Crimea crisis seen eroding confidence in Obama foreign policy wisdom, amid renewed calls for congressional voice in negotiations
- Crimea crisis seen eroding confidence in Obama foreign policy wisdom, amid renewed calls for congressional voice in negotiations
- Egypt court outlaws Hamas activities, in latest blow to reeling Palestinian terror group
- Netanyahu AIPAC speech calls on Palestinians to "stand with Israel and the United States" in forging peace, regional benefits of Israeli-Palestinian deal
- WSJ: Initiatives to boost Palestinian economy "slow to show" benefits
- · Analysts, journalists, and lawmakers on Tuesday continued to unpack the geopolitical consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine - both in general and specifically in the context of Middle East crises the White House is scrambling to contain - with evaluations building on assessments that the impending U.S.-Russia chill will badly complicate the Obama administration's strategy of relying on Russia to help resolve diplomatic deadlocks with Syria and Iran. The New York Times reported that President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed Ukraine in their Monday Oval Office meeting, while David Rieff - a foreign policy voice not known for sympathy toward robust U.S. interventionism - tersely evaluated public debate over the Crimean conflagration as one in which "those who believe that Iran will never relinquish its nuclear weapons program... look at American impotence in Ukraine and worry it’s a harbinger of the future." Walter Russell Mead went further, declaring that "Putin’s Crimean adventure... shakes the foundations of the President’s world strategy," and specifically asking "if [Obama] could be this blind and misguided about [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, how smart is he about the Ayatollah Khamenei, a much more difficult figure to read?" Mead suggested that the White House's near-total failure to predict Russia's behavior - U.S. intelligence got its prediction of the Crimean invasion exactly backwards - will undermine Obama's efforts to convince Middle East allies, most especially Israel, that Washington can be trusted in evaluating those allies' security needs. The erosion in the president's foreign policy credibility seems set to fuel renewed calls, supported by lopsided majorities of Americans, for stricter Congressional oversight over negotiations with Iran.
- An Egyptian court on Tuesday outlawed all activities by the Palestinian Hamas faction inside the country, the latest move in a campaign to isolate the terror group, which has been waged by Egypt's army - and later by the country's army-backed government - since well before the July 2013 overthrow of the country's then-President Mohammed Morsi. The ruling comes months after senior Hamas officials had already begun publicly bemoaning how Egypt's army-backed government had left them politically and economically "sentenced to death." The inauguration of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Morsi had been seen as a boon for Hamas, which describes itself as the Brotherhood's Palestinian wing. The Egyptian army, which blames Hamas for facilitating the movement of jihadist equipment and personnel into the Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula, soon launched a media campaign to consolidate public sentiment against Hamas and began acting against the group while sidelining Morsi. The army's campaign to target Hamas's smuggling tunnels, which link the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to the Sinai, quickly picked up pace after Morsi's ouster, alongside efforts by Egypt's subsequent army-backed government to decapitate the Brotherhood's leadership hierarchy. By last January senior Egyptian security officials were telling Reuters that they were ready to focus more of their resources on targeting the Gaza Strip. The reemergence of an Egyptian government sympathetic to Hamas currently seems unlikely. Egyptian army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi signaled on Tuesday that he will compete in upcoming presidential elections, in which he is widely expected to glide to victory.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Tuesday to the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, calling on Palestinian leaders to "stand with Israel and the United States on the right side of the moral divide, the side of peace, reconciliation and hope." Israel's left-leaning Ha'aretz headlined its coverage of the speech "Netanyahu: Israel prepared to make peace, but Abbas must recognize Jewish state," sub-headlined the story with "millions in the Arab world could benefit from Israeli technology and innovation, prime minister tells AIPAC conference," and quoted the prime minister declaring he was "prepared to make historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors." The outlet's evaluation was echoed by the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, who noted that Netanyahu "dwelled at length on the peace process" and "gave a new rationale for Israel’s desire for a peace deal – the promise of improved and robust relations with Arab states." For their part top Palestinian officials declared that Netanyahu's speech was unacceptable to the point that it amounted to "an official announcement of a unilateral end to negotiations."
- The Wall Street Journal assessed on Monday that a series of initiatives designed to bolster the Palestinian economy had - per the outlet's archly written headline - been "slow to show" any benefits, with half a year having passed since "Secretary of State John Kerry announced an ambitious economic plan to channel $4 billion into Palestinian business sectors." The Journal described "promised investments" as having remained "as hazy as the sandstorm that enveloped... Jericho’s Intercontinental Hotel" during a recent investment conference. February had seen a wave of analysis linking halting economic progress to endemic Palestinian corruption stretching back literally decades, and Palestinian journalist and activist Daoud Kuttab wrote on Monday that efforts have recently renewed in the Palestinian Legislative Council to pass transparency laws. Palestinian economic dysfunction has traditionally been identified as one of at least four structural barriers hampering the emergence of anything that might pass for a viable Palestinian state. Analysts and scholars have also focused on Ramallah's lack of political legitimacy - Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is in the ninth year of a four-year term - as well as on the persistence of rival Palestinian governments and the existence of multiple armed Palestinian factions. A territorial split between rival governments, with Fatah ruling the West Bank and Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip, or the absence of a monopoly on violence would by definition render a Palestinian state a failed one.
New York, Sept 20 – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not nailed down the nine votes he needs in the United Nations Security Council to even get the world body to vote on his unilateral bid for full U.N. membership, western diplomats said this week.
One western ambassador said that according to his count, the Palestinians were at least one and possibly two votes short, with several members of the Security Council yet to announce their positions. Abbas has said he would formally submit the membership bid after delivering a speech to the United Nations on Friday.
“After all this time, the Palestinians have still not secured nine votes,” the senior diplomat said in a conversation with representatives from The Israel Project. Other sources said an actual vote might be put on hold for several weeks to allow the parties to avoid a showdown.
The Palestinian bid for membership is certain to fail in any case because the United States has promised to veto the resolution if necessary. Like Israel, President Barack Obama has made it clear that the U.N. move is a distraction and that peace can only be achieved through negotiations.
Under Security Council rules, a resolution requires nine positive votes and no vetoes from any of the permanent five members in order to win approval. The United States, Germany and Colombia are expected to oppose. Britain, France, Portugal, Bosnia, Nigeria and Gabon have not announced their positions.
