Iran runs out of water after years of mismanagement

Posted July 30, 2021 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

Sucks to be you, Iran.

I know of a nearby country that has world class expertise in water management…

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/world/the-times/iran-runs-out-of-water-after-years-of-mismanagement/news-story/ab8e0e30f1760624b80f7c00ae40af51

25 July 2021

A diver takes the plunge into the deepest swimming pool in the world - reaching 60m below - in the United Arab Emirates, one of five countries to record temperatures above 50C on the same day last month.

Iran is “water bankrupt” after years of mismanagement under the regime, leading to shortages that have triggered deadly protests across the country and discontent in the wider Middle East, an exiled expert has said.

All sources of the nation’s water — rivers, reservoirs and groundwater — are starting to run dry, Kaveh Madani, a scientist and former deputy environment minister now living in the United States, told The Times.

Iran’s energy minister has admitted that the country is facing an unprecedented crisis, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 82, the supreme leader, has expressed some sympathy with the demonstrators. “We cannot really blame the people,” he said.

At least eight people have died in recent protests, which started in Khuzestan, the southern province which has suffered some of the worst effects, according to Amnesty International.

The water shortage is being replicated across the region, with the marshes of southern Iraq starting to dry out again despite restoration efforts, and eastern Syria suffering a drought.

Farther west, nearly three quarters of Lebanon’s population, including a million refugees, could lose access to safe water in the next four to six weeks after the pumping system started to break down amid a fuel shortage, Unicef said.

The crisis in the Middle East has been brewing for years, with repeated warnings of “water wars”. The problem has been exacerbated by global warming, with average temperatures rising inexorably.

Five countries recorded temperatures above 50C on the same day last month — the UAE, Iran, Oman, Kuwait and Pakistan — and the region’s mega-cities are expected to experience temperatures of up to 55C for days at a time by the middle of the century.

However, water experts say that the underlying problem is mismanagement across the region. In Iran, 600 dams have been built since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the accompanying hydroelectric power plants are now a vital part of the nation’s economy. Experts say that reservoirs in such hot and arid areas lose so much water to evaporation — two billion cubic metres of water a month in Iran — that they have become part of the problem.

“The system is water bankrupt when consumption is more than renewable water availability,” Madani said. He was an academic at Imperial College London before being recruited in 2017 to become deputy head of Iran’s environment ministry. However, his appointment offended hardliners and he was detained by the Revolutionary Guard, accused of spying and eventually forced to leave.

He said Iran had to plan to live with shortages. “Iran cannot fully restore its wetlands, aquifers and rivers in a short period of time,” he said. “So, it has to admit to water bankruptcy and stop denying that many of the damages have become irreversible.”

The crisis was foreseen years ago. In 2005 Reza Ardakanian, 63, now the energy minister, wrote a paper in his capacity as a water management expert in which he warned that Iran’s water extraction was double sustainable levels.

He has pointed out that the present crisis has coincided with one of the driest years in five decades: meteorologists say rainfall in the region is down by as much as 85 per cent.

In Iran, cheap fuel has been used to power pumps to extract vast amounts of groundwater to drive the country’s massively expanded agriculture. The falling levels of groundwater can be detected from space; Nasa says the loss in weight has affected the region’s gravitational field.

Iran is not the only victim. Over-extraction of groundwater has caused droughts in eastern Syria, the country’s breadbasket, while both Syria and Iraq have complained about Turkish dams impeding the flow of the Euphrates and Tigris into Mesopotamia.

The crisis has had diplomatic effects. Egypt has threatened war if Ethiopia continues to fill its Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile unchecked. Israel, by contrast, has offered to double the amount of desalinated water it sells to Jordan as part of efforts by the new government to build ties.

In Lebanon, mismanagement of fuel supplies has contributed to the water crisis. The central bank has subsidised imports but has now run out of dollars, leading to widespread shortages.

Mains electricity is running at a maximum of two hours a day. Operators of the private generators which make up the difference may have to turn them off in the next few days for lack of diesel, raising the extraordinary prospect of a modern country almost entirely without electricity.

Yukie Mokuo, Lebanon’s Unicef representative, said yesterday: “Unless urgent action is taken, hospitals, schools and essential public facilities will be unable to function and over four million people will be forced to resort to unsafe and costly sources of water, putting children’s health and hygiene at risk.”

After months of optimism, a return to the Iran nuke deal begins to look unlikely

Posted July 27, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


The Islamic Republic’s demands, along with progress in its program, make a return to the JCPOA seem much more difficult than when Biden came into office

By LAZAR BERMAN26 July 2021, 7:48 pm  

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, July 14, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, July 14, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

After months of expectations that a breakthrough in the Vienna talks on Iran’s nuclear program was only a matter of time, the chances of success are now looking increasingly remote.

Earlier this month, Iran’s deputy foreign minister said negotiations on restoring the nuclear deal will not resume until the hardliner Ebrahim Raisi takes office as president on August 5.

Though both sides have significant incentives to return to the deal, Iran’s aggressive negotiating demands and steady progress in its nuclear program have created a gap between the sides that looks increasingly difficult to bridge.

