Thursday, April 08, 2021

From Ian:

Israel slams Biden's resumption of UNRWA funding for Palestinians
US restoration of funding does not included direct financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority. The US Taylor Force Act of 2018 prohibits such direct funding until such time as the PA halts it monthly payments to terrorists and their families. Funding for Palestinian security forces was excluded from that legislation.

The Anti-Terror Clarification Act passed that same year had also created stumbling blocks to the provision of humanitarian assistance, but amendments to the legislation remove such impediments.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price clarified for reporters that all funding was legal under American law. “I just want to underscore that all of this aid is absolutely consistent with relevant US law, including those two statutes,” Price said.

Israel, however, took issue with US funding to UNRWA, which Trump had halted because he believes that the organized was flawed and a stumbling bloc to peace.

“The renewal of UNRWA assistance,” the Foreign Ministry said, “must be accompanied by substantial and necessary changes in the nature, goals and conduct of the organization.”

It added that the issue of UNRAW funding had come up in conversation between Israeli and American officials.

Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said he had also warned the State Department of the danger of such activity, particularly without ensuring that “incitement” and “anti-Semitic content” are removed from its educational curriculum.

“Israel is strongly opposed to the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity happening in UNRWA’s facilities,” Erdan said.

"We believe that this UN agency for so-called “refugees” should not exist in its current format. UNRWA schools regularly use materials that incite against Israel and the twisted definition used by the agency to determine who is a “refugee” only perpetuates the conflict.

Blinken, however, specifically mentioned support for UNRWA's education program.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York he hoped the US restoration of funding would sway other countries to do likewise.

“There were a number of countries that had greatly reduced or halted contributions to UNRWA. We hope that the American decision will lead others to rejoin... as UNRWA donors,” Dujarric said.
JCPA: The Palestinian Authority Tries to Bully Israel on the Jerusalem Issue
The PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas ordered the opening of an international campaign regarding the right of east Jerusalem residents to participate in Palestinian parliamentary elections despite the recommendation of senior Fatah figures to postpone the elections.

Mahmoud Abbas went to Germany for medical treatment, and his trip may be intended to prepare public opinion for the possibility of the elections’ postponement.

The PA launched an international campaign against Israel to bully and force it to agree to the participation of east Jerusalem residents in parliamentary elections on May 22, 2021.

At a meeting of the Palestinian government, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh revealed that the Palestinian Authority had sent letters on the issue to the UN, the European Union, the United States, and Russia, explaining that from their perspective, there was no impediment to allowing east Jerusalem residents to participate in the elections as they did in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Wasel Abu Yousuf, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said that the participation of east Jerusalem residents in the parliamentary elections was of great importance when Israel was trying to make the city its unified capital.

Senior PA officials say that the PA wants to use the campaign for the participation of east Jerusalem residents to quash and erase the Trump administration’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Eli Lake: Biden Cannot Allow Iran to Keep Its Weapons Program
Because of a last-minute U.S. concession in 2015, Iran never had to disclose the sites in question or other possible military dimensions of its program to the IAEA as a condition for the economic benefits promised in the JCPOA. As a result, the stringent inspection regime imposed by the agreement did not apply to the sites in this weapons program. Iran’s declared nuclear program was monitored, but its undeclared sites were not.

David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a co-author of an upcoming book on the Iranian archive, estimates there are nine sites revealed by the archive. These include facilities designed to build the nuclear core for a weapon and to conduct tests.

“Iran is not building nuclear weapons today,” Albright told me. “But it is preparing to do so. The program is designed to produce nuclear weapons on demand. And it will be able to make those weapons relatively quickly when a decision is made.”

At the very least, this is a major failure of the JCPOA. That deal was supposed to give the world confidence that Iran could not and would not produce a nuclear weapon. That it missed a huge weapons program is a sign of incompetence on the part of the Western countries that negotiated the pact.

More important, this weapons program is a sign of Iran’s duplicity. Even as it negotiated the JCPOA, Iran was not only holding blueprints for a nuclear weapon, but also maintaining a constellation of physical sites where it could eventually build one.

This is what’s wrong with the current talks in Vienna: The best the Biden administration can hope for from these negotiations is Iranian compliance with a flawed bargain. In exchange for that compliance, Araghchi is demanding the U.S. lift the very sanctions that are its best leverage to get Iran to come clean to the IAEA. That’s not a deal any U.S. president should make.

Israel responds to ICC, says it lacks jurisdiction
The Israeli government told the International Criminal Court that it did not recognize its authority to investigate Israel for alleged war crimes, Israeli news outlets reported on Thursday.

This comes just days before a deadline to respond to the court's decision to investigate both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, despite Israel not being a signatory to the Rome Statute that governs the court and even though the PA is not recognized as a full-fledged state.

Recommendations submitted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Defense and Foreign ministries, and the military were debated well into this week before a decision was made.

Netanyahu, after meeting with senior ministers and government officials ahead of a Friday deadline to respond to an ICC notification letter, said Israel would not cooperate with the inquiry, but it will send a response.

"It will be made clear that Israel is a country with rule of law that knows how to investigate itself," he said in a statement. The response will also say Israel "completely rejects" the assertion that it was carrying out any war crimes.

The ICC announced in March that it had formally notified Israel and the Palestinian Authority of its upcoming probe into alleged war crimes in their conduct in the 2014 Gaza war and thereafter.

The move gave the two parties a one-month period to apply for deferring the case, with the court noting that a party must prove that it is capable of investigating the matter on its own.
After restoring aid to Palestinians, Biden endorses two-state solution
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday promised to press for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as he restored aid to the Palestinians.

In a call with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, a longstanding US ally who recently faced down dissent within the royal family, Biden “affirmed that the United States supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” a White House statement said.

Biden has long vowed to return the two-state idea to the center of US policy following the dramatic shifts under former president Donald Trump.

His talk with the king came after his clearest break yet with Trump’s Mideast agenda, restoring US funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees that his predecessor had severed.

The State Department said the United States would contribute $150 million to the UN agency and offer $75 million in economic and development assistance for the West Bank and Gaza as well as $10 million for peacebuilding efforts.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US assistance to the Palestinians “serves important US interests and values” as “a means to advance towards a negotiated two-state solution.”

“It provides critical relief to those in great need, fosters economic development and supports Israeli-Palestinian understanding, security coordination and stability,” Blinken said in a statement.
Israel’s Claim Under International Law to the ‘Occupied Territories'
The Biden Administration seems to think that the way to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians is to push Israel back within what it describes as the “1967 lines,” which is a more acceptable way of saying “the 1949 armistice lines.” Those lines were not recognized borders; they merely reflected where the respective armies, of Israel and its Arab enemies, when the shooting stopped n 1949.

Let’s give the misinformed Biden Administration the necessary Short Course it clearly needs about Israel’s claim under international law to the West Bank, about the misnomer “occupied territories, ” and about the Palestinian Arabs and a “two-state solution.”

There are two sources for Israel’s claim to the West Bank. The first, and the most important, is the Mandate for Palestine, set up by the League of Nations in 1922, for the sole purpose of creating the Jewish National Home that in time, sympathetically nurtured by the holder of the Mandate, Great Britain, would become the Jewish state. The Arabs were well-provided for, too, by the League of Nations. They were given several mandates – for Iraq, for Syria, and Lebanon. Furthermore, all of Palestine east of the Jordan River “out to the desert,” which had originally been intended for inclusion in the Palestine Mandate, was closed to Jewish immigration by the British, and given to the Hashemite Emir Abdullah to rule over, as the Emirate of Transjordan. And as we know, the Arabs now have twenty-two independent states, far more than any other people, while the Jews have exactly one, a tiny sliver so small that it can scarcely be discerned on a world map.

The Mandate for Palestine – see the Preamble and Articles 4 and 6 — was meant to create “the national home for the Jewish people” by “encouraging Jewish immigration” and “close settlement by Jews on the land.” That was its only purpose: not “two states” but one. The Arabs were already well provided for, by the mandates, and would be even more provided for outside the mandates system. At present, the Arabs have twenty-two independent states, far more than any other people, while the Jews have exactly one, a tiny sliver so small that it can scarcely be discerned on a world map.
Israeli Envoy to UN Slams US Decision to Resume Aid to UNRWA Refugee Agency Dedicated to Palestinians
Israel’s envoy to the UN on Wednesday reacted angrily to the US State Department’s announcement that it was restoring aid to the Palestinians — including a $150 million sum for a UN agency that is dedicated solely to the descendants of Palestinian refugees and which has been denounced by Israel for propagating antisemitism.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, said in a statement that in conversations with US officials he had made clear his “disappointment and objection” to the renewal of funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) — a body created in 1947 to assist the Arab refugees from Israel’s 1947-48 War of Independence. UNRWA has been maintained in subsequent decades as a body dedicated to the descendants of the original 700,000 refugees, who presently number five million and are served by UNRWA centers in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

“Israel is strongly opposed to the anti-Israel and antisemitic activity happening in UNRWA’s facilities,” Erdan declared. “We believe that this UN agency for so-called ‘refugees’ should not exist in its current format. UNRWA schools regularly use materials that incite against Israel and the twisted definition used by the agency to determine who is a ‘refugee’ only perpetuates the conflict.”

Erdan said that in his recent discussions with the State Department, he had expressed his “disappointment and objection to the decision to renew UNRWA’s funding without first ensuring that certain reforms, including stopping the incitement and removing antisemitic content from its educational curriculum, are carried out.”
Coalition of organizations urge UN to review UNRWA teaching procedures
A coalition of organizations led by Hadassah is lobbying Congress to sign a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, urging him to make sure that UNRWA “expeditiously make public all information regarding its review and teaching procedures, as well as the content of all textbook pages currently being used in these schools.” A letter circulating among Congress members also calls on the UN to independently review these procedures and make those findings publicly available. Hadassah holds special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

Among the organizations that are working with Hadassah on the new initiative: the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), IMPACT-se, B’nai B’rith International, Union of Orthodox Jewish congregations (OU), the Zionist Organization of America, and Christian United for Israel.

The coalition started sending letters to Congress members on Wednesday, the same day the Biden administration announced its intention to restore funding for the organization. “As representatives of leading organizations in the American pro-Israel community, we urge you to join in this effort by signing the attached letter to Secretary-General Guterres,” the coalition wrote in a letter to members of Congress.

“It is critical that we stand together to demand systemic reform to educational materials used by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) before one more child is taught from textbooks riddled with hateful lessons,” the letter reads.

“We encourage the US Congress to use its influence for changes that will aid the possibilities of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, reduce antisemitic sentiment, and help serve an antidote to the dangerous phenomenon of hatred toward Jews,” the coalition wrote to members of Congress.

Germany Fights Exclusion of UK and Israel from EU Research Projects
Germany and other EU members are opposing a move by the European Commission to block Britain and Israel from quantum and space projects on security grounds, diplomats said Tuesday.

The European Commission is currently setting up guidelines for EU research projects over the next coming years, and diplomats worry Brussels could prevent valuable research by sidelining some non-members.

The EU executive's position, which sources said would keep Switzerland out of space projects, is seen as an attempt to strengthen the bloc's "strategic autonomy", a new concept encouraged by France as an answer to the dominant influence of the US and China.

Last week, Berlin came out strongly against the plan, calling for the "full participation" of the UK, Switzerland and Israel in quantum and space projects that are worth several billion euros.

