National Security

Jihadist Groups Gain in Turmoil Across Middle East

 Intensifying sectarian and clan violence has presented new opportunities for jihadist groups across the Middle East and raised concerns among American intelligence and counterterrorism officials that militants aligned with Al Qaeda could establish a base in Syria capable of threatening Israel and Europe. The new signs of an energized but fragmented jihadist threat, stretching from Mali and Libya in the west to Yemen in the east, have complicated the narrative of a weakened Al Qaeda that President Obama offered in May in a landmark speech heralding the end of the war on terrorism. The leaders of the Senate and House intelligence committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, raised warnings in an interview on CNN on Sunday when they said that Americans were “not safer” from terrorist attacks than in 2011. The concerns are based in part on messages relayed this year […]

Iran Nuclear Deal Raises Fears of Proliferation Among Arab States

The Obama administration is hailing the accord with Iran as a victory in its campaign to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, but the deal is already feeding concerns of Arab governments and some proliferation experts that it could have the opposite effect. They worry it could instead fuel the spread of dangerous technologies across the Middle East and Asia. At issue is the agreement’s acceptance of Iran’s demand that at the end of a broader diplomatic process, the country will likely retain some ability to permanently produce nuclear fuel through the enrichment of uranium. Uranium enriched to low levels can be used for peaceful purposes such as energy production. But at higher levels, it can be used to make the fissile core of a nuclear weapon. The deal represents a particular risk of proliferation in the Middle East, where many governments view Iran as a rival, if not […]

Implications of nuclear agreement with Iran

This afternoon, one of my correspondents asked me the following question: What’s your put on the new Iranian agreement, can the weapon program be capped and verification assured? Here was my response: I am happy that there is an interim agreement. It indicates that some people are starting to recognize that Iran is probably telling the truth when it says that it wants to maintain the capability to enrich uranium to provide an independent capability to provide fuel for a growing domestic nuclear energy program. It will be a great benefit to all of us if tensions ease and Iran regains its ability to engage in international business, especially exporting oil and gas. By my calculations, the world has been paying an Iranian sanctions premium of at least $15 per barrel of oil for at least the past six months and perhaps even the past year. That has resulted […]

White House Launches Push to Sell Its Iran Nuclear Deal

The Obama administration is mounting an aggressive campaign to head off new congressional sanctions against Iran, arguing they would jeopardize the high-stakes deal sealed this past weekend to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. After arguing for weeks that sanctions would hurt the prospects of reaching a deal, senior administration officials are now asking lawmakers to hold off for another six months while negotiators try to achieve a long-term accord. The administration is taking steps to burnish the agreement, casting it as the alternative to Mideast conflict. And enforcement officials, seeking to counter arguments that the interim deal signed Sunday in Geneva would erode punitive economic sanctions, publicly warned any business, bank or broker against trying to do prohibited business with Iran. Meanwhile, doubts over the Iran deal emerged in oil markets, which bucked expectations that it would lead to cheaper crude. Traders initially pushed oil prices lower Monday, but later […]

Barack Obama faces tough test in fending off new Iran sanctions

US President Barack Obama makes a statement from the State Dining Room of the White House November 23, 2013 in Washington after an agreement to freeze Iran’s nuclear program was reached in Geneva US President Barack Obama will face a decisive test of his influence over Senate Democrats in December when he tries to fend off sanctions legislation that he believes could scupper nuclear negotiations with Iran. Senior members of both parties have called for new sanctions after rushing to criticise the historic interim agreement that was reached with Iran at the weekend, however some of the proposals might not clash with the next round of nuclear talks. At a time when his credibility has been badly damaged by the healthcare debacle , the president will need to secure the support of Democratic leaders in the Senate, especially majority leader Harry Reid, if he is […]

U.S. and Saudis in Growing Rift as Power Shifts

There was a time when Saudi and American interests in the Middle East seemed so aligned that the cigar-smoking former Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was viewed as one of the most influential diplomats in Washington. Those days are over. The Saudi king and his envoys — like the Israelis — have spent weeks lobbying fruitlessly against the interim nuclear accord with Iran that was reached in Geneva on Sunday. In the end, there was little they could do: The Obama administration saw the nuclear talks in a fundamentally different light from the Saudis, who fear that any letup in the sanctions will come at the cost of a wider and more dangerous Iranian role in the Middle East. Although the Saudis remain close American allies, the nuclear accord is the culmination of a slow mutual disenchantment that began at the end of the Cold War. […]

