2016 Journalists Predictions in Foreign Affairs

Not too sure anyone can argue with the 2016 predictions below except the one pertaining to climate change. Sheesh. There are in fact a couple of items missing with particular note hacking by rogue foreign regimes.

What Will Be the Big Story of 2016?

Iran to Increase Power of Destructive Missiles

For additional reference on Iran’s compliance and sanction money, the International Monetary Fund releases are here.

TEHRAN (FNA)- The destruction power and precision of Iran’s missiles will increase, Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan said Saturday following the recent presidential decree that required the defense ministry to speed up development of Iran’s missile capability.  

“Following o the president’s letter, we held numerous meetings with the executive officials, commanders and officials in the missile sector and decided work out appropriate plans as soon as possible to enhance the defensive power and capability as well as the effective deterrence power of our missiles contrary to the will of the hegemonic system which seeks to restrict the Islamic Republic militarily,” Dehqan told reporters in Tehran on Saturday.  

He also underscored the country’s serious intention to further develop its missile power.  

Stressing that the defense ministry seeks to optimize its ballistic missiles in different aspect, Dehqan said, “Increasing the precision-striking, destructive and blast power of our missiles… are among the defense ministry’s plans in the missile field.”  

In his letter on Thursday, President Rouhani noted the United States’

“hostile policies and illegal and illegitimate meddling against Iran’s right to develop its defensive power”, and ordered the defense minister to accelerate production of various types of missiles needed by the Iranian Armed Forces more powerfully.  

“As the United States seems to plan to include the names of new individuals and firms in its previous list of cruel sanctions in line with its hostile policies and illegitimate and illegal meddling in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s right to reinvigorate its defense power, the program for the production of the Armed Forces’ needed missiles is required to continue more speedily and seriously,” President Rouhani’s written order to the Defense Minister read.  

President Rouhani’s decree came in reaction to the US Treasury Department’s announcement that it is preparing sanctions on two Iran-linked networks helping develop the missile program.  

The presidential decree also required the defense ministry to think of new missile production programs at a much wider scale in case Washington continues its sanctions policy against Iran’s defense industries.  

“In case such wrong and interventionist measures are repeated by the United States, the Defense Ministry will be duty-bound to make use of all possibilities to bring up new planning to develop the country’s missile capability,” it stressed.  

The president further described Iran’s defense capabilities as a contributor to regional stability and security, and not a threat to any other state or party. Rather it is a means to “safeguard the country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and to combat the evil phenomenon of terrorism and extremism in line with common regional and global interests”.  

President Rouhani further reminded that Tehran has time and again underlined all throughout the nuclear negotiations with the six world powers – that ended up in the nuclear deal in Vienna in July – that it would “never negotiate with anyone about its defense power, including the missile program, and would never accept any restriction in this field, emphasizing its entitlement to the legitimate right of defense”.  

“It is crystal-clear that Iran’s missile program is not at all a part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – also known as the nuclear deal – and this is acknowledged by the US officials as well,” said the decree, and added, “As repeatedly stated, nuclear weapons have no room in Iran’s defense doctrine, and therefore, the development and production of Iran’s ballistic missiles which have never been designed to carry nuclear warheads, will continue powerfully and firmly as a crucial and conventional tool for defending the country.”  

According to Washington officials, the US is preparing sanctions against firms and individuals in Iran, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates over alleged links to Iran’s ballistic missile program, a move seen by many in and outside Iran as a major blow to the nuclear deal between Tehran and the

5+1 group of powers that include the US, Russia, China, France and 5+Britain plus Germany.  

Under the planned restrictions, the US or foreign nationals would be barred from doing business with the firms and people in the networks. US banks would also freeze any US-held assets.  

The Washington’s antagonistic move comes after Iran took the first two major steps under the nuclear deal – that included reducing the number of its operating centrifuge machines from around 10,000 to 6,000 and sending its over 8.5 tons of low-enriched uranium stockpile to Russia.  

Once Iran takes out the heart of its Heavy Water Reactor in Arak and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirms implementation of these three steps in coming weeks, Iran will be through with fulfilling its undertakings, and it will be the United States’ turn to hold up its end of the bargain and remove all the sanctions against Iran, according to the deal.  

