TIME Iran

Iran Nuke Talks Stumble a Day After Missing Deadline

For nearly a week, Iran and six powers have been locked in negotiations

(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) — German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says negotiators at the Iran nuclear talks are still facing a “tough struggle,” indicating the talks are not likely to end soon.

At the same time, he’s holding out hope that the sides will be able to negotiate a preliminary accord that will let them embark on a new phase of talks aiming for a final deal by June.

For nearly a week, Iran and six powers have been locked in haggling over what that initial understanding should look like. The talks were extended past the Tuesday deadline in an effort to bridge differences.

Steinmeier said Wednesday that he hopes when the talks end “we won’t just be reporting about closing gaps … but also over agreement about important points.”

TIME Iran

Iran Nuclear Talks Resume After Missing Deadline

Asked how high the chances of success were, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "I cannot say"

(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) — Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program resumed here Wednesday but were almost immediately beset by competing claims, just hours after diplomats abandoned a March 31 deadline to reach the outline of a deal and agreeing to press on. And as the latest round hit the week mark, three of the six foreign ministers involved left the talks with prospects for agreement remaining uncertain.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister told reporters that the lead negotiators would release a joint statement by the end of the day declaring that progress had been made but containing no specifics. A senior western official quickly pushed back, saying that nothing about a statement had been decided and that Iran’s negotiating partners would not accept a document that contained no details. The official was not authorized to speak to the negotiations by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Those comments came shortly after the end of the first post-deadline meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, his British and German counterparts and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif in the Swiss town of Lausanne. They and their teams were continuing a marathon effort to bridge still significant gaps and hammer out a framework accord that would serve as the basis for a final agreement by the end of June.

Eager to avoid a collapse in the discussions, the United States and others claimed late Tuesday that enough progress had been made to warrant an extension after six days of intense bartering. But the foreign ministers of China, France and Russia all departed Lausanne overnight, although the significance of their absence was not clear.

After the talks last broke in the early hours of Wednesday, Zarif said solutions to many of the problems had been found and that documents attesting to that would soon be drafted. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said before leaving that the negotiators had reached agreement in principle on all key issues, and in the coming hours it will be put on paper.

But other officials were more skeptical.

Asked how high the chances of success were, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “I cannot say.” And British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Iran might still not be ready to accept what is on the table.

“I’m optimistic that we will make further progress this morning but it does mean the Iranians being willing to meet us where there are still issues to deal with,” Hammond told British reporters. “Fingers crossed and we’ll hope to get there during the course of the day.”

Although the Chinese, French and Russian ministers left their deputies in charge, Kerry postponed his planned Tuesday departure to stay in Lausanne, and an Iranian negotiator said his team would stay “as long as necessary” to clear the remaining hurdles.

Officials say their intention is to produce a joint statement outlining general political commitments to resolving concerns about Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, and their intention to begin a new phase of negotiations to get to that point. In addition, they are trying to fashion other documents that would lay out in more detail the steps they must take by June 30 to meet those goals.

The additional documents would allow the sides to make the case that the next round of talks will not simply be a continuation of negotiations that have already been twice extended since an interim agreement between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany was concluded in November 2013. President Barack Obama and other leaders, including Iran’s, have said they are not interested in a third extension.

But if the parties agree only to a broad framework that leaves key details unresolved, Obama can expect stiff opposition at home from members of Congress who want to move forward with new, stiffer Iran sanctions. Lawmakers had agreed to hold off on such a measure through March while the parties negotiated. The White House says new sanctions would scuttle further diplomatic efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear work and possibly lead Israel to act on threats to use military force to accomplish that goal.

And despite the progress that diplomats said merited the extension of talks into Wednesday, officials said the differences notably included issues over uranium enrichment, the status of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles, limits on Iran’s nuclear research and development, and the timing and scope of sanctions relief.

The U.S. and its negotiating partners are demanding curbs on Iranian nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons, and they say any agreement must extend the time Tehran would need to produce a weapon from the present several months to at least a year. The Iranians deny such military intentions, but they are negotiating with the aim that a deal will end sanctions on their economy.

