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Four Dimensions of Nuclear Chess Game

Gary Sick

      A government negotiating with another government is almost inevitably required to conduct a second negotiation with its own domestic constituents whose own interests will be affected by the outcome. The classic image is the negotiator facing his foreign adversary over one table, then swiveling around to confront his domestic adversaries at a second table.
            In the current negotiations with Iran over the future of its nuclear program, the United States is facing something even more daunting. It is engaged in at least four separate negotiations at the same time:
1) Direct talks with Iran
2) Consultations with its negotiating partners in the so-called P5+1 – the five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany – who must develop a unified bargaining position
3) Congress of the United States
4) Allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, whose interests will be impacted by the outcome.
            Success in one dimension of this chess match does not necessarily guarantee success in any of the others, although in the end a successful final outcome will require at least a measure of success in all four dimensions. Ironically, crafting an agreement with Iran could prove to be the easiest part of the diplomatic game. The most difficult challenge may be in the domestic political arena, particularly in the United States. Iran’s hardliners are also poised to challenge potential concessions.
            The following is a brief snapshot of the board so far:

Engagement with Iran

      By almost any measure, direct contact between U.S. negotiators and their counterparts in Iran has exceeded expectations. American official contact with Iranian officials has been rare, sporadic, and often almost illicit for most of the past 35 years, since the Iranian revolution and the subsequent hostage crisis. U.S. diplomats were often instructed to avoid even casual contact with Iranian dignitaries at routine diplomatic functions. The United States and Iran occasionally worked together openly, such as at the Bonn conference in December 2001, when Hamid Karzai was selected as the president of a new Afghan government. But the relationship had never been able to transcend longstanding political animosity.
             That has now changed. A senior U.S. official, who regularly briefs the media on the progress of the negotiations, said the United States and Iran no longer need to hold secret meetings. “When we need to solve problems, [we] email with the Iranians,” the official said. That kind of routine contact suggests that a return to the tensions of the past is progressively less likely – whether or not the current negotiations succeed.

Coordination with Allies

       The progress of negotiations so far has been achieved by coordination and discipline among the six major powers—Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States—who sit on the same side of the table opposite Iran. The cohesion appears to be genuine. The talks have also not been contaminated by policy clashes—especially between Washington and Moscow—over Syria, the Crimea, and East Asia, which could have intruded on the Iran negotiations.
            The senior U.S. administration official, speaking on background, addressed those issues after the meetings in Vienna on March 19, at a time when the Crimean crisis was dominating the media: “The P5+1… is very united.  We may have some different ideas, we may even have national positions which aren’t identical, but when we are in the room together, we are completely united. . . Everybody is very professional, very serious, very focused. If there is any humor, it’s of the good-natured variety. There are no histrionics. There’s no walking out. There’s no yelling and screaming. It is very professional, very workmanlike.”
            The parties have also not digressed from the main topic into other important but tangential issues, such as human rights abuses, ties to extremist forces such as Hezbollah, and Tehran’s support for the Syrian government. The major powers appear to have decided to defer such discussions until the nuclear issue has been resolved one way or another.

The U.S. Congress

      Many senators, both Republicans and Democrats, are intensely skeptical of the talks. Even before negotiations had begun in earnest, 59 senators from both parties supported a new round of sanctions, including a commitment to support Israel in the event it should attack Iran, a clear signal about potential future opposition. The Obama administration strongly opposed the bill, which did not get sufficient Democratic support to bring it to a vote.
      The administration has been careful to brief members of Congress throughout the negotiations, and the executive branch has diligently enforced existing sanctions during talks. Yet Congress may still intervene once terms of a deal are known. In the past, legislators have called for Iran’s program--including all centrifuges and enrichment sites—to be completely dismantled. Opposition has invoked “the four no’s: no enrichment, no centrifuges, no stockpile of enriched uranium, and no heavy water reactor.” 
            The administration has signaled that those terms exceed the requirements of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. It is expected to present any agreement with Iran as an executive agreement not requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate for ratification. Nevertheless, cooperation with the Congress will be required in order to remove the many layers of sanctions imposed on Iran over the past 35 years. Most observers expect this domestic negotiation to be even more rancorous than the actual negotiations with Iran.

Regional Allies

      The concerns of regional states – notably Israel and Saudi Arabia– constitute the fourth dimension of this complex negotiation that a senior U.S. official has described as a Rubik’s Cube. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been outspoken in questioning the prospective nuclear deal, especially if Tehran is allowed to retain any ability to enrich uranium. In a CNN interview on April 27, he denounced it as “a terrible deal,” since it would leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state. He told an American audience: “Don’t let it happen.” That perspective could influence Congressional opposition.