But now with the US intensifying sanctions against Iran, those who stood against the deal in Tehran are rallying increasing support for their pessimistic views about Washington’s loyalty to the deal.  

After Iran reduced its centrifuges to around 6,000 last month, the US imposed a new sanction against Iran through changes in its Visa Waiver Program.  

The US senate passed a bill related to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) which allows citizens of 38 countries — namely European states, Australia, Japan and South Korea — to travel to the United States without having to obtain a visa but excludes from this program all dual nationals from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan, and anyone else who has traveled to those countries in the past five years.  

The bill is seen by the EU as a serious effort to deter expansion of economic and tourism ties between Europe and Iran after the removal of the sanctions against Tehran. Senior EU officials have voiced strong protest at the US for its biased action against the block and are running debates with counterparts in Washington to drop the bill.


Obama Spied on Congress/Israel, Contempt/Disdain

U.S. Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress
National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders also swept up the content of private conversations with U.S. lawmakers

WSJ: President Barack Obama announced two years ago he would curtail eavesdropping on friendly heads of state after the world learned the reach of long-secret U.S. surveillance programs.

But behind the scenes, the White House decided to keep certain allies under close watch, current and former U.S. officials said. Topping the list was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The U.S., pursuing a nuclear arms agreement with Iran at the time, captured communications between Mr. Netanyahu and his aides that inflamed mistrust between the two countries and planted a political minefield at home when Mr. Netanyahu later took his campaign against the deal to Capitol Hill.

The National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders and officials also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups. That raised fears—an “Oh-s— moment,” one senior U.S. official said—that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress.

White House officials believed the intercepted information could be valuable to counter Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign. They also recognized that asking for it was politically risky. So, wary of a paper trail stemming from a request, the White House let the NSA decide what to share and what to withhold, officials said. “We didn’t say, ‘Do it,’ ” a senior U.S. official said. “We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’ ”

Stepped-up NSA eavesdropping revealed to the White House how Mr. Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiations—learned through Israeli spying operations—to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes, according to current and former officials familiar with the intercepts.

Before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed much of the agency’s spying operations in 2013, there was little worry in the administration about the monitoring of friendly heads of state because it was such a closely held secret. After the revelations and a White House review, Mr. Obama announced in a January 2014 speech he would curb such eavesdropping.

In closed-door debate, the Obama administration weighed which allied leaders belonged on a so-called protected list, shielding them from NSA snooping. French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders made the list, but the administration permitted the NSA to target the leaders’ top advisers, current and former U.S. officials said. Other allies were excluded from the protected list, including Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of NATO ally Turkey, which allowed the NSA to spy on their communications at the discretion of top officials.

Privately, Mr. Obama maintained the monitoring of Mr. Netanyahu on the grounds that it served a “compelling national security purpose,” according to current and former U.S. officials. Mr. Obama mentioned the exception in his speech but kept secret the leaders it would apply to.

Israeli, German and French government officials declined to comment on NSA activities. Turkish officials didn’t respond to requests Tuesday for comment. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the NSA declined to comment on communications provided to the White House.

This account, stretching over two terms of the Obama administration, is based on interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. intelligence and administration officials and reveals for the first time the extent of American spying on the Israeli prime minister.

Taking office
After Mr. Obama’s 2008 presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials gave his national-security team a one-page questionnaire on priorities. Included on the form was a box directing intelligence agencies to focus on “leadership intentions,” a category that relies on electronic spying to monitor world leaders.

The NSA was so proficient at monitoring heads of state that it was common for the agency to deliver a visiting leader’s talking points to the president in advance. “Who’s going to look at that box and say, ‘No, I don’t want to know what world leaders are saying,’ ” a former Obama administration official said.

In early intelligence briefings, Mr. Obama and his top advisers were told what U.S. spy agencies thought of world leaders, including Mr. Netanyahu, who at the time headed the opposition Likud party.

Michael Hayden, who led the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency during the George W. Bush administration, described the intelligence relationship between the U.S. and Israel as “the most combustible mixture of intimacy and caution that we have.”

