The Middle East Channel

Iran’s foreign minister says Iran is open to direct talks with the U.S.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran welcomes a renewed offer from the United States for direct talks on its nuclear program. Salehi's statement came on Sunday at the Munich Security Conference a day after Vice President Joe Biden said the United States is ready to hold bilateral talks "when the Iranian leadership, Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] is serious." Salehi said that the United States should show an "authentic, fair and real intention to resolve the issue" and should stop making threats against Iran while offering negotiations. As foreign minister, Salehi does not have the authority to commit to talks with the United States, which is a decision made by the supreme leader, and western officials remain skeptical. Iran has repeatedly backed out of talks, and while Salehi said Iran looks favorably upon a proposal for another round of talks with the United Nations Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany on February 25 and 26 in Kazakhstan, it has not yet committed to sending a delegation. If talks do resume at the end of February, it would mean the end to eight months of stalled diplomacy.

Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Israel of trying to "destabilize" Syria while Iran said Israel will regret its "latest aggression." Assad spoke on Syrian TV on Sunday, for the first time commenting on last Wednesday's reported Israeli attack. Syrian media claimed an Israeli strike hit a military research facility, while anonymous U.S. officials said an airstrike hit a military weapons convoy headed to supply arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Also on Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak alluded to his country's responsibility for the airstrike saying while he cannot add to anything stated in the news about the attack in Syria, that it is "proof when we said something we mean it." Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili said Israel "will regret this recent aggression" at a news conference in Damascus a day after a meeting with Assad. Jalili did not specify as to whether Syria or Iran have planned a military response. Jalili also said that Iran supports talks in Damascus between Assad and the Syrian opposition. Iran participated along with Russia and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in talks with the head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Moaz Alkhatib, on Saturday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, "This is an important step" as previously the coalition rejected any talks with the Syrian regime. However, Walid al-Bunni, a member of the opposition coalition, said the meeting "was unsuccessful."

Headlines

  • An estimated 19 people have been killed and over 40 injured in a suicide bombing targeting pro-government militiamen in the Iraqi town of Taji, north of Baghdad, a day after suicide attacks in Kirkuk killed at least 35 people.
  • Israeli forces arrested 23 members of Hamas in the West Bank in overnight raids, including three members of the Palestinian Parliament.
  • Egypt's prosecutor-general has ordered an investigation into the case of a protester who blamed security forces for stripping and beating him.
  • An academic study funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department analyzing the content of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks undermines claims that Palestinian children are taught "to hate." 

Arguments and Analysis 

Groundhog Day in Cairo: A Brutal Video Raises the Political Stakes in Egypt (Ashraf Khalil, Time)

"The last few weeks in Egypt have been a period of Groundhog Day-style revolutionary déjà vu. The images are familiar: protesters battling through clouds of tear gas on the outskirts of Tahrir Square and in front of the Information Ministry; a state of emergency declared; the army deployed in three major cities along the Suez canal; and the embattled president promising to take radical steps to preserve public order. For many of Egypt's original revolutionaries, it has felt like February 2011 all over again.

But Friday's night's violent and chaotic scene outside the presidential palace brought to mind yet another disturbing memory: the savage December 2011 assault on protesters in Tahrir Square. That attack yielded a virtual mountain of video allegedly showing army and police officers beating helpless protestors-including women-and firing weapons at point-blank range.

This time, there's only one such piece of evidence-video apparently showing Central Security riot police beating the limp body of a naked man before dragging him into one of their vans. But the reaction has sent the administration of President Mohamed Morsi into spasms of spin-doctoring and produced even more bad blood in the country's seemingly intractable political standoff."

Assad's scorched-earth policy precludes real negotiations (Robin Yassin-Kassab, The National)

"Actions speak louder than words. The regime's aim does not appear to be to negotiate a transition. If it can't retain total power, it will create a splintered and permanently ungovernable country. In this way Mr Al Assad hopes to survive as a warlord among warlords. Talking about talks provides him with time while distracting attention from his real aim.

Peace plans have been proposed by the Arab League, Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, and Assad has scuppered the lot. Not for a day have his guns fallen silent.

Yet with resistance advances in the north, east and now south, the tide is flowing steadily against Mr Al Assad. Continuing reverses may allow the regime's more intelligent minds to prevail over the bitter-enders (although to anticipate this would be naive). Mr Al Khatib's meeting on Saturday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov may or may not be a sign that Russia, finally recognising that the Assads will never regain control of Syria, is about to twist the regime's arm towards serious, rather than theatrical, negotiations."

-- By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images

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