Pro-Israel News

Date:
Monday, December 30, 2013
BY ALEX MURASHKO, CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
December 30, 2013|12:14 pm

LOS ANGELES – The consul general of Israel in Los Angeles believes that Christianity is experiencing a rapidly growing renaissance in Israel. With that, he emphasized the biblical mandate that evangelical Christians and Jews have – to be in a favorable relationship with one another.

"We really are a community of believers and we are both mandated with relationship with one another, with relationships to our great religions, and the Promised Land, [and] the Holy Land," Consul General David Siegel recently told The Christian Post. "It's mandated in the Old Testament, it's mandated even stronger in the New Testament. So we are biblically mandated to this relationship."

Pointing to the fact that both faiths have shared foundational values, Siegel noted that in many cases these values are "identical."

"We live in a world that we all understand is a world that needs to be repaired."

Siegel said he believes that Israel has been experiencing a growing Christian population as a result of persecution throughout the Middle East.

"Today, Israel is also a safe haven for the Christians of the Middle East who are being systematically persecuted in all sorts of countries under this guise of this 'Arab Spring,'" he explained.

He pointed out that Christians are setting up bases of operation to continue empowering their communities throughout the Middle East through charitable organizations and use of radio.

"So Christianity is experiencing a huge renaissance in Israel today, both in terms of the numbers of believers, prayer houses and sessions that take place throughout the country in a multitude of languages, but also the people on the ground that are working to save lives in the Middle East," he said. "Much of the blood, unfortunately, is that of Christians. This is the plight of Christians in the Middle East and unfortunately we don't see that much attention put to it."

Siegel told CP that "the evangelical community is probably Israel's closest friend in the world, not a fair weather friend, but a constant friend whether times are good or bad."

He gave an example of this in talking about the 9/11 tragedy.

"I was in this country during 9/11, in Washington [D.C.] with my family," he said. "We moved with my family back to Israel that fall right after the attacks; my term was over and we came right into the very problematic period of Israel's history of suicide bombings. I remember being at a hotel before we were able to move into our house, just in transit from the United States, and the hotel was packed with Christian supporters – there was no one else. So it's that story that is a message that we feel that even when times are bad our Christian friends are with us."

In another example of the existing relationship between Christian and Jewish groups, he pointed to them working side-by-side in the Philippines.

"We have teams on the ground that are protected by U.S. Marines and working hand-in-hand with other NGOs, including Christian NGOs, to repair souls and repair infrastructure," Siegel said. "Now we are in phase two, after the recovery, and the emergency aid that is working on reconstruction, post-trauma treatment, medical treatment, and social care. It shows that it's not just biblical, not that that's not important, but in our everyday lives of modern states Israel has a lot of things on the table in terms of the Christian-Jewish relationship, and that's a wonderful thing to celebrate."

He added that the challenge for both communities of believers is that both are under attack verbally. Siegel explained that Israel had the first field hospital in Haiti on the ground after the massive earthquake and workers were overwhelmed. "Surgeons were actually going into old metal factories to create more medical devices and surgical devices because they were running out of supplies so quickly because of the amount of surgery that had to be done on the ground – amazing stories of human commitment and innovation," he said.

"I remember also that we were partnering with the evangelical groups on the ground, and Al Jazeera television and other voices of extremism were attacking both of us – both Jews and Christians for harvesting organs in Haiti. I remember that as such a defining moment of, here we are, both America and Israel, both Christian and Jewish communities, coming in to help and [at the same time] hear the voices of religious intolerance and hate, not only not being there to help, but coming out and attacking what we were doing and turning it into some sort of work of the devil, rather than being God's work.

"I think that on the informational level it's so important to fight that propaganda and we feel it every day. Our relationship also has risk in that if we don't educate the next generation that (propaganda) is consuming the news and it concerns a lot of misinformation about both of our communities," Siegel explained. "We need to fight that."

Date:
Monday, December 30, 2013
BY STOYAN ZAIMOV, CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
December 26, 2013|4:54 pm

The Muslim Brotherhood was officially declared a terrorist organization by the Egyptian government on Wednesday, over a year after winning the country's first democratic presidential elections with former leader Mohamed Morsi.

"All of Egypt ... was terrified by the ugly crime that the Muslim Brotherhood group committed by blowing up the building of the Dakahlyia security directorate," the Egyptian government said in an official statement.

