As the June 30 deadline looms for a final nuclear deal framework that will allow Iranian sanctions to be lifted, President Hassan Rouhani expressed his optimism in the current situation, saying a deal was “within reach.” However, two issues remain thorny for nuclear deal pessimists, in particular the wording of Rouhani’s tentative endorsement of inspections on state nuclear sites, saying that inspections could not be allowed to “jeopardize state secrets,” an overall suspicious wording that casts a reasonable doubt over the Islamic Republic’s future compliance. US and French negotiators have been pushing hard for stringent measures to allow inspectors to access military sites with as little as two hours notice, the sticking point for this issue. Essentially, this has been included as part of an “Additional Protocol” section of the nuclear deal that has been added on in addition to main stipulations of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as behavior benchmarks.
The other point is the case of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who is a dual Iranian-American citizen, which is not recognized by Iran and faces charges of espionage and sedition. If convicted, Rezaian will face from ten to twenty years in prison – and the affair is turning into an issue that is attracting attention from the US nuclear negotiating team as well.
An additional point of contention, more on the Iranian side than on the P5+1, is that Rouhani has stated repeatedly that he expects sanctions to be lifted “a couple of months” after a deal is signed and agreed to on June 30. Recently, and probably as a result of this continued reluctance for immediate sanctions relief from Western powers, Iran’s negotiators have started to insinuate that yet another deadline extension should be considered.
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- Azerbaijan has allowed one of its opposition activist journalists Emin Huseynov to leave the country, probably in an effort to stoke goodwill for its hosting of the European Games over the weekend and to curry favor with Western leaders. Huseynov had actually taken refuge in the Swiss embassy, before being granted asylum in Switzerland and allowed to leave on a plane later that day.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan after attending the opening of the European Games hosted by Azerbaijan, an event from which leaders of the EU were noticeably absent. Likely, their talks were not limited to discussion of this point alone, as Putin was accompanied by energy minister Alexander Novak, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, nuclear energy agency head Sergei Kiriyenko and the head of Gazprom Alexei Miller. On the Turkish side both the foreign and energy ministries were represented – likely this is a follow up to the failed South Corridor gas pipeline project and a meeting to pitch alternatives.
- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has urged human rights reforms in Turkmenistan as the final leg of his visit to Central Asia, saying that all efforts for sustainable development and a stable future must include these reforms. The Secretary General spoke these words to a group of local officials and students at the University for Humanities and Development in Ashgabat, in what is sure to have been an awkward speech for all of those listening. Current dictator, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, came to power in 2006 after the death of the former dictator Niyazov (or “Turkmenbashi”) has a terrible record on reforms and will be unlikely to implement substantive ones for the foreseeable future.
- The Taliban has overrun a police compound in Southern Afghanistan, and as many as 17 police officers were killed in the ensuing violence in Helmand. The police base was located in the strategically important Musa Qala. The police were prevented from escaping because the area around the base was laid with booby traps and mines. Unfortunately for Afghanistan, most of the Taliban’s efforts have been targeted as the poorly equipped local police, and not at the better equipped and trained Afghan National Army.
- Kazakhstan has been nominated to be the location of a “uranium bank” run by the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors specifically for low enriched uranium. The LEU would loan out uranium to member states of the IAEA for peaceful nuclear reactor fuel if they are unable to obtain it on the global commercial market. The measure is being called a “nuclear fuel supply assurance mechanism” and is being hailed as a way to promote the greater use of nuclear fuel for power worldwide, and while it seems that it counteracts IAEA policies on nuclear nonproliferation, the statement said the LEU bank would reduce incentives for the spread of sensitive technologies to new countries.
- Clarifying its statements of last week, the IMF has confirmed its support for Ukraine in the form of a bailout regardless of a default on private Western debt. The key paragraph from the statement is “The IMF, in general, encourages voluntary pre-emptive agreements in debt restructurings, but in the event that a negotiated settlement with private creditors is not reached and the country determines that it cannot service its debt, the Fund can lend to Ukraine consistent with its Lending-into-Arrears Policy.” Translation? The IMF is now playing politics, and is a significant and major departure from its normal practices.