The NSA helped Israel expand its electronic spy apparatus—known as signals intelligence—in the late 1970s. The arrangement gave Israel access to the communications of its regional enemies, information shared with the U.S. Israel’s spy chiefs later suspected the NSA was tapping into their systems.

When Mr. Obama took office, the NSA and its Israeli counterpart, Unit 8200, worked together against shared threats, including a campaign to sabotage centrifuges for Iran’s nuclear program. At the same time, the U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies targeted one another, stoking tensions.

“Intelligence professionals have a saying: There are no friendly intelligence services,” said Mike Rogers, former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Early in the Obama presidency, for example, Unit 8200 gave the NSA a hacking tool the NSA later discovered also told Israel how the Americans used it. It wasn’t the only time the NSA caught Unit 8200 poking around restricted U.S. networks. Israel would say intrusions were accidental, one former U.S. official said, and the NSA would respond, “Don’t worry. We make mistakes, too.”

In 2011 and 2012, the aims of Messrs. Netanyahu and Obama diverged over Iran. Mr. Netanyahu prepared for a possible strike against an Iranian nuclear facility, as Mr. Obama pursued secret talks with Tehran without telling Israel.

Convinced Mr. Netanyahu would attack Iran without warning the White House, U.S. spy agencies ramped up their surveillance, with the assent of Democratic and Republican lawmakers serving on congressional intelligence committees.

By 2013, U.S. intelligence agencies determined Mr. Netanyahu wasn’t going to strike Iran. But they had another reason to keep watch. The White House wanted to know if Israel had learned of the secret negotiations. U.S. officials feared Iran would bolt the talks and pursue an atomic bomb if news leaked.

The NSA had, in some cases, spent decades placing electronic implants in networks around the world to collect phone calls, text messages and emails. Removing them or turning them off in the wake of the Snowden revelations would make it difficult, if not impossible, to re-establish access in the future, U.S. intelligence officials warned the White House.

Instead of removing the implants, Mr. Obama decided to shut off the NSA’s monitoring of phone numbers and email addresses of certain allied leaders—a move that could be reversed by the president or his successor.

There was little debate over Israel. “Going dark on Bibi? Of course we wouldn’t do that,” a senior U.S. official said, using Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname.

One tool was a cyber implant in Israeli networks that gave the NSA access to communications within the Israeli prime minister’s office.

Given the appetite for information about Mr. Netanyahu’s intentions during the U.S.-Iran negotiations, the NSA tried to send updates to U.S. policy makers quickly, often in less than six hours after a notable communication was intercepted, a former official said.

Emerging deal
NSA intercepts convinced the White House last year that Israel was spying on negotiations under way in Europe. Israeli officials later denied targeting U.S. negotiators, saying they had won access to U.S. positions by spying only on the Iranians.

By late 2014, White House officials knew Mr. Netanyahu wanted to block the emerging nuclear deal but didn’t know how.

On Jan. 8, John Boehner, then the Republican House Speaker, and incoming Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed on a plan. They would invite Mr. Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress. A day later, Mr. Boehner called Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador, to get Mr. Netanyahu’s agreement.

Despite NSA surveillance, Obama administration officials said they were caught off guard when Mr. Boehner announced the invitation on Jan. 21.

Soon after, Israel’s lobbying campaign against the deal went into full swing on Capitol Hill, and it didn’t take long for administration and intelligence officials to realize the NSA was sweeping up the content of conversations with lawmakers.

The message to the NSA from the White House amounted to: “You decide” what to deliver, a former intelligence official said.

NSA rules governing intercepted communications “to, from or about” Americans date back to the Cold War and require obscuring the identities of U.S. individuals and U.S. corporations. An American is identified only as a “U.S. person” in intelligence reports; a U.S. corporation is identified only as a “U.S. organization.” Senior U.S. officials can ask for names if needed to understand the intelligence information.

The rules were tightened in the early 1990s to require that intelligence agencies inform congressional committees when a lawmaker’s name was revealed to the executive branch in summaries of intercepted communications.

A 2011 NSA directive said direct communications between foreign intelligence targets and members of Congress should be destroyed when they are intercepted. But the NSA director can issue a waiver if he determines the communications contain “significant foreign intelligence.”

