Senate to dispatch bipartisan letter to WH on Iran diplomacy, amid renewed 2012-level oil exports



White House officials late last week described themselves as "comfortable" with still-rising levels of Iranian oil exports, an expression of confidence that the Wall Street Journal noted came despite figures "showing that over the last two months the country's oil sales have reached their highest level in a year." Bloomberg Businessweek also reported on the data, calculating that "the shipments were the highest since December 2012, according to the agency’s data compiled by Bloomberg." Members of Congress were less sanguine than the administration. The Jerusalem Post reported today that a bipartisan group of Senators will dispatch a letter to President Obama in the coming days calling for among other things the "rapid and dramatic" expansion of sanctions if talks with Iran fail. The letter, which comes alongside a similar one making its way through the House, has been signed by 41 Republicans and 41 Democrats. Lawmakers have been pushing the Obama administration both on what the contours of an acceptable deal with the Islamic Republic must look like - the House letter emphasizes that "a permanent diplomatic agreement will require dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear weapons-related infrastructure, including enrichment-, heavy water-, and reprocessing-related facilities" - and on the need for what Senators describe as "an outsize[d] role" for Congress. The latter position reflects the position of lopsided majorities of American voters.


Analysts and journalists worked on Monday to unpack a weekend interview between Reuters and Vann Van Diepen - the U.S.'s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation - in which Van Diepen bluntly declared that there has been no change in Iran's efforts to illicitly procure components for its nuclear and missile programs. The Times of Israel contextualized Tehran's efforts against the backdrop of a recent statement by 200 Iranian lawmakers declaring that 'the country’s negotiators should not accept any discussion of the military and missile programs,' a stance that has been repeatedly underlined by top Iranian diplomats. U.S. officials for their part have consistently maintained that Iran will have to address its missile procurement efforts in any comprehensive agreement, with lead negotiator Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman saying as much to Congress in as many words. National Journal conveyed Van Diepen's statements alongside pessimism being expressed by top Iranian officials regarding the prospects for renewed talks between Tehran and the P5+1. The next round of talks is set to launch on Tuesday in Vienna, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has already declared that "we do not expect" that they will yield an agreement.


President Barack Obama met on Monday with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to advance a U.S.-backed framework outlining a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, after weeks in which – per the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl – Abbas "publicly campaign[ed] against the U.S. and Israeli position even before arriving in Washington." The Palestinian leader had specifically rejected bridging proposals from Secretary of State John Kerry on a range of issues, including proposals for sharing East Jerusalem, for meeting Israeli security needs along the border with Jordan, for formally giving up the demand that Israel accept millions of Palestinians from beyond its borders, and for recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. USA Today quoted Abbas declaring at Monday’s meeting that turmoil in the region meant that the Palestinians "don't have any time to waste" and that "time is not on [their] side" regarding efforts to establish a viable Palestinian state, an assessment in tension with that of some foreign policy experts who insist that the Palestinians have the luxury of time while the clock is ticking against Israel. For its part The Guardian reported on rallies held in the West Bank urging Abbas to "stand up to Obama... [and] resist calls to make concessions, especially on the issue of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state." The rallies echoed violent anti-Obama demonstrations which took place in the West Bank during the U.S. President's March 2013 visit to the territory.


The U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran on Monday officially presented his latest report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, telling the body that the document demonstrated that "the rhetoric and modest steps taken to date" under Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had "yet to translate into the kinds of deep reforms needed to respond to the human rights concerns raised by the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the UN Secretary-General, Treaty Bodies, all Special Procedures, human rights defenders and international organizations." Ahmed Shaheed had already noted last fall that there had been no fundamental improvement in Iran's human rights situation under Rouhani, and a few months later he described Tehran's deployment of capital punishment as "contraven[ing] universally accepted human rights principles and norms." His report echoes statements made last week by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in which Ban assessed that "the new [Iranian] administration has not made any significant improvement in the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and opinion, despite pledges made by the president during his campaign and after his swearing." It is also in line with U.S. assessments, including one issued in February by Uzra Zeya - the State Department’s acting assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor - in which Zeya emphasized the U.S. has "seen little meaningful improvement in human rights in Iran under the new government, including torture, political imprisonment, harassment of religious and ethnic minorities." Recent U.N. assessments regarding human rights under Rouhani have received less media attention than might be expected. The NYT almost wholly declined to cover Ban's recent statements, for instance, while the Washington Post reported them as evidence that Rouhani was actually trying really hard to improve human rights.

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