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Iran Nuclear Program

Tag Archives | Iran Nuclear Program

Mirrored Politics and the Iran Deal

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President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

When President Rouhani was popularly elected last June, the factors that led to his victory bore quite a resemblance to President Obama’s victory in 2008, albeit with obvious exceptions.

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

Both were never given a chance to win in the face of other establishment candidates, both were catapulted by the youth vote, both were welcomed to an economy in tatters, both were replacing presidents that were unpopular at home and abroad, and perhaps most importantly, both gave their respective populations an unprecedented sense of hope.

This theme of “mirrored politics” has yet to finish. Rouhani and Obama find themselves in similar situations trying to balance the political force of their respective domestic hardliners as they attempt to secure an historic nuclear deal after 34 years of hostility. For their mission to succeed, both Presidents will need to force each respective opposition to align, for just long enough that Secretary of State John Kerry’s and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s signatures have dried at the bottom of a comprehensive deal. Calling this process “extremely delicate” is putting it nicely.

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Recorded Future Used to Predict Crises

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Israel Defense Forces leaving the Gaza Strip after taking part in Operation Last Dawn in 2005. Source: Israel Defense Forces

The amount of information circulating in the vastness of the web holds huge potential for analytic and predictive purposes. Identifying a way in which to harness this massive amount of data, and a purpose to harness it for, has been the mission of contemporary researchers.

Israel Defense Forces leaving the Gaza Strip after taking part in Operation Last Dawn in 2005. Source: Israel Defense Forces

The analysis of trends and the identification of patterns in massive data sets is the ambition of the architects of ‘big data’ software and programs, who have used this vast information to gain insights into a wide variety of issues. A London-based firm called Ethnographic Edge has become an exciting actor in this space. By identifying trends in large amounts of information related to geopolitical developments, and relating these trends to similar patterns observed in the past, the researchers of this institute aim to forecast geopolitical crises and developments before they happen. To date, Ethnographic Edge has 80% accuracy with its predictions.

Ethnographic Edge uses a two-step analytical process they call social risk analysis (SRA) to forecast whether tensions will increase or decrease in a number of geopolitical hotspots. The first step in this process is a passive procedure that uses data analytics software formulated by Recorded Future to scan mainstream media publications, search trends and important blogs related to the countries in question. Through this scanning process, the software is able to quantify the ‘sentiment’ expressed in these sources.

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At Saban Center, Obama Offers Clearest Defense of Iran Nuclear Deal

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President Barack Obama speaks with Saban Forum Chairman Haim Saban on December 7, 2013. Photo: Ralph Alswang

President Barack Obama speaking on Saturday at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution to an influential audience of Israeli supporters and journalists offered his best defense, so far, of the Iranian nuclear agreement reached in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1.

President Barack Obama speaks with Saban Forum Chairman Haim Saban on December 7, 2013. Photo: Ralph Alswang

As part of the six-month agreement, the United States would allow Iran some enrichment capabilities. While critics of the agreement and any agreement for that matter argue that Iran should not have any enrichment capabilities, the president accurately pointed out that that’s not feasible given the technology behind enrichment. “Theoretically, they (Iran) will always have some, because, as I said, the technology here is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around the world.”

While Obama gave the agreement a fifty percent chance of success he nonetheless insisted that the diplomatic effort is worth it. If a long-term agreement isn’t reached, the international community is “no worse off” then when it started. “If at the end of six months it turns out that we can’t make a deal, we’re no worse off, and in fact we have greater leverage with the international community to continue to apply sanctions and even strengthen them,” Obama said.

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Iran and Enhancement

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Pictured: Iran's Hassan Rouhani and President Obama

There are any number of obstacles that could trip up the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the “P5+1”—but the right to “enrich” nuclear fuel should not be one of them.

Pictured: Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and President Obama

Any close reading of the 1968 “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” (NPT) clearly indicates that, even though the word “enrichment” is not used in the text, all signers have the right to the “peaceful applications of nuclear technology.” Enriched fuel is produced when refined uranium ore—“yellowcake”—is transformed into uranium hexafluoride gas and spun in a centrifuge. The result is fuel that may contain anywhere from 3.5 to 5 percent Uranium 235 to over 90 percent U-235. The former is used in power plants, the latter in nuclear weapons. Some medical procedures require fuel enriched to 20 percent.

