The Middle East Channel

First Round of Syria Peace Talks Wraps Up

The first round of peace talks on Syria is set to wrap up Friday in deadlock. After a week of negotiations in Geneva, Syrian government and opposition delegations have yet to agree on how to proceed. The opposing parties are expected to meet again around February 10. U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi expressed frustration that talks had not produced an agreement, even on allowing a U.N. aid convoy to enter the besieged Old City of Homs. On Thursday, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, accused of favoring pro-government areas, posted a statement that humanitarian aid should be distributed in a politically neutral manner. On Friday, the United Nations for the second day entered the largely rebel-controlled Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in order to distribute food to thousands of trapped civilians. Meanwhile, Russia has said that the Syrian government is acting "in good faith" and that a June 30 deadline for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal remains "completely realistic." The comments came after the United States accused the Assad regime of deliberately stalling and missing deadlines on the removal and destruction of its most dangerous chemical weapons. Robert Mikulak, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said, "Syria must immediately take the necessary actions to comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention."


  • Turkey has purged at least 700 more police officers over a graft probe, bringing the total that have been dismissed or transferred since December 17 over 5,000.
  • A bomb hit a police station in the Egyptian city of Alexandria without causing injuries, meanwhile the militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for Tuesday's assassination of a senior police officer.
  • The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators will meet Saturday to discuss how to help forward an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, while the U.S. hopes to complete a "framework" agreement within weeks.
  • The IAEA said it is time to tackle "more difficult" issues in a deal to curb Iran's nuclear program as the E.U. reported a date and venue have not yet been set for the next round of talks.
  • At least one soldier has been killed in clashes that broke out in Benghazi after the abduction of the son of a Libyan special forces commander.
  • Two rockets hit the international airport in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad Friday morning, but did not cause damage or casualties.

Arguments and Analysis

'Israel Needs to Learn Some Manners' (Avi Shlaim, New York Times)

"The reason that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not disown his defense minister is that what Mr. Yaalon said is what Mr. Netanyahu thinks. The real problem is not Mr. Yaalon's bad manners but the policy that he and Mr. Netanyahu are trying to foist on their senior ally: to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, to confront Iran, to protect Israel's nuclear monopoly, and to preserve its regional hegemony solely by military means. This program is diametrically opposed to America's true national security interests.

America gives Israel money, arms and advice. Israel takes the money, it takes the arms, and it rudely rejects the advice.

The fundamental problem with American support for Israel is its unconditional nature. Consequently, Israel does not have to pay a price for acting unilaterally in a multilateral world, for its flagrant violations of international law, and for its systematic abuse of Palestinian human rights.

Blind support for the Jewish state does not advance the cause of peace. America is going nowhere in the Middle East until it makes the provision of money and arms conditional on good manners and, more importantly, on Israeli respect for its advice."

'Working Group on Egypt Letter to the President'

"Dear Mr. President:

We write to you out of deep concern that your administration may pursue policies towards Egypt, a major U.S. ally in the Middle East, that will exacerbate persistent instability in that country. A failed attempt at democratic transition has given way to intense polarization, frightening repression, and escalating violence. Such instability will make it impossible for Egypt to be a reliable security ally for the United States or peace partner for Israel, and threatens to increase terrorism against American targets and important American interests. If the United States fails to take a clear stance against Egypt's current democratic reversal, and decides to resume suspended aid programs in the face of growing repression, your policies may reinforce this debilitating dynamic to the detriment of U.S. interests and values. We urge you to instruct Secretary of State Kerry not to certify that Egypt has met congressionally mandated conditions on democracy under current conditions.

The idea that there will be a trade-off between democracy and stability in Egypt is false. A realistic assessment of what is happening in Egypt -- a massive crackdown on members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, mounting repression of peaceful critics of the coup, societal polarization and troubling vigilante violence, persistent demonstrations, escalating militant attacks on police and military targets -- shows that repressive, security-dominated rule will not produce long-, medium-, or even short-term stability. Especially since the events of 2011, the populace is more mobilized, more involved in politics, and more divided than ever. In these circumstances, pluralistic democratic institutions, and an opportunity for freedom of speech and assembly, will be necessary to allow citizens to struggle peacefully to resolve those divisions through compromise and democratic decision-making."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber



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