News Digest: Week of February 14

February 14

U.S.-Israel: In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to discuss the Iranian threat. Graham said that an agreement on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal would “fall short of the votes necessary to ratify” it in the Senate. “Consequently, the agreement, if there is one, will have no legal effect beyond the current administration,” he told reporters.

Graham also proposed a limited defense pact with Israel. “I wouldn’t suggest any defense agreement would restrict Israel’s ability to act on their own against what they see as threats.” But a pact could send “a clear message that the destruction of the Jewish State means war with the U.S.”


Nuclear: Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that while “Iran is in a hurry to reach an agreement in Vienna… within the framework of our national interest,” the United States is “playing with time.” 

Prisoners: Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said that a potential prisoner exchange “is currently on the agenda with the Vienna talks” but that the United States had not made a decision on it. “Perhaps it is waiting for the results of the talks.”

Sanctions: The shortage of foreign currency in Iran, a result of U.S. sanctions, has pushed the Iranian publishing industry toward crisis, according to a report by Agence France-Presse. Publishing houses must pay for imported paper pulp in foreign currency, so the costs of production are determined on the volatile value of the rial in relation to other currencies.   


February 15

Nuclear: For the first time, an Israeli delegation traveled to Vienna to consult with diplomats on the sidelines of the nuclear talks. The officials included Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General for Strategic Affairs Joshua Zarka, Atomic Energy Committee Deputy Director General for Policy Gil Reich, and Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency David Nussbaum. They intended to meet with officials from all of the parties involved in the talks, except Iran.


Nuclear: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, while in Bahrain, criticized the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna. “​This deal will enable Iran to maintain its nuclear capabilities and to get hundreds of billions of dollars to sustain its terrorism machine that will harm a lot of countries in the region and the world,” he warned.  

Nuclear: Iran’s lead negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani, met with the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, in Vienna.


February 16

South Korea: Iranian bankers and officials from the oil ministry and state-run oil company were holding talks with South Korean officials on frozen funds, South Korea’s foreign ministry said. Iran has claimed that U.S. sanctions have restricted access to some $7 billion in assets held by two South Korean banks.

Nuclear: In an interview with the Financial Times, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian said that Iran needed political statements from the U.S. Congress and other Western parliaments committing their countries to implementing the nuclear deal. “As a matter of principle, public opinion in Iran cannot accept as a guarantee the words of a head of state, let alone the United States, due to the withdrawal of Americans from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).”

U.S.-Israel: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow Democrats Adam Schiff, Ted Deutch, Barbara Lee, Bill Keating, Eric Swalwell, Ro Khanna and Andy Kim landed in Israel. Pelosi told Israeli lawmakers that their countries “are together in the fight against terrorism posed by Iran, both in the region and also its nuclear development.” Israel’s “proximity to Iran is a concern to all of us and a responsibility for all of us,” she said.