"We decided to take this step and all hell has broke out against us,"Abbas said on Monday. "From now until I give the speech, we have only one choice: going to the Security Council. Afterwards, we will sit and decide."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the United Nations shortly after Abbas on Friday. “I think we should go there and present our truth… of a people attacked over and over by those opposed to their very existence. That is the most basic truth," he said before leaving Israel.
Also on Tuesday, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, said in an interview that Israel “is ready to negotiate tomorrow,” with the Palestinians.
Prosor discussed attempts to arrange a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu while they were both in New York.
“We repeat that we are ready for negotiations with no conditions even early tomorrow morning,” the Israel envoy said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said diplomats were still hoping to avert a crisis. A vote would be unlikely to take place on Friday, giving time for diplomacy aimed at restarting peace talks, he told Europe 1 radio.
"There's a procedure for dealing with such requests and it can take a few days or weeks more, which means there is room for other initiatives," Juppe said. "We hope to find a way of convincing all involved to get back around the negotiating table, and in a serious fashion."
If Abbas fails to muster nine votes in the Security Council, that would be seen as a stinging defeat. He could then go to the General Assembly and win a symbolic majority with the backing of non-aligned states, many of which are also non-democratic – but GA decisions are not binding on the world body and have no significance under international law.
Abbas also has to deal with the possible economic fallout of his move for the people of the West Bank. The U.S. Congress may cut the roughly $500 million in U.S. aid per year to the Palestinians if they go ahead with their U.N. bid.
"Really, the risk of PA collapse is very real under the financial strain," said Jihad al-Wazir, the Palestinian Authority's central bank chief.
Saudi Arabia said on Monday it would pay the Palestinian Authority $200 million, which could help in the short term but would not fully replace lost U.S. funding.
Reports: White House efforts to block Iran pressure generating broad, bipartisan House and Senate skepticism
- Reports: White House efforts to block Iran pressure generating broad, bipartisan House and Senate skepticism
- As Kerry prepares to present Israel with security plan, speculation swirls over credibility of U.S. security assurances
- As reports mount Hezbollah preparing for war against Israel, leaders blame Jerusalem for overnight assassination claimed by Sunni group
- Buzzfeed: debunked Arafat poisoning story divided Al Jazeera, generated broad international coverage anyway
What we’re watching today:
- Multiple outlets reported yesterday and today on persistent bipartisan skepticism in Congress towards the Obama administration's stance on Iran, with the White House meeting resistance as it tries to convince lawmakers that they should wait for the formal implementation of a recently announced interim agreement - which would subsequently be followed by a minimum of six months of negotiations - before passing any new legislation pressuring the Islamic republic. The State Department last week formally acknowledged that the Geneva agreement between the P5+1 global powers and Iran had not yet come into force, giving Iran a window during it could continue its nuclear activity without regard to the deal, even as the anticipation of reduced sanctions began to ease Iran's economic isolation. Politico quoted Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) expressing frustration over the sequencing and insisting that the U.S. "shouldn't step first." The outlet more broadly described how 'despite nearly two hours of questioning from lawmakers, concerns linger among both Democrats and Republicans,' including over language in the Geneva agreement that allows Iranian scientists to continue expanding their stockpile of enriched material. Foreign Policy Magazine (FP) had earlier in the week noted that "like perhaps no other foreign policy issue, Iran sanctions have pitted President Obama against a sizeable portion of his own party," and revealed that a bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers was "closing in on legislation that would impose new sanctions on Tehran after six months." FP quoted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) questioning the consistency behind the Obama administration's simultaneous claims that old economic sanctions had coerced Iranian leaders to come to the table against their will, but that new economic sanctions would cause Tehran to walk away from the table by evaporating bilateral good will. Journalists have for weeks been pressing administration officials on exactly that tension.
- The Associated Press (AP) late on Wednesday provided an overview of a security plan that Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to present to Jerusalem this week in an effort to boost U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian talks that the outlet bluntly assesses "have made no progress, despite an April target date for reaching a deal." Israel's left-leaning Ha'aretz had previously disclosed the existence of the proposal, noting that it would seek to address among other things Israel's provision that it be allowed to station military forces in the geo-strategically critical Jordan Valley for an extended length of time. Palestinian leaders have demanded the opposite, and it is widely thought that Washington will attempt to bridge the two positions by offering the Israelis a range of security assurances. The Ha'aretz report however triggered speculation by experts and journalists regarding the credibility of such assurances, with AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee tweeting that "post-Iran deal [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] can be expected to be skeptical." Obama administration officials have recently faced criticism for seemingly reversing themselves on a range of assurances provided over the years to allies and lawmakers. The White House has specifically been blasted for conceding that Iran will be allowed to continue enriching uranium in the context of a comprehensive agreement, and for misleading journalists who in early 2013 were probing whether government-to-government negotiations were taking place between Washington and Tehran.
- The New York Times today outlined the range of motives for, and the potential cascade effects of, the overnight assassination of Haj Hassan Hilu Laqis, a top Hezbollah figure who the outlet noted was "variously described as running the group's sophisticated telecommunications network and working to procure strategic weapons." The Times emphasized both that Laqis's death was a "significant loss" for the Iran-backed terror group, and that "any of the group’s primary enemies - Israel, the Syrian insurgents the group is battling, or their backers, such as Saudi Arabia or Lebanese Sunni militants - could have had reason to want him dead." Laqis was widely believed to have been playing a central role in Hezbollah's military operations in Syria against the largely Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad regime, and a previously unknown Sunni group claimed responsibility for the killing. Mordechai Kedar, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, further outlined to Jerusalem Post that "Sunni jihadists... promised long ago that they would kill [Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah]... in this case, it seems they were able to get [his] friend." For their part Hezbollah leaders almost immediately blamed Israel, declaring that the Jewish state would face "all the consequences for this heinous crime." The Christian Science Monitor late Wednesday reported that Hezbollah has been openly preparing for war with the Jewish state, setting up camps across southern Lebanon "which include firing ranges, assault courses and urban warfare sites." The group was described as "training thousands of new recruits to the organization." Hezbollah has seen its decades-old brand as an anti-Israel 'resistance' organization shattered by its participation in the Syrian conflict, and analysts are increasingly concerned that it might seek to provoke a conflict with Jerusalem in order to halt a precipitous slide in its domestic and regional stature.
