Although the P5+1 interim agreement with Iran was first reached in late November, ongoing talks have been required to fill in the details of just how the agreement is to be implemented. Those talks came to fruition yesterday with the announcement that on January 20, the six month period of Iran making concessions on enrichment in return for limited sanctions relief will begin. The hope is that this period of pausing progress in Iran’s development of nuclear technology and the loosening of some sanctions will provide a window to negotiate a broader agreement that provides verifiable prevention of Iran producing nuclear weapons.
US Secretary of State John Kerry noted the significance of the latest negotiating progress:
We’ve taken a critical, significant step forward towards reaching a verifiable resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
On January 20, in just a few short days, we will begin implementation of the Joint Plan of Action that we and our partners agreed to with Iran in Geneva.
As of that day, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back, while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s program.
Because of the determined and focused work of our diplomats and technical experts, we now have a set of technical understandings for how the parties will fulfill the commitments made at the negotiating table. These understandings outline how the first step agreement will be implemented and verified, as well as the timing of implementation of its provisions.
Iran will voluntarily take immediate and important steps between now and January 20 to halt the progress of its nuclear program. Iran will also continue to take steps throughout the six months to live up to its commitments, such as rendering the entire stockpile of its 20% enriched uranium unusable for further enrichment. As this agreement takes effect, we will be extraordinarily vigilant in our verification and monitoring of Iran’s actions, an effort that will be led by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The United States and the rest of our P5+1 partners will also take steps, in response to Iran fulfilling its commitments, to begin providing some limited and targeted relief. The $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian assets that Iran will gain access to as part of the agreement will be released in regular installments throughout the six months. The final installment will not be available to Iran until the very last day.
That last bit is critical. While the war mongers will be crying about the US giving sanctions relief to Iran, that relief will be doled out over time and only provided as Iran continues to live up to its side of the agreement, with the final portion of funds only coming on the very last day of the six months. Central to this agreement, as previously reported, is that Iran will completely halt its enrichment to 20% uranium and, by the end of the six month period, will have no stockpile of 20% enriched uranium that is in a chemical form that could rapidly be enriched further to weapons grade.
Kerry appreciates that the six month period will provide a large window in which Congressional war mongers will be doing their best to disrupt the agreement:
We now have an obligation to give our diplomats and experts every chance to succeed in these difficult negotiations. I very much appreciate Congress’ critical role in imposing the sanctions that brought Iran to the table, but I feel just as strongly that now is not the time to impose additional sanctions that could threaten the entire negotiating process. Now is not the time for politics. Now is the time for statesmanship, for the good of our country, the region, and the world.
As I pointed out when Robert Menendez put together his bill for further sanctions, that particular bill goes far beyond a mere promise of further sanctions if a final agreement is not reached. Instead, it promises these sanctions even if a final agreement is reached that allows Iran to retain the right of enrichment of uranium below 5%. It has been clear to me from the start that Iran will insist on retaining the right to low level enrichment, and today’s Washington Post story on implementation of the agreement makes that point very strongly: Continue reading
Fars News reports that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, chief negotiator for the European Union, will meet for lunch tomorrow just before the next round of P5+1 talks with Iran kick off in Geneva later in the afternoon. But even though an interim agreement that would freeze Iran’s current nuclear work in return for a release of some impounded funds to Iran while a longer term agreement is finalized seems more likely than not, those who oppose any deal are desperately lashing out at the last minute. This morning, two bomb blasts near the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed more than twenty and injured well over a hundred. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ramped up his rhetoric even further, making the outrageous claim that Iran has on hand sufficient uranium enriched to 5% to make up to five bombs within a few weeks of a “breakout”. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem to have quelled for now any Congressional attempts to ratchet up sanctions ahead of this week’s negotiations, but should no agreement emerge this week, look for Washington politicians to race one another to see who can introduce the most severe new sanctions.
Although Beirut has seen several attacks back and forth recently with various Sunni and Shia groups attacking one another, the timing of today’s blasts suggest that the nuclear negotiations may be a target, as well. The Reuters article informs us that an al Qaeda group has claimed responsibility:
A Lebanese-based al Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for what it described as a double suicide attack on the Iranian mission in southern Beirut.
