Belfer Iran Brief—Odds of nuclear deal are "still long" and other news

Belfer Iran BriefPresident Obama reiterated the “long” odds that negotiators will reach a comprehensive nuclear deal, and other news in the Iran orbit from May 17-30, 2014.

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By Andrew Wojtanik

Highlights

  • IAEA released its quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, indicating that Iran has diluted to low-enriched uranium or converted to oxide powder more than 80 percent of its 20% enriched uranium.
  • Iran plans to start-up a conversion facility in June that would convert part of its stockpile of 5% enriched uranium into an oxide form, in line with the interim agreement.
  • Saaed Jalili, a former conservative presidential candidate in Iran, endorsed Rouhani’s efforts to reach a deal with the P5+1.

Diplomacy and nuclear issue

  • IAEA released its quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, indicating that Iran has largely complied with its requirements stipulated in the interim deal. (Reuters, 5/23)
    • Iran has diluted to low-enriched uranium or converted to oxide powder more than 80 percent of its 20% enriched uranium.
    • The report also noted that Iran is cooperating with the IAEA on discussions of “possible military dimensions,” but a number of questions remain unaddressed.
  • Next round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran are expected to take place on June 16-20 in Vienna. (Reuters, 5/18)
    • U.S. officials: U.S. may revive backchannel negotiations with Iran that were used to cement an interim nuclear deal last year in order to work toward a comprehensive nuclear agreement. (WSJ, 5/23)
    • EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton “held very long and useful discussions” with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Istanbul. (al-Monitor, 5/26)
      President Obama at West Point
      May 28, 2014 - President Barack Obama arrives at the United States Military Academy at West Point to deliver the commencement address to the 2014 graduating class. In his address, President Obama tamped down expectations for a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
  • President Obama, in his commencement address at West Point: “The odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  But for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement—one that is more effective and durable than what we could have achieved through the use of force.” (White House, 5/28)
    • Obama, on NPR: “We may not get [a deal], but there's a chance that it could still happen.” (WSJ, 5/29)
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani: “The negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, despite their difficulties, god willing, in the end we will reach an agreement that will be a win-win for all parties.” (Reuters, 5/19)
    • “We cannot expect it to be resolved in just a couple of meetings, but we are not pessimistic about the final agreement. We still have time. We can achieve this. We can even do it by the deadline.” (Reuters, 5/22)
    • “The indications that we have been receiving in the past few days, are telling us that it is very likely that we can come to an agreement by the end of July.” Note: Rouhani also indicated, however, that there was “no rush” to reach an agreement and that he would permit extending the talks another sixth months.
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif: the P5+1 “should stop demanding too much” in negotiations. (Jerusalem Post, 5/27)
    • “I feel the realism awakened from the last round of talks will bring us closer to conclusion.”
  • Saaed Jalili, a former conservative presidential candidate in Iran, endorsed Rouhani’s efforts to reach a deal with the P5+1: “All must support the negotiating team to reach our aim. The nuclear discussions are above and beyond narrow political and factional debates.” (Bloomberg, 5/22)
  • Responding to a proposal to reduce the power of the Arak heavy-water reactor, Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi argued that “it is ridiculous that the power of the (Arak) reactor would be cut from 40 megawatts to 10 megawatts.” (Reuters, 5/18)
  • Iran plans to start-up a conversion facility in June that would convert part of its stockpile of 5% enriched uranium into an oxide form, in line with the interim agreement. (Reuters, 5/29)
  • Russia is reportedly close to inking a deal with Iran to build two additional nuclear power reactors at the Bushehr site. (Reuters, 5/22)
  • Wall Street Journal received a report from Mujahedeen-e Khalq, an Iranian opposition group, suggesting that Iran’s core group of researchers involved in past nuclear weapons-related research remains intact. (WSJ, 5/27)
  • Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) scrapped Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) amendment to the Israel-U.S. Strategic Partnership Act that would have required U.S. negotiators to submit a final deal with Iran to Congress for review within 3 days of signature. (Haaretz, 5/21)
    • Obama administration official’s retort: “We cannot have 535 negotiators for every negotiation with a foreign country.”

Sanctions and Iran’s economy

  • An Iranian insider told the Financial Times that Iran has “so far been able to withdraw less than 50 percent” of unfrozen oil revenues promised in interim nuclear deal. He attributes the slow progress to “complicated procedures.” (FT, 5/30)

Iranian domestic politics

  • Iranian police briefly detained six Iranians for appearing in a video montage set to American singer Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” (BBC, 5/21)
  • Iran executed businessman Mehafarid Amri-Khosravi for his involvement in Iran’s largest-ever embezzlement scheme. (al-Monitor, 5/26)
  • In a 14-point edict, Ayatollah Khamenei advocated policies aimed at boosting the country’s declining birth rate. (Reuters, 5/27)

US-Iran relations

  • A new report by iSight Partners argued that Iran has sustained a cyber sabotage campaign dubbed “Newscaster” against U.S. government agencies and journalists over the past three years. (NYT, 5/29)
  • A new book suggests that Ali Reza Asgari, an Iranian defector who has provided critical intelligence to the United States, may have been involved in a bombing that killed 63 at the U.S. embassy in Lebanon in April 1983. (NYT, 5/18)

Geopolitics and Iran

  • IRGC unit commander: “Today’s war in Syria is really our war with America.” (AEI, 5/16)
  • Kuwaiti leader Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah plans to visit Iran on May 31. (Reuters, 5/20)
  • Sudan’s foreign minister claimed that Iran offered to deliver air defense systems to Sudan after a suspected Israeli strike against a weapons factory in Khartoum in 2012. (Reuters, 5/29)

Israel

  • Former Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz: The interim agreement with Iran “is bad for Israel…Assuming that the permanent agreement would be similar, Iran will become a country on the nuclear threshold in a very short time.” (al-Monitor, 5/26)

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

  • No significant developments.

Uncertain or dubious claims

  • No significant claims.

 

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