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  • With revelations that secret talks between the US and Iran have been happening since 2011, a new bombshell is that the real action probably took place not in Geneva, but in the Omani city of Muscat. Foreign Policy's Hanna Kozlowska explains:

    For the past several weeks, the world's attention has been fixed on a Geneva luxury hotel where Western negotiators and their Iranian counterparts have flitted in and out in search of a deal to end the stand-off over Tehran's nuclear program. But the real action, it turns out, took place 3,000 miles away in the Omani city of Muscat.

    Working through the Sultan Qaboos-bin-Said, the ruler of Oman, U.S. diplomats have secretly huddled with a team of Iranian diplomats since 2011 to carry out bilateral talks aimed at securing an agreement to put the brakes on Iran's nuclear ambitions. While negotiations in Geneva appear to have generated all-important consensus among Western powers, the meat of the agreement looks to have been hammered out in Muscat, far from the prying eyes of the international media gathered in the Swiss city.

    That subplot -- secret negotiations carried out in a little-known Middle Eastern capital known for the production of exceptionally aromatic frankincense -- has added a level of subterfuge to what is already one of the biggest diplomatic developments in recent memory. That a landmark nuclear deal could be worked out in secret is perhaps not surprising but it does cast the spotlight on the man who shepherded the agreement.


  • Americans back last weekend's nuclear deal with Iran by a 2-to-1 margin and are very wary of the United States resorting to military action against Tehran even if the historic diplomatic effort falls through, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.

    The findings were rare good news in the polls for President Barack Obama, whose approval ratings have dropped in recent weeks because of the botched rollout of his signature healthcare reform law.

    According to the Reuters/Ipsos survey, 44 percent of Americans support the interim deal reached between Iran and six world powers in Geneva, and 22 percent oppose it. While indicating little trust among Americans toward Iranian intentions, the survey also underscored a strong desire to avoid new U.S. military entanglements after long, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Even if the Iran deal fails, 49 percent want the United States to increase sanctions and 31 percent think it should launch further diplomacy. But only 20 percent want U.S. military force to be used against Iran.

    The precision of Reuters/Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll - which was conducted from Sunday through Tuesday with 591 respondents - has a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

    [Reuters]
  • After Geneva, how will the US and Iran reach a final deal?

    The parties have six months to negotiate a long-term agreement. So Al Jazeera asked a number of analysts of U.S.-Iran relations what the Geneva interim agreement suggests about the prospects for a lasting diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff. Analysts also assess the significance of the direct talks between Washington and Tehran that have been conducted in secret.

    "The terms of the preliminary agreement suggest that Tehran is willing to go a long way to assure its interlocutors that its program will not weaponize," scholar Farideh Farhi told Al Jazeera. "In fact, some of the agreed transparency measures and limitations Iran agreed to were surprising. But the agreement also suggests that Tehran has no intention of abandoning its full-fledged and diversified civilian nuclear program."

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • FT's @SpiegelPeter stresses #EU 's HighRep Ashton role in getting the #Iran deal done 1/2 http://pbs.twimg.com/media/BaFQt7SIYAAyp0c.jpg

  • Reuters has a look at how the interim deal reached in Geneva, which can be reversed, puts more pressure on the final talks. 

    From Reuters: 

    By dropping earlier demands that Iran shut down an underground uranium enrichment plant and ship material out of the country as part of a preliminary deal, nuclear negotiators have kicked some of the toughest questions forward to talks for the next year.

    The curbs to its nuclear program that Iran agreed to on Sunday are easier to reverse than measures that were previously called for by the six global powers seeking to prevent Tehran from developing an atomic bomb, experts say.

    To opponents of the deal, like Israel, which branded it an "historic mistake", that is a fatal flaw. But supporters say the compromise was necessary to halt Iran's nuclear advances so that the real bargaining could begin, and should help keep both sides focused on the final negotiations which lie ahead.

    A senior Western diplomat acknowledged that Iran could resume its most controversial activity - production of 20 percent enriched uranium - if it should decide to abandon the deal or if final talks fail.

    But by making it easier for inspectors to detect any such move, the preliminary accord requires Tehran to demonstrate its sincerity while a final deal is hammered out.

  • #SecKerry will travel to Brussels, Chisinau, Jerusalem and Ramallah from Dec 3 to 6. In #Israel , will talk #Iran w/Netanyahu.
  • Iran will pursue construction at the Arak heavy-water reactor, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was quoted as saying on Wednesday, despite a deal with world powers to shelve a project they fear could yield plutonium for atomic bombs.

