- Analysts: Keep sanctions on Iran until program "fully dismantled"
- After Obama White House meeting, Netanyahu blasts Iran president as "loyal servant of the regime"
- Captured Iran spy targeted U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, "followed playbooks of most advanced intel agencies"
- Syria peace negotiations in danger after Assad nixes talks with Western-backed opposition
What we’re watching today:
- The New York Times reports that Western sanctions against Iran have put the country on the brink of economic collapse, with restrictions on financial transactions in particular having created severe hard currency shortages.Iran's expulsion from the Swift global banking network has compounded the country's difficulties and forced the regime to physically transport money into and out of Iran. International sanctions are being credited by some analysts with having forced the Iranian regime to at least make overtures to the West, even as the country's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has in recent months banned meaningful concessions to the West and insisted that negotiations must not include any Iranian "retreat." Commenting on the efficacy of sanctions, Brookings Institute senior fellow Michael Doran this afternoon emphasized that they must be kept up and lifted only when Iran's nuclear program is "fully dismantled." An opinion piece in The Economist, which was generally favorable to the prospect of dialogue between the United States and Iran, also noted that sanctions were "crucial" in pushing Iranian leadership to the negotiating table. The Economistcalled for President Barack Obama to approach any negotiations in a "clear and tough" manner, and to pursue a comprehensive strategy that addressed Tehran's uranium enrichment work, its plutonium-related activity, and its existing stockpiles of enriched nuclear material. Iranian negotiators are set to meet with the P5+1 countries - the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K, France, and Germany - in mid-October.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke this afternoon to the United Nations General Assembly, questioning the assurances being voiced in some corners of the foreign policy community that newly inaugurated Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is willing or able to alter what is widely believed to be an Iranian drive to acquire nuclear weapons. Netanyahu described Rouhani as a "loyal servant of the regime," echoing statements made by Rouhani committing himself to following the dictats of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Rouhani served for decades as Khamenei's personal representative to Iran's Supreme National Security Council, in which capacity he played a key role in planning a wave of global terror attacks. Netanyahu's speech came a day after a Monday meeting in Washington with President Barack Obama, during which Obama reaffirmed that that the U.S. was keeping all options "including military options" on the table in its efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Writing in Foreign Policy on the eve of the meeting, veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller dismissed suggestions that there was daylight between Jerusalem and Washington, declaring that the West would strike a deal that satisfied both the U.S. and Israel "or there will be no deal at all." The West has called on Iran to meet the multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on Tehran to dismantle its nuclear program. Iran will be expected at a minimum to cease uranium enrichment and plutonium-related work, to ship already enriched uranium overseas, and to open up military facilities like its Parchin installation, where Tehran is widely suspected of having conducted work relevant to nuclear detonations. National Security Adviser Susan Rice emphasized on Sunday that Iran would not be permitted to continue enriching uranium under any potential deal with the West.
- Israeli officials over the weekend released details regarding the arrest of an Iranian-Belgian citizen accused of conducting extensive espionage against Israeli and American targets inside the Jewish state, deepening concerns regarding the scope of Iranian terror networks and the sophistication of Iranian tradecraft. Ali Mansouri was captured with photographs of, among other things, Israel's Ben Gurion airport and the U.S. embassy. Veteran Israeli military correspondent Yoav Limor unpacked six lessons to be drawn from the incident, beginning with the observation that "Iran followed the playbooks of the most advanced intelligence agencies in the world" and had recruited "a quality asset" who had undergone "prolonged training (more than a year) that included various methods of intelligence gathering, with an emphasis on photography." Limor also noted that "Mansouri was sent by the Quds Force... [which] operates terror networks and orchestrates attacks," and so "it stands to reason that when the Quds Force sends a spy on a mission, the intelligence gathered will ultimately be used to perpetrate a terror attack." Washington Institute senior fellow Matt Levitt has become increasingly vocal in calling attention to what he last April termed a "return to tradecraft" by Iran and the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah. Levitt had previously described efforts by the Quds force to engage in "large-scale campaigns... to carry out acts of violence targeting not only Israel but also U.S. and other Western interests." A State Department report published in June described Iranian-backed terrorism as having reached a tempo unseen since the 1990s.
- Damascus has ruled out talks with a bulk of the opposition forces battling to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, excluding among others the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and calling into question the viability of peace talks scheduled to take place between various factions in November. Speaking to Italian press, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad said he would not negotiate with Al Qaeda-linked opposition elements, and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem ruled out talks with the SNC on the basis of the group’s support for Western strikes on Syria. The statement was not the first time that Damascus has sought to exclude opponents based on their expressions of opposition, a standard that some have suggested may permanently stymie diplomacy. Earlier this year Syria's Foreign Ministry lashed out at the U.N.'s Middle East peace envoy for "flagrant bias" after Lakhdar Brahimi told a BBC interviewer that Assad was resisting the aspirations of the Syrian people. Russian officials today publicly suggested that the troubled talks would not take place as scheduled, and accused the West for being unable to deliver opposition forces to the table.
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