- Controversy intensified today regarding the degree to which national and global media outlets had been overly credulous in suggesting earlier this year that the 2004 death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was due to polonium poisoning, after the disclosure earlier this week of a new French forensic report debunked the conspiracy theory. Despite there being zero plausible scenarios under which tests conducted in recent years could have detected polonium poisoning dating to Arafat's death, an explicitly inconclusive Swiss lab report describing heightened polonium on some of the terrorist's personal belongings was sufficient to generate broad international coverage suggesting poisoning. Skeptics quickly uncovered evidence that the conspiracy theory was being driven in part by Al Jazeera, as fodder for a multi-year series of sensational broadcasts suggesting that Arafat had been murdered. Buzzfeed today published an expose based on documents leaked from inside the Qatari outlet that reflected 'deep internal concern... with the scientific researcher involved in the [Swiss] report.' One Al Jazeera journalist worried at the time that the station's coverage - which included a story touting the report as a "smoking gun" - "is going to look biased." Buzzfeed noted that the Swiss report nonetheless generated headlines "in most of the Arabic and English-language press." Prominent examples include the Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, the BBC, the Telegraph, Salon. The Guardian went so far as to demand a new investigation into Arafat's death, declaring that "the proposition that he was poisoned with polonium-210 will surprise few," that "suspicion points strongly" at Israel as the party which poisoned him, and that "if peace is ever to be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians, the culture of assassination and killing has to stop."
Concern heightens that unbalanced Iran deal will weaken U.S. negotiators, as downward spiral threatens to take hold of sanctions regime
- Concern heightens that unbalanced Iran deal will weaken U.S. negotiators, as downward spiral threatens to take hold of sanctions regime
- U.N. nuclear watchdog reemphasizes concerns on Iran nuclear weaponization
- Israeli officials insist violence won't derail development efforts in country's south
- AP: Hamas cancels anniversary celebration over Egypt-driven 'deep economic woes
What we’re watching today:
- The Washington Post on Thursday described the interim agreement signed between the global P5+1 powers and Iran as "notable for its omissions," and expressed concern that the combination of Western concessions and Iranian victories has left "the United States and its partners at a disadvantage in negotiating the comprehensive settlement." Analysts have been expressing increasingly pointed worries that the reduction of sanctions has triggered a downward spiral that will substantially erode the entire regime, even as Iran in recent days has doubled down on advancing both its uranium and plutonium facilities. The Associated Press reported over the weekend that weakened sanctions on automobile components "could see Iran’s stalled car production again take off," providing not just a "boon" to Iranian automakers but also "potentially draw[ing] in more foreign investment from other manufacturers hoping to break into the market." The AP quoted Patrick Blain, president of the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, as predicting that "international investors are expected to re-enter Iran’s market soon," an evaluation in tension with Obama administration assurances, provided to allies and lawmakers, insisting that investors would be irrational to re-enter Iran's market in the near term. Blain was further quoted by Agence France-Presse asserting that "there is no reason not to come back." Meanwhile Reuters this morning reported on Iranian moves to "reassert Tehran's authority in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries" on basis of expectations that it will soon "return as the cartel's second biggest producer." Iranian state media today conveyed statements from Abbas Araqchi, the country's deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, boasting that Tehran expects to receive $15 billion in oil revenues from the implementation of the Geneva deal. The Obama administration in contrast has assessed that the total relief granted by the agreement is roughly $7 billion, with only $4.2 billion in frozen oil assets being released.
- A statement issued last week by the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, emphasizes that the organization continues to be concerned about possible clandestine elements in Iran's nuclear program oriented toward the production of a nuclear weapon. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told the organization's board of governors that the agency was not "in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities." The statement was followed by declarations from top Iranian officials committing the Islamic republic to making continued progress on both Tehran's uranium and plutonium infrastructure, and insisting that the country would never suspend uranium enrichment or its plutonium ambitions, as has been called for by half a dozen United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s nuclear chief, declared over the weekend that Iran would never cease work on its Arak facility, which top analysts - including those sympathetic to engagement with the Islamic republic - have described as a plutonium bomb factory. For their part - per a weekend report by the Wall Street Journal - U.S. officials "have said they no longer believe it is feasible or practical to reach an agreement with Iran that completely dismantles its nuclear program," and more specifically Iran's uranium enrichment efforts.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres this weekend declared that Israel would continue pursuing a multi-year plan to economically develop the country's southern Negev region and politically integrate the Bedouin populations that live in the area, after activists late last week staged violent rallies opposing the so-called Prawer-Begin plan. Israel's Negev region constitutes almost half of the country's pre-1967 territory. It is home to roughly 200,000 Bedouin, as many as 90,000 of whom live in conditions of chronic underdevelopment. Close to half of all Bedouin citizens in the Negev live in 40 encampments with little to no access to basic municipal services such as water and sanitation, and some villages are illegally located on lands reserved for public use, including near Israel’s main toxic waste depository. The unemployment rate for Israeli Bedouins is 70 percent, compared with a national average of 7 percent, and only 4 percent of Bedouins graduate from higher education institutions. The Prawer-Begin plan would require Jerusalem to invest almost $2 billion in developing the Negev and moving some Bedouin communities to areas with education, health care, water, and electricity, where were they could legally live and in many cases claim ownership over their land. Organizations and activists critical of Israel, however, last week urged a so-called "day of rage" to oppose the plan, which they insisted was an instance of Israel dispossessing Palestinians. Media outlets pointedly described the Israeli cities being constructed in the Negev as "Jewish settlements" and the Israeli Bedouins were called "Palestinian Bedouins." Critics blasted such rhetoric as part of an effort to conflate the Bedouin cause with the Palestinian issue, noting that it was being done in the context of efforts to mainstream notions that Israel was targeting Palestinians. Analysts fear that the conflation will harm both the Bedouin cause and efforts to establish a Palestinian state. Regarding the Bedouins, the violence has threatened passage of the Prawer-Begin bill, potentially leaving the Negev underdeveloped. Regarding efforts to achieve a Palestinian state, the conflation is likely to deepen worries that the claims of Palestinians and their allies extend between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and into territories that have been Israeli since the country's birth and are internationally recognized as such.
