- Top Iran negotiator: Iranian nuke concessions reversible in one day
- Moves to block bipartisan Senate legislation celebrated by Iranian media and pro-Iran lobbies, blasted by Senate sources
- Observers worry over Hamas campaign amid uptick in Gaza and West Bank operations
- International tribunal's launch focuses attention on Hezbollah violence, impunity
- The Daily Beast today conveyed statements by Abbas Araqchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister and its top nuclear negotiator, boasting that the concessions Iran has committed to making under the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) - and more specifically, its commitments regarding its stockpile of 20% uranium - can be reversed in one day. Iran has committed to halting enrichment to 20%, diluting half of its existing 20% stockpile to 5% levels, and converting the other half to an oxide form in which it can't be further enriched. Over the weekend Araqchi told Iranian television that "we can return again to 20 percent enrichment in less than one day and we can convert the [nuclear] material again." Substantively, the comments will draw attention to fundamental asymmetries in the JPA. The West's sanctions concessions are straightforwardly irreversible because Iran will get to pocket the billions in financial relief it receives, and it will be difficult - many analysts, backed by a steady stream of new evidence have suggested that it will in fact be functionally impossible - to restore the structure of the international sanctions regime. Diplomatically, Araqchi's boasts are likely to deepen concerns that the Iranians will exploit the JPA's asymmetries and walk away from negotiations. Patrick Clawson and Mehdi Khalaji - respectively the director of research and a senior fellow at the Washington Institute - had published an opinion piece in mid-November suggesting that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was laying the groundwork to pocket Western concessions under an interim deal and walk away from further negotiations. An anti-U.S. lash-out by Khamenei later that month deepened those fears. Araqchi's statements will be read within that debate, and may fuel concerns that Western negotiators lack sufficient leverage to force Iran to make robust concessions regarding its nuclear program. The worry is the basis for a Congressional push to pass legislation that would signal now that - should Iran abandon talks later - crippling sanctions would immediately be reposed. The White House has sought to halt momentum for the bill, in part by accusing its advocates of warmongering.
- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) this week signaled that he will not permit the Senate to vote on bipartisan legislation - formally co-sponsored by 59 senators and reportedly supported by a veto-proof majority of 77 - that would impose sanctions on Iran should negotiations over the Islamic republic's nuclear program fail. The Hill noted that the decision came "[a]mid intense pressure from President Obama and the White House," elements of which included accusations of warmongering leveled at Democrats by administration supporters. Iranian state outlet PressTV positively covered Reid's efforts to block a vote in the face of what the station described as "the Israeli lobby's efforts" - the second of at least two such articles that PressTV published this week about the Senate leader - and also conveyed reports of animated personal lobbying by President Barack Obama himself. The Nation noted that the legislation is also opposed by the National Iranian Council, by which the magazine likely meant the National Iranian American Council, which is a lobby that has been accused by members of Congress of pushing pro-regime "propaganda" amid efforts by lawmakers to pressure Iran into making meaningful concessions that would defuse the international crisis over Tehran's nuclear program. The tone inside the Senate differed, with a senior aide expressing frustration at Reid for "blocking a majority of senators who want to stop Iran from going nuclear."
- Observers are expressing deepening concerns regarding efforts by Palestinian groups to destabilize Israel's border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, amid months of foiled attempts by the Iran-backed faction to launch spectacular terror attacks that would bolster its precipitously sliding domestic and regional stature. As many as eight rockets were fired overnight from the Gaza Strip at the Israeli city of Ashkelon, with five being intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system. The barrage followed another one from earlier this week, when two rockets were fired after the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Upwards of twenty rockets have been fired at Israel this year, as compared with roughly forty in all of 2013, and Hamas is known to be qualitatively and quantatively bolstering its missile arsenal. Meanwhile reports are emerging that the group is engaging in, and boosting its capacity for, suicide bombings and similar terror operations. David Barnett, a Palestinian affairs expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, yesterday outlined a series of recent Hamas terror plots uncovered by Israeli authorities operating in the West Bank. The Times of Israel also reported yesterday that the second year of Gaza's so-called "Pioneers of Liberation" program, which involves training high school-age students to engage in combat and emulate "suicide martyrs," had just concluded. Approximately 18,000 teenagers have reportedly been through the paramilitary programs, with boys and girls - per Hamas's broader educational policies - taught separately.
- Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri today hailed the opening of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) at The Hague as the "first page of true justice" in response to the assassination of his father, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as the STL launched its first trial into Hariri's February 2005 murder. The U.N.-backed court has indicted and seeks to try five members of Hezbollah for various roles in the attack. Four of the defendants are accused of direct involvement: Mustafa Badr Al Deen, believed to be the mastermind behind the operation, Salim Ayyash, accused of being in charge of the technical operational details, Hussain Anaissi, and Assad Sabra, both of whom are accused of preparing a propaganda video to claim false responsibility after the attack. Hezbollah has repeatedly interfered in the tribunal's work and refused to turn over the suspects, going so far as to threaten to attack anyone who attempts to apprehend them. The Iran-backed terror group's stance has been blasted - and was again criticized by Hariri at the STL's opening - for putting the organization and its members beyond legal authority. Hudson Institute senior fellow Lee Smith has outlined how Hezbollah mobilizes organized violence - most recently via the car bombing and murder of former Ambassador to the U.S. Mohamad Chatah - to reinforce perceptions of exactly such immunity. The STL will be the first international tribunal to try suspects in absentia since Nuremberg.
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