The Middle East Channel

Iran and World Powers Resume Nuclear Talks as Tensions Rise Over Ukraine Crisis

Iran and six world powers are meeting in Vienna Tuesday resuming talks over Tehran's disputed nuclear program aiming to reach a comprehensive agreement by mid-July. However, tension between western countries and Russia over events in Ukraine and Crimea's succession vote on Sunday, which overwhelmingly approved reunification with Russia, may threaten the second round of talks. Diplomats said there is little sign that the Ukraine situation will undermine attempts to broker a nuclear deal. However, if Russian President Vladimir Putin annexes Crimea, disagreements between the permanent U.N. Security Council member states may reduce pressure on Iran to make a deal. Furthermore, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he expects talks to be more difficult this week than the previous round as the two sides attempt to work out details such as the Arak heavy water reactor and levels of uranium enrichment.

Syria

U.N. human rights investigators released an update report Tuesday adding to their list of suspected war criminals from the Syrian regime and opposition groups. According to Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chairman of the inquiry, "This ‘perpetrators list,' as we call it, contains names of persons criminally responsible for hostage-taking, torture, and executions." The U.N. Commission of Inquiry says that hostilities escalated between opposition factions during the period of January 20 through March 10. The report notes that fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have "conducted mass executions of detainees" and that opposition fighters have used car and suicide bombs targeting civilian areas. Additionally, the report says government forces have increased barrel bomb attacks causing extensive civilian casualties. The list includes heads of intelligence branches and detention facilities, military commanders, and officials. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced Daniel Rubinstein will replace Robert S. Ford as special envoy for Syria. Rubinstein is a senior foreign service official who has served in Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, and Israel, among other assignments.

Headlines

  • An Egyptian court has convicted four policemen in connection to the deaths of 37 Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters in 2013, sentencing one to 10 years in prison.
  • U.S. President Obama met with Palestinian President Abbas Monday saying achieving a Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would be challenging and that they would need to take risks to move forward.
  • The Daily Telegraph has alleged that a Qatari company paid nearly $2 million to former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner and his family after the Gulf state's successful bid for the 2022 World Cup.

Arguments and Analysis

'Islamist Outlaws: Saudi Arabia Takes on the Muslim Brotherhood' (William McCants, Foreign Affairs)

"Saudi Arabia's moves have provoked some unhappiness at home. Saudi Islamists, particularly the Brothers, are convinced that Morsi's overthrow was part of a Saudi plot to roll back Islamist political gains of the past three years. In defiance, they festooned their social media profiles with symbols of Brotherhood resistance and criticized their government for its complicity. The defiance has become more muted recently, after the local press reported that the government was contemplating declaring the Brotherhood a terrorist organization. According to former members of the Saudi Muslim Brotherhood I spoke with, the 25,000 or so members of the Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia reacted to the news of the deliberations by preemptively keeping a low profile, closing some of its gatherings so as not to further stoke the government's ire. Until the Saudi government actually begins making arrests, its recent announcement is more of a shot across the Brotherhood's bow than an attempt to sink the ship.

Nevertheless, person after person I interviewed asserted that the level of Islamist anger toward the Saudi government is higher than at any time since the early 1990s. That does not mean Brotherhood leaders will move against the regime in the near term. In the 1990s as now, they have too much to lose institutionally. There is also some benefit in a wait-and-see approach, which is why Salman al-Awda, a prominent Saudi Islamist, is privately counselling his followers to wait for the regime's factions to sort things out among themselves. But the younger rank-and-file Brothers in Saudi, like those in other Brotherhood franchises outside Egypt, are starting to lose hope in peaceful political change. That frustration can lead to apathy. But it can also lead to violence -- and if it does, the Saudi government's decision to declare the group a terrorist organization will have been a self-fulfilling prophecy."

'Women's Activism and the Polio Epidemic in Syria' (Thomas McGee, Jadaliyya)

"The humanitarian virtue of the campaign to protect children on the 'other side' of the front line from the highly contagious and potentially fatal virus is clear. Beyond this, however, the initiative has also served as a powerful means of mobilizing and engaging Syrian women within a context generally perceived to be hostile to female participation. Despite playing a key role in the early stages of the Syrian uprising that began in 2011, many women found themselves side-lined in a conflict environment increasingly dominated by extremist actors.