The NSA has leeway to collect and disseminate intercepted communications involving U.S. lawmakers if, for example, foreign ambassadors send messages to their foreign ministries that recount their private meetings or phone calls with members of Congress, current and former officials said.

“Either way, we got the same information,” a former official said, citing detailed reports prepared by the Israelis after exchanges with lawmakers.

During Israel’s lobbying campaign in the months before the deal cleared Congress in September, the NSA removed the names of lawmakers from intelligence reports and weeded out personal information. The agency kept out “trash talk,” officials said, such as personal attacks on the executive branch.

Administration and intelligence officials said the White House didn’t ask the NSA to identify any lawmakers during this period.

“From what I can tell, we haven’t had a problem with how incidental collection has been handled concerning lawmakers,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He declined to comment on any specific communications between lawmakers and Israel.

The NSA reports allowed administration officials to peer inside Israeli efforts to turn Congress against the deal. Mr. Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations—which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups—on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal.

“These allegations are total nonsense,” said a spokesman for the Embassy of Israel in Washington.

A U.S. intelligence official familiar with the intercepts said Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as: “How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?”

NSA intelligence reports helped the White House figure out which Israeli government officials had leaked information from confidential U.S. briefings. When confronted by the U.S., Israel denied passing on the briefing materials.

The agency’s goal was “to give us an accurate illustrative picture of what [the Israelis] were doing,” a senior U.S. official said.

Just before Mr. Netanyahu’s address to Congress in March, the NSA swept up Israeli messages that raised alarms at the White House: Mr. Netanyahu’s office wanted details from Israeli intelligence officials about the latest U.S. positions in the Iran talks, U.S. officials said.

A day before the speech, Secretary of State John Kerry made an unusual disclosure. Speaking to reporters in Switzerland, Mr. Kerry said he was concerned Mr. Netanyahu would divulge “selective details of the ongoing negotiations.”

The State Department said Mr. Kerry was responding to Israeli media reports that Mr. Netanyahu wanted to use his speech to make sure U.S. lawmakers knew the terms of the Iran deal.

Intelligence officials said the media reports allowed the U.S. to put Mr. Netanyahu on notice without revealing they already knew his thinking. The prime minister mentioned no secrets during his speech to Congress.

In the final months of the campaign, NSA intercepts yielded few surprises. Officials said the information reaffirmed what they heard directly from lawmakers and Israeli officials opposed to Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign—that the prime minister was focused on building opposition among Democratic lawmakers.

The NSA intercepts, however, revealed one surprise. Mr. Netanyahu and some of his allies voiced confidence they could win enough votes.


Enter Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader

The Phone Call that Upended U.S.-Israel Relations

WSJ: It started off as a routine call between then-House Speaker John Boehner and the incoming Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, about ways Republicans in Congress could put the brakes on the nuclear pact President Barack Obama was negotiating with Iran.

Then Messrs. Boehner and McConnell had a light-bulb moment: They could undercut Mr. Obama by extending an invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress opposing the emerging deal.

The initiative set in motion by Messrs. Boehner and McConnell during the Jan. 8 phone call not only would inflame hostilities between the White House and Republicans in Congress but exacerbate the biggest breakdown in relations between U.S. and Israeli heads of state in decades, as detailed in this Wall Street Journal piece.

Mr. Boehner (R., Ohio) and Mr. McConnell (R., Ky.) knew secrecy was key. If word leaked out, they believed the White House would pressure Mr. Netanyahu to decline. To ensure the invitation would come as a surprise, the leaders decided to tell only their closest aides.

“We knew this would be a poke in the eye,” a person close to the Republican leaders said of the invitation.

The immediate concern was whether Mr. Netanyahu would agree to accept the invitation. Mr. Netanyahu’s relationship with Mr. Obama was already deeply troubled. Initially, the two Republicans weren’t sure the prime minister would be eager to make that situation even worse by entering into a direct political fight with the president in Congress.

When Mr. Boehner called Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer on Jan. 9, the ambassador said he liked the idea and would sound out the prime minister, according to a person familiar with the call.

