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Four Arab States to Take 'Political, Economic and Legal' Measures Against Qatar

The Saudi-led bloc of Arab states which also includes Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, has announced that negotiations with Qatar have broken down because of Doha's failure to meet their demands. As a result, the four states have withdrawn their list of demands and have announced their intention to punish Qatar.

The four Arab states called Doha's refusal to meet their demands proof of Qatar's links to Islamist and terrorist groups. As a result, they will take political, economic and legal measures against the Qatari government, the bloc said in a joint statement carried by state media in the member countries.

Doha intentionally sabotaged diplomatic efforts to heal the rift between the Arab states, the statement said, just as their policies continue to sabotage efforts to bring security and stability to the region.

"The obstinacy of the Qatari government, its refusal to accept demands made by the four Arab countries bear witness to its ties with terrorist organizations, its desire to destroy and undermine stability and security in the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East," read the statement, as reported by Egypt’s MENA state news agency.

The 13 demands were issued June 23. The document called for Qatar to end all diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia's chief rival Iran, to sever all ties with "terrorist groups" such as Al Qaeda, Daesh, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups; to shut down Al-Jazeera and other Qatari news agencies; to cease cooperation with Turkish armed forces; to consent to monthly audits for 10 years to see if they are keeping their word; and numerous other demands.

Qatar was given 10 days to comply with the demands, and later a 48-hour extension. The Qatari government denies the validity of all the demands and has called them an "affront" to Qatari sovereignty.

The four Arab nations are leading a blockade and embargo of Qatar that has now entered its fifth week.

Iran Still on the Hunt for Nuclear Weapons Technology Across Germany
by Benjamin Weinthal

Startling new evidence from German intelligence reports shows the Tehran regime is working to illegally obtain technology and know-how to advance its nuclear weapons and missile programs, despite the 2015 agreement to curb its nuclear program.

A report from the state of Hamburg holds that “there is no evidence of an complete about-face in Iran’s atomic polices in 2016” [after the Islamic Republic signed the JCPOA deal with Western powers in 2015, aimed at restricting Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief]. Iran sought missile carrier technology necessary for its rocket program.”

The report noted that the federal prosecutor filed criminal charges against three German citizens for violations of the export economic law due to the deliveries of 51 special valves to Iranian company that can be used for the Islamic Republic’s sanctioned Arak heavy water reactor. The installation, the intelligence officials wrote, “can be used to develop plutonium for nuclear weapons.” Iran pledged, under the JCPOA deal, to “dismantle the [Arak] facility,” the intelligence report states.

On the proliferation of atomic, biological and chemical weapons, a second report from Baden-Württemberg’s state intelligence agency report states: “Regardless of the number of national and international sanctions and embargoes, countries like Iran, Pakistan and North Korea are making efforts to optimize corresponding technology.”

The 181-page document outlines the technology Iran is seeking: “Products and scientific know-how for the field of developing weapons of mass destruction as well [as] missile technology.”

Iran’s illegal procurement and terrorist activities are cited 49 times in the report and range from cyberwarfare to espionage to support of the EU- and U.S.-classified terrorist organization Hezbollah.

The Baden-Württemberg report provides detail on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles with the aid of a Chinese front company. A Chinese import-export business approached a company in the southern German state that manufactures “complex metal producing machines” to buy equipment.

Berlin’s Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control requested an end-use receipt for the Iranian purchase. The intelligence agency informed the engineering company that the merchandise was set to be unlawfully diverted to Iran. “This case shows that so-called indirect-deliveries across third countries is still Iran’s procurement strategy,” wrote the intelligence officials.

A third intelligence report from last month, from another German state, says that in 2016, “German companies located in Rhineland-Palatinate were contacted for illegal procurement attempts by [Pakistan, North Korea and Iran]. The procurement attempts involved goods that were subject to authorization and approval on account of legal export restrictions and UN embargoes. These goods, for example, could be used for a state’s nuclear and missile programs.”

Germany’s federal intelligence agency (the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution or BfV)—the rough equivalent of the FBI—published its intelligence report on Tuesday. The federal data did not cite Iran’s activity in Baden-Württemberg—a state that is home to highly advanced engineering and technological companies.

Nonetheless, the 339-page federal document reports that Iran has not curtailed its missile program: “The amount of evidence found for attempts to acquire proliferation-sensitive material for missile technology/the missile program, which is not covered by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, remained about the same.”

The report did find “significantly less evidence of Iranian attempts to acquire proliferation-sensitive material for its nuclear program. As far as the BfV was able to verify such evidence, it did not reveal any violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”

The second anniversary of the JCPOA will fall on July 14. Days after the agreement was signed in 2015, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel rushed to Tehran with a delegation of business leaders. The U.S. State Department has designated Iran as a top state-sponsor of terrorism.

The Social Democrat Gabriel, who is widely considered to be one of the European leaders most sympathetic toward the Islamic Republic, hosted Iranian leaders in May and June, including Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif in Berlin last month. In May, Gabriel welcomed Hamidreza Torabi, a radical anti-Western Iranien cleric who called for Israel’s destruction at the annual pro-Hezbollah al-Quds rally Berlin in 2016.

Germany’s foreign ministry invited Torabi to its event titled “The Conference on the Responsibility of Religions for Peace.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s aggressive cyberwarfare activities were stressed in the reports. According to the federal document, “The Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran are the major players behind espionage activities that are directed against Germany. Cyberattacks can now also be attributed to presumed government agencies in Iran.”

