Belfer Iran Brief—Talks reach halfway point and other news

Belfer Iran BriefAs time-bound negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear deal crossed the halfway mark, Iran’s appointment for a new Ambassador to the United Nations hit a snag. These stories and more in the latest edition of the Belfer Iran Brief for April 5-11, 2014.

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By Andrew Wojtanik

Highlights

  • After a new round of talks in Vienna, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif indicated there was “50-60 percent agreement” on components of a comprehensive nuclear deal.
  • Secretary Kerry testified that Iran’s current time to nuclear “breakout” is “about two months.”
  • House and Senate unanimously passed legislation barring Hamid Aboutalebi, nominee for Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, from obtaining a visa to enter the United States.

Diplomacy and nuclear issue

  • P5+1 and Iran held another round of talks over a comprehensive nuclear agreement in Vienna. (GSN, 4/9)
    • U.S. official: “We have continued our substantive discussions about all of the issues that will have to be part of a comprehensive agreement – every single issue you can imagine.” (State Dept., 4/9)
    • EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton noted that “a lot of intensive work will be required to overcome the differences ahead,” while Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif noted that there was “50-60 percent agreement” on the issues. (Times of Israel, 4/10)
    • U.S. official: P5+1 and Iran aim to begin drafting an agreement in May. (CNN, 4/4)
      Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
      April 8, 2014 - Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
  • Secretary of State John Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “it’s public knowledge today that we’re operating with a time period for a so-called breakout of about two months. That’s been in the public domain.” (Reuters, 4/8)
    • “Breakout means that they make a decision to race, to sort of move out of the regime that has been put in place, and overtly move to enrich sufficiently to create enough material for one weapon…It doesn’t mean they have gotten to a warhead or to a delivery system or even a test capacity.” (WP, 4/8)
    • Kerry noted that “six months to 12 months is—I’m not saying that’s what we’d settle for, but even that is significantly more (than current breakout estimates).” (USIP, 4/8)
  • Ayatollah Khamenei: “These talks need to continue but all must know that despite continuation of the talks, activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the field of nuclear research and development won’t be halted at all.” (BBC, 4/9)
  • Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi reportedly claimed that: “In our plan, we explained that we would redesign the heart of the Arak reactor, so that its production of plutonium will decrease drastically.” (Reuters, 4/10)
    • Deputy Iranian negotiator Abbas Araghchi: “The reactor of Arak will remain as the heavy-water reactor…but there are technical ways to decrease concerns over its activities.” (Reuters, 4/8)
    • Russian negotiator Sergei Ryabkov: “The possibility of a compromise on this issue has grown.” (Reuters, 4/10)
  • Araghchi: “Iran will not stop or suspend its uranium enrichment work under any circumstances. But the level of enrichment can be discussed.” (Reuters, 4/8)
  • Iranian negotiator Hamid Baeedinejad described technical talks held last week as “useful” and they “raised mutual insight into our differing positions.” (Reuters, 4/7)
  • IAEA chief Yukiya Amano remarked that Iran is implementing the requirements of the Nov. 24 interim deal “as planned.” (Reuters, 4/9)

Sanctions and Iran’s economy

  • Reporting by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Iran is struggling to gain access to unfrozen oil revenues that were promised as part of the interim nuclear deal. (WSJ, 4/6)
    • Foreign banks holding the unfrozen accounts are reportedly concerned that releasing funds to Iran may violate U.S. sanctions.
  • Treasury Department permitted Boeing and General Electric to sell spare parts to Iran Air. (NYT, 4/4) Note: U.S. engagement with Iran on aircraft parts and maintenance was permitted by the interim deal signed in November.
    • Al-Monitor reported that a different major aircraft manufacturer denied an Iranian maintenance request because it could be completed before the interim deal expires in July. (al-Monitor, 4/8)
  • Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew told Russia’s finance minister that Moscow’s proposed oil-for-goods deal with Iran could violate sanctions. (Reuters, 4/10)
  • Spain arrested four people accused of attempting to sell dual-use machinery to Iran in violation of European sanctions. ( Reuters, 4/7)
  • Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) signed a letter to President Obama expressing concern that buyers of Iranian oil are increasing imports. (GSN, 4/7)
    • Sen. Menendez: “A deal that would ultimately unravel the entire sanctions regime for a six- to twelve-month lead time is not far from where we are today.” (Jerusalem Post, 4/8)

Iranian domestic politics

  • No significant developments.

US-Iran relations

  • House and Senate unanimously passed a bill that would prevent Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s appointee for Ambassador to the United Nations, from entering the United States. (NYT, 4/10)
    • Aboutalebi served as a translator during the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 that prompted a 444-day hostage crisis.
    • White House spokesman Jay Carney: “We’ve informed the government of Iran that this potential selection is not viable.” (NYT, 4/8Note: The legislation now heads to President Obama’s desk for approval.
  • Former President Jimmy Carter defended Aboutalebi: “I think it would be inappropriate for the United States to try to block someone that Iran wanted to choose.” (FT, 4/11)

Geopolitics and Iran

  • Iran reportedly delivered 30,000 tons of food aid to Syria. (AP, 4/7)

Israel

  • No significant developments.

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

  • Secretary Kerry: “If [the Iranians] make the decision to break out, sanctions aren’t going to be what make the difference…The greater likelihood is we are going to respond immediately.” (WP, 4/8)
  • Iran and Pakistan conducted joint naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz. (Reuters, 4/6)

Uncertain or dubious claims

  • No significant claims.

 

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