Iran unlikely to begin building nuclear weapon in 2012
 According to a report drafted by the Institute for Science and International Security, Iran is unlikely to take steps toward building a nuclear weapon in 2012 due to their inability to produce a sufficient amount of weapons-grade uranium.  According to the report, “Iran’s essential challenge remains developing a secure capability to make enough weapons-grade uranium, likely for at least several nuclear weapons.”  The effectiveness of airstrikes was also disputed by the report, which said strikes would be “unlikely to destroy Iran’s main capability,” and would allow Iran to rapidly rebuild their capabilities.  (Reuters 01/26)
IMF warns Iran sanctions could increase price of oil 20-30%
 The IMF has stated that Western financial sanctions on Iranian oil could result in a 20-30% hike in global pricing.  According to an IMF statement to the G20, “ A blockade of the Strait of Hormuz would constitute, and be perceived by markets to presage, sharply heightened global geopolitical tension involving a much larger and unprecedented disruption.”  The IMF says this shock could be significantly greater if Iran goes ahead with its threat to blockade the Straits of Hormuz.  (BBC 01/26)
U.S. Joint Chief Chairman: Talk of Military Options on Iran “Premature”
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an interview with National Journal, discussed his recent trip to Israel and his current thinking regarding Iran.  “I do think the path we’re on—the economic sanctions and the diplomatic pressure—does seem to me to be having an effect,” he said. “I just think that its premature to be deciding that the economic and diplomatic approach is inadequate.”
He also warned, “A conflict with Iran would be really destabilizing, and I’m not just talking from the security perspective.  It would be economically destabilizing.”  Dempsey explained the U.S. position on Iran as, “We are determined to prevent them from acquiring that weapon, but that doesn’t mean dropping bombs necessarily.  I personally believe that we should be in the business of deterring as the first priority.”  (National Journal 01/26)
Israel’s defense minister calls for stronger sanctions against Iran
 Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, told Israel radio that he doubts the recent unprecedented EU oil embargo is enough to convince Iran to abandon their nuclear program.  These remarks came shortly after those made on Monday by Prime Minister Netanyahu who said, “Sanctions will have to be evaluated on the basis of results.  As of today, Iran is continuing to produce nuclear weapons without hindrance.”  However, an Israeli intelligence assessment last week stated that Iran still has not decided to build a nuclear weapon, which is the same assessment as the U.S. intelligence community.  Israeli officials continue to call for tougher sanctions, stating that if current sanctions are ineffective, a military option must be exercised.  (Guardian 01/26)
IAEA inspectors to visit Iranian nuclear facilities
A team of IAEA nuclear inspectors is set to visit Iran on Saturday to request access to various sites, officials, and documents related to Iran’s nuclear program.  While many Western diplomats are skeptical of the talks and believe that Iran is using them as a stalling tactic, others believe that Iran may be sincere in order to keep diplomatic channels open and avoid further disciplinary measures.  Olli Heinonen, a former chief U.N. safeguards inspector, hopes that “at a minimum, the parties can agree on how to proceed in resolving outstanding issues, and that also includes the military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program.”  (Reuters 01/26)
Ahmadinejad says Iran ready to restart nuclear talks
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today that Iran is ready to restore negotiations with major global players, though it remains unclear if the Supreme Leader endorsed this position.  The U.S. and Iran have not held any negotiations since January 2011, under the auspice of the U.N. Security Council P5+1 group.  Ahmadinejad blamed the breakdown on sanctions in a recent speech, saying “it is evident that those who resort to coercion are opposed to talks and always bring pretexts and blame us instead.”  (ABC 01/26)
In addition to Ahmadinejad’s statements, chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili says, “Iran is prepared to engage in dialogue…over the nuclear issue on the basis of mutual respect.”  (Reuters 01/26)
Iran takes measures to ease economic crisis
 On Wednesday, the Iranian economic minister proclaimed that deposit interest rates at local banks would be increased to 21%.  A World Bank report projected Iran’s GDP to grow by 2.7% in 2012, a .3% decrease from last year’s 3%.  However, this data is based on official figures provided by the Iranian government, which “do not reflect Iran’s economic situation.”  Iran’s economy is struggling due to unprecedented international pressure over its nuclear program as well as internal political infighting.  The Iranian rial has fallen in value by about 30% over the past month, and by 49% over the past year.   (Financial Times 01/26)
Turkish lender to continue handling oil payments to Iran
Turkish lender Halkbank says it will continue oil payments to Iran from its customers as long as international guidelines are followed.  Halkbank is Turkey’s sixth largest bank, and processes payments made by Turkey’s refinery as well as those made by Indian refiners and others.  Turkey is largely dependent on imports of hydrocarbons from Iran, making it wary to follow unilateral U.S. and EU sanctions.  Turkey opposed U.N. sanctions against Iran, but currently adheres to them.  (Reuters 01/26)
China criticizes EU ban on Iran oil
 Chinese officials have recently disapproved of the EU’s imposition of tougher sanctions on Iran’s oil industry and called for “measures conducive to regional peace and stability.”  Despite strong opposition to any efforts by Iran to produce nuclear weaponry, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao defended China’s decision to continue to buy Iranian crude, calling it a typical engagement in trade.  In a written statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry argued, “it is not a constructive approach to simply pile up the pressure and impose sanctions.” China is currently the largest purchaser of Iranian crude oil.  (Reuters 01/26)
Notable opinion: 
In a Huffington Post op-ed, professor and senior fellow Michael Brenner discusses the U.S.’s desire to attain unrealizable objectives in dealing with Iran, while continuing to ignore fundamental realities of Iran’s situation:

 “The drums are sounding for war on Iran. The leading Republican presidential candidates pledge military action as soon as they cross the threshold of the White House. The Obama administration sharpens its rhetoric in accompaniment to imposing coercive sanctions. It strong-arms its allies to stand with it in confrontation. Israel uses all of its formidable levers of influence to push the United States into war mode. All shades of the media work overtime to stoke fears in a manner reminiscent of the build-up to the Iraq invasion. Amidst all this noise and fury the one thing missing is a sober assessment of the problem and what are suitable approaches to addressing it. This unfortunately has become habitual in American foreign policy.”

To read the full piece click here.
Additional Notable News:
The Christian Science Monitor released an article outlining the history of repeated warnings made in regards to the imminent Iran nuclear threat over the past twenty-five years.
Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, called for the release of three opposition leaders, including Mr. Mir Hossein Mosuavi, in addition to a boycott of Iran’s March parliamentary elections to show “that the Islamic Republic of Iran lacks legitimacy.”
In an interview with BBC, Oman’s minister of foreign affairs, Yusif Bin Alawi, discusses the potential for a crisis between Iran and the West.
According to Khabar Online, the Iranian rial is currently trading at 17300:1 versus the dollar, a strengthening of currency brought about by increased interest rates.
In addition, the head of Iran’s central bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, has announced a single exchange rate of 12260:1 to come into effect Sunday.
An Iranian F-14 fighter plane crashed today shortly after taking off near the Persian Gulf, although no explanation has been offered as to how the crash occurred.

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