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Current Affairs ( 24 Nov 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

US-Iran Clinch Interim Nuclear Deal: Blow to Israel and Saudi Arabia; Relief for India


Related News and Reviews

Iran Nuke Deal Has an Indian-American Architect

Iran Deal Stirs History for Obama, Suspicion for Foes

Khamenei Hails Iran Nuclear Pact

Secret Talks, Aligned With P5+1 Discussions, Led To Pact

Geneva: Six-Month Window to Negotiate Permanent Deal

An Encouraging Moment in Ties with Iran: U.K.

Iran Welcomes Nuclear Deal Which Israel Calls 'Mistake'



By Chidanand Rajghatta

Nov 25, 2013

The United States plus five world powers reached a landmark deal with Iran on Sunday to curtail the Persian country's purported march towards nuclear weapons.

The agreement, when fully realized, has the potential to dramatically alter the geo-political landscape of the Middle-East, Gulf, and South Asia, affecting the strategic outlook and orientation of major countries from Israel to India and in between.

Under the first phase of the agreement, clinched in a 3am signing ceremony in Geneva, Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond five per cent, effectively giving up the higher levels of enrichment needed to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. It will also divert or convert its stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium into an oxide form so it cannot be used for military purposes.

Iran will also not install any new centrifuges nor start up any that are not already in operation or build new enrichment facility, while submitting to daily international inspections that will make it almost impossible for it to work towards making nuclear weapons.

In return, Iran will get to keep its existing centrifuges, be able to enrich uranium below five per cent for civilian nuclear uses, and receive relief from crippling US-led sanctions (including getting some revenues seized by past sanctions) for the next six months, during which a more detailed, longer term agreement will be negotiated.

At a broader level, it will begin the process of recasting strategic alignments in the region. Untrusting Israel, haunted by an existential crisis that comes from a (mutual) pathological fear of a nuclear-armed rival, straightaway rejected the deal, suggesting US and its allies had been suckered by Teheran. Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, which fears its cozy equation with Washington being eclipsed by a Shia-dominated Iran returning to the US sphere of influence, also lashed out at the agreement.

Nearer home, the US-Iranian detente provides an exit route for the United States from landlocked Afghanistan while reducing its dependence on extremist Pakistan, which is extracting a ransom for the 2014 drawdown from Afghanistan.

It will also come as a big relief for India, which has had to do juggle and balance four aspects — its growing strategic partnership with the US, its strong military relationship with Israel, its economic and social investments in Afghanistan, and its civilisational ties with the Persian power. An Indian-built road from the Afghan border town of Zaranj to the Iranian port of Charbahar suddenly comes into play.

Eventually, India may also be able to resume normal trade relations with Iran, which the US-led sanctions had put a crimp on.

The US-led deal is interim in nature and there is much that can go wrong in the six months during which the concerned parties will negotiate a more comprehensive deal. For now though, both sides exulted on having broken new ground, and both claimed to have gained from the accord, effectively pointing to a win-win situation.

"It is important that we all of us see the opportunity to end an unnecessary crisis and open new horizons based on respect, based on the rights of the Iranian people and removing any doubts about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program," Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, who played a key role in the talks, told reporters. "This is a process of attempting to restore confidence."

President Obama, speaking from the State Dining Room in the White House, said diplomacy "opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure — a future in which we can verify that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon."

But disquiet and unease were evident in the reactions from Israel and Saudi Arabia, although Obama pledged that as negotiations go forward, US will retain steadfast in its commitments to "friends and allies — particularly Israel and our Gulf partners, who have good reason to be sceptical about Iran's intentions."

That scepticism was aired openly. "What was concluded in Geneva last night is not a historic agreement, it's a historic mistake," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters. "It's not made the world a safer place. Like the agreement with North Korea in 2005, this agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place."

Netanyahu maintained that Iran would be "taking only cosmetic steps which it could reverse easily within a few weeks, and in return, sanctions that took years to put in place are going to be eased."