 

TIME Photojournalism Links

The 10 Best Photo Essays of the Month

A compilation of the 10 most interesting photo essays published online in March, as curated by Mikko Takkunen

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world, including Matt Black‘s work from Guerrero state in Mexico. Black has documented impoverished indigenous communities in southern Mexico for years. This latest work captures communities affected by rampant crime and poverty, including the disappearance of the 43 students from a school in Iguala. The black-and-white photographs are extraordinary and the accompanying short-film, which includes a moving letter from a mother to his lost son, is definitely worth watching. The reporting was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

Matt Black: Guerrero and the Disappeared (The New Yorker Photo Booth) Watch “The Monster in the Mountains,” a short film based on Black’s work in Guerrero.

Adam Ferguson: The Deadly Global War for Sand (Wired) These stunning photographs document sand mining in India.

Lynsey Addario: India’s Insurgency (National Geographic) Addario’s pictures capture mineral-rich eastern Indian states, plagued by poverty and a continuing Maoist insurgency.

Josh Haner: The Ride of Their Lives (The New York Times) A fantastic year-long project that follows three generations of one rodeo-mad family | More on the Lens blog

Yuri Kozyrev: Cuba (TIME LightBox) TIME contract photographer’s beautiful work from the Cuban capital.

Mathias Depardon: Gold Rivers (TIME LightBox) Construction of the hydroelectric Ilisu Dam in Turkey threatens a cultural treasure.

Lynsey Addario: Afghan Policewomen Struggle Against Culture (The New York Times) A compelling series on Afghani women determined to make a difference.

Newsha Tavakolian: Stress and Hope in Tehran (The New York Times) These excellent portraits paired with insightful quotes give us a peek inside the minds of Iranians.

Eugene Richards: Lincoln (National Geographic) Richards’ photographs trail the assassinated president’s last journey home in 1865 and raise questions about his life and legacy.

Matteo Bastianelli: Young Syrian Refugee’s Journey Through Europe (MSNBC) The Italian photographer has documented a Syrian refugee’s life in Bulgaria and journey to Germany. | More on his agency’s website

TIME Iran

Iran Nuclear Talks Miss Self-Imposed Deadline

The State Department said there were still "several difficult issues" to negotiate

Nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers will miss the negotiators’ self-imposed Tuesday night deadline to produce the outline of an agreement and will be extended by at least a day, the United States said.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said enough progress had been made to warrant an extension, although there still were “several difficult issues” to bridge. Secretary of State John Kerry who had planned to leave the talks on Tuesday will remain until Wednesday, she said.

Diplomats said China’s foreign minister had left the talks to return to Beijing and would be represented by his deputy. U.S. officials said they were prepared to continue to negotiate into Wednesday if it could lead to a framework accord.

An Iranian negotiator, meanwhile, said his team could stay “as long as necessary” to clear the remaining hurdles.

In Washington, White House press secretary Josh Earnest suggested that talks meant to produce an outline that would allow the sides to continue negotiations until the June 30 final deadline had not bridged all gaps. But he said that the sides were working to produce a text with few specifics, accompanied by documents outlining areas where further talks were needed.

“If it’s necessary — and, when I say if it’s necessary I mean if it’s midnight and a deal has not been reached but the conversations continue to be productive — we’ll be prepared to continue the talks into tomorrow,” he told reporters. “If we are making progress toward the finish line, than we should keep going.”

Officials said earlier Tuesday they hoped to wrap up the talks by the deadline with a joint general statement agreeing to start a new phase of negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear program. That statement would be accompanied by more detailed documents that would include technical information on understandings of steps required on all sides to resolve outstanding concerns.

Those documents would allow the sides to claim that the new phase of talks is not simply a continuation of negotiations that have already been twice extended since an interim agreement between Iran and the so-called P5+1 nations — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — was concluded in November 2013.

President Barack Obama and other leaders have said they are not interested in a third extension.

