- Reports: U.S. allies underline concerns to Washington over Iran enrichment capacity
- Turkey observers: "scandal," "sad day" as White House flat-out denies Erdogan boasts regarding Obama phone call
- Syria set to "miss a major deadline" in dismantling chemical weapons arsenal, again
- Palestinian president rejects U.S. peace framework after Obama criticism of Israel PM
- Voice of America (VOA) reported on Thursday that Washington was facing renewed concerns from its Arab and Israeli allies over its diplomatic approach toward Iran, amid reemphasized declarations by top Iranian leaders that they will refuse to dismantle any aspects of the Islamic republic's nuclear program. The dynamics had already reenergized domestic moves to assert a strong Congressional voice in the diplomatic process, a position supported by lopsided majorities of American voters. VOA specifically cited concerns, expressed over many months by Washington's traditional Middle East allies, that allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium under a final agreement would functionally enable Tehran to race across the nuclear finish line at will. The U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has calculated that putting Iran's atomic program beyond use for weaponization would require, alongside other steps, minimally removing 15,000 centrifuges and shutting down its uranium enriching underground military bunker at Fordow. The Obama administration has indicated that it nonetheless foresees allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium under an envisioned agreement. The Iranians for their part declared on Friday that nuclear talks were going well.
- A White House senior official late on Friday flat-out denied recent boasts made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, given to Turkish TV in a live interview, that had Erdogan instructing President Barack Obama to take "the necessary stance" against a U.S.-based foe of the Turkish political leader and Obama replying "we got the message." Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been locked in open political warfare with Turkish officials linked to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, with Gulenists in judiciary institutions ensnaring a number of AKP elites in a series of graft scandals. Turkish media quoted Erdogan bragging that he had told Obama that the U.S. had to take steps against Gulen and that Obama had "looked at [the demand] positively." A senior White House official however emailed Ilhan Tanir, the Washington correspondent for Turkey's Vatan outlet, explicitly denying Erdogan's characterization of the phone call, and emphasizing that Obama instead noted the importance of promoting policies grounded in the rule of law. Tanir described the incident as a "scandal" and as "sad news" for Erdogan. Reuters reported on Friday that Erdogan is now moving to ban Facebook and YouTube in order to "quell abuse by his political enemies on internet sites."
- Reuters on Thursday revealed that "Syria will miss a major deadline next week" in the timeline describing how and when it is to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal, noting that "Damascus has already missed several deadlines laid out" by an agreement hammered out last fall by the U.S. and Russia. Washington and Moscow had inked the deal as an alternative to impending Western air strikes aimed at punishing Damascus for crossing a red line, set publicly by President Barack Obama, against the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army. The Reuters report came a day after U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power blasted Syria for dragging its feet on meeting its obligations. Prospects for smooth implementation of the deal grew even dimmer on Friday, with NATO announcing that it would halt joint missions with the Russians aimed at securing and destroying Syrian chemical weapons. Observers working to unpack the implications of the Crimean crisis had already worried that the spiraling tensions - which have pitted the West against Russia - would negatively impact efforts aimed at dampening violence in Syria. The White House had been criticized before and after Russia's invasion of Ukraine for leaning too heavily on Russian President Vladimir Putin to assist in promoting a workable solution to Syria's almost three-year-long war.
- Israeli radio on Friday conveyed statements from Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas underlining his oft-reiterated position that he will refuse any condition that requires the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, even and especially in the context of U.S.-backed final-status negotiations aimed at definitively resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli position, which demands such recognition as a signal that the Palestinians are genuinely prepared to put aside future claims against the Jewish state, has been consistent across subsequent Israeli governments for more than a decade. A May 2009 press conference with President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw both leaders gesturing toward the condition, while a series of leaks and reports in January 2014 described Secretary of State John Kerry as frustrated with Palestinian leaders over their refusal to accede to the request. Palestinian leaders in recent days have in fact declared that they will not make any further concessions to the Israelis, after Obama launched a broadly criticized broadside against Netanyahu in a published Bloomberg interview. Remarking on Abbas's reemphasized refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl on Friday tweeted that "while Obama leans on Netanyahu, it is Abbas who publicly rejects U.S. framework," describing the dynamic as the 'same old story.'
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