Furthermore, it is not entirely clear now that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei still wants to return to a deal, despite the Biden administration’s clear desire to finalize one.

Back in the box

Iran and the US have been holding indirect talks in Vienna since April over a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for significant curbs on its nuclear program.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions against Iran, which led the Islamic Republic to step up uranium enrichment to its highest-ever levels in violation of the accord.Then-US president Donald J. Trump signs an executive order on Iran Sanctions at Trump National Golf Club, August 6, 2018, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The new US administration, in contrast, has been open about its eagerness to restore the nuclear deal.

“Biden had from the start been explicit that he wants to get back into the JCPOA and put the Iran nuclear program in a box so that Biden can deal with a million other problems facing him on day one when he took office, both foreign and domestic policy,” said Jonathan Ruhe, director of foreign policy at The Jewish Institute for National Security of America.

The Biden administration has even shown itself willing to allow Iran access to frozen assets abroad, which Iran has dismissed as empty gestures.

“Clearly the regime is not feeling the economic noose at tightly as they were,” said Richard Goldberg, senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, December 2, 2020. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The sixth round of talks adjourned in late June, and while the Biden administration has expressed interest in returning to the negotiating table, US officials have voiced increasing pessimism regarding the chances for an agreement.

The equation for a deal seems straightforward: Iran rolls back its nuclear program to the terms laid out in great detail by the JCPOA, while the US rolls back most Trump-era sanctions.

But Iran — or at least the hardline elements around Ali Khamenei — is demanding more. Tehran wants all the sanctions removed, including those dealing with terrorism and other non-nuclear issues.

Iranian negotiators are also demanding guarantees that the US cannot withdraw from a deal again without UN approval. The demand is an obvious non-starter, as an agreement by a US administration is not binding on any future ones, and it is utterly unthinkable — not to mention unconstitutional — that the US would give countries like Russia and China veto power over its foreign policy at the UN.Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, arrives at the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna’ where closed-door nuclear talks are taking place in the Austrian capital, on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

The blunt — some would also say unsophisticated — approach taken by the Iranian negotiating team is a stark contrast to its skillful maneuvering from 2013 to 2015 that led to a deal.

“Iran did a great job building up leverage in the previous talks leading to the 2015 deal,” said Ruhe.

Tehran is looking to build leverage this time around as well, including through its proxy militias in Iraq, which are believed to be behind a series of recent drone attacks on US bases in the country.

Iranian intelligence agents even plotted to kidnap an Iranian-American journalist in Brooklyn and spirit her off to Iran.Journalist Masih Alinejad speaks onstage at the 7th Annual Women In The World Summit at the Lincoln Center in New York City, April 7, 2016. (Jemal Countess / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

Most significantly, the Iranians have been openly escalating its nuclear program beyond the agreement’s limits: in the numbers and types of centrifuges they are running, in the quantities and levels of uranium they are enriching — up to 60 percent — and in their production of uranium metal.

“Even the Biden administration, which wants a deal badly, is having a hard time saying, ‘We’ll give in to the pressure,’” said Ruhe.

Iran began to openly abrogate its responsibilities under the JCPOA in July 2019, and has been accelerating its program and limiting access to its nuclear sites after the Guardian Council passed a law in December 2020 requiring the government to do so if sanctions were not lifted.

Facts on the ground

The Iranian advances might render a return to the original JCPOA impossible, even if Iran were willing to remove its unrealistic demands.

“There is a series of new facts on the ground that Iran has been creating in its nuclear program,” said Goldberg.A satellite photo by Maxar Technologies shows construction at Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility on December 11, 2020. Iran has begun construction on a site at its underground nuclear facility at Fordo amid tensions with the US over its atomic program (Maxar Technologies via AP)

The JCPOA was crafted before Iran had developed new advanced centrifuges, which enable them to advance far more quickly to a bomb. Moreover, Iran been building out its nuclear facilities, including the underground Fordo nuclear facility and a new underground centrifuge production site at Natanz.

Since the facilities did not exist in 2015, it is not at all clear that a return to the JCPOA would necessitate their dismantlement.  In any event, the Iranian program is going to be far more advanced than the deal ever imagined, and the Iranians will still possess all the knowledge they have gained over the past two years.

To make matters more complicated, Iran’s program is much more opaque now than it was in 2015.

In late February, Iran limited the IAEA’s access to nuclear sites it had been monitoring as part of the 2015 deal.Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on May 24, 2021. (ALEX HALADA/AFP)

A three-month agreement reached on February 21 allowing some inspections to continue was extended by another month in May. Under that deal Iran pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA as and when US sanctions are lifted.

In June, Iran said it would not hand over the footage.

“We have some idea of how advanced Iran’s nuclear program is. But there’s much more ambiguity now around it than there was before talks started,” Ruhe explained.

That ambiguity makes a new deal difficult as well. Without knowing how advanced Iran’s program is — how significant its enriched uranium stockpiles are and how many centrifuges are running — the Americans cannot be sure of what they are trying to get the Iranians to concede.

What does Khamenei want?

Iran’s negotiating posture raises questions about what Khamenei’s endgame is.