But US interlocutors appeared confident that they had the lock on Iran's route to a nuclear weapon. "It will make our partners in the region safer. It will make our ally Israel safer," secretary of state John Kerry, who led the US-allied talks, said.

(With inputs from agencies)



Iran Nuke Deal Has An Indian-American Architect

Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times

November 25, 2013

Months of clandestine US-Iran bilateral talks preceded the first-step deal signed on Sunday in Geneva, and Puneet Talwar, an Indian-American, was at the heart of it.

US back-channel efforts are said to have started clandestinely in March, according to published accounts citing  administration officials over past some weeks.

Undersecretary of state William Burns led these recent efforts, building on those by Talwar, National Security Council aide who has driven President Barack Obama’s Iran initiative for years.

Talwar, who holds the designation of assistant to the president, has been at the “center of the diplomacy (with, and on, Iran)”, The Wall Street Journal said in a recent article.

“He has represented the White House at all of the formal negotiations conducted between Iran and the global P5+1 power, since 2009,” the article added.

Obama’s back-channel efforts began in 2009, through an exchange of letters with Supreme Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But it did not lead to much.

Contacts between the two countries continued though, some of which were conducted at the UN by US ambassador Susan Rice, now Obama’s National Security Adviser.

The accord is the direct result, though, of recent talks taking place with the election of President Hassan Rouhani, followed by an exchange of letters with Obama, and a phone call.

Details of the accord were hammered out at secret meetings -- five, according to one count -- led by Burns. Some of these meetings took place in Muscat, Oman.

But the final deal was sealed in Geneva. Talwar, who has refused media interviews, was there as part of the US team. He will be happy to move on now, though, with the mission being accomplished.

Obama named him recently as the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, which, if confirmed, will make him the second Indian American currently of that seniority at state.

The other is Nisha Biswal, who was sworn in earlier this week as the assistant secretary of state for Central and South Asia, the most powerful US bureaucrat dealing directly with India.



Iran Deal Stirs History for Obama, Suspicion for Foes


Washington, November 25, 2013

For US President Barack Obama, the interim deal to cap Iran's nuclear program is a belated down payment on the transformative foreign policy he always envisioned. That is one reason why his Republican foes are suspicious of the pact, viewing it as typical of a diplomatic doctrine rooted  in weakness and an over eagerness to engage America's enemies at the expense of its friends.

The deal, forged after intense negotiations between Tehran and world powers, is the most serious breakthrough in more than 30 years of near hatred between Washington and Iran.

It means more to the president than a rare win in a grim political season: it represents hopes of validation for several core aspects of his political vision -- including the idea that America should talk to its enemies; that military force should be a true last resort; and that non proliferation should be at the centre of US foreign policy.

If the Iran initiative evolves into understandings wider than the nuclear issue, it would offers an opening for Obama to transform his legacy as a statesman.

It also comes as the prime rationale of his domestic agenda -- the idea that an activist government is a force for good -- is being tested by the woeful debut of his health care law.

The Iran deal gestated far from the high-stakes talks at a plush hotel in Geneva. It was first hinted at during a 2007 Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina.

At that event Obama repudiated the Bush administration's 'axis of evil' talk, and shocked the foreign policy establishment by offering to engage US enemies, including Iran.

"The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them . . . is ridiculous," Obama said, invoking US-Soviet talks led by presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

Obama, in his first inaugural address, offered a hand to US foes if they would "unclench" their fists, but failed to coax Iran into dialogue during his first term.

Until the election of the 'moderate' President Hassan Rouhani, this year, engaging the enemy bore little fruit, with the possible exception of the US-engineered opening of military-ruled Myanmar.

Obama aides argue that his foreign policy's successes include bringing US troops home from Iraq, and from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

But his legacy lacks the highlight that detente with Iran would enshrine, an accomplishment comparable to major presidential wins like Richard Nixon's 'opening' of China, or Ronald Reagan's ending of the Cold War.