"In the field of quantum technology in particular, these countries have traditionally been important partners and should continue in this role in future," German Research Minister Thomas Rachel told Science|Business, a specialist news site.

According to EU diplomats and other sources close to the matter, the decision to block non-EU countries is backed by Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner from France responsible for the highly sensitive digital, industry and space and defence portfolios.
Israel may have achieved herd immunity against Covid-19
Israel may have reached herd immunity against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, say experts from its largest hospital, Sheba Medical Center.

Herd immunity happens when a sufficient percentage of a population has immunity – through vaccination or having recovered from the disease — and gives indirect protection to those who aren’t immune.

The immunity level needed for herd immunity is calculated based on the transmission rate of the virus. For SARS-CoV-2 it’s estimated at 65-70 percent, says Dr. Eyal Leshem, director of Sheba’s Institute for Travel & Tropical Medicine.

Approximately 56% of Israel’s 9.2 million citizens are vaccinated and another 15% (approximately 700,000 people) recovered from Covid-19, putting Israel comfortably in the expected herd immunity range.

“We’re seeing a decline in the number of cases now despite the return to mass gatherings and schools following the third lockdown, because most of the people the infected person will meet are immune by now,” Leshem tells ISRAEL21c.

“Compared with the last two lockdowns, after which we saw an increase in cases, we see a decline even after lockdown.”
Israel and Chile both led on Covid jabs, so why is one back in lockdown?
As mass vaccination programmes take hold around the world, some countries have begun to get on top of the virus while others have continued to struggle. Two countries that have streaked ahead with immunisations are Israel and Chile, but as Israel edges back to a new normal, Chile has been plunged back into lockdown. Can the UK and other countries repeat Israel’s success and avoid the setbacks of Chile?

What is happening in Israel?
Israel has recorded dramatic falls in rates of infection, hospital admissions and deaths after running what was the world’s fastest Covid vaccination campaign. The country of 9 million people has administered two shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to more than half its population. Daily life has returned almost completely to a pre-pandemic situation, with shops, hotels, concerts and cinemas open again. That said, restrictions are still in place, such as the need for face masks outside the home and limits on gatherings indoors.

An analysis by Eran Segal, a computational biologist at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, reported that since a January peak in infections, the country had seen daily drops of 96% in cases, 90% in critically ill patients and 85% in deaths. According to health ministry statistics, daily infections have plummeted to the low hundreds – a massive decline since January, when there were 10,000 confirmed infections a day at one point. On Tuesday, the total number of active cases was roughly half that figure.

What is happening in Chile?
Chile is in the enviable position of having vaccinated faster than any other country in the Americas. More than a third of the country’s 18 million people have received at least one shot of either Pfizer/BioNTech or China’s Sinovac Biotech vaccine. However, cases have soared to the point of overwhelming the health system and strict lockdown measures are back in place.

What went wrong?
Tibi walks out of Knesset Holocaust memorial event to protest ‘racist’ Ben Gvir
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi on Thursday walked out of the traditional Knesset ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day in which the names of victims are recited, in protest of the participation of new far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir of Religious Zionism.

The annual ceremony, titled “Each Person has a Name,” featured several new MKs reciting names, including Ben Gvir, Labor’s Emilie Moatti, and Avi Maoz of Religious Zionism’s ultra-conservative Noam faction.

Ben Gvir, 44, is a disciple of extremist rabbi Meir Kahane and head of the neo-Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party, which merged into Religious Zionism before the election.

When he took the stage to recite the names of Iraqi Jews sent to Auschwitz, Tibi walked out in protest.

Tibi explained later that “I will never legitimize a racist who denies my and my people’s human rights.”

“We will fight against violence, against racism and against fascism,” he wrote on Twitter.
KKL-JNF said set to okay purchase of West Bank land for isolated settlements
The Jewish National Fund’s board of directors is expected to approve the purchase of land in the West Bank on Sunday, including in areas with isolated settlements, the Haaretz daily reported.