Iran will start implementing nuclear agreement in weeks: Zarif

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday his country would begin implementing a nuclear agreement struck with world powers in the next few weeks, as hundreds of supporters welcomed him and his negotiating team home. Crowds gathered at Mehrabad airport on Sunday evening local time, hailing Zarif as a hero and holding flags and flowers. “No war, no sanctions, no insults and no submission,” they chanted. Some held aloft posters of President Hassan Rouhani, the architect of Iran’s initiative in striking a nuclear deal. “In the coming weeks – by the end of the Christian year – we will begin the programme for the first phase,” Zarif said in a live interview at the airport. “At the same time, we are prepared to begin negotiations for a final resolution as of tomorrow.” Earlier on Sunday, the team was acclaimed by Iran’s most powerful man, […]

Special Report: ‘Great Satan’ meets ‘Axis of Evil’ and strikes a deal

GENEVA (Reuters) – Saturday night had turned into Sunday morning and four days of talks over Iran’s nuclear program had already gone so far over schedule that the Geneva Intercontinental Hotel had been given over to another event. A black tie charity ball was finishing up and singers with an after party band at a bar above the lobby were crooning out the words to a Johnny Cash song – “I fell into a burning ring of fire” – while weary diplomats in nearby conference rooms were trying to polish off the last touches of an accord. Negotiators emerged complaining that the hotel lobby smelled like beer. At around 2:00 a.m., U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and counterparts from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia were brought to a conference room to approve a final text of the agreement which would provide limited relief of sanctions on Iran […]

Iran Pact Faces Stiff Opposition

LONDON—A groundbreaking deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program faces towering obstacles at home and abroad to becoming a permanent agreement, starting with the U.S. Congress and two of America’s closest allies. The leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties are threatening to break with President Barack Obama ‘s policy and enact new punitive sanctions on Iran, arguing that the interim deal reached in Geneva on Sunday yields too much to the Islamist regime while asking too little. “The disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), an influential member of the Senate Democratic leadership. Such a move could kill the nascent nuclear accord, U.S. and Iranian officials agree, and add to more recent political embarrassments for the White House. Reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran also […]

Longer-Term Deal With Iran Faces Major Challenges

LONDON — The Obama administration’s successful push for an accord that would temporarily freeze much of Iran’s nuclear program has cast a spotlight on the more formidable challenge it now confronts in trying to roll the program back. For all of the drama of late-night make-or-break talks in Geneva, the deal that Secretary of State John Kerry and his negotiating partners announced early on Sunday was largely a holding action, meant to keep the Iranian nuclear program in check for six months while negotiators pursue a far tougher and more lasting agreement. By itself, the interim pact does not foreclose either side’s main options or require many irreversible actions — which was why the two sides were able to come to terms on it. That was also a reason for the sharp negative reaction the deal elicited on Sunday from Israel, an American ally that is deeply suspicious of […]

Sunnis close Iraqi capital mosques in protest

 Iraqi Sunni religious leaders said Saturday they closed the sect’s mosques in Baghdad indefinitely to protest attacks targeting clerics and worshippers, highlighting the country’s deepening sectarian rift. The closures came as violence across the country killed 12 people Saturday. Sheik Mustafa al-Bayati, a member of a council of senior Sunni scholars that issue religious edicts, said the decision taken Thursday came into effect Saturday. He said mosques would reopen Sunday. Many mosques appeared to comply. In Baghdad’s Sunni northern district of Azamiya, a banner at the closed gate of the hallowed Abu Hanifa mosque read: “The mosque is closed until further notice because of the targeting of imams, preachers and worshippers.” The mosque closures were “prompted by the systematic targeting of and injustice against Sunni clerics, mosques and worshippers,” al-Bayati told The Associated Press. “Today, it is not forbidden […]

Compromise Seen on Tehran’s Right to Enrich; Kerry, Other Foreign Ministers Fly to Geneva Talks to Try to Conclude Pact

GENEVA—Iran and world powers neared a crucial compromise Friday on a late roadblock to a deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, according to Western and Iranian diplomats taking part in the negotiations. A compromise on that issue—Iran’s demand that it be explicitly allowed to keep some domestic uranium enrichment capacity—could lend momentum to the push for an agreement and at least a temporary reprieve from a decadelong standoff over Tehran’s program and elevated fears of war over it, according to these officials. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrived in Geneva Saturday morning to join the Iranian nuclear talks, saying he wanted to see a “solid” deal reached. Mr. Fabius played a key role in the last round of Iranian negotiations two weeks ago, saying publicly the draft agreement under discussion was not tough enough on several key points. Iranian officials have since blamed France for scuppering a deal. Speaking […]

