Wednesday, Jun 22, 2022

Why Biden Refuses to Let the Iran Nuclear Deal Die

Everybody in the diplomatic community knows that any hope that President Joe Biden might have had upon taking office for reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal effectively died some time ago, when Iran openly began mass production of highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon, defying the basic purpose of the deal.

Last January, at about the time Biden was taking office, Iran announced it was violating the terms of the deal it negotiated with the Obama administration by producing uranium at 20% purity of U-235, far more than the 3.5% maximum permitted under the nuclear deal. Last August, Iran confirmed a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN agency monitoring compliance with the deal, that it had taken the next step by producing enriched uranium at 60% purity, already concentrated enough to serve as the fuel for a nuclear weapon.

Finally, on April 11, respected nuclear weapons experts David Albright and Sarah Burkhard of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security reported that Iran already had enough 60% enriched uranium already on hand to put together a Hiroshima-type atomic bomb any time it wants to.

If the Albright-Burkhard report is correct — and nobody has seriously challenged it so far — there is no longer any point to the continuing international effort by the Biden administration and its European allies to revive the 2015 Iran deal, because Iran has already defeated its purpose by gaining the ability to produce its own nuclear weapons.

Yet headlines still appear regularly in the international media quoting senior US, European, and Iranian officials commenting on continuing negotiations over the conditions each side is demanding from the others to revive the nuclear deal, as if it would make any difference at this point. This misleading narrative is also based on the dubious assumption that Iran would voluntarily give up the nuclear weapons capability that it has sought for so long, and for which it has already paid such a great price.

But before we try to analyze why all the parties to the Iran deal, as well as the Israelis, are pretending that the 2015 agreement is not already dead and irrelevant, let us look at the false narrative being promoted to conceal the dirty little secret now in plain sight: Iran has already become a nuclear power.

THE ROLE OF THE UN’S IAEA MONITORS

According to media reports, negotiations are still being pursued between the government in Tehran, the US, and its European allies, who all signed the original 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This comes ahead of the June 6 meeting of the IAEA board of governors, at which time a temporary deal signed in March permitting the IAEA to continue its limited monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program is set to expire.

Back in June 2020, several months before Iran confirmed it was ignoring the limits in the JCPOA on uranium enrichment, the IAEA board of governors formally condemned Iran for the violations of the JCPOA its monitors had detected, as well as some of the information that the Mossad had stolen from Iran’s secret nuclear archives in 2018 and then made public. The threat by the IAEA to formally report those violations to the UN Security Council did succeed at the time in forcing Iran to back down from some of its violations of the JCPOA.

Back in 2020, going to the Security Council was still a significant threat, because there were still limits to the amount of diplomatic protection Russia and China were willing to give Iran, for fear of offending the US and its European allies. However, that was two years ago. Today, with an open war raging between Russia and the NATO-supported Ukrainian government and a more belligerent China isolated internationally as Russia’s ally, there is no longer any real likelihood that the UN would take meaningful action against Iran based upon an IAEA complaint, no matter how serious, because Russia and China would certainly veto it.

Nevertheless, it serves the purpose of all sides to pretend that the threat, however slight, of Security Council action against Iran is real enough to force the powers-that-be in Tehran to agree to consider at least partial reinstatement of the now obsolete JCPOA restrictions on its nuclear program. In return, Iran would be rewarded by the lifting of the economic and oil export sanctions that President Trump had reinstated before he left office.

ANOTHER JOE BIDEN FAILURE

The revival of the 2015 nuclear deal was a major goal for Joe Biden, both as a presidential candidate and after he entered the White House. The deal was considered to be the top foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama-Biden administration, and Trump’s decision to abandon that deal and implement a “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions on Iran was condemned by Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign as a major blunder.

However, even if Biden had succeeded in restoring the basic framework of the 2015 nuclear deal, with some significant compromises, it would still fall far short of his original promise as a presidential candidate to get Iran to agree to extend the duration of the limits on its nuclear program. Biden also wanted to expand the scope of the agreement to include restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile and other weapons programs, and to convince Iran to halt its support for terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and armed rebellions against other nations in the region.

IRANIANS REFUSED TO EXPAND THE DEAL

However, the Iranians made it clear from the outset of the negotiations in Vienna, which began in April 2021 and were conducted indirectly with the US through the European signatories, that they were unwilling to extend the scope of the deal beyond their nuclear program. The Biden administration also proved to be a tougher in negotiations with Iran than Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry had been, and refused to agree to many of Iran’s demands for concessions both within and outside the scope of the original nuclear deal.

