WSJ: "New challenge" for Iran talks, as Iranian diplomats put off addressing military dimensions of nuclear program

  • WSJ: "New challenge" for Iran talks, as Iranian diplomats put off addressing military dimensions of nuclear program

  • U.N. Secretary General: Rouhani "has not made any significant improvement" in ending Iranian human rights abuses

  • Israeli officials worry that Syrian warfighting boosting Hezbollah's capabilities, will worsen intensity of future war

  • Arab analysts: Egypt at top of the agenda for Obama Saudi Arabia trip

Iranian negotiators are trying to put off addressing suspected military dimensions related to the country's atomic program until negotiations with the global P5+1 powers have substantially progressed, creating what the Wall Street Journal on Monday described as "a new challenge for efforts to reach a broad nuclear deal with six world powers." Iran's obligations to clarify what are widely suspect to be military-related links to its nuclear program - ranging from detonations related to nuclear warheads to army involvement in Iranian uranium production - are codified in binding United Nations Security Council resolutions. Full cooperation with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog on such dimensions has long been a core demand of the international community. Obama administration officials who have defended the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) to journalists and lawmakers have repeatedly emphasized that Tehran will be held to those obligations. Iranian media covered Tehran's newly declared position - under which discussions of those issues would be put off until some time in the future - under the headline "Iran will address all Western concerns about its nuclear program: negotiator." Observers fear that the Islamic Republic is positioning itself to extend negotiations and thereby increase the West's investment in the talks, before ultimately refusing to genuinely meet its obligations regarding transparency. One scenario has Iran making limited concessions regarding future nuclear work, and then functionally daring the West to scuttle a settlement over its refusal to disclose its past military-related programs. 


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday that human rights in Iran have not improved since the election and inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, with Ban specifically citing what Reuters described as "the prevalent use of capital punishment" by the Islamic republic. The assessment is in line with multiple evaluations - from U.N. monitors, from international human rights groups, and from the State Department - all concluding that there has been no shift in Iran's domestic repression since Rouhani's ascension. Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, last fall declared that there had been no fundamental improvements in Iran's human rights situation. He later accused Tehran of capital punishment practices that "contravene[] universally accepted human rights principles and norms." In February, Uzra Zeya - the State Department's acting assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor - assessed that the U.S. has "seen little meaningful improvement in human rights in Iran under the new government, including torture, political imprisonment, harassment of religious and ethnic minorities." For his part Ban bluntly declared on Tuesday that Rouhani's administration "has not made any significant improvement in the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and opinion, despite pledges made by the president during his campaign and after his swearing in," and called attention to the ongoing house arrest of prominent reformist politicians.



The New York Times reported on Monday that Hezbollah's warfighting in Syria is bolstering the organization's capabilities, despite whatever losses it may be suffering, and that Israeli military officials now assess that the Iran-backed terror group's involvement in the nearly three-year-old conflict has become "a major burden... but also a major advantage." Though opposition elements have been able to degrade Hezbollah's forces - news published earlier this week conveyed casualty figures as high as 120 fighters - there are roughly five thousand soldiers from the group who are gaining invaluable battlefield experience and emerging battle-hardened. Intelligence assessments also describe the Bashar al-Assad regime as having engaged in a quid-pro-quo with Hezbollah, under which Damascus would repay the Lebanese organization for its military assistance by providing advanced weapons to be used in a future war with Israel. The dynamic is one of several behind deepening concerns that Hezbollah has set up the next conflagration with Israel to be particularly intense. Analysts have also called specific attention to the vast network of human shields that Hezbollah has created, to the sheer quantity of its stockpiles - thought to contain roughly 100,000 rockets and missiles - and to advanced weapons that are expected to be used against Israeli civilian centers and energy infrastructure.



Middle East Institute Scholar Mohamed Elmenshawy on Tuesday published an extensive analysis of the psychological and geopolitical role played by the Egyptian army in the Arab world, amid increasing coverage and analysis in the Arab world regarding President Barack Obama's potentially pivotal upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia. The visit comes at a time of unprecedented public strain between Washington and its traditional Gulf allies, and earlier this week the Daily Beast revealed that relations between the United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were in an unprecedented crisis. Gulf nations are known to be livid with the administration over its handling of Egyptian political turmoil, which they believe the White House has irresponsibly stoked without regard for the risks presented by populist Islamist movements. Elmenshawy's analysis - published in Ahram Online under the headline "Egypt, the wound in US-Saudi relations" - quoted one Gulf diplomat as explaining that Cairo is looked to as the source of "tens of thousands of soldiers if needed" to help repulse threats to Arab countries. Elmenshawy described Washington's reaction to the Egyptian revolution - during which the Obama administration was publicly blasted by Riyadh as too quick to abandon former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak - as when "the real cleft between the [U.S. and Saudi Arabia] began," and noted that "[o]ver the past three years, the Egyptian situation was a talking point during all meetings between Saudi and US officials."



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