Gary Sick, principal White House aide for Iran and the Persian Gulf on the Carter administration’s National Security Council, is now executive director of Gulf/2000, an international online research project on the Persian Gulf at Columbia University.

Click here to read his chapter on the Carter administration and Iran.


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Photo credits: Chess board by Prayitno/ more than 1.5 millions views: thank you! (Flickr: Chess) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, UNGA Ashton Security Council by European External Action Service via Flickr


Report: Improvement in Iran Press Freedom

            Press freedom in Iran has improved for the first time since 1999, according to a new report by Freedom House marking World Press Freedom Day. Despite the marginal progress, Iran still ranked as one of the 10 least-free countries in the world— along with Cuba, North Korea, Syria and others.The organization ranked countries on a 100-point scale with lower numbers signifying greater press freedom. The Islamic Republic’s score fell from 92 to 90 in 2013 “based on a relative improvement in the number of imprisoned journalists and reporters’ increased willingness to push the boundaries on political coverage.” The following are excerpts from the report.

            The world’s eight worst-rated countries, with scores of between 90 and 100 points, remain Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In these states, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression. In 2013, conditions remained largely stable in the majority of these countries, although slight improvements could be seen in some due to the growing ability of citizens to access alternatives to state propaganda, via satellite television, internet-based news platforms, or the circulation of thumb drives and DVDs… [A]fter several years of decline in Iran, the country’s score bounced back from 92 to 90 points in 2013 based on a relative improvement in the number of imprisoned journalists and reporters’ increased willingness to push the boundaries on political coverage, including on the June presidential election.
Iran's Press Freedom Score, 1993-2013
The lower the numeric score, the greater the press freedom.
10 Worst-Rated Countries on Press Freedom (out of 197 rankings)

Bahrain - 188
Syria - 189
Equatorial Guinea - 190
Cuba - 190
Iran - 190
Belarus - 193
Eritrea - 194
Turkmenistan - 195
Uzbekistan - 195
North Korea - 197
Click here for the full report.

US Report on Iran’s Support of Extremism

      Iran used its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Qods Force and regional proxies to “implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations and create instability in the Middle East” in 2013, according to a new report by the State Department. Tehran also continued supporting Palestinian militants in Gaza and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah – which has played a key role in defending the Assad regime in Syria. The following is an excerpt from the Bureau of Counterterrorism’s annual report.

            Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its terrorist-related activity, including support for Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and for Hizballah. It has also increased its presence in Africa and attempted to smuggle arms to Houthi separatists in Yemen and Shia oppositionists in Bahrain. Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and its regional proxy groups to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and create instability in the Middle East. The IRGC-QF is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad. 
            Iran views Syria as a crucial causeway in its weapons supply route to Hizballah, its primary beneficiary. In 2013, Iran continued to provide arms, financing, training, and the facilitation of Iraqi Shia fighters to the Asad regime’s brutal crackdown, a crackdown that has resulted in the death of more than 100,000 civilians in Syria. Iran has publicly admitted sending members of the IRGC to Syria in an advisory role. There are reports indicating some of these troops are IRGC-QF members and that they have taken part in direct combat operations. In February, senior IRGC-QF commander Brigadier General Hassan Shateri was killed in or near Zabadani, Syria. This was the first publicly announced death of a senior Iranian military official in Syria. In November, IRGC-QF commander Mohammad Jamalizadeh Paghaleh was also killed in Aleppo, Syria. Subsequent Iranian media reports stated that Paghaleh was volunteering in Syria to defend the Sayyida Zainab mosque, which is located in Damascus. The location of Paghaleh’s death, over 200 miles away from the mosque he was reported to be protecting, demonstrated Iran’s intent to mask the operations of IRGC-QF forces in Syria. 
            Iran has historically provided weapons, training, and funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups, including the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), although Hamas’s ties to Tehran have been strained due to the Syrian civil war. Since the end of the 2006 Israeli-Hizballah conflict, Iran has also assisted in rearming Hizballah, in direct violation of UNSCR 1701. Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Hizballah in Lebanon and has trained thousands of its fighters at camps in Iran. These trained fighters often use these skills in support of the Asad regime in Syria.
            Despite its pledge to support Iraq’s stabilization, Iran trained, funded, and provided guidance to Iraqi Shia militant groups. The IRGC-QF, in concert with Hizballah, provided training outside of Iraq as well as advisors inside Iraq for Shia militants in the construction and use of sophisticated improvised explosive device technology and other advanced weaponry. Similar to Hizballah fighters, many of these trained Shia militants then use these skills to fight for the Asad regime in Syria, often at the behest of Iran.
            On January 23, 2013, Yemeni authorities seized an Iranian dhow, the Jihan, off the coast of Yemen. The dhow was carrying sophisticated Chinese antiaircraft missiles, C-4 explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, and a number of other weapons and explosives. The shipment of lethal aid was likely headed to Houthi separatists in Northern Yemen. Iran actively supports members of the Houthi movement, including activities intended to build military capabilities, which could pose a greater threat to security and stability in Yemen and the surrounding region. 
In late April 2013, the Government of Bosnia declared two Iranian diplomats, Jadidi Sohrab and Hamzeh Dolab Ahmad, persona non grata after Israeli intelligence reported they were members of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. One of the two men had been spotted in India, Georgia, and Thailand, all of which were sites of a simultaneous bombing campaign in February 2012, according to Israeli intelligence. Both diplomats were subsequently expelled from Bosnia. 
            On December 29, 2013, the Bahraini Coast Guard interdicted a speedboat filled with weapons and explosives that was likely bound for Shia oppositionists in Bahrain, specifically the 14 February Youth Coalition (14 FYC). Bahraini authorities accused the IRGC-QF of providing opposition militants with explosives training in order to carry out attacks in Bahrain. The interdiction led to the discovery of two weapons and explosives cache sites in Bahrain, the dismantling of a car bomb, and the arrest of 15 Bahraini nationals.
            Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. Iran allowed AQ facilitators Muhsin al-Fadhli and Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and also to Syria. Al-Fadhli is a veteran AQ operative who has been active for years. Al-Fadhli began working with the Iran-based AQ facilitation network in 2009 and was later arrested by Iranian authorities. He was released in 2011 and assumed leadership of the Iran-based AQ facilitation network. 
            Iran remains a state of proliferation concern. Despite multiple UNSCRs requiring Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear proliferation activities, Iran continued to violate its international obligations regarding its nuclear program. For further information, see the Report to Congress on Iran-related Multilateral Sanctions Regime Efforts (November 2013), and the Report on the Status of Bilateral and Multilateral Efforts Aimed at Curtailing the Pursuit of Iran of Nuclear Weapons Technology (September 2012). 
Click here for the full report.  