The decision came after the latest crackdown on the Islamic party, which is being accused of carrying out a suicide bomb attack that killed 16 people at a police station on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

"This is a turning point in the confrontation. This is an important tool for the government to close any door in the face of the Brotherhood's return to political life," noted Khalil al-Anani, a Washington-based expert on the movement.

The Islamic movement, which rose to political power 18 months ago and helped Morsi become president, suffered a significant blow after protests led to Morsi's ousting in July. It has been accused of inciting violence on several occasions, including urging radicals to attack Christian churches and property in retaliation for Morsi's ousting, but has mostly been driven underground by Egypt's interim government.

In September, Egyptian judges recommended that the Brotherhood be dissolved, accusing it of operating outside the law. The latest move, however, allows authorities the power to charge members or those supporting the Brotherhood with belonging to a terrorist organization.

The Muslim Brotherhood has spoken out against the bombings at the police station, something which was recognized by the White House.

"We condemn in the strongest terms the horrific, terrorist bombing yesterday. There can be no place for such violence. The Egyptian people deserve peace and calm. We also note that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt condemned the bombing shortly after it occurred yesterday," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"We are concerned about the current atmosphere and its potential effects on a democratic transition in Egypt," she added.

The Islamic party has also been accused of using fraudulent means to help Morsi win the election in 2012, with accounts that it turned away Christians from the polls.

"I know this firsthand because I know folks on the ground. In thousands of villages, during the election, they stood with guns outside the polling booths. And if a Christian wanted to go in to vote, they would say 'You go in, and we'll kill you.' And so hundreds of thousands of Christians couldn't vote," Dr. Michael Youssef, founding pastor of the 3,000 member Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, shared in an interview with The Christian Post in July.

 

 
Date:
Friday, December 20, 2013


Day after US senators propose new sanctions legislation, negotiators set to discuss implementation of Geneva interim deal


BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF December 20, 2013, 9:19 am 


The Iranian Air Force was set to launch large-scale drills Friday, as part of “annual exercises aimed at testing indigenous air defense systems, improving the units’ combat readiness and displaying the country’s military might and achievement,” according to a report in Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.

The drills involve “different types of interceptor fighters, bomber fighters, transport aircraft and reconnaissance planes,” the air force’s deputy commander, Brig.-Gen. Alireza Barkhor, told Fars.

The exercises “seek to send a message of peace, friendship and security to the regional countries,” he added.

The drills came just as expert-level representatives from Iran and the P5+1 world powers were expected to resume nuclear talks in Geneva on Friday, for a second day of negotiations.

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of US senators introduced new sanctions legislation that the Iranians had warned could “kill” its interim nuclear agreement with the six world powers reached last month in the Swiss capital.

The bill, which came as talks over the implementation of the interim agreement resumed after a nearly week-long hiatus, would impose sanctions that will come into effect should Iran violate the interim deal or fail to reach a final agreement.

The Obama administration has campaigned heavily against such legislation, arguing that it would make a comprehensive deal with Tehran more difficult to achieve.

The White House on Thursday vowed to veto the legislation if it passes. Speaking an hour after the senators announced the bipartisan Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, White House spokesman Jay Carney slammed the legislation, describing it as potentially “damaging and destructive to the diplomatic effort.”

Carney implied that lawmakers were out of step with American voters in proposing legislation that, he claimed, “will undermine our efforts to reach a diplomatic solution and greatly increase the chances for military action.

“I think that there is overwhelming support in the country and in this congress for a diplomatic resolution to this conflict,” added Carney.

Characterizing the legislation as “unnecessary,” he said that “if it passed, the president would veto it.”

Earlier Thursday, days after the Iranian government withdrew from the expert-level talks over the recent nuclear deal in protest at continued US punitive measures, the sides returned to the table in a bid to get the negotiations back on track.

The talks, brokered by representatives of the United States, China, Britain, France, Russia and Germany, revolve around the on-the-ground implementation of the guidelines established in the November 24 interim agreement.

While the talks were scheduled for December 19-20, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araqchi told Fars that the meetings will continue through Saturday and Sunday if necessary.

The Iranian officials last met with representatives from the six world powers on December 12 in Vienna. However, following a decision by the US government to blacklist 19 companies for evading Iranian sanctions, the Iranian delegation cut the meetings short and flew back to Iran a day before negotiations were set to end, stating that the US move violated the interim agreement.

