Eye on Iran: US Threatens to Quit Nuke Talks; Iran Blames West for Divide

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AP: "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry threatened Thursday to walk away from nuclear talks as he signaled that diplomats won't conclude an agreement with Iran over the coming hours - another delay that this time could complicate American efforts to quickly implement any deal. The Iranians immediately fired back, accusing the U.S. and its European allies of causing the deadlock. Kerry and other Western officials said Iran still hadn't made the tough political decision to roll back its nuclear program. But a senior Iranian official said it was the Americans and their partners who were backtracking on several key commitments related to Iran's permitted level of nuclear activity and definitively ending economic sanctions against Tehran. 'This is not open-ended,' Kerry told reporters outside the 19th-century Viennese palace hosting the negotiations. 'We can't wait forever for the decision to be made. If the tough decisions don't get made, we are absolutely prepared to call an end to this process.' It was the strongest indication yet of U.S. frustration with Iran, and vice versa, coming two days after President Barack Obama vowed a similar response to Iranian intransigence and suggesting patience was running out as the current round of talks headed into its 14th day." http://t.uani.com/1Tq5ajA

AFP: "The EU extended a freeze on sanctions targeting Iran until Monday, the second such move this month to allow more time for tense talks in Vienna on agreeing a nuclear deal. 'To allow more time for the ongoing negotiations to reach a long term solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, the [European] Council has prolonged until 13 July 2015 the suspension of EU restrictive measures,' a council statement said... British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Friday that progress was 'painfully slow ... there are still some issues that have to be resolved.' Hammond said he hoped that over the next 12 hours, experts 'will clear some more of the text and then we can re-group tomorrow to see if we can get over the last hurdles.'" http://t.uani.com/1Tq67II

AP: "Tens of thousands of Iranians chanted 'Down with America' and 'Death to Israel' during annual pro-Palestinian rallies nationwide on Friday, as a top leader said the U.S. would be making a 'strategic mistake' if it pulled out of ongoing negotiations on Tehran's nuclear program. The 'Al-Quds Day' rallies took place as Iran and six world powers were meeting in Vienna to work out a deal to limit Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing tens of billions of dollars in economic penalties on the Islamic Republic... 'If you drive the talks into a dead end then it will be you who will be committing a strategic mistake,' Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani said at Friday prayers following the rally in Tehran, addressing the U.S. 'And its outcome will not benefit you since Iran's nuclear staff are ready to accelerate nuclear technology at a higher speed than before.'" http://t.uani.com/1UJykM4

   

Nuclear Program & Negotiations

AFP: "Armies of experts have made huge progress on some of the thorniest issues needed to turn this framework into a complex final document of possibly up to 100 pages long. The main text and five complicated technical annexes are all but written, diplomats say. 'The text is done. It's already there. It's a matter of yes or no,' EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told CNN on Thursday. 'We are very close, but if the important, historical decisions are not made in the next hours we won't have an agreement.' But there are still gaps, and diplomats say that the remaining differences can only be decided at a political level. http://t.uani.com/1Hi6MUO

Reuters: The top adviser to Iran's supreme leader said on Friday that Tehran's 'redlines' should be respected in nuclear talks with major powers aimed at curbing the country's nuclear program, the semi-official Iranian news agency Tasnim reported. 'A deal can be reached only if (our) redlines are respected ... (U.S. Secretary of state John Kerry's) comments are part of America's psychological warfare against Iran,' said Ali Akbar Velayati, top adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei... Velayati said Iran had no intention to abandon the talks. 'Iran neither suggests extension of talks, nor rejects it. It is up to Americans if they want to leave the talks. Iran is ready to continue the negotiations,' Velayati said." http://t.uani.com/1NTX0MM

