Iran

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Iran Willing to Change Arak Reactor to Produce Less Plutonium it Can’t Reprocess Anyway

Sample medical isotope packaging on display at this week's National Nuclear Technology Day in Iran. Partial scree-grab from Mehr News.

Sample medical isotope packaging on display at this week’s National Nuclear Technology Day in Iran. Partial screen-grab from Mehr News.

While I was busy bashing David Petraeus yesterday over his tantrum warning us that dropping sanctions on Iran will result in more funding for terrorism, I missed an important Reuters article by Fredrik Dahl in which he noted this PressTV interview with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Salehi informs us that Iran is willing to make design changes to the Arak heavy water reactor that will result in it producing much less plutonium. The P5+1 group has been adamant that Iran not finish construction of Arak over fears that it would produce sufficient plutonium for a nuclear weapon, despite the fact that Iran has not built the sort of dedicated facility that would be required to recover the plutonium from spent fuel from the Arak reactor. Here is the relevant part of the PressTV article:

Iran has offered a scientific and logical proposal to clear up any ambiguities over the country’s Arak heavy-water reactor, a senior Iranian official says.

After the signing of the Geneva deal dubbed the Joint Plan of Action between Iran and six world powers, Tehran put forward a scientific plan to resolve the West’s alleged concerns over the Arak reactor, whose closure had been demanded by the Western states, said Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi on Wednesday.

In November 2013, Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the US, France, Russia, China and Britain – plus Germany sealed an interim deal in Geneva to set the stage for the full resolution of the dispute over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program.

“In our plan, we explained that we would redesign the heart of the Arak reactor, so that its production of plutonium will decrease drastically. They (Iran’s negotiating partners) were surprised when they saw our scientific and logical reaction,” Salehi said.

The Arak reactor, which uses natural uranium to produce radio medicines, is planned to gradually replace the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical radioisotopes for cancer patients.

Dahl gives us a bit more perspective on the importance of this announcement:

Iran has made a proposal that would significantly lower plutonium production at a planned reactor, a senior Iranian official was quoted as saying, signalling flexibility on a key issue in talks to end the nuclear dispute with world powers.

The comment by Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, was the latest sign that a compromise may be possible over the Arak research reactor, which the West fears could yield weapons-usable material. Iran denies any such aim.

The fate of the heavy-water plant, which has not yet been completed, is one of the central issues in negotiations between Iran and six major powers aimed at reaching a long-term deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme by an agreed July 20 deadline.

Significantly, the Russian negotiator says that agreement over changes to Arak may be near:

Russia’s chief negotiator suggested after the April 8-9 talks that progress had been achieved on Arak. “The possibility of a compromise on this issue has grown,” Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

Dahl ties the proposed changes at Arak to a plan put forward last week from Princeton University. From Princeton’s press release: Continue reading

Petraeus Plans for The Day After

The title of Petraues' op-ed is clearly trying to play off this 1983 made for TV movie about Lawrence, Kansas after a nuclear war.

The title of Petraues’ op-ed is clearly trying to play off this 1983 made for TV movie about Lawrence, Kansas after a nuclear war.

On September 26, 2004, the Washington Post disgraced itself by giving David Petraeus space to write an op-ed in which he spouted pure bullshit on how well his vaunted “training” program was going in Iraq. Of course, that program failed multiple times with Petraeus never being called to account. Despite clear military regulations prohibiting political activity by members of the military, Petraeus’ op-ed was seen by some as providing an endorsement which gave a significant boost to George W. Bush’s re-election campaign at a time when public opinion on the war in Iraq was beginning to sour. Just short of ten years later (and after his career got Broadwelled, I mean, broadsided), Petraeus is back on the pages of the Neocon Daily today, warning us that the “US needs to plan for the day after an Iran deal“.

The reviews of Petraeus’ newest op-ed are now in, and it has been called “Provocative!”, “Apocalyptic!” and even “Gut-Wrenching!” Oh, wait. That’s how the 1983 made for TV movie The Day After is described on its DVD cover. My mistake. But clearly Petraeus is playing off that old title. The old movie deals with life in Lawrence, Kansas after a nuclear war and Petraeus is now telling us we must prepare for life after preventing Iran getting the chance to wage nuclear war.