Obama, who rose to power railing against a "dumb war" in Iraq, has made it an article of faith to avoid Middle East conflicts of unknowable consequences.

He was mocked for "leading from behind" in Libya, and for his 11th hour blink on striking Syria. He prefers the fearsome but arms length US drone war.

Any deal to end Iran's nuclear program, however imperfect, that avoids the US military action he insists he reserves the right to wage, would gel with his worldview.

"Military options are always messy," Obama said when asked about Iran last week.

"They're always difficult, always have unintended consequences, and in this situation are never complete in terms of making us certain that they don't then go out and pursue even more vigorously nuclear weapons in the future."

Political wags sometimes quip that Obama is finally earning the Nobel Peace Prize he was prematurely awarded in 2009. The punch line might be punctured if he conceives a long-term nuclear settlement with Iran.

But Obama's domestic foes are not convinced.

Many balk at the idea of talking with a nation that has flayed the United States for decades as an "evil empire."

Obama's diminished standing a year into his second term hardly helps.

"This administration is . . . very long on announcements but very short on follow through," Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News Sunday.

For Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence committee, Iran has received "a permission slip to continue enrichment -- that's the one thing the whole world was trying to stop them from doing," he told CNN.

Despite the antipathy on Capitol Hill, Obama can use executive power to fulfill the US part of offering a "modest" $7 billion in sanctions relief in return for Iran taking steps to halt progress in its nuclear program.

After administration lobbying, new sanctions to be debated in Congress in December will be timed to come into force in six months at the end of the interim deal, and if no final agreement is reached.

But Congress would have to lift sanctions under any final deal, and Obama faces a tough slog to convince lawmakers suspicious not only of Iran -- but of their own president.



Khamenei Hails Iran Nuclear Pact

November 25, 2013

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei welcomed the nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers Sunday, a media report said.

The achievements, recognising the nuclear and enrichment rights of Iran by the powers, which could open the way for further economic and technical advancements, could be a “basis for Iranians’ vigilant measures in future”, reported Xinhua citing Iranian leader in response to a letter from President Hassan Rouhani.

Resistance against the “excessive demands” of some powers has been and will be the criteria for the Iranian officials, he added.

On Sunday, Mr. Rouhani congratulated Mr. Khamenei on nuclear deal between the Islamic republic and the P5+1 group, including the US, Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany.

In the negotiations, Iran’s “nuclear rights and uranium enrichment were recognised”, the step which will bring about further achievements for the country, said Rouhani in his letter.

Iran and P5+1 reached a deal early Sunday after five days of intensive talks in Geneva.

The US and its allies will afford Iran with sanctions relief equivalent to $7 billion under the terms of the six-month nuclear deal, according to a White House statement. In exchange, Iran will halt nuclear enrichment above five percent in purity, it added.


Secret Talks, Aligned With P5+1 Discussions, Led To Pact

Narayan Lakshman

November 25, 2013

Sunday’s quantum leap in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme was made possible by a series of quiet, back-channel bilateral discussions between Tehran and senior U.S. officials, it has emerged.

Media outlets such as the Associated Press and Al-Monitor quoted unnamed U.S. officials confirming that high-level, face-to-face talks over the past year had taken place out of sight of even Washington’s closest allies such as France and Israel.

U.S. President Barack Obama apparently “personally authorised” the secret talks even as tensions flared up, particularly with Israel.

According to Al-Monitor, the talks were led on the U.S. side by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, who “met bilaterally with Iranian counterparts” several times over the past few months, following the exchange of letters between Mr. Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in August.

Reports noted that the talks were held unobtrusively where Iranian officials were engaged in at least five meetings by “a tight circle of people in the know”, said to include Mr. Burns, Jake Sullivan, Vice President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy adviser, and Puneet Talwar, the National Security Staff Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, and Persian Gulf Affairs.