Iran currently has some 15,700 pounds of 3.5 to 5 percent nuclear fuel, and 432 pounds of 20 percent enriched fuel. International Atomic Energy Agency investigators have never turned up any weapons grade fuel in Iran and have certified that Teheran is not diverting fuel to build nuclear weapons. Intelligence agencies, including Israel’s, are in general agreement that Teheran has not enriched above 20 percent. A nuclear weapon requires about 110 pounds of uranium fuel enriched to between 90 and 95 percent. Iran insists it is not building a weapon, and its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against the production of nuclear weapons as being contrary to Islamic beliefs.

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Is Gaza Paying the Price for Geneva’s Iran Deal?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Source: Israeli Government

A series of lightning quick political reactions in the Middle East have followed the recent Geneva talks concerning Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Source: Israeli Government

In a recent report by Ethnographic Edge, we find that Palestine seem to be the first to react, as Israel lashes out against the US and a deal it perceives as an “historical mistake.” The Gulf News reports that just two weeks after US pressure convinced Israel to cancel plans to initiate the biggest ever colony-building project, Tel Aviv announced on Sunday its decision to go ahead with the plan anyway, and build 829 new colony homes in the West Bank.

Given Israel’s frustration with the outcome of the recent round of Iran nuclear talks, it appears that Palestine may present an alternative issue through which Israel can reassert its strategic initiative. In addition, the Iran deal has strained Israel-US relations to the point that it is becoming difficult for Washington to exert pressure on Israel on the Palestinian issue. Israel’s settlement expansion into Palestinian territory is a clear reflection of this.

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Why Reports of Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Ambitions are a Fantasy

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President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 30, 2013.  Pete Souza/White House

Just prior to Iran’s nuclear negotiator’s sitting down with their counterparts from the P5+1 in Geneva, BBC Newsnight published a report shedding light on the existence of a nuclear understanding between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 30, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

Since Saudi Arabia’s desire to attain nuclear weapons is not without precedent (the Guardian put forward a similar claim in 2003) analysts could not entirely discount the possibility of Saudi Arabian nuclear proliferation. A nuclear-armed Iran concerns Saudi Arabia and the region, and thus, if Iran develops nuclear weapons other countries will follow suit. “All options are available,” said Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, regarding preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. Nevertheless, there are a number of compelling reasons to believe why the story behind Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions is fantasy.

BBC Newsnight’s Defense Editor, Mark Urban, referenced his principal source, an anonymous Western official. Surprisingly, he concluded that Saudi Arabia would be able to acquire nuclear weapons sooner than Iran. “Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will, a variety of sources have told BBC Newsnight,” writes the BBC’s Mark Urban. Seemingly, Urban connected the dots between Saudi Arabia’s generous investment in Pakistan’s nuclear program and Saudi Arabian acquisition of Pakistani nuclear technology. Harvard Professor Matthew Bunn cautiously labeled Saudi-Pakistani nuclear cooperation a “plausible theory” given that there is hardly any solid evidence vis-à-vis the Saudi Arabian nuclear program for a military purpose. Shannon Kile with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute acknowledged the “lack of authoritative or publicly available evidence.”

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Geneva Agreement will lead to Regional Disunity

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Israeli Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu.  J Carrier/UN

This past week a new agreement between the P5+1 (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany) and Iran was reached in Geneva. Although a permanent agreement is still in the works, the deal so far essentially allows Iran the right to enrich uranium while at the same time loosening international sanctions on its economy.

Israeli Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu. J Carrier/UN

Not surprisingly it received with unabashed euphoria in Tehran. While President Barack Obama welcomed the deal, saying it would “help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the interim deal a “historical mistake,” and warned that Israel “will not allow a regime that calls for the destruction of Israel to obtain the means to achieve this goal.”

Israel and the Gulf countries have consistently voiced their displeasure regarding any potential agreement. Their disapproval, coupled with the disorder emanating from Syria, may portend a period of instability surrounding Iran. The destabilizing impact of these factors was evident in the November 19 bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut, which was carried out by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. The attack was viewed as partially being a response to this latest session of nuclear rapprochement between Iran and the West.

Strategic Interests

Saudi Arabia joined Israel and other Gulf countries, including the UAE, in voicing its opposition to the agreement. The Telegraph reports that Saudi Arabia claims they were kept in the dark by Western allies over the Iran nuclear deal. They said they may have to start dealing with the issue on their own. Their fear lies in the belief that any potential deal will not impose the necessary conditions to disable Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons. The Sunday Times confirms that Israel and Saudi Arabia have begun to develop a tactical relationship regarding any future military engagement with Iran. An unnamed diplomatic source told the paper, “once the Geneva agreement is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs.”