Lebanon has suffered a series of bomb attacks and clashes linked to the 2-1/2-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria.
Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said the second explosion was caused by a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound.
But the Syrian information minister goes further, blaming Israel and Saudi Arabia for supporting the attack:
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi implicitly blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supporting radical militants, who have been accused for previous attacks against Shi’ite targets.
Just as they have been working together to arm and fund Sunni fighters for Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia have joined together to fight against any agreements between the West and Iran on nuclear technology.
Yesterday saw several developments in response to the P5+1 talks with Iran ending over the weekend with no new date announced for the next round of talks. AP launched into a discussion of Congress enacting even more sanctions against Iran, although considerable gyrations are needed to identify just what else we could possibly limit after already enacting new sanctions four times since 2010. There also was very little consideration of the damage already done to Iranian citizens. In addition, the video above appeared in articles yesterday for both Wired’s Danger Room and the New York Times announcing a new laser weapon. The laser is said to be able to shoot down drones and to pierce light watercraft, and so it will be deployed in the Persian Gulf. But not until 2014. Maybe that extra time will allow the US to make sure the Filipino Monkey can’t cause any mischief when the weapon is deployed. I’m guessing that the Times is onto something with their observation that the “Pentagon has a long history of grossly inflating claims for its experimental weapons”, especially since the Pentagon’s video, while over three and a half minutes long, has only about a minute and fifteen seconds of real-life footage, with the rest consisting of computer animation. Even Iran’s Fars News has read the accompanying report linked in the Times article where we learn of the limitation of laser weapons:
The laser does, however, have its drawbacks.
Testing has revealed it is disrupted by bad weather: Rain and clouds can scatter the beam, as can smoke, sand and dust.
In addition, due to the nature of the laser beam, these weapons are necessarily “line of sight” weapons, meaning they cannot attack targets that are beyond the horizon in the way that ballistic missiles can. Also, the report points out the issue of “blooming” where the laser beam heats up the surrounding air, making targeting difficult for an object coming straight at the weapon. A bit of what could well be that effect is seen in the live action video, where the path of the laser beam as it hits the target becomes visible just as the target is beginning to burn.
The release of an “official” video announcing the weapon, but relying so extensively on computer animation brings to mind the ridiculous cartoon that George Jahn published during previous discussions of the disputed Parchin complex and Benjamin Netanyahu’s bomb cartoon he used at the UN. When trying to convince the world of the effectiveness of a weapon of ours or the danger of a technology held by an adversary, reliance on cartoons does not instill a high degree of confidence in those who are evaluating the argument.
Today, Iran observed their National Day of Nuclear Technology which commemorates their announcement in 2006 of “completing the nuclear fuel production cycle at laboratory scale”. Iran discussed both the development of new radiomedicines and expansion of uranium mining, but Reuters found only the uranium mining to be worth mentioning. That’s okay, though. It’s not like there is a history of bad things going on when discussing yellowcake and foreign WMD. Oh. Wait.
According to the New York Times, the video above has been verified as depicting the massive outpouring of Iranians to the streets yesterday to protest debilitating inflation rates and the free-fall of the Iranian rial. The impact of these economic developments on the Iranian people is devastating:
Iran’s freefalling currency is turning meat into a luxury, sparking overnight price surges and spurring shoppers to stockpile goods.
“Most of my customers just look at products behind the window and pass,” said Behrouz Madani, 42, who owns a butcher shop in northwest Tehran. “I see them going to the next store, which is a bakery, to feed their families with bread.”
The Bloomberg report goes on to describe the street protest that broke out in response to the pain felt by Iranians:
Iran’s rial is in a tailspin, having lost more than half of its value against the dollar in street trading in the past two months as U.S. and European sanctions aimed at curbing the country’s nuclear program bite. Riot police yesterday fired tear gas and sealed off parts of downtown Tehran after the currency’s plunge triggered street protests.