    France, one of the six powers that negotiated Sunday's landmark initial accord with Iran to curb its disputed nuclear program, said in response to Zarif's statement that Tehran had to stick to what was agreed in the Geneva talks.

    According to the agreed text, Iran said it would not make "any further advances of its activities" on the Arak reactor, under construction near a western Iranian town with that name.

    "Capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase. It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed, but construction will continue there," Zarif told parliament in translated comments broadcast on Iran's Press TV.

    [Reuters]

  • Hans Blix, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says that the latest deal brokered between Iran and Western nations should be welcomed by all, and will finally give the United States the chance to step away as a 'self-appointed global policeman'.

    Blix says:

    The interim agreement just reached in Geneva committing Iran to a number of restraints in its nuclear programme and providing some relief in the pressures against Iran should be welcomed by all. Above all, it should remove – at any rate, for six months – the threat of unilateral military action and the potentially grave consequences such action would have for the world and the authority of the UN. The interim agreement now gives the negotiating states six months working space – renewable – to achieve a comprehensive peaceful settlement. The US is now enabled, as it was in the case of Syria, to move away from the role of self-appointed global policeman that neither President Obama, the US public nor the world is comfortable with. Instead, responsibility is shared with all other permanent members of the UN security council, Germany and the EU, thus facilitating action that will need to be taken within the council and the UN system.

    Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, deserve credit for seizing the opportunity for agreement that the new Iranian government offered through the conciliatory attitude it has shown in both matters of substance and tone. The former deserve credit all the more, as their policy means going against the demands of the Israeli government and its many supporters in Congress.

    For Iran, the commitments made – for six months – constitute substantial bars to any bombmaking. However, refraining from enriching uranium above 5% and from advancing activities at enrichment plants or at the Arak reactor; reducing the stock of 20% enriched uranium; and accepting enhanced monitoring by no means curtail the development of the peaceful nuclear power program. In return, Iran obtains compensation through the easing of various restrictions, the unfreezing of some funds, and a promise of no additional sanctions. Perhaps even more importantly, an expectation arises of more normal economic and other relations with the world.


    Read more at the Guardian
  • The United Arab Emirates foreign minister will visit Iran on Thursday, Iran's state news agency reported, just days after Tehran and world powers struck an interim nuclear accord which has caused Gulf Arab misgivings.

    IRNA said the UAE's Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed would meet Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other officials. It did not disclose the purpose of the talks.

    Tension between Shia Iran and Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab rulers has been heightened by political turmoil across the Middle East. Gulf Arab ministerial visits to Iran are rare.

    Gulf Arab states gave the interim nuclear agreement a cautious welcome, with Iran's regional arch-foe Saudi Arabia saying that with goodwill it could lead to a wider solution.

    However, the Saudis and their Gulf Arab allies fear the deal will strengthen Iran's regional position at their expense.

    [Reuters]
  • According to Mohsen Milani from Foreign Affairs, the interim nuclear deal is a 'momentous first step' in the nuclear impasse. "It's not a perfect deal," he says, "Yet it is probably the best that anyone could hope for at this point in history."  Even though critics decried allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium below the five percent mark, it was an unrealistic expectation to think any Iranian leader would abandon it completely, says Milani.

    He continues:

    But perhaps the most important concession is that the P5+1 are allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium below five percent. Iran maintains that this is no concession but is, rather, recognition of the country’s inalienable right under the NPT to enrich uranium on its own soil. For his part, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insists that the interim agreement does not recognize any such right and that Iran is entitled to limited enrichment for peaceful purposes only if it complies with all provisions of the NPT.

    Kerry's literal reading of the agreement is probably correct. Still, there is no denying that, on substance, Iran wins this round. And it is for precisely that reason that the deal’s opponents decry it. But any Iranian leader who agreed to zero enrichment would be writing his own political obituary. So unless the United States was prepared to attack Iran, occupy it, and change its regime, it was always unrealistic to expect Iran to completely dismantle its nuclear program or agree to zero enrichment. There is thus some basis to the argument that the recent agreement has implicitly recognized Iran as a threshold nuclear power, a power with the knowledge, expertise, infrastructure, and technology to build a bomb.

    In the same way, any new congressional sanctions on Iran would be a deal breaker, since the interim agreement expressly prohibits them. If the United States attempts to impose any now, the negotiations would falter and the existing sanctions regime would crumble. Iran could then resume or even accelerate its enrichment activities. Imposing more sanctions on Iran is thus not a sustainable alternative policy to the current agreement. Perhaps understanding this, the U.S. Congress appears unlikely to impose any new sanctions for the next six months as sensitive negotiations proceed. However, a bipartisan group of senators led by Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is already preparing contingency sanctions legislation that the group would introduce should the negotiations fail.


