Iranian official: Iran FM "merely laughed" when asked to negotiate over ballistic missile program


A Reuters exclusive published late Thursday revealed the existence of a confidential U.N. report indicating that Iran has continued to bolster its ballistic missile program during the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), news that the wire read alongside a recent decree by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordering the mass production of such weapons. It is not clear if Western officials were surprised by either the intelligence showing ongoing work or Khamenei's commitment to future advances. U.S. diplomats had inked the JPA without reference to United Nations Security Council (UNSC) language demanding that Iran roll back ballistic missile work. The decision had been controversial, and White House officials had responded to critics - who accused them of being out-maneuvered - by assuring lawmakers and journalists that the Islamic Republic would be forced to meet such long-standing Western demands in the context of comprehensive negotiations. After some confusion about what the JPA actually said, spokespeople from the National Security Council had emphasized to the Washington Free Beacon that "[UNSC] Resolution 1929 prohibits all activities involving ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches... [s]o this issue will need to be addressed during the comprehensive discussions." For their part Iranian negotiators have repeatedly and explicitly ruled out making concessions on the country's ballistic missile program. Top Iranian officials have in fact gone even further, flatly refusing to even discuss the issue and at one point declaring that - since they had succeeded in keeping the program out of the JPA - they couldn't be expected to discuss it in final talks. Reuters on Friday conveyed a leak from an Iranian official saying that U.S. negotiators had tried to introduce the topic into negotiations, "[b]ut Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif merely laughed and ignored the remarks."


A new quantitative indicator developed jointly by Roubini Global Economics and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) indicates that "the West may have already weakened its negotiating position [versus Iran] by shifting the sanctions environment and injecting new life into the Iranian economy," with the optimism created by the November 2013 interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) driving up domestic and international positive sentiment and thereby "directly contribut[ing] to Iran's modest economic growth." The calculations, based on sentiment analysis derived from proprietary natural language processing algorithms, were detailed Friday in a new report published by Mark Dubowitz and Paul Domjan, respectively the executive director at FDD and the Managing Director at Roubini. They suggest that the limited sanctions relief provided to Iran under the JPA triggered a positive cascade that resulted in "making Iranians more confident to hold domestic assets rather than hoarding dollars... [which] in turn, gave breathing space to the Iranian government to put its economy on a stronger foundation by tightening fiscal and monetary policy to restrain inflation." The result is that economic leverage, which Western negotiators are relying on to coerce Iran into putting its atomic program beyond use for weaponization, may have been badly sapped. Members of Congress had months ago worried about precisely such a dynamic emerging, and had sought to strengthen the hand of Western negotiators via legislation locking in future sanctions against Iran should it fail to make sufficiently robust concessions. That effort had been scuttled by  administration officials, who declared that so-called core sanctions - which they insisted were holding, against the analysis of skeptics - were sufficient to extract a workable deal. The political debate seems set to be reopened after the White House signaled this week that the West may be forced to swallow a deal that would let Tehran maintain its ability to construct a nuclear weapon. The Daily Beast revealed late on Friday that Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) intends to make a last-ditch effort to reassert a Congressional role in negotiations.


A CNN report filed from Turkey on Friday described behavior by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) as part of "perhaps the strangest crisis management the world has ever seen," as photos and video emerged of Erdogan and one of his top advisors beating mourner-protesters in the town of Soma, which this week suffered the worst mining accident in the country's history. Government officials have acknowledged that the death toll from the tragedy is now expected to reach roughly 300, and controversy over the AKP's response has steadily deepened since it occurred. On Thursday a photo went viral showing top Erdogan advisor Yusuf Yerkel kicking a protester who had been forced to the ground by two security officials, an act that Yerkel later justified by emphasizing - among other things - that the protester had insulted Erodgan. Later in the day video emerged showing Erodgan himself engaging in what Business Insider described as "baldly thuggish behavior," with the Turkish leader punching a protester before the man was set upon by Erdogan's body guards. One video recording of the incident included muffled audio that has proven particularly controversial. A voice that seems to belong to Erdogan is heard using particularly vulgar language - the functionally untranslatable but deeply ugly word he uses is "ulan" - to denigrate the protester as the assault occurred. Business Insider noted that "there's little way of knowing for sure that the voice belongs to" the Islamist leader. Multiple experts identified the insults as something along the lines of "[w]hy are you running, you Israeli offspring" or "[h]ey buddy, why are you running, Israeli scum!,” phrasing that in context has anti-Semitic overtones. The Economist late Friday evaluated the likely direction of the crisis under the straightforward sub-headline "[t]he tragedy in Soma will also be felt in politics."


Palestinian media outlets on Friday conveyed remarks by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announcing that his group and the rival Palestinian Fatah faction had resolved issues surrounding the integration of security forces, as the two Palestinians organizations moved closer toward the implementation of a unity agreement aimed at establishing a single government ruling over the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and Fatah-controlled portions of the West Bank. Haniyeh added that Hamas "will not give up the weapon of resistance, and... will not forsake resistance... [and] will not depart the position of manliness and dignity and will remain loyal soldiers of Palestine," with "resistance" in this context being a euphemism for the eradication of Israel. Fatah officials in late April had announced a deal with Hamas to establish a single government. The move had been the latest in almost a decade's worth of efforts designed to bridge gaps between the two factions, all of which had failed and many of which had deteriorated precisely because of differences over the disposition of various security forces. The security infrastructure of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) is Western-backed and U.S.-trained, while Hamas has been armed with weapons - including tens of thousands of missiles - by Iran. There are multiple issues at stake. Regarding integration, Hamas has long demanded that any deal that be reciprocal, with PA forces being brought into Hamas's force structure and vice versa. The scenario, which would see the American-designated terror group avail itself of American resources originally given to the PA, is all but guaranteed to trigger an international backlash. Hamas's projectile arsenal presents a separate problem. Putting it under the control of Western-backed PA forces would put the group at odds with its long-time Iranian sponsors, which whom Hamas officials have in recent months been seeking closer ties. The alternative - under which Hamas was permitted to maintain its own mini-army and Iranian-supplied missile arsenal independent of the central Palestinian government - would risk making any future Palestinian state into a mirror of Lebanon, under which Hamas maintaining a similar state-within-a-state to the one Hezbollah currently controls.

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