The only major concession which Biden’s negotiators agreed to was a demand by the Iranians that they be allowed to keep hundreds of more advanced centrifuges for enriched uranium, which they began using after Trump abandoned the original deal in 2018. The new centrifuges are far more efficient than the ones they replaced, and, if left in place, they would shorten the amount of time the Iranians would need to generate enough enriched uranium to build a bomb.

The Americans agreed to allow Iran to put the new centrifuges in storage until after the restrictions on them in the original deal had ended, instead of requiring them to be destroyed.

There was very little movement in the negotiations by either side, so the Vienna talks dragged on for almost a year, until this past March, when a draft agreement on renewing the JCPOA finally appeared ready for signature.

NEW DEMANDS FROM RUSSIA AND IRAN

But at that point, two unexpected glitches arose, which halted the momentum of the negotiations toward what appeared to be their imminent conclusion. The first was a demand by Russia, which had just launched its invasion of Ukraine, that under the renewed JCPOA agreement, all Russian dealings with Iran — including trade, investment, and military ties — be exempted from the sanctions which the US and the European countries had just imposed on Russia in punishment for the invasion,

The demand was a reminder that Russia under Putin had played a key role as a mediator between the US and Iran during the original negotiations leading up to the signing of the original deal in 2015, and keeping the deal alive after Trump walked away from it in 2018. Russia also served as a consistent advocate for Iran and its right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program, in which Russia had played a major supportive role, and Putin was harshly critical of Trump for imposing new sanctions on Iran.

It was also a reminder that because all the members of the P5+1 group of nations negotiating with Iran had to be in agreement, Putin did have the power to veto the deal to revive the JCPOA unless the US was willing to let him to give Russia some way around the Ukraine-inspired sanctions. Secretary of State Antony Blinken initially rejected the Russian attempt to make some form of Ukraine sanctions relief in return for lifting its veto of a renewed Iran deal as “irrelevant,” because those Ukraine sanctions had “nothing to do with the Iran nuclear deal.” But the Russians apparently did soon get the sanctions assurances they wanted from the US, and quietly dropped their objections.

However, the second last-minute demand raised by Iran, which blocked the deal on the table to renew the JCPOA in March, has proven to be more problematic to resolve. The Tehran government insisted that the Biden administration remove the Quds Force, the elite foreign operations unit of the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), from the State Department’s official list of banned foreign terrorist organizations (FTO).

SEEKING TO LEGTIMIZE IRANIAN TERRORISM

The demand highlights Iran’s role as the chief subversive force in the Middle East today, threatening Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies with attacks by Shiite terrorist organizations throughout the region, openly supported by Iran and implemented on the ground by the elite soldiers of the IRGC’s Quds force.

The Quds Force has served for decades as the tip of the spear in Iran’s efforts to subvert American, Israeli, and Western influence in the Middle East; spread the radical Shiite Islamic beliefs of Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 Iranian revolution; and impose an Iranian hegemony over the region. The Quds Force provides ideological, financial, and material support, as well as training, for proxy militias extending Iran’s spheres of influence to include Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, areas of the Sinai desert in Egypt, and Gaza.

Major General Qassem Soleimani served as the charismatic leader of the Quds Force, commanding the Shiite forces who enabled President Bashar Assad to defeat the rebels in the Syrian Civil War. Soleimani was also the chief strategist advising Shiite militias throughout the region until he was assassinated during a US missile strike while leaving the Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020.

When Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced in 2019 that the IRGC would become the first part of another government to be listed as a terrorist organization, he explained, “We’re doing [this] because the Iranian regime’s use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft makes it fundamentally different from any other government. This historic step will deprive the world’s leading state sponsor of terror the financial means to spread misery and death around the world.”

The IRGC also controls key sectors of Iran’s business economy and defense industries impacted by the Trump-imposed sanctions.

Secretary of State Blinken recently acknowledged that the blacklisting the IRGC by labeling it a terrorist organization “does not really gain you much, because there are [already] myriad other sanctions on the IRGC.” Mainly, the “terrorism” label imposes a travel ban on Guard members, but as Blinken also noted, “the people who are the real bad guys have no intention of travelling here, anyway.”

Mostly, the terrorist label is a blow to the IRGC’s prestige, and a black mark against the international legitimacy of the Islamic-dominated Iranian regime.

