TIME Iran

Ignore the Noise in Washington and Tehran. An Iran Nuclear Deal Is Still Likely

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses military commanders in Tehran on April 19, 2015,
Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses military commanders in Tehran on April 19, 2015,

Despite the criticisms around the Iran negotiations, a deal is still more likely than not. But the real challenge will be implementation

In his first public comments after the U.S. and Iran settled on a nuclear framework agreement, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei pulled no punches: “The whole problem comes now that the details should be discussed, because the other side is stubborn, difficult to deal with, breaks promises and is a backstabber.”

Critics quickly pointed to the statement as proof that hopes for a final deal are evaporating. But the Ayatollah’s combative words don’t move the needle on whether we’ll get a final deal by the June 30 deadline.

Khamenei is posturing for two separate audiences. His hardline supporters in Iran could undermine his political authority if they believe he is capitulating to the West. The Ayatollah needs to placate this group while his negotiators, led by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, hammer out a deal behind closed doors. His second audience is the Western negotiators with whom he is trying to drive a hard bargain. Khamenei’s comments put more pressure on them, and sends a signal to his own negotiators not to cede ground.

But Khamenei authorized Iran’s president to appoint negotiators to work out a deal. The Supreme Leader has praised those negotiators via Twitter. The talks couldn’t have progressed this far if Khamenei wasn’t serious about getting a deal done to escape Western sanctions.

In fact, American detractors of the potential deal are engaging in a very similar form of theater. U.S. politicians want to score political points as much as their Iranian counterparts do: congressional Republicans and GOP presidential hopefuls are badmouthing the deal to ding President Obama and gain traction on the biggest global issue of the day. But the reality is that it will be impossible for Republicans to peel off enough Democrats to reach a veto-proof majority and overturn a final deal. The international community favors an Iran deal, and the American public is wary of undertaking military actions that could lead to another Middle East war.

A final deal between the U.S. and Iran remains more likely than not, but it’s not vitriolic tweets that threaten it most—it’s the remaining sticking points between the two sides. How much enriched uranium would Iran be allowed to stockpile? How much will a deal limit nuclear research using advanced machines? At what pace and in what sequence will the West lift sanctions while Iran carries out its end of the bargain?

These are critical and complex questions, but both sides know that they exist, and nothing that has been said from the sidelines in Tehran or Washington has changed that.

Yet even if the U.S. and Iran manage to agree on a final deal, the negotiations won’t end. The devil lies in the details of implementation. What happens if the U.S. discovers in four or five years that Iran is cheating, hiding nuclear weapons work from inspectors? How feasible will it be to punish Iran for undermining a deal, especially once sanctions are peeled back and Iran emerges from international isolation?

Reaching a deal is one thing. Making sure it doesn’t unravel is something else—and something that may be even tougher.

TIME Poland

U.S. Ambassador Apologizes to Poles Over FBI Director’s Holocaust Remarks

The 72nd anniversary of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Jakub Kaminski—EPA The U.S. ambassador to Poland, Stephen Mull, right, lays flowers at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw on April, 19, 2015

Envoy concedes that remarks were "offensive"

The U.S. ambassador to Poland Stephen Mull has apologized for remarks made by FBI Director James Comey, who penned a Washington Post op-ed last Thursday in which he accused Poland of being a collaborator in the Holocaust.

Mull, who had been summoned by Polish authorities, conceded that Comey’s remarks were “wrong, harmful and offensive.”

During Nazi Germany’s occupation of Poland in World War II, Poland was home to several extermination camps, in which over 6 million Poles died in addition to millions of Jews, Roma and other groups.

In his article, which was based on a speech he delivered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Comey referred to Polish “murderers and accomplices” and claimed that “in their minds” they “didn’t do something evil.”

The Polish embassy in Washington, D.C., published a statement over the weekend castigating Comey’s article “especially for accusing Poles of perpetrating crimes which not only did they not commit, but which they themselves were victims of.”

On Sunday, Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said, “To those who are incapable of presenting the historic truth in an honest way, I want to say that Poland was not a perpetrator but a victim of World War II.”

