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Iran’s Ayatollah Praises Obama

Iran’s Ayatollah Praises Obama Hasan Sarbakhshian / AP Photo

Downplaying military talk is ‘positive.’

Who knew that Iran would be praising the U.S.? Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared on the state-run Press TV Thursday and delivered the customary critiques of America, lashing out at President Obama’s threat to impose more sanctions on Iran if the country’s nuclear program continues. But in a surprise move that might signal a willingness to back off from the aggressive rhetoric, he also praised Obama for his speeches this week saying that he is not thinking of military action at this point, and that “loose talk” of war against Iran is dangerous. Khamenei said Obama’s remarks were “positive”—and then promptly warned him that his talk of sanctions will backfire on the U.S.

Read it at CNN

Latest Updates

NEGOTIATIONS

Iran Nuke Talks Begin in Baghdad

Iran Nuke Talks Begin in Baghdad Ali Al-Saadi, AFP / Getty Images

One day after Tehran hinted they may allow inspections.

The U.S. and five nations resumed negotiations about Iran’s suspected nuclear program at a conference in Baghdad on Wednesday—a meeting that came just one day after Tehran indicated willingness to allow international inspections of its secret military facilities. The head of the United Nations nuclear agency, Yukiya Amano, said on Tuesday that a deal with Iran over its suspected nuclear program could come soon, although Iranian officials insisted they were not acting out of pressure. Iranian state media reported that negotiations had started, but there was no comment on how they were going or what the likely outcome is. Scheduled since April, the Baghdad meeting brings the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China together with Iran to try to bring that country back in compliance with Security Council resolutions.

Read it at The New York Times

SHOWDOWN

U.N. Nuclear Chief: Iran Deal ‘Soon’

U.N. Nuclear Chief: Iran Deal ‘Soon’ Hamed Jafarnejad, AFP / Getty Images

But diplomats are still skeptical.

The head of the United Nations nuclear agency said Tuesday that he has reached a deal to investigate Iran’s budding nuclear program—and he expects an agreement will be “signed quite soon.” Upon his return from Tehran, Yukiya Amano said some details of the plan need to be worked out, but he insisted that Iranian officials said they will not stand in the way of signing a deal. Amano visited Tehran to resume the investigation into the rumors that Iran has secretly been developing a nuclear weapon—an investigation that has been stalled for more than four years. Iranian officials have called for the U.N. to end the sanctions imposed to curb the suspected nuclear program.

Read it at CBS News

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Top Gen. Obama’s Odd Man Out on Iran

Exclusive: CentCom commander’s call for third Persian Gulf carrier group was rejected, reports Eli Lake.

As Western diplomats meet this week in Baghdad to try to coax Iran’s leaders to disclose its full nuclear program, Gen. James Mattis will be keeping an eye on the Persian military.

Mattis wanted to send a third aircraft-carrier group to the Persian Gulf earlier this year, The Daily Beast has exclusively learned, in what would have been a massive show of force at a time when Iranian military commanders were publicly threatening to sink American ships in the Strait of Hormuz. The four-star Marine Corps general and CentCom commander believed the display could have deterred Iran from further escalating tensions, according to U.S. military officials familiar with his thinking.

But the president wanted to focus military resources on new priorities like China, and Mattis was told a third carrier group was not available to be deployed to the Gulf.

The carrier-group rebuff in January was one of several for the commander responsible for East Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Working for the Obama administration, Mattis has often found himself the odd man out—particularly when it comes to Iran.

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Iran’s Tone Changes

After a year-and-a-half hiatus, Iran and the P5 plus 1 nations held promising nuclear talks in Istanbul. While the meeting was “constructive,” the real work is yet to come, writes Michael Adler from Istanbul.

Iran and the six world powers seeking to negotiate with it took a step back from confrontation Saturday when they reopened talks after an almost-year-and-a-half break. The discussions in Istanbul went well, both sides said, as they focused on the disputed Iranian nuclear program. The two sides agreed to meet again—in Baghdad on May 23.

This may be a sign that the U.S.-led sanctions designed to reduce Iran’s oil exports, the lifeblood of its economy, are having the desired effect of pushing Tehran back to the negotiating table. A diplomat close to the Iranians told me they “are interested in sanctions relief.” In any case, the meeting was clearly a turning point at a time of increasing tensions with Iran over its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. This is true even though there was no agreement on measures to take, and neither side made proposals. EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, who speaks for the so-called P5 plus 1 negotiating team of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States, called the discussion “constructive and useful.” The word “constructive” was significant. The test of the talks had been to see if Iran, which claims its program is a drive to use the atom peacefully, would talk seriously about nuclear matters.

The idea was to get started on negotiations that would have a chance of succeeding. Ashton was careful in a final statement read to a packed press conference to give the Iranians the one essential thing they needed for their constituency at home, to show that they were not surrendering in negotiations. She said Iran’s right “to the peaceful use of nuclear energy” under the NPT must be respected. This was tempered by a clause the P5 plus 1 needed, when Ashton said Iran had to meet its “obligations under the NPT” not to seek nuclear weapons.

