- Congress demands Iran come clean on "possible military dimensions" as basis for verification regime, sets red lines against further sanctions relief
- Al Qaeda offshoot overruns Iraq's second largest city, threatening to reshape regional balance of power
- Hezbollah-linked groups blasted for trying to lock in presidential political vacuum, as sixth election effort fails
- Worries grow of international split as Iran announces bilateral negotiations with more than half of P5+1
Top foreign policy leaders from the House of Representatives set down clear red lines on Tuesday against providing Iran with any additional financial relief - not as an extension of the current interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA), let alone as the result of a comprehensive nuclear agreement - in the absence of Tehran adequately addressing long-standing Western concerns over the so-called possible military dimensions (PMDs) of its atomic program. Al Monitor's Congress Pulse opened its coverage of a House Foreign Affairs panel on verification by assessing that "House members sent the White House a clear message... that Congress won't 'budge an inch' on sanctions on Iran unless the country comes clean about the suspected military dimensions." The outlet quoted members from both parties expressing what amounted to bipartisan unity. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) emphasized that "before we would ever consider the possibility of extending this interim agreement for another six-month period, certainly we should expect that the Iranians would at least be willing to grant that access to the areas where for more than a decade we've had these concerns," a stance that Al Monitor said committee chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) "embraced." The two substantive issues - the specific debate over PMDs and the need to verify Iranian compliance with any deal - are closely linked. The West's concerns over PMDs extend beyond outright weaponization work that Iran is suspected of having conducted, and into the Iranian military's broader entanglement in Iran's atomic program. Iranian military officials are suspected of having overseen work on a range of activities from uranium mining all the way into enrichment. International inspectors would require disclosure of those activities, in turn, to adequate verify that Iran was upholding any comprehensive deal. Olli Heinonen – a former deputy director of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog and currently a senior fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs - explained to journalists on a Monday conference call held by The Israel Project that forcing Iran to document such PMD-related activities was necessary to "understand the scope of the program... and set the baseline for the successful monitoring." Washington Institute Managing Director Michael Singh had emphasized half a year ago that "[w]ithout insight into the full extent of Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities, no amount of monitoring and inspection can provide true confidence that Iran lacks a parallel program beyond inspectors' view." David Albright and Bruno Tertrais – respectively the president of the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security and a senior research fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique (FRS) – had echoed the point, stating in the Wall Street Journal last month that "it is critical to know whether the Islamic Republic had a nuclear-weapons program in the past, how far the work on warheads advanced and whether it continues" and that "without clear answers to these questions, outsiders will be unable to determine how fast the Iranian regime could construct either a crude nuclear-test device or a deliverable weapon if it chose to renege on an agreement."
The Iraqi city of Mosul fell on Tuesday to fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) - a jihadist group once affiliated with Al Qaeda that was subsequently disavowed for among other things being too radical and brutal - with American-trained Iraqi security forces abandoning their posts and in some cases discarding their uniforms as they fled from the country's second-largest city. The strategic and tactical cascade effects of the jihadist victory are difficult to overstate. Hardline Islamist forums broadcast photos of ISIS personnel seizing storehouses and equipment and cruising through the Mosul. Journalists and analysts spent much of Tuesday simply trying to list the concrete windfalls that ISIS would reap. The Washington Post listed the facilities that were now under ISIS control, including "the provincial government headquarters, two prisons, two television stations, numerous police stations, the central bank and the airport, a major military base that used to serve as a hub for U.S. operations in northern Iraq." Just the bank reportedly contained millions of dollars. Richard Berger, an Elliot School scholar who works at the Institute for the Study of War's Iraq Project, emphasized "the massive amount of ammo, heavy weapons, and [command and control] equipment" acquired by the group. The territorial and geopolitical consequences of the city's capture are likely to be even more significant. Aaron Stein - an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies - more broadly remarked that "if the reports are true, ISIS could end up with de facto control over territory stretching from Mosul to Tikrit to Ar Raqqah in Syria." CBS News described Mosul as a "strategic prize" that would serve as "a gateway to Syria." Retired veteran Naval Intelligence officer Jennifer Dyer also focused on the geographical context for ISIS's moves, assessing that recent gains had put the group "very close" to being able to threaten the region's water supplies.
The Lebanese parliament on Monday failed for a sixth time in a row to elect a new president - parties linked to Hezbollah's March 8 movement again boycotted the session and denied the body a necessary quorum - extending a deadlock that Reuters read against "the spillover from neighbouring Syria's civil war [which] has deepened Lebanon's own longstanding divisions." The crisis is linked to even broader regional divisions. A different Reuters report assessed that "without agreement between regional powerbrokers Saudi Arabia and Iran, who support March 14 and March 8 respectively, there is little prospect of agreement on a consensus candidate" (Iranian media for its part blandly described the crisis as a function of "the political polarization between the March 14 alliance, led by the pro-Saudi figure Saad Hariri, on the one side, and the March 8 alliance, on the other). Politicians aligned with the anti-Hezbollah March 14 movement have for months been blasting the Iran-backed terror group for seeking to lock in a vacuum at the presidential level, undermining efforts to stabilize Lebanon's chaotic political situation. Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces party, renewed the charge over the weekend, accusing the parties boycotting the parliamentary sessions of committing "high treason" by seeking to "institutionalize" the vacuum. Hezbollah officials had at the same time expressed optimism that things were "going for the better concerning the presidential elections." Hezbollah forces on the ground in Lebanon have in recent days attacked Sunni refugees from Syria and defied judicial authorities by conducting illegal construction in Hezbollah-dominated territory. The latter project involved establishing a security cordon of roughly 50 fighters and preventing Lebanese police from accessing the area.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) revealed on Tuesday that Iran and Germany will hold talks over Iran's nuclear program outside the structure of ongoing P5+1 negotiations, the latest in a string of such news that has already triggered concerns over the cohesion of the P5+1 global powers - the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany - that have been sitting opposite Iranian diplomats. The announcement came within days of similar ones describing bilateral Iranian-U.S., Iranian-Russian, and Iranian-French talks. The result is that Iran is now holding individual talks with more of the P5+1 than not (only Britain and China have not announced that they are holding separate talks with the Iranians). Iranian negotiators have a history of seeking to divide international coalitions in the context of nuclear negotiations. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani bragged in his autobiography that in the early 2000s he had managed to divide the Americans and Europeans in order to lock in Iranian nuclear progress, going so far as to dub the tactic one of "widen[ing] the transatlantic gap." The developments have the potential to rebound into the domestic American debate over diplomacy toward Iran. The Obama administration last winter heavily leaned on arguments involving international unity in blocking Congressional moves aimed at increasing pressure on Iran. White House officials privately and publicly insisted that new legislation involving sanctions, even sanctions to be imposed only in the aftermath of a potential future collapse of talks, would fracture the P5+1. Evidence that the administration has failed to hold together a united diplomatic front against Iran would likely undermine the utility of such arguments in future controversies.
Do you like this post?