The Middle East Channel

Iran announces new uranium mining and production

Marking 'National Nuclear Technology Day,' Iran announced Tuesday that it has launched a new uranium production facility and that operations have begun at two uranium extraction mines. The statement came just days after the April 5 and 6 talks in Kazakhstan between Iran and six world powers again ended in deadlock. Iran's state news agency IRNA reported the country opened the Saghand 1 and 2 mines as well as the Rezaeinejad yellowcake (an impure state of uranium oxide used in the enrichment process) plant in Ardakan all in the central province of Yazd. On Monday, Iran, which has continuously stressed its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, rejected an appeal by the U.N. Security Council's five permament members and Germany to stop the program in exchange for a modest relaxation of sanctions. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said western countries have "tried their utmost to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but Iran has gone nuclear." However, a report by U.S. think-tanks the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Federation of American Scientists released a report last week saying, "Despite the Iranian leadership's assertions to the contrary, Iran's estimated uranium endowments are nowhere near sufficient to supply its planned nuclear program."

Syria

Iraq's al Qaeda wing is reportedly merging with Islamist fighters in Syria. The leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, said his group has been funding Syria's al-Nusra Front since the beginning of the country's uprising two years ago. He posted a statement on Islamist websites saying the groups would operate under the title of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Experts have long said al-Nusra Front had been receiving assistance from al Qaeda linked groups, and the United States designated the fighters as a terrorist group in December 2012. Meanwhile, Syria has rejected what it has called an attempt by the United Nations to broaden an investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons last month in Aleppo. The Syrian government and opposition have traded blame over the attack in Khan al-Assal, which supposedly included a chemical element, and the government requested a U.N. probe. However, Syrian state media reported that the United Nations now wants "additional investigations which might allow the UN mission to spread all over the Syrian territories." A U.N. inspection team is waiting in Cyprus for permission to enter Syria. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged the Syrian government to cooperate with the investigation and has insisted it would not allow the mission to widen in scope.

Headlines

  • Egypt's Coptic Pope Tawadros II has blasted President Morsi over sectarian violence which increased recently. Pope Tawadros II blamed him for "negligence" in handling an attack Sunday on Cairo's main cathedral that killed two people.
  • The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said it will reopen food distribution centers in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday after closing them following violent protests last week.
  • The U.S. Navy has announced a plan to deploy a $40 million Laser Weapon System to the Persian Gulf, which could be used to protect U.S. warships from small Iranian attack boats.
  • The former U.S. soldier, Eric Harroun, was denied bail in a hearing in Alexandria, Virginia on Monday and may face the death penalty for his involvement in fighting alongside rebel forces in Syria. 

Arguments and Analysis

Introducing the "Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria" (Cole Bunzel, Jihadica)

"In an official statement issued yesterday, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) officially claimed Syria'sJabhat al-Nusra (JN) as its own product and subsidiary. The audio message from ISI's emir, Abu Bakr al-Husayni al-Qurashi al-Baghdadi, confirmed once and for all JN's status as an al-Qaeda offshoot established by ISI-a link JN leaders have long played down or denied. It also significantly revised jihadi nomenclature for the region. The names of "the Islamic State of Iraq" and "Jabhat al-Nusra," decreed al-Baghdadi, are hereby void; the two groups are now combined under the joint name of "the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria" (al-dawla al-islamiyya fi al-‘iraq wa-l-sham; ISIGS). Thus will the "banner" of jihad achieve further unity. 

JN, according to al-Baghdadi, was from the first an "extension" and "part" of ISI. Providing little in the way of details, he explains rather matter-of-factly how ISI early on sent-"deputized"-Abu Muhammad al-Julani, one of ISI's "soldiers," to Syria along with a number of foreign colleagues to establish JN and recruit local Syrians. Al-Baghdadi justifies not proclaiming the connection between ISI and JN until now out of fear that the media would engage in harmful "distortion." It is unclear why he finds this particular moment so different. 

What the announcement makes very clear is that the group once known as Jabhat al-Nusra ought to be seen as a jihadi-salafi organization distinct from its homespun salafi counterparts, such as the groups comprising the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF). While JN and the groups fighting under SIF have long campaigned together on various fronts in the Syrian civil war, and while they praise one another publicly, JN has always stood out for its secretive nature and lack of interest in adhering to the SIF command structure."

Saudi-Yemen relations are in need of a modern makeover (Faisal Al Yafai, The National)

"But neither Saudi Arabia nor Yemen is the same today as it was in 1970. The world has changed immeasurably - the rocketing of oil prices has brought an enormous disparity between the two countries.

Today, Saudi's GDP is 10 times that of Yemen's. Nasser died in 1970 and with him much of the pan-Arab revolutionary fervour he embodied. Political pluralism (such as it is) and universal sufferage in Yemen are no longer a threat to Saudi influence. And with Mr Saleh finally gone, there is a chance of a new relationship between Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

That is what is needed now. The visa expulsions demonstrate that Saudi still sees Yemen as just another country whose population wants access to its labour market.

But that is a mistake, because the long-term stability of the whole Peninsula depends to a large extent on what happens in Yemen. Locking the two countries into mutual development would be beneficial for the whole GCC, which needs manpower (which Yemen has). And Yemen's government needs investment (which Saudi can provide).

The visa issue is part of a wider trend of viewing Yemen as a problem to be solved rather than a solution to some of Saudi's problems."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

AFP/Getty Images/BULENT KILIC

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