After six-days of intense negotiations in the Swiss town of Lausanne, though, obstacles remained on uranium enrichment, where stockpiles of enriched uranium should be stored, limits on Iran’s nuclear research and development and the timing and scope of sanctions among other issues, according to negotiators.

If the parties agree only to a broad framework that leaves key details unresolved, Obama can expect stiff opposition from members of Congress who want to move forward with newIran sanctions legislation. Lawmakers had agreed to hold off on such a measure through March while the parties negotiated.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu renewed his severe criticism of the unfolding deal, saying it would leave intact much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including underground research facilities, a plutonium reactor and advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium.

The U.S. says any final deal will stretch the time Iran would need to make a nuclear weapon from several months to a year. But Netanyahu said Washington initially promised “years” to a breakout time.

“In our estimate, it will be reduced to perhaps a year, most likely much less than that,” he said.

The softening of the language from a framework “agreement” to a framework “understanding” appeared due in part to opposition to a two-stage agreement from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Earlier this year, he demanded only one deal that nails down specifics and does not permit the other side to “make things difficult” by giving it wiggle room on interpretations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who had left Lausanne on Monday, returned to the talks on Tuesday, saying that he believed prospects for an agreement were “good.”

Kerry and others, including Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have said the sides have made some progress. Other officials have said Iran is 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.

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.

Uranium enrichment has been the chief concern for more than a decade. But Western officials say the main obstacles to a deal are no longer enrichment-related.

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

Iranians Await Outcome of Nuclear Talks With Nervous Anticipation

News of the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland are dominating the Iranian New Year holiday

As the talks in Lausanne between the international community and Iran over its nuclear program enter their final day, millions of Iranians await with bated breath the outcome to the long running dispute between their country and much of the rest of the world. After 12 years of negotiations, four U.N. Security Council resolutions and unprecedented international sanctions, Iranians feel that a peaceful resolution is at last within grasp, opening up the country to economic progress, and their lives to the promise of normal interaction with the world.

Iran is celebrating the Norouz holiday that marks the beginning of the Persian New Year, a time of the year when Iranians traditionally visit family and friends, but this year all of these visits have been dominated by the nuclear talks in Lausanne. “I’ve travelled to Kermanshah to visit family for Norouz, but in every house we’ve been until today everyone is watching either BBC or other satellite news channels all day long to see what’s happening at the talks, they even stay up far into the night to make sure they hear about an agreement if it happens in the midnight like the Geneva deal,” says Kianoosh Pedroud, a 30-year old civil engineer who has a construction company in Tehran. “They all hope, just as I do, that if there’s a deal and sanctions are lifted there will be much more investment in the country and the economy will bounce back. I know my company needs to get more contracts this year to survive,” Pedroud says, adding that only if he can make his business successful he can at last start a family.

Even though newspapers are not being published due to holidays, Iranian media, from the state run TV to news agencies and websites are reporting on the talks almost non-stop, and Iranians on social media from twitter and Facebook to Viber and other smartphone apps are in a constant discussion on the negotiations, posting the latest developments to each other as soon as they occur. “It’s almost impossible to escape the nuclear talks, everyone we visit or meet seems to be speaking about it all the time,” says Saeed Keshvardoost, a steel merchant in Tehran’s bazaar who has high hopes that if the sanctions are lifted his sales will increase significantly.

Anticipation of a deal has been building since the new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013 but if the two sides fail to reach an agreement it could cause widespread disillusionment in Iran, “Everyone is waiting for something to happen, and God knows we need it, these last years have been a disaster, everything has gone from bad to worse, if a deal happens at least things will start to get better again though it might take some years,” says Keshvardoost, “but if it doesn’t I think people will lose hope, they will be left bewildered about what will happen next.”

TIME Iran

Iran Nuke Talks To Continue in New Phase To Reach Deal by July

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stands after arriving for a meeting with air force commanders and officers in Tehran on Feb. 8, 2015.
Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stands after arriving for a meeting with air force commanders and officers in Tehran on Feb. 8, 2015.