One possibility is that the supreme leader’s strategic direction has not changed, and he ultimately wants to get to back to the agreement. That would mean his negotiators have been playing for time as a negotiating tactic, seeing how far they can push the Biden administration.

“They may be saying, we’ve already pocketed all of these sanctions from the Americans, we still want more,” Goldberg said.

“In my opinion, it’s not only Biden who wants to put the nuclear issues ‘back into the box’ but also Khamenei,” said Raz Zimmt, Iran scholar at the Institute for National Security Studies.People withdraw money from an ATM in Tehran’s grand bazaar on November 3, 2018. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

A deal will help Iran deal with its economic woes, grant it increased legitimacy on the world stage, and indicate to the West that Raisi is more moderate than he seems right now.

Still, this does not guarantee that the Iranians will ultimately agree to a deal.

“Even though the Iranians have incentives to get the sanctions relief secured, the hardliners in Iran always seem to have a hard time bringing themselves to say yes to anything with the Americans,” said Ruhe.

It is also conceivable, however, that Khamenei has decided not to reenter the agreement.

“They would prefer to bypass sanctions through countries like China, and create a ‘resistance economy,’” said Zimmt.

In this telling, the Iranians understand that there will never be any guarantees that US will not reimpose sanctions in the future, and the Biden administration itself will push for “longer and stronger” sanctions in a follow-on deal.Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with Iran’s army’s air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, February 7, 2021. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Khamenei would thus be continuing to negotiate in order to give the Iranian program as much time as possible to advance while the West is focused on the talks, and so Tehran can blame the US when the talks fail.

Domestic blame game

Within Iran, a blame game has broken out between the outgoing Hassan Rouhani administration and the incoming Raisi team.

“The situation now is that the main argument is not between Iran and the world powers, but within Iran,”  explained Zimmt.

Rouhani and Mohammad Javad Zarif’s foreign ministry are trying to write their political wills, said Zimmt.Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) welcomes Cornel Feruta, acting head of the UN atomic watchdog, to the Iranian capital Tehran on September 8, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Zarif wrote a letter to the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee on July 11, laying out his view on the JCPOA and on the ongoing negotiations with the US.

The letter defended the deal, and put blame on the Iranian deep state for failing to take advantage of the deal’s potential and for not reciprocating American attempts to find common ground this year.

The hardliners, including the Revolutionary Guards and their allies, blame Rouhani and Zarif for failing to defend Iranian interests and red lines, and for not adhering to the December 2020 law on accelerating Iran’s nuclear program.

Ultimately, however, the decision lies with Khamenei and Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

Lapid and Gantz said to warn US: Iran is close to nuclear threshold

Posted July 26, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


Senior diplomat cautions that Tehran could take advantage of lull in talks, until Iran’s new president installed, to advance program

By TOI STAFF25 July 2021, 10:45 pm  

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

Israeli authorities have warned US officials in recent days that Iran is closer than ever to attaining nuclear weapons, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other Israeli officials have addressed the issue with their American counterparts recently, issuing an “unusual warning,” according to the Sunday report.

Nuclear talks between world powers and Iran — attended indirectly by the US — have been ongoing for months in Vienna, but have stalled in recent weeks.

“Something has to happen with the negotiations with Iran,” a senior diplomat told Kan. “This ‘limbo’ cannot be a time when Iran is quickly advancing toward becoming a nuclear threshold state.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is working to schedule a meeting in Washington with US President Joe Biden next month, though he is hampered by his wafer-thin majority in the Knesset, requiring his presence for every crucial vote.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Since April, Tehran has been engaged in talks with world powers in Vienna over reviving a 2015 nuclear accord, with Washington taking part indirectly in the negotiations.US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right) hosts an honor cordon welcoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Pentagon in Washington on June 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The talks aim to return the US to the deal it withdrew from in 2018 under former president Donald Trump by lifting the sanctions reimposed on Tehran, and to have Tehran return to full compliance with nuclear commitments it has gradually retreated from in retaliation for sanctions.

Then-president Reuven Rivlin and US President Joe Biden in the White House on June 29, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Iran has confirmed that the talks will not resume until the ultraconservative new president, Ebrahim Raisi, takes office in August.

Israel has long opposed the nuclear deal and Biden’s stated intentions to reenter the treaty.

“We would like the world to understand that the Iranian regime is violent and fanatical,” Bennett said last month. “It selected the ‘Hangman of Tehran’ as its president — a man who is willing to starve his own people for years in order to have a military nuclear program. That is a regime that one should not do business with.”

Bennett added that Israel “will continue to consult with our friends, persuade, discuss, and share information and insights out of mutual respect. But at the end of the day, we will be responsible for our own fate, nobody else.”

From left, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and United Nations Gilad Erdan, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet in Washington on June 23, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Shortly after Bennett took office, then-president Reuven Rivlin met with Biden at the White House in Washington, and made clear Israel’s message on Iran. Rivlin told Biden that “the Iranian nuclear deal, as it currently stands, endangers the State of Israel.”

Lapid met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome a month ago, and stressed that Israel has “some serious reservations” about the Iran nuclear deal being negotiated in Vienna. Gantz was hosted by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last month.