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Is this Rouhani’s Gorbachev Moment?

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Pictured: Mikhail Gorbachev and Hassan Rouhani

Iran and the United States have reached an agreement. There are many opinions and analysis about this historic event: Israel calls it a mistake of gigantic proportions, US and Iran claim it to be a step toward resolution and most of the world is watching.

Pictured: Mikhail Gorbachev and Hassan Rouhani

Commentators and “experts” are either cautiously optimistic or concerned depending on their political ideology. It is too early to judge whether the nuclear agreement is a positive development. One thing is certain: Rouhani’s government is making some noticeable changes.

A Small Comparison

In 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev tried to open up and reform the Soviet system. The outcome remains debatable. Is Rouhani attempting to do the same in Iran? Can Iran’s recent nuclear agreement with the US be viewed in this light? Of course, there remain striking differences between Gorbachev and Rouhani. To begin with, Gorbachev was sitting at the helm of political power of the Soviet Union, whereas Rouhani, although technically the elected president, does not possess ‘supreme’ authority. In fact, Rouhani came to power primarily because of the fragmented state of Iran’s conservatives during the previous election.

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Deal Making in Geneva

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Secretary of State John Kerry

With likely convergence on some of the controversial issues regarding Iran’s on-going nuclear weapon’s program, which has long haunted the West, both Iran and the six global powers have struck an historic agreement in Geneva.

Secretary of State John Kerry

The foreign ministers of the United States, Russsia, Britain, China and Germany and Iran met in the historic city to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. The lengthy negotiations between the six nations and Iran have culminated in tough constraints imposed by the West for the first time in a decade in lieu of a partial relief, which Iran very much needed, from continuing harsh sanctions.

It is being characterized as a significant foreign policy achievement for President Obama and a major success for both Washington and Teheran. A six-month period agreed to in Geneva deal is intended to be used to negotiate a comprehensive and permanent settlement that would permit Iran to pursue a peaceful nuclear energy program.

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Iran is Driving the Bus, so Why is the West Celebrating?

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Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva for the P5+1 talks

Supreme Iranian leader Khameini spent much of last week lambasting the U.S. and Israel, as the Iranian negotiating team worked their magic in Geneva.

Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva for the P5+1 talks

Given the rhetoric spewing from Tehran, it was hard to tell that Ahmadinejad was no longer president. The P5+1 negotiating team didn’t seem too concerned, however, being hell bent on sealing a deal with Tehran — even one that required only cosmetic concessions from Tehran.

It is hard to understand what all the celebrating in the West is about. Simply that there is an agreement where there had been none? The Iranians should be doing the celebrating — and they are.

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With Iran Negotiations Ongoing, Is there Still a Risk of War?

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel testifying  before the House Armed Services Committee

“So there should not be a shred of doubt by now…When the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.” – President Obama, address to AIPAC

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel testifying before the House Armed Services Committee

Is Israel really planning to attack Iran, or are declarations about the possibility of a pre-emptive strike at Teheran’s nuclear program simply bombast? Does President Obama’s “we have your back” comment about Israel mean the U.S. will join an assault? What happens if the attack doesn’t accomplish its goals, an outcome predicted by virtually every military analyst? In that case, might the Israelis, facing a long, drawn out war, resort to the unthinkable: nuclear weapons? Such questions almost seem bizarre at a time when Iran and negotiators from the P5+1—the U.S., China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany—appear to be making progress at resolving the dispute over Teheran’s nuclear program. And yet the very fact that a negotiated settlement seems possible may be the trigger for yet another war in the Middle East.

A dangerous new alliance is forming in the region, joining Israel with Saudi Arabia and the monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council, thus merging the almost bottomless wealth of the Arab oil kings with the powerful and sophisticated Israeli army. Divided by religion and history, this confederacy of strange bedfellows is united by its implacable hostility to Iran. Reducing tensions is an anathema to those who want to isolate Teheran and dream of war as a midwife for regime change in Iran. How serious this drive toward war is depends on how you interpret several closely related events over the past three months.