Politico: "As the Iran nuclear talks blow through deadline after deadline, even some key skeptics of Barack Obama's diplomacy with Tehran aren't complaining - in part because they feel the status quo favors America, at least for now. Iran isn't about to dash to a bomb, insiders say, nor is Obama prepared to take military action anytime soon. Thus, should the nuclear talks go on hiatus the short-term result would likely be the continuation an interim agreement struck in November 2013... 'We should be happy to leave Vienna without a deal this week and reconvene for another attempt later this summer,' added Gary Samore, who handled the Iran nuclear account in Obama's White House until early 2013. 'The JPOA gives us an advantage,' he said, noting that other key figures, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and prominent Israelis, have urged the administration to take its time. Corker has publicly said he believes the temporary deal - which prohibited Iran from enriching uranium to levels that can be used for a nuclear weapon and limited its overall uranium stockpile - works to America's advantage. 'We can ... maintain the status quo for some period of time until Iran becomes more serious about allowing us to know they're not conducting covert activity,' the Tennessee Republican said in March on CBS's Face the Nation." http://t.uani.com/1Hi0AMI

AP: "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been locked in this round of Iran nuclear talks for a longer period than any top American official has devoted to a single international negotiation in more than four decades. With no agreement in sight, he may stay longer. Kerry's trip to Vienna, now in its 15th day, already eclipses his own record for an overseas voyage and is the most extended stay outside the United States for a secretary of state since George Shultz in 1983. He would equal Shultz's mark on Sunday... Not since Henry Kissinger's 34-day Middle East peace odyssey in 1974 has the top U.S. diplomat devoted so many days abroad to one particular foreign policy objective. But unlike Kissinger - whose shuttle diplomacy took him between Jerusalem, Damascus, Amman and other destinations - Kerry has spent the entire time in Austria's capital." http://t.uani.com/1RojOKC

Congressional Action

Reuters: "The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Thursday he did not see the continuation of Iran nuclear talks as a problem for U.S. lawmakers, who have the opportunity to vote on a deal after one is reached. 'I'm very happy that we're not rushing to a place and taking shortcuts on the remaining issues that are left. That is to me a very good thing,' the panel's chairman, Republican Senator Bob Corker, told reporters at the U.S. Capitol." http://t.uani.com/1HRPOlX

The Hill: "Senate Republicans concede they are not likely to have enough votes to overturn President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran unless they can swing a key Democratic voice against the accord. They're setting their sights on Hillary Clinton, vowing to tie her to the deal in hopes of pressuring her to oppose it. GOP leaders need 67 votes to override Obama's expected veto and keep sanctions on Iran in place. The administration has not yet announced an accord but lawmakers expect it to come soon. 'It could be a good policy strategy. It's not going to be hard to come up with 34 Democrats to sustain a veto. The best chance of defeating it may be the inside embarrassment factor, getting Hillary Clinton or Chuck Schumer to walk into the Oval Office and tell the president we can't sustain this,' said a senior Republican aide, referring to New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the Democratic leader-in-waiting. Senate Republicans argue if Secretary of State John Kerry comes to Congress with a weak deal, Clinton, who served as his predecessor from 2009 to 2013, will deserve a large measure of the blame. 'Hillary was secretary of State. Their goal, they said, was to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. To me anything short of that is a complete failure and falls at the feet of Hillary Clinton and President Obama,' said Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership and the Foreign Relations Committee." http://t.uani.com/1LW9hS8

The Hill: "The only real alternative to ongoing negotiations to limit Iran's nuclear ambitions is to bomb its facilities, according to a top House Democrat. That bombing plot would set Iran's progress back just a few years, said Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Engel's comments were meant to argue that the last best way to halt Iran's nuclear progress is through an agreement. 'At this point we all know the refrain: no deal is better than a bad deal,' he said during a House hearing on the still-in-the-works deal. 'The alternative to a deal would surely mean some kind of military strikes on Iran's nuclear plant.' 'It's not just accepting the deal or nothing,' he added. 'There are things we're going to have to come to grips with, and I believe one of them is bombing the nuclear reactor.'" http://t.uani.com/1UJK7dn