- The Associated Press reported this weekend that Hamas had cancelled the terror group's previously scheduled 26th anniversary rally, with the terror group citing what the outlet described as 'deep economic woes' in the Gaza Strip territory that it rules. The AP linked Hamas's financial troubles to moves made by the Egyptian military to destroy the smuggling tunnels running between Gaza to the Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula, which the Egyptians blame for facilitating the movement of personnel and materials used by jihadists to conduct attacks in the Sinai. Egyptian security officials had began seeking to undermine both the tunnels and the Hamas officials who they blame for maintaining and profiting from them even before the July ouster of then-president Mohammed Morsi, who along with his Muslim Brotherhood-linked government was widely seen as a regional ally of Hamas. After Morsi was removed from power in the wake of massive anti-government rallies, the army stepped up its efforts to destroy the tunnels. Palestinian and Egyptian media outlets over the weekend conveyed reports of what the Jerusalem Post described as 'intensifying tensions between Egypt and Hamas,' specifically citing efforts by Egyptian authorities to revoke the citizenship and passports of of Hamas leaders.
Israeli team to travel to U.S. after Obama call "to begin consultations immediately" over final Iran deal
- Israeli team to travel to U.S. after Obama call "to begin consultations immediately" over final Iran deal
- After revelations that interim Iran deal not finalized, worries deepen Tehran may pocket concessions and abandon further talks
- Israeli leaders echo Netanyahu doubts over interim Iran deal
- U.S.-Iran dispute over enrichment concessions threatens comprehensive talks
What we’re watching today:
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that an Israeli team would be traveling to the United States to - per the Jerusalem Post - 'work on a final status nuclear deal with Iran,' amid growing criticism of moves by the Obama administration to lock Israel out of months of previous negotiations between Washington and Tehran. Netanyahu made the statements at a meeting of his Likud party today, also emphasizing that Israel's position would be oriented toward promoting and securing a comprehensive agreement that "must bring about one outcome: the dismantling of Iran's military nuclear capability." The Israeli prime minister had earlier spoken with President Barack Obama on Sundayregarding the details of this weekend's interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. A White House readout of the call indicated that Obama told Netanyahu "that he wants the United States and Israel to begin consultations immediately regarding [U.S.] efforts to negotiate a comprehensive solution."
- News broke mid-Monday that the final details of this weekend's interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran had not yet been agreed upon, and that the six month period during which Iran is expected to negotiate over a comprehensive deal - and during which U.S. negotiators had committed to preventing the imposition of new nuclear-related sanctions - had not yet started. Evaluating the development, The Hill pointedly noted that the interim deal's announcement had nonetheless already boosted Iran's economic position, "with the Iran's currency, the rial, jumping three percent on Sunday and oil markets sagging in expectation of increased supply." News also emerged today that the European Union may remove certain sanctions on Tehran within weeks. The sum of the developments may deepen worries that asymmetries built into the interim deal - the terms of which only require Iran to 'freeze' its nuclear program as-is, but provide irreversible concessions to Tehran - may allow the Islamic republic to pocket interim concessions and eventually walk away from further negotiations. Most straightforwardly, Iran will get to pocket the billions in financial relief its gets, which Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), estimated this weekend would ultimately amount to roughly $20 billion. Dubowitz and FDD senior fellow Orde Kittrie today outlined how "the agreement greatly weakens Western economic sanctions" inasmuch as "Iranian sanctions-busters will be in position to exploit the changing market psychology and newly created pathways to reap billions of additional dollars in economic relief beyond those projected by the Obama administration." The New York Times echoed the point, conveying the concerns of critics in "Congress, the Arab world and Israel" to the effect that "the roughly $100 billion in remaining sanctions will gradually be whittled away [by wily] middlemen, Chinese eager for energy sources and Europeans looking for a way back to the old days." Iran may calculate that the direct injection of capital, coupled with the economic benefits of currency gains, are sufficient to wait for the disintegration of the international community's sanctions regime.
- Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum are echoing deep skepticism expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding this weekend's interim deal between the P5+1 and Iran, after Netanyahu blasted the agreement as a "historic mistake" and committed Jerusalem to acting in the "diplomatic arena" and "in other areas" to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who as head of Israel's center-left Hatnuah party ran against Netanyahu and his Likud party in the last elections, described the agreement as a "terrible deal that will threaten not only us, but the entire world." Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, who as head of Israel's center-right Jewish Home party also ran against Netanyahu, not only described the agreement as a "bad deal" but emphasized that it would "increase the need for Israeli [military] action." Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz, from Netanyahu's own Likud party, declared that "the present agreement could actually bring Iran closer to building the bomb."
- A dispute over the degree to which Iran won enrichment concessions in this weekend's interim deal has pitted Iran and Russia on one hand against the U.S. and Britain on the other, and is threatening to severely complicate talks aimed at achieving a comprehensive agreement over Tehran's nuclear program. Iranian leader - including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif - boasted over the weekend that the U.S. had caved on its long-standing position that Iran would not be permitted to enrich uranium under a final accord. The U.S. and Britain both flatly denied Iran's interpretation. The interim language, however, describes a future comprehensive solution as involving "a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program." Observers including the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl, the Post's David Ignatius, and the Daily Beast's Eli Lake all noted that a plain reading of the language favors the Iranian interpretation. The diverging interpretations will present a challenge for U.S. diplomats pursuing a comprehensive deal. The U.S. will either have to compel Iran to change its position, which will be difficult inasmuch Iranian leaders are trumpeting the language as a core victory, or the U.S. will have to concede Iran’s position, abrogating assurances made by the administration to U.S. lawmakers and allies, and giving up on half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to suspend enrichment. In 2009 the New York Times reported that "administration officials... said that any new American policy would ultimately require Iran to cease enrichment, as demanded by several United Nations Security Council resolutions." In 2010 then-White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs ruled out allowing Iran to enrich because "if the Iranians are sincere in a peaceful program, their needs can be met without undertaking its own enrichment program, which call into question its motives." The same year Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley emphasized that Iran "continues to enrich uranium and has failed to suspend its enrichment program as has been called for in UN Security Council resolutions; that’s our core concern." The administration's lead negotiator Wendy Sherman told Congress as recently as last month that "the President has circumscribed what he means by the Iranian people having access… access, not right, but access to peaceful nuclear energy in the context of meeting its obligations."
