- Possibility of the United States opening an interests section in Iran
- Latest round of P5+1-Iran talks produces few results, despite US presence
- Iran and the United States continue military exercises and aggressive posturing
- Skepticism regarding Iranian claims of missile testing success
- Russia may try Uzbek man for attempting to smuggle WMD components to Iran
There have been some notable changes in the Bush administration's approach towards Iran since the release of BASIC's last Iran Update. On July 17, The Guardian published an article stating that the US government would announce its intention to open an interests section in Iran within the next month. The article follows weeks of international speculation on the issue, sparked by statements of support for the idea from high-ranking officials in the US State Department. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki spoke favorably of the prospect of American diplomats being stationed in Tehran and added that direct flights between the two countries were another possibility to look into. Though the United States has not had a diplomatic presence in Iran since the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran maintains an interests section at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. It is likely that a US interests section would be established at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which currently handles American interests on behalf of Washington. An official request has not yet been received by the Iranian government.
William Burns, the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and America's third-ranking diplomat, was present at the July 19 P5+1-Iran negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. At the talks in Geneva, Burns, Javier Solana (High Representative for the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy), and Chinese and Russian representatives met with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. Burns did not take part in the actual negotiations, but he listened to the dialogue and reiterated the US demand for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program. The Under Secretary did not make a public statement after the talks. The involvement of Burns and Jalili marked the first meeting of senior Iranian and US officials in the context of nuclear negotiations.
The latest round of talks did not result in any significant developments, however. Jalili was unwilling to agree there and then to a short-term freeze in enrichment expansion, much less the suspension of Tehran's uranium enrichment program (also see The New York Times' discussion of the "None Paper" [sic]). Solana discussed the inconclusive nature of the talks in a press conference, stating that "We have not got a clear answer ... we didn't get an answer 'yes' or 'no' and we hope that it will be given soon." Jalili and Solana will meet or speak by telephone in two weeks, the deadline given to Iran to respond to the P5+1 updated incentives package. What the substance of this conversation will entail remains to be seen, as Jalili has expressed his intention not to discuss the "freeze-for-freeze" optiona key element of the package derived from paragraph 19(a) of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1803, one of the three resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seemed optimistic about the talks, referring to them as "a step forward." U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not seem to share Ahmadinejad's enthusiasm. On July 21, Brown addressed Israel's parliament, the Knesset. He assured Israeli politicians of British support and promised that the United Kingdom would work to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Brown also said that the United Kingdom would be one of the key players in pushing for any further sanctions against Iran that may be needed. Meanwhile, that same day in the United Arab Emirates, Rice cautioned that Iran would face consequences if Jalili did not deliver a "serious" response to the updated incentives package. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan announced that as the result of requests from both sides Turkey would work with Iran and the P5+1 countries in a "facilitating" role to help the parties reach an agreement on Tehran's nuclear program.
Even with discussion of a potential thaw in US-Iranian relations, both countries continued to conduct military exercises. On July 20, Mostafa Mohammad Najar, Iran's Defense Minister, said that the IRIAF (Iran's air force) would soon test a new class of armaments in war games, called "Defenders of the Sky of Velayat," simulated to protect the country from foreign attacks. It seems unlikely that this will involve the sophisticated S-300 Russian air defense system, as this is not due for delivery until September and it would take several months at a minimum for the Iranians to have the system operating effectively.
The United States is currently leading a Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) called "Operation Brimstone." These war games are taking place off of the eastern coast of the United States from July 21-31 and involve American, British, French, and Brazilian forces. While the US Navy's news service described the exercise as an opportunity for cooperation with America's allies, Iran's Press TV said that the maneuvers were designed to intimidate Iran.
For the moment, US House Resolution 362 and Senate Resolution 580 appear to have reached impasses in committee. Both bills would likely require a naval blockade of Iran, which could be perceived by Tehran as an act of war.
One of the key events covered in BASIC's last Iran Update was Iran's claim to have successfully test-fired nine missiles. Among these missiles was what Iranian officials claimed to be an enhanced version of the Shahab-3 Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) with an extended range of approximately 2,000 km (1,240 miles). If this statement is accurate, much of the Middle East and Asia-including Israel-would be within range of a ballistic missile strike. However, weapons experts began to question the validity of this claim, noting that the "enhanced" missile appeared identical to previously tested versions. Additionally, evidence was produced which suggests that Iranian government photographs of the tests were digitally altered to show the ascent of a missile which failed to launch. While the Iranian government did not respond to the latter allegation, Brigadier General Nasrallah Ezzati, Iran's Deputy Defense Minister, refuted claims of exaggeration regarding the Shahab-3 by informing press sources that the new missile now has a range exceeding 2,000 km. For more information on Iranian missiles, see "Iran's Missile Program," a BASIC Getting to Zero Paper by Bharath Gopalaswamy.
Russia's state-run news service RIA Novosti announced that a court in southern Russia's Astrakhan Region may hear a smuggling case relating to the Iranian nuclear program. Authorities accuse Anar Godzhayev, an Uzbek businessman, of attempting to smuggle materials with possible WMD uses into Iran. They allege that in July 2007 Godzhayev tried to circumvent customs regulations by falsely identifying the contents of a container he intended to ship to Iran. Around one ton of goods made from tantalum were inside of the container. RIA Novosti notes that "[t]antalum is used in electric components and also to produce superalloys used in aircraft engine parts, nuclear reactors, missile components and chemical equipment."
Stories and links
Unsolicited advice for Bush on Iran, by Jim Lobe,
Asia Times, 24/07
Ahmadinejad praises US envoy showed respect towards Iran,
by Zahra Hosseinian, ABC News, 23/07
Iran vows no nuclear concessions, BBC News, 23/07
US Seeking Indian Alliance to Attack Iran, Fars News
US lawyer seeks to sue US over Iran threats, by Chris Gelkin, Press TV, 22/07
EU won't support military action against Iran, AP, 22/07
Oil rebounds as Iran nuclear talks disappoint, by Chris Flood,
Financial Times, 21/07
US admiral urges global pressure on Iran, France 24, 20/07
French company fined for sales to Iran, UPI, 18/07
Iran basketball team invited to train in Utah, International
Herald Tribune, 16/07
US says Iran has missile that could hit Europe, Reuters, 15/07 http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSN1532412820080715
President George W Bush backs Israeli plan for strike on Iran, The Times, 13/07
Iran ready to hit UK, Daily Express, 13/07
US allies to press Obama over Iran, by Daniel Dombey and Andrew Ward, Financial Times, 13/07
Iran warns it would destroy Israel, 32 US bases if attacked, RIA Novosti, 12/07
Iran's missile tests negate US defense shield plans,
Says Russia, Deutsche Welle, 11/07
Comments, editorial and analysis
Iran Has Earned Nothing, Wall Street Journal, 22/07
Rethinking Iranian nukes, by Robert Skidelsky, Toronto
A return to sanity?, Tehran Times, 21/07
Analyze this: Why Washington's new playbook on Iran is no laughing matter, by Calev Ben-David, Jerusalem Post, 21/07
A reality check on Iran, by David Isenberg, Asia Times, 19/07
Using bombs to stave off war, by Benny Morris, The New York
Iran and US signaling chance of deal, by Glenn Kessler,
Washington Post, 17/07
The war with Iran, by Frank Gaffney, The Washington Times,
Iran's missile program, by Bharath Gopalaswamy, BASIC,
Getting to Zero Papers, 15/07
Missiles with a message, The Guardian, 11/07
Seven Questions: What Iran Wants, interview with Karim
Sadjadpour, Foreign Policy, July