OBAMA’S NAIVE HOPE

When the Obama administration signed the 2015 deal, it naively hoped to convince Iran’s leadership to abandon the kind of military adventurism and state-sponsored support for Islamic terrorism that the Quds Force had come to represent. Instead, Iran’s leaders used some of the financial resources gained through the nuclear deal to step up their support for terrorism and redouble their efforts to impose their radical Shiite Islamic beliefs on the region.

In that sense, the continued subversive efforts of the Quds Force came to symbolize the stark failure of the 2015 deal to exert the moderating influence on Iran’s aggressive policies that Obama and his foreign policy team had hoped for.

To its credit, the Biden administration has recognized that Iran’s continued support for the terrorism and radicalism that the Quds Force epitomizes is unacceptable, and rejected Iran’s demands that it be legitimized by removing it from the list of terrorist organizations. In April, when asked about delisting the Quds Force at a State Department press briefing, spokesman Ned Price said, “If Iran wants sanctions lifting that goes beyond the JCPOA, they’ll need to address concerns of ours that go beyond the JCPOA. They will need to negotiate those issues in good faith with reciprocity.”

THE SENATE SENDS BIDEN A WARNING ON THE IRGC

Many Democrat members of the House and Senate, including some who considered themselves to be friends of Israel, initially supported the 2015 deal as the best opportunity at the time to halt Iran’s nuclear program and blunt its threat to the peace of the region without having to resort to military force. But now it is apparent, with 20-20 hindsight, that they were wrong on both counts.

On May 4, many of them expressed their remorse for that mistake by passing a non-binding Senate motion by 62-33, demanding that any deal reached with Iran to restore the JCPOA also reign in Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism and proxy wars throughout the region. Most significantly, 16 Senate Democrats joined 46 Republican Senators in sending a clear message to the Biden administration that they were demanding more from any new deal with Iran than the restoration of the status quo established by the inadequate 2015 nuclear deal.

Any revision of the terms of the 2015 deal will require some form of congressional approval short of the 2/3 Senate majority required by the US Constitution to ratify a treaty. After the 2015 deal with Iran was signed, the Obama administration engaged in a bitter public fight over its approval with then-Israeli Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu and most Republicans in the House and Senate, who correctly believed that it would destabilize the region while ultimately failing to protect Israel from an Iranian nuclear threat.

At that time, only four Senate Democrats stood up against the Obama administration and sided with Netanyahu in opposition to JCPOA. They were New York’s Chuck Schumer, New Jersey’s Bob Menendez, Maryland’s Joe Cardin, and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. Menendez was absent for last month’s vote, but the other three Democrats did repeat their 2015 votes in opposition to the JCPOA, and were joined by Senate Democrats and Independents Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Chris Coons, Catherine Cortez Masto, Kirsten Gillibrand, Maggie Hassan, Mark Kelly, Angus King, Gary Peters, Jacky Rosen, Kyrsten Sinema, Jon Tester, and Ron Wyden.

Biden administration officials initially suggested that the Democrat senators were merely posturing to impress voters in their home states that they could be tough on Iran, and that they would come around on the next vote, which would be binding in determining whether the US would rejoin the JCPOA. However, given the fact that some of those Democrats — including Catherine Cortez Masto, Maggie Hassan, and Mark Kelly — are facing tough Republican challenges to their reelection in the November midterms, it seems unlikely they would risk seeming to back down in the face of pressure from the Biden White House, which is deeply unpopular with their voters.

For the time being, White House officials say they have no intention of delisting the IRGC from the terrorist list without some other concession from the Iranians which would permit the JCPOA to be restored. As one unnamed senior administration official told Reuters, “If they’re not prepared to drop extraneous demands, continue to insist on lifting the FTO, and refuse to address our concerns that go beyond the JCPOA then, yes, we’re going to reach an impasse that is probably not going to be surmountable.”

When asked what that meant to the ultimate chances of reviving the original Iran nuclear deal, the administration official responded, pessimistically, by asking rhetorically, “Is it dead? We don’t know yet, and frankly, we don’t think Iran knows either.”

WHY DOES IRAN CARE ABOUT THE US TERROR LISTING?

Iranian officials have been vague in response to questions about why their government seems to be more sensitive to the largely symbolic US sanctions on the IRGC than on its highly lucrative oil exports.

One Iranian security official said simply, “That is our red line and we will not cave on that.”

But an unnamed senior Iranian diplomat told Reuters it was an attempt by Iran’s current president, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, to show that he could get better results than his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, who sought to win concessions from the US by being more agreeable to its requests. “Mostly, it is a matter of dignity for the establishment and Iran’s negotiators,” the diplomat said.