“We want now to move to a sustained process of serious dialogue, where we can take urgent practical steps to build confidence and lead on to compliance by Iran with all its international obligations” Ashton said. This “step-by-step approach” with“reciprocity” of rewards for compliance is designed to “lead to concrete steps towards a comprehensive negotiated solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program,”Ashton said, speaking after an intense 10 hours of talks, during which Iran rejected a request for a bilateral meeting with US representative Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman. Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili did meet separately with the Russian envoy Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov as Russia is Iran's best advocate within the P5 plus 1.

CALMING INFLUENCE

Iran’s Voice of Reason

As the U.S. resumes nuke talks with Iran, the nation’s only Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, talks to R.M. Schneiderman about the pain inflicted by sanctions—and why Iranians can’t stand the enrichment program.

Almost a decade ago, Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human-rights lawyer, became the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. But the government in Tehran has never taken kindly to her criticism of the regime, especially in regard to women’s rights. In the aftermath of the Islamic Republic’s highly contested 2009 presidential elections, as Tehran continued its brutal crackdown against protesters, Ebadi was forced to live in exile in the U.K. Her assets were frozen and her Nobel Peace Prize was allegedly confiscated.

Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi discusses human rights in Iran at The New School in New York in April 2011. (Landov)

Now, as representatives from Iran, the United States, and other world powers resume negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear-enrichment program, Ebadi, 64, and her translator spoke with The Daily Beast about the grind of economic sanctions, whether Iranians support the regime’s nuclear program, and more.

Your most recent book, The Golden Cage, is about three brothers whose rigid ideologies lead them astray. Is this what’s going on with Israel, the United States, and Iran?

Middle East

Clinton: Iran Running Out of Time

Clinton: Iran Running Out of Time Brendan Smialowski / AP-pool

Expresses doubts over the country’s intentions.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Iran that the “window of opportunity” for a peaceful resolution to its nuclear program “will not remain open forever.” Talks planned to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons are set to resume on April 13. Clinton also expressed doubt that Iran intends to reach a solution that satisfies the international community. “We enter into these talks with a sober perspective about Iran’s intentions. It is incumbent upon Iran to demonstrate by its actions that it is a willing partner and to participate in these negotiations with an effort to obtain concrete results.”

Read it at The Associated Press

THE DECIDERS

The Quiet Power of Israel’s ‘Octet’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot issue the order on his own to strike Iran. He needs the support of an informal eight-man security cabinet.

This week Israel's prime minister came very close to saying he intended to bomb Iran's nuclear infrastructure, but that’s not something he can decide alone. To order such an attack, Benjamin Netanyahu would need to persuade an informal “security cabinet” that represents the leaders of his political coalition.

US Israel Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on Tuesday (J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo)

The security cabinet is made up of eight senior government ministers including the prime minister. Its membership reflects the composition of the Knesset’s ruling majority, and Israeli leaders often use the body, now called the octet, to build consensus for the Jewish state’s most important decisions.

“A decision like this would rarely be brought to the full cabinet because it is a huge forum, and you can’t get 30 people to agree on anything,” says Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national-security adviser to two Israeli prime ministers. “Israel has a real problem with leaks. That is why the real strategic thinking is done in the octet and other, even smaller meetings.”

BAD ADVICE

Dangerous, Ignorant Warmongers

Beware of foreign policy experts bearing truths and certainties and treat them as snake oil salesmen, especially on Iran and Syria. By Leslie H. Gelb.

I’m not supposed to tell you this. I’m violating the code. I’m giving away the deepest, darkest secret of the foreign policy clan: even though we sound like we know everything, we know very little, especially about the intentions of bad guys and the consequences of war. But since the media keeps treating us like sages and keeps ignoring our horrendous mistakes, we carry on with our game, and do a lot of damage. Let me give you of few of the more recent examples of how ignorant and dangerous we are, and why you should be wary of any flat out “truths” and certainties uttered by my clanspeople.

US Iran

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., displays a photo of an Iranian missile emblazoned with anti-Israel propaganda at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo)

Take Iran. Those who can’t wait to start a war with Iran tell us that Tehran is within three seconds, three months, or a year of developing a nuclear weapon. I promise you they don’t know this for anything near a fact. They’re trying to push Israel and the United States into a military attack against Iran.

Here’s all we do know for sure: Iran is enriching uranium and has the capacity to enrich enough of it to a level of purity sufficient to make nukes—maybe, perhaps, in a year or two or more. Iran may have or may be developing related capacities to place this uranium into explosive form in a bomb or missile warhead. We have suspicions about the latter based on various kinds of imaging and listening intelligence.

SUSPICIOUS

Iran May Be Cleaning Nuke Sites

Iran May Be Cleaning Nuke Sites Iranian President's Office / AP Photos

Satellite images show trucks at key points.