The central tenet of the op-ed is that Iran is “the leading state sponsor of terrorism”. Like most of what Petraeus does or says, that statement is just flat wrong. Even though the US (including the military when Petraeus was head of Central Command and the CIA when Petraeus led it) never admits it publicly, the rest of the world knows that Saudi Arabia is by far the largest state sponsor of terrorism. There are even Wikileaks cables confirming the role of Saudi money in supporting Sunni extremists. And note that the single most important organizer of state sponsored terrorism, Bandar bin Sultan, is now returning to his role after a brief interruption.

It appears that Petraeus stopped paying attention to world events when he resigned from the CIA in disgrace in November of 2012, because nowhere in his anti-Iran screed do we see any acknowledgement that in June of 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected as Iran’s new president and has ushered in a new, more moderate outlook that is credited with providing the window for diplomatic progress toward an agreement on Iran’s nuclear technology.

Okay, so here is Petraeus (and co-author Vance Serchuk, who was Joe Lieberman’s foreign policy advisor after cutting his teeth at the American Enterprise Institute–you just can’t make this shit up!) framing the problem for us: Continue reading

Iran Still Refusing to Confirm Death of Missing Border Guard

A photo posted yesterday showing the four released border guards back in Iran.

A photo posted yesterday showing the four released border guards in Tehran.

I have been following the story of the five Iranian border guards who were abducted in early February by the Jeish Al-Adl terrorist group. Late in March, the group claimed to have executed one of the guards. Last week, four guards were released and eventually made their way back into Iran, presumably from where they were being held just across the border in Pakistan. Iran’s statements relating to the group’s claim of killing one guard have been quite strange, alternating between stating flatly that he has been executed while also stating that they can neither confirm nor deny his death.

The speaker of Iran’s Parliament added yet another twist to the string of strange statements, today issuing a call for Pakistan to “release” the fifth guard, but the story as it is presented by Fars News appears to leave open whether he is calling for release of a living person or the body of a dead one:

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani called on the Pakistani officials to double their efforts to release the 5th Iranian border guard who was abducted by Jeish al-Adl terrorist group in February and kept hostage despite the freedom of his other four colleagues.

“The Pakistani government should certainly be accountable and provide the ground for the freedom of the 5th Iranian border guard as soon as possible,” Larijani said in an open session of the parliament in Tehran on Tuesday.

His remarks came amid reports and claims by Jeish al-Adl that the terrorist group has killed, Jamshid Danayee-Far, one of the Iranian border guards kidnapped along Iran-Pakistan borders in February.

The five Iranian border guards were abducted in Jakigour region of Iran’s Sistan and Balouchestan Province on February 6 and taken to Pakistan. Jeish al-Adl claimed late last month that it has executed Danayee-Far.

Meantime, Governor-General of Iran’s Southeastern Sistan and Balouchestan province Ali Awsat Hashemi this weekend confirmed the death of Danayee-Far, and said Iran is waiting for the transfer of his body.

Just yesterday, we had another “cannot confirm nor deny” version:

Iran’s interior minister has said due to lack of sufficient evidence, Iran could not confirm abducted guard’s death.

Speaking in the sidelines of country’s governors gathering, Abdurreza Rahmani Fazli pointed to the abducted guard’s martyrdom. “Available information and document do not compel us to confirm the guard’s death,” he said, adding that “we do not have sufficient information and four released soldiers who returned back to the country do not know anything about the other abducted guard – Jamshid Danaeifar.”

Complicating matters even further, Al Monitor reports that no video or photo has appeared to confirm Danaeifar’s death and that Jeish Al-Adl has even removed their claim of killing him from their website: Continue reading

FO Claims Captured Iranian Border Guards Not in Pakistan; Iran Threatens Use of Special Forces for Rescue

Since word emerged on Sunday that Jeish Al-Adl executed one of the five Iranian border guards that had been abducted last month, there has been a very interesting series of developments between Iran and Pakistan. Iran has summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to lodge a formal complaint about the death and Pakistan’s apparent inability to find the terrorist group and release the hostages. Iran’s Foreign Minister also sent an open letter to the UN, appealing for help in controlling “state sponsored” groups that are responsible for this and other attacks on Iran. Pakistan, meanwhile, has announced today that they don’t believe the border guards are being held in Pakistan. Complicating matters even further, Iran now is claiming that it would be within their right to employ special forces in a raid on Pakistani territory to release the hostages and kill those responsible for the kidnapping.