Israeli PM urges France to resist pressure, hold to conditions on Iran's uranium and plutonium progress
- Israeli PM urges France to resist pressure, hold to conditions on Iran's uranium and plutonium progress
- Journalists press State Department on tensions within Israel, Iran policies
- Washington Post: after U.S. aid freeze, Egypt moving "further away from its traditional place within the U.S. sphere of influence"
- Syrian army takes strategic towns, now positioned to advance toward country's largest city
What we’re watching today:
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today urged France to maintain its position on the terms for an acceptable interim agreement on between Iran and the P5+1 global powers Tehran's nuclear program, a week after Paris's objections to what it described as a "sucker's deal" reportedly contributed to blocking a deal that would have swapped relief from international sanctions for limited Iranian concessions. Patrick Maisonnave, France's ambassador to Israel, had earlier in the week outlined the main guarantees that France was demanding. Regarding Iranian progress toward a uranium-based bomb, Maisonnave outlined Paris's demands for more robust enrichment restrictions, and he rejected Iran's claim that it has a right to enrich nuclear material on its soil. France's position on continued Iranian enrichment echoes that of former nuclear inspectors and experts, who have estimated that allowing Iran to narrow the already-short window it needs to rush across the nuclear finish line. The rejection of enrichment rights tracks with analysis from legal experts, think tank scholars, and U.S. lawmakers: not only does Iran simply not have a right under international law to enrich uranium, but accepting its position otherwise - according to a 2006 analysis by Robert Zarate, now the policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative - would endanger the global non-proliferation regime. Regarding Iran's progress toward a plutonium-based bomb, Maisonnave emphasized the French demand that work cease at Iran's Arak facility, which houses a heavy-water production facility and a reactor. Once the reactor goes "hot" it becomes functionally impervious to military attack due to expected fallout, and it produces two bombs' worth of plutonium per year. Iranian negotiators were said to have worked out language that would have allowed Iranian scientists to continue bolstering the facility as long as Tehran committed to not turning on the reactor for six months, something that Tehran had already declared it wasn't going to do anyway. This aspect of the agreement in particular led to comments by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius describing a "fool's game" at the talks.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today took to Twitter today with an post and info-graphic blasting the likely contours of an understanding being pursued by major global powers and Iran on the latter's nuclear weapons program, concluding that "Iran is getting everything and giving nothing!" The post - which garnered international coverage and made its way to the top of the State Department's daily press Q&A - urged Western powers not to "rush into a bad deal with Iran." At the briefing multiple reporters pushed spokesperson Jen Psaki on the degree to which the United States was managing to assure the Israelis that an agreement being pursued with Iran would not endanger the security interests of our allies. Journalists challenged Psaki to justify the administration's repeated and controversial statements implying that advocates of new sanctions on Iran were putting the U.S. on a path to war with the Islamic republic. Among those who have in recent months supported sanctions are the 178 House Democrats who last July voted for new sanctions and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) who yesterday rejected White House calls to delay new financial pressure. It is not known if any of these elected U.S. lawmakers have been briefed specifically on the administration's strange regarding their position. Thursday's briefing had already at times generated confusion, with the State Department simultaneously claiming that U.S. diplomats were closely coordinating with the Israelis over the details of a proposed deal and that the Israelis - who were publicly critical of the negotiations' course - didn't know the details of a proposed deal.
- Egypt yesterday hosted a delegation of top Russian diplomatic and military figures, including Moscow's foreign and defense ministers, in what the Washington Post described as a sign that Cairo was edging "further away from its traditional place within the U.S. sphere of influence." The Obama administration has in recent months distanced itself from Egypt's army-backed interim government, among other things by freezing parts of Washington's aid package to the Egyptian military. The White House has justified its moves as a response to the army's July overthrow of then-president Mohammed Morsi, which came after a week of unprecedented anti-government protests by millions of Egyptians who called for the removal Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-linked government. Washington's decision had been blasted by analysts as not only unlikely to secure substantive results - Egypt's generals view their struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood as an existential one, and it is difficult to imagine how they could reverse their ongoing decapitation campaign against the Islamist group's leadership - but as geopolitically unwise. In a narrow sense the U.S. had in the past few decades enjoyed enormous benefits from close military-to-military ties with Cairo, which provided U.S. forces with preferential overflight rights and preferential access to the Suez Canal. More broadly, ties between the U.S. and Egypt had prevented geopolitical rivals from encroaching on the U.S.'s interests in the region. Earlier in November Tom Nichols and John R. Schindler, foreign policy scholars who emphasized that they rarely agree on foreign policy prescriptions, bluntly criticized the Obama administration for undermining “nearly seven decades” of bipartisan American efforts aimed at “limiting Moscow’s influence” in the Middle East.
- Rebels sources report that forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime have seized five towns near Damascus over the last 10 days, strengthening the regime's position in advance of upcoming peace talks, as Syrian state television meanwhile announced that the army had captured three towns around Aleppo and were preparing to continue onto the city itself. Aleppo is Syria's largest city and observers have feared since last summer that Syrian forces, backed on the ground by Iranian fighters and fighters drawn from Iran's Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, would move to expel opposition forces which have controlled parts of the city since at least 2012. Rami Abdelrahman, an expert from the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, predicted that that "it's a matter of time before the army has full control of Tel Hasel," a reference to a contested town 6 miles south-east of Aleppo. A Syrian air strike on Aleppo earlier this week killed a top opposition commander. Reuters described the death as "a setback to rebels defending the city against a loyalist attack."
AP diplomatic correspondent: Obama administration outreach to Senate might have been "coup de grace for Iran talks"
- AP diplomatic correspondent: Obama administration outreach to Senate might have been "coup de grace for Iran talks"
- Analysts: Israel "right to be wary," has "good reason to worry" over Iran deal terms
- Israeli soldier stabbed to death by Palestinian terrorist amid Hamas terror rebuilding, Fatah incitement spike
- Palestinian peace process team resigns amid growing questions of political readiness
What we’re watching today:
- Obama administration officials dispatched to the Hill today to explain the White House's approach to Iran negotiations largely failed to reassure senators, with the Associated Press's Matthew Lee summing up a Banking Committee meeting that included Secretary of State John Kerry and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman as perhaps a "coup de grace for Iran talks." Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) walked out of the meeting and blasted administration officials in general and Sherman in particular, accusing the White House of taking a "Chamberlain"-style approach to negotiations and of promoting "anti-Israel" statements in response to Israeli assessments that the deal recently offered to Iran would only "set back the [Iranian nuclear] program about 24 days." Meanwhile the administration is facing the possibility that it is courting political controversy by accusing lawmakers who are pushing for sanctions of placing the U.S. on a "march to war" with Iran. Former Democratic Nevada Congresswoman Shelley Berkley went public with her concerns over the deal today and called for new pressure until a final settlement is achieved. Berkley, who is a member of the Board of Directors of The Israel Project, took to the pages of the Las Vegas Review Journal and bluntly stated that "now is the time to increase the pressure, not withdraw it."
