- Iran nuclear agency chief: "Iceberg of sanctions is melting while our centrifuges are... still working"
- New report details Iranian concessions necessary for final deal
- Risks of Gaza Strip deterioration deepen as Palestinian rocket fire increases
- Geneva 2 roll-out marred by diplomatic chaos, deepening Lebanon spillover
- The World Bank's recently released Global Economic Prospects report shows that Iran's economy is expected to steadily grow in the coming years, the latest analysis reinforcing what Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, described yesterday as "broad agreement that Iran’s economy is showing signs of recovery and stabilization," with one implication being that "American leverage... is weakening" in the context of comprehensive negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program. Analysts fear that U.S. leverage will continue to bleed as data is compiled on the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), which as of Monday saw the West lifting sanctions on a range of sectors and irreversibly releasing restricted Iranian funds. The Los Angeles Times yesterday conveyed statements by Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's nuclear agency, declaring on state television that "the iceberg of sanctions is melting while our centrifuges are also still working." The Obama administration had claimed that the overall value of the relief would be modest - roughly $7 billion - and that the rest of the international sanctions regime would hold. Skeptics challenged both claims, calculating that the relief would be worth at least $20 billion and predicting that a feeding frenzy would take hold as sanctions were modestly eroded, with nations and companies scrambling to avoid getting left behind in the rush back into Iran's markets. Such concerns were derided as "fanciful" by analysts linked to the administration. The Financial Times reported this weekend that Iranian economists are estimating the value of sanctions relief to be $15 billion. RFE/RL yesterday assessed that "the easing of sanctions on Tehran that has just taken effect is sending Western companies rushing to seek new business opportunities in Iran" and that keeping some sanctions in place has been insufficient to prevent "huge business interest on both sides." The outlet described among other things delegations of French executives and energy-based business interests from quite literally across the world.
- Analysts at the U.S.-based Institute of Science and International Security (ISIS) yesterday published a report [PDF] describing what steps Iran would be obligated to take under a comprehensive nuclear agreement, should that agreement robustly impose barriers on the Islamic republic's ability to produce nuclear weapons. The Wall Street Journal noted that the "prescriptions aren't viewed as particularly harsh or hard-line" and quoted ISIS head David Alright explaining that "the study was developed by independent research and through extensive discussions in recent months with Obama administration officials working on the Iran file." It evaluates a controversial scenario under which Iran would be permitted to continue enriching uranium, despite half a dozen binding United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding otherwise and fears that U.S. allies who have forgone enrichment at Washington's behest will end up marginalized. Tehran would be minimally expected, instead, to remove 15,000 centrifuges, shut down its uranium enriching underground military bunker at Fordow, downgrade the reactor at its plutonium-production facility at Arak, and agree to a 20-year inspection regime. The recommendations are designed to ensure that Iran would require between six months to a year should it, sometime in the future after the deal is implemented, decide to break off cooperation with the West and with international nuclear inspectors.
- Observers fear that escalating Palestinian rocket fire will trigger deterioration along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, months after assessments began to harden that the Palestinian Hamas faction was seeking to escalate violence in order to boost its precipitously deteriorating regional and domestic positions. On Monday rocket fire forced school closures in the Israeli city of Ashdod and on Tuesday a rocket slammed into an area outside of the Israeli resort city of Eilat. Monday also saw Palestinian fighters detonate an explosive near the Israel-Gaza border, along a road patrolled by the Israeli military. The Israelis have linked cells from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to the barrages, and have held Hamas responsible for permitting fire out of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Thus far Israel's efforts at disrupting the attacks have largely involved actions aimed at the two former groups, and the Israeli Air Force struck PIJ and PFLP targets on Sunday and this evening respectively. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated today, however, that Israel's efforts will expand to include Hamas if rocket and missile fire directed at Israeli communities continues.
- The rollout to the Geneva 2 conference stumbled over the weekend and into today, marked by a series of diplomatic missteps regarding the conference's composition and violence in Lebanon that underscored the degree to which instability in the region may deepen regardless of the talks' outcome. A car bomb detonated this morning inside Hezbollah's southern Beirut stronghold - which the Associated Press dryly noted was "apparently in retaliation for Hezbollah['s] support" of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria - killed four people. It was the latest in a string of such bombings by jihadist elements, which hold Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons responsible for providing critical assistance to Syria against largely Sunni opposition groups. Iran's central role in propping up the Assad regime has also generated diplomatic complications for Geneva 2. The conference is designed to dampen the nearly three-year Syrian conflict, but efforts aimed at assembling parties committed to reducing the violence have been uneven. Rebel groups have opposed including Iran, citing Tehran's control over Hezbollah and support for Assad. Syria and its backers, including Russia, have taken the opposite position. This weekend UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon first invited Iran to participate - apparently, per his office, in consultation with the U.S. - before withdrawing the invitation. The withdrawal was also done, per extensive reporting, under U.S. pressure.
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