The summoning of the ambassador seemed innocuous enough:

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to Tehran over Iranian kidnapped guard’s death and expressed strong objections to Pakistan for lack of control of its borders.

Deputy Director General of the department of West Asian countries of Iran’s Foreign Ministry expressed Islamic Republic of Iran’s objection on Iranian border guards’ abduction and their transfer to Pakistan emphasizing on Iran’s demand for their release, health and also delivering the terrorists to Iran.

He continued “Pakistan should have proper control over its borders and prevent recurrence of such events unless two countries’ good relations would be affected.”

Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran, Noor Mohammad Jadmani, offered condolences for one of the Iranian abducted guard’s death in Pakistan and expressed regret for the terrorist incident.

“Pakistan is also worried about the growth of terrorist actions and extremism.” added he and that “Pakistan will not let such incidents be repeated again and affect the two countries’ relations.”

Likewise, the letter to the UN starts off as normal diplomacy, but it eventually gets to some fairly broad claims about attacks on Iran:

It is extremely regrettable that all available evidence indicate that these cowardly acts of terror targeting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its citizens have been perpetrated by State-sponsored extremist groups, with similar patterns of funding, coordination, support and direction.  The entire international community should be alarmed by the regional and extra-regional ramifications of sectarian tension and extremist violence, which are being systematically organized, sponsored and orchestrated in various parts of our region. In fact, learning from recent history, a sober assessment of the medium and long-term implications of this dangerous trend will show that the very sponsors of such hatred, who for ill-conceived interests have hastily resorted to such short-sighted tactics to remedy their strategic miscalculations and failures, stand to lose the most from the sectarian and extremist violence that they are spreading.

What a strange passage. In protesting attacks against themselves, it appears that the Iranians are making a not very veiled threat to carry out their own “sectarian and extremist violence” against those they perceive to be behind the attacks.

The Express Tribune provides a bit more perspective on Iran’s distrust of Saudi Arabia being behind this part of the letter: Continue reading

Jeish Al-Adl Executes One of Five Iranian Border Guards Abducted Last Month

There is a major new development in the ongoing saga of incidents along the Iran-Pakistan border. Recall that a group of Sunni extremists, Jeish Al-Adl, captured five Iranian border guards in early February (after killing 14 in an attack last October). Iran had briefly claimed that the guards had been released earlier this month, but then quickly backed down on that claim. It seems that Iran has difficulty getting accurate information on the status of the guards, as they first denied and then finally confirmed that the highest ranking of the guards, Jamshid Danaeifar (his face is circled on a photo of the detained guards that is circulating on Twitter) has been executed:

Informed sources in Pakistan confirmed earlier reports that Jeish al-Adl terrorist group has executed one of the five Iranian border guards that it abducted along Iran-Pakistan border on February 6.

The sources told FNA in Islamabad on Monday that “Jeish al-Adl has martyred one of the kidnapped border guards”.

This is while the Iranian Interior Ministry earlier today rejected Jeish al-Adl’s claim.

“We don’t confirm this report; were it true, we would have been informed,” Interior Ministry Spokesman Hossein Ali Amiri said on Monday.He said that the five border guards are kept in Pakistan at present and are safe and sound.

Amiri made the remarks after Jeish al-Adl claimed on its tweeter page that it has killed Jamshid Danayeefar, one of the kidnapped border guards.

News of the execution came just as Iran had been expressing hope that the guards were about to be released. From an earlier report on Sunday by Fars News:

Efforts and consultations with the Pakistani officials still continue to secure the release of the five border guards abducted along Iran-Pakistan border on February 6, an Iranian official announced on Sunday.

“Talks with national and local Pakistani officials have been held at different levels and they have made some promises,” Governor-General of Iran’s Southeastern Sistan and Balouchestan province Ali Awsat Hashemi told FNA today.

He expressed the hope that the five young border guards would be released to return to their families soon.

Writing at the International Policy Digest, Sadaf Megan informs us that Jeish Al-Adl has stated that if their demands on the release of prisoners are not met, they will execute another prisoner in ten days:

In the statement following the announcement of his death, Jaish al-Adl demands that if 50 of their prisoners are not released by Iran then Jaish al-Adl will execute another hostage within 10 days.

The clock is ticking for the four remaining “pasdar(s)” or guards. In the meantime it seems unlikely that the Iranian government will be able to fulfill or want to meet the demands of Jaish Al-Adl. A regime that does not succumb to threats and ultimatums by the West is unlikely to make a deal with a terrorist group.

