • IAEA confirmed that Iran has begun implementing the terms of the deal. (AFP, 1/20)
  • Administration officials briefed Congress on the details of the implementation accord finalized on January 12. (LAT, 1/16)
    • Sensitive details were removed from public summary of the accord (available here) at the request of the IAEA.
  • Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi: “The iceberg of sanctions is melting while our centrifuges are also still working. This is our greatest achievement.” (LAT, 1/20)
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on negotiations for a comprehensive deal: “Iran has a serious will to come to an agreement with the P5+1. I do not see a serious impediment in the way of this agreement. The Iranian will is strong.” (Reuters, 1/23)
    • But "not under any circumstances" will Iran destroy its centrifuges. (AFP, 1/24)
  • In advance of a January 24 Board of Directors meeting, the IAEA asked member states for $8.2 million to finance enhanced monitoring activities in Iran for the next six months. (Reuters, 1/17)

Nuclear issue

  • Iran is experiencing delays building a conversion plant needed to convert low-enriched uranium (LEU) to oxide. (Reuters, 1/22) Note: Iran has agreed not to possess more than roughly 7,500 kg of LEU in gaseous form at the end of six months. Any additional enriched material will most likely be converted to oxide.
  • Rouhani assured an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos that “nuclear weapons have no place in our security strategy and Iran has no motivation to move in that direction.” (NYT, 1/23)

Sanctions and Iran’s economy

  • In accordance with the interim deal, the U.S. and EU officially waived sanctions against Iran’s automobile and petrochemical sectors and allowed trade of gold and precious metals with Iran. (WSJ, 1/20) Note: Iran will not receive the first tranche of frozen oil revenues, worth $550M, until Feb. 1.
  • Ali Majedi, Iranian deputy oil minister, noted that Iran is likely to use unfrozen oil revenues worth $4.2B to buy aircraft and automobile parts and food. (WSJ, 1/19)
  • International Energy Agency: Iran’s oil exports rose modestly in December to 1.15M  barrels per day. (Reuters, 1/22)
  • Sen. Mark Kirk, seeking to advance a bipartisan sanctions bill in the Senate: “My hope is that, as we get towards midterm elections, members are going to want to be on record being against giving up billions of dollars to Iran.” (GSN, 1/17) ATW: At last count, the Menendez-Kirk bill has 59 co-sponsors, eight short of a veto-proof majority. Two Republican Senators remain uncommitted; of the Senate’s 55 Democrats, 16 are currently co-sponsoring the Menendez-Kirk bill, 19 oppose, and 20 remain uncommitted.
  • Rouhani: Iran plans to “reopen trade, industrial and economic relations with all of our neighbors,” including Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Gulf states. (FT, 1/23)

Iranian domestic politics

  • Vatan-e Emrooz, a hard-line newspaper in Iran, compared the interim nuclear deal to a “Nuclear Holocaust” on its front page. (al-Monitor, 1/20)

US-Iran relations

  • Iranian-American Mozaffar Khazaee was indicted for transporting stolen documents related to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. (BBC, 1/21)

Geopolitics and Iran

President Rouhani at Davos
President Hassan Rouhani speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland
ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • UN invited Iran to attend the Syria peace conference in Switzerland, which began on Wednesday, but quickly rescinded its invitation at the urging of the United States and Syria’s main opposition coalition. (BBC, 1/20) Note: The Obama administration’s position is to allow Iran to attend the “Geneva II” talks only if it publicly agrees to the “Geneva I” communiqué of 2012, which calls for a political transition in Syria.
    • Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif: It is “regrettable that [UN Secretary-General] Ban does not have the courage to provide the real reasons for the withdrawal.” But “Iran was not too keen on attending in the first place.” (NYT, 1/21)
    • President Rouhani: We “don’t have much hope that this conference will be efficient in establishing stability since some supporters of the terrorists are participating in it.” (NYT, 1/22)
  • Senior U.S. official: “We continue to have major concerns about various aspects of Iranian policy, including in Syria, and state support for terrorism and destabilizing activities in Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and elsewhere in the region…But we are also determined not to let those concerns stand in the way of our national interest in taking steps to ensure that Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.” (State Dept., 1/20)
    • Secretary Kerry, on Syria talks: “There are plenty of ways that that door can be opened in the next weeks or months, and my hope is [Iran] will want to join in a constructive solution.” (Reuters, 1/23)
  • Fars TV: Iran is deploying two naval warships to the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. (AP, 1/21)
  • Iranian diplomat was shot and killed in Sana’a, Yemen. (AFP, 1/19)

Israel

  • Times of Israel poll: only 22% of Israelis “trust” Obama to “ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon.” (The Hill, 1/20)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Iran’s military nuclear program must be stopped, and Iran’s military nuclear program will be stopped.” (AFP, 1/21)
    • “At a time when Rouhani claims that Iran is not interested in a nuclear project for military purposes, Iran continues to strengthen its centrifuges and heavy water reactor, and to arm itself with intercontinental missiles, the sole purpose of which is for nuclear weapons.” (NYT, 1/23)
  • President Shimon Peres lamented Rouhani’s failure to mend relations with Israel at World Economic Forum in Switzerland. (NYT, 1/23)
    • “As far as Israel is concerned, we are ready to make peace with the Iranian people. They have never been historically our enemies. We don’t look for any wars. We don’t look for any confrontation. Today was a great occasion but it was unfortunately missed.”

“Red lines,” “points of no return,” and military strikes

  • No significant developments.

Uncertain or dubious claims

  • Prime Minister Netanyahu: “In a permanent agreement, the international community must get the Iranian nuclear train off the track. Iran must never have the ability to build an atomic bomb.” (AFP, 1/20)

Note: Whether Iran agrees to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure or not, it will always have the “ability” to construct a nuclear weapon. Iranian scientists have all the know-how and skills to build a bomb, a reality that cannot feasibly be erased.

  • Netanyahu: “The time has come that the international community, which has been making things easier for Iran and giving it legitimacy of late, also demand that it halt its calls for the destruction of Israel and stop funding terror organizations: Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.”

Note: As many analysts have pointed out, Netanyahu’s insistence on moving the goalposts is likely to reduce the likelihood of achieving a comprehensive agreement.

Andrew Wojtanik is a research assistant at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.