- Analysts continue to debate the details of the failed deal proposed last weekend between the international community and Iran, discussing both the substantive concerns of skeptics and the political consequences of what was very early on described by critics as over-eagerness by the Obama administration to cut a deal at any cost. An extensive analysis published on Monday by TIME World had already assessed that "experts say Israel is right to be wary" of the contours of the deal, which would have allowed Iran to continue bolstering the elements that it needs for constructing both uranium and plutonium-based nuclear bombs. TIME describes a series of conference calls hosted by The Israel Project (TIP) in which experts outlined the mechanics of Iran's nuclear program and what would constitute an Iranian drive for a nuclear weapon. Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director of the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency, had explained on a TIP call how Iran's stockpile of 3 percent enriched uranium was "something like 60 percent" of the way toward weapons-grade levels, while David Albright, the head of the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security, had assessed on another TIP call how Iran could go nuclear in "as little as a month." Yesterday Patrick Clawson and Mehdi Khalaji, respectively the director of research and a senior fellow at the Washington Institute, published an opinion piece in the Washington Post outlining fears that "Khamenei has been laying the groundwork to walk away from any deal by warning that the West is untrustworthy and will not deliver on its promises," and that "Israel has good reason to worry" that Tehran will pocket whatever concessions the West offers and then violate signed agreements.
- A 19-year-old Israeli soldier was stabbed to death this morning on an Israeli bus by a 16-year-old Palestinian terrorist, sustaining several wounds to his neck and chest and eventually succumbing to his injuries after being admitted to to a hospital. In what one Twitter commenter described as "affirmation," the Twitter channel of Hamas's al-Qassam Brigades posted a childhood picture of the murdered Israeli teenager. The attack comes amid both concentrated efforts by Hamas to rebuild its terror infrastructure in the West Bank - the Palestinian terror group has been largely stymied in the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, and so may be shifting its focus to the territory - and a wave of incitement by Hamas's rival, the Palestinian Fatah faction. The Jerusalem Post today published assessments from Israeli intelligence officials describing "an elevated risk of armed terror attacks" in the West Bank town of Hebron. Israeli soldiers last week seized a large cache of ammunition and arrested two Palestinians on security charges in the area. An unnamed intelligence officer told the Post that the cache represented only "a small drop in the bucket" of arms flowing through the Hebron region.
- Reuters late Wednesday conveyed reports that the Palestinian delegation charged with negotiating opposite Israel had resigned and cited for its resignation Israeli construction within communities beyond the Jewish state's 1948 armistice lines. The move comes despite both the cancellation of previously announced massive building plans by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the brute fact that until a few years ago Palestinian negotiators had for decades conducted talks while Israel bolstered such communities. For their part the Israelis have recently released two batches of Palestinian prisoners convicted of murder as goodwill gestures designed to jump-start and maintain negotiations. The most recent was done despite a wave of Palestinian incitement and in the absence of reciprocal Palestinian gestures, and was particularly politically controversial. The Israel Project yesterday hosted a conference call with Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in which he described systemic problems - with endemic Palestinian Authority (PA) corruption being among the most trenchant - that have undercut efforts to create robust and sustainable institutions in the West Bank. The audio for the call is here.
Failed Iran talks refocus debate on Iranian plutonium activity, risks of "ruse" that would activate reactor
- Failed Iran talks refocus debate on Iranian plutonium activity, risks of "ruse" that would activate reactor
- Unknown political fallout after White House implies sanctions votes would put U.S. on "march to war" with Iran
- Analysts: One year after Israeli military campaign, Hamas in "one of its worst positions since its founding"
- Reuters expose describes "massive financial empire" built by Iranian Supreme Leader
What we’re watching today:
- Various theories on why last weekend's negotiations with Iran failed to bridge differences between Tehran and the international community continued to swirl today, with some new reports pointing to Iranian demands that the West acknowledge that it has a right to enrich uranium - it doesn't - and others emphasizing French concerns over Iran's demand it be allowed to continue bolstering its plutonium facility at Arak. The Arak complex has a heavy water production facility and a heavy water reactor, and once the reactor goes "hot" it can't be destroyed but will produce two bombs worth of plutonium per year. Writing in the Huffington Post yesterday, Foundation for Defense of Democracies scholar Michael Ledeen emphasized that while "France wants a deal with Iran," Paris has a decade-long history of rejecting deals that it is convinced are "destined to fail." French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was reported as having rejected a planned deal with Iran as a "sucker’s deal" due to terms related to Arak, which would have allowed Iran to continue developing Arak as long as they didn't activate the reactor. But Tehran had already acknowledged that it wasn't going to activate the reactor until mid-to-late 2014. Even more dangerously, Iran would have been allowed to run tests during the interim period, amid analyst concerns - based on bizarre Iranian descriptions of how the tests would be conducted - that the trial runs will be a ruse to turn the reactor on. Dr. Bruno Tertrais, senior Research Fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (FRS), advised observers on Saturday to understand the French position by starting with “the Strange Tale of Dummy Fuel Assemblies and Light Water Testing.”
- Politico late tonight published analysis describing various Senate views on legislation that would "slap an immediate new round of sanctions on Iran," a day before Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew are set to brief senators on last weekend's failed negotiations in Geneva and hours after White House Press Secretary Jay Carney implied - according to the Los Angeles Times - that lawmakers pushing for new sanctions against Iran were putting Washington on "a march to war." Carney also declared, again per the Los Angeles Times, that American citizens may "turn their anger on lawmakers" who seek to increase the kind of financial pressure on the Islamic republic that the administration until recently was emphasizing had coerced Iranian leaders into seeking compromise. Iranian state media picked up and rebroadcast Carney's statements both in print and on television, stating that Carney had "warned Congress, which is currently mulling tougher sanctions on Iran... that opposing a deal with Tehran could lead to war." It is not known whether any of the 178 House Democrats who voted in July to increase sanctions on Iran were briefed beforehand about the White House stance.
