The Middle East Channel

Progress slowed in second day of Baghdad talks with Iran

Progress has slowed during talks in Baghdad between six world powers and Iran over the country's nuclear development program. On Thursday, Iran's lead negotiator, Saeed Jalili, met with Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign affairs chief, but Iran rejected the offer. Iranian media stated that Ashton did not have anything new to offer in her proposals. The package was criticized by Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency as "outdated, not comprehensive and unbalanced." The P5+1 (the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia, plus Germany) want Iran to halt weapons grade nuclear enrichment, while Iran is pushing for the easing of sanctions, particularly new U.S. and EU sanctions on oil exports and banking set to take effect on July 1. This was the second round of the latest series of talks. The P5+1 would like a commitment from Iran for regular meetings. However an Iranian official said there is no point for continued negotiations without the two sides reaching an agreement.

Syria

The U.N. Human Rights Council's Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report finding the government responsible for the majority of the latest human rights abuses in Syria. The report covers March through the beginning of May including violent incidents perpetrated by both the Syrian regime and the opposition, saying the conflict has become increasingly militarized. However, it stated the most serious acts were committed by "the Syrian army and security services" using a "wide range of military means, including heavy shelling of civilian areas." It claimed Syrian forces continue to use deadly force against anti-government protesters across the country. The report came as regime forces continue to bombard the opposition stronghold of Rastan. Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Council has accepted the resignation of its president, Burhan Ghalioun. The general secretariat will meet to elect a replacement on June 11 and 12. At the same time, Syria's new parliament held its opening session after a controversial and largely boycotted election. In a rare announcement, Syria's oil minister, Sufian Allaw, admitted that European and U.S. sanctions are taking a toll,  costing the government $4 billion.

Headlines  

  • Egyptians go to the polls for the second day of presidential elections after a calm start to voting.
  • Israeli protesters in Tel Aviv attacked two African migrants in a demonstration following a statement by Prime Minister Netanyahu that "illegal infiltrators [were] flooding the country."
  • A Tunisian prosecutor has appealed for the death penalty for ousted dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali who is being tried in absentia. 

Arguments and Analysis

‘Washington's Bahrain in the Levant' (Pete Moore, Middle East Research Blog)

"Despite sharing some of the socio-economic and political problems that propelled uprisings in other Arab countries, Jordan remains an exception to the trend. And if it can be kept that way, much of the world inside the Beltway will celebrate. In that respect, Jordan is like Bahrain. A serious threat to regime stability in either country is seen to endanger core US and allied interests. So, as Jordan enters its second summer since the start of the regional uprisings, now under a caretaker government struggling with a moribund economy, there are expectations of change. There are parallels, of course, to the atmosphere during the summer of 1989, following mass demonstrations and violence in the south, and the summer of 2003, after the US invasion of Iraq. But there are some intriguing differences this time."

‘The Syrian Crisis Turns Uglier' (Patrick Seale, Middle East Online)

"The Syrian crisis has moved in recent weeks one dangerous step closer to civil war. The ceasefire which Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy, proudly engineered on April 12 is now barely alive. The presence of some 200 UN monitors, due to be increased to 300 by the end of the month, has somewhat reduced the violence, but has by no means put an end to it. While there are fewer large-scale battles, such as the one which destroyed whole quarters of the central city of Homs in March, clashes continue daily right across the country. If the violence is unchecked, the battle for Homs -- with its tit-for-tat massacres -- could come to seem a mere foretaste of the horrors to come. Sectarian passions are being fuelled and, for the moment at least, neither side is ready to put up its guns. On the contrary, rebel fighters, increasingly well armed and funded from abroad, and more than ever determined to topple President Bashar al-Assad, have launched what amounts to an urban guerrilla war. They reject any negotiation that might leave him in place. In recent weeks they have been joined by dozens, possibly hundreds, of Islamist extremists, flowing into Syria across the Lebanese, Iraqi and Jordanian borders."

'The Struggle to Succeed Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani' (Paul McGeough, Foreign Affairs)

"As Sistani ages, a struggle to succeed him has begun, putting the spiritual leadership of one of the world's foremost faiths in play. But with neighboring Iran moving to install its preferred candidate in the position, the secular political foundations of Iraq's fledgling democracy are at risk. Consequently, what amounts to a spiritual showdown could pose a challenge to Washington's hope for postwar Iraq to serve as a Western-allied, moderate, secular state in the heart of the Middle East."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey 

AFP/Getty Images

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