Days later, top Iranian officials reiterated their commitment to the diplomatic process.

“The process has been derailed, the process has not died,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CBS News on Sunday. “We are trying to put it back and to correct the path, and continue the negotiations, because I believe there is a lot at stake for everybody.”

Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was also quoted Tuesday saying that Iran was ready for a final agreement.

Under the interim agreement signed in Geneva last month, the world powers must ease sanctions against Iran while Iran is required to scale back its nuclear program over the course of six months. While the deal was heavily criticized by Israeli officials, the US and the additional world powers remain optimistic the interim deal will pave the way for a permanent agreement with the Iranian regime.

 

Date:
Monday, December 16, 2013


BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF December 16, 2013


President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice hosted a series of meetings with Israeli officials over the weekend to discuss the Iranian nuclear deal signed in Geneva last month, Reuters reported Monday.

The talks were aimed at gaining Israeli support for the six-month interim deal which aims to scale back Tehran’s controversial nuclear program in exchange for an easing of international sanctions. The P5+1 world powers and Iran are currently in the midst of negotiations over a more comprehensive, long-term solution.

On Sunday, Iran’s foreign minister said his country would continue nuclear negotiations with world powers, even after pulling out of expert-level talks last week on technical details of last month’s interim deal to protest the US targeting companies it says evaded current sanctions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama administration officials have publicly spared over the interim deal, which the prime minister has labeled a “historic mistake.”

“During the meetings, the US team reaffirmed President Obama’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” the White House said in a statement.

Rice, along with other officials from the State Department and the Treasury, met with Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen and other Israeli officials in Washington on Thursday and Friday.

Reuters reported that the series of meetings were “an initial step toward fulfilling a promise Obama made to Netanyahu in their November 24 phone call that the United States would consult regarding the effort to forge a comprehensive solution with Iran.”

Some in the US Senate have lobbied for increased sanctions on Iran as negotiations for a comprehensive deal continue, a move Obama administration officials have warned would sabotage talks.

Last week, the Republican and Democratic leadership in the US House of Representatives failed to agree on a resolution that would have recommended parameters for the Iran talks.

Speaking at the Brookings Institute’s annual Saban Forum in Washington earlier this month, Obama said it was important for the US and the world to test Iranian intentions in the next six months.

“And if at the end of six months it turns out that we can’t make a deal, we’re no worse off, and in fact we have greater leverage with the international community to continue to apply sanctions and even strengthen them,” he said.

 

Date:
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By  | Dec. 11, 2013 | 3:27 AM 
 
Senior officials in the administration of President Barack Obama have conceded over the past few days in conversations with colleagues in Israel that the value of the economic sanctions relief to Iran could be much higher than originally thought in Washington, security sources in Israel told Haaretz.

In official statements by the United States immediately after the agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program was signed in Geneva betweenIran and theF six powers at the end of November it was said that the economic relief Iran would receive in exchange for signing the agreement would be relatively low – $6 billion or $7 billion. Israeli assessments were much higher – about $20 billion at least.

The United States had originally intended to make do with unfreezing Iranian assets in the amount of $3 billion to $4 billion. But during negotiations in Geneva, the P5+1 countries backtracked from their opening position and approved much more significant relief in a wide variety of areas: commerce in gold, the Iranian petrochemical industry, the car industry and replacement parts for civilian aircraft. But the Americans said at the time that this would at most double the original amount.

However according to the Israeli version, the Americans now concede in their talks with Israel that the sanctions relief are worth much more. According to the security sources: “Economics is a matter of expectations. The Iranian stock exchange is already rising significantly and many countries are standing in line to renew economic ties with Iran based on what was already agreed in Geneva.” The sources mentioned China’s desire to renew contracts worth some $9 billion to develop the Iranian oil industry and the interest some German companies are showing for deals with Tehran. “In any case, it’s about 20 or 25 billion dollars. Even the Americans understand this,” the sources said.

The interim agreement is to come into force on January 15. Until then, Iran is not restricted in terms of moving ahead on its nuclear program. Israel was surprised by the public statement by Obama at theSaban Forum in Washington late last week, that the agreements allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium. This is seen as an unnecessary concession considering that negotiations with Iran are still underway. However, the Israeli leadership seems to be seeking to somewhat lower its contentious tones toward Washington after two weeks of public scuffling and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most recent speech with regard to Iran, also to the Saban Forum, was relatively moderate.