It is clear from all this that the Islamic Republic of Iran remains determined to be able to hit its foes with weapons of mass destruction, either before or after the restrictions supposedly placed on it by the 2015 nuclear agreement expire.

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Election over, Iran's attention turns to supreme leader's post
Shashank Bengali and Ramin Mostaghim

Tehran: After Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's re-election, talk in Iran has turned to the future of an even larger political figure: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Although the topic is taboo in Iran, the question of who will succeed Ayatollah Khamenei, who is 77 and ailing, loomed over the May 19 election. Dr Rouhani, a relative moderate, won 57 per cent of the vote in a four-man field, demonstrating strong public support for his policies of economic pragmatism, international engagement and expanding social freedoms.

But in Iran's theocracy, one vote matters most: the supreme leader's.

Ayatollah Khamenei and the hard-line "principlist" faction that is close to him have indicated impatience with Dr Rouhani's economic policies and outreach to the West - especially the 2015 nuclear agreement.

After the election, Ayatollah Khamenei congratulated Iranians on a 75 per cent voter turnout but did not mention Dr Rouhani, who won a second four-year term. Ayatollah Khamenei's slight fuelled speculation of a rift and led some observers to predict that the supreme leader would curtail the president's reform efforts by anointing a fellow hardliner to succeed him.

Here are the key questions surrounding Iran's leadership transition:

How important is the selection of the new supreme leader?

Extremely important. Ali Vaez, Iran analyst for the International Crisis Group, calls it "the most pivotal moment in the history of the Islamic Republic".

he supreme leader has the last word on all domestic and international policies, and Ayatollah Khamenei is only the second man to lead Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. His successor will be tasked with winning over a youthful population - half of Iranians are younger than 30 - that wants more openness and less confrontation.

But the transition comes as Iran's ruling establishment faces growing instability abroad, including from a US administration that wants to isolate Iran and is cosying up to Iran's arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia. The growing tensions could produce a more hawkish successor.

How is he chosen?

Upon the leader's death, an 88-member, all-male council known as the Assembly of Experts votes in a secretive process not unlike the selection of a Roman Catholic pope. A two-thirds majority is required, and a committee is already considering possible candidates.

Ayatollah Khamenei ascended to the position in 1989 after the death of the founding supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Then president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani virtually guaranteed Ayatollah Khamenei's accession by announcing that he had been Khomeini's choice to succeed him.

Rafsanjani died in January, and there is no one of his stature to mastermind another transition, especially with Iran so polarised between reformists and hardliners.

"The authority that Khomeini's words had back then, and that someone like Rafsanjani had back then ... I'm not sure those dynamics will play out this time," said Adnan Tabatabai, chief executive of the Berlin-based Centre for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient.

In that vacuum, Iran's security establishment, led by the Revolutionary Guard, could seek to control the process and ensure the appointment of a hardline leader who would oppose broad reforms or rapprochement with the West that would threaten the Guard's economic and political interests.

Has Ayatollah Khamenei indicated a choice for his successor?

Not explicitly. But he is widely believed to favour someone like Ebrahim Raisi, whom Dr Rouhani defeated in the presidential election.

Mr Raisi was a relatively obscure former judge when Ayatollah Khamenei selected him in March 2016 to head Iran's wealthiest religious foundation. This year, when Mr Raisi declared his candidacy for president, it suggested that hardliners close to Ayatollah Khamenei wanted to raise his profile.

Although Iranians rejected Mr Raisi's ultra-conservative views - as a judge he reportedly presided over the executions of political prisoners - he became a household name and won almost 37 per cent of the vote

"He won 16 million votes and went from anonymity to the spotlight in 40 days," said Hamid Reza Taraghi, a political analyst who is close to Ayatollah Khamenei's office. "I am sure that if the campaign had lasted 60 days, he would be the president-elect. In the years to come, he has a chance to promote himself and be one of the candidates for succession."

Mr Raisi has continued making public appearances since the election, signalling that he intends to keep building his profile.

Can Dr Rouhani and the moderates influence the process?

Although Dr Rouhani's supporters made gains in last year's elections to the Assembly of Experts, it is still controlled by hardliners. Dr Rouhani is believed to covet the leadership, but analysts say his best hope is to try to enthrone a fellow pragmatist.

That would be difficult. Although Dr Rouhani is a member of the assembly, hardly any fellow members supported him in the election, Mr Taraghi said.

If Ayatollah Khamenei dies during Dr Rouhani's term and the assembly does not agree on a successor immediately, Dr Rouhani would form part of a temporary three-member council that would assume the supreme leader's powers until a replacement is elected.
Did the election have any impact?
Iran's moderate and reformist faction has now won three straight national elections and controls the presidency and the parliament. The clerical establishment relies on the elections to legitimise its rule, and experts say hardliners know they risk social unrest if they don't acknowledge the voters' will. That could insert a new factor into the discussion of Ayatollah Khamenei's replacement: popularity.

"In addition to someone who is well connected with the clerical, security and political establishments, he will need some sort of broad-based acceptance among the people," Mr Tabatabai said.

Dr Rouhani's backers say they will continue to press for reforms, such as the release of opposition Green Movement leaders from house arrest, which the president supported.

Los Angeles Times
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