The article also has interesting background information on Jeish Al-Adl, providing perspective on the relationship with Jundallah:

Jaish al-Adl operates in the Sistan-Baluchistan region of Iran, and frequently utilizes the Iranian-Pakistani border to carry out attacks. Cross border operations have been practiced during the time of Abdolmalek Rigi’s Sunni Balochi group, Jundallah. After Iran executed Rigi in 2010, Jundallah dissolved and merged with Jaish al-Adl.

Stay tuned for further developments. With Pakistan still reeling from the Carlotta Gall article the Express Tribune wound up censoring entirely because of its revelations of ISI sheltering bin Laden, they risk displaying more evidence of collaboration with terrorists if they are unable to secure the release of the remaining border guards before the next one is executed.

Russia Expertly Plays US Press on P5+1 Talks

Screengrab from the PressTV story on Ryobkov's comments.

Screengrab from the PressTV story on Ryobkov’s comments.

On Tuesday, I noted that Alissa Rubin provided an outlet for an unidentified “senior American official” to put into the New York Times concerns that Russia might allow the disagreement over Crimea to affect their negotiating stance in the P5+1 talks with Iran in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday. This was, of course, despite an encouraging statement by chief Russian negotiator Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov showing optimism about the negotiations that were about to begin.

Despite these concerns by the American official, it appears that the talks went well. Fredrik Dahl reports that Iran was happy with how the talks went:

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif characterized the latest round of negotiations as “very successful” in terms of clarifying the issues involved, the Iranian official news agency IRNA reported.

“In terms of understanding and clarification, Vienna-2 was among our very successful round of talks … extremely beneficial and constructive,” it quoted Zarif as saying.

But once the talks had finished, with the next round not scheduled to begin until April 7, Ryobkov played the US press expertly, and AP’s George Jahn was quick to take the bait:

U.S.-Russian tensions over Ukraine spilled over into nuclear talks with Iran Wednesday, with Moscow’s chief envoy at the negotiations warning that his country may take “retaliatory measures” that could hurt attempts to persuade Tehran to cut back on programs that could make atomic arms.

The statement, by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, appeared to be the most serious threat of reprisal by Moscow for Western sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Russia is key to attempts to coax Iran into significant long-term curbs of its nuclear program in exchange for relief from U.N. and other sanctions. Iran insists it does not want nuclear arms but is seeking a deal that will result in full sanctions relief.

The Russian threat, hours after the latest negotiating round ended, appeared to catch Washington off guard.

Perhaps the most significant evidence that Ryobkov was merely jerking Washington’s chain can be seen in how his tone remains entirely positive about the P5+1 talks in comments carried today by PressTV, even stating that the current timetable for reaching a final agreement appears to still be on track:

A Russian Foreign Ministry official says talks between Iran and six world powers over Tehran’s nuclear energy program have “progressed quite well.”

“We have progressed quite well, the atmosphere is very good, and the work is business-like and result-oriented,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a telephone interview with Russia’s Interfax news agency from the Austrian capital of Vienna on Thursday.

“But saying that we have the outlines of an agreement now would be encroaching upon the truth. There are none,” he added.

Referring to a late-July deadline that was set in November last year between Tehran and the six nations for a final nuclear agreement, Ryabkov said, “I don’t see any reasons to say that this deadline could be shifted and that this schedule is becoming unrealizable. There are no reasons for this so far.”

At least Jahn also reported that it appears that Iran is leaning toward a re-engineering of the Arak reactor so that it will produce less plutonium. This would lessen concerns about the reactor while still allowing it to move into use to replace the aging Tehran research reactor in producing medical isotopes.

At any rate, with several weeks to go before the next round of P5+1 talks, there is plenty of time for Ryobkov’s “warning” over sanctions in response to the Crimean situation to play itself out.  Considering that we have reports now that Syria has gotten almost to the 50% mark in removal of its chemical weapons-related materials, its seems likely that Russsia is still committed to its nonproliferation stance for chemical and nuclear weapons despite the disputes it has with the West on other issues.

