- Hagel: Israeli pressure was key to bringing Iran to the table, Netanyahu not trying to derail talks
- EU legislation, U.S. sting operations call attention to Iranian regime exploitation of civilian infrastructure
- Palestinian president doubles down on refusal to recognize Jewish state, threatening peace talks
- WSJ: Iranian-American businessman met with Iranian president to map out anti-sanctions push
What we’re watching today:
- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel this week brushed off suggestions that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to derail talks between the international community and Iran, emphasizing instead that Netanyahu is "legitimately concerned" over the Islamic republic's nuclear ambitions and that - in any case - Iran had come to the table partly due to "the constant pressure from Israel." Hagel noted that U.S. sanctions had also "done tremendous economic damage." The point, made in a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, echoes years of analysis suggesting that a credible threat of force should be leveraged to minimize what benefits Iran could expect from continued nuclearization. President Barack Obama has also consistently reiterated that diplomatic initiatives must be coupled with a credible threat of force in order to compel Iran to negotiate over its program. Washington Institute Executive Director Robert Satloff took particular note of how Hagel had implied that "Israel's credible threat, not America's, helped bring Iran [to] the table." Golberg's questions, and Hagel's responses, came against the backdrop of comments by Secretary of State John Kerry - widely perceived to be aimed at Netanyahu - criticizing "fear tactics" used by skeptics of Iranian intentions. Kerry's comments were made at an event sponsored by the Ploughshares Fund, an organization that Goldberg described as one "which sometimes seems overly relaxed about the danger of a nuclear Iran."
- The Wall Street Journal yesterday described efforts being made by European Union (EU) officials to maintain pressure against Iran's national cargo fleet, and more specifically against the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), after the EU General Court overturned sanctions on the fleet last September. The U.S. Treasury Department in 2008 imposed sanctions on IRISL and on 123 of its ships for the company's and vessels' roles in "providing logistical services to Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics." IRISL officials subsequently moved to evade U.S. sanctions via a campaign of what Adam Szubin, the director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, described as "deception, fraud and dangerous activities on behalf" of Iran. The Journal also notes - in addition to cataloging an array of other ways that IRISL has allegedly collaborated with the Iranian regime - that sanctions have nonetheless "had a visible effect on the group's usefulness to the Iranian regime," underscoring the degree to which pressure has limited the utility of ostensibly private and civilian infrastructure to Tehran. The story came on the same day as the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security published a report outlining how U.S. sting operations have netted Iranian operatives seeking to evade missile export restrictions. Reza Olangian is alleged to have been a so-called "'core' Iranian procurement agent," which is to say one who "who works with relative immunity from inside Iran placing orders directly for the Iranian military or for companies procuring for it." He had been lured outside the safety of Iranian territory by a U.S. operation revolving around the ostensible sale of surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles.
- Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated on Monday his refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state even in the context of a final peace agreement, complicating the efforts of negotiators engaged in U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to reach a formula acceptable to both sides. The fundamental Israeli demand stretches back years, and in 2011 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the condition as a "basic demand," imploring Abbas to "accept a Jewish state" after Netanyahu had "stood before [his] people and said [he] would accept a Palestinian state." Israeli officials have gone so far as to foreground the issue as one covering "90% of the conflict." Abbas has consistently refused to meet those requests - to the point where meetings have been adjourned due to his stance - raising fears that Palestinian leaders view the conflict as one of Israel's existence rather than as a limited territorial dispute. Specifically the Israelis fear that Abbas's instransigence is borne of a desire to maintain territorial claims on Israeli territory even after a peace deal is hammered out. Rumors floated yesterday by Israeli politicians hinted that the U.S. is preparing its own bridging proposals in case the Israelis and Palestinians are unable to forge such an agreement.
- A Wall Street Journal opinion piece reveals that top Iranian officials - including Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and his chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian - met in September in New York with Iranian-American businessman Ekram Manafzadeh and that, according to the Journal, they 'hatched' an idea described by Manafzadeh as having him "register... an organization" in his U.S. office to "advance trading with Iran." Manafzadeh indicated to the Journal that he will use the recently founded Iran America Chamber of Commerce Inc to "lobby the people who are considering relaxing the sanctions," a move that the Journal suggested indicates Tehran "is already positioning itself to profit from" concessions that it expects American lawmakers to offer during upcoming talks. Meanwhile, The Hill today described the Obama administration as having "played down" a recent anti-America rally in Iran - the largest in years - in which U.S. flags were burned and the crowds chanted "Death to America." Observers had suggested that the evidence of Iranian hostility might give pause to advocates of engagement
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