Talks between Iran and six world powers have begun in Vienna in efforts to negotiate a final settlement over Tehran's controversial nuclear program. The three-day meeting between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States aims to build upon an interim deal negotiated in November 2013 in which Iran committed to curb uranium enrichment in exchange for some reduction in sanctions. There is little optimism surrounding the new round of talks. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Monday, "the nuclear negotiations will lead nowhere" however he maintained, "Iran will not breach what it has started." A senior U.S. official noted that it would be a "complicated, difficult, and lengthy process." U.S. President Barack Obama put the chances of successful negotiations at 50 percent. Michael Mann, spokesperson for the E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton, said nobody expects a final agreement in this round, but continued, "The aim is really to create a framework to deal with negotiations over the coming months."
Syrian government forces have retaken the Hama province village of Maan. Fighters from several Islamist rebel groups seized Maan on February 9, killing at least 20 civilians and 25 pro-government forces, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the most recent clashes. The regime's aerial campaign on the northern city of Aleppo has caused hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians to flee the area in recent weeks. According to the United Nations, 500,000 people have been displaced creating one of the largest refugee flows in the nearing three- year conflict. With peace talks on Syria stalled, the Obama administration is reportedly reconsidering military, diplomatic, and intelligence options on Syria that had been set aside in favor of pursuing the peace conference in Geneva. Meanwhile, the opposition's Supreme Military Council has fired Free Syrian Army chief Salim Idriss. A statement on Sunday said the move was prompted by the "ineffectiveness of the command in the past few months" and a need to "restructure." Idriss will be replaced by Brigadier General Abdel-ilah Al Bashir.
- A series of bombings in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and the southern city of Hilla on Tuesday has killed at least 49 people a day after several explosions across Baghdad killed at least 23 people.
- The Islamist militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for the bombing of a tourist bus Sunday that killed two South Koreans and an Egyptian and warned all tourists to leave Egypt before February 20.
- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting Tunisia praising progress and urging a cementing of democratic reforms provided in the country's new constitution.
- Iraqi cleric Moktada al-Sadr has described Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a "tyrant" just days after announcing his departure from politics.
Arguments and Analysis
'The Syrian Civil War: Political and Military State of Play' (Charles Lister and William McCants, War on the Rocks)
"With the armed phase of the Syrian revolution now in its 34th month, a great deal has changed since protests first erupted in March 2011. More than 130,000 people have been killed, the United Nations has now stopped counting due to the dearth of reliable information. Both the political and military aspects of the conflict have always been complex, but the nature of that complexity has changed as each of the conflict's parties reevaluate their positions as the civil war drags on.
With the second round of peace talks now completed in the Swiss city of Geneva and dynamics on the ground shifting as Syrian rebel forces battle the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and moderate rebel forces restructure, now is an opportune time to assess the interests and capabilities of the main players."
'Netanyahu's silent contempt' (Emily L. Hauser, Haaretz)
"For a democracy to function properly, citizens must have regular access to information about the plans and policies of their elected leaders -- yet for some 13 months, the Prime Minister has refused to speak with his own press corps.
Israel's Channel 2 television reported in January that it had been a full year since Netanyahu last deigned to engage with the Israeli press. In the meantime, nearly a month has passed and... gornisht. Not a press conference, not an interview, not so much as a single question. Reporter Tal Schneider has established a stop watch to keep track of the time as it slips by, and as of the time of this writing, the count comes to 394 days. And several hours. The silent treatment is so exhaustive, so icy, that it would be impressive if it weren't shameful."
--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr
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