In February, the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) voted to allocate NIS 38 million ($11.58 million) for the purchase of land in the West Bank. The controversial vote indicated a policy change — KKL-JNF would take operations beyond the Green Line to another level, purchasing land for the purpose of expanding settlements.

The motion was passed by a single vote.

The February decision stipulated that there would be another conversation to hash out the details of the purchase in order to address which exact areas would be bought.

At the time it specified that there would be no purchases in the districts of the Palestinian cities Nablus and Jenin — areas with very few Jewish settlements. In the current proposal, this note has been omitted, Wednesday’s report said.

The proposed resolution is based on the opinion of retired judge Yoseph Elon, which stated that KKL-JNF can operate in the territories to promote communal, environmental, and educational projects.
4 Syrian soldiers injured in alleged Israeli airstrikes on Damascus
Four Syrian soldiers were injured and material damage was reported after an alleged Israeli airstrike targeted Damascus on Wednesday night, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.

The strikes reportedly came from the direction of the Golan Heights and Lebanon, with Lebanese media reporting Israeli aircraft flying over large portions of Lebanon.

The airstrikes targeted sites belonging to the Syrian military and Iranian-backed militias near the Damascus International Airport and in the south and west of the Syrian capital, according to the opposition-affiliated Halab Today TV, which claimed that at least 12 people were killed in the strikes, including at least two dead from the Syrian military.

On Thursday morning after the airstrikes, the airspace above the Golan Heights east of the Jordan River was closed to all flights above 5,000 ft.

A large explosion was heard near the border between Israel and Lebanon during the strikes after a Syrian air defense missile was fired towards an Israeli aircraft in the area, according to Hezbollah-affiliated reporter Ali Shoeib.

The missile reportedly fell near the Lebanese town of Houla, located west of Kiryat Shmona.

Noah Rothman: Are the Iran Nuclear Talks Designed to Fail?
Malley’s ambiguity is not reflected in the pro-deal press, which is eager to see negotiations produce some sort of framework ahead of Iranian elections. “Improved relations with the west might boost turnout among an Iranian public worn down by sanctions and a resurgent Covid outbreak,” the Guardian reported, “so could help reformists who had supported the deal only to have their political ground undercut by Trump’s actions.” This, too, is a familiar refrain.

The JCPOA was said in 2015 to have greatly empowered the reform wing of the Iranian theocracy, which Rouhani helmed. But what did we witness in the immediate aftermath of the Iran deal’s implementation? Iran-sponsored sectarian attacks in Iraq; the material and political support for a genocidal regime in Syria; weapons funneled to Houthis in Yemen; political instability in Lebanon and Bahrain sponsored by Tehran; and a vicious crackdown on political demonstrators inside Iran. All of this occurred before Donald Trump effectively abrogated the JCPOA in May 2018, after which Iranian provocations only became more reckless and provocative.

The idea that a nuclear accord with the West empowers Iran’s moderates presumes the existence of Iranian moderates—a presupposition that has time and again proven flawed.

But that seems to be the belief to which the Biden administration and its negotiators adhere. If so, they could convince themselves that they’re better served chasing an accord, any accord, at the possible expense of its terms. And the results of such a flawed approach are predictable. For all their talk of a better deal, we will likely end up with something even worse.

Update: The United States blinked first. As a gesture aimed at breaking the logjam, Reuters reports that the Biden administration is prepared to lift sanctions on Iran that are “inconsistent with the 2015 pact.” We will see if Iran reciprocates.
GOP Puts Biden Admin on Notice: Congress Not Bound By New Iran Deal
Republican foreign policy leaders in Congress officially informed the Biden administration late Wednesday that they will not be bound to any new agreement with Iran that promises relief from harsh economic sanctions, according to a copy of that communication exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The letter is a sign that any new Iran deal is likely to be plagued by the same weaknesses as the original 2015 accord, which the Obama administration never brought before Congress for approval. The decision to skirt Congress meant the deal was never ratified as a formal treaty and paved the way for the Trump administration to easily cancel it in 2018. GOP foreign policy leaders are now warning the Biden administration that any new deal will suffer a similar fate under the next Republican administration. The lawmakers are also sending a message to Tehran: Anything promised by the Biden administration can be taken back in the near future.