Another former senior Iranian official offered a slightly more politically nuanced explanation. “The new [Raisi] team from the beginning insisted on the FTO issue and sees it as a major achievement if those sanctions are lifted. That is mainly for domestic use, because they [previously] criticized Rouhani’s 2015 deal and cannot [now] just revive it.”

Yet another Iranian diplomat said the current Iranian government had also rejected the suggestion of a compromise under which it would agree to allow the Quds Fore alone to remain on the US terrorist organization list, as long as the US agreed to drop the terrorist designation from the rest of the IRGC organization.

The White House also understands that if it agrees to lift the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization, Democrat candidates will be forced by their Republican challengers in this fall’s midterm elections to explain why their party is soft on terrorism.

Congressman Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, set the tone of the GOP stance on the issue by calling the IRGC “a killing machine” that threatens Americans. He also warned that if the White House were to give in to Iran by dropping the IRGC terrorist listing, many Democrats would not go along with it. “That’s going to split the Democratic party in half on this, if not more,” McCaul predicted.

WHY WON’T BOTH SIDES GIVE UP AND WALK AWAY?

Since both the US and the Iranians seem to have their own reasons for digging in on their positions on the IRGC issue, it would appear that the chances of reviving the JCPOA in time for the June 6 meeting of the IAEA board of governors is extremely remote — yet neither side is willing to talk openly about just giving up on it and just walking away.

As one Western diplomat put it to a Reuters reporter, “I don’t think anybody wants to say enough is enough. Does this [negotiating process] go on indefinitely with neither side conceding that it’s over? … Probably.”

The reason for both sides being so unwilling to admit that the JCPOA is now dead is the same reason behind the steadfast refusal of the Biden White House to admit to this day that a so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will never be achieved — the absence of a viable “Plan B” to manage the problem. In the case of the “two-state solution,” there actually is a viable “Plan B”: the successful regional “Abraham Accords” approach pioneered by former Prime Minister Netanyahu and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. But that is totally unacceptable to the Biden administration, simply because it is so closely associated with Trump.

IRAN IS NOW PART OF THE NUCLEAR CLUB

Unfortunately, no such alternative approach is currently visible to deal with the unfortunate reality that Iran has now achieved its nuclear objective and likely has one or more completed or nearly completed atomic bombs hidden somewhere, which it could use at any time.

The conclusion that Iran is already a member of the “nuclear weapons club” is clearly implied by public statements made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken over the past year as the negotiations have proceeded sporadically in Vienna. Last July, a month after the latest round of talks in Vienna Iran broke off with several major issues still unresolved, Blinken told reporters in Kuwait, “We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program. The ball remains in Iran’s court.”

Six months later, in January of this year, Blinken, speaking at the State Department in Washington, said, “[Iran] is getting to the point where its breakout time, the time it would take to produce fissile material for a bomb, is getting down to a matter of a few weeks. I think that [the reinstatement of the JCPOA] will be decided in the next few weeks, because again, given what Iran is doing, we can’t allow this to go on.”

That was four months ago. Since then, Iran has continued work to reduce, or, by this point, entirely eliminate its breakout time, as the Vienna talks still go nowhere. The conclusion is obvious. It is too late to close the nuclear barn door, because the horses have already escaped.

ISRAEL’S NEW DEFENSE PROBLEM

The growing likelihood that Iran does now have nuclear weapons is a particular problem for Israel, whose military had long been laying plans to attack and destroy key elements of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure before it had obtained any usable nuclear weapons. If it is now too late to prevent that, Israel now faces a whole new set of defense challenges.

Over the past decade, the IDF, in cooperation with the United States, has developed highly effective missile defense systems designed specifically to counter the Iranian missile threat, ranging from the now famous Iron Dome system which have largely neutralized Hamas and Hezbollah short- and medium-range missiles, to the more sophisticated David’s Sling and Arrow systems, still under development, and designed to intercept and destroy Iran’s longer range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

While it is unlikely that Iran has yet succeeded in developing a nuclear weapon small enough to fit into one of its ballistic missile warheads, there is nothing to prevent Iran from loading one of the larger and cruder nuclear weapons it probably does now have onto a small boat and sailing it into an Israeli harbor, or planting it, with the help of Hezbollah, somewhere along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon and Syria. Israel’s retaliation would be devastating, but the ayatollahs who control Iran and are committed theologically to Israel’s destruction might not care and go ahead with such a suicidal nuclear attack anyway.