- Analysts and diplomats used the one-year anniversary of Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense - which was launched against terror groups in the Gaza Strip after months in which Palestinian groups had escalated both the amount and the sophistication of weapons fired at Israel - to unpack a marked deterioration in Hamas's position since the campaign. The week-long operation last November has been described by observers as a clinic in how to wage modern urban warfare, with Israel substantially degrading the Palestinian terror group's command and control infrastructure. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today toured the Israeli Defense Force's Gaza Division and noted that rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip had dropped 98 percent in the last year, totaling to just 35 instances, most of which had "been ineffective." David Barnett, a research associate at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), yesterday published an extended analysis of Hamas's position a year after Pillar of Defense. Barnett assessed that "a year later, Hamas is in one of its worst positions since its founding in 1987" and that Israeli statements asserting that Jerusalem had established a deterrent against attacks from Gaza have "been largely true." Hamas is nonetheless known to be positioning itself for an upsurge in violence, and FDD Vice President of Research Jonathan Schanzer has called for the U.S. and its allies to strike a financial death blow to the organization before it can reconsolidate.
- Reuters is in the midst of publishing a three-part investigative expose on the "massive financial empire" created by Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, who among other things guided an organization ostensibly dedicated to assisting the poor into amassing tens of billions of dollars and inserting itself into "nearly every sector" of Iran's economy including "finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming." The first part of the series details how property seizures conducted by Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam – Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam - enabled the organization to "become one of the most powerful organizations in Iran" and to acquire holdings across Iran's economy. Setad was allowed by Khamenei to confiscate and then leverage the real estate of thousands of properties owned by religious minorities and Iranians living abroad, until today it "holds a court-ordered monopoly on taking property in the name of the supreme leader, and regularly sells the seized properties at auction or seeks to extract payments from the original owners." The second part of the series details how Setad's diversification across the Iranian economy - a chart developed by the organization and leaked to Reuters is posted here - has "provide[d] an independent source of revenue and patronage for Supreme Leader Khamenei" despite Western efforts to squeeze the Iranian economy.
- U.S. allies blast likely "very bad deal" on Iran
- Top Egypt officials outline progress toward democracy, election timeline
- Turkey govt moves raise new fears of authoritarianism, Islamism
- Day 2 of analyst, scientist eye-rolling over Arafat conspiracy theories
What we’re watching today:
- The U.S.'s Israeli and Arab allies are said to be furious over a deal, which the West is widely reported to be close to finalizing with Iran, which would see Iran make limited concessions on its nuclear program in exchange for financial relief that Mark Dubowitz, executive director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says "totally eviscerates the sanctions regime." Dubowitz also emphasized that the cash infusion that Iran would receive could be used to boost Tehran's nuclear program - which the deal is aimed at limiting - and to promote global terrorism. Widely leaked details of the deal indicate that Iran will be permitted to continue enriching uranium up to 3.5% and does not force Iran to dismantle its existing uranium infrastructure, a scenario that experts, journalists, and U.S. lawmakers have all emphasized will leave the Islamic republic with the capability to sneak across the finish line once a political decision is made to do so. Iran will also be allowed to continue developing its Arak facility, which the Washington Post and others recently insisted must be part of any deal because it will produce plutonium Iran could use for nuclear bombs. Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, bluntly described recent remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry, made in the run-up to the deal, as having "likely reinforced the Saudi, as well as the Israeli, view that when it comes to Iran, the White House is so dead-set on an agreement that it will not only part ways with its traditional allies, but will also make sure they don't get in the way." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told Kerry that Israel would not be bound by what Netanyahu had elsewhere called a "very bad deal" in which Iran "got everything and paid nothing." The developments come days after the Wall Street Journal assessed that the secrecy with which the Obama administration had approached the talks had already "alienated several Mideast allies, notably Israel and Saudi Arabia" and quoted a senior Arab official as saying that "in the current environment, our fears [of Iran] have only been exacerbated.”
- Analysts are focusing on deepening concerns that Turkey may be moving away from the West and pivoting both toward geopolitical rivals such as China and regional antagonists such as Iran. Newsweek describes Ankara's moves as a shift grounded both in diplomatic considerations and in "a new model in which Islam trumps democracy." The outlet also gestures toward emerging regional dynamics which have pitted the U.S.'s traditional Israeli and Arab allies against a Shiite bloc anchored by Iran against extremist Sunni elements including the Muslim Brotherhood, and notes that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have moved to embrace the Brotherhood and aligned parties. Recent months have seen Ankara move closer to signing a $3.4 billion missile defense deal with China that European diplomats have bluntly said would insert a Chinese "virus" into NATO's command and control system. Ankara's deliberations come amid an expose published last month by the Washington Post reporting that Turkey had passed Western intelligence to Iran, including the identities of nearly a dozen Iranians who were working with the Mossad to expose clandestine elements of Iran's nuclear program. Meanwhile Erdogan this week announced a policy that would outlaw coed housing at state universities. The move - which comes after similar ones that included alcohol consumption and crackdowns on books that described evolution - is likely to deepen concerns over AKP Islamism.
- Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy announced on Friday that the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, would be allowed to take part in upcoming parliamentary elections in the country. The announcement comes less than a year Egypt's Brotherhood-lined former president Mohammed Morsi was removed from power by the army amid historically unprecedented popular anti-government protests calling for his removal. Fahmy also outlined elections that are to take place in either February or March of next year. It is unclear whether the Brotherhood will participate in the elections: the organization and its offshoots have historically sought to boycott elections in order to undermine the legitimacy of subsequent governments. The Brotherhood over the summer rejected reconciliation efforts by Cairo’s interim government and at the time vowed to continue protests until Morsi was reinstated. The move will be read against recent statements by Secretary of State John Kerry suggesting that Washington had assessed that the Egyptians were moving toward reestablishing formal democracy in the aftermath of the army's moves against the Brotherhood.
