The Middle East Channel

Direct talks to resume over Iranian 'nuclear issues'

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.

Syria

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.

Headlines  

  • 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

AFP/Getty images

The Middle East Channel

Iran says it will allow access to military site amid Israeli and U.S. meeting

*[Event notice: Tomorrow at 9:00 am, the New America Foundation will be hosting a panel on the U.S., Israel, and Iran, featuring Middle East Channel co-editor Daniel Levy]*

Iran said it will allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigators access to its Prachin military site, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog reported last year that explosives tests were conducted showing "strong indicators" of nuclear weapons development. IAEA officials made comments that they "have heard about possible sanitation" of the site but were denied access to the complex during a visit in February. According to Iranian diplomats in Vienna, "Parchin is a military site and accessing it is a time-consuming process, therefore visits cannot be allowed frequently." The announcement came as Iran has tripled its monthly production of higher-grade enriched uranium and IAEA chief Yukya Amano expressed concerns Monday about "activities...ongoing at the Parchin site." Iran has not specified a date for the visit. Meanwhile, concern over Iran's nuclear program was a main topic of a meeting between U.S. President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday, during which Netanyahu claimed that time is running out for stopping Iran's nuclear weapons development, while Obama said all options remain on the table but with a clear preference to pursue a diplomatic strategy.

Syria

The Syrian government has agreed to allow visits by the top United Nations relief official and the United Nations and Arab League envoy amid an escalated campaign against rebel-held towns. United Nations humanitarian affairs chief Valerie Amos is scheduled to travel to Syria on Wednesday after the Syrian regime succumbed to mounting international pressure to allow access for humanitarian aid. She said: "my aim is to urge all parties to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so that they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies." Kofi Annan, who was appointed last week as the United Nations and Arab League special representative to Syria will visit Damascus on Saturday, to "initiate the effort to promote a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis." Meanwhile, U.S. Senator John McCain has called for U.S. air strikes to "protect key population centers in Syria." Syria has continued to deny access to Homs for the International Red Cross, and the government is reported to have expanded military assaults elsewhere including in Daraa, where protests began nearly a year ago. Additionally, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian forces bombed a bridge that had been used for evacuation for refugees into Lebanon. 

Headlines  

  • In a "one-off pilot project" Israel has authorized the export of goods from Gaza for the first time since a ban was imposed in 2007.
  • An Egyptian gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan was bombed for the 13th time since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak.
  • Saudi Arabian diplomat, Khalaf Al Ali, was killed by a gunshot wound to the chest in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, in a case being treated as a murder.

Arguments & Analysis

'We can live with a nuclear Iran' (Paul Pillar, The Washington Monthly)

"If Iran acquired the bomb, Israel would retain overwhelming military superiority, with its own nuclear weapons-which international think tanks estimate to number at least 100 and possibly 200-conventional forces, and delivery systems that would continue to outclass by far anything Iran will have. That is part of the reason why an Iranian nuclear weapon would not be an existential threat to Israel and would not give Iran a license to become more of a regional troublemaker. But a war with Iran, begun by either Israel or the United States, would push Israel farther into the hole of perpetual conflict and regional isolation. Self-declared American friends of Israel are doing it no favor by talking up such a war." 

'How I would check Iran's nuclear ambition' (Mitt Romney, The Washington Post)

"As for Iran in particular, I will take every measure necessary to check the evil regime of the ayatollahs. Until Iran ceases its nuclear-bomb program, I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must. I will speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents who are fighting for their freedom. I will make clear that America's commitment to Israel's security and survival is absolute. I will demonstrate our commitment to the world by making Jerusalem the destination of my first foreign trip." 

'Iran, and a dissident depth-charge' (Nasrin Alavi, Open Democracy)

"Those arrested in the months leading up to the parliamentary elections, however, cannot all be silenced. The respected former editor of the business daily Sarmayeh, Bahman Ahmadi-Amou'ee, is now serving a five-year sentence for criticising the government's economic policies. In a detailed letter to his wife, written on 14 January 2012, he offers a precious glimpse inside Tehran's Evin prison where dissidents of many stripes are held. He tells her, "if the drumbeats of war are ever really played out. It will be to the detriment of the green movement. We are all concerned. When I say 'we', I mean most of our political prisoners.""

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images