- Still-unimplemented Iran interim agreement faces new snag over Tehran demand for advanced centrifuge development
- New figures show Iran oil export spike, promise to complicate sanctions debate in Washington
- Reports: Kerry to widen push for Palestinians to recognize Israel as nation-state of Jewish people
- Academics urging Israel boycott face "unprecedented" backlash, ridicule
What we’re watching today:
- Reuters reported late on Wednesday that efforts to implement the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) - the deal announced months ago in Geneva between the P5+1 global powers and Iran, which would set up a framework designed to facilitate still more negotiations between the parties over Tehran's atomic program - have hit a snag. The JPA envisions a six-month period of talks, during which some sanctions on Iran will be lifted even as the Islamic republic is allowed to continue unlimited uranium enrichment to low levels of purity and continued work on the country's plutonium production complex at Arak. Reuters reports that Iranian officials are also pressing to be allowed to pursue advanced uranium enrichment technology during the interim period, the upshot being that six months from now Tehran would have more enriched nuclear material and an enhanced capacity to quickly enrich that material further to weapons-grade purity. The scenario would be difficult to reconcile with characterizations of the JPA as even a temporary 'freeze' on Iran's atomic ambitions - the key emphasis made by JPA defenders in Washington - and Western negotiators have pushed back. The controversy risks further extending the time before the JPA takes hold. The so-called interim before the interim has effectively functioned as a window of immunity during which Iran has been allowed to continue its nuclear work unfettered by the agreement's limitations, even as Western powers have held off on new pressure so as not to endanger future negotiations. The White House has already faced months of criticism for allowing itself to be maneuvered into such a situation, and denied today that implementation talks had broken down. Iranian media today reported that Mohammad Hassan Asafari, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission in Iran's parliament, declared that in addition to refusing to ever give up enrichment, Iran would also refuse to give up "one iota" of its support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.
- The Washington Free Beacon this morning published figures, provided to the outlet by the non-partisan advocacy organization United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), showing that Iranian oil exports not only spiked in December but approached an annual high, amid expectations from investors and trading partners that sanctions against the Islamic republic will soon be reduced. The Beacon read the export numbers, which had Iran sending over a billion barrels of oil per day overseas, against the backdrop of analyst worries that "the interim nuclear deal reached between Iran and the West has reinvigorated the global markets" that will result in a steady erosion of the international sanctions regime. Figures for October saw Iranian oil sales cratering but by November - amid talk of an interim nuclear agreement - Iranian media was already bragging about double-digit export growth to among other countries South Korea. In early December Iran signaled that it was preparing to reassert its leadership inside OPEC. In early January details emerged of a Chinese-Iranian deal that would see exports boosted to pre-2012 levels. Iran's oil resurgence will likely deepen concerns in Washington that the Islamic republic is shaking off years of international sanctions designed first to pressure Iranian leaders into negotiating over the country's nuclear program and, more pointedly, to achieve a change in Iran's posture toward that program. A bipartisan Senate bill introduced before the holiday recess, which would signal to Iran that more sanctions will be imposed in the future should Tehran refuse to dismantle its nuclear program, this week reportedly secured majority support in the legislative body. The White House has committed to vetoing the bill should it pass Congress.
- Reports suggesting that Secretary of State John Kerry is frustrated by the refusal of Palestinian negotiators to acknowledge Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people in the context of a final status agreement - which coalesced over the weekend with a Telegraph report saying as much in as many words - continued to trickle out yesterday and today, with articles in both Israeli and Palestinian media indicating that Kerry will try to rally Arab support behind him. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted since 2009, when he was elected, that any comprehensive treaty between Israelis and their Palestinian counterparts must include such a provision, which would robustly acknowledge that the Palestinians were giving up any future claims to Israeli territory. A May 2009 press conference with Netanyahu and President Barack Obama saw both leaders gesture toward the condition, with the President declaring that "[i]t is in U.S. national security interests to assure that Israel’s security as an independent Jewish state is maintained" and the Prime Minister explicitly outlining that a peace deal would require the Palestinians to "to recognize Israel as a Jewish state." Reporting on this issue has been tangled, with some outlets treating the long-emphasized Israeli condition as relatively new.
- Anti-Israel academics advocating boycotts of the Jewish state are increasingly at risk of becoming punchlines, with prominent commentators and scholars from across the ideological spectrum accusing backers of the so-called boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement not just of hypocrisy but also of incoherence and absurdity. The American Studies Association (ASA) recently voted to disassociate itself from Israeli academia, triggering a backlash described by academic trade publications as "unprecedented." Over 150 institutions of higher learning have rejected the vote, more often than not in withering terms rarely seen in institutional academia. Peter Schmidt, a senior writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education, on Sunday evaluated that the reaction has made the ASA into "a pariah of the United States higher-education establishment, its experience serving as a cautionary tale for other scholarly groups that might consider taking a similar stand on the Middle East." Schmidt cited formal condemnations from a range of colleges and universities, denunciations from "three of the United States' most prominent higher-education organizations," and decisions by ASA institutional members to withdraw from the organization. Judea Pearl - president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son, the slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl - assessed that the ASA's gambit has generated "unprecedented galvanization of Jewish students and faculty to confront the dangers of the BDS assault." The ASA has scrambled to backtrack regarding the scope and significance of its call to isolate Israel - the specific defense is that only Israeli institutions, and not individual Israelis, are being targeted - generating eye-rolls that "they intend to catch fish but vow not to go near the water." Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg today ridiculed an upcoming conference at American University of Beirut's Center for American Studies and Research, which will see presentations from some of the top ASA figures associated with the boycott, for hosting academics "opposed to the existence of Lebanon’s southern neighbor: Israel." Goldberg particularly cited one presentation, which had already been highlighted by Washington Post blogger Max Fisher for implicitly equating Palestinians with Antarctic penguins, as his "favorite offering." Meanwhile the Modern Language Association (MLA) is gearing up this week to host a conference in Chicago that will feature a panel on BDS and vote on an anti-Israel resolution that - though it does embroil the literature-oriented academic association in the intricacies of the Middle East conflict - falls short of calling for a boycott. The group has dealt with the easily foreseen controversy - coming from journalists, academics, and the public - with something less than cutting-edge public relations acumen. It denied media credentials to the Daily Caller, with predictable results, and it denied a request by the Israel on Campus Coalition and Hillel International to hold a counter pro-Israel panel, a news story that went international.
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