US Pouts Over Potential Crimea Spillover While Russia Enters P5+1 Talks With Optimism

Alissa Rubin today has two separate articles in the New York Times that parrot US misgivings ahead of today’s round of talks between the P5+1 group of countries and Iran. In the article that went up first, Rubin offers anonymity to a “senior American official” to do some hand-wringing over how Russia’s move toward full annexation of Crimea could disrupt US-Russian relations to the point that the P5+1 negotiations could be thrown off track:

Tensions between the West and Russia over events in Ukraine have cast a shadow over the second round of talks set to begin on Tuesday in Vienna on a permanent nuclear agreement with Iran.

/snip/

A senior American official, speaking before the Iran talks and just before the secession vote in Crimea on Sunday that overwhelmingly approved reunification with Russia, indicated concern about possible consequences from the friction over Ukraine. Since western nations consider that vote illegal and have warned President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia not to annex Crimea, the situation for the Iran talks would now seem more worrisome.

“I think that we all hope that the incredibly difficult situation in Ukraine will not create issues for this negotiation,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

“We hope that whatever happens in the days ahead, whatever actions we and the international community take, depending upon the decisions and the choices that Russia makes, that any actions that Russia subsequently takes will not put these negotiations at risk,” the official said.

Rubin allows this “official” to frame the situation as only dire while completely ignoring that significant and rapid progress was made on the negotiations for Syria to abandon its chemical weapon stockpile while the US and Russia were on completely opposite sides of the Syrian conflict. In the current case, while Russia is more closely aligned to Iran than the rest of the P5+1, their differences with the group on general issues of nuclear proliferation are much smaller than the differences between the US and Russia in the Syrian conflict. So why is Crimea a barrier to talks with Iran when being on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict wasn’t a barrier to an agreement on chemical weapon destruction?

Even when Rubin moves on to her article relating Iran’s interest in seeing the talks progress, she can’t resist opening with a repeat of the concerns of a spillover of Crimean tensions:

As talks on a permanent nuclear agreement with Iran resumed in Vienna on Tuesday, under the shadow of tensions between the West and Russia, Iran said the onus to ensure progress was on the world powers with which it is negotiating.

“Important and tough discussions ahead today,” Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said on Twitter. “We have held our end of the bargain. Time for our counterparts to keep theirs.”

The article then goes on to repeat many of the same paragraphs from the original, including the senior American official quotes, although it does mention in passing that EU negotiator Catherine Ashton and Zarif held a brief meeting prior to the main negotiations opening this morning.

Contrast that with the reporting in the Iranian press. PressTV reports that Russia is in fact optimistic about the talks: Continue reading

Dahl, Reuters Grant Anonymity to “Sources” Peddling Iran Info Rejected by IAEA

Back in October, I noted that as the P5+1, IAEA and Iran all moved toward agreements on Iran’s nuclear technology, the usual pathway employed by those who wish to disrupt peaceful talk and agitate toward military solutions was remarkably silent. Here’s a bit of how I described that process and its apparent silence at that time:

I have remarked in many of my posts on the Iranian nuclear technology issue that “diplomats” in Vienna have a long history of leaking what they claim to be incriminating evidence against Iran to reporters there, primarily George Jahn of AP (look at the pretty cartoon!) and sometimes Fredrik Dahl of Reuters. Joby Warrick at the Washington Post often chimes in with information leaked from his sources who also seem to prefer a violent path. The intelligence is often embellished by David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security. While there have been improvements lately by Jahn and Dahl in questioning the material leaked to them and providing alternative information available from other sources, much damage has been done to the diplomatic pathway by this process.

Remarkably, there is little to no pushback so far from this group to the progress made in Geneva. A story co-authored by Jahn late yesterday afternoon fits with most of the reporting on the meeting and his single quote from an unnamed source is innocuous

/snip/

Dahl also has no disruptive quotes in the several Reuters stories to which he contributed. Completing their shutout from the trio of their usual helpers, the hawks planted no inflammatory language in Joby Warrick’s story in today’s Washington Post. The David Albright pathway to propaganda also hasn’t been activated, as the most recent post on his site at the time of this writing was dated October 3.

The dogs that aren’t barking now are the most encouraging sign of all that there is widespread optimism that diplomacy has a real chance of succeeding.