Extremism

AFP: "Tens of thousands marched in Tehran and Baghdad Friday in annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day demonstrations in support of Palestinians, but Saudi Arabia this year joined arch-foe Israel as the target for protesters... In Iraq, thousands of people marched including hundreds of fighters in military uniform on Palestine Street in the capital Baghdad... While Iran does not recognise Israel's existence, and supports Palestinian militant groups that fight it, Saudi Arabia's bombing campaign in Yemen drew anger. The crowd in Tehran chanted 'Down with US, Israel and the House of Saud,' and carried placards that declared 'Zionist soldiers kill Muslims' and 'the Saudi family will fall'... As is customary for Jerusalem Day, Israeli flags had been painted on the road for demonstrators to trample as they follow the march. A giant stick puppet dubbed Daesh -- an Arabic acronym for IS -- was carried through Friday's Tehran demonstration, with the words 'Saudi's doll' written on it. It was later burned along with American, Israeli and British flags, a common gesture at public demonstrations ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979." http://t.uani.com/1L2snoY

Regional Destabilization

Reuters: "Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Thursday his country was determined to confront what he called Iran's internal meddling in the affairs of Arab states, saying Riyadh had already curbed Tehran's efforts to expand its influence... 'Saudi Arabia is working to confront Iran's trouble-making activities in the region,' Jubeir told a news conference in Amman where he was meeting senior Jordanian officials. 'We are determined that Iran should not have a negative intervention in the region or in Arab countries.' Saudi actions had helped reduce the interference of Tehran and its regional clout in Yemen and other countries, he said. 'The work we are doing to confront Iran's influence has achieved successes in several countries and we see the presence of Iran has shrunk in some areas in Africa and Yemen,' Jubeir said, without elaborating. He said Saudi Arabia sought good relations with Iran but most of the recent 'aggressive actions' seen in the region had emanated from Tehran, urging the Iranians to respect 'the principle of non-intervention' in others' affairs." http://t.uani.com/1NTWPkr

Human Rights

ICHRI: "Rouhani's Vice President for Women's and Family Affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, has come under increasingly direct criticism by Iranian citizens after her flip-flops-and now backing away-from her earlier support for women's attendance at sports events in Iran. Molaverdi, after forcefully advocating for women's presence at sports events, said on July 1 that the government had ended its plans to allow women inside sports arenas 'out of respect for the Grand Ayatollahs.'" http://t.uani.com/1CuwHvX

Opinion & Analysis

Ray Takeyh in WSJ: "The U.S. and Iran are struggling to conclude what could be one of the most permissive arms-control agreements in history. Defenders of a deal insist that the U.S. could still hold Iran accountable for its pernicious policies, regardless of an accord. Such assurances miss the point that maintenance of an arms-control agreement is inconsistent with a coercive policy. Signing a nuclear agreement with a nation acknowledges that that state is a responsible actor. The framework under consideration suggests that the Islamic Republic will be left with a substantial nuclear infrastructure that is likely to grow, over time, in size and sophistication. By concluding an accord with Iran, the Obama administration is effectively vouching that the clerical regime is a suitable custodian of nuclear technologies and that it can be trusted with a program that may eventually reach an industrial scale. A nuclear agreement would not only legitimize Iran's program but also signal to the region that the U.S. sees Iran as a power whose claims have to be taken into account. In the American imagination, arms control and détente are joined. Many in Washington are likely to call for improved relations with Iran in the aftermath of a deal. If the two powers can settle the nuclear issue, this thinking holds, then surely they can cooperate on topics of common concern such as the rise of Islamic State and ending Syria's civil war... Even if the U.S. were determined to hold the line and push back against Iran's actions in the region, in the wake of a nuclear deal it may not have the necessary coercive power. For much of the past three decades, Washington has responded to Iranian terrorism and regional aggression by applying economic sanctions. But a nuclear agreement would commit the U.S. to lessening the financial pressure on Iran. Today, Iran is segregated from the global financial markets and sanctions inhibit its central bank. But with such sanctions revoked under an accord, and given the inadvisability of using force, future U.S. presidents' coercive options will be sparse. Subsequent administrations may have no choice but to accommodate Iran, whatever its actions. Unlike the United States, revolutionary regimes that enter nuclear agreements tend to see them as pathways to asserting power... The Islamic Republic looks upon the United States as a crestfallen imperial state seeking to dispense with its Arab inheritance. A staple of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's rhetoric is that the U.S. is a declining power, beset by problems at home. In his telling, it is the United States that needs an arms-control agreement as a means of paving its exit from the Middle East. With Iran's actions and posture suggesting it is about to embark on its own expansive imperial mission, there might be little in way of coercive leverage that Washington can bring to bear. A hegemonic Iran may yet be the most consequential legacy of a nuclear accord." http://t.uani.com/1MkvZkZ