Broader Group

Despite the apparently clandestine nature of the talks, U.S. officials, speaking to media here on background after the deal was hammered out, emphasised the Obama administration’s intention that these talks tied in to the mainstream P5+1 discussions involving the broader group of western nations in negotiations with Iran.

A senior administration official said late on Saturday night that Washington had “always been crystal-clear that the P5+1 is the venue for negotiations with Iran towards an agreement on the nuclear issue... [and] any discussions we had with the Iranians on a bilateral basis were meant to reinforce and ultimately be a part of the P5+1 negotiations”.

Officials indicated the importance of the June 2013 Iranian elections in improving the prospects for talks, even as crippling sanctions continued to be in place.

U.S. officials said, “There was a sense that we had to wait and see if the Iranians under the new administration were serious about negotiations… And it became clear after the Rouhani election, that they seem serious.”

In terms of the justification for holding direct bilateral talks over and above the P5+1 platform, U.S. officials said to Al-Monitor, “Given that so much of the economic pressure on Iran comes from the U.S… it was important to establish this direct channel.” adding that other P5+1 partners also had their own independent channels of communication with Tehran.


Geneva: Six-Month Window To Negotiate Permanent Deal

Julian Borger

Saeed Kamali Dehghan

November 25, 2013

Announcement unites Iranians from across the political spectrum in celebration and hope

The nuclear deal between Iran and P5+1 (the U.S, the U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany), signed at 4.30 a.m. on Sunday local time, came after a diplomatic marathon of three intensive rounds, culminating in a late-night session in Geneva.

It was chaired by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, for whom the deal represents a personal triumph. Some of the complications involved in coming to a deal stemmed from the need to keep the six powers together.

The six-month life of the Geneva deal is intended to be used to negotiate a comprehensive and permanent settlement that would allow Iran to pursue a peaceful programme, almost certainly including enrichment, but under long-term limits and intrusive monitoring, that would reassure the world that any parallel covert programme would be spotted and stopped well before Tehran could make a bomb.

That agreement would lead to the lifting of the main sanctions on oil and banking that have all but crippled the Iranian economy, and the eventual normalisation of relations between Iran and the U.S. for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The difficulties facing the negotiators in the coming months were highlighted by the different interpretations U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, took on the fiercely disputed issue of whether the deal represented recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium in principle. Mr. Zarif was insistent that it did because it was based on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which guarantees the right to a peaceful nuclear programme. Mr. Kerry said that neither the NPT nor the latest deal specified a right to enrichment. That, he said, was a matter for negotiation in the coming six months.

News of the deal united Iranians from across the political spectrum in celebration, reflecting widespread hope that it would reduce the threat of war and ease punishing sanctions. Hundreds of thousands of people stayed up through the night to follow the minute-by-minute coverage.

The first announcement that a deal had been reached, by Ms. Ashton’s spokesman Michael Mann, and the confirmation by Mr. Zarif, were both made on Twitter — a first for a major global accord.

“Day five, 3am, it’s white smoke,” tweeted Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Seyyed Abbas Araghchi, referring to the terminology used in Vatican for the announcement of a Pope. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013


An Encouraging Moment in Ties With Iran: U.K.

By Parvathi Menon

November 25, 2013

British Foreign Secretary William Hague described the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme as an “important moment; an encouraging moment, in our relations with Iran, and in our efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation in the world”.

He was speaking to Sky News in Geneva soon after the agreement was signed.

On the economic sanctions imposed on Iran, Mr. Hague said the present agreement would give Tehran “some relief” that would be “proportionate and limited” from sanctions.

However, “the great bulk of sanctions will remain in place,” Mr. Hague said, “until there is a comprehensive and final agreement that gives the world the necessary assurances that, for the future, Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes”.

Embassy Attack

Diplomatic ties between Iran and the U.K. broke after Iranian protesters attacked the British Embassy in Tehran in 2011.

The protesters were commemorating the death anniversary of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari who, the then Iranian government alleged, was murdered in a joint operation by Israel’s Mossad and the British MI6.

