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  • Obama Administration Prepares to Resume Nuclear Talks with Iran as Congress Ratchets Up Sanctions

    The long-stalled talks on Iran’s nuclear program will soon resume.

    Earlier this week, European Union diplomat Helga Schmid contacted Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri, “to discuss the way ahead, including possible dates and venues for talks,” according to State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland.

    Three rounds of talks this year in Istanbul, Baghdad, and Moscow failed to budge Iran, which continues to defiantly reject international demands for it to halt uranium enrichment, transfer its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium out of the country, and shut down its Fordo enrichment facility.

    The P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) have offered sweeteners such as technical cooperation for Iran’s research reactor, spare parts for Iran’s aging fleet of U.S.-built commercial airliners, and help in acquiring a research reactor for producing medical isotopes. But Tehran has balked at any concessions, insisting that all sanctions on Iran must first be lifted.

    Yesterday, Iran again denied a request by international inspectors to visit a military facility in Parchin that is suspected of conducting tests on nuclear weapons components. Iran has been dragging its feet on this request for almost a year, but it has raised hopes that the inspectors will be allowed to do their job merely by agreeing to meet again in January to discuss the issue.

    Meanwhile, Iran continues to enrich uranium at an accelerating rate and has made considerable progress in its ballistic missile program. Iran reportedly assisted North Korea’s launch of a satellite earlier this week. Although North Korea played a key role in helping Iran build up its ballistic missile arsenal, which is largely based on North Korean technology, Iran has apparently leapfrogged North Korea in some aspects of missile design.

    While the Obama Administration prepares for another round of nuclear negotiations with Iran, Congress has been ratcheting up sanctions on Iran. On November 30, the Senate voted 94–0 to approve new sanctions—over the objections of the Administration. The sanctions, approved as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act introduced by Senators Mark Kirk (R–IL) and Robert Menendez (D–NJ), would impose financial penalties on foreign banks and businesses involved in Iran’s energy, ports, shipping, and shipbuilding industries.

    On December 12, the Senate also passed the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act, which would strengthen efforts to protect American citizens and assets from Iran and its terrorist surrogates. The legislation, originally introduced in the House by Representative Jeff Duncan (R–SC), requires the Secretary of State to assess, report on, and develop a strategy for countering the potential threats posed by Iran and its allies such as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist terrorist group that is active in South and Central America.

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