TIME Cuba

Obama, Castro to Come Face to Face Amid Bid to Restore Ties

US President Barack Obama makes his way to board Air Force One upon departure from Kingston, Jamaica to Panama on April 9, 2015.
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama makes his way to board Air Force One upon departure from Kingston, Jamaica to Panama on April 9, 2015.

President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro will attend the Summit of the Americas on Friday

(PANAMA CITY) — As leaders from across the Western Hemisphere gather Friday in Panama, all eyes will be on two presidents: Barack Obama and Raul Castro, whose expected encounter at the Summit of the Americas will mark a historic moment as the U.S. and Cuba seek to restore ties they abandoned decades ago.

Americans and Cubans alike can recall just how deep the animosity between their countries ran during the Cold War, when even a casual, friendly exchange between their leaders would have been unthinkable. So while Obama and Castro have no formal meetings scheduled together, even a brief handshake or hallway greeting will be scrutinized for signs of whether the two nations are really poised to put their hostile pasts behind them.

Obama and Castro cross paths at the Summit of the Americas in the throes of a delicate diplomatic experiment: the renewal of formal relations between countries that haven’t had any in more than 50 years.

Even their arrival Thursday evening seemed steeped in symbolism: Obama, after arriving in Panama City, was whisked via helicopter to his waiting motorcade at an airport former known as Howard Air Force Base, from which the U.S. launched its 1989 invasion of Panama.

Castro’s plane landed on the tarmac minutes later, missing Obama only briefly — two world leaders passing warily in the night.

Four months ago, Obama and Castro announced their intention to restore diplomatic relations, beginning a painstaking process that has brought to the surface difficult issues that have long fed in to the U.S.-Cuban estrangement. Hopes of reopening embassies in Havana and Washington before the summit failed to materialize. The U.S. is still pushing Cuba to allow more freedom of movement for its diplomats, while Cuba wants relief from a sanctions regime that only Congress can fully lift.

Yet in the days before this year’s Summit of the Americas — the first to include Cuba — both leaders sought to set a productive and optimistic tone for their highly anticipated encounter. While in Jamaica on Wednesday, Obama signaled that he will soon act to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, removing a stigma that has been a source of friction for Havana.

Obama’s move could come within days.

“We don’t want to be imprisoned by the past,” Obama said Wednesday in Kingston, Jamaica, before flying to Panama City. “When something doesn’t work for 50 years, you don’t just keep on doing it. You try something new.”

In another sign of engagement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez met privately in Panama on Thursday — the highest-level meeting between the two governments in decades. The U.S. said the meeting was lengthy and that the leaders agreed to keep working to address unresolved issues.

On Friday, Obama was to meet with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and other Central American leaders. He planned to speak at a forum of CEOs before joining other leaders for dinner at Panama Viejo, home to archaeological ruins dating to the 1500s. A visit to the Panama Canal was also possible.

In a nod to lingering U.S. concerns about human rights and political freedoms, Obama was also attend a forum bringing together both dissidents and members of the Cuban political establishment.

TIME Iran

Differences Persist on Deadline Day for Iran Nuke Talks

Kerry has been meeting with his Iranian counterpart since Thursday in an intense effort to reach a political understanding

(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) — Diplomats scrambled Tuesday to reach consensus on the outline of an Iran nuclear deal just hours ahead of a self-imposed deadline to produce an agreement.

Facing a midnight local time (6 p.m. EDT) target to conclude a framework accord, substantial differences persisted with officials predicting a long day of talks that may or may not result in success. The top diplomats of four of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany met alone and then with Iran’s foreign minister to try to bridge the remaining gaps. They hope to hammer out an understanding that would serve as the basis for a final accord to be reached by the end of June.

It was not immediately clear what missing the deadline would mean for the nearly two years of negotiations that have been twice extended since an interim agreement was reached in November 2013. Most countries involved have said they are not interested in another extension, although they have also said that the interim agreement will remain in place until July 1, suggesting talks could continue.

“Long day ahead,” the spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said in a tweet announcing the early Tuesday morning start of the foreign ministers’ meeting with Iranian officials.

