World leaders have agreed to resume direct talks with Iran over its disputed nuclear development program for the first time in over a year. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton responded on behalf of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany to a letter proposing talks from Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili. The letter included Jalili's first reference to "nuclear issues," but a French official criticized it for its ambiguity. Ashton's response came after the United States and Israel met to discuss options for quelling Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions, during which President Barack Obama urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avoid a preemptive military strike. Negotiations could serve to relax recent escalating tensions. However, there is concern that they will repeat the course of negotiations that stalled in January 2011 in Istanbul, but any progress is welcome according to a European Union official who said: "Our approach to sanctions has been proven to be the right one." At the same time, Iran has agreed to allow access for International Atomic Energy Agency investigators into the Parchin military complex, a suspected site of nuclear weapons experimentation.
The U.N. humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, has arrived in Syria and is traveling to the bombarded city of Homs. The purpose of her visit is "to urge all sides to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies." The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Red Crescent have been denied entrance into Homs by the Syrian government due to "security concerns", however, the BBC's Jim Muir, reporting from Lebanon, says the ICRC is being held off while a "clean up" operation is taking place, aiming to scrub the signs of assault. U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States will supply humanitarian assistance and communication equipment to the Syrian opposition, but ruled out military action. Meanwhile, there were reports of continued clashes in the provinces of Homs, Deraa, Idlib, and Deir ez-Zor.
- Libyan leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said he would use "force" to defend national unity after tribal leaders and a political faction declared autonomy for the oil rich eastern region.
- Indian police arrested an Indian journalist, who reportedly worked for an Iranian publication, for links to last month's bomb attack on an Israeli diplomat.
- New judges are slated to resume the Egyptian case against NGO workers while the United States and Egypt attempt to repair relations.
Arguments & Analysis
'Netanyahu signals determination on Iran, but war will have to wait' (Tony Karon, Time)
"According to Israeli reports, the Prime Minister told Obama during their White House meeting earlier in the day that he had not yet decided whether to attack Iran. His purpose in Washington, however, was to press for a tougher line from the U.S. Administration. Even if he believes Iran needs to be bombed in order to prevent a nuclear-weapon threat from emerging there, he'd obviously rather the U.S. did the job with its vastly superior military capabilities. The Israeli Prime Minister doesn't want to go it alone in starting a war with Iran, even if he threatens that he'll do so if he deems other options insufficient. Netanyahu says he can't wait much longer, but for the Administration's purpose, the key point is that he's waiting. A careful read of Netanyahu's speech, in fact, should reassure oil markets rather than spook them into new spikes on a fear of war."
'Opinion briefing: discontent and division in Iraq' (Steve Crabtree, Gallup)
"The drawdown of the U.S. presence in Iraq has come at a pivotal point for the country. The Iraqi government could make strides toward a more inclusive, accountable political culture if leaders put their differences aside to focus on addressing rampant joblessness and the country's massive infrastructure deficiencies. The alternative approach could send the country into unbridled sectarianism, with leaders focused on using social divisions to enhance their own power. Recent events suggest the latter scenario is transpiring, even as Gallup data point to rising discontent and frustration among the Iraqi public. These trends highlight the potential for return to widespread violence and instability as more and more Iraqis lose faith in the current political system. The trends also emphasize the need for the U.S. to find new ways to exert diplomatic pressure on Iraqi leaders toward more responsive democratic institutions. Unless the government can reverse current trends and rebuild public confidence, Iraq risks becoming a failed state."
'Here's how to refer Syrian leaders to the International Criminal Court' (Daily Star, David Scheffer)
"How should a Security Council referral of Syria to the ICC be framed in order to attract Russian and Chinese support (or at least abstention)? A "clean" referral like the one used last year to bring the Libyan situation before the International Criminal Court might not work this time. The Security Council has the power to tailor the referral and to limit to some extent the Court's jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute. Mollifying Russia and China might require providing some escape hatch, which Assad and regime officials could use before the full weight of the ICC's jurisdiction comes thundering down on them. If, for example, the Security Council gave Assad and his colleagues one week to quit power and leave the country for asylum in, say, Tunisia (or perhaps Russia), the Council would explicitly omit their names from its referral of the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court."
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey