No high hopes as Iran begins new round of nuclear talks



Expectations are low as Iran begins a new round of nuclear summitry with six leading world powers in Istanbul today.

Sir Richard Dalton, Britain's former ambassador to Iran, said: "Neither the US nor Iran sees it in their interests to shift at the moment."

However, the threat of an Israeli or US military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities if negotiations break down or drag on has receded in recent weeks, allowing vital breathing space for further diplomacy.

That is a huge relief for a region already jittery over the tumultuous events in Tunisia and fearful of renewed instability in Lebanon. A military adventure against Iran could unleash a regional war.

The major western powers believe their hand has been strengthened recently. The Obama administration claims that Tehran's nuclear trajectory has been set back by sweeping sanctions that are inflicting economic pain on the regime and reportedly are thwarting its ability to acquire vital materials for enriching uranium.

In addition, The New York Times claimed this week that a cyber-weapon called Stuxnet, deployed jointly by American and Israeli experts, has yanked back the hands of Iran's atomic clock.

Meanwhile, recent Israeli intelligence assessments say the Islamic republic will not be able to build a nuclear weapon before 2015 at the earliest. That is three or four years later than previous Israeli estimates.

All told, these new evaluations of Iran's nuclear setbacks have "lowered the temperature on what had been 2010's hottest strategic issue", David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist, wrote earlier this month. "Last summer Jerusalem and Washington were talking themselves into a war fever."

Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is a peaceful drive to generate electricity, appears no less confident going into the two-day talks in Istanbul, which bring together Iran and the so-called P5+1, comprising the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Russia, China, France and Britain - and Germany.

Tehran maintains that its nuclear activities are progressing swiftly, that sanctions are a damp squib and, while acknowledging that Stuxnet infiltrated its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, claims the damage was minimal.

Tehran's UN envoy, Mohammad Khazaee, said on Tuesday that Iran must be accepted as a "heavyweight champion in the region" and would not negotiate with a "knife in the neck".

Many analysts believe the most the West can expect in Istanbul is to resurrect a 15-month-old confidence-building measure on Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) which, if successful, could help to rebuild its ragged relationship with Tehran.

The last round in Geneva six weeks ago produced nothing significant, apart from resuming a dialogue after a bad-tempered, 14-month hiatus.

Mutual suspicion runs deep. The West fears that Iran will filibuster while pressing ahead with its nuclear programme. Tehran, in turn, suspects the West is going through the diplomatic motions while it waits for sanctions to force an Iranian compromise. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said this week that the US "may be proposing more unilateral sanctions".

Both sides want to talk about different issues. Iran is pushing an agenda that covers just about everything except its nuclear programme: global disarmament, Israel's undeclared nuclear weapons arsenal, fighting terrorism and co-operation on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iran's nuclear ambitions are, however, the P5+1's focus of concern. Iran pressed hard for this round of talks to take place in Turkey, which has developed close economic and political ties with Tehran. Turkey and Brazil, along with Lebanon, were the only countries on the UN Security Council that voted against a fourth round of sanctions against Iran last June.

The confidence-building measure set to feature prominently in Istanbul entails Iran surrendering the bulk of its LEU in exchange for foreign-made fuel rods for a medical research reactor in Tehran.

The deal, theoretically, would benefit both sides. Iran would get fuel for its reactor and the West would ensure Iran's LEU stockpile is reduced below the amount needed to produce a nuclear weapon. And, vitally, from Iran's viewpoint, such an accord would tacitly accept its uranium enrichment programme.

Western officials say the deal needs to be updated because Iran's LEU stockpile has doubled since the accord was first mooted in October 2009.

But Iranian nuclear officials warn that time is running out for the West because Tehran will soon be able to manufacture its own fuel rods for its medical reactor. In that case, it will be difficult to persuade the Iranian parliament to agree to allow any transfer of uranium abroad, they say.

Farideh Farhi, a leading Iran analyst, said: "The way it looks, Iran is entering the talks in the hope of making the best out of a weak hand, this time generated by the much-publicised argument that Iran's nuclear programme has faced setbacks both because of espionage and sanctions."

Other Iran experts believe Iran feels no weaker going into today's talks. Sir Richard, now a fellow at Chatham House, a leading British think-tank, said: "Some of the fuss about Stuxnet seems to be bluster by the US and Israel. They created a programme which may have crashed only a small proportion of Iran's [5,000 uranium enrichment] centrifuges."

He believes sanctions on exporting materials and equipment are having a more potent effect. "Sanctions are always a long-term strategy and what we're seeing now is the effectiveness of sanctions adopted some time ago," Sir Richard said.

Gary Sick, a leading Iran expert at Columbia University in New York, said: "It's hard to believe anything's going to happen of any great significance [in Istanbul]. But if the US insists that every bit of Iran's LEU has to be out of the country then I expect progress will be very, very slow."

Iran's bottom line has always been that it has the right to continue enriching uranium on its own territory under international safeguards.

Claims of Stuxnet's vaunted prowess, meanwhile, probably have more to do with US politics than the virus's real potency, Prof Sick said. Mr Obama can now placate his domestic critics, who were pressing for tougher action against Iran, by arguing that Washington has worked with Israel to set back the alleged Iranian nuclear threat.

"If you're running for re-election, that's a terrific line. But did it really change Iran's determination to build an independent nuclear programme? Not a bit," Prof Sick said.

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst based in Israel and co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Iran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran, said the chances of an Iranian compromise may have been higher if the Stuxnet virus had "managed to destroy more than 50 per cent of Iran's centrifuges".

But, he added, the longer the stalemate continues, the more it will play into American hands as sanctions bite deeper and Iran becomes more internationally isolated.

"The Iranians have always played the long game," Mr Javedanfar said. "But it seems the Obama administration is now playing the long game and doing it better than the Iranians."

The specs

Price: From Dh529,000

Engine: 5-litre V8

Transmission: Eight-speed auto

Power: 520hp

Torque: 625Nm

Fuel economy, combined: 12.8L/100km

Australia tour of Pakistan

March 4-8: First Test, Rawalpindi

March 12-16: Second Test, Karachi

March 21-25: Third Test, Lahore

March 29: First ODI, Rawalpindi

March 31: Second ODI, Rawalpindi

April 2: Third ODI, Rawalpindi

April 5: T20I, Rawalpindi

BRAZIL SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Alisson, Ederson, Weverton

Defenders: Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Eder Militao , Danilo, Alex Sandro, Alex Telles, Bremer.

Midfielders: Casemiro, Fred, Fabinho, Bruno Guimaraes, Lucas Paqueta, Everton Ribeiro.

Forwards: Neymar, Vinicius Junior, Richarlison, Raphinha, Antony, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli, Pedro, Rodrygo

Batti Gul Meter Chalu

Producers: KRTI Productions, T-Series
Director: Sree Narayan Singh
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Divyenndu Sharma, Yami Gautam
Rating: 2/5

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

Structural weaknesses facing Israel economy

1. Labour productivity is lower than the average of the developed economies, particularly in the non-tradable industries.
2. The low level of basic skills among workers and the high level of inequality between those with various skills.
3. Low employment rates, particularly among Arab women and Ultra-Othodox Jewish men.
4. A lack of basic knowledge required for integration into the labour force, due to the lack of core curriculum studies in schools for Ultra-Othodox Jews.
5. A need to upgrade and expand physical infrastructure, particularly mass transit infrastructure.
6. The poverty rate at more than double the OECD average.
7. Population growth of about 2 per cent per year, compared to 0.6 per cent OECD average posing challenge for fiscal policy and underpinning pressure on education, health care, welfare housing and physical infrastructure, which will increase in the coming years.

SERIES INFO

Cricket World Cup League Two
Nepal, Oman, United States tri-series
Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu
 
Fixtures
Wednesday February 5, Oman v Nepal
Thursday, February 6, Oman v United States
Saturday, February 8, United States v Nepal
Sunday, February 9, Oman v Nepal
Tuesday, February 11, Oman v United States
Wednesday, February 12, United States v Nepal

Table
The top three sides advance to the 2022 World Cup Qualifier.
The bottom four sides are relegated to the 2022 World Cup playoff

 1 United States 8 6 2 0 0 12 +0.412
2 Scotland 8 4 3 0 1 9 +0.139
3 Namibia 7 4 3 0 0 8 +0.008
4 Oman 6 4 2 0 0 8 -0.139
5 UAE 7 3 3 0 1 7 -0.004
6 Nepal 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
7 PNG 8 0 8 0 0 0 -0.458

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Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

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Diriyah project at a glance

- Diriyah’s 1.9km King Salman Boulevard, a Parisian Champs-Elysees-inspired avenue, is scheduled for completion in 2028
- The Royal Diriyah Opera House is expected to be completed in four years
- Diriyah’s first of 42 hotels, the Bab Samhan hotel, will open in the first quarter of 2024
- On completion in 2030, the Diriyah project is forecast to accommodate more than 100,000 people
- The $63.2 billion Diriyah project will contribute $7.2 billion to the kingdom’s GDP
- It will create more than 178,000 jobs and aims to attract more than 50 million visits a year
- About 2,000 people work for the Diriyah Company, with more than 86 per cent being Saudi citizens

SNAPSHOT

While Huawei did launch the first smartphone with a 50MP image sensor in its P40 series in 2020, Oppo in 2014 introduced the Find 7, which was capable of taking 50MP images: this was done using a combination of a 13MP sensor and software that resulted in shots seemingly taken from a 50MP camera.

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

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Directed by: Walt Dohrn, David Smith

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake

Rating: 4 stars

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Mascotte Health

Started: 2023

Based: Miami, US

Founder: Bora Hamamcioglu

Sector: Online veterinary service provider

Investment stage: $1.2 million raised in seed funding

Keep it fun and engaging

Stuart Ritchie, director of wealth advice at AES International, says children cannot learn something overnight, so it helps to have a fun routine that keeps them engaged and interested.

“I explain to my daughter that the money I draw from an ATM or the money on my bank card doesn’t just magically appear – it’s money I have earned from my job. I show her how this works by giving her little chores around the house so she can earn pocket money,” says Mr Ritchie.

His daughter is allowed to spend half of her pocket money, while the other half goes into a bank account. When this money hits a certain milestone, Mr Ritchie rewards his daughter with a small lump sum.

He also recommends books that teach the importance of money management for children, such as The Squirrel Manifesto by Ric Edelman and Jean Edelman.

The years Ramadan fell in May

1987

1954

1921

1888

The years Ramadan fell in May

1987

1954

1921

1888

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Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5

Know before you go
  • Jebel Akhdar is a two-hour drive from Muscat airport or a six-hour drive from Dubai. It’s impossible to visit by car unless you have a 4x4. Phone ahead to the hotel to arrange a transfer.
  • If you’re driving, make sure your insurance covers Oman.
  • By air: Budget airlines Air Arabia, Flydubai and SalamAir offer direct routes to Muscat from the UAE.
  • Tourists from the Emirates (UAE nationals not included) must apply for an Omani visa online before arrival at evisa.rop.gov.om. The process typically takes several days.
  • Flash floods are probable due to the terrain and a lack of drainage. Always check the weather before venturing into any canyons or other remote areas and identify a plan of escape that includes high ground, shelter and parking where your car won’t be overtaken by sudden downpours.

 


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