- Observers and scientists spent a second day mocking media coverage - including headlines and copy printed in some of the world's top outlets - suggesting that there is even a possibility that Swiss scientists had detected evidence of polonium-210 poisoning by studying the remains of former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. This week the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Switzerland released a 108-page report that Dan Kaszeta – a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) veteran analyst - described as containining "many caveats and much room for doubt." For their part media outlets instead interpreted the report as concluding that Arafat was "probably poisoned with polonium." Kaszeta also reminded his Twitter readers today that "Polonium 210 exists in nature" and that "Polonium traces need not have come from a nuclear reactor." There are in any case zero plausible scenarios under which Arafat could have been poisoned in 2004 with a sufficient amount of polonium to be detectable when scientists studied his body last year, a mathematical fact that Navy War College professor Tom Nichols wryly gestured at today with the quip that "science is hard." It's also worth noting that tests conducted by Russian scientists on samples from Arafat's body had earlier revealed no abnormal traces of radioactive polonium. Al Jazeera, which has been a driving force behind the investigation, brushed off the Russian findings by suggesting that the Russian foreign minister interfered with the investigation for reasons unknown. The Al Jazeera article reminded readers that the station's documentary "Killing Arafat" will soon be available for viewing.
- U.S.-based think tank outlines bare minimum for robust interim deal on Iran nuclear program
- No progress in negotiations over Syria peace talks, as reports emerge of secret undisclosed Syrian chemical weapons cache
- Israel expresses worries to Kerry over peace talks as Palestinian leaders reject Jewish state recognition, celebrate murderer release
- Iranian prisoners go on hunger strike over health conditions as Iran deepens execution wave
What we’re watching today:
- The New York Times late Wednesday published as assessment from an Obama administration official describing the West as close to a temporary deal with Iran regarding the country's nuclear program, amid increasingly assertive Congressional moves to circumscribe the White House's ability to ease sanctions in the absence of meaningful concessions from the Iranians.The administration is said to be close to accepting a deal that would trade what the Times described as "limited relief from economic sanctions" in exchange for undisclosed concessions from Iran on nuclear enrichment and its stockpile of enriched material. Congressional lawmakers had already criticized any deal that would permit Iran to continue enrichment activities or would leave parts of Tehran's enriched stockpile intact, and today Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) floated legislation that would prevent the loosening of sanctions in the absence of Iran meeting United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for a full halt in the country's enrichment activities. For their part analysts had already outlined how a deal that left enrichment intact would, given Iran's current enrichment technology, allow the Islamic republic to dash across the nuclear finish line at will. The resulting uncertainty, according to Washington Institute managing director Michael Singh, would risk a full-blown a regional nuclear arms race. Yesterday the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) published an assessment [PDF] describing the minimum details of any interim agreement that would meaningfully extend Iran's breakout time. The ISIS report described five prerequisites which Iran would have to undertake: (1) halting all centrifuge installation and production, and disabling all but 9,000 existing centrifuges (2) halting all production of 20% uranium and putting beyond use all 20% enriched uranium (3) disabling all centrifuges at the country's underground military enrichment bunker at Fordow (4) halting progress at its Arak complex, which includes a plutonium reactor and a heavy-water production facility (5) accepting new inspection and monitoring requirements, up to and including cameras at all centrifuge plant locations or daily inspections.
- Reports emerged overnight and throughout Tuesday of new challenges to Western efforts meant to dampen Syria's almost three year conflict and to dismantle the Bashar al-Assad regime's chemical weapons arsenal. CNN reported last night that U.S. officials were examining classified documents showing that Damascus had hidden some of its chemical weapons, potentially leaving the Assad regime with "a secret cache" that would slip through the international agreement - hammered out as the U.S. signaled it was preparing to attack Syria - to destroy the country's stockpile. Top U.S. policymakers have not yet openly commented on the substance of the allegation, which would have involved a rogue regime lying about its rogue activities. Meanwhile Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nation's top envoy to Syria, briefed reporters regarding ongoing talks between the United States and Russia designed to create the framework for the so-called Geneva II talks between Syria's warring camps. Brahimi emphasized that though the global powers "still striving" to hold a conference before the end of the year, Washington and Moscow had failed to reach an agreement on the participation of Assad's ally Iran. Tehran is widely seen as having provided crucial military and logistical support enabling the regime to survive. Meanwhile Gulf states, which have supported rebels seeking the Assad regime's overthrow, took aim at the run-up to Geneva II and emphasized that talks could not be "unconditional" and "shouldn't just go on indefinitely." The reports came amid new violence that included the bombing of a railway company in Damascus that killed eight and wounded roughly 50 people
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed worries to Secretary of State John Kerry over the willingness of Palestinian leaders to make peace with the Jewish state, days after Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated long-standing statements that he would never consent to recognizing the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Kerry's visit was preceded by a stumble in talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, with Palestinians negotiators threatening to walk out of talks due to Israeli construction of Jewish communities beyond its 1948 armistice lines and the Israelis accusing their counterparts of manufacturing pretexts to break off talks. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had for years gone on in the absence of a construction freeze by the Israelis. The Palestinian signal that they may walk away from the table comes after Israel conducted the second of four planned releases of Palestinian prisoners convicted of murdering Israelis. TIME noted that there were "joyful Palestinian celebrations welcoming the prisoners home as heroes," which the outlet said "added to the Israeli public’s anger." More precisely, among other things, Fatah leader Abbas Zaki told Israeli victims' families to "go to your cemeteries and recite over your dead whatever you recite" and described the released murderers as "fighters, knights, free men!"
- More than eighty Iranian prisoners have gone on a hunger strike to protest a lack of medical care, according to a statement released yesterday by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Defenders of Human Rights Center (DRRC), and League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI). The statement also described "torture during pre-trial detention and harsh sentences after extremely unfair trials" and stated that "the Iranian authorities are silently preparing the death of prisoners of conscience." It came on the same day as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that another 12 Iranian prisoners had been executed amid what the outlet described as "a surge in the use of the death penalty there." The United Nation's special rapporteur on human rights in Iran had reported weeks ago that there have been no fundamental improvements in Iran's human rights situation since the election of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. Instead a wave of executions had already caused Iranian dissidents to declare the "end of reform." Rouhani had appointed as his justice minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, a figure despised by human rights advocates and anti-regime dissidents for helping to oversee the 1988 executions of thousands of political prisoners. Rouhani, himself a revolutionary-era cleric, has a history of advocating the mass roundup and imprisonment of dissidents.