Late Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry told a CNN reporter that “everyone knows the meaning of tomorrow,” adding that “there are still some tricky issues.”

Kerry has been meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in the Swiss town of Lausanne since Thursday in an intense effort to reach a political understanding on terms that would curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Kerry and others at the table said the sides have made some progress, with Iran considering demands for further cuts to its uranium enrichment program but pushing back on how long it must limit technology it could use to make atomic arms. In addition to sticking points on research and development, differences remain on the timing and scope of sanctions removal, the officials said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Monday that Iran’s expectations from the talks are “very ambitious” and not yet acceptable to his country or the other five negotiating: the U.S., Britain, China, France and Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left the talks on Monday and planned to return only if the prospects for a deal looked good.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, told Iranian state television on Monday that the talks were not likely to reach any conclusion until “tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”

The Obama administration says any deal will stretch the time Iran needs to make a nuclear weapon from the present two to three months to at least a year. But critics object that it would keep Tehran’s nuclear technology intact.

Officials in Lausanne said the sides were advancing on limits to aspects of Iran’s program to enrich uranium, which can be used to make the core of a nuclear warhead.

Tehran has said it is willing to address concerns about its stockpiles of enriched uranium, although it has denied that will involve shipping it out of the country, as some Western officials have said. One official said on Monday that Iran might deal with the issue by diluting its stocks to a level that would not be weapons grade.

Uranium enrichment has been the chief concern in over more than a decade of international attempts to cap Iran’s nuclear programs. But Western officials say the main obstacles to a deal are no longer enrichment-related but instead the type and length of restrictions on Tehran’s research and development of advanced centrifuges and the pace of sanctions-lifting.

Over the past weeks, Iran has moved from demanding that it be allowed to keep nearly 10,000 centrifuges enriching uranium, to agreeing to 6,000. The officials said Tehran now may be ready to accept even fewer.

Tehran says it wants to enrich only for energy, science, industry and medicine. But many countries fear Iran could use the technology to make weapons-grade uranium.

TIME diplomacy

Iran Nuclear Talks at Crunch Time

A March 31 target date is fast approaching

(LAUSANNE, Switzerland)—Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program reached a critical phase Monday with diplomats struggling to overcome substantial differences just a day before a deadline for the outline of an agreement.

With Tuesday’s target date for a framework accord just hours away, the top diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany were meeting with Iran to try to bridge remaining gaps and hammer out an understanding that would serve as the basis for a final accord to be reached by the end of June.

“We are working late into the night and obviously into tomorrow,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Lausanne since Thursday in an intense effort to reach a political understanding on terms that would curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

“There is a little more light there today, but there are still some tricky issues,” Kerry said. “Everyone knows the meaning of tomorrow.”

Kerry and others at the table said the sides have made some progress, with Iran considering demands for further cuts to its uranium enrichment program but pushing back on how long it must limit technology it could use to make atomic arms. In addition to sticking points on research and development, differences remain on the timing and scope of sanctions removal, the officials said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Iran’s expectations from the talks are “very ambitious” and not yet acceptable to his country or the other five negotiating: the U.S., Britain, China, France and Russia.

“We will not allow a bad deal,” he said. “We will only arrive at a document that is ready to sign if it … excludesIran getting access to nuclear weapons. We have not yet cleared this up.”

In particular, Steinmeier said the question of limits on research and development that Iran would be allowed to continue was problematic.

Other officials said the issue of the scope and timing of sanctions relief was also a major sticking point.

In a tweet, Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States, said that “very substantial problems remain to be solved.”

In a sign that the talks would go down to the wire on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left, just a day after arriving, to return to Moscow. His spokeswoman said he would will return to Lausanne on Tuesday only if there was a realistic chance for a deal.

Meanwhile, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, told Iranian state television that the talks were not likely to reach any conclusion until “tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”

“We are not still in the position to be able to say we are close to resolving the (remaining) issues but we are hopeful and we’ll continue the efforts,” he said.

The Obama administration says any deal will stretch the time Iran needs to make a nuclear weapon from the present two to three months to at least a year. But critics object that it would keep Tehran’s nuclear technology intact.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the forefront of accusations that Iran helped Shiite rebels advance in Yemen, says the deal in the works sends the message that “there is a reward for Iran’s aggression.”