But along with efforts to renew intelligence and diplomatic coordination between the two countries on the nuclear issue, tussles are expected to continue between Obama and Netanyahu in another important arena – the U.S. Congress. The administration is very concerned about the objections to the agreement in Geneva by senators and congress members on both sides of the aisle. A few prominent opponents of the agreement who are experts in foreign affairs and frequently express themselves on the Middle East have articulated doubts about the deal and have called for additional heavy sanctions on Iran if the accord falls through.

Although Israel has not said so publicly, it is clear that Netanyahu’s representatives have also been in touch with these lawmakers in recent weeks. Among them are Republican senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Mark Kirk and Congressman Eric Cantor and Democratic senators Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez and Congressman Steny Hoyer.

The extent of the administrations’ concern can be seen in an editorial in Tuesday's New York Times. The paper reads as if it is quoting Obama’s messages on the Middle East. The article warned against the initiative of senators Kirk and Menendez to prepare new legislation that would complete the very effective sanctions moves they led against Iran a few years ago. According to the proposal, which has the behind-the-scenes support of senior Israeli officials, new sanctions would be instituted if at the end of the six months set out in the interim agreement a satisfactory arrangement is not reached with the Iranians.

The Times warns that the breakthrough attained in Geneva, which it calls the most positive development in relations between the United States and Iran in 30 years, will be put at risk by the initiatives in Congress. The interim agreement is “unquestionably a good deal,” which is preferable to military action and the paper joins the warnings issued both by the White House and the Iranian government against legislation that would sabotage the agreements implementation. According to the Times, moves by Kirk, Menendez and other senior officials are unnecessary and will “enrage the Iranians.” It seems that the U.S. lawmakers are not impressed by this prospect and Netanyahu even less so. In the American-Israeli dispute, the tones may be more muted, but the scene of the next clash is clear – Congress in Washington.

 

Date:
Monday, December 9, 2013

(Reuters) - Iran is moving ahead with testing more efficient uranium enrichment technology, a spokesman for its atomic energy agency said on Saturday, in news that may concern world powers who last month agreed a deal to curb Tehran's atomic activities.

Spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying that initial testing on a new generation of more sophisticated centrifuges had been completed, underlining Iran's determination to keep refining uranium in what it says is work to make fuel for a planned network of nuclear power plants.

Although the development does not appear to contravene the interim agreement struck between world powers and Iran last month, it may concern the West nonetheless, as the material can also provide the fissile core of a nuclear bomb if enriched to a high degree.

"The new generation of centrifuges was produced with a higher capacity compared with the first generation machines and we have completed initial tests," Kamalvandi was quoted as saying.

"The production of a new generation of centrifuges is in line with the (Iranian atomic energy) agency's approach of upgrading the quality of enrichment machines and increasing the rate of production by using the maximum infrastructure facilities".

Kamalvandi said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had been informed of the development.

Iran's development of a new generation of centrifuges - machines that spin at supersonic speed to increase the ratio of the fissile isotope - could enable it to refine uranium much faster.

Under the November 24 interim accord with the six world powers, Iran promised not to start operating them or install any more for a period of six months. But the agreement seems to allow it to continue with research and development activity at a nearby Natanz pilot plant.

Iran earlier this year stoked the West's worries by starting to install a new centrifuge - the IR-2m - at its Natanz enrichment plant. Iran is testing the IR-2m and other models at its research and development facility at Natanz.

Kamalvandi did not specify whether the new centrifuge model he was referring to was the IR-2m.

It is currently using a 1970s model, the IR1, to refine uranium at the main Natanz plant and its efforts to replace this breakdown-prone centrifuge are being closely watched.

Some experts believe the IR-2m can enrich uranium 2-3 times faster than the IR-1.

U.N. inspectors arrived in Tehran on Saturday and are due for the first time in more than two years to visit a plant linked to a planned heavy-water reactor that could yield nuclear bomb fuel, taking up an initial gesture by Iran to open its disputed nuclear programme up to greater scrutiny.

(Reporting by Isabel Coles in Dubai and Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Date:
Friday, December 6, 2013

BY DAVID BRUNNSTROM

(Reuters) - The Palestinians rejected ideas raised by visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday for security arrangements under a possible future peace accord with Israel, a Palestinian official said.