Eli Lake in Bloomberg: "'Never threaten an Iranian.' Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is reported to have said this to his Russian counterpart this week in the overtime negotiations over a nuclear deal in Vienna. Lucky for Iran, it is not being threatened in these talks. President Obama has shown little interest in reining in the regime. Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal reported last month, Obama has in recent years tried to entice Iran by urging U.S. allies to release convicted Iranian arms smugglers. Obama writes Iran's Supreme Leader hopeful letters from time to time.  In his recorded messages celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Obama has emphasized that he approaches Iran with respect.  In December, the president even mused that after a nuclear deal with Iran, the country may go on to become a 'successful regional power.' This principle of 'never threaten' does not cut both ways. The New York Times reported this week that Iran's Coordination Council of Islamic Propaganda is urging the citizenry to celebrate Friday's annual Quds Day (named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem) with such slogans as 'Death to America' and 'Death to International Zionism.' A spokesman for the Iran-supported League of the Righteous told me last year in Iraq that his group was prepared at any time to turn their guns again on American soldiers. When the Iran-supported Houthi rebels approached Yemen's capital in January and February, the U.S. embassy felt so threatened that it closed and sent its personnel home. It's not just limited to Iranian-backed militias. In fairness to Obama, the nuclear deal with Iran is deliberately narrow. Any agreement that results will not require Iran to end its support for terrorism, free its political prisoners or even stop trying to acquire missiles that could carry a nuke. The narrowness that is liberating for Iran is also liberating for the U.S. Obama in May announced that he will be selling billions of dollars' worth of new weapons systems to Iran's regional rivals and America's traditional Arab allies in the Middle East. On Monday, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes defended the deal's narrowness in two ways. He said the White House would support a deal only if it would provide limits on Iran's nuclear program even if the regime itself has not changed. But he added, 'We believe a world in which there is a deal with Iran is much more likely to produce an evolution in Iran's behavior than a world where there is no deal.' There are two problems with this statement. To start, Iran has not modified or evolved its behavior since November 2013, when an interim agreement known as the Joint Plan of Action was agreed. According to the State Department's latest report on international terrorism, Iran's support for terror is 'undiminished.' Iran continues to support Bashar al-Assad in Syria and anti-government rebels in Yemen. Allies of the U.S. say Iran has only become more aggressive since signing an interim agreement. What makes the White House think it will become less aggressive after signing a final one? The second problem is more fundamental. If Iran does not end its shadow war against our allies in the Middle East, then the deal being negotiated in Vienna will be a bad one, no matter how stringent the inspections or how crippling the 'snap-back' sanctions. The deal will unfreeze up to $150 billion in Iranian revenue now stuck in overseas bank accounts. If Iran's behavior doesn't evolve, then a portion of that money will go to terrorists and militias who threaten our allies. But there is also a problem of precedent. The U.S. has spent much diplomatic capital over the last decade to persuade other countries to forgo their right to enrich uranium and not erect the kind of infrastructure Iran has built under the penalty of U.N. sanctions up to now. To leave that in place, with no change in Iranian behavior, sends the message that rogue proliferation and sponsorship of terrorism works." http://t.uani.com/1RomFDf