“But we do not shut our eyes, and we will continue to act against any threat,” he said, an allusion to Israeli warnings that it will use force as a last resort against Tehran’s nuclear program.

Officials in Lausanne said the sides were advancing on limits to aspects of Iran’s program to enrich uranium, which can be used to make the core of a nuclear warhead.

Tehran has said it is willing to address concerns about its stockpiles of enriched uranium, although it has denied that will involve shipping it out of the country, as some Western officials have said. One official said on Monday that Iran might deal with the issue by diluting its stocks to a level that would not be weapons grade.

A senior State Department official said that shipping the stockpile is one of the “viable options that have been under discussion for months … but resolution is still being discussed.”

Uranium enrichment has been the chief concern in over more than a decade of international attempts to capIran’s nuclear programs. But a Western official said the main obstacles to a deal were no longer enrichment-related but instead the type and length of restrictions on Tehran’s research and development of advanced centrifuges and the pace of sanctions-lifting.

Both demanded anonymity — the State Department official in line with U.S. briefing rules and the Western official because he was not authorized to discuss the emerging deal.

Over the past weeks, Iran has moved from demanding that it be allowed to keep nearly 10,000 centrifuges enriching uranium, to agreeing to 6,000. The officials said Tehran now may be ready to accept even fewer.

Tehran says it wants to enrich only for energy, science, industry and medicine. But many countries fear Iran could use the technology to make weapons-grade uranium.

 

TIME Iran

These 5 Facts Explain the State of Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and others wait for a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 27, 2015 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Brendan Smialowski—Reuters Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and others wait for a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 27, 2015 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Sanctions, demographics, oil and cyberwarfare

As leaders in the United States and Iran maintain laser focus on the ongoing nuclear negotiations, it’s valuable to take a broader look at Iran’s politics, its economy, and its relations with the United States. Here are five stats that explain everything from Iran’s goals in cyberspace to its views of Western powers.

1. Sanctions and their discontents

Sanctions have taken a heavy toll on the Iranian economy. According to the Congressional Research Service, Iran’s economy is 15 to 20% smaller than it would have been without the sanctions that have been enacted since 2010. They leave Iran unable to access nearly four-fifths of the $100 billion in reserves the country holds in international accounts. Iran’s oil output has fallen off a cliff. Four years ago, Iran sold some 2.5 million barrels of oil and condensates a day. Over the last year, the country has averaged just over a million barrels a day. Even as the exports have fallen and the price has plummeted, oil still accounts for 42% of government revenues. Iran’s latest budget will slash spending by 11% after accounting for inflation.

(Bloomberg, The Economist)

2. Cyber-spending spree

But despite the belt-tightening, Tehran has been willing to splurge in one area. Funding for cyber security in the 2015/16 budget is 1200% higher than the $3.4 million allotted in 2013/14. Up until 2010, Iran’s chief focus in cyberspace was managing internal dissidents. But after news of the Stuxnet virus—a U.S.-led cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program—went public in 2010, Iran’s leaders shifted gears. According to one estimate, Iran spent over $1 billion on its cyber capabilities in 2012 alone. That year, it conducted the Shamoon attack, wiping data from about 30,000 machines belonging to Saudi oil company Aramco. In 2013, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard publicly declared that Iran was “the fourth biggest cyber power among the world’s cyber armies.”

(Global Voices, Wired, Strategic Studies Institute, Wall Street Journal)

3. New generation and old leadership

The median age in Iran is 28, and youth unemployment in the country hovers around 25%. Nearly seven out of ten Iranians are under 35 years old, too young to remember the Iranian revolution of 1979. But the country is controlled by older men, many of whom had an instrumental role in the revolution. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is 75 years old; there have been concerns about his health and Iran’s eventual succession plan. Iran’s Assembly of Experts is an opaque institution with huge symbolic importance: it is tasked with selecting and overseeing Iran’s Supreme Leader. The Assembly’s Chairman passed away in October at the age of 83. His replacement? Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who is…83 years old.