From the beginning, Mr. Boehner wasn’t entirely comfortable with what was a clear breach of protocol. Typically, only the White House would extend such an invitation in consultations with Congress. He and Mr. McConnell did not tell the White House about their discussions at any point during the planning, congressional officials said.

(Ironically, the Obama administration had already broken the precedent by inviting the South Korean president to address Congress without first consulting Mr. Boehner.)

Mr. Boehner tapped his chief of staff, Mike Sommers, to serve as the main point of contact for Mr. Dermer in the negotiations. No one else on Mr. Boehner’s staff was told.

This was not the first time Mr. Boehner had invited the Israeli prime minister to address Congress. Early in his tenure as speaker, the Ohio Republican approached the White House about inviting Mr. Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of House and Senate members. The White House dragged its feet before eventually giving Mr. Boehner the green light to extend an invite.

In waiting on the White House, tension developed between Mr. Boehner and his no. 2, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.). Mr. Cantor, for years the only Jewish Republican in the House, pushed the speaker to demand an answer from the Obama administration, but Mr. Boehner wanted to give the president and his team time to digest the idea.

In the end, Mr. Netanyahu declined the invitation.

The second time, the Republicans knew they would be stirring a partisan hornets’ nest, given the controversy about the Iranian talks.

The Boehner and McConnell teams had decided they would send a formal letter inviting Mr. Netanyahu on Jan. 21, one day after Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address.

On Jan. 20, Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the negotiations with Iran, held a 45-minute meeting with Mr. Dermer, who didn’t say a word about the pending announcement, U.S. officials said.

That afternoon, Mr. Boehner sent final word to Mr. Dermer finalizing plans to made the announcement the next day.

An Israeli official in Washington said the ambassador “felt it would be inappropriate for him to raise the issue with the administration, including in his meeting with the secretary of state, until the speaker notified them.”

In the State of the Union, the president hailed the prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran and warned Congress not to throw obstacles in the way.

“New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails, alienating America from its allies, making it harder to maintain sanctions and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again,” Mr. Obama said.

On Jan. 21, as planned, Mr. Boehner’s office formally sent the invitation to Mr. Netanyahu. A few hours before Mr. Boehner’s office released the invitation letter to the press, Mr. Boehner’s chief of staff, Mr. Sommers, called Katie Fallon, Mr. Obama’s top congressional liaison, to inform her. The initial call was cordial. Mrs. Fallon said she appreciated the heads up. The White House had yet to digest the news.

At the White House National Security Council, then-coordinator for the Middle East, Philip Gordon, reacted with disbelief when told Mr. Netanyahu would address a joint session of Congress on the Iran deal. “No he’s not,” Mr. Gordon said in response. “I talk to Dermer all the time.” In those discussions, Mr. Dermer never mentioned an impending speech, Mr. Gordon said.

An hour after Mr. Sommers told the White House, Mrs. Fallon called Mr. Boehner’s chief of staff back. This time she was not as understanding and scolded Mr. Sommers for going around the Obama administration’s back.

Senior officials demanded answers from their Israeli counterparts. Administration officials thought the idea was cooked up by Messrs. Dermer and Netanyahu, and then proposed to the Republicans in Congress. In fact, it was the other way around, congressional officials said.

Mr. Dermer told his American counterparts it was his impression the speaker’s office would “take care of” informing the White House, according to a former U.S. official.

The National Security Agency was spying on Israeli communications but didn’t pick up on the discussions between Messrs. Boehner and Dermer, nor on the deliberations that followed between Messrs. Dermer and Netanyahu on accepting the invitation.

Impeach John Kerry over Allegiance to Iran

Incredible…..John Kerry with the Obama administration’s approval proves more loyalty to Iran than to the United States. It is no longer deniable that Iran’s best partner is John Kerry with Barack Obama’s approval. It is all about the waiver, meaning agreements, treaties and accords have no teeth, the pen is mighty when waivers unwind objectives and our own Congress.

In part from Politico: “Has anybody in the West been targeted by any Iranian national, anybody of Iranian origin, or anyone traveling to Iran?” Zarif asked. “Whereas many people have been targeted by the nationals of your allies, people visiting your allies, and people transiting the territory of, again, your allies. So you’re looking at the wrong address.”