Also last month, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi warned US officials during a visit to Washington about “the failures of the current nuclear deal, which allow Iran to make significant advances in the coming years in the quantity and quality of centrifuges and in the amount and quality of enriched uranium, and he stressed the lack of oversight in the area of developing a nuclear weapon.”

AFP contributed to this report.

IDF said asking for major budget increase to enable attack against Iran

Posted July 15, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Request for billions of shekels comes as government begins preparing for possibility that talks to revive nuclear deal fall apart; Netanyahu accused of neglecting issue

By TOI STAFFToday, 5:38 am  

Illustrative: Fighter jets from the IAF's second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

Illustrative: Fighter jets from the IAF’s second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces is reportedly asking for a major budget increase worth billions of shekels so that it can properly prepare for a potential attack against Iran’s nuclear program.

The request was made during preliminary discussions on the budget, which the new government will seek to pass in the coming months, the Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday.

Those negotiations took place as Israel began preparing for the possibility that indirect negotiations between the US and Iran in Vienna, aimed at reviving their multilateral nuclear agreement, fall apart, Kan said.

According to a separate Channel 12 report on Wednesday, the security establishment has accused former prime minister and current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of neglecting to adequately prepare for such a scenario.

Unnamed sources in the security establishment claimed that Netanyahu did not allocate funds for drawing up a military strike, which could be necessary in the months ahead if Israel wants to attack Iran before it reaches nuclear breakout capacity.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Such operations require significant preparation, and defense officials told Channel 12 they’re concerned the delay in planning could lead to a scenario in which Israel is “waving a gun without any bullets in it.”

Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018, in New York City, and holds up a picture of what he said was a secret Iranian nuclear warehouse. (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)

The network quoted a source close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who lambasted his predecessor, claiming “his neglect is what allowed Iran to reach the most advanced stage yet in its nuclear program.”

Earlier Wednesday, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily published an op-ed by the opposition leader in which he claimed the new Bennett-led government has been “silent” as “the Iranians are rushing toward the bomb.”

Prospects for failure in Vienna appeared to have been bolstered Wednesday after a diplomatic official told Reuters that Iran had notified mediators they would not be returning to negotiations until after the relatively moderate outgoing President Hassan Rouhani is replaced by hardliner Ebrahim Raisi next month.

Also on Wednesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz called for Israel to step up its preparations for the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“Against the greatest threat — Iran arming itself with a nuclear weapon — we have no choice but to expand our force build-up, to continue to rely on our human capital and to adapt our capabilities and our plans,” Gantz said at a graduation ceremony for Israel’s National Defense College outside Tel Aviv.

In his speech, Gantz called for the government to allow the country’s security services to “maintain military superiority, which ensures our secure existence and advances peace.”

“All of these threats demand that we speed up and increase our preparedness to carry out our mission with an iron wall of action and not to get by with just words,” Gantz said.

Iran accuses Israel of June attack on alleged centrifuge plant

Posted July 6, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

In reversal, Iranian government acknowledges damage to Karaj facility, says strike was meant to thwart Vienna talks on reviving nuclear deal

By AP and TOI STAFFToday, 1:48 pm  

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by google user Edward Majnoonian in May 2019. (screen capture: Google Maps)

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by google user Edward Majnoonian in May 2019. (screen capture: Google Maps)

Iran on Tuesday accused Israel of a sabotage attack in June that reportedly targeted a nuclear facility near Tehran, the official IRNA news agency reported.

According to the report, cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei said the alleged attack sought to thwart ongoing talks in Vienna on resurrecting Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers. IRNA quoted Rabiei as saying such actions only make Iran stronger.

“The Zionist regime carried out this action to signal it can stop Iran and to say [to world powers] that there is no need to talk with Iran,” said Rabiei. “But whenever sabotage has happened, our strength has increased.”

Iran has offered few details on the attack it said targeted a sprawling nuclear center located in Karaj, a city about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital. On June 23, state TV said it was an attempted attack against a building belonging to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization that left no casualties or damage.

Rabiei on Monday said there was damage to the ceiling and also that “damage to equipment was not remarkable.”Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

“A hole appeared on the ceiling of one of the industrial sheds so the roof was removed for repair,” Rabiei said. He said a satellite image that was distributed at the time was taken after the roof of the shed had been removed for repairs.

Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiei at a news briefing, on July 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

His comments came several days after an Israeli report said experts believe the attack caused extensive damage, destroying or disabling all equipment at part of the site, which was allegedly used for producing centrifuges to enrich uranium.

On Saturday, private Israeli intelligence group The Intel Lab Saturday said that the roof had largely been dismantled by Iran as part of rehabilitation activities following the attack. The dismantled roof allowed analysts to peek inside, where dark coloration indicated the presence of a large fire in the building, the smallest of three main structures at the site.ADVERTISEMENT

Iranian authorities did not specify which facility in Karaj had been targeted. There are two sites associated with Iran’s nuclear program known to be in the area, including the Karaj Agricultural and Medical Research Center, founded in 1974. Authorities describe it as a facility that uses nuclear technology to improve “quality of soil, water, agricultural and livestock production.”

