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February 7, 2012

News Roundup 02/06

Obama Walks Back Panetta’s Warning About Israeli Strike
In an interview with NBC last night, President Obama appeared to walk back Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s statement that Israel was likely to strike Iran within months.  The President said he does not believe “Israel has made a decision on what they need to do” and said ultimately, Iran must be convinced that pursuing a nuclear weapon is not in their interests (Video NBC.com 02/05).  Barbara Salvin speculates that Panetta’s comments are part of a concerted effort by U.S. officials “to smoke the Israelis out,” forcing Israeli officials into an unprecedented public debate about their options in hopes of staving off war. The President also said in his interview that he believes “Any kind of additional military activity inside the Gulf is disruptive…and so our preferred solution here is diplomatic.” When asked about the dangers of retaliation posed by Iran against the United States, Obama said he did not see “any evidence that they [Iranians] have those intentions or capabilities right now.”  U.S. officials believe the burden of an Iranian retaliation to an Israeli attack would ultimately fall on the shoulders of the United States and this is why “We are telling them [Israel] every which way we can “Don’t do it [attack Iran],” said Salvin.
 (Washington Times 02/05) (France 24 02/06)
New Senate and White House Sanctions
Last Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee unanimously approved the toughest measures yet against Iran. One provision would aim sanctions at SWIFT, effectively locking Iran’s banking system out of the global financial telecommunications network(New York Times 02/03).  An additional an amendment to the bill would strip Persian artifacts of their last legal protections as noncommercial items.(NIAC)
Today, President Obama signed an executive order that would freeze all Iranian government assets held or traded in the United States. These measures, he said, are taken “in light of the deceptive practices” of Iran’s central bank to conceal activities already banned by previous sanctions. The new sanctions will require American financial institutions to freeze assets related to Iran’s Central Bank, rather than just reject them as is current practice. (Reuters 02/06)
Meanwhile, new reports of the humanitarian impact of escalating sanctions suggest they are increasingly being felt among ordinary Iranians. “I don’t care about the nuclear dispute. Soon, I might not be able to afford food and other basic needs of my children,” said Mitra Zarrabi, a school teacher and mother of three.  (Reuters 02/05)
Notable Opinion: Why Aren’t We Negotiation With Iran?
The absence of diplomacy between the United States and Iran has dragged on for over three decades.  “That is a longer hiatus than occurred after either the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 or the communist seizure of power in China in 1949” say Stephen Walt. Walt examines the rewards U.S. enjoys for its historical commitment to a policy of engagement and suggests, “Rather than unleashing the U.S. Air Force, in short, how about unleashing our diplomats instead? (Foreign Policy 02/03)
Other Notable News:
Russia and China vetoed the U.N. Security Council draft resolution aimed at condemning the continuing violence in Syria and calling for Assad to step down.   (Reuters 02/05)
On Sunday, the director of Mesghal.com, a site that updates currency and exchange rate news, was arrested by Iranian officials. He is being accused of manipulating the market as part of a plot to destabilize the nation’s economy.   (Committee of Human Rights- Persian 02/05)

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