Rouhani on Freedom, Economy & Nukes

            On April 29, President Hassan Rouhani defended his administration’s foreign and domestic policies in a primetime address on state television. He dismissed hardliners who have opposed his outreach to the West and economic reforms that have recently raised prices. Rouhani said that he is proud of his government for creating an atmosphere in which citizens can criticize policies – “even though sometimes [they] make a mountain out of a molehill.” The president was also upbeat about prospects for nuclear negotiations and the lifting of international sanctions. The following are excerpted remarks from his semi-official Twitter account.

Nuclear Negotiations and Sanctions



Foreign Affairs







US Targets Weapons, Oil Sanctions Evaders

      On April 29, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned two individuals and nine entities for evading oil sanctions and aiding Tehran’s ballistic missile program. Several of the front companies were connected to Karl Lee, who was designated several years ago for procuring missile parts for Iran. “As we have made clear, we will continue vigorously to enforce our sanctions, even as we explore the possibility of a comprehensive deal addressing Iran’s nuclear program,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. “These actions are intended to deter future sanctions evasion and prevent Iran from procuring sensitive technologies.” The following is an excerpt from the press release.

Iran’s Missile Proliferation Activities
Treasury is sanctioning the following entities pursuant to E.O. 13382, which, among other things, targets proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their support networks.
Karl Lee (aka Li Fangwei) Front Companies
Treasury designated eight China-based front companies for acting for or on behalf of Karl Lee, a known proliferator for Iran’s ballistic missile program.  Karl Lee (aka Li Fangwei) was designated pursuant to E.O. 13382 in April 2009, as the commercial manager of LIMMT Economic and Trade Company Ltd.  Additionally, several aliases for LIMMT were also identified in April 2009.  LIMMT Economic and Trade Company Ltd. was designated pursuant to E.O. 13382 in June 2006 for providing material support to Iran's ballistic missile program. 
Following Sino Metallurgy and Minmetals Industry Co. Ltd.’s 2009 designation as an alias for LIMMT, Karl Lee directed companies with which LIMMT had contracts to send funds to other Karl Lee front companies, including Sinotech Industry Co., Ltd. and MTTO Industry and Trade Limited.   
Lee has also used Success Move Ltd. and Sinotech Industry Co., Ltd. in his dealings with Iran and to receive funds from Iran for the purchase of goods.
Lee manages Sinotech Dalian Carbon and Graphite Manufacturing Corporation, which along with another front company, Dalian Zhongchuang Char-White Co., Ltd., has been used by Lee to send at least 23 separate shipments to Iran.  Sinotech Dalian Carbon and Graphite Manufacturing Corporation also uses MTTO Industry & Trade Limited and Karat Industry Co. Ltd., as front companies.
Dalian Zhenghua Maoyi Youxian Gongsi (aka Dalian Zenghua Trading Co., Ltd.) is also a front company Lee uses in his financial dealings with Iran.  Lee entered into a contract with a Chinese manufacturer in which the Chinese manufacturer agreed to provide an aramid fiber production line to Dalian Zenghua Trading Co., Ltd.  After the contract between Dalian Zenghua Trading Co., Ltd. and the Chinese manufacturer was signed, Lee used a bank account previously associated with Karat Industry Co., Ltd., to transmit the down payment for the Iranian company's aramid fiber production line.