Sadly, Fredrik Dahl and Reuters have broken the silence from those who want to disrupt talks, but even within this blatant attempt to derail negotiations, there are elements of hope. Dahl has granted anonymity to “sources” who tell him that the IAEA last year considered putting together a new report on Iran’s nuclear activities similar to the annex included in the 2011 report that prompted much controversy. After making only vague hints about what sort of evidence might have been in the report, Dahl then goes on parrot the sources in saying the IAEA chose not to issue the new report because of warming relations between Iran and the negotiating countries. He also states the IAEA had no comment, but he completely ignores the likelihood that the IAEA did not provide the new report because the “evidence” in question was found not to be credible. Dahl and Reuters completely ignore the history of known false information being supplied to IAEA and the ongoing process of new bits of information from the “laptop of death” being leaked by the sources in question.

Here is how Dahl’s report frames the information being fed to him:

The U.N. nuclear watchdog planned a major report on Iran that might have revealed more of its suspected atomic bomb research, but held off as Tehran’s relations with the outside world thawed, sources familiar with the matter said.

Such a report – to have been prepared last year – would almost certainly have angered Iran and complicated efforts to settle a decade-old dispute over its atomic aspirations, moves which accelerated after pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani took office in August.

According to the sources, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has apparently dropped the idea of a new report, at least for the time being.

There was no immediate comment from the IAEA. The sources said there was no way of knowing what information collected by the agency since it issued a landmark report on Iran in 2011 might have been incorporated in the new document, although one said it could have added to worries about Tehran’s activities.

Dahl relies completely on his sources saying that the IAEA chose not to issue the report so as not to anger Iran without considering that the IAEA very likely found the “new” information to be neither new nor credible.

A bit further in the piece, we get a vague description of what the “new” information might have been: Continue reading

Framework in Place for P5+1, Iran Final Nuclear Negotiations

After several days of warnings from both sides not to expect too much from the current round of talks between the P5+1 group of countries and Iran on Iran’s nuclear program, we have word today that the two sides have agreed to the framework under which the negotiations are to proceed. Furthermore, the date for the next formal session has been announced and the head negotiator for the P5+1 side will visit Tehran a week before the full session.

Here is George Jahn of AP on today’s announcement:

Iran and six world powers ended the opening round of nuclear talks on an upbeat note Thursday, with both sides saying they had agreed on a plan for further negotiations meant to produce a comprehensive deal to set limits on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

In a joint statement, they said the next round of negotiations would begin in Vienna on March 17, continuing a process likely to take at least six months and probably longer.

Expectations had been modest as the talks started Tuesday, and the upbeat tone on a framework for future talks appeared aimed in part to encourage skeptics inside and outside Iran that the negotiations had a chance to succeed despite huge gaps between the Iranians and the six powers.

More from Reuters:

“We have had three very productive days during which we have identified all of the issues we need to address in reaching a comprehensive and final agreement,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters.

“There is a lot to do. It won’t be easy but we have made a good start,” said Ashton who speaks on behalf of the six powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.

Senior diplomats from the six nations, as well as Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet again on March 17, also in Vienna, and hold a series of further discussions ahead of the July deadline.

Tehran says its nuclear program has no military aims and has signaled repeatedly it would resist dismantling its nuclear installations as part of any deal.

“I can assure you that no-one had, and will have, the opportunity to impose anything on Iran during the talks,” Zarif told reporters after the Vienna meeting.

A senior U.S. official cautioned their discussions will be “difficult” but the sides were committed to reach a deal soon.

“This will be a complicated, difficult and lengthy process. We will take the time required to do it right,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We will continue to work in a deliberate and concentrated manner to see if we can get that job done.”

It is reported in multiple sources (including Fars News), that Catherine Ashton will visit Tehran March 9-10, ahead of the March 17-20 negotiations that will take place in Vienna. It appears that Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will be holding monthly meetings as the talks progress.

There are a number of upbeat stories at Mehr News, Fars News and PressTV today about the agreement, although there also is still a story from the head of the IGRC noting that the negotiations are “prone to problems“.

Zarif spoke to reporters in remarks that appear to have been delivered after the press conference:

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated that Tehran and the world powers didn’t discuss military and scientific issues in their talks, and underlined that Iran will not dismantle any of its nuclear installations.

“We are focused merely on the nuclear issues and the negotiations don’t include defensive and scientific issues and everyone has accepted that Iran’s defensive capability is no the subject for the negotiations,” Zarif said, addressing Iranian reporters in Vienna on Thursday after meeting EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton who heads the Group 5+1 (the US, Russia, China, Britain and France plus Germany) delegations in the talks with Iran.