The area is located near various industrial sites, including pharmaceutical production facilities where Iran has manufactured its domestic coronavirus vaccine.

The agricultural nuclear research center is not listed as a “safeguard facility” with the UN nuclear watchdog — the International Atomic Energy Agency — though a nearby nuclear waste facility around Karaj is.

Previously, social media in Iran crackled with unconfirmed reports that an unmanned aerial drone was prevented from targeting a COVID-19 vaccine production facility.

The Karaj incident followed several suspected attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear program that have heightened regional tensions in recent months, as diplomatic efforts gain traction in Vienna.

In April, Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility experienced a mysterious blackout that damaged some of its centrifuges. Last July, unexplained fires struck the advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Natanz, which authorities later described as sabotage. Iran is now rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

According to a New York Times report last month, the factory at Karaj was tasked with replacing damaged centrifuges at Natanz.

Iran also blames Israel for the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.

Former US president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America in 2018 from the nuclear deal has seen Iran, over time, abandon all limitations on its uranium enrichment. The country is now enriching uranium to 60 percent, its highest ever levels, although still shy of weapons grade. Iran has claimed that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful and that it will return to its commitments once the US lifts its sanctions.

While Iran maintains that the Karaj facility is used for civilian purposes, the country has been subjected to United Nations, European Union and American sanctions since at least 2007 for being involved in nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The US lifted those sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal, but then reimposed them in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord.

Biden tells Rivlin he won’t allow Iranian nukes on his watch

Posted June 29, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


US president hosts outgoing Israeli head of state at White House, says he will meet with Bennett ‘very soon’; Rivlin says he is ‘very much satisfied’ with Biden’s comments

By JACOB MAGIDTAL SCHNEIDER and APToday, 12:45 am  

US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the Oval Office June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Doug Mills/New York Times/Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the Oval Office June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Doug Mills/New York Times/Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden sought to assure Israel that he would not tolerate a nuclear Iran as he met with outgoing Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Monday amid growing angst over the US administration’s effort to reenter the Iran nuclear deal.

Biden noted that he had ordered airstrikes a day earlier targeting facilities the US military says were used by Iran-backed militia groups near the border between Iraq and Syria. The rhetoric seemed to underscore that he would remain tough on malign Iran activity even as he seeks a diplomatic track to stem Tehran’s nuclear program.

“What I can say to you is that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon on my watch,” Biden said at the White House meeting.

Rivlin said he was “very much satisfied” by Biden’s statement.

“Things are still far from decided,” he said, referring to talks to revive Iran’s 2015 accord with world powers to limit Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. Former US President Donald Trump, with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s backing, scrapped the accord in 2018, but the Biden administration has sought to re-enter the deal.

Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has maintained Netanyahu’s line of opposition to the pact, which Israel maintains still allows Tehran to pursue nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles while supporting proxy groups that sow terror abroad.

However, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has pledged to handle disagreements behind closed doors, as opposed to Netanyahu, who was more willing to publicize his disapproval with the American administration https://youtu.be/gpCCtAx7SK8

Biden said he hoped to meet Bennett at the White House “very soon.” Following the meeting, Rivlin told reporters in Hebrew that Biden “thinks it is necessary to invite the prime minister as soon as possible in order to coordinate matters regarding the way forward on the problems that the world is facing and in the Middle East.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki earlier said the sides were “working on a date” for the meeting. Bennett’s office confirmed the talks to Israel’s Walla news site.

US President Joe Biden and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (L) hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, June 28, 2021. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Israel has “no greater friend alive,” than the US, Rivlin said at the start of the meeting with Biden, attempting to downplay the seriousness of any rift arising from disagreements over Iran or other policy matters.

“We, according to real friendship, from time to time discuss matters and even agree not to agree about everything,” he said, without mentioning Iran by name. “But we count on you and your declaration just now really brought Israelis to understand that we have a great friend in the White House.”

Rivlin later told reporters that “Biden was a real great friend of Israel.”

“We found a friend who was responsive to our requests and demands to keep an eye on everything related to the agreement being formed with Iran,” he said.

Rivlin, on his last foreign visit as president, is set to leave office on July 7 after a seven-year term. Isaac Herzog, a former parliament member who most recently headed the Jewish Agency for Israel will take over as Israeli president.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks with members of the media after meeting with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Rivlin later met with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the House leadership team. Pelosi said bipartisan support for Israel in Congress remained bipartisan “because of our shared values and because of our mutual security concerns.”

During Netanyahu’s time in office, he had been accused of harming the bipartisan nature of that support by publicly feuding with former president Barack Obama, especially over the nuclear accord, and by closely allying with Republican lawmakers.

Only one Republican, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, attended the meeting.President Reuven Rivlin, left, speaking alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington on June 28, 2021. (Tal Schneider/Times of Israel)

Among those joining Rivlin and Biden in their meeting were Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan and Deputy US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Prior to his trip, Rivlin held consultations with Bennett and Lapid to coordinate messaging on various issues. During a private portion of the meeting with Biden, which lasted about an hour, Rivlin was expected to bring up Iran and Israel’s demands for the return of Israeli captives and soldiers’ remains being held in the Gaza Strip.