Zarif mentioned the 9/11 attacks, as well as the recent San Bernardino and Paris attacks. His remarks were veiled references to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, whose citizens have been implicated in those and other lethal strikes. Neither nation is singled out in the new visa law.

Despite Kerry’s letter, the National Iranian American Council remained wary of the visa law. “It remains unclear how these steps will ensure that dual citizens are not discriminated against solely on the basis of their nationality,” the group said Sunday.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/12/iran-visa-waivers-kerry-nuclear-deal-217014#ixzz3v93uDvMt

Iran Nuclear Deal Restricts U.S. More Than Congress Knew

By &

Members of Congress knew the Iran nuclear deal came with strings attached. They just didn’t know how many.

When the administration presented the agreement to Congress, lawmakers were told that new sanctions on Iran would violate the deal. Now the administration is trying to sidestep a recently passed provision to tighten rules on visas for those who have visited Iran.

Since the accord was struck last summer, the U.S. emphasis on complying with its end of the deal has publicly eclipsed its efforts to pressure Iran. In that time, Iranian authorities have detained two American dual nationals and sentenced a third on what most observers say are trumped up espionage charges. Iran’s military has conducted two missile tests, one of which the U.N. said violated sanctions, and engaged in a new offensive with Russia in Syria to shore up the country’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad.

In the latest example of the U.S. effort to reassure Iran, the State Department is scrambling to confirm to Iran that it won’t enforce new rules that would increase screening of Europeans who have visited Iran and plan to come to America. There is concern the new visa waiver provisions, included in the omnibus budget Congress passed last week, would hinder business people seeking to open up new ventures in Iran once sanctions are lifted.

U.S. officials confirmed over the weekend that Secretary of State John Kerry sent his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, a letter promising to use executive powers to waive the new restrictions on those who have visited Iran but are citizens of countries in the Visa Waiver Program. These officials also told us that they have told Iranian diplomats that, because they are not specific to Iran, the new visa waiver provisions do not violate the detailed sequence of steps Iran and other countries committed to taking as part of the agreement. Even so, the State Department is promising to sidestep the new rule.

At issue is a provision that would require travelers who visit certain countries — including Iran, Sudan, Syria and Iraq — to apply at a U.S. Embassy for a visa before coming to the U.S., even if they are from a country for which such visas would normally be waived.

House staffers who spoke with us say Iran was included for good reason, because it remains on the U.S. list of state of sponsors of terrorism for its open support for Hezbollah and Hamas. The White House did not object until the Iranian government told the administration last week that the bill would violate the nuclear agreement, according to correspondence on these negotiations shared with us.

Since 2013, when the open negotiations with Iran began, the Obama administration has repeatedly told Congress that additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic would wreck negotiations. The resulting agreement obligates the West to lift sanctions in exchange for more transparency and limitations on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran and the White House seem to be interpreting “lift sanctions” more broadly than others expected.

“If the United States Congress cannot implement a more secure visa procedure for those who travel to state sponsors of terrorism like Iran, then the Iran deal ties the hands of lawmakers to a greater extent than even deal critics feared,” Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an expert in Iran sanctions, told us.

Over the weekend, Zarif said in an interview with al-Monitor that Iran’s inclusion on the list might violate the agreement. Zarif called the new restrictions “absurd” because no one connected to Iran was involved in the attacks in San Bernardino and Paris. He also said the provision “sends a very bad signal to the Iranians that the U.S. is bent on hostile policy toward Iran, no matter what.”

The issue is particularly sensitive for the State Department because Iran has yet to implement its side of the deal: The new transparency and limitations on the nuclear program are to begin in the coming weeks. State Department officials have said they fear more hardline elements of the regime in Tehran are trying to scuttle the deal for political advantage over President Hassan Rouhani, whose administration negotiated the accord.

In February, Iran will have parliamentary elections and elections for the powerful assembly of experts, the committee of clerics that would choose the next supreme leader of Iran after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dies. If anti-deal elements win those elections, the future of the nuclear deal will be dim.

