The Middle East Channel

Nuclear talks to take place in Istanbul as Iran gives mixed signs

Iran announced that the first round of nuclear talks with the P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) will be held in Istanbul later this week after tensions over disagreement about the location. Iran proposed last week that talks be held in Damascus or Baghdad, claiming Turkey is not neutral. Iran has sent signals that it would be willing to shift toward a compromise during the negotiations to meet some Western concerns, but was adamant that it would not allow for any preconditions. According to state media, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said: "Setting conditions before the meeting means drawing conclusions, which is completely meaningless and none of the parties will accept conditions before the talks." These will be the first direct talks in over a year, and will focus on a demand that Iran dismantle its Fordo underground nuclear facility. U.S. President Barack Obama called it a "last chance" to resolve the nuclear dispute with Western countries diplomatically.

Syria

The peace plan proposed by United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan may be threatened after the Syrian government demanded Sunday that opposition fighters provide written commitments to lay down their arms. The opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) has promised to halt fighting if Syrian forces implement a ceasefire, but according to FSA leader Col. Riyad al-Asaad they do not recognize the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and so "will not give guarantees." This has spurred fears that fighting will continue past this week's deadline for a ceasefire. Syrian forces have stepped up attacks since Assad agreed to Annan's peace plan. Around 69 people were killed on Sunday mostly in Idlib, as well as in heavy fighting in Aleppo and Homs, which included women and children. Tensions have also escalated along the Turkish border with Syria after gunfire from Syria crossed over the border and injured up to five people in a refugee camp in Turkey. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch released a report saying that the Syrian regime has executed over 100 people in the past four months, most of whom were civilians.

Headlines  

  • Registration for candidacy in Egypt's presidential elections ended Sunday after the main Islamists parties declared back-up candidates.
  • Al Qaeda-linked militants attacked a Yemeni army base killing at least 24 people in the Abyan province city of Loder following weekend airstrikes targeting militants.
  • Libya said Saif al-Islam, son of Muammar al-Qaddafi, will be tried in Libya and will not be given up to the International Criminal Court despite an ICC demand.
  • Blasts hit an Egyptian pipeline that runs to Israel and Jordan for the 14th time since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Arguments & Analysis

'Syria's crisis: weapons vs. negotiations' (Mariano Aguirre, Open Democracy)

"The temptation of force displaces political negotiations and non-violent strategies. The former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, now the UN and Arab League special envoy charged with negotiating an end to the Syrian crisis, is facing two linked problems: the Syrian president feels strong enough to survive, and part of the opposition and the international community say that it is impossible to negotiate with him. Yet if Assad is wrong in thinking that he can stay in power forever, part of the opposition seems to forget that other means than violence -- sanctions, isolation, delegitimisation of power and negotiations -- have been used in many experiences of transition from dictatorship to democracy. But in Syria as in Libya, there is confusion between stopping the carnage and changing the political regime -- and as a result, holding out for an ideal solution nullifies any chance at achieving an immediate objective, particularly ending the slaughter."

'Populism threatens to undue Egypt's Mubarak-era economic reforms' (Mohsin Khan, The Daily Star)

"Today, Egypt not only remains vulnerable to unstable domestic politics; owing to the depletion of its international reserves -- at a rate of roughly $2 billion a month since last October - the country now also faces the threat of a currency crisis. Moreover, this decline in reserves almost certainly underestimates the extent of the losses, because it does not exclude inflows of $3.5 billion since November of last year from auctions of United States dollar-denominated Treasury bills. In addition, the Egyptian military has provided a $1 billion loan to the government, and another $1 billion was received through grants from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This brought the loss of foreign currency reserves since December 2010 closer to $22 billion. The other source of international reserves, tourism, brought in only $8 billion last year, down sharply from the $12 billion that was earned in 2010. Egypt continues to import almost double what it exports, which had resulted in a trade deficit of over $10 billion by the end of 2011."

'The Syrian National Council wins recognition abroad, but may lose out at home' (Yezid Sayigh, Carnegie Endowment for Int'l Peace)

"Although the approach embodied in the Annan plan may be slow and painful, it crucially offers a means for the opposition to shift the confrontation from the military arena, where the regime is strongest, to the political and moral one, where the opposition is strongest. Without this, it is difficult to envisage the minority communities that are fearful of a sectarian or Islamist backlash-Alawis and Christians, in particular-and a large section of the Sunni middle class changing sides willingly. That is why the Annan initiative is significant: By committing to dialogue and prioritizing a negotiated solution, the opposition will not persuade Assad to share or leave power. But it will reassure the large middle class and the minority communities, whose participation in post-conflict political reconciliation and economic reconstruction will be critical, and will generate internal pressures within Assad's own camp."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images

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