- Iran halts nuke talks after Treasury Department cracks down on sanctions-busting corporations and individuals
- AFP: disputes over Geneva language mean "no end in sight" for negotiations to even begin nuke deal implementation
- Turkish rush to reenter Iran market endangers White House emphasis on "limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible" Iran sanctions relief
- Palestinian official: Palestinian Authority president "rejected the ideas" presented by Kerry for peace process
What we’re watching today:
- Iran today halted negotiations aimed at implementing the recently announced Joint Plan of Action (JPA) between the P5+1 global powers and Tehran, with reports indicating that the Iranians had walked out in protest of new Department of Treasury measures targeting companies and individuals in violation of U.S. restrictions on Tehran's nuclear program. The application of existing U.S. laws is not in violation of the JPA - which specifies that new sanctions must not be passed during the agreement's interim six month period - but Iranian state media nonetheless conveyed evaluations describing the American move as an "act of war." Iranian deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told Iranian media more specifically that the decision violated the spirit of the JPA. Iran's protestations may be difficult for diplomats and analysts to credit. The JPA was billed as a freeze of the Iranian nuclear program, but since its announcement the Iranians have emphasized that they will continue enriching uranium, continue bolstering their plutonium production facility at Arak, and continue testing ballistic weapons. The commitment to continued work at Arak raised concerns, per the Associated Press, that "Iran is violating [the JPA's] rules and spirit." The announcement of an impending ballistic missile was perhaps even more controversial. The Obama administration had once explicitly emphasized that such a test violate the JPA. The administration has since reversed itself on that claim, but Iranian ballistic missile tests may still be difficult to align with Tehran's implication that the U.S. is being overly bellicose. In any case Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of Foundation for Defense of Democracies, recently assessed that Iranian leaders are essentially bluffing in threatening to abandon negotiations, even if the U.S. were to actually imposes new sanctions. Diplomats indicated today that Iranian negotiators are expected to return to the implementation talks within a week.
- There is 'no end in sight' for talks aimed at implementing the Geneva interim agreement announced last month between the global P5+1 powers and Iran, according to an Agence France-Presse article that was published yesterday and that quoted a Western diplomat emphasizing that there "are definite differences of opinion on the interpretation" of the deal. Disputes over the meaning of the Geneva language began almost immediately after the deal was announced. Iran broadly accused the United States of mischaracterizing the terms of the agreement, while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif more specifically boasted that Iranian negotiators had maneuvered the West into recognizing that Iran had a right to enrich uranium. Such a concession would run contrary to half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran fully suspend its nuclear program, and U.S. and Britain flatly rejected the characterization. Analysts pointed out, however, that the Geneva language did indeed seem to envision Iran being allowed to continue enriching uranium indefinitely despite years of administration statements insisting that the Islamic republic would not be allowed to do so. TheTower.org at the time conveyed analysis suggesting that 'the diverging interpretations will present a challenge for U.S. diplomats pursuing a comprehensive deal,' inasmuch as 'the U.S. will either have to compel Iran to change its position.. or have to concede Iran’s position, abrogating assurances made by the administration to U.S. lawmakers and allies.' It is not clear what disputes are prolonging the implementation talks, but as long as they drag on Iran has a window of time during which it is allowed to continue advancing its nuclear program unrestrained by the Geneva agreement, even as the White House continues to shield Tehran from Congressional efforts to impose new financial pressure.
- Turkey is preparing to exploit the reduction in Iran's financial and diplomatic isolation, threatening to undermine Obama administration assertions that the relief granted to the Islamic republic under the recently announced Joint Plan of Action is "limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible." Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), documented yesterday in Reuters how Ankara is gearing up to substantially pursue diplomatic and economic cooperation with Tehran, following years in which Turkish trade helped to float the sanctions-besieged Iranian economy. Iranian ambassador to Turkey Alireza Bikdeli earlier this week suggested that trade between Iran and Turkey amounted to almost $22 billion in 2012. The upshot in the current context, according to Schanzer, is that the White House may have substantially low-balled the value of the sanctions relief that Iran is entitled to under the Geneva terms. Schanzer's assessment comes amid reports that American officials have admitted to their Israeli counterparts that the administration had indeed low-balled the total amount, estimating $6 to $7 billion dollars instead of the actual value of $20 billion. The latter estimate had been offered on the eve of the Geneva announcement by among others FDD executive director Mark Dubowitz. Administration officials and administration-linked analysts at the time ridiculed the estimate as uninformed and based on incomplete information.
- Agence France-Presse today conveyed statements from Palestinian leaders rejecting U.S. bridging proposals, presented by Secretary of State John Kerry during several recent trips to the region, designed to balance Israeli security requirements with Palestinian demands for autonomy in the context of final status negotiations. The wire quoted a Palestinian source bluntly stating that "[Palestinian Authority] President Abbas has rejected the ideas presented by the secretary of state," with reports indicating that Abbas had specifically objected to a proposal under which Israel would be allowed to maintain a security presence in the geo-strategically important Jordan Valley along the border with Jordan. Abbas was also reported to have handed Kerry a document describing "Palestinian red lines," among which was "the refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state." For his part Kerry told reporters today that he remains optimistic that Washington can facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by the end of April 2014 - within the nine-month period that the State Department had originally set for reaching an accord - and implied that Israel would be expected to conduct a prisoner release in order to boost peace talks. The release would be the third aimed at boosting the current round of talks.
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