There was no immediate response from the United States or Israel, which has long insisted on keeping swathes of its West Bank settlements, as well as a military presence on the territory's eastern boundary with Jordan, under any peace deal.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and declined to elaborate on the proposals, said Kerry presented them to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after discussing them separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The Palestinian side rejected them because they would only lead to prolonging and maintaining the occupation," the official told Reuters, referring to Israel's hold on the West Bank, where, along with Gaza and East Jerusalem, Palestinians seek an independent state.

In remarks to reporters after his three-hour meeting with Abbas in the West Bank hub city of Ramallah, Kerry commended "his steadfast commitment to stay at the peace negotiations, despite the difficulties that he and the Palestinians have perceived in the process".

Kerry said they had discussed "at great length issues of security in the region, security for the state of Israel, security for a future Palestine".

PESSIMISM

"I think the interests are very similar, but there are questions of sovereignty, questions of respect and dignity which are obviously significant to the Palestinians, and for the Israelis very serious questions of security and also of longer-term issues of how we end this conflict once and for all," he added.

Abbas did not join Kerry at the Ramallah media appearance.

Disputes over proposed Israeli land handovers have bedevilled peace efforts for two decades, along with other issues like the status of Jerusalem and fate of Palestinian refugees. Kerry revived the talks in July and set a nine-month target for an accord, but both sides have signalled pessimism.

Palestinians worry that Israel's settlements - deemed illegal by most world powers - will not leave room for a viable state. Israelis question whether Abbas could commit the rival, armed Palestinian Hamas Islamists who govern Gaza to coexistence with the Jewish state.

Kerry, who met Netanyahu earlier on Thursday and returned to Jerusalem in the evening to confer again with the Israeli leader, said "some progress" had been made in the peace talks.

Acknowledging Israel's fear that ceding the West Bank could make it vulnerable to attack, Kerry said he offered Netanyahu "some thoughts about that particular security challenge".

Neither he nor Netanyahu gave further details, citing the need to keep the diplomacy discreet. Both described Israeli security as paramount, something Netanyahu said would require that his country "be able to defend itself by itself".

Israel quit Gaza unilaterally in 2005, after which Hamas came to power. The sides have repeatedly exchanged fire since.

Israeli media have reported that Kerry's proposals included security arrangements for the Jordan Valley, between the West Bank and Jordan. An Israeli official said that in recent weeks U.S. officials had visited Jordan Valley crossing points.

Kerry was due to depart on Friday after a helicopter tour of the West Bank and other areas with Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon. In Ramallah, Kerry said he may return to the region for more talks next week "depending on where we are".

"So the discussions will go on, the effort will continue, and our hopes with them for the possibilities of peace for the region," he said.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Date:
Wednesday, December 4, 2013

 

Date:
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
By HERB KEINON, ERIC J. LYMAN IN VATICAN CITY
12/03/2013 00:27

“There appears to be general relaxation of sanctions, and a rush to accommodate Iran,” PM warns.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Rome, December 1, 2013.Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s criticism of the world powers’ interim agreement with Iran went from warning the accord would lead to an unraveling of the sanctions regime, to stating in Rome on Monday that this is already happening.

“There appears to be general relaxation of sanctions, and a rush to accommodate Iran, and to make it legitimate as if Iran has changed anything of its actual policies,” Netanyahu said after meeting Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

Netanyahu continued speaking out against the agreement even as he faced criticism of this tactic from home and as US Secretary of State John Kerry, a champion of the deal, was set to arrive on Wednesday for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

If the sanctions regime against Iran collapses, Netanyahu said, that would signal the end of chances to peacefully stop Iran’s nuclear program. And the program, he stressed, will be stopped.

Netanyahu flew home Monday evening after two days in Rome, which included a meeting with Pope Francis and an annual government- to-government meeting, along with five other Israeli ministers, with their Italian counterparts.

While Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert ripped into Netanyahu Sunday for his vocal criticism of the Iran deal, and Netanyahu responded by saying he will not remain quiet in the face of significant security dangers, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Monday on the CNBC US cable news network that Israel has “earned the right” to be listened to on the Iranian issue.