Following indirect talks with Iran this week in Vienna, the Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it is prepared to unilaterally unwind tough economic sanctions as part of a series of concessions meant to entice Iran into scaling back its nuclear work.

Republican leaders on the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees say that any guarantees provided by the Biden administration, including sanctions relief, will be void unless they are brought before Congress for approval. "As members of Congress, a co-equal branch of the federal government, we do not consider ourselves bound by executive agreements which purport to make commitments on behalf of the Congress of the United States," Reps. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) and Joe Wilson (R., S.C.) told the administration in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The letter represents the opening salvo in the GOP’s mounting efforts to interfere with the Biden administration’s ongoing diplomacy with Iran, which is being conducted without input from Democrats and Republicans on the Hill.
Netanyahu: Israel won't be bound by deal which allows Iran a nuclear bomb
During the opening ceremony of Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "A nuclear agreement with Iran is again on the table, but history has taught us that agreements like this with extremist regimes are worthless. To our best friends I say: an agreement with Iran which paves its way to nuclear weapons that threaten us with destruction, an agreement like this will not bind us."

"Only one thing binds us, to prevent those who seek to destroy us from carrying out their plans. During the Holocaust we did not have the power to protect ourselves and we did not have the privilege of sovereignty. We had no rights, no state, and no defense. Today we have a state, we have the power to defend ourselves and we have the natural and full right as the sovereign state of the Jewish people to protect ourselves from our enemies."

With Attack on Iranian Military Ship, Israel Is Sending the U.S. a Clear Message
Iranian Revolutionary Guard commando boats are kept onboard the Saviz to protect Iranian oil tankers and vessels smuggling weapons to Syria and Lebanon. The vessel also acts as an intelligence base, monitoring Saudi vessels that are enforcing a maritime embargo on Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The aim of the attack was: 1) To retaliate for an Iranian attack on an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Arabian Sea last month. 2) To show the Iranians that Tehran would be wise to refrain from attacks on Israel's navy or Israeli-owned vessels anywhere, including in the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. 3) To clarify to the U.S. that Israel will continue its fight against Iran's subversive actions in the region, even as the U.S. is attempting to rebuild relations with the Islamic Republic.

Israel has come to understand that Washington is hoping to de-escalate their conflict with Iran at almost any cost so that the administration can focus on other issues. The Iranian nuclear program is a nuisance to the Americans. To avoid being dragged into a war, the administration is prepared to make significant concessions to the Iranians.

Israel's intelligence agencies observed that the Iranians are not attempting to produce nuclear weapons at the moment but do want to be a nuclear threshold state. The Vienna talks will help them with this goal. Officials in Jerusalem are watching with concern as America appears ready to be humiliated by Iran as long as it returns to the 2015 agreement.

Meanwhile, Iran's economy has rebounded thanks to covert oil sales to China and Russia, and its leaders no longer fear the sanctions. Iran inches closer every day to becoming a nuclear threshold state.
Biden Administration Caves: Will Lift Sanctions on Iran for New Deal
The United States is prepared to remove sanctions on Iran to resume compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, including those that are inconsistent with the 2015 pact, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday, without providing details.

"We are prepared to take the steps necessary to return to compliance with the JCPOA, including by lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA. I am not in a position here to give you chapter and verse on what those might be," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. He was referring to the pact formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iranian Americans Demand Biden Admin Back Regime Change
A group of more than 300 prominent Iranian Americans are petitioning the Biden administration to publicly support dissident efforts to overthrow the Islamic Republic’s hardline clerical government.