The deadline for the talks has already been extended twice

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Wrapping up six days of marathon nuclear talks with mixed results, Iran and six world powers prepared Tuesday to issue a general statement agreeing to continue negotiations in a new phase aimed at reaching a comprehensive accord by the end of June, officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The joint statement is to be accompanied by additional documents that outline more detailed understandings, allowing the sides to claim enough progress has been made thus far to merit a new round, the officials said.

The talks have already been extended twice as part of more than a decade of diplomatic attempts to curb Tehran’s nuclear advance, and the next stage will be presented as a new phase, because most of the parties had ruled out another prolongation of this round.

One of the officials said the statement was general in part because differences between the sides remained ahead of a new phase of negotiations toward a comprehensive deal by late June. The second official said other documents will be more technical in nature and will also be made public later in the day.

Both demanded anonymity because they are not authorized to comment on the talks.

American officials earlier had said the sides were aiming for a framework agreement by the end of March but then revised the language, speaking of an “understanding.”

That appeared due in part to opposition to a two-stage agreement from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Earlier this year, he demanded only one deal that nails down specifics and does not permit the other side to “make things difficult” by giving it wiggle room on interpretations.

The documents were being finalized among the six countries negotiating with Iran, and the Iranian side had not yet signed off on them, said the first official.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who left Lausanne Monday, was heading back to the Swiss city, also indicating that an end to the talks was near. He departed on Monday but said he would return if a deal was imminent.

In Moscow, he told reporters: “Prospects for this round of negotiations were not bad, and I would even say good.”

Foreign ministers of five nations at the table already joined U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the talks over the weekend 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.

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.

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 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 Opinion

Who Are the Nuclear Scofflaws?

atomic bomb
US Army / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Photos recorded by U.S. Army automatic motion picture camera six miles distant when an atomic bomb was exploded at Alamo-Gordo in 1945

Surprise: The US is on the list. So is Russia. But Iran? Nope

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Given all the frothing by hawkish U.S. Senators about Iran’s possible development of nuclear weapons, one might think that Iran was violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

But it’s not. The NPT, signed by 190 nations and in effect since 1970, is a treaty in which the non-nuclear nations agreed to forgo developing nuclear weapons and the nuclear nations agreed to divest themselves of their nuclear weapons. It also granted nations the right to develop peaceful nuclear power. The current negotiations in which Iran is engaged with other nations are merely designed to guarantee that Iran, which signed the NPT, does not cross the line from developing nuclear power to developing nuclear weapons.

Nine nations, however, have flouted the NPT by either developing nuclear weapons since the treaty went into effect or failing to honor the commitment to disarm. These nine scofflaws and their nuclear arsenals are Russia (7,500 nuclear warheads), the United States (7,100 nuclear warheads), France (300 nuclear warheads), China (250 nuclear warheads), Britain (215 nuclear warheads), Pakistan (100-120 nuclear warheads), India (90-110 nuclear warheads), Israel (80 nuclear warheads), and North Korea (10 nuclear warheads).

Nor are the nuclear powers likely to be in compliance with the NPT any time soon. The Indian and Pakistani governments are engaged in a rapid nuclear weapons buildup, while the British government is contemplating the development of a new, more advanced nuclear weapons system. Although, in recent decades, the U.S. and Russian governments did reduce their nuclear arsenals substantially, that process has come to a halt in recent years, as relations have soured between the two nations. Indeed, both countries are currently engaged in a new, extremely dangerous nuclear arms race. The U.S. government has committed itself to spending $1 trillion to “modernize” its nuclear facilities and build new nuclear weapons. For its part, the Russian government is investing heavily in the upgrading of its nuclear warheads and the development of new delivery systems, such as nuclear missiles and nuclear submarines.

What can be done about this flouting of the NPT, some 45 years after it went into operation?

That will almost certainly be a major issue at an NPT Review Conference that will convene at the UN headquarters, in New York City, from April 27 to May 22. These review conferences, held every five years, attract high-level national officials from around the world to discuss the treaty’s implementation. For a very brief time, the review conferences even draw the attention of television and other news commentators before the mass communications media return to their preoccupation with scandals, arrests, and the lives of movie stars.