“When people wonder why we have been so loud against this agreement with Iran it is because for us it is not academic or theoretical, it is existential,” he said. “Here is a regime that has been loud, not about a dispute with Israel, but rather about its wish and commitment to the destruction of Israel.”

Lapid added that in his view the most important strategic asset Israel has is its intimate relationship with the US throughout the years.

“This is an asset that we don’t want to lose,” he said.

“We are going to be out loud, maybe blunt about out concerns, but we understand that the US means well and is doing its best under very complicated circumstances, and we think we have earned the right to be listened to.”

Asked how much damage has been caused to US-Israel relations as a result of the very public difference over Iran, Lapid said it was “OK to have disputes within the family, as long as we keep it in the family. I think we are still within the frame of the family.”

Iran was one of the topics discussed when Netanyahu met for some 25 minutes in the Vatican earlier Monday with Pope Francis, whom he formally invited to Israel.

It was the first time the two leaders met face to face, and in addition to Iran they discussed the Syrian civil war, the welfare of Christians in Israel as well as the pope’s expected visit to Israel. If Francis does make such a trip, he will be the third pope to visit the country since the Vatican established diplomatic ties 20 years ago, following a visit from John Paul II in 2000 and Benedict XVI in 2009. Pope Paul VI briefly visited Jerusalem in 1964.

Several news sources reported the visit would take place May 25-26, but Vatican officials said the trip has not been officially confirmed.

According to political experts in Italy, Netanyahu’s trip was important for all sides: for Netanyahu as he tries to rally support for his position against Iran, for Italy as it seeks to play its traditional role as a bridge builder in the Middle East, and the Vatican as it looks to reassert its role as a global player after several years in which that role was reduced.

“During John Paul II’s declining years, and throughout Benedict XVI’s papacy, the Vatican was more quiet,” said James Walston, a political scientist with the American University of Rome. “Francis is starting to show he’s willing to be a lot feistier.”

Retired church historian Fr. Alistair Sear said “the Vatican has traditionally played an important behind-the-scenes role in international politics, but that hasn’t been the case in recent years.”

This was Netanyahu’s first meeting with Francis and he brought him two gifts: a hanukkia and a Spanish translation of his father Benzion Netanyahu’s seminal work on the Spanish Inquisition, The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth- Century Spain. Netanyahu wrote a short inscription inside the book: “To his Holiness Pope Franciscus, a great shepherd of our common heritage

 

Date:
Monday, November 25, 2013
By 
and 
Updated Nov. 24, 2013 11:03 p.m. ET

GENEVA—The U.S. and five other world powers struck a historic accord with Iran on Sunday, agreeing to ease part of an economic stranglehold in exchange for steps to cap Tehran's nuclear program and ensure the Islamist government doesn't rush to develop atomic weapons.

The agreement calls for Iran to stop its production of near-weapons-grade nuclear fuel—which is uranium enriched to 20% purity—and for the removal of Tehran's stockpile of the fissile material, which is estimated to be nearly enough to produce one nuclear bomb.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, center, leaves the Intercontinental Hotel prior to talks over Iran's nuclear program in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov.23.Jean-Christophe Bott/Associated Press/Keystone

Iran, in return, will gain relief from Western economic sanctions that U.S. officials believe will provide between $6 billion and $7 billion in badly needed foreign exchange for Tehran over the next half-year.

The agreement reached in Geneva is an interim deal for about six months that will allow international powers to try to strike a permanent pact, an effort that experts said would be the true test of Iran's new government, headed by revitalization-minded President Hasan Rouhani.

President Obama said that the agreement reached with Iran on easing economic sanctions in return for steps capping Tehran's nuclear program marks "the most significant and tangible progress" on the issue since he took office. Photo: AP

Secretary of State John Kerry details the main points of an agreement with Iran that eases economic sanctions in return for halting progress on its nuclear program. Photo: AP

President Barack Obama called the agreement "an important first step toward a comprehensive solution" of the Iranian nuclear dilemma and credited his administration's push for diplomacy and its adoption of stern economic sanctions for "a new path toward a world that is more secure."

"The first step that we have taken today marks the most significant and tangible progress that we have made with Iran since I took office," he said, adding that the next steps "won't be easy."

While U.S. officials argued that the deal will roll back Iran's nuclear program, critics of the diplomacy are likely to seize on key Western concessions, including a signal that Washington ultimately will agree to accept Iran's enrichment of uranium and would leave open for now the future of Tehran's plutonium-producing reactor in Arak.

