Iran: Talks proceed with letter from Obama to Ayatollah

Representatives from Iran, the US, and the EU began an unscheduled day of talks after reported unresolved disagreements threatened to overturn the framework before deadline, which is looming in just two weeks. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and EU envoy and former foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met in Oman to discuss the agreement, as well as discussing the possibility of cooperation on attacking ISIL/ISIS in Iraq. US president Obama’s letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei was focused mostly on the prospect of countering the Islamic State, with less attention paid to the talks on the nuclear program. Many senior American officials and analysts fear that the talks will be inconclusive, producing merely vague bullet point statements of principles and more extensions.

Certain sections of the letter urge the Ayatollah to make a complete decision on a nuclear deal before their last set of talks. The main concerns of the President was the domino effect that the program would have on the Middle East and South Asia, promoting enrichment and development of nuclear weapons programs in Saudi Arabia as well as increased armament in Pakistan and India. Many fear that as a result of the midterm elections in the United States, where the Democrats made large losses in the House and completely lost their majority in the Senate, the Iranians will see the President as weak and will attempt to force a deal that would allow them to continue with enrichment activities while still ostensibly have sanctions eased.

However, internal sources in Iran report that Mr. Obama’s overture had a positive effect, as Ali Khoram, special advisor to Iranian FM Zarif, declared in a statement to Asharq al-Aswat that the outreach could aid nuclear diplomacy a great deal. However, Khamenei’s official website did not confirm reception of the letter, and ahead of a closing deadline, it is likely they are waiting for the foreign policy firestorm in Washington to run on a bit longer to increase pressure.

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News Briefs:

  • Uzbekistan announced the investment of six billion dollars into its railway network. The investment will be made chiefly by the Uzbek government, which will contribute up to $4.8b USD, while foreign investments will constitute the remainder of the deal. Uzbek President Islam Karimov announced the deal and shared that more than 1,100 kilometers of new railway lines will be constructed while nearly 4,000 will be updated.
  • Kazakh sources expressed their uneasiness with regards to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. Russian intervention in southeastern Ukraine has come under the pretext of protecting the wishes of “ethnic Russians,” and is one that could easily be used should Russia set its sights on Kazakhstan. In spite of worried in Kazakhstan’s southern metropolis of Almaty, Kazakhs living in northern Kazakhstan do not share these sentiments, saying that anxiety over possible Russian destabilization of the country is virtually none.
  • A railway connecting Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan will come into operation in late November-early December. The railway has been under construction for years, with the Iranian leg of the railway being the last to be completed. The three countries have expressed hopes that the railway contributes to a dramatic increase in trade and an eventual “economic boom” enabled by increased connectivity between the nations’ capitals.
  • Turkmenistan has been invited to participate in the Turkey-led Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline project (TANAP) that would also funnel Azeri gas to European markets.  The announcement came as Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov met with Turkish Prime Minister Recepe Tayyip to authorize new agreements between the Turkmen gas agency Turkmengaz State Concern and the Turkish energy apparatus Atagaz. Before the announcement of Turkmen involvement, the project was envisioned to transport gas from the Azeri Shah Deniz gas field to European markets.
  • In Ukraine, the Kievan government reported that Russia is boosting its troop presence to rebels after a large artillery battle took place in Donetsk, where over 200 rebels were killed. Donetsk faced heavy shelling overnight as Andriy Lysenko of the Ukrainian National Security Council reported that “Russia continues to send additional reinforcements, weapons, ammunition to the rebels.” These reports caused concern among OSCE observers who feared this would mark the return of all-out fighting and the end of a tentative truce that has lasted since September 5.
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