“We won’t close any (nuclear) site and have announced that no one should prescribe anything or dictate a solution to the Iranian nation; the way to ensure the peaceful nature of our program is not closing the sites, rather its peaceful nature should be displayed openly, transparently and based on the international regulations and supervision,” he added.

From those remarks, it appears that Zarif feels that it has been agreed that Iran’s missile program will not be a part of the negotiations. Note also that Iran considers the Parchin site to be a defense installation, so this comment first referring to defense issues being off the table but then talking about openness and transparency seems to be dancing between keeping Parchin off limits to inspectors and opening it. Despite these uncertainties, though, another article from Fars News describing this part of Zarif’s comments has a very interesting passage:

“We agreed that no one ‘surprises’ the other side with new claims,” Zarif said.

That bit must come as a huge disappointment to the crews in Israeli and US intelligence operations who “find” new documents whenever they need to disrupt diplomatic progress.

Meanwhile, Back in Syria…

The last time I checked in on Syria, there was much consternation over the delays in getting Syria’s chemical weapons precursors sent to the staging area in Latakia so that they can be moved on to the next steps in the process that will eventually result in destruction of the chemicals at sea aboard the Cape Ray. I had noted that stories covering the delay had put all of the blame on Syria for not moving the chemicals (even though they were said already to be at “marshaling” spots) while ignoring that the US was over a month late in making the Cape Ray ready. There has now been a third batch of chemicals sent to Latakia by Syria, but the amount shipped represents a small fraction of the materials to be removed. Despite this, Syria still maintains that the the June deadline for full destruction of the materials will be met.

Going further back, recall that back in September, we were hearing about how wonderful General Salim Idriss is. We were told that he was a moderate (well, that is if we ignore the fellow from his forces who eat hearts of dead foes) and that he had a foolproof plan for maintaining control of arms we shipped to him. It turns out that Idriss wasn’t much of a leader after all. Idriss now has been removed:

The sudden replacement of the Free Syrian Army commander is the strongest sign yet that the rebel group is restructuring to address concerns of its Western backers that it fight both the regime and extremist opposition factions.

Gen. Salim Idriss, the public face of the FSA for the past 14 months, leaves ahead of an expected delivery of new and more sophisticated weapons from Gulf Arab states to rebels aligned with his group.

Complaints against Gen. Idriss have been mounting for some time. His critics said his forces were ineffective and he was too slow to deliver weapons to fighters.

It’s all about the weapons when it comes to “aid” for the Syrian rebels. And Idriss’ control of those weapons? How about this in The Guardian’s coverage of Idriss’ sacking:

The Islamic Front recently seized weapons warehouses from the FSA.

Gosh, I sure hope Idriss got the Islmaic Front to give him a handwritten receipt for those weapons.

But did you notice that bit in the quote above from the Wall Street Journal article, where we learn that Idriss’ removal comes “ahead of an expected delivery of new and more sophisticated weapons from Gulf Arab states”? Iran explains to us in a Fars News article that this really means the weapons will come from Saudi Arabia: Continue reading

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @gideonstrumpet How can crim def attys have disdain for appeal? You have to plan to either win or appeal in every case. That IS the mindset
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bmaz RT @gideonstrumpet: @CBSAndrew when courts become ministerial and stop adjudicating violations of rights, do we have rights anymore? http:/…
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bmaz @PhilPerspective @Will_Bunch Nope, turns out it was a DWI and he served his mandatory one day in jail. Arrested by Salt River/Pima Indian PD
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emptywheel @puellavulnerata Actually don't know. Lots of possibilities.
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emptywheel @alanhkaiser What? Sorry, that's fucking nuts. Of course he's lying. @trevortimm
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emptywheel @liferstate Oh, they're generally sorted. I need to go through & decide what to keep, what someone might want, what has too many annotations
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emptywheel @billmon1 Nothing a few InfoOp fliers can't fix.
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emptywheel @John_Hudson Well, I think I've got a solution! Primary challenge threats! It's the solution to everything!
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emptywheel @B_Amer Yup. Didn't expect that kind! Music related? @alreinke
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emptywheel @John_Hudson To be fair, kind of hard for city to deal w/100 year flood and top 10 snow year in same year. Blame Fat Al Gore.
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emptywheel @B_Amer ? Am I not looking closely enough at pics? @alreinke
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emptywheel @B_Amer Fun pic. Looks gorgeous. (Tho hot.)
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