- State Department: Interim deal with Iran allows continued construction on Iran plutonium facility
- State Department: Interim deal with Iran not final, Iran currently allowed to continue nuclear activity
- Amid Hezbollah diplomatic offensive, British sources reveal secret indirect U.S.-Hezbollah talks
- Reports: Iran talks pushing Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear weapons
What we’re watching today:
- The State Department acknowledged today that the recently announced agreement widely described as freezing Iran's nuclear program in fact permits Tehran to continue construction at its Arak complex, after overnight statements by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif committed the Islamic republic to bolstering the plutonium facility during the agreement's six-month interim period. Arak contains multiple facilities, including a heavy water production facility and a facility for a heavy water reactor that, once activated, would produce sufficient plutonium for between one and two nuclear bombs per year. A fact sheet published last weekend by the White House touting the Geneva deal insisted that "Iran has committed to no further advances of its activities at Arak and to halt progress on its plutonium track," and Reuters this morning noted that Zarif's declaration came "despite an agreement with Western powers to halt activity." State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki subsequently clarified that the agreement actually permits certain categories of construction to continue. Her clarification came two days after Reuters conveyed expert analysis describing a "loophole" in the agreement, this one permitting Iran to build components for the Arak's nuclear reactor as long as those components weren't being physically made at the Arak facility itself. The clarification plus the "loophole" means that Iran would be permitted over the next six months to make progress both on its plutonium facility and on creating the parts that would eventually go into its plutonium reactor. The scenario may be difficult to reconcile with Western claims that the Geneva negotiations achieved a freeze in Iran's nuclear progress.
- The State Department acknowledged yesterday that Iran currently has a window of time during which it is allowed to continue its nuclear activity unrestrained by an interim agreement announced last week in Geneva, with State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki telling reporters that the six-month period during which the administration is precluding new sanctions had not yet begun. Psaki explained that "the next step here is a continuation of technical discussions at a working level so that we can essentially tee up the implementation of the agreement," which she clarified further "would involve the P5+1 – a commission of the P5+1 experts working with the Iranians and the IAEA." She added that "once... those technical discussions are worked through," then "I guess the clock would start." She noted however that she did not "have a specific timeline" for how long that process would take, which is to say how long Iran would continue to be immune from new sanctions but permitted to continue advancing what is widely believed to be its clandestine nuclear weapons program. The Times of Israel tersely noted that Psaki's comments "created confusion as to whether the much-touted interim deal, supposedly reached by P5+1 powers and Iran in Geneva in the early hours of Sunday morning, had actually been completed as claimed." Linking to a Fox News article echoing that sentiment, Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) suggested that the confusion accounts for the "chilly bi-partisan response" that the White House has received to the agreement.
- The Jerusalem Post, conveying a report from the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai, today described statements by senior British diplomatic sources revealing that London has been facilitating secret indirect talks between the Obama administration and Hezbollah, a group that is designated as a terrorist organization under U.S. law. Recent months have seen Hezbollah's diplomatic position and regional influence slip. The European Union earlier this year partially designated the Iran-backed group as a terror entity, while Sunni states - which hold the organization responsible for bolstering Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime in that country's two-and-a-half-year conflict - have moved to economically suffocate it. Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors are known to be seeking to break the group out of its diplomatic isolation. The Al-Rai report described a recent phone call between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and British Prime Minister David Cameron in which Rouhani linked Hezbollah's position to negotiations between Iran and the West. Meanwhile Lebanon's Daily Star described "ongoing communication" between the European Union and Hezbollah, with Hezbollah figures leaking that Europe is 'laying the groundwork to reverse' its decision to partially declare that the group is a terrorist organization.
- TIME reports that Saudi Arabia is considering acquiring nuclear weapons - almost certain to be purchased off the shelf from Pakistan, the nuclear program of which Riyadh sponsored - in response to fears that the international community is positioning Iran to complete what is widely believed to be its drive toward producing its own nuclear weapons. TIME describes "an almost palpable sense of frustration, betrayal and impotence as Saudi Arabia watched" Iran secure an interim deal with the international community that, it is now known, will allow Iran to stockpile enriched uranium converted to uranium oxide and continue construction on its plutonium facility at Arak. The agreement also seems to concede that Iran will be allowed to continue enriching in the context of a comprehensive agreement, and analysts have emphasized that it also risks a downward spiral that endangers the international sanctions regime. Washington has sought to reassure its traditional Saudi allies that the arrangement is in fact a good one, with uneven success. Meanwhile Raytheon late last week announced that it was preparing to finalize the sale of missile defense systems to several Gulf countries, with Aviation Week quoting 'U.S. industry executives' sardonically noting that "Gulf nations have not signaled any declining interest in beefing up their missile defense capabilities despite recent U.S. talks with Iran."
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