- Reuters: "antagonistic" Rouhani speech does little to reassure wary U.S. lawmakers
- WSJ: declined handshake, "diplomatic humiliation" by Rouhani signal Iranian contempt
- Egypt deepens efforts to "decapitate" Muslim Brotherhood leadership structure, shutters Brotherhood newspaper
- Bahrain blasts Hezbollah leader as "criminal whose hands are stained by the blood"
What we’re watching today:
- Reuters reports that U.S. lawmakers who evaluated last night's speech by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani - a speech panned by analysts and journalists as "defiant" and "angry" - are what the outlet describes as "skeptical" about the prospects for Iranian moderation. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez is specifically quoted as being "disappointed by the overwhelmingly antagonistic rhetoric that characterized [Rouhani's] remarks." On the House side, Reps. Ed Royce and Eliot Engel, respectively the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, published an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times noting that "neither [Iranian Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif nor Rouhani has shown a willingness to commit to a freeze in Iran's nuclear program," and urging that the U.S. "make clear that, absent a concrete, comprehensive deal, Iran's economy will continue to suffer" from sanctions. The points echo consistent calls from both sides of the aisle, and in both the House and Senate, for meaningful and verifiable concessions from Iran. Lawmakers have stressed that Iran will be expected to - per previous statements by Engel - "give up its nuclear program, give up its enrichment, give up its weapons-making capability." Meeting those obligations will require Tehran to stop all existing uranium enrichment and plutonium-related heavy water activity, halt the installation of new uranium and plutonium-related technology, remove its stockpile of enriched uranium from Iran, and open up the country's Parchin military facility – where it is widely believed Iran carried out work related to developing nuclear warheads – to inspectors.
- An anticipated handshake between President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani - which the White House had been open to and which had generated high expectations among some foreign policy observers - failed to take place Tuesday after a meeting between the two leaders was reportedly quashed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. TIME suggested that a handshake between Obama and Rouhani could "shake the world," while Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, commented dryly about the excitement being expressed on CNN. Rouhani's snub was one of three described this morning by the New York Post, alongside failing to attend Obama's Tuesday morning speech and forgoing a luncheon hosted by the U.S. president. The Wall Street Journal was even more blunt, describing the declined handshake as "among the most telling" of "diplomatic humiliations," and more to the point as "an expression of lordly contempt for what Iranian leaders consider to be an overeager suitor from an unworthy nation."
- Egypt on Wednesday shut down the Cairo offices of the Muslim Brotherhood's main newspaper, deepening what analysts are describing as a decapitation campaign to uproot the Islamist organization's infrastructure and influence in the country. Recent days have also seen the group's activities banned and asset freezes against its top leaders extended. The Brotherhood, which is rigidly hierarchical and led by a vanguard at the top, is particularly vulnerable to moves targeting its leadership. Washington Institute fellow Eric Trager this week outlined three different scenarios that might unfold in Egypt in the wake of the government's campaign. Trager suggests that Brotherhood members could look to exiled leaders for guidance, or they could participate electorally as independents, or they could turn to other Islamist movements. Under all three scenarios the Brotherhood as a coherent organization operating inside Egypt's borders would have collapsed.
- Bahrain’s top diplomat on Tuesday slammed Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah, with foreign minister Khalid al-Khalifa describing the leader of the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group as a "criminal whose hands are stained by the blood of innocents in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq." Hezbollah has been critical in assisting Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime extend that country's war, which has seen over 100,000 people killed and hundreds of people gassed to death, and the group has been blasted by Lebanese officials for dragging Lebanon into the conflict. Gulf nations have long blamed Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons for interfering in their internal affairs and for fomenting instability across the region. Hezbollah has responded, criticizing Bahrain's government for its treatment of opposition Shiites and - more recently - very pointedly warning Saudi Arabia that the Kingdom should reconsider its backing for rebels fighting the Assad regime.
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