April 3, 2014:
In mid-March American officials revealed that Iran was still operating its smuggling network that obtained components for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. There is still a lot of activity in this network that does not actually involve smuggled components. This includes setting up and maintaining shell companies to hide shipments and cultivating contacts with smuggling gangs or individuals as well as forgers (to create documents to get smuggled goods moved) and bribing officials (especially customs inspectors in some countries). While none of this technically violates a recent agreement to halt nuclear research, it does show Iran is not thinking of shutting down these illegal activities permanently.
Meanwhile Iran is declaring (at least inside Iran) its January 20th interim deal with the UN over its nuclear program as a victory. One Iranian official pointed out that Iran could reverse the effects of concessions within a month and that Iran was not really giving up anything. UN officials and many Western governments dismiss all this as Iranian efforts to improve domestic morale. The UN believes that the January agreement, which merely gives Iran some concessions ($4.2 billion in frozen funds are released and some sanctions eased) in return for agreeing to negotiate a more permanent deal, is worth it for the rest of the world. But Iranian officials are telling Iranians that there will be no permanent changes in the nuclear program and that full scale uranium enrichment could be resumed within 24 hours. Meanwhile the existing deal only allows for six months of negotiations. The way these things work the Iranians will demand more concessions to extend the negotiations after no deal is achieved within the first six months.
It’s not a promising start when Iranian leaders are telling their people that the negotiations are simply a ploy to weaken the sanctions. Based on recent remarks by senior Iranian officials and their Western counterparts there are some serious differences of interpretation over the current deal and what the negotiations can, or are supposed to, achieve.
Iran must smuggle in its arms imports as legitimate purchases are banned by international embargoes. This is one reason Iranian military procurement is less than a tenth of what their Arab neighbors are spending. But the Iranians have a long tradition of doing much with little when it comes to military equipment. In addition the Arabs have a much less impressive combat record, especially in the last century. So the oil-rich Arabs are trying to equip their troops with a lot of the best stuff available and hope for the best. Oddly enough the Gulf Arabs have not been able
The war on Iranian arms smuggling has been intensifying in the last decade. Most countries cooperate, but not all. While Turkey has been getting cozy with Iran the Turks still enforce international trade sanctions against Iran. But as Turkey encourages its companies to do more business with Iran there are more opportunities to smuggle forbidden goods to assist Iranian nuclear weapons and ballistic missile projects. Iran takes advantage of this whenever possible.