    Read more at Foreign Affairs
  • According to Reuters, the latest deal with Iran has silenced critics of EU foreign policy leader Catherine Ashton, who was derided when first taking the position in 2009 for her lack of experience and charisma.

    Insiders say Ashton, a one-time second-tier British politician whose surprise elevation to European Union foreign policy chief in 2009 was greeted with condescension, managed to exceed expectations as shepherd of the six global powers that agreed with Iran on Sunday to curb its nuclear program.

    But diplomats involved in the process say that Ashton's steady work as a manager helped ensure that European countries - whose economic sanctions are no less important than Washington's in putting pressure on Iran - will remain more than just spectators at upcoming talks on a final deal.

    "She has earned credibility for her persistence," said Daniel Keohane, an analyst in Brussels for the FRIDE think tank. "Ultimately this is a deal between the U.S. and Iran, with EU support. But she must continue her role. There is still a lot of negotiating to do and her role will grow."

    When Ashton was given the job, she was criticized for her lack of experience, charisma and profile. Four years later, her tenacious pursuit of a deal to curb Iran's nuclear program has won plaudits that may change history's verdict on her.

    Kerry called her "a persistent and dogged negotiator and somebody who's been staying at this for a long period of time". More than 50 governments sent her tributes.


    Read more at Reuters
  • With my dear friend @JZarif we discussed in depth Turkey-Iran bilateral relations and regional issues like Syria.
  • I also met with Speaker of the Iranian Parliament Mr. Larijani. I believe Turkey-Iran econ. rels. will be furthered after the nuclear deal.

  • The New York Times has a good writeup of how Kerry and Zarif both now have to sell the nuclear deal to skeptics back at home:

    Having finally reached an interim agreement to freeze Iran's nuclear program in Geneva on Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, turned their attention this week to selling the deal to skeptics back home.

    Meanwhile in Tehran, Mr. Zarif appeared on state television to explain and defend the nuclear deal while his ministry shared links to interviews withcitizens who praised him for reaching an agreement with the United States and five other world powers. Arguing for the agreement, Mr. Zarif was quick to point out that it was described by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as "the deal of the century, for Iran."

    The sense that Iran's government is mobilizing in support of the deal was reinforced by the way public opinion on the agreement was presented on television. In a series of interviews with ordinary citizens — underscored by uplifting music and interspersed with images of reactors and centrifuges — one person after another described the deal as a positive development for the country.




    Read more at the New York Times
  • Here's the readout of President Obama's call with King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia:

    President Obama called His Majesty King Abdullah today as part of regular consultations between our two countries on the range of Middle East issues. The President shared the details of the P5+1's first step agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program, reaffirming the importance of Iran following through on its commitments. The two leaders agreed to consult regularly regarding the P5+1's efforts to negotiate a comprehensive solution that would resolve the international community's concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program. President Obama reiterated the firm commitment of the United States to our friends and allies in the Gulf. 



  • The heat at home hasn't let up for Obama, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez described the White House urging Congress not to pass new sanctions on Iran as both "over the top" and "fear-mongering."

    From Politico:

    Menendez (D-N.J.) made it clear he did not look kindly on White House press secretary Jay Carney’s recent description of the continued push for congressional sanctions as a “march to war.”

    “What I don’t appreciate is when I hear remarks out of the White House spokesman that say … if we’re pursuing sanctions we’re marching the country off to war. I think that’s way over the top, I think that’s fear-mongering,” Menendez said on NPR’s “All Things Considered.

    Menendez didn’t dispute that he and other senators might be playing “bad cop” to the Obama administration’s “good cop,” pushing for the Senate to enact a fresh round of penalties on Iran while Obama warns against “tough talk and bluster.”

    “We consistently hear about how we have to worry about the hard-liners in Iran. And it seems that the Iranians get to play good cop-bad cop, [Iranian President] Rouhani as the good cop, the hard-liners as the bad cop,” Menendez said.


    Read more at Politico
  • TIME magazine reports that at the end of the six month interim deal brokered with Iran, the United States and Israel are to hold a large joint-military exercise. According to an officer who asked not to be identified, "It's going to be big."

    In the meantime, Israel will continue to 'make noise':

    "The strategic decision is to continue to make noise," a high-ranking Israeli officer tells TIME. The racket, the official says, will come to a head in six months, just as the interim agreement signed on Sunday is due to expire.

    "In May there's going to be a joint training exercise with the Americans," says the officer, who asked not to be identified since he was discussing operations not yet officially announced. "It's going to be big."