Meeting with heads of Jewish organizations and community leaders in New York on Sunday night, Rivlin said Iran’s election of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as president was “further proof of the terrible danger that the Iranian regime poses to the Iranian people, to Israel, to the Middle East and to the entire world.”

“I intend to talk about this with President Biden during our meeting,” Rivlin said.

Biden said he would talk about Iran and the aftermath of the Gaza war with Rivlin. The president also underscored his support for continued normalization of relations between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world and planned to reiterate the administration’s promise to resupply Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which was depleted during the 11-day war with Hamas in Gaza.

Rockets from Gaza, on right, are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptor missiles, on left, rise to meet them. (Anas Baba/AFP)

“As American president, my commitment to Israel is… ironclad. It’s something that I often say, ‘If there wasn’t an Israel, we’d have to make one.’ This includes… an unwavering commitment to Israel’s self defense,” he said.

Before meeting Biden, Rivlin also met with Yousef al-Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates envoy to the US, to personally thank him for his significant role in bringing the Abraham Accords — which saw Israel and Abu Dhabi normalize ties last year — to fruition.

Biden has low hopes, at least for the moment, of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, according to an official familiar with Biden administration deliberations. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said Biden administration officials are starting at square one in building contacts with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a relationship that eroded during the Trump administration.

The meeting with Rivlin came one day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Rome with Lapid, a centrist who along with Bennett and six other political allies built a fragile coalition government that put Netanyahu in the opposition.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C) greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

Aviv Kohavi, chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, met last week with Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and other senior national security officials. Kohavi reiterated Israel’s opposition to efforts by the Biden administration to revive the 2015 accord.

Administration officials, however, have countered in talks with Kohavi and others in the new Israeli government that it’s worth giving diplomacy a shot at stopping Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapons system, even if it’s not guaranteed, the official said.

US airstrikes in Iraq, Syria target Iran-backed militia groups

Posted June 28, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Biden authorizes strikes on three targets used to launch drone attacks against US soldiers and bases in the Middle East

By AFPToday, 3:32 am  

Illustrative: An F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew prepare for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, August 5, 2019.  (Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/US Air Force via AP)

Illustrative: An F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew prepare for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, August 5, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/US Air Force via AP)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced Sunday it had conducted targeted airstrikes against “facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups” on the Iraq-Syria border, which it said were authorized by US President Joe Biden following ongoing attacks on US interests.

“At President Biden’s direction, US military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

Kirby added that the targets — two in Syria, one in Iraq — were selected because “these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

US interests in Iraq have come under repeated attack in recent months, with the United States consistently blaming Iran-linked Iraqi factions for rocket and other attacks against Iraqi installations housing its personnel.

“Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting US interests in Iraq, the president directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks,” Kirby said.

“Specifically, the US strikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries,” he added.

US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk on the South Lawn of the White House after stepping off Marine One, Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Since the start of the year there have been more than 40 attacks against US interests in Iraq, where 2,500 American troops are deployed as part of an international coalition to fight the jihadist Islamic State group.

The vast majority have been bombs against logistics convoys, while 14 were rocket attacks, some of them claimed by pro-Iran factions that aim to pressure Washington into withdrawing all their troops.

The strikes come one day after Iraqi Kurdish officials said three explosives-laden drones hit near the northern Iraqi city of Arbil, where the United States has a consulate.

It also occurred as the Hashed al-Shaabi, a pro-Iran paramilitary alliance opposed to the US presence in Iraq, held a military parade near Baghdad attended by senior officials.

In April, a drone packed with explosives hit the coalition’s Iraq headquarters in the military part of the airport in Arbil, the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital.

The tactic poses a headache for the coalition, as drones can evade air defenses.

“As demonstrated by this evening’s strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect US personnel,” Kirby said.

Quadcopter drone strike near Faraj – new chapter in covert campaign versus nuclear Iran – DEBKAfile

Posted June 24, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

 centrifuge center FarajIranquadcopter drone

The “sabotage” attack on one of its facilities which Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency claimed to have thwarted broke new ground in Israel’s alleged covert campaign against a nuclear-armed Iran with US support. The target was a facility under UN and US sanctions near Faraj City west of Tehran that, according to some intelligence sources, manufactured centrifuges for refining uranium at the Fordow and Natanz enrichment centers.

The novelty in this case was the nature of the weapon and how it was used. Iranian media cited “a small quadcopter drone” as the weapon, which was launched from inside the country. Clearly, an unknown entity released the small device from a point inside Iran after first loading it with an explosive charge or small rocket. It is worth recalling former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen’s disclosure in an interview on June 10 that the team which purloined the Iranian nuclear archive from its hiding place in Tehran in April 2018 was comprised of a team of non-Israeli operatives.

It is no secret that Israel and American spy agencies both have ties with cells of the Mujahedin-e-Khalk resistance movement, which is not news to the security agencies in Tehran. But that a dissident group fired off an armed UAV against a nuclear facility from inside the country marks a key crossroads in the conflict.
Quadcopter drones are on sale together with simple instructions for their assembly and use in any camera shop or online – even on e-Bay. Some carry cameras; others a forklift for loading freight. The operator programs its destination in advance and then tracks it on a screen.

