The Middle East Channel

World Powers Resume Nuclear Talks With Iran

Six world powers resumed talks with Iran Thursday over its contested nuclear development program for the sixth round of negotiations in Vienna since February. Negotiators from Iran as well as the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia, and Britain are working to agree on a comprehensive deal ahead of the July 20 expiration of the interim accord, agreed upon in November 2013. The negotiators have been unable to overcome gaps on several issues including determining the number of centrifuges Iran will be permitted to operate, the duration of the agreement, and a timeline for the lifting of international sanctions on Iran. U.S. officials admitted an extension of the negotiations might be necessary. Additionally, senior U.S. and Iranian officials are increasing claims that they have made every effort to reach a deal apparently preparing to deflect blame if a settlement is not reached.

Syria

The Pentagon has released a statement saying the transfer of Syrian chemical weapons from the Danish ship Ark Futura to the U.S. vessel Cape Ray has been successfully completed. Over about 12 hours, 78 containers of chemical elements were transferred between the two vessels. The Cape Ray set off from Italy's port of Gioia Tauro to neutralize the materials in the Mediterranean Sea. Meanwhile, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said Syria's refugee crisis could destabilize the region unless donors provide the remaining 70 percent of the $3.74 billion needed for emergency assistance. There are currently 2.9 million registered Syrian refugees in the region, and the United Nations estimates the number will reach 3.6 million by the end of the year. 

Headlines  

  • The United States said it will tighten security at European, African, and Middle Eastern airports over concerns that al Qaeda operatives in Syria and Yemen are developing bombs that can be smuggled onto planes.
  • Gazan militants and Israel exchanged rocket fire and airstrikes after riots and clashes in Jerusalem were sparked by the killing of a Palestinian teen, whose funeral is being delayed for a post-mortem examination.
  • The Libyan government has declared an end to the oil crisis after reaching a deal to resume control over two remaining oil ports that had been seized by rebels.
  • Saudi Arabia has deployed 30,000 troops to its border with Iraq after reports that Iraqi soldiers have withdrawn from their posts in Anbar province where ISIL-led militants have seized territory. 
  • An Egyptian criminal court has sentenced Abdullah Morsi, the youngest son of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, to a year in prison on drug charges.

Arguments and Analysis

'"Bad Deal" Better Than "No Deal"?' (Francois Nicoulaud, LobeLog)

"'No deal is better than bad deal:' that's the mantra that has been heard ad nauseam in the recent past and presented as self-evident of U.S. toughness in the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

But is it really so? Of course, everybody knows what 'no deal' means. It is more difficult to discern at what point a deal becomes bad, rather than good, or even average. But plenty of experts are ready to help. A bad deal, they tell us, is a deal which would allow the Iranians to produce the material necessary for a bomb in less than six months. A bad deal is a deal which would not clarify once and for all what kind of research the Iranians have been pursuing in the past for manufacturing a nuclear explosive device. A bad deal is a deal which would allow the Iranians to pursue their ballistic missile program. And so on... One ends up understanding that any deal less than perfect would amount to an unacceptably bad deal.

But such an approach goes against any diplomatic process in which compromise and give and take are key notions. It leads to the conclusion that a perfect deal is a deal which does not have to be negotiated, a deal in which the winner takes all. And indeed, there are people who believe that non-proliferation is too important a question to be submitted to any kind of compromise. It deserves only perfect deals."

'Will the Palestinian Unity Government Survive?' (Mahmoud Jaraba and Lihi Ben Shitrit, Sada)

"If Hamas's leadership is found to be behind the kidnapping and murder of the three settlers, it is likely the unity government will fall. Yet, even if it proves to be the work of local Hamas members operating without the orders of the central command, there remains many other challenges that threaten to break down the fragile unity. The government still has little presence in the Gaza Strip, and it has not integrated Hamas's Gazan civil servants into PA institutions. It has not created any strategic plan for Gaza's rehabilitation and reconstruction, reopening border crossings, or ending the siege. Nor has it taken any steps to prepare for legislative and presidential elections or to merge Fatah and Hamas governing institutions."

-- Mary Casey

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Clashes Erupt After Body of Palestinian Teen Found in Jerusalem

Israeli police clashed with Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem after the body of a Palestinian teenager was found after a possible revenge attack. Residents of Shuafat, an Arab district of East Jerusalem, said they saw Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, who was either 16 or 17-years-old, being forced into a car early Wednesday. However, police have not confirmed that it was his body found, and said that, "Everything is being examined." On Monday, the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were discovered over two weeks after they were believed to have been kidnapped. The events have sparked increasing tensions and violence in Jerusalem.

Syria

The transfer of chemical weapons materials has begun between the Danish vessel Ark Futura and the U.S. Ship Cape May at the Italian port of Gioia Tauro in the latest phase of an operation to remove and destroy about 1,300 tons of Syrian chemical weapons. The operation is expected to take about 20 hours. After the Cape May has set off into the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, the chemicals, including mustard gas and elements of the nerve agents VX and Sarin, will be neutralized through hydrolysis. The process is expected to take between 45 and 90 days.

Headlines  

  • Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the militant group now calling itself the Islamic State, has called on Muslims worldwide to take up arms and travel to Syria and Iraq to help build the "caliphate."
  • World powers are resuming talks Wednesday with Iran over its nuclear program hoping to reach a comprehensive deal ahead of the July 20 deadline.
  • According to the U.S. Justice Department, Ahmed Abu Khattala, who has been charged for involvement in the 2012 Benghazi attacks, has provided information to U.S. interrogators.

Arguments and Analysis

'Can the PA survive Israel's attack on Hamas?' (Geoffrey Aronson, Al Monitor)

"As this combustible situation unfolds, how vital is it to Israel that the Palestinian Authority continues to exist? Important to be sure, but less so than you might think. 

There are three centers of power and influence regulating Israel's interest in the PA's existence: right-wing politicians, budget overseers and, most crucially, the security system.

All share the view that the PA's value is measured solely against a yardstick of Israeli interests - at the top of which are security and settlement expansion. 

And all agree, without any sense of irony, that Israel's presence in the West Bank - that is, a continuation of its occupation - offers the PA its best, indeed, its only chance for survival."

'Study: Muslims hate terrorism, too' (Ishaan Tharoor, The Washington Post)

"In a new study released Tuesday, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that "concern about Islamic extremism is high among countries with substantial Muslim populations." This comes at a particularly fraught moment in the Middle East: the jihadist militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has seized whole swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a new caliphate.

The study involved over 14,000 respondents in 14 countries and was conducted between April and May -- before ISIS's dramatic advance through Iraq this past month. But it underscores the growing fear and anger felt by many in Muslim-majority countries when facing a range of militant threats, from that of Boko Haram in Nigeria to ISIS to the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan."

-- Mary Casey

Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images