- Top Iran officials underline refusal to dismantle uranium or plutonium infrastructure
- Iranian Foreign Ministry swats down suggestions Tehran would recognize Israel under peace deal
- Mass casualty barrel bombs attacks renew debates over Western intervention
- Reports: Hezbollah vetoes new cabinet, leaving Lebanon government in limbo
- Top Iranian officials this week reemphasized Tehran's stance - articulated recently by among others President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and former top nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian - that the Islamic republic refuses to dismantle even minimal elements of its nuclear infrastructure in the context of a comprehensive nuclear agreement between the country and the international community. Zarif on Wednesday again rejected Western demands that Iran take apart uranium enrichment and plutonium producing equipment, declaring that "Iran's nuclear technology is non-negotiable and comments about Iran's nuclear facilities are worthless and there is no need to negotiate or hold talks about them." The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization had earlier this week made a series of similar comments to Iran's PressTV, boasting that Iran has not dismantled anything under the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA). He emphasized that "[t]he entire nuclear activity of Iran is going on” and that “[c]entrifuges that were used for the production of 20 percent, they will be used now for producing 5 percent enriched uranium." The boasts are likely to generate both specific and general concerns regarding the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran. Substantively, Salehi's boasts regarding the ongoing development of advanced centrifuges – an element of the JPA that David Albright, head of the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), identified this week as a gaping "loophole" - are likely to prove particularly controversial. More broadly, White House and State Department officials seem to have settled on talking points suggesting that "dismantlement of significant portions of [Iran's] nuclear infrastructure" will be a topic for some time in the future, and that in the meantime journalists should focus on the JPA's implementation. The administration has been pressed its logic, wherein statements trumpeting Iranian intransigence are brushed off as domestic chatter while statements signaling moderation are taken as reliable indices to regime intentions.
- Iran's foreign ministry this week "categorically denied" widely-broadcast reports which had Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hinting to German TV that Tehran might be willing to recognize Israel should the Jewish state secure a peace agreement with Palestinians. A foreign ministry official declared instead that Zarif had been misquoted and the top Iranian diplomatic "completely rejected the remarks attributed to him." The incident is not the first time since the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in which optimistic media coverage touting Iranian moderation was met with explicit denials from Iranian officials. Widely conveyed reports published months ago had Iran had halting enrichment of its uranium to 20% purity, prompting a quick clarification by Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi stating the opposite. Last September a Twitter account linked to Rouhani generated what the Washington Post described at the time as a "frenzied response" when it was used to wish Jews a happy Jewish New Year. Rouhani’s officedenied any linksto the tweet. Iranian citizens were, days later, able to directly access social media networks for the first time in years, generating speculation from Western journalists that "Iran’s Berlin Wall of internet censorship crumbling." The ban was imposed a day later. In September a German paper published rumors that Rouhani was prepared to shut down Iran's underground enrichment bunker at Fordow, a suggestion that the regime immediately rejected and continues to explicitly reject. The degree to which Iranian officials are deliberately promoting misreporting by often sympathetic Western journalists is unclear.
- Secretary of State John Kerry this week condemned the use of so-called barrel bombs by Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime, blasting Damascus for the repeated use of the shrapnel packed IEDs against Syrian civilians. The attacks, in which the bombs are dropped out of helicopters, have in recent days generateda wave of new casualties. Policy debates surrounding the regime's use of barrel bombs are not straightforward. The insidery NightWatch intelligence bulletin, which has been pointedly unsympathetic to advocates of Western intervention into Syria, noted that Kerry's statements "imply that opposition forces are too feeble to shoot down helicopters dropping 50 gallon drums packed with explosives." The implicit implication, perNightWatch’sassessment, is that Assad is more stable - and more difficult to dislodge - than some pro-intervention analysts suggest. The Washington Post in contrast editorialized late on Wednesday in favor ofwhat it described as "a number of options for action in Syria that would be more robust than the current policy," outlining a range of potential diplomatic and security assistance policies. The Post concluded its editorial by suggesting that the paucity of good choices was a function of "U.S. inaction over the past three years." Western nations had earlier this month promised to renew pressure on Assad in the aftermath of failed peace talks.
- Beirut-based news site NOW Lebanon yesterday conveyed reports from Al-Hayat indicating that Hezbollah has rejected a proposed new government in which the finance and foreign ministries would have gone to Hezbollah allies while cabinet portfolios related to security - specifically the defense and interior ministries - would have gone to the anti-Hezbollah March 14th movement. The current caretaker cabinet took control of Lebanon in April 2013, after the stability of repeated governments was undermined by Hezbollah and its allies. Hezbollah's veto over the proposed new cabinet composition, which came despite statements from March 14 figures signaling expanded willingness to make concessions, leaves efforts to restore political stability in limbo. The move is likely to reinforce analysis suggesting that Hezbollah has a stranglehold over Lebanese political institutions. Hudson Institute senior fellow Lee Smith outlined last month how the group is able to operate with impunity throughout the country, and NOW Lebanon recently described a speech by "firebrand Sunni Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir" in which Assir called on Sunnis to speak out against the "crimes Hezbollah committed against them," including and particularly via the group's "tools, especially the Lebanese army."
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