Iran nuclear talks extended while threats against Israel continue

Click photo to download. Caption: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (in center, left side) prepares to sit down with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (in center, right side) in Vienna, Austria, on July 14, 2014, before they begin a bilateral meeting focused on Iran's nuclear program. Credit: State Department.

By Alina Dain Sharon/

The Nov. 24 deadline for negotiating a deal on Iran’s nuclear program expired on Monday, as the P5+1 powers (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China, and Germany) were unable to reach an agreement with the Islamic Republic. But the talks were extended to June 30, 2015.

At the same time, an Iranian official said over the weekend that his country gave the Hezbollah terror group—which is based in Lebanon, Israel’s northern neighbor—hundreds of missiles with 160-220 mile ranges. 

“Our strategic guiding principle is the appropriate arming of Hezbollah and Hamas with advanced, modern weapons in order to allow the resistance groups to deal with the bloodthirsty Zionist regime,” said Iranian Revolutionary Guard Aerospace Force Brig. Gen. Seyed Majid Moussavi, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.

Iran's transfer of the missiles, which are capable of hitting the southern Israeli city of Dimona, add evidence supporting the narrative of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly called for a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program. 

Earlier this month, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei released a Twitter post titled “9 key questions about the elimination of Israel.” As part of the tweet, Khamenei proposed a referendum that would serve as a means for building consensus on Israel's destruction.

“[Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is] publicly calling for the annihilation of Israel as he is negotiating a nuclear deal with the P5+1 countries,” Netanyahu said.

The first answer provided within Khamenei’s nine points accuses “the fake Zionist regime” of trying to achieve its goals via “infanticide, homicide, violence & iron,” with the only solution to these “Israeli crimes” being the “elimination of this regime.”

The “practical & logical mechanism for this,” according to Khamenei, is through a “public and organized referendum” for all the “original people of Palestine including Muslims, Christians, and Jews,” excluding “the Jewish immigrants who have been persuaded into emigration to Palestine,” who “do not have the right to take part.”

In addition to the referendum, the Iranian leader called for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to fight against Israel, rejecting any U.N.-moderated negotiation.

“So far as I know, Khamenei’s idea of a referendum has not been proposed by the Islamic Republic of Iran until now. It suggests that the Iranian leadership wishes to make common cause with the leftists also wanting to see Israel disappear,” Daniel Pipes, founder and president of the Middle East Forum think tank, recently told

Many leading U.S. Republican legislators, ahead of their party’s forthcoming control of both houses of Congress in January, are taking Netanyahu’s side on the issue and have promised to block any “bad deal” with Iran that allows the country to retain enrichment capability.

“Iran is a unique issue because Democratic members of Congress tend to be closer to their Republican colleagues than to the administration,” Pipes said. “The question ahead is whether there will be a veto-proof majority. One ranking House member told me [recently] that he thinks this is possible.”

The Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) said Monday that Congress “should act now to reimpose sanctions and re-establish U.S. red lines that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.”

“To that end, such legislation must limit the president’s authority to waive sanctions, an authority the president has already signaled a willingness to abuse in his desperate quest for a deal with the mullahs,” ECI said in a statement.

The original interim deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers was signed in November 2013 and led to an easing of some sanctions on Iran. The interim deal allowed for further negotiations to produce a final framework, but the deadline for that framework has been repeatedly pushed back, including last July. 

Iran wants to retain its ability to enrich uranium, but refuses to cooperate with a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a U.N.-affiliated nuclear watchdog. Iran had agreed to provide the IAEA with information on experiments with nuclear detonators, work on high-explosive charges used in nuclear blasts, and studies on the calculation of nuclear explosive yields. But the IAEA said this month that Iran has only provided information on the detonators.

Yet a push for greater Iranian cooperation with the P5+1 powers is coming from within the Islamic Republic itself. Some in Iran are calling for a change in the country’s direction, following years of isolation and economic stagnation. 

“Overall the economic situation is quite bleak,” Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi—a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey and a candidate in Iran’s 2013 presidential race—told earlier this month. 

“Unemployment, inflation, and debt remain very high, economic growth remains around zero, and international trade remains extremely constrained due to the sanctions on banking, oil, and other sectors,” he said.

According to analysts, the difficult economic situation in Iran is largely attributed to the Western sanctions placed on the country and a recent decline in the price of oil—Iran’s largest source of income. The tough economic climate has created added pressure on the Iranian government to deliver a nuclear deal that would relieve sanctions and end the country’s international isolation. 

Within the Iranian government, there are two factions maneuvering to formulate a deal with the P5+1 powers. The more hardline faction is led by Khamenei, who has rejected proposed nuclear deals in the past, including in 2009. The so-called “moderate” faction is led by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who came to power in 2013 with a promise of improving Iran’s foreign relations and reviving the economy, and would seemingly be a more flexible negotiating partner for the West.

Many within the Iranian government, however, also view nuclear weapons as a necessary deterrent against instability in the Middle East.

“Iran, like Israel, sits in a region surrounded by the Arabs and is a minority Shi’a religion,” Amirahmadi said. 

“It has problems with the Kurds, the Turks, and of course the Arabs. It is a very isolated in many ways and security is always an issue. … I think if Iran could be assured about its security, it would be persuaded to give up its nuclear weapons program [and] its missile development, and become a more friendly state,” he said.

Ultimately, all sides of the debate within Iran itself are united on promoting what they call “Iran’s basic nuclear rights” such as maintaining uranium enrichment capacity on Iranian soil, which is one of the key sticking points between the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic.

“The Iranian leadership is absolutely committed to building nuclear weapons and will use any agreement to further that end,” said Pipes.

Amirahmadi also believes that Israeli fears regarding Iran’s incitement against the Jewish state are also not necessarily exaggerated. While he said there is “no historical animosity between Iran and the Jewish people,” he also argued that Islamic fundamentalism has hijacked the Iranian-Israeli relationship. 

“If you go back to the very history early of Islam, you see that many Muslim leaders massacred Jews, such as the first Shi’a Imam Ali,” he said.

“Governments come and go, what remains is the people. I am concerned that the animosity between the two governments spreads into the minds of the two people,” added Amirahmadi.

—With reporting by Sean Savage

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Posted on November 24, 2014 .