Assuming that an MEK cell performed the deed, was it acting on its own initiative, for Israel, for he US or for both? No one has claimed responsibility for this attack – any more than for previous clandestine sabotage strikes on Iran’s nuclear-related facilities. The fact that Iranian officials were ready to talk to the The New York Times, rare in itself, seems to indicate that Tehran is at a loss for information on the authors of the attack.

The election of Ebrahim Raisi, an ultra-hardliner, as Iran’s new president increases the chances of the Islamic Republic retaliating in kind with attacks on US targets and interests in the Middle East or Israel. And, indeed, the Iranians are already deep in UAV warfare against their perceived enemies.  As recently as on June 4, an Iranian explosive drone was launched by Iraqi Shiite militias against the big American Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq. No one was hurt but the damage was extensive. Armed drones were also fired this month into Baghdad’s Green Zone, seat of government and the diplomatic row, including the US embassy.

The spreading UAVsyarfare, its implications and countermeasures, ,were almost certainly discussed at meetings between US and Israel security officials and experts late last month. In military terms, UAV weaponry turns the development clock back from the highly sophisticated and costly air defense missile systems in current use, to simpler defensive solutions. This point was illustrated this week when Israel announced the completion of tests on the first airborne, high-power laser defense system. Installed on a regular aircraft, the laser system intercepted and destroyed several UAVs at various ranges and different flight altitudes. The defense ministry said the new device would be operational in another three to four years. The new gadget was unveiled during IDF Chief of Staff’s talks at the Pentagon.

Meeting top US officials, Kohavi blasts American plans to rejoin Iran deal

Posted June 24, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

IDF chief reportedly says another round of fighting in Gaza is only a matter of time, as he meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan

By JUDAH ARI GROSS23 June 2021, 10:01 pm  

From left, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and United Nations Gilad Erdan, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet in Washington on June 23, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi again railed against the United States’ plan to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal during a meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and other top American defense officials on Wednesday, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

During his meeting in Washington, Kohavi reiterated the “failures of the current nuclear deal” and attempted to convince the American officials of alternative methods of preventing Iran from obtaining an atomic weapon, the military said.

The US National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk and Special Assistant to the President Cara Abercrombie also took part in the meeting with Sullivan, according to the IDF.

“Throughout the day, the chief of staff has presented possible ways to prevent Iran from obtaining military nuclear capabilities during his meetings,” the IDF said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Iran reported that an attempt had been made to attack a site associated with its nuclear program northwest of Tehran. Official Iranian state media reported that the strike had failed, but Iranian opposition outlets said damage had been caused to the facility, which was used to create parts for centrifuges.

Kohavi’s remarks came as the US and Iran — through intermediaries — have been negotiating a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Former US president Donald Trump abrogated the agreement in 2018, putting in place a crushing sanctions regime, which prompted Iran to also abandon the accord a year later, enriching more uranium and at greater levels of purity than was permitted under the deal, as well as taking part in other forms of proscribed nuclear research.

Israel staunchly opposes US President Joe Biden’s plan to reenter the JCPOA, which he has said he’s prepared to do provided Iran returns to compliance with the agreement.

Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharib Abadi, Political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Abbas Araghchi, and Deputy Secretary-General and Political Director of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora leave the ‚Grand Hotel Vienna where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (AP/Lisa Leutner)

On Wednesday, Iranian officials said the US had agreed in principle to remove over 1,000 sanctions on officials and companies associated with the Islamic Republic’s oil and shipping sectors, which had been put in place under Trump.

The Biden administration has said it plans to use the JCPOA as a starting-off point for brokering a “longer and stronger” nuclear deal, though critics — including those in Israel — say that once the US eases the sanctions in place on Iran and Iranian officials as it returns to the JCPOA, Tehran will no longer have an incentive to negotiate.

Several delegations of Israeli officials, including former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, have traveled to the US in recent months in an effort to dissuade the Biden administration from reentering the agreement.

In the past, US officials have said that the concerns raised by Israel during these talks will not change the White House’s plans.

During his meeting, the IDF chief also reportedly told Sullivan that another round of conflict in the Gaza Strip was only a matter of time, following last month’s bloody 11-day battle with terror groups in the Palestinian enclave.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Kohavi referred specifically to the difficulties in the ongoing negotiations with Hamas and its leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, who has demanded Israel allow large sums of aid money from Qatar into the Strip. Israel has maintained that it will not allow large-scale reconstruction in Gaza until Hamas returns two Israeli civilians and the remains of two fallen IDF soldiers that it is holding captive.

Kohavi landed in Washington on Sunday and has met with a number of top American defense officials, including US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, US Central Command chief Kenneth McKenzie and others. He is due to return to Israel on Friday, according to the military.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, center-right, and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, center-left, salute outside the US Department of Defense in Washington, DC, on June 21, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Kohavi was scheduled to meet with CIA head William Burns and the US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

In addition to discussing Iran’s nuclear program, the IDF chief also shared Israeli assessments of the Islamic Republic’s military expansionism in the Middle East, the IDF said.

