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Experts worry over robustness of Iranian nuclear concessions, demand for "industrial scale" uranium enrichment

Posted by Albert Gersh - May 30, 2014

Analysis from U.S. and Israel-based experts emerged late Thursday casting doubt on the robustness of existing and planned Iranian nuclear concessions, with observers evaluating the matter both in the context of negotiations and as it is likely to affect the calculations of Iran's neighbors. Emily Landau, the head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Israel-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), explained to Yedioth Ahronoth that Iran's agreement to dilute some of its 20%-enriched uranium to 5% was not just "reversible," but that the regime's development of advanced centrifuges - which it is allowed to continue under the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) - meant that it could even "enrich the 5 percent uranium to levels higher than 90 percent, much faster." Meanwhile the Tehran Times on Thursday published an interview with former Obama administration non-proliferation point man Gary Samore on several remaining issues dividing the parties. Asked whether the P5+1 demand that Iran roll back its ballistic missile program was "due to Israel’s fears," Samore bluntly responded that "the reason for including the missile issue... is because United Nations Security Resolution 1929... demands that Iran 'shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons." Asked how the U.S. should "bridge [the] differences" between U.S. and Israeli interests "in regard to Iran's nuclear program," Samore rejected the premise and declared that "the U.S. and Israel (and other regional parties) share the same interest in limiting Iran's capability to produce fissile material so that Iran cannot produce nuclear weapons," contrasting that international stance with Tehran's demand that it eventually be allowed to have "an industrial scale facility of 50,000 or more centrifuge machines." An insufficiently robust agreement on Iran's nuclear deal is likely to have regional cascade effects. Top figures from Saudi Arabia have explicitly signaled that they are prepared to pursue nuclear technology to balance Iran. Gabriel Scheinmann, the director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center, assessed on Thursday that - especially given U.S. intelligence failings in the past - a deal that left Iran too close to the nuclear finish line would risk forcing Washington's Arab and Israeli allies to act unilaterally.
Secretary of State John Kerry told PBS on Thursday that Israel's stance toward an expected unity government between the rival Palestinian Hamas and Fatah factions - which Kerry described as one in which Jerusalem is "waiting to see what happens" - was "an appropriate thing [for the Israelis] to be doing," as reports emerged that American lawmakers from both parties were preparing to suspend assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) should such a consensus cabinet take power. Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon conveyed details from conversations he had with "a number of [Congressional] committee heads" who expressed their readiness to enforce blackletter law stretching back to the 2006 Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, under which American assistance to the PA is to be cut to any government "that results from an agreement with Hamas and over which Hamas exercises undue influence." The stances are not unexpected. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki had spent her first press briefing after the Palestinian unity announcement took shape repeatedly declaring that Israel could not be expected to negotiate with a government involving parties committed to its destruction. Criticism from the Hill was even more emphatic, and Al Monitor went so far as to suggest that the Fatah-Hamas deal was potentially the "last straw for Congress on U.S. aid to [the] Palestinians." PA President Mahmoud Abbas has sought in recent days to downplay the extent to which Hamas will gain prominence or influence in the wake of the pact's implementation. Those efforts have met with uneven success. The New York Times headlined its Friday story on recent developments as "Abbas Seeks a New Government That Would Seal Alliance With Hamas."
The Wall Street Journal on Friday assessed that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to maintain a firm grip on power - a year after Turkey was rocked by the anti-government Gezi protests, and many months into a massive graft scandal that has implicated the premier and other elites from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) - after Erdogan brushed off domestic unrest as the result of foreign conspiracies aimed at undermining Ankara. The Journal noted that "the government also moved to consolidate its power" in the wake of the Gezi demonstrations and the corruption investigations, "both of which Mr. Erdogan alleges are part of the same foreign-backed plot to oust his government." The report came a day after Jonathan Schanzer and Merve Tahiroglu, respectively the vice president for research and a Turkish researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), outlined how Erdogan has used anti-Israel populism to bolster his political base, and more specifically as having established "an Islamist leadership that offers an anti-Israeli narrative for every domestic crisis." A Turkish court this week demanded the arrest of four top Israeli military figures over the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine Turkish citizens had been killed after they attacked Israeli commandos interdicting the Marmara as it attempted to run Jerusalem's blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Schanzer and Tahiroglu understatedly noted that Erdogan "not everyone believes" Erdogan's public claims that he had nothing to do with the ruling, in no small part due to the AKP's "increasing control over the Turkish judiciary." The moves by Erdogan and the AKP, while facilitating the consolidation of domestic power, have drawn sustained foreign criticism, a dynamic that multiple Turkish outlets have commented on in recent days. Hurriyet asked late Friday "has 'the West' crossed out Erdogan's name," while Zaman noted that once-close ties between Erdogan and President Barack Obama remained a political liability for the U.S. leader, and that multiple senators were expected to hold up the administration's next ambassadorial appointment to Turkey so as "to put pressure on" the President over that relationship.
Iran has become the "the new priority" for Saudi Arabia in orienting itself toward Israel, replacing the Palestinian issue that had for decades been emphasized by Riyadh as having prominence, according to a not wholly sympathetic account of the shift published Thursday by London School of Economics professor Madawi Al-Rasheed. Contacts between the Saudis and the Israelis - revolving around Iran's regional expansionism and its atomic progress - have become something of an open secret in the region, and Al-Rasheed assessed that "the prospect of Saudi-Israeli ties at first may seem a stretch, but the Saudi leadership may not be so concerned with domestic public opinion and not fear a backlash from their conservative Salafist backers." She outlined a range of rhetorical and theological resources that Saudi leaders have at their disposal for justifying warmer ties with the Jewish state. The article is the latest in what has become regular analysis describing how Gulf countries are consolidating internally and bolstering their flanks as a 'new normal' takes hold in the Middle East: a northern Shiite crescent from Lebanon to Iran, opposite a camp of Washington's traditional Arab and Israeli allies, opposite an axis of Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood, and often Qatar. Al Arabiya News this week conveyed statements by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) head Dr. Abdul Latif bin Rashid al Zayani, in which the secretary-general marked the organization's 33rd anniversary calling for deeper integration within the organization. Al Arabiya noted that the GCC was created "as a buffer against Shiite-dominated Iran."

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