(New York Times, CIA World Factbook, BBC)

4. The feeling is mutual

Over 70% of Iranians view the United States unfavorably—and 58% have “very unfavorable” views. On the flip side, more than three-quarters of surveyed Americans have unfavorable views of Iran. But that’s a more modest stance than some other European powers: 80% of French and 85% of Germans have unfavorable views of Iran. According to recent polls, Iran is no longer considered “the United States’ greatest enemy today.” In 2012, 32% of those polled chose Iran, good for first place. In 2015, just 9% selected Iran, placing it fourth behind China, North Korea and Russia, respectively.

(Center for International & Security Studies, Pew Research Center, Vox)

5. Support for a deal?

Negative views of Iran haven’t undermined Americans’ desire to try and cut a deal: 68% of Americans favor diplomacy with Iran. It’s a bipartisan majority: 77% of Democrats and 65% of Republicans are in favor of talks. Iranians have mixed expectations: only 48% think that President Rouhani will be successful in reaching an agreement. But if we do see a final deal, a lot more than Iranian oil could open up. Western businesses would love to break into a country that is more populous than Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Israel, Bahrain, Lebanon and Jordan combined.

(Center for International & Security Studies, CNN survey, CIA World Factbook)

TIME diplomacy

Knifed U.S. Ambassador Can’t Wait to Get Back to Work

South Korea’s president visited injured U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert on Monday, who hospital officials say is itching to get back to work after being knifed in the face.

President Park Geun-hye told the diplomat that while she had herself been victim of a similar attack in 2006 and undergone surgery at the same hospital, “it is even more heart-breaking thinking that an ambassador had to go through the same thing.”

Lippert — who received a large gash on his face and injury to his arm in the attack last week — could be released from the hospital as early as Tuesday, according to hospital officials…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: Hillary Clinton Wants Emails Made Public

The former Secretary of State wants to release some of her emails to the public

Hillary Clinton said late Wednesday that she wanted her emails to be made available to the public, after coming under fire for exclusively using a personal email address while U.S. Secretary of State. Watch Know Right Now to catch up on the latest in this story.

TIME diplomacy

Iran’s Foreign Minister: We Believe We Are ‘Very Close’ to Nuke Deal

NAIROBI, KENYA - FEBRUARY 02: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends Iran-Kenya business forum in Nairobi, Kenya o February 02, 2015. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends Iran-Kenya business forum in Nairobi, Kenya on Feb. 2, 2015.

"We don't believe nuclear weapons bring security to anybody, certainly not to us"

Iran has no intention of building a nuclear weapon, and the sooner the world recognizes that, the sooner there will be a deal aimed at curbing its nuclear capabilities in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told NBC News.

“Iran is not about building nuclear weapons,” Zarif said in an exclusive interview with Ann Curry Wednesday. “We don’t want to build nuclear weapons, we don’t believe nuclear weapons bring security to anybody, certainly not to us.”

Zarif said his country’s nuclear ambitions were solely in the pursuit of “scientific advancement” and boosting national…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Egypt

Canada Says Release of al-Jazeera Journalist in Egypt ‘Imminent’

Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste
Heba Elkholy—AP From left: al-Jazeera English producer Baher Mohamed, Canadian-Egyptian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy and correspondent Peter Greste appear in court in Cairo on March 31, 2014

Diplomats are trying to secure the 40-year-old's deportation to Canada

Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird announced Monday that the release of Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy from an Egyptian prison was “imminent.”

Baird told Canada’s public broadcaster that diplomatic efforts to free Fahmy, who was al-Jazeera’s acting Cairo bureau chief, were going well but gave no specific time frame.

Fahmy, 40, was arrested in 2013 along with colleagues Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste for allegedly aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood. All three were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail.

Greste was released on Sunday and deported back to his native Australia. Mohamed remains in detention.

Fahmy has relinquished his Egyptian citizenship as a prerequisite to his deportation under a presidential decree that allows foreigners on trial to be returned to their home countries.

On Jan. 1, Egypt’s Court of Cessation overturned their sentences and ordered a retrial, but there is as yet no indication of when this will begin.

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