As the Biden administration seeks direct talks with Iran’s mullahs in pursuit of a revamped nuclear agreement, the group of Iranian Americans—including scholars, professors, physicians, and industry executives—is warning the White House against unwinding economic sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy and sparked widespread anti-government protests.

"In the last 4 years, hunger, poverty, and dire economic conditions have been the initial trigger of the uprisings, but people’s demands quickly evolved to regime change. Their call is loud and clear, and cannot be ignored," the leaders write, according to a copy of the letter sent on Wednesday to the White House and first obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "Furthermore, no sanctions relief or concessions should be provided to the Iranian regime, unless that regime verifiably ends its human rights abuses in Iran and terrorism abroad, and abandons its destructive support for proxies in the region."

The letter, organized by the Iranian Professionals’ Ad Hoc Committee on Iran Policy, comes as U.S., European, and Iranian diplomats meet in Vienna in hopes of laying the groundwork for the United States to reenter the 2015 nuclear accord. Former president Donald Trump abandoned the agreement in 2018, citing Iran’s non-compliance.

The Biden administration has already committed to unwinding tough economic sanctions on Iran before it ceases its increased nuclear work, which includes enriching uranium to levels needed to power an atomic weapon. These advance concessions have riled the majority of congressional Republicans and even some Democratic foreign policy leaders, who warned the administration last month against granting sanctions relief before Iran takes concrete steps to move back into compliance with the original accord.

Iranian leaders continue to demand the United States remove all sanctions before it agrees to reduce its nuclear weapons work. Iran’s stockpiles of 20-percent enriched uranium, a threshold widely seen as the final step to powering a weapon, has grown steadily in recent months, the country announced on Wednesday.
Elliott Abrams: Is Iran Being Turned into a Chinese Gas Station?
On March 27, in a ceremony in Tehran, the foreign ministers of Iran and China signed an agreement for China to invest $400 billion in Iran over 25 years. The New York Times reported on the deal under the headline “China, With $400 Billion Iran Deal, Could Deepen Influence in Mideast” and added this:
Iran did not make the details of the agreement public before the signing, nor did the Chinese government give specifics. But experts said it was largely unchanged from an 18-page draft obtained last year by The New York Times.

That draft detailed $400 billion of Chinese investments to be made in dozens of fields, including banking, telecommunications, ports, railways, health care and information technology, over the next 25 years. In exchange, China would receive a regular — and, according to an Iranian official and an oil trader, heavily discounted — supply of Iranian oil.

I’m dubious. First, this deal was proposed five years ago, in 2016, when Xi Jinping visited Iran. That’s a long time to get to signing — and the terms of the deal have still not been made public. Why not? One theory is that Iran will be selling oil to China at a large discount — large enough to spur resistance and protests in Iran were it to become known. How much will materialize, turning paper into actual commerce, remains to be seen.

Consider the numbers, too. According to the World Bank, total foreign direct investment (FDI) in Iran, from all sources, maxed out in 2017 at $5 billion, but by 2019 had fallen to $1.5 billion. It seems to have fallen further in 2020, to about $1 billion. This agreement with China — $400 billion in 25 years — calls for $16 billion per year from China alone. Does that seem realistic for Iran, a country that has never absorbed more than $5 billion in a single year in FDI from the entire world? There is also good reason to question the notion that China will significantly increase its reliance on Iran for oil: Would China want to rely on a sole, Middle Eastern source rather than diversify its supplies?

There are other ways of evaluating how real the $400 billion figure may be. According to the China Global Investment Tracker produced by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, in the 15 years between 2004 and 2019, China invested a total of $182 billion in the United States, or an average of $12 billion a year; $98 billion in Australia, or $6.5 billion per year; and $83 billion in the U.K., or $5.5 billion per year. The numbers are lower for countries such as Brazil, Canada, Germany, and Switzerland. How realistic is it, then, that China will invest more annually in Iran than it does — or has ever done — in any other country in the world?


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