Analysts: Escalating Crimea crisis likely to reduce international pressure on Iran



Analysts continued late this week to gauge the degree to which nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 global powers might be affected by the crisis in Crimea, with Washington-based energy expert Nicholas Cunningham rounding up analysis that broadly converged on the conclusion that "Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the retaliatory steps taken by the US and the European Union to isolate Russia" will at a minimum complicate what had been taken to be a relatively unified international position. Cunningham cited a Bloomberg News interview with Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Robert Einhorn, in which the former State Department Iran negotiator predicted that "Russia may undermine... sanctions" if talks collapse. Observers had worried almost immediately that Russia's invasion of Ukraine would implode the U.S.'s hopes that existing international pressure - which relied heavily on at a minimum Russian acquiescence - would be sufficient to convince Iran to put its nuclear program beyond use for weaponization. Those concerns were brushed aside by administration officials, who insisted that the Russians would "compartmentalize" the controversies and continue to cooperate with the international community in pressuring Iran. Those dismissals were echoed by analysts who had heavily promoted engagement with the Islamic republic. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov declared on Wednesday that the Kremlin may seek to "rais[e] the stakes" in the Crimean dispute by breaking with the West on Iran.


The Israeli military's discovery of an underground "terror tunnel" stretching from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip deep into the Jewish state has deepened concerns that a U.S.-backed initiative to secure a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians may be deeply complicated - if not rendered untenable - by the Palestinian terror group's ongoing intransigence and control of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Defense Forces' (IDF) blog quoted IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner noting that "[t]his advanced tunnel was intended to pose a direct link and threat to Israeli territory, and enable Hamas terrorists to reach and harm Israeli civilians." Observers have long been troubled by Hamas's potential role as a spoiler to any hopes of establishing a viable Palestinian state, one of four fundamental hurdles that have both long been cited by analysts and have yet to be resolved. Most straightforwardly, the Palestinians appear ready to declare a single state across the Fatah-controlled West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. A single state controlled by two rival governments is by definition a failed state. Voice of America (VOA) reported today that Secretary of State John Kerry is likely to embrace a so-called 'West Bank-only' strategy that would simply ignore the disposition of the Gaza Strip. It is not clear how the framework would secure an end of Palestinian claims against Israel - a central requirement for any comprehensive agreement - in the absence of an agreement that fixes Gaza's borders. VOA tersely stated that "[w]ithout Gaza, many analysts think there is little chance the talks can lead to a negotiated settlement to the decades-old conflict or help create a viable and independent Palestinian state," but that "U.S. officials are pushing forward anyway."


Turkey watchers spent much of Friday piling on the country's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) for their decision late Thursday to ban Twitter - Erdogan's exact phrase was that he was going to "eradicate" the microblogging service - amid widespread and successful citizen efforts to circumvent the new restrictions. The move was widely seen as an effort to both stifle discussion of a massive graft scandal that in recent months has ensnared Erdogan and his family alongside a number of other AKP elites. Turkey's Zaman bluntly summed up the global reaction under the headline "Ban on Twitter criticized around the world." Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at Britain's Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, described the gambit as a "massive political error" and asked whether Erdogan would relent before upcoming March 30 local elections. The Times of London's Turkey correspondent, Alex Christie-Miller, noted that Ankara had "accrued all the stigma and embarrassment of banning Twitter, without the intended effect of stifling information," concluding that the effort was a "[t]errible move." Turkey expert Michael Koplow rhetorically asked if Erdogan had "ever done anything that has backfired so spectacularly" and suggested that the Islamist leader's "sterling political instincts have disappeared." Koplow more extensively emphasized that "[g]overnments that ban social media platforms under the flimsy justification of them being national security threats are not democracies."

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday described the Holocaust as "uncertain" and blasted Israel's long-standing demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people in the context of any comprehensive peace agreement, the latest in a string of statements from the top Iranian figure that align uneasily with analyst hopes that he will permit the country to moderate its foreign policy. In January, Khamenei branded the United States as "the Satan" and declared that "nuclear talks showed the enmity of America against Iran, Iranians, Islam and Muslims." In February, he predicted that ongoing talks would "not lead anywhere." Both of Khamenei's comments may generate political controversy. Holocaust denial has routinely been treated as a proxy for Iranian rationality and moderation - statements by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif implying doubt as to its existence were hotly contested exactly for that reason - and pathological anti-Semitism on the part of the Supreme Leader may strengthen the case of those who are skeptical toward ongoing nuclear negotiations. Meanwhile the so-called "Jewish state" issue has recently regained coverage after tangled comments by Secretary of State John Kerry were interpreted as evidence that Foggy Bottom was backing away from its previous efforts to incorporate such recognition into any framework agreement. The move would be an odd one for the State Department to take. Kerry had as recently as early March declared that a U.S.-backed peace deal would include "mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Jewish people and the nation-state of the Palestinian people," and had gone so far as to declare that the condition was well-known, shared by "everybody," and "straightforward." The stance was explicitly cited and reemphasized roughly a week later by the Obama administration's Jewish liaison Matt Nosanchuk.

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