What started as a peaceful demonstration soon turned violent with the attackers causing extensive damage to the building and premises.

The U.K. expelled the Iranian envoy following this incident, an action the Iranians reciprocated.


Relations between the two countries thawed after the present Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, made an appeal for reconciliation between Iran and western powers, during a session of the U.N. General Assembly.

A fortnight ago Britain appointed Ajay Sharma as the non-resident charge d’affaires to Iran, which appointed Mohammad Hassan Habibollah as charge d’affaires to Britain.


Iran Welcomes Nuclear Deal Which Israel Calls 'Mistake'

November 25, 2013

Cheering crowds have welcomed home the Iranian negotiators who secured a nuclear deal with world powers, while Israel called it a "historic mistake".

US President Barack Obama telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seeking to reassure him of Washington's commitment to Israel.

Sunday's deal in Geneva prompted a fall in oil prices on markets on Monday.

Iran has agreed to curb some of its nuclear activities in return for about $7bn (£4.3bn) in sanctions relief.

Hundreds of cheering supporters greeted Iran's negotiators as they arrived back in Tehran on Sunday, after reaching an interim nuclear agreement with the US, Russia, China, France, the UK, and Germany.

Carrying flowers and Iranian flags at Tehran's Mehrabad airport, they hailed Iran's foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, as an "ambassador of peace" and chanted, "No to war, sanctions, surrender and insult".

Speaking to Iranian state television at the airport, Mr Zarif said Iran was prepared to take the necessary steps to keep the deal on track. But he said the interim, six-month deal agreed in Geneva could be halted by Tehran at any stage:

"All the measures that we will take, the confidence-building measures, are reversible, and they can be reversed fast. Of course, we hope we don't have to do this."

Sceptical about Iran

Earlier, the US President Barack Obama welcomed the deal, saying it would "help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon".

But Mr Netanyahu said Israel would not be bound by the agreement, saying he had a "duty to speak out".

"We cannot and will not allow a regime that calls for the destruction of Israel to obtain the means to achieve this goal."

His comments came as it was revealed that the US and Iran had held a series of face-to-face talks in recent months that paved the way for the agreement but were kept secret even from their allies.

World powers suspect Iran's nuclear programme is secretly aiming at developing a nuclear bomb - a charge Iran has consistently denied.

The deal reached early on Sunday in Geneva will last for six months, while a permanent agreement is sought.

Key points of the deal include:

Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond 5%, and "neutralise" its stockpile of uranium enriched beyond this point

Iran will give greater access to inspectors including daily access at the Natanz and Fordo nuclear sites

There will be no further development of the Arak plant which it is believed could produce plutonium

In return, there will be no new nuclear-related sanctions for six months if Iran sticks by the accord

Iran will also receive sanctions relief worth about $7bn (£4.3bn) on sectors including precious metals

The interim agreement with Iran - the world's fourth-largest oil producer - prompted a fall in oil prices in early Asian trading on Monday, with Brent crude falling by Brent crude falling by more than 2%.

Although Iran will not be allowed to increase its oil sales for six months, analysts say the deal is perceived by the markets as reducing risk in the Middle East.

Earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry told ABC's This Week programme that the deal was a first step in making sure Iran could not have nuclear weapons.

"Israel will actually gain a larger breathing space in terms of the breakout capacity [to make a nuclear weapon] of Iran," he said.

He added that he hoped Congress would not pass new sanctions but Republican senators - as well as some from President Obama's Democratic Party - have expressed concerns about the deal and say more sanctions are possible

In a nationwide broadcast on Sunday, President Rouhani repeated that his country would never seek a nuclear weapon.

"No matter what interpretations are given, Iran's right to enrichment has been recognised," he said.

Tehran insists it must be allowed to enrich uranium to use in power stations.

The deal comes just over three months since Mr Rouhani - regarded as a relative moderate - took office in August, the hard-line Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It has also been backed by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in nuclear matters.