Nothing stands still in the Middle East! Just two items with interesting implications.
Report: New Iranian nuclear test site ahead of international talks
An Iranian dissident group, with a track record of uncovering secretive Iranian nuclear facilities claimed yesterday
that a previously unknown nuclear testing site is nearing completion.
The Times says the exiled opposition group, Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) believes that the facility, situated within a
military complex around twenty five miles south of Isfahan is being used “either for advanced weaponisation or the
final stages of constructing a bomb,” according to Shahin Gobadi, an official affiliated to the group. Satellite images
produced by MEK show a heavily fortified tunnel leading to what appears to be an underground complex. MEK first
exposed the Natanz nuclear reactor in 2002 and was the first to draw attention to the Arak plutonium reactor.
Yesterday’s revelations come with representatives of the P5+1 powers (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany)
set to continue talks with Iranian officials in Geneva tomorrow over concluding an interim deal, as a prelude to a
more comprehensive agreement. It is thought the interim deal being discussed would require Iran to freeze its
nuclear programme for six months in return for limited concessions on sanctions. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu yesterday reiterated his opposition to the deal, telling German daily Bild that loosening sanctions would
be “a terrible mistake, a historic error.”
Meanwhile, ahead of the talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry looked to ease Netanyahu’s fears. Speaking at a
press conference in Turkey yesterday, Kerry said “I have great respect for [Netanyahu’s] concerns about his
country,” adding that “I can assure those friends and everybody else watching this that nothing that we are doing
here, in my judgment, will put Israel at any additional risk.”
He said that any interim agreement reached would urge Iran to prove its nuclear programme is intended only for peaceful purposes. (Hmmmmm!)
Netanyahu invites Abbas to address Knesset to advance peace process
At a special Knesset session yesterday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that he visit Ramallah
and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas address the Knesset, in order to break the deadlock in
Negotiations resumed in July after a three year hiatus; the two sides agreed to allow nine months for a
comprehensive peace agreement to be concluded. However, tensions have surfaced during the last two weeks; both
sides accused the other of dishonesty over an Israeli announcement regarding construction plans beyond the pre-
1967 borders. Speaking at a Knesset session in honour of visiting French President Francois Hollande, who had
visited Abbas earlier in the day, Netanyahu said “I call on him [Abbas]today: Let’s break the stalemate. Come to the
Knesset. I will come to Ramallah.”
Netanyahu emphasised his recognition of the two-state solution and asked the PA do the same, commenting “Most of
the Knesset members are unified: In order for the peace to be real, it must go in both directions. One cannot
demand that we recognize a Palestinian national state without demanding of them to recognize a Jewish state.”
Opposition and Labour Party leader Shelly Yachimovich also took to the podium and pledged “If there is a
breakthrough in the talks with the Palestinians, we will be a safety net for the government.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry announced yesterday that he was postponing a planned trip to the region later this
week. In the meantime, Israel Radio reports that another round of talks between Israeli and PA delegations could
take place in the next few days.
In a development independent of the peace process, the Jerusalem Arbitration Centre opened yesterday as an
agreed upon commercial dispute mechanism, designed to boost Israeli-Palestinian trade. There had previously been
little accepted recourse for business disputes between Israeli and Palestinian individuals and the new centre hopes to
bring greater confidence to business relations.