Belfer Iran Brief—Negotiations in Vienna and other news

Belfer Iran BriefAs the U.S. and Russia spar over Ukraine, the P5+1 continued negotiations with Iran in Vienna, Israel’s defense minister critiqued U.S. leadership, Iranians celebrated Nowruz, and more in this week’s roundup of Iran news for March 15-21, 2014.

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By Andrew Wojtanik

Highlights

  • P5+1 and Iran resumed “substantive and useful” negotiations over a comprehensive agreement in Vienna. Negotiators will meet again on April 7-9.
  • In a monthly report, the IAEA reported that Iran is complying with the terms of the November 24 interim deal.
  • Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon criticized the United States for failing to “lead the campaign against Iran.”

Diplomacy and nuclear issue

  • P5+1 and Iran resumed negotiations over a comprehensive agreement in Vienna. Much of the talks reportedly focused on the future of Iran’s heavy-water reactor at Arak. (AP, 3/18)
    • EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton: “We had substantive and useful discussions, covering a set of issues, including enrichment, the Arak reactor, civil nuclear cooperation and sanctions.” (Reuters, 3/20)
    • Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif: “At this stage we are trying to get an idea... of the issues that are involved and how each side sees various aspects of this problem.” (BBC, 3/19)
    • P5+1 and Iran will meet again in Vienna on April 7-9.

  • Foreign Minister Zarif: “Primary negotiations…will begin in [April]…The first three months have been dedicated to discussion and exchanging opinions and the second half will be expended on negotiations and codifying a joint text for reaching an agreement.” (AEI, 3/19)
    Catherine Ashton and Javad Zarif at negotiations in Vienna
    March 18, 2014 - European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during P5+1 - Iran talks in Vienna. (AFP PHOTO/SAMUEL KUBANI via Flickr)

  • Zarif reportedly canceled a dinner in Vienna with Lady Ashton after her “undiplomatic” behavior in meeting with human rights activists in Tehran last week. (Reuters, 3/18)
  • Lady Ashton’s spokesman claimed there has not been “any negative effect” on the negotiations as a result of the Ukraine crisis. (NYT, 3/18)
    • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was more circumspect: “We wouldn’t like to use these [Iran nuclear] talks as an element of the game of raising the stakes” between Russia and the West. “But if they force us into that, we will take retaliatory measures here as well.” (NYT, 3/20)
  • 83 Senators signed a letter to President Obama urging negotiators to insist on an agreement that: does not give Iran a right to enrich, requires Iran to close Fordow and Arak, and prevents Iran from “ever having a uranium or plutonium path to a nuclear bomb.” (Roll Call, 3/18) Note: Many analysts interpreted the letter as a consolation for those who were unable to achieve a vote on new sanctions against Iran.
    • 394 House members signed a similar letter. (AFP, 3/18)
  • In a monthly report, the IAEA reported that Iran is complying with the terms of the November 24 interim deal. (WSJ, 3/20)
  • Foreign Minister Zarif, in a Financial Times op-ed: Western countries now recognize “that Iranian scientists have mastered nuclear technology – and it is widely accepted that the knowledge we have attained cannot be wished away.” (FT, 3/18)
  • Iran’s atomic energy agency announced that “several cases” of attempted sabotage at the Arak heavy-water reactor have been thwarted in recent months. (AP, 3/15)
    • Spokesman: Some pumps at Arak “had been mechanically manipulated in an effort to disrupt the routine work of the power plant.” (Reuters, 3/17)
  • State Department official Vann Van Diepen: Iran still “very actively trying to procure items for their nuclear program and missile program and other programs.” (Reuters, 3/17)

Sanctions and Iran’s economy

  • Iran’s government will begin reducing fuel subsidies in the coming weeks. (NYT, 3/20)

Iranian domestic politics

  • Former Ahmadinejad aide Mohammed-Reza Rahimi was indicted in a corruption case. (Reuters, 3/17)
  • More than 2,000 Sufi dervishes gathered outside Tehran’s primary court to protest the detention of other dervishes and human rights activists. (al-Monitor, 3/16)
  • Ayatollah Khamenei: “The strength of a nation does not rely on weapons alone. There are three important elements that make a nation strong: economy, culture and knowledge.” (WP, 3/21)

US-Iran relations

  • President Obama delivered New Year’s greetings to Iran in a video message: “If Iran seizes this moment, this Nowruz could mark not just the beginning of a new year, but a new chapter in the history of Iran and its role in the world.” (AFP, 3/20)
  • Iran may be building a fake replica of an American aircraft carrier to destroy it a later date for propaganda value. (NYT, 3/20)

Geopolitics and Iran

  • Ukraine’s ambassador to Iran told an Iranian audience that “some analysts and strategists in Ukraine believe that if they would have kept those nuclear arms, an event like this would have not happened.” (al-Monitor, 3/14)

Israel

  • Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon: “We had thought the ones who should lead the campaign against Iran is the United States. But at some stage the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better.” (Haaretz, 3/18)
    • “On this matter, we have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us but ourselves.” Note: Just last year Yaalon had been a leading opponent to those advocating a unilateral military strike against Iran.
    • Ya’alon clarified later in a phone call to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel: “My statements had no criticism or intent to hurt the US or the relationship with it.” (al-Monitor, 3/19)

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

  • No significant developments.

Uncertain or dubious claims

  • Ayatollah Khamenei: “the Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and, if it happened, it’s uncertain how it happened.” (Haaretz, 3/21)

 

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