- New evidence of sanctions-busting Iran-Turkey cooperation complicates White House sanctions position
- Analysts pile on concerns that Iran nuke deal will collapse sanctions regime without further action
- Journalists press State Dept. over silence in response to anti-Israel incitement by chief Palestinian negotiator
- Explosion at Palestinian embassy prompts accusations of gun running, violating international norms
What we’re watching today:
- The Commerce Department scrambled today to issue what Reuters described as "a rare emergency order" designed to block a Turkish-based company from illegally passing along two U.S.-build commercial jet engines to Iran's Pouya airline. The broad order - which names multiple companies and would impose crippling consequences for any violations - comes amid deepening concern that extensive cooperation between Ankara and Tehran has allowed the Islamic republic to skirt international sanctions designed to force Iran to change its stance on its nuclear program. The Daily Beast assessed in late December that the open political warfare shaking Turkey - which has pitted elites in the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party against followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen - "could destabilize [President Barack] Obama's nuclear deal and threaten the government of Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan." Judiciary figures linked to Gulen are pursuing a corruption probe that has already ensnared AKP elites, and that unearthed an oil-for-cash scheme between Tehran and Ankara that - per the Daily Beast - "may only be start of more uncomfortable disclosures about Iranian dealings in Turkey." Fully one-sixth of companies that began investing in Turkey in 2013 were backed by Iranian money, and Turkish outlet Zaman outlined over the weekend how Turkey and Iran building mechanisms to further boost their cooperation in the coming weeks and months. The domestic political stakes in the United States are fairly straightforward. A bipartisan group of senators recently introduced legislation that would boost U.S. leverage in negotiations with Iran by codifying future sanctions should Iran either cheat during an upcoming six-month negotiation period or, after negotiations conclude, refuse to put its nuclear program verifiably beyond use for weaponization. The Obama administration has fiercely fought the legislation, insisting that the remaining sanctions against Iran are sufficient and holding. Evidence that Iran is able to successfully maneuver around international sanctions is likely to deepen skepticism toward the White House's position.
- The Jerusalem Post described over the weekend how the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) announced in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 global powers has "opened the investment floodgates for Western companies seeking to capitalize on a new business environment in Iran," the latest in what has become a stream of analysis suggesting that the financial relief provided to Iran under the JPA has triggered a feeding frenzy of entities seeking to be the first - or at the very least, not the last - to re-enter Iran's markets. Analysis published last week in Der Spiegel noted that "although none of the sanctions have been lifted, droves of Western business people are already flocking to Tehran." A week before that the Washington Post reported that the U.A.E. was scrambling to co-develop energy resources with Iran. Earlier in December Patrick Blain, president of the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, predicted that "international investors are expected to re-enter Iran’s market soon." For its part the Jerusalem Post quoted Bar-Ilan University professor Gerald M. Steinberg assessing that "the gold rush is on to resume business as usual" and Brookings Institute senior Michael Doran explaining that the Western position "has sent a clear message that doing business with Iran is now legitimate... creat[ing] an influential economic lobby in the West dedicated to ensuring that the Americans and Iranians remain on that path." The Post also quoted Tommy Steiner, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, emphasizing that the dynamic "undercuts the negotiating posture of the US and the EU in the next round of negotiations." Concerns over the extent to which the U.S. will have leverage in upcoming negotiations have direct political stakes in Washington, with the House and a bipartisan group of senators insisting that new legislation must be passed to bolster the sanctions regime should Iran refuse to meet its international obligations to dismantle its nuclear program.
- Comments made last Friday by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat - in which Erekat accused Israel of poisoning former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and expressed concerns that Jerusalem would similarly kill sitting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - became fodder for a tense exchange at today's State Department briefing, with journalists pressing Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf on Washington's stance regarding Palestinian incitement. A spike in Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians has deepened Jerusalem's concerns regarding statements and actions made by top Palestinian figures that demonize Israel and celebrate violence. Abbas, for instance, has embraced Palestinian terrorists freed in both December and October as "heroes." Israel's cabinet this weekend blasted what Israeli officials described as the Palestinian "culture of hate," and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had declared the previous week that "true peace cannot exist without stopping the incitement against Israel and educating for peace." At today's briefing, journalists questioned Harf over the State Department's refusal to publicly condemn Erekat's Friday comments, asking among other things why Foggy Bottom refused to be forthright in declaring that the obviously false conspiracy theory regarding Arafat's death was not just false but also "certainly not the kind of thing that prepares or helps prepare the Palestinian people for... an eventual peace deal." Harf responded by delineating between public and private conversations, prompting journalists to ask whether Washington, as a declared "honest broker," had "an obligation to speak out when someone says something that is not honest, when something is dishonest." Harf eventually said that she had not yet seen Erekat's comments and would examine them further. By the end of the afternoon Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee noted that that State Department was continuing to resist taking a public position on the incident specifically or more broadly on Israeli complaints regarding Palestinian incitement.
- Last week's strange episode in the Palestinian embassy in the Prague, in which the Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic was killed by an explosion inside the building, escalated over the weekend into a potential scandal as reports emerged that Palestinians may be using the country as a transit point for European weapons smuggling. Jamal al-Jamal was killed last week when materials that were being kept in an embassy safe exploded, fatally injuring the Palestinian official. Conflicting details about the incident almost instantly emerged, with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki saying the safe had not been used for decades and Palestinian Embassy spokesman Nabil El-Fahel insisting on Czech radio that it "was used on a daily basis... and was opened and closed almost every day." On Saturday a Czech media outlet published statements by the country's former chief-of-staff Jiri Sedivy describing the weapons storage as a "blatant violation of diplomatic norms and habits" and speculating that "maybe the affair in question involves a well organised weapons and explosives distribution network." The statements came amid reports that Czech officials had found roughly 70 unregistered weapons in the embassy. Suspicions that the Palestinians severely breached international norms are likely to deepen concerns that the Palestinian Authority lacks sufficiently robust political institutions to declare and sustain an independent Palestinian state.
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