PURSUING A POLICY OF CONTAINMENT INSTEAD OF PREVENTION

That is probably why Israel, in recent years, has changed its tactics in response to the Iranian threat. It is emphasizing containment, instead of preparations for a high-risk preemptive first strike on Iran’s heavily defended nuclear facilities. Israel’s military has stepped up its now more public efforts to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence along Israel’s northern border, while continuing to contain the recurring Palestinian terrorist threat from Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Israel has also worked out a deconfliction arrangement with Putin to avoid direct Israeli-Russian clashes in the airspace over Syria during Israeli attacks on Iranian targets. Israel’s strategic need for continued military cooperation with Russia is one of the reasons it has largely remained cautiously neutral and refused to join in the US-led international condemnation of Putin for the invasion of Ukraine.

The Biden administration also has more limited practical alternatives today to the reinstatement of the JCPOA than Obama did at the start of his presidency, when he began his naive outreach effort to Iran’s radical Islamic leaders. At that time, Iran was already under UN Security Council sanctions due to its rogue nuclear program, and the Security Council was willing to step up those sanctions as a preferable alternative to any effort to halt Iran’s nuclear program through the use of military force.

Russia and China were also willing at that time to cooperate with the US sanctions curbing Iranian oil exports. In addition, Russia and OPEC were willing to step up production, along with domestic US oil producers, to replace the lost Iranian exports in the international oil market without increasing the price of oil.

BIDEN POLICIES HAVE CREATED A MORE DIFFICULT REALITY

None of that is true today. Since his decision to invade Ukraine, Putin has turned himself into a diplomatic pariah, and is no longer viewed as an acceptable participant in the international effort to keep Iran’s threat contained by restoring the JCPOA. China under President Xi Jinping is Putin’s most important remaining ally, the chief buyer of illicit Iranian oil, and a growing military threat to its pro-Western neighbors along the Asian-Pacific rim. It is not far behind Russia at this point as more of a threat to world peace and the international diplomatic order than a reliable partner.

Even though the Trump oil export sanctions on Iran are still in place, Biden’s policy war on US domestic fossil fuel production has effectively neutralized their impact on the Iranian economy by doubling the international market price for oil since he took office. Most of the oil that Iran exports today is sold to China, which never honored the Trump sanctions. China has also been recently suffering from its own share of largely Covid-related supply chain problems, including a nationwide electrical energy shortage.

As a result, Iran exported an average of 870,000 barrels per day in the first quarter of 2022, according to international oil market tracker Kpler, up from 668,000 barrel per day in the fourth quarter of 2021. The more current figure represents about half the volume of oil Iran shipped before Trump reimposed sanctions in 2018 — but since the market price of oil at that time was less than half what it is today, Iran is making more money today from its current exports, despite the fact that the Trump sanctions have not yet been lifted.

This helps to explain why Iran’s leaders no longer seem to be in a hurry to get those remaining sanctions lifted, and have deliberately blocked the reinstatement of the JCPOA by raising the extraneous demand that the US lift the listing of the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

According to a Jerusalem Post analysis earlier this month, Iran raised the IRGC issue to stall for more time to pursue its clandestine nuclear activities before agreeing to let the JCPOA go back into force, or perhaps because Iran’s leaders no longer believe that they need such a deal at all.

WHY IRAN’S LEADERS MAY NOT WANT A DEAL ANYMORE

It is clear that in January 2021, when Biden took office, the Iranian leadership had wanted to lift the Trump sanctions by reestablishing the JCPOA on its own terms from a new American president who shared the same worldview as Barack Obama. They believed Iran would also need more Western investment to recover from the damage caused by the sanctions, as well as a better relationship with the Democrat president for the next four and possibly eight years.

But the world no longer looks the same to Iran’s leaders today. President Biden has proven to be weak leader with muddled policies who has lost the support of the American people and is highly unlikely to remain in power for a second term. Biden is currently preoccupied with the war in Ukraine and the growing challenge from China, as well as inflation and other domestic problems, and would prefer to allow Iran’s murky nuclear status to continue unresolved so that he can turn his attention elsewhere.

The skyrocketing price it is now fetching for crude oil from China has also led Iran’s leaders to believe that they might not need that much Western help to rebuild their economy. Their current surplus oil producing capacity in an era of worldwide shortages can also be used as leverage in negotiations with the West to achieve its other goals, such as the relegitimization of the IRGC.