On Wednesday, Kohavi also met with Israel’s Ambassador to the US and the United Nations Gilad Erdan, discussing in particular the IDF’s concerns regarding the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist militia and the ways in which the UN and its peacekeeping force in Lebanon can help rein in the group in accordance with UN resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

“The two discussed the need to enforce and effectively fulfill the mandate of the [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] in light of the renewal process of the mandate in the UN later this year. The chief of staff stressed that for years the state of Lebanon has lost control of its security policy and completely abdicates its responsibility to uphold resolution 1701, as the Hezbollah terrorist organization effectively runs Lebanon’s security policies,” the IDF said.

Israel and US said to increase cooperation to combat Iranian drones

Posted June 24, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


Idea of establishing Mideast no-fly zone for Iranian UAVs reportedly raised in first interagency working group meeting between Israeli and US officials on tackling growing threat

By TOI STAFF23 June 2021, 6:09 pm  

Illustrative. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Hossein Salami, left, and the Guard's aerospace division commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh talk while unveiling a new drone called "Gaza" in an undisclosed location in Iran, in a photo released on May 22, 2021. (Sepahnews of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, via AP)

Illustrative. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Hossein Salami, left, and the Guard’s aerospace division commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh talk while unveiling a new drone called “Gaza” in an undisclosed location in Iran, in a photo released on May 22, 2021. (Sepahnews of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, via AP)

The United States and Israel reportedly held talks earlier this month on cooperation against unmanned Iranian drones, with which the Islamic Republic is believed to be arming Shiite militias and terrorist organizations in the region.

Building on an April agreement by the two counties’ national security advisers, an interagency working group dealing with the threat to Israel and other US allies from Iranian drones and precision-guided missiles convened for the first time three weeks ago, the Walla news site reported.

Quoting both senior US and Israeli officials involved in the talks, the report said  the American team was led by White House National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk and the Israeli team was headed by deputy national security adviser Reuven Ezer.

One idea reportedly raised in the meeting was establishing a “no-fly zone” in the Middle East for Iranian UAVs.

In May, Israel downed a drone it approached Israeli airspace near the northeastern city of Beit She’an, with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu later saying it was made by Iran and launched by Iranian forces toward Israel from either Syria or Iraq. In a similar case in 2018, a drone was flown from Syria into northern Israel before it was shot down by an Israeli helicopter. In response, the IDF launched a wave of strikes on Iranian assets in Syria.

Israel has a waged a nearly decade-long bombing campaign in Syria aimed at thwarting Iran and allied militias, including Hezbollah, from setting up bases to attack the Jewish state, as well as the transfer of advanced arms from Iran to Hezbollah.

Sunday’s report comes days after the news site said that the US had increased military coordination with Israel and with a number of moderate Middle Eastern countries in an effort to counter the threat posed to the region by the Islamic Republic.

Over the past two months, the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) has increased the pace of coordination and the number of high-level meetings with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, several Gulf states, Cyprus and Greece, the Sunday report said.IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, center-right, and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, center-left, salute outside the US Department of Defense in Washington, DC, on June 21, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

During his ongoing visit to the US, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visited the Florida headquarters of CENTCOM Tuesday, touting the “operational cooperation” between the two US and Israeli militaries as “unprecedented.”

“A joint operating target of the two militaries is Iran, which is working to entrench itself and establish terrorist forces in many states throughout the Middle East and is continuing to present a regional threat in terms of nuclear, advanced weapons systems, ballistic missiles and funding terror armies,” Kohavi said alongside CENTCOM chief, General Frank McKenzie.

Kohavi’s trip comes amid lingering tensions between the US and Israel over the Iran nuclear issue. US President Joe Biden’s administration intends to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a move that Israeli officials, including Kohavi, have staunchly and publicly opposed.

On Friday, Channel 13 news reported that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is hoping to use the coming weeks, ahead of the inauguration of the new hardline Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, to hold talks with Washington in order to influence the expected US return to the nuclear deal.

The report said Bennett has removed a ban by his predecessor, Netanyahu, on Israeli officials discussing the details of the emerging renewed deal between the US and Iran. Netanyahu had instructed security officials not to hold talks on the details of the deal with American officials, in an apparent effort to distance Israel from it.Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (2R) leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 20, 2021. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Last week, Iran announced that it had amassed 6.5 kilograms (14.3 pounds) of uranium enriched to 60 percent purity, and 108 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20% purity, in five months. Uranium enriched to those levels can be relatively easy to further enrich into a weapons-grade level of 90% purity.

Former US president Donald Trump abandoned the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in 2018, imposing fresh sanctions on Iran and Iranian officials, leading Tehran to follow suit shortly thereafter. Since then, Tehran has ratcheted up tensions on the nuclear front by amassing greater quantities of enriched uranium at greater degrees of purity and by making advancements in the development of missiles that could be used to carry a nuclear warhead.

In recent months, Iranian and European negotiation teams have been meeting in Vienna to discuss a return to the nuclear deal by the US and Iran. Though all sides have reported progress, the talks have stalled somewhat in recent weeks as Iran geared up for its presidential elections, which were held last week.