These factors explain why Kerry has been willing to overlook Iran’s own provocations while trying to mitigate what Iran sees as provocations from the U.S. Congress. They also explain why Iran seems so intent to provoke the U.S. at the moment it’s supposed to implement the deal to which it just agreed.

Iran Swapping Nuclear Material with Russia

Sheesh, what could go wrong and what uranium and why to Russia?

In part from FreeBeacon: Russia and Iran are beginning to trade sensitive nuclear materials, an activity that is at least in part condoned by the Obama administration and permissible under the tenets of the recent nuclear accord, according to U.S. and Iranian officials.

Russian-made yellow cake, a type of uranium powder that helps turn it into a nuclear fuel, “is in Iran and Iran’s enriched uranium cargo will be sent to Russia” within the next several days, according to top Iranian officials quoted this week in the country’s state-run press.

Senior U.S. officials confirmed on Thursday that the Obama administration backs the opening of commercial nuclear trade between Moscow and Tehran.

“Commercial contracts are in place for Iran to ship its enriched uranium stockpiles to Russia,” Stephen Mull, a State Department official who is leading the administration’s charge to implement the nuclear deal, told lawmakers. More details here.

This condition is quite familiar especially with regard to Iran.

Bishkek (AKIpress)nuke plant Russia and Kazakhstan are preparing an intergovernmental agreement on construction of a nuclear power plant, Presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told TASS on Friday.

“An intergovernmental cooperation agreement is being prepared for construction of a Russia-designed nuclear power plant within the territory of Kazakhstan,” he said, adding that the issue may be touched upon on December 21 at the meeting of presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan “on the sidelines” of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) and the SEEC (Supreme Eurasian Economic Council) summit.

“The leaders of the two countries are expected to dwell upon the problem of boosting trade and economic cooperation,” Ushakov said.

Then there is India:

BusinessInsider: India is expected to offer Russia land in Andhra Pradesh to set up units five and six of Kudankulam nuclear power plant. This is in line with the ‘Make in India‘ initiative. The decision would be finalised during Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s visit to Moscow this week.

“We will follow principles of ‘localisation’ as per Make in India initiative for setting up Kudankulam nuclear power plant five and six,” sources told PTI.

Russia is working a deal in Jordan but back to Iran:

Back in 2013-14: WASHINGTON — Russia has agreed to build Iran two additional nuclear power plants, Iran’s state-run Press TV announced on Wednesday.

Russia will construct the new facilities next to Iran’s sole existing nuclear power plant in the city of Bushehr.

That plant was also built with Russian assistance, and was fueled for operation in 2011. The reactor was put under full Iranian control in 2013.

The deal includes two desalination plants and is reportedly in exchange for oil; Russia built first and only reactor at Bushehr.

Iran To Ship Enriched Uranium To Russia

 RFEL: Iranian nuclear officials say Tehran will export most of its enriched uranium stockpile to Russia in the coming days as it implements a nuclear deal to secure relief from international sanctions.

The Iranian news agency IRNA quotes nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi as saying on December 19 that “around nine tons of Iran’s enriched uranium will be exported to Russia.”

That is roughly the amount that Iran must export to bring its stockpile down to the required level under the sanctions-relief deal.

Salehi did not give a precise timetable for what he meant by “in the coming days.”

Under the terms of the deal it reached in July with world powers, Iran must reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium to around 300 kilograms. It must also deactivate and store most of its centrifuges, and remove the core of a heavy water reactor in Arak so it cannot be used to produce plutonium.

On December 16, Tehran said it was working to complete the requirements in the next two to three weeks, after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) closed its investigation of Iran’s past nuclear activities.

The 35-nation governing board of the IAEA passed a resolution on December 15 ending the UN nuclear watchdog agency’s 12-year-long inquiry into suspicions of “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear work.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said afterward that Tehran has taken the necessary steps to cooperate with the agency and that it was “not impossible” that sanctions could be lifted in January.

Iran has shown a strong apparent desire in recent weeks to build on the momentum of the nuclear deal and restore international economic links after years of sanctions.

Iranian Industry Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh said on December 17 that Tehran is prepared to begin negotiations for membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Iran first applied for WTO membership in July 1996, but progress had been minimal since then due to tensions over the Iranian nuclear crisis.