Israel, which has been a strong opponent of U.S. efforts to negotiate with Iran, was quick to criticize the development. "This is a bad agreement. It gives Iran exactly what it wants: both substantial easing of sanctions and preservation of the most substantial parts of its nuclear program,'' said a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office on Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tried Sunday to rally support for the deal in the face of lukewarm reaction from U.S. congressional allies and hostility from critics. "We make sure that these sanctions don't get lifted in a way that reduces the pressure on Iran," Mr. Kerry said on CNN's "State of the Nation." "The Iranian nuclear program is actually set backward and is actually locked into place in critical places."

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, center, flanked by members of her delegation. Fabrice Coffrini/Press Pool

The first test will be whether Congress presses ahead with a new round of broader sanctions, despite the administration's entreaties. The U.S. House of Representatives has already voted for such an effort. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) last week said he was prepared to hold a Senate vote when Congress returns from its Thanksgiving recess, citing skepticism about the trustworthiness of Iran. A spokesman didn't reply to questions about whether the new diplomatic deal would change those plans.

U.S. lawmakers took to the airwaves Sunday morning to question whether the deal would work, with some suggesting that the Obama administration had made a strategic miscalculation. "Instead of easing them, now is the time to tighten those sanctions," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) on ABC's "Face the Nation." He predicted that "you're going to see a strong movement in the United States Senate to move ahead to tighten sanctions," even if the new deal meant that legislation would have to be worded in a way that accounted for the six-month deal. He said the Obama administration can proceed with the deal without Congress's approval.

Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," expressed skepticism about the deal on "Fox News Sunday, saying "I think we all greet it with skepticism." He said that the arrangement suggested that Iranian officials "view this administration as weak," and "see this as their window of opportunity to negotiate with an administration that has shown that it really doesn't have a lot of the intestinal fortitude that other administrations have had."

In a sign of the tension with Congress, the Obama administration's Democratic allies offered only tepid support for the deal. Many Democrats left open the possibility that Congress should still tighten sanctions. In general, Congress believes that the current sanctions are what brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, and lawmakers recall how the Obama administration fought off the last round of sanctions in 2011.

"I think this is a marginal improvement," said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), the House minority whip, on CBS's "Face the Nation." Mr. Hoyer said that he believed the Senate should still move ahead with a vote on tougher sanctions on Iran that mirrored legislation already passed in the House, but that the U.S. should hold off implementing them for six months so that they could serve as a warning to Iran and an incentive to reach a final deal.

The first-stage deal also takes no steps to force Iran to ship out or destroy the roughly 19,000 centrifuge machines it has amassed to produce nuclear fuel.

U.S. lawmakers and key American allies have said Iran will abandon its nuclear program only if international pressure is increased.

"This deal appears to provide the world's leading sponsor of terrorism with billions of dollars in exchange for cosmetic concessions," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) a leading proponents of increasing sanctions on Iran during the talks.

The deal was completed during three exhaustive negotiating sessions over the past month in Geneva involving Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, a diplomatic bloc called the P5+1.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, center. Fabrice Coffrini/Press Pool

Mr. Kerry and the foreign ministers of the other members of the P5+1 states traveled to the Swiss lakeside city over the weekend to push through the final agreement—their second such visit in two weeks.

American and Iranian officials called the deal a potential turning point in Tehran's relations with the international community and an important "first step" in ending the decadelong standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

"The agreement creates the time and space for a comprehensive solution," said Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, who leads the P5+1.

Switzerland's Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, left, shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif before talks about Iran's nuclear program on Saturday. Associated Press

U.S. and European officials said the six months that the interim agreement covers will be used to forge a broader accord that permanently ends the threat posed by Tehran's nuclear work. Iranian officials stressed this week that the nuclear program only had civilian uses.

France played a major role in the negotiations, with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius insisting publicly during a previous round of talks two weeks ago that a draft agreement being discussed wasn't strong enough. In a statement early Sunday, Mr. Fabius acknowledged that the discussions were long and difficult but said the Geneva accord "amounts to a first major step" to resolve the nuclear dispute.

Mr. Fabius said the deal includes strict oversight of Iran's commitments and that "we will have to be vigilant on their implementation."