The polio campaign offers, therefore, a new example of women's continued commitment to active and visible participation. Despite security limitations, female recruits account for at least one third of the volunteers administering the vaccination campaign across half of the country. Against all the tragedy of the present situation in the country, the campaign deserves attention as a potential model for strengthening women's engagement in Syrian society."

-- Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

U.S. Navy SEALs Seize Rogue Libyan Oil Tanker

U.S. Navy SEALs have seized a North Korean-flagged tanker loaded with oil from a rebel-held port in Libya. A separatist militia took control of the oil terminal in July 2013, demanding a greater share of the country's oil wealth. The tanker, the Morning Glory, evaded a naval blockade at the eastern port of Sidra last week, embarrassing the government and spurring the dismal of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. North Korea disavowed the ship, saying it did not provide authorization. According to the Pentagon, U.S. forces boarded the Morning Glory before dawn Monday in international waters off Cyprus, and took control of the tanker, at the request of the Libyan and Cypriot governments. The move may prevent further attempts by the rebels to sell oil on the black market. Meanwhile, a car bomb hit outside a military base in the eastern city of Benghazi killing at least five soldiers and wounding another 14 people.

Syria

The Syrian military, backed by Hezbollah fighters, has overtaken Yabroud, the last rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border. Most opposition fighters had withdrawn by Sunday, however rebels said fighting continued on the outskirts of the town. The fall of Yabroud is a major boost to the Syrian regime, helping President Bashar al-Assad to secure the route connecting the capital of Damascus with Aleppo and the Mediterranean coast. The move will also serve to cut off a major supply line for the rebels from Lebanon. The opposition's loss of Yabroud risks sparking increased violence in Lebanon, where a suicide car bomb struck a gas station Sunday in the primarily Shiite town of al-Nabi Othman, a Hezbollah stronghold. A group calling itself al-Nusra Front in Lebanon released a statement taking responsibility for the attack, saying it was "a quick response to the bragging and boasting of the party of Iran [Hezbollah] over their rapping of Yabroud." However, Liwa Ahrar al-Sunna in Baalbek also claimed the attack, which killed at least four people including local Hezbollah leader Abdul Rahman al-Qadhi.

Headlines  

  • The United States has delivered 100 Hellfire missiles as well as assault rifles and ammunition to Iraq in what it said is an effort to help Iraqi forces combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
  • U.S. President Obama is scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Abbas Monday urging him to sign a framework for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as a deadline for a peace deal approaches.
  • Tunisian police reportedly killed three armed militants Monday in a raid on their home in the northwest region of Jendouba.

Arguments and Analysis

'Jordan's Urban Refugees' (Marisa L. Porges, New York Times)

"The movement of nearly 600,000 Syrians into Jordan is straining that country's economy, infrastructure and social services. While international press attention has focused mainly on Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp, home to approximately 100,000 Syrians, the vast majority of refugees have settled in Jordan's urban areas, particularly those close to its northern border, like the cities of Mafraq and Ramtha.

The increased demand for housing and the influx of subsidies from international NGOs have nearly tripled the cost of rent in these cities, driving many Jordanians from their homes and pushing Syrians further into debt. Jordan's crowded public schools are being crippled as administrators try to accommodate at least 85,000 refugee students -- still only half of the school-age Syrians now in the country. Local hospitals, sanitation and water systems are being similarly strained. As one young Syrian told me in January, 'We're making a hard life harder for Jordanians.'"

'In search of an energy vision' (Isabel Bottoms, Mada Masr)

"Amidst the fragmented politics of the last six months, one of the most pressing questions has been how Egypt would meet its energy demands from 2014 onwards.

'Nobody has done the math,' lamented Environment Laila Iskandar when she addressed the Cairo Climate Talks.

This leaves a gap in the overall future energy strategy of Egypt -- a gap deeply connected to politics, the nation's poorest citizens and the country's industrial output, among many other factors."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP/Getty Images