After Iran said earlier this week that it would allow inspectors into the country to look over its nuclear sites, satellite images showed trucks and earth-moving vehicles that could mean officials are scrambling to cleanup the remnants of any tests, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. Diplomats told the AP that radioactive traces can remain at sites after a nuclear-weapon test is run. Two diplomats said they believed crews at the Parchin military site could prove damaging against Iran, which has been the source of an ever-growing standoff between itself and Western nations, as well as Israel. The satellite images come from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which had already identified Parchin as the location of suspected nuclear action after a series of explosions took place there in November.

Read it at Associated Press

DIPLOMACY

Iran to Allow Nuclear Inspections

Iran to Allow Nuclear Inspections Majid Asgaripour, AFP / Getty Images

After West agrees to talks.

Global powers dealing with Iran’s nuclear program said Tuesday that they have agreed to resume talks, which Iran proposed in a letter last month. Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, said she responded to the letter, opening the door for talks to resume after they were broken off more than a year ago. Nations involved include the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—the U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia—as well as Germany. Western powers suspect that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, but the country denies the charge. Iran also agreed to allow inspections of its nuclear sites.

Read it at New York Times

Tense

Israel: We Can’t ‘Wait Much Longer’

Israel: We Can’t ‘Wait Much Longer’ Amos Ben Gershom, GPO / Getty Images

As Obama urges patience.

Judging by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC Monday night, he wasn't convinced by President Obama's urging to be patient with Iran. Criticizing those who doubt Iran is building a nuclear weapon and invoking the Auschwitz death camp, he said, "None of us can afford to wait much longer" to act against Iran. Hours before, Obama asked Netanyahu to wait for sanctions and diplomacy to have time to work on Iran. Obama has spent the last several days urging Israel not to launch a military strike against Iran's nuclear program.

Read it at The Daily Beast

ON THE MARCH

Obama Takes Us a Step Closer to War

In his AIPAC speech, the president said explicitly that containment of a nuclear Iran was not an option. Saying that, he laid the groundwork for another preemptive war.

We are going to war with Iran. Maybe not by November, maybe not even under this president. But just because I added that last phrase, don’t dismiss this lightly. The central fact of this past week, which seems to have escaped everyone’s attention (which itself boggles my mind), is that Barack Obama, in his speech to AIPAC Sunday, as in his interview with Jeff Goldberg before it, all but made war someday inevitable. How? By saying that containment of a nuclear Iran was not an option. Americans need to be clear on the full implications of this statement.            

Obama Netanyahu

U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) speak in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2012 (Saul Loeb, AFP / Getty Images)

The coverage of the speech proves the old dictum—well, it’s my old dictum, anyway—that what is “news” isn’t necessarily what is important. The newsy takeaway, at least according to The New York Times and the many outlets that take their cue from the Times, is that Obama warned against bluster and “too much loose talk” of war with Iran.           

That was interesting, and, to the extent that it illustrates tension between Obama and the war caucus, I can see how it’s “news.” But the important part of the speech, the sentences that historians might be ruing and Americans regretting 15 years from now, was this: “Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.”           

CHANGE OF PLANS

Singing a Different Tune on Israel

It wasn’t long ago that the White House was angering Israeli leaders with statements seen as critical. But 2012 is an election year, and that makes all the difference.

It was one of those moments you could experience only at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference. At the lectern was Susan Rice, President Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations. In the audience were 300 rabbis, Jewish-community leaders, and AIPAC delegates who were allowed to attend Rice’s speech, an event left off the public agenda for the conference.

Obama Israel

Carolyn Kaster / AP Photos

Rice, an African-American, began her remarks by quoting in stilted Hebrew from a traditional Jewish hymn, “Hiney ma tov u’ma-mayim. Shevet akh-im gam ya-chad,” which translates: “Behold how good and pleasing it is for brothers to sit together.” When she finished her speech—about how she and her staff work every day to defend Israel at Turtle Bay—the audience broke into the same song the ambassador had quoted at the start: “Hiney ma tov u’ma-nayim,” everyone sang. “Shevet akh-im gam ya-chad.”

Listening to the speech, it would be hard to discern that Rice had caused a stir with the Israeli government little more than a year ago. At that time, Israeli officials didn’t like her remarks at all. Following an American veto of a resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories, Rice had explained the vote like this: “While we agree with our fellow council members—and indeed, with the wider world—about the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, we think it unwise for this council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians. We therefore regrettably have opposed this draft resolution.”

DIPLOMACY

Obama, Netayahu Still Split on Iran

Obama, Netayahu Still Split on Iran Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo

After three hour long meeting.

Iran still has a nuclear program, Israel still wants to strike, and the U.S. still hopes to give diplomacy a chance—President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave no indication of narrowing their differences after spending three hours conferring at the White House Monday. After the meeting, Netanyahu told reporters that the world is “united” over the threat in Iran. But U.S. officials said the two sides still differ on how to define the “red line” which Tehran must cross in order for a military strike to be considered. Officials have said they believe Iran is still a year away from being able to develop a nuclear weapon.

Read it at Wall Street Journal

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