In a joint news conference with E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that a comprehensive nuclear deal was possible in "four or five months and even shorter." Ashton cautioned that reaching a comprehensive deal would be "difficult and challenging." She arrived in Tehran Saturday for a two-day visit -- the first visit by an E.U. foreign policy chief since 2008 -- to discuss a wide range of issues, including bilateral ties, human rights, and the Syrian conflict, with Zarif and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out Sunday from Jerusalem requesting that Ashton press the Iranians on the shipment of weapons that Israel seized last week allegedly bound for Gaza. Talks between Iran and the P5+1 will resume on March 18.
A Qatari-Lebanese delegation negotiated the release of a group of Greek Orthodox nuns who had been held hostage by Islamist rebels in Syria since being kidnapped from their Maaloula monastery in December. The nuns, who are being transported to Damascus via Lebanon, were freed as part of a prisoner exchange involving 150 women and children held by the Syrian government. Meanwhile, a new report from Save the Children claims that Syria's conflict is threatening to collapse the entire health system, which is already severely crippled. Another report released by Amnesty International accuses the Syrian government of employing starvation tactics against civilians, citing the case of Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus where at least 128 refugees have died as a result.
- The Libyan government has threatened to bomb a North Korea-flagged oil tanker if it attempts to export oil from the rebel-controlled Sidra port. The armed rebels who control the port have warned that an attack on the tanker, which docked on Saturday, would constitute a "declaration of war."
- At least 40 people have been killed in clashes between Houthi and Sunni tribesmen in Yemen's al-Jawf province since Friday. Meanwhile, a boat transporting African migrants capsized off of the coast of Yemen. At least 30 people were rescued by a Yemeni naval control, however 42 migrants drowned.
- Thousands marched through Beirut on Saturday demanding Lebanon's first law against domestic violence.
- A minibus packed with explosives detonated at a security checkpoint Saturday in the Iraqi city of Hilla, killing at least 32 people and injuring at least 150 others.
- A Palestinian man was shot dead at the border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan after attempting to snatch a weapon from and choke an Israeli Defense Forces soldier according to a military statement.
- Heavy rain has lashed Egypt since Saturday, resulting in the death of 16 people across the country and the closure of ports, schools, and some highways.
Arguments and Analysis
'Breaking Taboos: Youth Activism in the Gulf States' (Kristin Smith Diwan, Atlantic Council)
"Youth activists are challenging the conservative political culture and traditional social norms of these oil-exporting monarchies. In Saudi Arabia this has included criticism of the king online and even demonstrations. In Kuwait, a youth campaign of escalating street action forced the hand of parliament and prompted the resignation of a scandal-weakened prime minister. Bahrain experienced several years of youth-initiated protests, though these failed to compel political concessions from a sharply divided monarchy.
Youth movements are far from achieving their demands for greater democratic representation and government accountability in a region where political parties are banned and direct criticism of rulers brings imprisonment. But their influence cannot be assessed by a narrow focus on immediate political outcomes. The generational divide is testing not only the state but important mediators of state power: tribes and Islamist movements. Youth are struggling against the suffocating lack of space for social engagement and political innovation. And they are tapping into growing doubts about the capacity of ruling families to manage the coming challenges to the welfare state system. In short, they are laying the groundwork for the transformations to come."
'Iran Deal: Keeping Israel on Board' (Shai Feldman and Oren Setter, The National Interest)
"Given these conflicting considerations, can the U.S. and Israel maintain their informal alliance while maximizing the odds that the talks recently launched would produce an optimal comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran? The key here seems to be the ability and willingness of Washington and Jerusalem to prenegotiate a 'code of conduct' possibly consisting of four elements: First, a U.S.-Israel agreed timeframe for testing Iran's willingness to reach a deal limiting its nuclear program. Second, an understanding that during the agreed timeframe for the talks, Israel, while adhering to its public stance favoring the 'ideal deal' would refrain from undermining the negotiations by waging a public campaign against the talks. Third, that during the same timeframe the Israeli national-security community will be fully briefed regarding the details of the talks, and more importantly, will be provided multiple opportunities to share its possible concerns and to offer its ideas about the ways in which difficult issues in the talks can be best addressed. Fourth, and in parallel, the U.S. and Israel will create one or more Track-II channels for conversations among both sides' non-official experts and former government officials. In these totally deniable frameworks, the two sides will be able to explore ideas and possible compromises that may be deemed too sensitive even for secret-yet-official talks.
The stakes involved for the U.S. and Israel in the recently launched efforts to reach a comprehensive deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program are enormous. Yet their stakes and priorities in these talks are not identical, presenting Washington and Jerusalem with a serious alliance management problem. The four-element 'code of conduct' proposed here would allow the U.S. and Israel to maintain their close ties while the P-5+1 led by the U.S. productively negotiate with Iran."
-- Cortni Kerr
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