The Middle East Channel

Iran agrees to talks after announcing nuclear breakthrough

Iran has claimed a nuclear breakthrough, reporting the production of its own nuclear reactor fuel plates and the building of new uranium enrichment centrifuges. State media broadcasted footage of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inserting what they referred to as the first Iranian produced fuel rod to a test reactor in Tehran. Al Jazeera's Dorsa Jabbari notes that "this is a huge achievement...because these fuel rods are actually produced domestically." Additionally, Ahmadinejad said Iran has built 3,000 centrifuges to add to the 6,000 that are currently working.  The announcement has meanwhile been met with skepticism by the United States. Chief State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said  "This is not big news; in fact, it seems to have been hyped." She continued that according to Iran's own schedule, the program is actually behind, and the announcement was made merely for a domestic audience as pressure mounts from increased isolation and recently heightened sanctions. U.S. officials and some analysts see the statement as part of a recent wave of aggressive and desperate gestures, including this week's assassination attempts on Israeli diplomats in several countries. For his part Ahmadinejad asserted that "the era of bullying nations has passed," but top Iranian officials have also said they are willing to participate in negotiations, responding positively to an invitation from the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton. Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili wrote, "I propose to resume our talks in order to take fundamental steps for sustainable cooperation in the earliest possibility in a mutually agreed venue and time."

Headlines  

  • China is sending an envoy to Syria to discuss a "peaceful resolution" to violence. Meanwhile, Syrian forces attacked Deraa in an intensified crackdown on the opposition.
  • After the assassination of an al Qaeda leader by his half-brother, 17 people were killed in gunfights in what was called a "family dispute" one week ahead of Yemen's presidential elections.
  • In a report to come out on the anniversary of the Libyan revolution, Amnesty International reports that militias are increasing insecurity and at least 12 detainees have been tortured to death.
  • At least nine Palestinian children and one adult were killed and many were injured when a school bus collided with a truck driven by an Arab-Israeli in the West Bank north of Jerusalem.

Arguments & Analysis

Egyptian NGOs letter against crackdown on foreign organizations (pdf)

"The undersigned organizations strongly condemn the ongoing slandering and intimidation of civil society organizations, particularly human rights groups, and note that the referral of 43 Egyptian and foreign nationals to a criminal court is politically motivated. The affected institutions have been operating for several years without being asked to suspend their activities and without their offices being shut down... In a sudden disregard of these facts, the raiding the offices of these and other Egyptian organizations with armed forces and their referral to trial raise numerous questions. Indeed, it makes one question whether this development is in fact based on considerations for "the rule of law" and "judicial independence," as senior government officials claim.""

'Tunisia works to halt a downward economic spiral' (Amine Ghali, The Daily Star)

"Recently, the Central Bank announced a growth rate of zero for 2011 (down from an average of about 4 percent in recent years), more than 80 international companies have left the country and investment has declined significantly. These big-picture economic realities have translated into unprecedented unemployment figures, affecting 1 million individuals - around 20 percent of those eligible to work. This has resulted in greater numbers of Tunisians living in poverty. As a consequence of these developments, several demonstrations have been organized by the unemployed, especially university graduates. These protests have sometimes resulted in the closing of factories, which has led to shortages in certain products. Employment was thus placed at the forefront of the debate during the Tunisian election campaign, with every candidate putting forth proposals to tackle the country's economic downturn."

'Acceptable national authority creates cohesion' (Omar Rahman, Bitter Lemons)

"One may question whether the strength of tribal identity in the Middle East is historically unique and resistant to the formation of a national identity, but this is simply a matter of the strength and success of the nationalization process. It is not as if Libya and the entire Middle East have been stuck permanently in a static social system. In the end, the outcome of the "Arab spring" will have much more to do with the economy and the ability of the state to offer a system that all its citizens wish to join, than tribalism per se. Only through this process do people begin to transform their identities and affiliations, not beforehand. National cohesion will depend on the success of the state to offer its people good governance and a growing economy that provides jobs."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images

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