As we approach the re-start of the P5+1 international talks on Iran’s nuclear technology this weekend, there are multiple signals that Iran may be planning to make a major move aimed at reducing tensions. As CNN pointed out yesterday, Iran suggested last weekend that it may halt its enrichment of uranium to the 20% level and return to only enriching to 3.5%:
“Based on our needs and once the required fuel is obtained, we will decrease the production and we may even totally shift it to the 3.5%,” Iranian nuclear chief Fereydoun Abbasi said in a televised interview, according to state-run Press TV.
Iran does not plan to produce 20% enriched uranium for long, Abbasi said, according to Press TV.
Uranium enriched at 20% is typically used for hospital isotopes and research reactors, but is also seen as a shortcut toward the 90% enrichment required to build nuclear weapons. Nuclear experts say Iran’s supply is far greater than it would need for peaceful purposes.
Iran says there is a medical purpose to its nuclear program.
Further signaling that a big move is in the works, we have this today on PressTV:
“Iran’s representatives will participate in the negotiations with new initiatives and we hope that the P5+1 countries will also enter talks with constructive approaches,” Jalili told reporters in Tehran on Wednesday, IRNA reported.
“The language of threat and pressure against the Iranian nation has never yielded results but will lead to more seriousness in the attitude of the Iranian nation,” he added.
He emphasized, “We are ready to hold progressive and successful talks on cooperation.”
At the same time that we are seeing hints of progress on the diplomatic front, it appears that a number of Iranian and Israeli spies have been taken out of action from their operations bases in Azerbaijan.
Back in the middle of March, Azerbaijan announced they had arrested 22 spies working for Iran:
The authorities in Azerbaijan have arrested 22 people on suspicion of spying for Iran, accusing them of links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
The undated arrests were confirmed in a brief statement by the Azerbaijani national security ministry.
“Firearms, cartridges, explosives and espionage equipment were found during the arrest,” the Azerbaijani national security ministry said.
The 22 detainees are said to have received orders from the Revolutionary Guards to “commit terrorist acts against the US, Israeli and other Western states’ embassies and the embassies’ employees”.
In January of 2008, at a time very similar to now (just under a year out from Presidential elections and with anti-Iran propaganda at a fever pitch in the US media), the Bush administration embarrassed itself mightily in its response to an encounter in the Persian Gulf. As US warships were being approached by five small Iranian craft, a voice came over the airwaves stating “I am coming to you”. A bit later it added “You will explode after a few minutes”. The US quickly claimed this was a threat from the Iranian vessels, but after cooler heads prevailed (and after Iran supplied additional video and audio from the encounter), it was realized that the voice did not match those of the Iranians in the encounter and that the behavior matched that of the legendary radio prankster, the Filipino Monkey.
We learn today from Fars News that Iran plans very large naval wargame exercises on Saturday, in both the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean:
Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said at a press conference on Thursday that the naval maneuvers dubbed Velayat 90 will start on Saturday and will cover an area stretching from the east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden.
According to Sayyari, this is the first time that Iran’s Navy carries out naval drills in such a vast area.
He added the exercises will manifest Iran’s military prowess and defense capabilities in the international waters, convey a message of peace and friendship to regional countries, and test the newest military equipment among other objectives of the drills.
It would have been nice if we had seen all of the objectives in the drills rather than a partial list, but it is quite interesting to see the list of weapons systems and equipment that will be involved:
Rear Admiral Sayyari said that the newest missile systems and torpedoes will be employed in the maneuvers, adding that the most recent tactics used in subsurface battles will also be demonstrated in the maneuvers.
He also said that Iranian destroyers, missile-launching vessels, logistic vessels, drones and coastal missiles will also be tested.
With all those torpedoes, missiles and drones running around, what could possibly go wrong? Given the level of posturing by both the US and Iran lately over nuclear technology, assassination plots, spies and drones, these naval wargames seem particularly ripe for generating the type of “misunderstanding” that can quickly escalate to outright hostilities. Throw in the wildcard of spurious, but well-timed, radio provocation, and the Filipino Monkey could move from comedy to tragedy in the blink of an eye.