This spring’s NPT review conference might be particularly lively, given the heightening frustration of the non-nuclear powers at the failure of the nuclear powers to fulfill their NPT commitments. At recent disarmament conferences in Norway, Mexico and Austria, the representatives of a large number of non-nuclear nations, ignoring the opposition of the nuclear powers, focused on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. One rising demand among restless non-nuclear nations and among nuclear disarmament groups is to develop a nuclear weapons ban treaty, whether or not the nuclear powers are willing to participate in negotiations.

To heighten the pressure for the abolition of nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament groups are staging a Peace and Planet mobilization, in Manhattan, on the eve of the NPT review conference. Calling for a “Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just, and Sustainable World,” the mobilization involves an international conference (comprised of plenaries and workshops) on April 24 and 25, plus a culminating interfaith convocation, rally, march, and festival on April 26. Among the hundreds of endorsing organizations are many devoted to peace (Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi, Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Veterans for Peace, and Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom), environmentalism (Earth Action, Friends of the Earth, and 350NYC), religion (Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Unitarian Universalist UN Office, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist General Board of Church & Society), workers’ rights (New Jersey Industrial Union Council, United Electrical Workers, and Working Families Party), and human welfare (American Friends Service Committee and National Association of Social Workers).

Of course, how much effect the proponents of a nuclear weapons-free world will have on the cynical officials of the nuclear powers remains to be seen. After as many as 45 years of stalling on their own nuclear disarmament, it is hard to imagine that they are finally ready to begin negotiating a treaty effectively banning nuclear weapons―or at least their nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, let us encourage Iran not to follow the bad example set by the nuclear powers. And let us ask the nuclear-armed nations, now telling Iran that it should forgo the possession of nuclear weapons, when they are going to start practicing what they preach.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. He is the author of “Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement” (Stanford University Press).

TIME Yemen

Arab League Unveils Joint Military Force Amid Yemen Crisis

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, left, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri at an Arab summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai, Egypt, March 29, 2015
Ahmed Abdel Fatah—AP Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, left, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri at an Arab summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on March 29, 2015

A joint Arab intervention force has been formed to respond to Yemen's Houthi insurgency

(SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt) — A two-day Arab summit ended Sunday with a vow to defeat Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen and the formal unveiling of plans to form a joint Arab intervention force, setting the stage for a potentially dangerous clash between U.S.-allied Arab states and Tehran over influence in the region.

Arab leaders taking turns to address the gathering spoke repeatedly of the threat posed to the region’s Arab identity by what they called moves by “foreign” or “outside parties” to stoke sectarian, ethnic or religious rivalries in Arab states — all thinly-veiled references to Iran, which has in recent years consolidated its hold in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and now Yemen.

The summit’s final communique made similarly vague references, but the Arab League chief, Nabil Elaraby, was unequivocal during a news conference later, singling out Iran for what he said was its intervention “in many nations.”

A summit resolution said the newly unveiled joint Arab defense force would be deployed at the request of any Arab nation facing a national security threat and that it would also be used to combat terrorist groups.

The agreement came as U.S. and other Western diplomats were pushing to meet a Tuesday deadline to reach a deal with Iran that would restrict its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The Saudis and their allies in the Gulf fear that a nuclear deal between Washington and Tehran will free Iran’s hands to bolster its influence in places like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority. They believe the air campaign in Yemen and a joint Arab force would empower them to stand up to what they see as Iran’s bullying. The United States has sought to offer reassurances that a nuclear deal does not mean that Washington will abandon them, but they remain skeptical.

The Houthis swept down from their northern strongholds last year and captured Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September. Embattled Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a close U.S. ally against a powerful local al-Qaida affiliate, first fled to the southern city of Aden before fleeing the country last week as the rebels closed in.

Speaking at the summit on Saturday, Hadi accused Iran of being behind the Houthi offensive, raising the specter of a regional conflict. Iran and the Houthis deny that Tehran arms the rebel movement, though both acknowledge the Islamic Republic is providing humanitarian and other aid.