Speaking to reporters after the deal was signed, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed Iran would win sanctions relief under the accord affecting its gold and precious metals trade, its petrochemicals sector and including the unfreezing of assets by U.S. officials.

American, European and Iranian officials described on Saturday a testy three days of talks that were needed to forge the final deal. The question of what to do with Iran's heavy water reactor nearing completion in the city of Arak nearly killed an agreement in the later stages of the diplomacy, said these officials.

France was pushing for a complete dismantling of the reactor on the grounds that there exists no nonmilitary rational for building the facility. The U.S. government shared this position.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to significantly increase inspections of Arak by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency and agree not to start the facility or lead it with nuclear fuel.

Iran also agreed to cap its enrichment of uranium to levels only usable as fuel for a reactor, which is a purity of 3.5% to 5%.

Iran committed to maintaining its total stockpile of the low-enriched nuclear fuel at its current level, which is around six tons, during the six-month period.

Iran and the P5+1 also forged a compromise over the issue that over the past few days looked as though it could squelch a deal—Tehran's demand that the international community accept its "right" to continue producing nuclear fuel domestically.

Tehran cites the U.N.'s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as affording every signatory that legal right to enrich uranium, provided it is used for civilian purposes. Successive U.S. administrations have denied this right exists and have supported multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring Tehran to suspend its enrichment activities.

In a compromise, the P5+1 agreed to a text that says Iran will enjoy all the rights of treaty signatories, provided Iran satisfies all of the IAEA's questions about the alleged military dimensions of Iran's program. But the U.S. and its partners won't be forced to formally accept that Iran will be allowed to enrich.

Still, the compromise is seen as a victory for Iran, which has campaigned for a decade on this issue. U.S. officials on Saturday acknowledged that Iran will likely be allowed to maintain some enrichment capacity on its soil as part of a final deal.

"We're interested in exploring how Iran might end up with a limited and tightly controlled facility to enrich," said a senior U.S. official.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif touted the deal as vindicating Tehran's position. "Iran enjoys that right and its important to recognize that right. This recognition is there," Mr. Zarif told reporters. "We believe that to be our right."

U.S. officials said the agreement will provide sanctions relief of between $6 billion to $7 billion over the next six months, a number far below estimates made by critics of the agreement, including the government of Israel. The Obama administration also stressed that any easing of the sanctions could be quickly reversed if Iran is found not complying with the agreement.

U.S. officials said the P5+1 immediately will begin helping Iran repatriate about $4.2 billion in oil revenues that it hasn't been able to access overseas as a result of the sanctions. Iran is estimated to have $50 billion in these revenues overseas, which its government has been unable to access. The funds will be returned to Iran in monthly installments of $600 million.

The agreement also calls for the U.S. and European Union to ease the ban on Iran's trade in petrochemicals, precious metals, automobiles and airplane spare parts. U.S. and European officials said they didn't believe that such commerce could derive more than a few billion dollars in revenues for Tehran over the next six months. But they said some of the trade—such as access to airline parts—is critical to Iran, which has increasingly found its jetliners grounded because of safety concerns.

U.S. officials stressed that the sanctions relief would still be dwarfed by the revenue Iran is still losing because of the pervasive sanctions that remain in place.

These diplomats estimated that Iran still is likely to lose around $25 billion over the six months to the U.S. and European embargo against oil purchases. They also believed Tehran will continue to find itself unable to repatriate the earnings from the oil its does sell in Asia and the Middle East, because of sanctions. One official said Iran was likely to find itself unable to access another $14 billion to $16 billion in oil earnings over the next six months.

"The pressure of the sanctions will continue to grow," said a second American official involved in the Geneva talks.

U.S. and Iranian officials both said the agreement had potentially profound implications for global security and stability in the Middle East.

Before Mr. Rouhani's August inauguration, diplomatic engagement between Washington and Tehran was largely frozen, as it had been since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Over the past three months, however, Mr. Obama has held a phone conversation with President Rouhani, and Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. Zarif have held hours of negotiations in Geneva.

"I think this is potentially a significant moment," Mr. Kerry said following the negotiations. "But I'm not going to say this is an end unto itself."

Mr. Rouhani tweeted after the agreement was signed Sunday: "We are confident that the agreement between Iran and the West will have a positive impact on other regional and global issues."

—Joshua Mitnick in Tel Aviv contributed to this article.

 

Pages