The second day of talks between Iran and six world powers have begun in Geneva. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif began the meeting Tuesday with a presentation setting out a proposal to end what he called an "unnecessary crisis" over Iran's nuclear development program. While the proposal remained confidential, western officials said it included three stages, with the first phase to outline the broad aspects of a deal, defining an "end state" for the nuclear program. The second step would involve Iran taking measures to contain facets of the nuclear program, and in return, the United States and EU would begin lifting sanctions. On Tuesday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi suggested the last steps in the proposal include expanded monitoring and unannounced visits by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Western officials said the proposal was "very useful" and U.S. State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki said, "For the first time, we had very detailed discussions." Additionally, members of the U.S. and Iranian delegations met for an hour of direct negotiations, for the first time since 2009.
An explosion hit a minibus near Tal al-Jumua in the southern Syrian province of Daraa overnight Tuesday. The blast killed at least 21 people including four children and six women, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The cause of the explosion is unclear, though opposition activists said the vehicle struck a mine, which they claim was planted by government forces. There was no comment from the Syrian regime. The blast was in territory controlled by opposition forces, but it was close to an army base where Syrian troops are posted, and reportedly "under siege by rebel forces." Two days of fierce fighting in the northeastern Hassakeh province between Kurdish militias and two Islamist rebel factions, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, has killed an estimated 41 people. Meanwhile, General Director of Doctors Without Borders Christopher Stokes on Tuesday called for greater humanitarian access in Syria, urging for the same efforts to address the humanitarian crisis as the international measures to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. He said the recent opening to chemical weapons inspectors has shown "it is possible, if the international political willingness is there, to grant access and free movement to aid agencies to go into these enclaves."
- Two Turkish pilots, abducted in August near Beirut's international airport, have appeared in a video broadcast on Lebanese television.
- Al Qaeda suspect Abu Anas al-Libi pleaded not guilty in a New York court Tuesday to charges of involvement in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
- Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said Wednesday that Egyptian and U.S. relations are in turmoil after a suspension of U.S. military assistance.
- The Israeli military reported it has found and blown up a second tunnel from Gaza to Israel.
Arguments and Analysis
'What to Make of Saudi Hand-Wringing' (Frederic Wehrey, Carnegie Endowment)
"If there is a real chasm opening between Saudi Arabia and the United States in light of regional developments, it may not be on the foreign policy front at all, but rather in disagreements over how the Gulf states are conducting their internal affairs in response to regional tumult. What is often overlooked is that Gulf rulers tend to conflate external ideological threats with internal political dissent. Put differently, Gulf reformists and dissidents are frequently seen to be the agents (or potential agents) of outside powers who are bent on destabilizing Gulf monarchies.
This dynamic has been manifested lately in a Gulf Cooperation Council agreement on internal security coordination: states will share blacklists; intensify roundups of reform activists, dissidents, and expatriates believed to be tied to Hezbollah, Iran, or the Brotherhood; and link censorship efforts. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are also attempting to depoliticize clerics by muzzling those who make public reference to events in Syria and Egypt. In the UAE, the ripple effects -- mostly from Egypt but also from Syria -- have been felt in dragnet arrests of Brotherhood activists. In Bahrain, the security backlash has been particularly corrosive. The regime of King Hamad Al Khalifa recently forbade political societies, most pointedly the Shia grouping Al Wefaq, from meeting with foreign diplomats or NGOs. In the state-controlled media, there have been repeated accusations that Shia activists in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are proxies for Iran."
'Syria As We Know It Is Gone' (Brian Michael Jenkins, U.S. News and World Report)
"The ability of external actors to understand developments, let alone influence them, is very limited. Fast moving events, complex cross currents, uncertain numbers and fluid loyalties complicate analysis. Perhaps not surprisingly, previous forecasts have proved wrong. Less than two years ago, the consensus was that Assad's days were numbered. He now seems to be gaining strength, but that too could change quickly. Even those directly involved do not know what will happen next.
It is much simpler for Assad's foreign supporters: Assad must be kept in power. If Assad fell, not only would Iran lose an important ally in the region, Iranian leaders fear that Assad's demise could inspire a domestic movement aimed at bringing down the Islamic Republic. Assad's fall also would deliver a strategic blow to Hezbollah. His survival would add to Hezbollah's influence. Assad is Russia's last remaining ally in the Middle East, a major consumer of Russian arms and host to Russia's only warm water naval base.
All this makes it highly unlikely that the Assad regime will ever reestablish control over Syria as it was known just a few years ago. With continued help from his friends, Assad might survive as the leader of a government that holds Damascus and parts of Western Syria, but the conflict will undoubtedly continue in other parts of the geographic expression of today's Syria."
--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber
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