- U.S. lawmakers: Softening Iran sanctions a "European appeasement policy," "no optimism" in upcoming talks
- Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood gears up for Sunday protests by comparing military to Hitler, Nero
- Iran crisis driving Israeli-Arab talks, prompting talk of deepening Middle East blocs
- Turkey "highly likely" to go through on China arms deal despite U.S. and NATO criticism
What we’re watching today:
- Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) on Wednesday blasted any moves to soften sanctions on Iran as a "European appeasement policy" that would boost Tehran even as "the world's leading sponsor of terrorism races toward a nuclear weapons capability." Buzzfeed notes that several other lawmakers today also expressed "skepticism" toward calls to delay new sanctions until after the next round of nuclear talks between the West and Iran, currently scheduled to begin October 15th in Geneva. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman today testified in front of Congress and advocated such a delay, prompting Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons to acerbically note that "this charm offensive so far to me is not charming" and Idaho Republican Jim Risch to express "no optimism" regarding the Geneva talks. Speaking Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reemphasized that Iranian uranium enrichment - per the Associated Press - was 'not up for discussion.' The declaration renewed fears that the revolutionary-era cleric was unwilling or unable to change Iran's long-standing positions on its nuclear program. There has been confused reporting about the degree to which Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has empowered Rouhani to alter those positions. Rouhani has told Western audience he is "fully empowered" to negotiate a deal, and Khamenei has spoken of Iran embracing "heroic flexibility" in talks. Khamenei's office subsequently explained that "heroic flexibility" meant "advancement and realization of the Islamic Revolution and System," and Khamenei himself emphasized that Rouhani would not be allowed to make fundamental concessions.
- Israeli officials have been holding meetings with top Gulf and Arab leaders, according to a Times of Israel report that describes the consultations as aimed at creating "a new alliance capable of blocking Iran’s drive toward nuclear weapons." The news aligns with recent analysis pointing to the development of three overarching blocs in the Middle East: an Iranian-led bloc that includes Syria and Hezbollah, an extremist Turkey/Muslim Brotherhood bloc with which Qatar often aligns, and a U.S.-allied bloc that includes Israel and moderate Arab states. Several Gulf states, most prominently and openly Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., have long called for military action aimed at halting what is widely believed to be an Iranian drive to acquire nuclear weapons. Those states fear that Iranian nuclear acquisition will allow the Islamic republic to press its territorial claims in the region - Iran insists that several Arab-controlled islands and the entire nation of Bahrain are Iranian - and to provide immunity to a range of Iran-backed insurgent groups seeking to destabilize Arab governments.
- Ankara is “highly likely” to sign a multi-billion dollar missile defense contract with a Chinese firm currently under U.S. sanctions, according to Turkish defense official Murad Bayar. The $3.4 billion deal with the China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp (CPMIEC) - which has been under sanctions since February for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act - could be finalized in the next six months. The purchase has generated controversy since it was announced months ago, inflaming debates about Turkey's alignment specifically with NATO and generally with the West. In July a NATO senior diplomat declared that the deal "would certainly leave many of us speechless," and this week the Turkish opposition blasted the government for risking a "rupture" with NATO by pursuing the contract. Earlier this week the U.S. let it be known that it had expressed "serious concerns" to Ankara on the controversy.
- Observers are expressing worries that rallies planned by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for this Sunday may turn violent, after the group issued statements on Thursday that the Associated Press described as flat-out vilifying the Egyptian army. A teenager was already killed in clashes Wednesday between Morsi supporters and opponents. The Brotherhood statement compared the military's actions to those of Adolf Hilter and the Roman emperor Nero, and was aimed at mobilizing protesters for marches in favor of Egypt's Brotherhood-linked former President Mohammed Morsi. The army-backed government, for its part, has been pressing a decapitation campaign which the Washington Post today described as having "crippled" the Brotherhood's leadership. Washington Institute fellow Eric Trager recently outlined three scenarios that are likely to unfold as the military continues its campaign against the Brotherhood. All three resulted in the functional eradication of the Brotherhood as a coherent organization operating inside Egypt's borders.
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