- Obama administration refuses to publish details of Iran nuke agreement, as reports surface of secret implementation side deal
- As White House pushes political "war" against Senate Democrats, journalists struggle to assess nuke deal impact
- Turkey government blasted for Internet power grab
- WaPo: World leaders eulogize Ariel Sharon for "his warrior spirit and his turn toward peace."
What we’re watching today:
- The White House is refusing to make public the details of the implementation agreement codified this weekend regarding the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), and has even reportedly committed to a secret side deal with Iran that describes the concessions that the Islamic republic is obligated to make. The Los Angeles Times late on Monday conveyed the details of an interview, conducted by the state-linked Iranian Students News Agency, in which Iran's chief negotiator Abbas Araqchi outlined an informal, 30-page text that details among other things the JPA's implementation timeline. The Times sought clarification regarding the addendum from the White House and was referred to the State Department. The State Department did not make a comment available. The opacity is likely to fuel unease over the willingness or ability of the Obama administration to extract concessions from Tehran. White House and State Department officials have in recent weeks come under criticism for falsely implying to reporters that Iran had agreed to halt development of its plutonium program and its ballistic missile program. The State Department had previously all but flat out lied to reporters about ongoing Iran talks. It is unlikely that either journalists or lawmakers will be inclined to take the administration's assurances regarding the JPA's implementation at face value.
- Journalists and analysts struggled today to evaluate how the weekend announcement regarding the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) - revealing that the deal's implementation will begin January 20th, at which point the six month negotiations clock will start ticking - would affect a legislative push in the Senate to lock in sanctions should negotiations fail. The JPA was announced last November in Geneva but several snags, most recently involving Iran's demand that it be allowed to continue developing advanced centrifuges, delayed its implementation. Reports indicate that Western negotiators in recent days caved to Tehran's position that it be allowed to continue development of next-generation enrichment technology, breaking the deadlock in talks. In the meantime the Senate had converged on a bipartisan consensus regarding the need to strengthen the hand of U.S. negotiators by signaling to Tehran that new sanctions would immediately be imposed should the Iranians cheat during negotiations or refuse to dismantle their atomic program at the end of those negotiations. The White House responded by threatening to veto, and pressuring Senators to oppose, any such legislation. The Obama administration, per the Daily Beast, launched a campaign seeking to brand Senate Democrats supporting pressure on Iran as warmongers. Advocates who have been linked to the Iranian regime have in recent days leveled nearly identical accusations against Republican Senators. It is unlikely that the rhetoric will endear Obama officials to fellow Democrats, and indeed the Daily Beast assessed that the attacks have "done little to dissuade Democrats from supporting sanctions." It is difficult to evaluate how lawmakers will position themselves in relation to the implementation agreement. Reuters today declared that the announcement of the JPA's implementation "makes it harder for sanctions hawks to attract more backers" to sanctions legislation. The Associated Press declared that the announcement of the JPA's implementation "has done little to sway skeptical lawmakers determined to levy new sanctions against Iran."
- Lebanese outlet Ya Libnan reported today that Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) is attempting to "increase control over [I]nternet access at a time when the government is also tightening its grip on the country’s legal institutions," noting that the moves are being criticized as "part of a general trend in which the government of [Prime Minister] Recep Tayyip Erdogan... is concentrating more power" amid a corruption scandal that has shaken its rule and eroded the legitimacy of Turkish political institutions. Turkey's top business group, the Turkish Industry and Business Association, blasted the proposed law - which the government has buried in a larger omnibus bill - as "limiting the individual's fundamental rights and freedoms." If passed, the legislation will enable government officials to limit access to the Internet and conduct surveillance of all of an individual's online activity. Internet providers will reportedly be forced into an organization controlled by the government. The moves come as skepticism deepens regarding Erdogan's ability to survive the open political warfare that has recently engulfed the country. Judiciary figures linked to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen have launched and widened a corruption probe which has ensnared AKP elites, and the AKP for its part has purged hundreds of police and judicial officials. The heavy-handed tactics have led to suggestions that Erdogan is flailing. Veteran international journalist Frida Ghitis assessed late last week that "the myth of the all-powerful, universally loved prime minister had started to look like a hollow personality cult" and that "the coalition on which he built his support has started falling apart."
- Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was laid to rest today in a funeral attended by what the Washington Post described as "Israel’s political and military establishment, joined by Vice President Biden and former British prime minister Tony Blair," with those attending lauding the decorated Israeli war hero and statesman for his 'warrior spirit and his turn toward peace.' Sharon’s decades-spanning career was marked by periods of deep controversy and widely acknowledged acclamation, and was book-ended by grave wounds acquired on the battlefield of the War of Independence and by political power secured via successive Israeli elections. His prime ministership - which lasted from 2001 until he suffered from a massive stroke in 2006 and slipped into a coma - began with sweeping counter-terror operations and ended with arguably even more sweeping peace gestures. The Washington Post noted that several particularly controversial periods of Sharon's life were skipped over by top Israeli leaders, including the 2004/2005 Disengagement plan that saw all Israelis removed from the Gaza Strip and from four settlements in the West Bank. The move was hailed by among others President George Bush and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan as providing breathing room and territory to a nascent Palestinian state. It however drained Sharon’s political capital and put him at odds with elements of the Israeli right, and eventually provided Hamas with an opening to seize the Gaza Strip and establish an irredentist terror outpost along Israel's border. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired at least two rockets at Israel today shortly after the conclusion of Sharon's funeral, which was itself within rocket range.
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