On Sunday, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Adel al-Jubeir, said the Lebanese Hezbollah militia was also supporting the Houthis. The Saudi-led campaign, he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” is to protect Yemen’s “legitimate government from a group that is allied and supported by Iran and Hezbollah.”

A Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen on Thursday, saying it was targeting the Houthis and their allies, which include forces loyal to Yemen’s former leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemeni military officials have said the campaign could pave the way for a possible ground invasion, a development that Egyptian military officials say would likely commence after the airstrikes significantly diminish the military capabilities of the Houthis and their allies.

Yemen’s foreign minister, Riad Yassin, said the air campaign, code-named Operation Decisive Storm, had prevented the rebels from using the weaponry they seized to attack Yemeni cities or to target neighboring Saudi Arabia with missiles. It also stopped Iran’s supply line to the rebels, he told a news conference Sunday.

Military experts will decide when and if a ground operation is needed, Yassin said. “This is a comprehensive operation and (any ground offensive) will depend on the calculations of the military,” he said.

Iran has condemned the airstrikes against its Yemeni allies but so far has not responded with military action, though diplomatic and military officials said Iranian retaliation could not be ruled out.

“Iran for the first time in a very long time is basically seeing a counterattack. The Iranians were not expecting that Gulf monarchies, like Saudi Arabia, would be so bold as to confront this head on,” one Gulf official said.

The Saudi-led airstrikes “tore to pieces their game plan with regard to the Houthis, and they are not going to accept that,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

At the summit’s closing session, Elaraby said the Saudi-led air campaign would continue until all Houthi militias “withdraw and surrender their weapons,” and a strong unified Yemen returns.

“Yemen was on the brink of the abyss, requiring effective Arab and international moves after all means of reaching a peaceful resolution had been exhausted to end the Houthi coup and restore legitimacy,” Elaraby said, reading from the final communique.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said the leaders from 22 nations also agreed to create a joint Arab military force whose structure and operational mechanism will be worked out by a high-level panel under the supervision of Arab chiefs of staff.

Elaraby said the chiefs of staff would meet within a month and would have an additional three months to work out the details before presenting their proposal to a meeting of the Arab League’s Joint Defense Council. Preparations for the force will be under the auspices of Kuwait, Egypt and Morocco — the former, present and next chairs of the Arab League.

“It is an important resolution given all the unprecedented unrest and threats endured by the Arab world,” Elaraby said.

“There is a political will to create this force and not to leave its creation without a firm time frame,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told a news conference.

The Egyptian military and security officials have said the proposed force would consist of up to 40,000 elite troops backed by jet fighters, warships and light armor and would be headquartered in either Cairo or Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

However, it is unlikely that all 22 member nations of the often-fractious Arab League will join the proposed force. Creation of such a force has been a longtime goal that has eluded Arab nations in the 65 years since they signed a rarely used joint defense agreement.

Iraq, whose Shiite government is closely allied with non-Arab and Shiite Iran, has said more time is needed to discuss the proposed force.

Now in its fourth day, the Saudi-led air campaign has pushed Houthi rebels out of contested air bases, Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed bin Hasan Asiri told reporters. Airstrikes hit Houthi targets throughout Sunday, including air defenses, ammunition depots, and heavy weapons and vehicles the rebels had taken from government forces.

“The coalition operations in the coming days will increase pressure on the Houthi militias by targeting them. Whether it’s individual or group movement, there will no longer be any safe place in Yemen for the Houthi militias,” he told a news conference in Riyadh.

On Saturday, he said the strikes had targeted Scud missiles in Yemen, leaving most of their launching pads “devastated,” though he warned that the rebels could have more missiles.

Meanwhile, Pakistan dispatched a plane Sunday to the Yemeni city of Hodeida, to try to evacuate some 500 citizens gathered there, said Shujaat Azim, an adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister. Azim told state-run Pakistan Television more flights would follow as those controlling Yemen’s airports allowed them. Pakistan says some 3,000 of its citizens live in Yemen.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj also tweeted Sunday: “We are doing everything to evacuate our people from Yemen at the earliest by all routes — land, sea and air.”

 

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)

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