A new round of talks began on Tuesday in Kazakhstan between Iran and world powers. Negotiators from Iran are meeting with the U.N. Security Council's permanent five members -- the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia -- in addition to Germany. International powers suspect Iran of working to develop nuclear weapons, but Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. There is little optimism that this round of talks will yield a breakthrough. However, both sides have recently offered concessions. The spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is leading the dialogue, said "We have prepared a good and updated offer for the talks, which we believe is balanced and a fair basis for constructive talks." The United States proposed limited sanctions relief, and Iran said it was prepared to make an offer. Sanctions have taken a severe toll on Iran's economy, but they have not succeeded in pressuring Iran to temper its nuclear ambitions. In fact, Tehran announced technological advances just this week.
Opposition forces in Syria see a week of significant gains
The Syrian opposition has abandoned its boycott of talks in Rome on Syria. Head of the Syrian National Coalition Moaz al-Khatib said he would lead a delegation to the "Friends of Syria" meeting in Rome this week. However, the largest faction within the coalition maintained it would not participate, saying opposition forces have waited long enough for Western assistance. On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, said the Obama administration is considering new options to increase support to the Syrian opposition, and insisted that the United States would not leave them "dangling in the wind wondering where the support is or if it's coming." Saudi Arabia has been financing the purchase of Croatian arms which it has been reportedly funneling to opposition fighters since December. Meanwhile, a deadly explosion and heavy clashes were reported in Damascus, Syria's capital. Additionally, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, clashes between opposition fighters and government forces are endangering the historic Umayyad Mosque in the northern city of Aleppo.
- Palestinian militants fired a rocket from Gaza into southern Israel, breaking a November truce that ended eight days of fighting. The militants said the rocket was fired in retaliation for the death of a Palestinian man imprisoned in Israel.
- Egypt's prosecution is an investigating the hot air balloon explosion and crash near Luxor that killed an estimated 18 people, mostly Asian and European tourists.
- A member of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the disputed Golan Heights between Israel and Syria has been reported as missing.
- Tunisia has arrested a suspect and an alleged accomplice in the killing of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, whose murder sparked protests and a political crisis in Tunisia.
Arguments and Analysis
Spider Web: The Making and Unmaking of Iran Sanctions (International Crisis Group)
"With war a frightening prospect and fruitful negotiations a still-distant dream, sanctions have become the West's instrument of choice vis-à-vis Iran. They are everywhere: in the financial arena, barring habitual commercial relations; in the oil sector, choking off Tehran's principal source of currency; in the insurance sector, thwarting its ability to transport goods. Without doubt, they are crippling Iran's economy. But are they succeeding? By at least one important criterion (the intensity of Western concern over nuclear progress), plainly they are not. Add to this myriad unintended consequences (bolstering the regime's ability to allocate goods; harming ordinary citizens; pushing leaders persuaded the goal is regime change to escalate its own retaliatory steps; and constructing a web of punitive measures harder to unknot than to weave). Sanctions are not necessarily counterproductive. But, too easily they become a path of least resistance, a tool whose effectiveness is assessed by the harm inflicted, not how much closer it brings the goal. In future cases, policymakers should make sure to constantly re-evaluate their effects. For now, the priority is devising a menu of meaningful, realistic sanctions relief to match meaningful, realistic nuclear concessions."
Even if Iran gets the Bomb, it won't be worth going to war (Jack Straw, The Telegraph)
"What Iran seeks is twofold. First, it wants its "full rights" under the NPT for civil nuclear power. It can fairly point out that three nuclear weapons states - Israel, India and Pakistan - have always refused to join the NPT, while North Korea, now boasting about its atomic capability, withdrew from the Treaty in 2003. Second, it seeks an end to its international isolation and a recognition (especially by the US) of its regional status.
Normalisation of relations with Iran is also an important prize for the international community. It has a considerable capacity to make conditions in its unstable neighbours - Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, the Occupied Territories, the Gulf States, and Afghanistan - more, or less difficult. An early priority for the UK should be the reopening of the embassies in Tehran and London.
I have never been complacent about a nuclear-armed Iran, which is why I devoted so much time to negotiations with the country. My own best judgment is that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who controls the nuclear dossier, probably wants to create the intellectual capacity for a nuclear weapons system, but will stop short of making that system a reality. If I am wrong, further isolation of Iran would follow; but would it trigger nuclear proliferation across the Middle East? Not in my view. Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia "have little to gain and much to lose by embarking down such a route" is the accurate conclusion of researchers from the War Studies Department of King's College London."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
AFP/Getty Images/KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV