- Reports: After blasting critics over skepticism, U.S. officials admit Iran sanctions relief more than double public estimates
- Politico: "rare display of House unity" in rejecting Kerry assurances on Iran
- Hamas official declares ties with Iran have "resumed" after Syria-driven chill
- Congress looks to derail Turkey's plan to purchase, integrate Chinese missile systems
What we’re watching today:
- Israel's left-leaning Haaretz revealed this evening that U.S. officials have privately conceded to Israeli counterparts that the Obama administration "greatly underestimated the economic benefits Tehran would reap" from the recently signed Geneva accord between the P5+1 global powers and Iran, and that the Islamic republic stands to receive a windfall totaling roughly $20 billion from international concessions, rather than the $6 to $7 billion that administration officials had repeatedly quoted to lawmakers, allies, and journalists. Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), had pegged Geneva concessions as totaling roughly $20 billion even before the deal was announced. Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer, the latter being FDD's vice president for research, more recently outlined how the White House had failed to take into account the "the total impact" that suspending automobile sanctions would have on the Iranian economy, and that U.S. officials had specifically neglected the value of "cars produced for the domestic market, wages paid, and other economic activity." Israeli assessments had similarly far exceeded the administration's public estimates. White House figures and their supporters had belittled such concerns, declaring that the assessments of U.S. analysts and Israeli diplomats were based on incomplete knowledge, and at one point going so far as to tell senators to ignore Israeli estimations. It is not yet clear to what degree the dual dynamic - admitting that sanctions relief will come in at over twice their estimates, after having blasted critics who predicted as much for grossly exaggerating - will erodge the credibility of administration assurances regarding Iran.
- Politico reports that testimony given today by Secretary of State John Kerry to the House Foreign Affairs Committee fell far short of convincing lawmakers to adopt the administration's perspective on Iran, with Kerry not only stumbling in answering questions regarding the consistency of the White House's read on Iranian calculations - administration officials have sought to simultaneously insist that sanctions coerced Iran into coming to the table and that new sanctions will push Tehran away - but failing more broadly to convince lawmakers that Iran's nuclear program can be checked with the leverage that the U.S. currently has at its disposal. The outlet described "a rare display of House unity" with "all the members of the committee who questioned Kerry essentially [telling] him no." A string of administration officials have recently been dispatched to the Hill as part of a campaign to persuade lawmakers to forgo passing new sanctions legislation. Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, this week threatened that any new sanctions legislation - up to and especially the type being considered in the Senate, which would impose new financial pressure only if the six months of upcoming negotiations failed - would cause Iran to abandon talks. Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), assessed today that Zarif is essentially bluffing, and that "Tehran needs relief from the toughest U.S. financial and energy sanctions" lest it face "continued stagnation or a renewed recession."
- Reuters today reported on declarations from a top Hamas figure asserting that the Palestinian terror group had "resumed" its relations with Iran, after several months in which the organization was estranged from its long-time sponsor in Tehran due to sectarian tensions generated by the almost three-year Syrian conflict. The statements, made by Mahmud al-Zahar, included the assertion that there had never been a complete "cut" in ties between Iran and Hamas. Zahar has long been prominent as a key figure in efforts to keep Hamas within Iran's camp, and his statements have been read by some analysts as designed to facilitate the reestablishment of ties rather than as actually assessing that those ties had been reestablished. Nonetheless, Zahar's declarations align with multiple similar indications in recent months. In August Iranian diplomats leaked that Hamas was seeking rapprochement, and in September top Hamas officials announced that they had reestablished an "axis of resistance" with Iran and its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah.
- Foreign Policy Magazine's The Complex today outlined legislative efforts, written by Congress into the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), to respond to Turkey's controversial decision to purchase missile defense assets from a Chinese company blacklisted by Washington. A top NATO official had in October described the Turkish move - which would require linking the Chinese system to existing NATO assets already stationed in Turkey - as one which would functionally implant a "virus" into NATO's command and control infrastructure. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to criticism over the deal - which came not only from the U.S. and its NATO allies but also from Turkey's opposition - by lashing out and accusing critics of infringing on Turkish "independence." The Complex reported on a range of measures in the NDAA "clearly aimed at short-circuiting Turkey's plan," including a flat ban on "the use of U.S. funding to integrate Chinese missile defense systems with U.S. or NATO systems." The upshot is that it would be "effectively... impossible" for Turkey to link the Chinese assets with U.S. and NATO systems. Murad Bayar, head of Turkey's Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry, confirmed late last week that Turkey is still leaning toward making its purchase from China.
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