    Israel and the United States routinely hold joint exercises, and a spokesman for the U.S. European Command said that the exercise planned for this spring was planned independent of events unfolding in the region. "I think we're still in the process of deciding the scale of the exercise," says Capt. John W. Ross, the EUCOM spokesman.

    But if war is the continuation of politics by other means, as the military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously put it, war games are an opportunity to make a statement without spilling blood — especially given the view (which increased sharply after U.S. President Barack Obama demurred on his vow to strike Syria) that Washington has cooled on the prospect of new military operations. "The wind from the Americans into the Israeli sails is, 'We will maintain our capability to strike in Iran, and one of the ways we show it is to train,'" the senior Israeli officer tells TIME. "It will send signals both to Israel and to the Iranians that we are maintaining our capabilities in the military option. The atmosphere is we have to do it big time, we have to do a big show of capabilities and connections."


    Read more at TIME
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency chief announced Iran has invited the UN nuclear agency to visit the Arak heavy water production plant on Dec. 8, Reuters reported early Thursday morning.

    The same day this announcement was made, the UN nuclear chief said he was looking into how the Iranian nuclear deal was to 'be put into practice,' adding that he sees implications for IAEA staffing and funding, Reuters reported.
  • President Obama called Saudi King Abdullah on Wednesday to discuss the nuclear deal reached in Geneva, as well as to discuss concerns about Iran's nuclear program. 

    The White House released this readout from the call: 

    Readout of the President's Call with King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia

    President Obama called His Majesty King Abdullah today as part of regular consultations between our two countries on the range of Middle East issues. The President shared the details of the P5+1's first step agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program, reaffirming the importance of Iran following through on its commitments. The two leaders agreed to consult regularly regarding the P5+1's efforts to negotiate a comprehensive solution that would resolve the international community's concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program. President Obama reiterated the firm commitment of the United States to our friends and allies in the Gulf.


  • #EU High Rep #Ashton spoke to Turkish FM Davutoglu to debrief him on #Iran deal; will continue to debrief partners on #Iran agreement
  • Iran invites UN inspectors to controversial Arak nuclear facility

    Iran has invited U.N. inspectors to visit its Arak heavy-water production plant on Dec. 8, the first concrete step under a cooperation agreement to clarify concerns about Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

    Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also said the IAEA was looking into how Sunday's agreement between Iran and six world powers to curb Tehran's nuclear activity could be "put into practice" concerning the U.N. agency's role in verifying the deal.

    The IAEA will expand its monitoring of Iran's uranium enrichment sites and other facilities under the interim accord, reached after marathon talks between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China.

    "This will include the implications for funding and staffing," Amano told the IAEA's 35-nation governing board, according to a copy of his speech.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Sanctions on Iran will continue to pinch the economy, but the country's citizens will welcome some relief, according to The Associated Press

    From the AP:

    The sanctions relief offered to Iran by the U.S. and five world powers has begun to get the gears of commerce slowly turning again in an economy that remains in shambles.

    The Obama Administration estimates relief from some sanctions in exchange for a temporary pause in Iran's nuclear enrichment program will amount to just $7 billion. That's a meager amount for the economy of a nation of nearly 80 million people — it's less than one month's worth of Iran's oil production and just 7 percent of Iran's overseas cash that remains frozen under the sanctions.

    Still, Iranians see the move as a much needed step toward a more normal economy after years of crippling inflation and job losses.

    "Markets operate on a psychological basis," says Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. State Department senior adviser. "The psychology of Iranian commerce has changed."


  • China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the US have released a joint statement to the IAEA board concerning the Iranian nuclear deal:

    Implementation of the NPT safeguards agreement and relevant provisions of United Nations Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran

     

    U.S. Statement as delivered by Ambassador Macmanus 

     

     

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

     

    The United States extends its appreciation to the Director General and his staff for his November 14 report on the "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of the Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran."  Once again, the Director General has provided a technically-focused and instructive report that informs the Board's understanding of Iran's nuclear program. 

     

    In addition, we welcome the Agency's readiness – as announced by the Director General – to undertake its necessary role in verifying the nuclear-related understandings reached between the P5+1 and Iran in Geneva.  This is an important step forward in the international community's effort to resolve its longstanding concerns with Iran's nuclear program.  We are confident that the Secretariat will undertake these verification measures in the same professional and objective manner in which it implements the IAEA's safeguards agreement with Iran, and other international nonproliferation obligations.

     

    Two years ago, the Director General submitted to the Board a report that raised serious concerns about the nature of Iran's nuclear program.  This report included an Annex outlining the evidence and unanswered questions related to the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program.   We commend the Secretariat's persistent efforts to pursue the needed verification in Iran, and hope that the November 11 "Joint Statement on a Framework for Cooperation" will be a vehicle for resolving all present and past issues – including those related to PMD – without further delay. 

