Belfer Iran Brief—Reviving the 1979 hostage crisis and other news

Belfer Iran BriefThe next round of P5+1 negotiations approaches, as Congress zeroes in on new terrorism-related sanctions and blocking a diplomat linked to the 1979 hostage crisis from entering the United States. These stories, President Rouhani’s visit to Afghanistan, General Dempsey’s trip to Israel, and more—in this week’s edition of Iran news from March 29-April 4, 2014.

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By Andrew Wojtanik

Highlights

  • Technical experts from the P5+1 and Iran are meeting in Vienna to discuss next steps toward a comprehensive nuclear deal. Political directors will meet next Monday.
  • Rouhani’s government is expected to name Hamid Aboutalebi as its new ambassador to the United Nations, prompting concern in the United States over his admitted ties to the 1979 hostage crisis.
  • Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey departed Israel assured that Netanyahu’s government is “satisfied that we have the capability to use a military option if the Iranians choose to stray off the diplomatic path.”

Diplomacy and nuclear issue

  • Technical experts from the P5+1 and Iran are meeting in Vienna to discuss next steps toward a comprehensive nuclear deal. (Reuters, 4/3)
    • Political directors will meet next Monday in Vienna.
  • Ali Akbar Salehi, chief of Iran’s atomic energy agency: “Our contract with the Russians will expire after eight years. We must be prepared to secure our own fuel…We are negotiating with the Russians regarding four other reactors.” (AEI, 3/28) Note: Salehi is referring to a 10-year contract in which Moscow has agreed to provide fuel rods for Iran’s civilian nuclear reactor at Bushehr, obviating the need for Iran to use domestically-produced uranium fuel.
    • “Every year, we need 27 tons of 4.1% uranium oxide for the Bushehr reactor.”

Sanctions and Iran’s economy

  • After the Senate failed to bring to a vote legislation that would impose wide-reaching sanctions against Iran, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs is reportedly drafting new sanctions aimed at severing Iran’s ties to Hezbollah. (al-Monitor, 3/27)
  • Russian source: Moscow has “prepared all documents from its side” for a proposed $20B oil-for-goods deal with Iran. (Haaretz, 4/2) Note: According to the deal, uncovered by Reuters in January, Russia would agree to barter equipment and goods in exchange for 500,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil.
  • Iran will sign an accord with Afghanistan and India allowing Kabul access to Iran’s southeastern port of Chabahar. (Haaretz, 3/30)

Iranian domestic politics

  • Prominent cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati warned of an internal plot to “seize the Assembly of Experts,” the council that appoints and indirectly supervises the activities of Iran’s Supreme Leader. (al-Monitor, 4/1)
  • Ayatollah Khamenei pardoned or eased the sentences of 920 Iranians. (Reuters, 3/31)

US-Iran relations

American hostages returning
January 27, 1981 - Recently freed Americans held hostage by Iran disembark in Maryland.
  • Rouhani’s government is expected to name Hamid Aboutalebi as its new ambassador to the United Nations, setting off a furor in the United States because of his admitted ties to the 1979 hostage crisis. (Reuters, 3/29)
    • State Dept. spokeswoman Marie Harf: “We think this nomination would be extremely troubling.” (BBC, 4/2)
    • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, sought to deny Aboutalebi entry to the United States. (al-Monitor, 4/1)
    • Sen. Ted Cruz introduced legislation that would bar Aboutalebi from entering the United States. (The Hill, 4/1)
    • Sen. John McCain: “We should change our rules or laws if we have to so that somebody who is guilty of that kind of behavior should not be allowed in the United States of America.”

Geopolitics and Iran

  • During his visit to Saudi Arabia, President Obama reportedly assured King Abdullah that the United States would not accept a bad deal with Iran. (Reuters, 3/28)
  • President Hassan Rouhani visited Afghanistan. (USIP, 3/28)
    • Rouhani: “Two occupations… brought the unfortunate seed of violence in this country, which has damaged the lives of people and this country. My country, the Islamic Republic of Iran, has condemned both occupations and has helped the people of Afghanistan in both periods of time.”
  • Iran’s Fars News Agency quoted a lawmaker as claiming that the Baloch extremist group Jaish al-Adl had released four Iranian border guards kidnapped in February. (Reuters, 4/4) Note: A fifth hostage was reportedly killed last month in Pakistan.
  • Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian: “We aren’t seeking to have Bashar al-Assad remain president for life. But we do not subscribe to the idea of using extremist forces and terrorism to topple Assad and the Syrian government.” (Reuters, 4/2)
  • Iran refuted claims by Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi that Iran was interfering in Yemeni domestic affairs. (Reuters, 4/1) Note: Hadi’s government has frequently accused Iran of financing and equipping Houthi rebels in northern Yemen and a secessionist movement in southern Yemen.
  • Austrian President Heinz Fischer agreed to visit Iran in the coming months. (Reuters, 4/2)

Israel

  • Gen. Martin Dempsey, U.S. Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, after visiting Israel: Israel is “satisfied that we have the capability to use a military option if the Iranians choose to stray off the diplomatic path…Initially, the two clocks just weren’t spinning at the same rate. Our clocks are more harmonized than they were two years ago.” (Bloomberg, 4/1)
  • Israeli President Shimon Peres: “It’s time to put facts on the table and to understand that nuclear arms in the hands of the Iranian administration pose a danger to all of humanity.” (Jerusalem Post, 3/31)

“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.