Since 2013, Karl Lee has also used and continues to use Tereal Industry & Trade Limited as a front company for his dealings with Iran.
Support to Iranian Oil Sanctions Evaders
Saeed Al Aqili, Al Aqili Group LLC, and Anwar Kamal Nizami
Treasury is designating Saeed Al Aqili, the co-owner, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Al Aqili Group LLC pursuant to E.O. 13645 for providing support in connection with deceptive oil deals for Iran.  Saeed Al Aqili uses his companies to assist Iran in selling oil in evasion of sanctions.  Treasury is also identifying Al Aqili Group LLC for being owned by Saeed Al Aqili.  Activities of Al Aqili Group LLC include arranging oil sales for the IRGC and facilitating the circumvention of oil sanctions by disguising the oil’s origin.  Saeed Al Aqili also regularly does business in Iran and has conducted financial transactions with, or on behalf of, the Central Bank of Iran and Bank Melli Iran.
Saeed Al Aqili also assists Seyed Seyyedi’s group of front companies.  Saeed Al Aqili and his representatives, working in conjunction with representatives of Sima General Trading, gave Seyyedi the authority to manage and conduct banking activities on behalf of KASB International LLC.  Seyyedi and a network of his affiliated companies, including KASB International LLC, were identified pursuant to E.O. 13599 in September 2013 for providing support to Government of Iran entities, including NIOC, the Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO) and Sima General Trading.  Sima General Trading was identified in March 2013 pursuant to E.O. 13599 for providing support to Government of Iran entities.  KASB International LLC, also known as First Furat Trading LLC, was one of the Al Aqili Group’s subsidiary companies.
Anwar Kamal Nizami is a Dubai-based Pakistani financial facilitator for KASB International LLC and is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13645.  In his role as a financial expert, he manages the banking relationships and overall finances of KASB International LLC, which is not only affiliated with Saeed Al Aqili and Al Aqili Group LLC, but also with Seyyedi and his Iranian oil evasion network.  Nizami also works for Sima General Trading.
Identifying Information
Name: Mohamed Saeed Al Aqili
AKA: Mohamed Saeed Mohamed Al Aqili
DOB: 23 July 1955
POB: Dubai, UAE
Passport Number: A2599829
UAE ID Number: 784-1955-8497107-1
Title: Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Al Aqili Group LLC
Name: Al Aqili Group LLC
AKA: Al Aqili Group of Companies
Address: Oud Metha Tower, 10th Floor, PO Box 1496, Dubai UAE
Website: www.aqili.com 
E-mail: info@aqili.com 
Name: Anwar Kamal Nizami
DOB: 19 April 1980
Nationality: Pakistani
Passport Number: AE9855872
Title: Accounts Manager, First Furat Trading LLC
Name: Sinotech Industry Co., Ltd.
Address: No. 190 Changjiang Road, Dalian City, China
Name: MTTO Industry and Trade Limited
Address: No. 9 Hongji Street, Xi Gang District, Dalian City, China
Name: Success Move Ltd.
Address: No. 1109 Zhongshan Road, Dalian, China
Name: Sinotech Dalian Carbon and Graphite Manufacturing Corporation
Address: Dalian, China
Name: Dalian Zhongchuang Char-White Co., Ltd.
Address: 2501-2508 Yuexiu Mansion, No. 82 Xinkai Road, Dalian, Liaoning Province, 11601
Name: Karat Industry Co., Ltd.
Address: No. 110 Baiyun Street, Dalian, Liaoning, China
Name: Dalian Zhenghua Maoyi Youxian Gongsi
AKA: Dalian Zenghua Trading Co., Ltd. 
Address: Dalian, China
Name: Tereal Industry and Trade Limited
Address: No. 9 Hongji Street, Xi Gang District, Dalian City, China

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