     

    The implementation of the initial six measures would be a positive first step in a process of substantive cooperation that leads to the full resolution of all outstanding issues.  We will continue to gauge closely Iran's willingness to address the international community's concerns, including whether issues directly related to PMD are addressed in the next phase of agreed upon measures. 

     

    Mr. Chairman,

     

    For the first time in close to a decade, Iran has agreed with the P5+1 to meaningful limits on its nuclear program as the first step towards a comprehensive solution.  Pursuant to the set of understandings reached between the P5+1 and Iran, Iran has committed to a number of transparency and monitoring measures that will enhance the Agency's ability to monitor Iran's nuclear program.  Iran will need to demonstrate unambiguously to the international community the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.  We reiterate our call for Iran to implement fully the Additional Protocol and the modified Code 3.1, measures long required by the United Nations Security Council and this Board.  

     

    The set of initial understandings reached in Geneva will, as a first step, ensure sensitive aspects of Iran's nuclear program do not advance during this period.  Iran has committed to halt enrichment above 5 percent, to neutralize its stockpile of near 20 percent uranium, to halt progress on its enrichment capacity, and to halt progress on the growth of its stockpile of UF6 enriched to 5 percent.  Moreover, Iran has committed to no further advances of its activities at the IR-40 and to provide the Agency with updated design information for the facility.  We welcome these steps and the Agency's enhanced monitoring role, and look forward to the Board taking up these issues as appropriate.

     

    There have been some important steps forward in the effort to resolve the international community's concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program.  There is more work to be done in the months ahead.  We look forward to the Director General's further reporting as a basis on which to assess progress on these significant matters.

     

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


     

  • The Iranian envoy said in Vienna that he expects the implementation of the nuclear deal with powers to start at the end of December or early January, Reuters reported Friday morning.
  • The implementation of a landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers is expected to begin in late December or early January, Iran's envoy to the U.N. nuclear agency said on Friday.
    Under the Nov. 24 interim accord, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

    [Reuters]
  • In Iran, Geneva deal is seen as a strategic pivot in US relations

    The conversation in Western capitals about the nuclear deal signed between world powers and Iran in Geneva last weekend has focused on the degree of sanctions relief and uranium-enrichment limits involved in the trade-off. But in Tehran, supporters and critics of the agreement in the corridors of power and on the streets see the Geneva deal as nothing less than a historic pivot in the Islamic Republic’s dealings with the West. And that puts the fragile agreement at the very heart of a high-stakes political battle over the country’s future.

    Credit for Geneva in Iran has gone to the government of President Hassan Rouhani, whose public diplomacy and skillful foreign minister have been essential to securing multilateral Western agreement. But the ultimate responsibility rests with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who approved the bilateral talks with the United States that laid the groundwork for the accord. “This deal was a wider decision to reach accommodation with the West, even if the regime doesn’t want it to look that way,” said Alireza Haghighi, an Iranian political analyst based in Canada.

    That Khamenei himself blessed the talks has largely relieved the Rouhani government of the burden of selling the deal. “If Mr. Khamenei is the head of this plan and Rouhani happens to be the overseer, that means criticizing the plan is tantamount to criticizing Khamenei, which doesn't happen,” says Jamshid Barzegar, a senior analyst at BBC Persian. “That’s why the criticism so far hasn’t been substantive, widespread or especially serious.”

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Tough sanctions on Iran will remain, despite the deal reached in Geneva, according to The Associated Press. 

    From the AP:

    The Obama administration says it is maintaining tough oil-related sanctions against Iran even though the U.S. and five other world powers signed an initial deal earlier this week to curb Tehran's nuclear program and prevent it developing nuclear weapons.

    The White House said in a statement on Friday that there is a sufficient world supply of non-Iranian oil to allow various countries to continue buying less petroleum from Iran.

    Secretary of State John Kerry said the determination was evidence that the U.S. will continue to enforce its oil sanctions during the next six months as it works to reach a comprehensive agreement that would prove the Iranian nuclear program is being used for peaceful purposes. Tehran would get relief from some other economic sanctions under terms of the deal.


  • World powers reached a nuclear deal with Iran late on November 23. While the deal has been widely praised as a positive first step in international relations with Tehran, Israel's Netanyahu has been a vocal opponent to any nuclear agreement with Iran.

    The implementation of the deal is expected to begin in late December or early January and tough sanctions on Iran will remain. This concludes our running live blog on the Geneva negotiations and subsequent results.
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