- 15 new treaties signed by Abbas - including multiple treaties Palestinians are currently violating - blasted for endangering negotiations
- Congress launches pushback against Iran's appointment of UN ambassador linked to 1979 hostage takers
- Turkish opposition shows photographs of vote count irregularities, amid swirling charges of election tampering
Palestinian officials on Wednesday issued a release listing 15 international treaties to which they will now seek to join as the "State of Palestine," adding detail to a Tuesday gambit by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas under which Ramallah renewed its campaign to upgrade the Palestinians' status in international institutions. The move was widely seen as violating the terms of U.S.-backed peace initiative pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry, which had among other things been explicitly premised on Palestinian commitments to abstain from such maneuvers. Abbas gave a speech declaring that abrogating those commitments should not be interpreted as a repudiation of the U.S. initiative, but interpretation may have fallen short of being persuasive. A meeting between the Palestinian leader and Kerry, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was promptly canceled. The Palestinians subsequently revealed the list of treaties to which they intend to ascend, with Abbas signing and Palestinian diplomats on Wednesday submitting papers codifying those intentions. The list appears to be a hodge-podge of international agreements, with some having to do with minority rights, others having to do with the trappings of statehood, and still others seemingly chosen as PR bludgeons against Israel. Analysts quickly raised concerns regarding the Palestinians' willingness or abilities to enforce those various treaties. Bar Ilan University Professor Gerald Steinberg, who also heads the watchdog group NGO Monitor, openly ridiculed the suggestion that Abbas - who sits atop of a Palestinian political infrastructure marked by endemic corruption, and who himself is serving a ninth year in his originally four year President term - would enforce the United Nations Convention against Corruption. It is unclear whether the Fatah-controlled PA will be able to enforce treaties such as The Convention on the Rights of the Child in the Gaza Strip, which Palestinian officials consider part of the "State of Palestine" but in which Hamas routinely trains thousands of child soldiers. There were several treaties signed by Abbas on Wednesday which the Palestinians appear to be in straightforward violation of. Northwestern University School of Law professor Eugene Kontorovich had early on Wednesday gestured toward a deep tension between the Palestinians joining The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid while working towards a state from which Jewish settlers would be expelled. He might have added that Palestinian law currently bars West Bank Arabs selling their homes or properties to Jews on pain of execution.
Reuters reported Wednesday afternoon that Russia and Iran were advancing on a scheme that would see the Iranians bartering roughly 500,000 barrels of oil a day in exchange for Russian goods, a plan that the outlet said would "enable Tehran to boost vital energy exports in defiance of Western sanctions" and which the White house had previously gone so far as to identify as the source of "serious concerns." Iranian officials reportedly estimate that the oil-for-goods deal would be worth $20 billion to the Islamic Republic, gifting Tehran with revenue far beyond what was envisioned by the partial sanctions relief provided by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA). Diplomatically, the move would be read as in tension with State Department talking points - shared with lawmakers and journalists - insisting that Russia would "compartmentalize" tensions over Crimea and continue to back Western efforts to secure Iranian nuclear concessions. Substantively, the deal would deepen increasingly trenchant concerns that Washington had lost control of the partial sanctions relief provided by JPA, and that the patchwork of restrictions is in danger of coming undone. Both issues directly implicate renewed moves on the Hill to reassert a Congressional voice in negotiations with Iran. Bipartisan majorities of lawmakers in both parties have long sought to pass legislation that would impose financial pressure on Iran in the future should negotiations fail to convince Tehran to verifiably put its atomic program beyond use for weaponization. The White House fought something of a political war against those efforts, arguing that new legislation would cause divisions between the West and Russia, and that in any case no new pressure was needed because the sanctions regime was holding. A scenario under which Russia split from the West to bust the sanctions regime would likely complicate the administration's arguments.
Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress are moving to enact legislation that would prevent Iran from securing a visa for its newly appointed ambassador to the United Nations, just a day after Businessweek had already described the choice of Hamid Aboutalebi as creating a "dilemma" for President Barack Obama's diplomacy toward the Islamic Republic. Aboutalebi was a member of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line when the group in 1979 seized scores of Americans inside the U.S.'s Iran embassy and subsequently held them for 444 days. Analysts had quickly assessed that allowing Aboutalebi to serve in New York on Iran's behalf would be seen by U.S. allies as evidence that "Washington is willing to ignore Iranian misbehavior in our pursuit of a nuclear accord." The Hill reported Tuesday that Senators were urging President Obama to act against the Aboutalebi appointed, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced legislation that would empower the president to deny a visa to any U.N. representative considered a terrorist. The legislation was reported as having bipartisan support - it garnered positive quotes from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) - and on Wednesday parallel legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO). The administration has sought to remain largely circumspect on the issue, with State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf describing visa procurement procedures as "obviously confidential." It is unclear how long such a stance can be maintained. Skeptics of the White House's engagement with Iran - which administration officials have sought to insulate from interference by insisting that a positive "spirit of Geneva" must be maintained - have portrayed the pick as a deliberate provocation.
An official from Turkey's main opposition party on Tuesday showed journalists a photograph of a top figure from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) standing next to a police chief and an election official as votes were counted in Antalya during the country's March 30 local elections, the latest in a series of alleged irregularities that have generated protests throughout the country. Devrim Kok, the head of the Republican People’s Party (CJP)'s Antalya office, expressed outrage over "a minister who comes to the courthouse and stands over the votes during counting." The controversy comes amid several others related to last weekend's polling, with AKP opponents calling attention to everything from discarded ballots marked for opposition candidates to mysterious blackouts in opposition-heavy areas. Turkey’s blackouts had initially been blamed on a cat said to have wandered into local electrical infrastructure, but subsequent investigation suggested that the NATO country’s electricity infrastructure has probably been hardened beyond the reach of stray felines, and that the blackouts seemed to correlate with areas supplied by pro-government electricity firms. Turkey has recently made a series of moves aimed at dampening criticism of the AKP government, with the most controversial being a series of internationally criticized bans on access to Twitter and Facebook instituted on the eve of the recent elections. The country's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday lashed out at the European Union over such criticism, declaring that EU diplomats should consult with Ankara before criticizing Ankara.