For reasons of their own, all the powers directly involved have no interest in stirring up the Iranian nuclear issue right now. This includes the US and its NATO allies, who currently have their hands full handling the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In particular, the Biden administration has more on its troubled policy plate than it can comfortably handle as midterm elections approach. Biden has yet to recover the damage to his foreign policy reputation from the Afghan withdrawal fiasco last summer. The last thing he wants at this point is to be forced to admit that his widely promoted effort to restore the JCPOA has also failed, and that Iran has finally achieved nuclear weapons capability on his watch.

MUCH ADO OVER EMPTY WORDS

This explains why the latest dispute over prospects for a compromise that would unblock the stalled Vienna talks was generated by the Iranian foreign ministry over an alleged mistranslation of a news report. It angrily accused the Al Jazeera news agency, based in Qatar, of issuing a false report based upon an erroneous translation from Arabic into English, resulting in a claim that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had told Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, that he was willing to compromise with the US when they met in Tehran earlier this month.

Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, had also been quoted by the German newspaper Handelsblatt as saying that the “Iranian leadership” had expressed readiness for compromise concerning “the Iranian nuclear file.”

Following up on that quote, a spokesman for Qatar’s foreign affairs ministry said that his government was “very optimistic” about progress in the nuclear talks to achieve “peace and stability in the Gulf region. We hope an agreement that satisfies all parties and guarantees Iran’s right to peaceful use of nuclear energy will be reached as soon as possible.”

But Iran was angered by the implication of the Qatari officials that Iran was compromising on its demands for concessions from the United States. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh pushed back by insisting that Ayatollah Khamenei had actually told the Qatari emir, “We have always said the negotiations must yield results, not waste time,” and that “the Americans know what they need to do regarding this.”

The Iranian spokesman then added, “It is very clear from the context of the [Iranian] leader’s remarks that the ball is in the US court, which must make wise political decisions to fulfill its obligations.”

Critics of Qatar, whose leaders have often sought to step into the high-profile role of middlemen in negotiations between hostile forces in the region, suggest that the alleged error in translation by Al Jazeera was not an accident. They claim that Al Jazeera frequently exaggerates the role and accomplishments of Qatari officials and diplomats to build up their prestige.

A PUBLIC RELATIONS FACADE

There was also a flurry of news reports from the region claiming that various European diplomats were still busy talking with Iranian officials about the current state of talks to revive the JCPOA. These included a tweet issued by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell following his phone call with Iran’s foreign minister, stating that it was “[i]mportant to get going. The more we wait, the more difficult it becomes to conclude negotiations.”

These reports give the impression that although the talks to revive the JCPOA have made no recent progress, they are still continuing, even while a more realistic view of the situation would dismiss them as the result of diplomatic wishful thinking. As for the squabble between Iran and Qatar over what their leaders said to each other about the talks to revive the JCPOA, it is no more than PR posturing over a diplomatic initiative that is already quite dead, but not yet buried.

ISRAEL PURSUES ITS NOT-SO-SECRET WAR AGAINST IRAN

Meanwhile, Israel continues to oppose any agreement that would restore the JCPOA, mostly because it would be seen as a moral victory that would encourage Iran to become even more aggressive. At the same time, Israeli officials refuse to confirm or deny responsibility for a continuing series of explosions, fires, air attacks on Iranian-affiliated targets, and assassinations of key Iranian military figures in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon.

The latest incident in the ongoing shadow war between Israeli and Iran was the fatal attack on a senior member of the IRGC, Colonel Hassan Sayad Khodayari, who had a long record of planning kidnappings and other attacks on Israeli and other Jewish targets worldwide. Khodayari was shot five times by two unidentified gunmen firing silenced weapons and riding motorcycles. They attacked him while he was riding in his car in the mid-afternoon near his home in the middle of Tehran, and then escaped.

The details of the incident recalled previous slayings of Iranian nuclear scientists by gunmen on motorbikes, which were widely attributed to Israeli agents operating in Iran.

Khodayari had been closely associated with IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani before his assassination in 2020, and had reportedly played an important role in the development of Iran’s military drone program. According to an Israeli Channel 13 news report, one of Khodayari’s IRGC operatives, named Mansour Rasouli, told Mossad agents who interrogated him that Khodayari had sent him to carry out attacks on an Israeli diplomat in Turkey, an American general stationed in Germany, and a French journalist.

Other reports said that Khodayari was behind a plot to kill five Israelis in Cyprus,

When asked by Israel’s Channel 12 news about the assassination of Khodayari, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz refused to comment.

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