Bipartisan Senate and House letters set strict limits on Iran deal, call for dismantling nuclear infrastructure, as "nitty-gritty" talks resume



The Associated Press on Tuesday quoted a European Union official describing renewed talks between Iran and the P5+1 global powers as getting into the "nitty-gritty," after weeks in which top Iranian officials had repeatedly underscored their red lines against dismantling their uranium infrastructure, downgrading their plutonium-producing Arak reactor, or limiting their ballistic missile program. Obama administration figures had for their part repeatedly emphasized that any comprehensive deal with Iran would require the Islamic Republic to make concessions across all three dimensions, and Reuters reported over the weekend that Iran's stance on its Arak plutonium complex was again emerging as a key sticking point. Meanwhile bipartisan groups of lawmakers from both the Senate and House sent letters to President Barack Obama today outlining the contours of what an acceptable deal with Iran must entail, and committing to what The Hill described as “serious consequences for Iran if it fails to reach a nuclear agreement with the United States.” Lawmakers emphasized that Iran must be forced among other things to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure, an obligation codified in half a dozen binding United Nations Security Council resolutions. The Hill also pointedly noted that the 83 Senators who signed the letter are "well above the two-thirds required to override a presidential veto."


The Syrian army's capture of what had been the rebel stronghold of Yabroud - accomplished with critical assistance from Hezbollah, to the point where the battle is being grudgingly described on social media as a "triumph" for the Iran-backed terror group - is likely to increase blowback against Lebanese targets, according to assessments conveyed on Tuesday by Lebanon’s Daily Star. Citing an array of "analysts and experts," the outlet bluntly predicted that "Hezbollah's victory... [was] likely to increase security incidents and widen the sectarian divide in Lebanon, while boosting chances that the party’s popular base will be targeted by more terror attacks." The fall of the border town is almost certain to drive opposition elements across the border, even as the rebels’ defeat risks increasing the motivation of jihadists to launch asymmetrical attacks against Hezbollah’s strongholds. Lebanese leaders, including Shiite religious figures, had long ago begun calling on the group to untangle itself from the Syrian conflict, lest it generate further retaliatory attacks. Hezbollah leaders, up to and including the party’s chief Hassan Nasrallah, had instead doubled down on their involvement on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime. The consequences of the recent battle are likely to be regional. Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, noted yesterday that "in securing control of Yabroud and its environs, Hezbollah has effectively established two adjoining Iranian enclaves on the eastern Mediterranean, securing a critical Iranian logistical route to transfer advanced weapons systems that will place Israel in immediate danger." Badran also suggested that Hezbollah's attention would now turn to the Lebanese border town of Arsal, where - with the help of the Western-backed Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) - it seeks to establish a chokepoint to prevent hostile elements from targeting Hezbollah assets. News emerging from Lebanon on Tuesday indicated that Hezbollah has in fact moved to seal off Arsal, risking what Lebanese opponents described as a potential "civil war."


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday told army radio that Jerusalem would "act forcefully to preserve Israel’s security," after a blast near the country's Golan Heights border with Syria wounded three soldiers in what The Guardian contextualized as "one of several incidents this month on Israel's northern borders with Syria and Lebanon." There was no indication of who was responsible for Tuesday's attack, but Israeli troops have engaged Hezbollah fighters several times in recent weeks, including in an incident that reportedly saw the IDF hit two members of the Iran-backed terror group as they attempted to plant a bomb near the Israeli-Syrian border. Observers have become increasingly vocal in warning that Hezbollah may be trying to provoke Israel into a conflict, as the organization struggles to rebuild its now-shattered brand as a Lebanese group fighting Israel rather than an Iranian proxy promoting Shiite expansionism across the Levant. Hezbollah has somewhat notoriously dispersed what are believed to be roughly 100,000 missiles and rockets across a vast array of human shields, and is widely expected to flood media outlets with scenes of wounded civilians when another conflagration with Israel breaks out.


Reports in Hebrew- and English-language Israeli media outlets on Tuesday conveyed quotes from Egypt's Asharq Al-Awsat - sourced originally to an Egyptian military official - accusing the White House of blocking the sale of 10 Apache helicopters that Cairo seeks to deploy against jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula. The Pentagon has strong and varied reasons for seeking to bolster bilateral military-to-military ties - preferential overflight rights, privileged access to the Suez Canal, and so on - and is said to be pushing for Washington to restore its security assistance to Egypt. The White House partially froze weapons transfers to Cairo after the Egyptian military last summer removed the country's Muslim Brotherhood-linked former President Mohammed Morsi from power in the wake of mass demonstrations calling for his resignation. Apache helicopters, which the Egyptian army has on multiple occasions leveraged in its Sinai counter-terror operations, were among the assets affected by the ban. The White House had committed at the time to sparing aid that the Egyptian army used in its battles against Sinai jihadists, but experts had explicitly expressed doubts regarding the tenability of any distinction between generic military assistance and assets that would be used specifically in the Sinai.


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