- Analysts express concerns over Russian-facilitated proposal to defuse Syrian conflict
- Lebanese media: Hezbollah "interferences" cause top Lebanon judge to resign from assassination tribunal
- U.S. renews criticism of Iran atomic program, blasts "troubling developments"
- Reports swirl that Russia again set to deliver advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Iran
What we’re watching today:
- Analysts are expressing a range of concerns regarding a proposed Russian-facilitated plan designed to defuse the crisis surrounding what is widely believed to be the mass use of chemical weapons by Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime, a day after President Barack Obama declared that Washington would carefully examine the plan. Criticism of the proposal, which would see Syria's vast chemical weapons arsenal subjected to international inspections and confiscation, had already begun piling up as the speech approached. Writing in Foreign Policy, Yochi Dreazen emphasized that that the plan would functionally put U.S. boots on the ground in Syria, which was exactly what U.S. policymakers had long sought to avoid. Experts are uncertain whether international inspectors could even find all of Syria's chemical weapons facilities, many of which are movable. It is not clear that inspectors could even be safely inserted into Syria given the current conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Thursday to further discuss the proposal.
- A judge presiding over the trial chamber of four Hezbollah members accused of killing former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has resigned, months before the anticipated January 2014 start date of the trial itself. The members of the Iran-backed terror group are implicated in a 2005 Beirut car bombing that killed 23 people, among them Hariri and former Minister of the Economy Bassel Fleihan. Judge Robert Roth's resignation makes him the latest of several top officials to step down from the international Special Tribunal for Lebanon since its 2009 creation, and Lebanese media reported that his move came as a result of "some interferences in the appeal made by the defense teams of the accused." International efforts to try and convict the suspected assassins have consistently been hampered by Hezbollah, which has been linked to a series of leaks designed to intimidate likely witnesses in any murder trial over Hariri’s death. In January a Lebanese newspaper linked the group to the publication of confidential details regarding 17 witnesses thought likely to testify, and in April hackers reportedly posted the names of 200 additional potential witnesses on the compromised server of the pro-Hariri Al-Mustaqbal newspaper. Lebanon expert Tony Badran has emphasized that Hezbollah's repeated moves to undermine Lebanese and international institutions are in tension with claims made by some foreign policy analysts defending the group as a Lebanese organization advancing Lebanese interests.
- The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nation's nuclear watchdog today expressed U.S. concerns over what he described as “troubling developments” in Iran’s nuclear program. Joseph Macmanus, Washington's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, called for new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to take steps to ease international concerns surrounding Tehran’s program. Macmanus, who was speaking in Vienna at IAEA's Board of Governors meeting, slammed Tehran for refusing to comply with international calls - expressed among others by the U.N. Security Council and the IAEA - to increase transparency around Iran's atomic work. Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) reiterated the bloc's intentions to increase diplomatic pressure on the Islamic republic should Tehran continue to stonewall U.N. nuclear inspectors. Newly inaugurated Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yesterday declared that Iran "will not give up one iota of its absolute rights" on the nuclear issue, a statement in line with declarations made by advisors to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to the effect that Rouhani's government will follow the same strategic line as his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
- Russian media outlets are reporting that the country's president Vladimir Putin has authorized an $800 million sale of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran, potentially setting up a scenario in which Iranian airspace would be denied to Israeli aircraft conducting a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Analysts fear that the introduction of the missiles will destabilize the region by setting in motion a dynamic that will force the Israelis to act before the S-300 batteries come online. By the end of the day the Putin administration had denied the report, which is in line with leaked cables indicating that Russia has long assured diplomats that Moscow had no intention of actually sending the missiles to Iran. A Xinhua report last month in fact quoted the head of the company producing the missiles as saying that Russia had dismantled and disposed of the S-300s intended for delivery to Iran.
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