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Torpedoing the U.S.-Iran Nuclear Talks

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President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 30, 2013.  Pete Souza/White House

As Western powers prepare for another round of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, powerful and wealthy opponents—from the halls of Congress to Middle East capitals—are maneuvering to torpedo them.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 30, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

At stake is the real possibility of a war with consequences infinitely greater than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. When the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany—the so-called “P5+1”—sit down with Iran’s negotiators in Geneva on Nov. 7, those talks will be shadowed by an alliance of hawkish U.S. Congress members, an influential Israeli lobby, and a new regional alliance that upends traditional foes and friends in the Middle East. The fact that the first round of talks on Oct.15 was hailed by Iran and the P5+1 as “positive” has energized opponents of the negotiations, who are moving to block any attempts at softening international sanctions against Teheran, while at the same time pressing for a military solution to the conflict.

Current international sanctions have halved the amount of oil Iran sells on the international market, blocked Teheran from international banking, and deeply damaged the Iranian economy. The worsening economic conditions are the backdrop for the recent election of pragmatist Hassan Rowhani as president of Iran. Hassan’s subsequent efforts to move away from the confrontational politics of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears a signal that Iran wants to peacefully resolve a crisis that has heightened tensions in the region and led to everything from the assassination of Iranian scientists to the world’s first cyber war.

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Saudi Arabia’s Message to the United States

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The Saudis have said they disagree with the U.S. approach to Syria

Last week’s decision by Saudi Arabia to pass on an opportunity to become a member of the UN Security Council speaks to the Council’s perceived ineffectiveness on a host of issues, and what comes with membership — the need to take a public position on sensitive issues in international relations.

The Saudis have said they disagree with the U.S. approach to Syria

This is contrary to the Saudi approach to influencing its neighbors, which is essentially to throw money their way and presume doing so will result in policies that are in line with that of the Saudis. To many countries this would seem an odd approach to conducting international affairs, but it actually makes a good deal of sense given the context. Saudi Arabia has the money, and they use it, often obtaining the desired effect. The Kingdom’s decision vis-à-vis the UN seat does not have a major impact on its relations with its neighbors and allies, but rather preserves it.

However, the Saudi announcement that it will implement a major shift in its relations with the U.S. should serve as a major wake-up call for Washington — not only in terms of bilateral relations, but for what it implies about the Kingdom’s relations with other nations in the Middle East and beyond. In essence, the Saudis have said they disagree with the U.S. approach to both Iran and Syria, and plan to ‘go it alone’ in addressing Iran’s nuclear program and the ongoing Syrian conflict. They are betting that they will do no worse by embarking on an independent path than they did in achieving their objectives by being aligned with the U.S. The Saudi government not only sees the Obama Administration as ineffective on both subjects, but acting in a manner contrary to their own interests and policies.

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A View from Tehran, Iran’s Nuclear Program

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Secretary of State John Kerry

With the recommencement of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, hopes have been revived that after more than two decades of enmity between the two sides they can finally come to an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program.

Secretary of State John Kerry

International observers hailed the latest round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 on October 15 and 16 in Geneva as constructive, calling it a step forward on the path of finding a conclusive and definite resolution to Iran’s nuclear standoff.

The Iranian negotiators demanded that the contents of the talks remain undisclosed until an agreement is reached. Their demand sounds reasonable as it will prevent the mass media from spreading falsehoods regarding the details of the agreement yet to be reached and also impede the efforts made by neo-conservative elements in the West to bring the negotiations to a premature end without a negotiated settlement.

During the talks, Iran presented a three-phased proposal entitled “Closing an Unnecessary Crisis, Opening New Horizons” which drew a roadmap for the future of the talks. According to the proposal, Iran would remove the concerns of the P5+1 through confidence-building measures and increased transparency in its nuclear activities, and in return, the Western powers will offer incentives to Iran by lifting the sanctions on a step-by-step basis.

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U.S.-Iran Rapprochement is a Mixed Blessing for Regional Stability

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Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Due to recent developments, namely the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president, the start of talks in Geneva and the lifting of sanctions, Iran has been the subject of countless news headlines.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

This recent US-Iran rapprochement has, however, also raised many eyebrows in the region, and has left some international observers perplexed. Recent events, in addition to a series of diplomatic realignments in the region, suggest that Iran-related news will continue to be headline news in the near future – and not all of it will be good news.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany, otherwise known as the P5+1) are meeting in Geneva with Iranian authorities to negotiate over Iran’s nuclear program. While the meeting has been described as a “breakthrough,” two things were made clear. One rather visible, the other only implied. The first is that Iran has been struggling with an economic recession for the past years, and is now facing serious domestic pressure for the oil sanctions to be lifted. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s bid to reassure the world that its nuclear program is a harmless one was clearly done with domestic politics in mind.

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