Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei strongly rejected an offer by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden for direct talks over the country's nuclear development program in remarks posted on his website on Thursday. Biden made the offer on Saturday saying the U.S. was ready to hold one-on-one talks with Iran "when the Iranian leadership, supreme leader, is serious." However, Khamenei maintained that talks would not solve the problem. He wrote, "You take up arms against the nation of Iran and say: ‘negotiate or we fire.' But you should know that pressure and negotiations are not compatible and our nation will not be intimidated into actions." The statement came after the U.S. Treasury Department announced new economic sanctions on Wednesday as sanctions that were enacted in August 2012 took effect. The new sanctions target companies involved in inhibiting the flow of information and cracking down on dissent such as the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting and its director, the Iran Cyber Police, the Communications Regulatory Authority, and Iran Electronics Industries which makes equipment used for jamming and monitoring. The sanctions from last summer will target companies connected with Iran's energy, petrochemical, insurance, financial, and shipping sectors. While one senior U.S. official said the move is "a significant turning of the screw" others are more skeptical. According to another senior U.S. official, "The people may be suffering in Iran, but the supreme leader isn't, and he's the only one who counts."
Heavy fighting has continued for the second day in Damascus, Syria's capital. Violence has mostly been focused on the highly contested eastern district of Jobar and the southern ring road, but other clashes were reported in Zamalka, Hajar al-Aswad, and Qaboun. According to one opposition activist, the aim for the rebel offensive is not to overtake central Damascus, but rather to take out regime sniper positions and fortifications and cut off President Bashar al-Assad's control lines from the center of the city to its outskirts. The Syrian army also said it had launched a "co-ordinated all-out offensive." Both the government and opposition forces reported making gains, and it is unclear if either side had pushed forward as of Thursday. Meanwhile, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, said he would rescind his offer of talks with the Syrian government if women prisoners were not released by Sunday. Islamic leaders urged the Assad regime and opposition forces to enter into negotiations in efforts to resolve the war at a meeting of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Cairo on Thursday.
- Political unrest sparked by the assassination of an opposition politician continues in Tunisia. Several groups are planning strikes, and the ruling Ennahda party rejected the announcement by Prime Minister Jebali to dissolve the cabinet.
- Hamas and Fatah are currently holding unity talks and are planning for presidential and parliamentary elections.
Arguments and Analysis
Syria Is Not Iraq (Shadi Hamid, The Atlantic)
If I sound defeatist, then it is likely because I am. It is worth speaking frankly, and, unfortunately, this probably requires speaking in the past tense. For Syria, it is likely too late. Notwithstanding something sudden and entirely unexpected, the international community will not intervene. That does not mean that the Syrian people are doomed. They will likely "win" in the end, but their victory, if we can even call it that, will have come at a much greater cost - in the sheer number killed - than was necessary. It will have come at the cost of a country destroyed, of sects polarized beyond any hope of reconciliation, of Salafis and Jihadists ascendant, of a state too torn and divided for real governance. As has been reported elsewhere, the Syrian opposition feels that it has been not just forgotten, but, worse, betrayed. They are unlikely to forget this anytime soon. Anti-Americanism, a given among regime supporters, has slowly taken root among the opposition as well. The Syrian protest movement's Friday theme for October 19, 2012 was"America, has your spite not been sated by our blood?" In due time, the Obama administration's inability or unwillingness to act may be remembered as one of the great strategic and moral blunders of recent decades. Hoping to atone for our sins in Iraq, we have overlearned the lessons of the last war. I only wish it wasn't too late.
Moving towards Political Participation: The Moderation of Moroccan Salafis since the Beginning of the Arab Spring (Mohammed Masbah, German Institute for International and Security Affairs)
"Salafis, including former "Salafi-Jihadis", have become a presence in the public sphere through their participation in the protests - side-by-side with secular forces - of the so called 20 February Movement. There are also numerous indications that Salafis will play a role in shaping Morocco's future political landscape, albeit while proposing less radical objectives than what they used to profess. The trend is leading towards greater acceptance of political plurality, more cooperation with moderate Islamists, and less aggressive attitudes towards seculars and Western governments. Most importantly, they are explicitly renouncing violent means in the domestic power struggle. Moroccan Salafis have begun aiming at assuming a political role, attempting to influence policy-making, and are increasingly prepared to play by the rules of the democratic game - thus following the example set by their peers in other Arab countries such as Egypt."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
AFP/Getty Images/ ATTA KENARE