This graph (via Index Mundi) shows the number of Iranian rials needed to buy one US dollar over the past five years:
But the graph only depicts the official rate set at Iran’s central bank. Note that the rial’s best value against the dollar is in early 2008, at just under 9000 rials to the dollar, but the graph hits an arbitrary straight line this year at just over 12,000 rials to the dollar for the official exchange rate. The unofficial street exchange rate has gone as high as three times that value this week. Going back to the Bloomberg article:
The currency dropped about 18 percent on Oct. 1, reaching 35,000 to the dollar on the unofficial market. The currency traded at 36,100 yesterday, the state-run Mehr news agency said, though traders in Tehran said most exchange houses have halted dealing in the greenback. That compares with the official value of 12,260 rials per dollar set by the central bank.
The primary cause for the devaluation of the rial is, of course, the sanctions put into place by Western nations to pressure Iran over its nuclear technology. From today’s Washington Post: Continue reading
One would think that, within a month of the US finally withdrawing its troops (leaving behind a vast mercenary force) from the nearly nine year nightmare in Iraq that was launched on the basis of evidence-free accusations, and only days after President Obama signed into permanency his ability to detain citizens forever without providing a shred of evidence, the Washington Post would refrain from giving Joby Warrick a chance to yammer again from the basis of unsupportable allegations that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. But this is the Post we’re talking about, and the same bill that gave Obama indefinite detention powers also tightened the screws on Iran, so it was necessary to bring Warrick out to put forth the latest transcribed version of US spin.
Warrick’s piece, at the time of this writing, is occupying the most prominent position on the home page of the Post’s website, where it has the teaser headline “Iran fears worst as West steps up pressure”. Clicking through to the article gives the headline “As currency crisis and feud with West deepen, Iranians brace for war”. The overall spin that the US is projecting through this transcription is that both the Iranian government and Iranian citizens are feeling the almighty power of the US sanctions and that they are in a state of depressed resignation to the inevitability of war, while the US government is seeing that its brilliant moves are paying off and we just might not need to proceed to the point of an overt attack. I guess that is the upside of moving forward with public sanctions (and covert actions that already constitute a full-on war) based on manufactured evidence: it is also possible to manufacture evidence that allows us to declare victory and (hopefully) move on.
There is, of course, a flip side to that same argument. As commenter Dan succinctly put it in my post from yesterday where we were discussing the risk of all-out war stemming from the US sanctions:
All this risk to punish a country for something no one has proven it has done.
With that as background, here is how the Post article opens:
TEHRAN — At a time when U.S. officials are increasingly confident that economic and political pressure alone may succeed in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the mood here has turned bleak and belligerent as Iranians prepare grimly for a period of prolonged hardship and, they fear, war.
A bit further along, we get the US gloating on its “successful” approach:
The sense of impending confrontation is not shared in Washington and other Western capitals, where government officials and analysts expressed cautious satisfaction that their policies are working. Continue reading
Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz are getting a lot of play in the press the past few days. As the ten days of naval war games for Iran that began on Saturday have continued, Iran’s bluster has gotten stronger, as have the US responses.
Ironically, Iran’s stated purpose when it began the war games included the desire to “convey a message of peace and friendship to regional countries” and yet, as can be seen in the video here, Iranian authorities are now saying that should their ability to export oil be curtailed through sanctions put in place by the US and European allies, they would close down the Strait of Hormuz, preventing exports by other countries in the region.
The impact of a real closure would be huge. Many of the numbers involved can be gleaned from this Bloomberg article published this morning. Iran’s oil exports amount to 3.6 million barrels a day, which means Iran only accounts for 23% of the 15.5 million barrels a day that pass through the Strait. It is believed that Saudi Arabia could produce an extra 2.5 million barrels a day in the event of sanctions halting Iran’s supply, and up to 200,000 more barrels a day could come from other countries in the region, so about 75% of Iran’s output probably could be replaced quickly.
However, with the Strait closed, the entire 15.5 million barrels a day could be disrupted. There is a pipeline being built by the United Arab Emirates that the Bloomberg article says will be ready “soon” and could bypass the Strait with 1.4 to 1.8 million barrels a day, but this would be only a very small fraction of the lost supply.
Even though such a closure would be seen as a direct response to the US and its European allies, the impact on China should not be overlooked. The CIA world factbook informs us that the US imports 10.3 million barrels a day and the EU imports 8.6 million, but China is next in line at 4.8 million barrels a day. How would China respond to such a huge disruption of their supply, especially if it comes about through a series of disagreements where they have not been included in the discourse? Continue reading