Foreign ministers in Geneva for talks on Iran nuclear deal

World powers and Iran held a fresh round of talks on the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme, a month after launching ice-breaking negotiations that may yield a historic deal on easing sanctions against Tehran in exchange for concessions ©Getty EU foreign policy chief Lady Ashton and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrive for talks in Geneva on Wednesday John Kerry, US secretary of state, has held talks with Lady Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief and the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius after flying to Geneva for the second time in two weeks for what is hoped will be a last diplomatic push to reach an interim agreement on curbing Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of international sanctions. A State Department […]

Iran Would Eliminate Stock of Some of Its Enriched Uranium Under Deal

WASHINGTON — Under the proposed six-month deal that six major powers are negotiating with Iran in Geneva, Iran would eliminate its current stock of uranium enriched to 20 percent by diluting it or turning it into fuel rods or oxide powder, forms that are unusable for weapons, senior Western officials said Friday. Iran would be allowed to continue to enrich uranium at much lower levels, to 3.5 percent, the officials said, but would also agree to cap its current stockpile of such uranium, by eliminating, diluting or transforming into fuel as much 3.5 percent uranium as it produces over the six months. The officials spoke about the deal on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations had not been completed. The rationale for such a deal, the officials said, is to satisfy Iran’s refusal to suspend all enrichment — a concession that its negotiators could not sell domestically, even […]

Iran Talks ‘Substantial,’ but Yield No Accord

GENEVA — The foreign policy chief of the European Union spent much of Thursday in detailed negotiations with Iranian officials over an agreement to temporarily freeze Tehran’s nuclear program. But the day ended without reports of a breakthrough and with a warning by a leading American lawmaker that he was prepared to introduce legislation next month that would impose new economic sanctions on Iran. The talks on Thursday between Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, and Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, were described by a spokesman for Ms. Ashton as “intense” and “substantial.” Their negotiations were to continue Friday morning. Reports in the Iranian news media suggested that the talks might continue into the weekend and could end with the arrival of Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of other world powers if a deal appeared close. But whether the remaining issues […]

Iran Deal Falters as Negotiators Cite Little Progress

Negotiators weren’t able to reach agreement on a first-step accord to resolve a decade-old dispute over Iran’s nuclear program , reducing the likelihood that foreign ministers will arrive to strike a deal after two days of negotiations in Geneva. Talks between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton , the European Union foreign policy chief representing world powers at the talks, broke up late yesterday after more than six hours of intense consultations, the EU said in a statement. The sides will reconvene today. “We have made no progress” toward resolving certain disagreements in the text, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told reporters in Geneva. He said foreign ministers won’t come unless there’s “success in negotiations.” EU spokesman Michael Mann cast the talks in a more positive light, calling them “intense, substantial and detailed” […]

World powers, Iran make new attempt to clinch nuclear deal

World powers aim to clinch a preliminary deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in politically charged talks resuming in Geneva on Wednesday to end a long standoff and head off the risk of a wider Middle East war. The United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany came tantalizingly close to winning concessions from Iran on the scope of its nuclear work in return for some sanctions relief at negotiations in the Swiss city on November 7-9. Top policymakers from the sextet have since said that an interim accord on confidence-building steps to start defusing a decade of suspicion and hostility between the West and Iran could finally be within reach. But diplomats caution that differences remain and could still prevent an agreement during the talks Wednesday through Friday. “There is a good chance. There is a hope the Iranians realize it’s a good deal and […]

France, Iran trade barbs, tempering hopes of nuclear deal

France and Iran traded tough words on Thursday before major powers began to negotiate the details of a preliminary accord to curb Tehran’s nuclear program with Paris warning the West had to remain firm and Tehran deploring a loss of trust. Each side appeared to be tempering anticipation of an imminent agreement after the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany came close to winning concessions from Tehran in the last round of negotiations two weeks ago. Policymakers from the six governments have said an interim accord on confidence-building steps could be within reach to defuse a decade-old stand-off and dispel the specter of a wider Middle East war over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions. But before negotiations began in earnest on Thursday, France and Iran stepped up the rhetoric. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who spoke out against a draft deal floated at the […]

Iran Talks Enter Critical Phase as France Signals Unity

Diplomats seeking to reach an interim accord to ease a decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program began a critical phase of talks today, an Iranian negotiator said. Iran ’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Geneva, according to an EU statement. U.S. and Iranian negotiators were also set to have direct talks this morning, according to the U.S. delegation. “All will depend on the Ashton talks with Zarif,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told reporters in the Swiss city. The six world powers Iran is negotiating with need a common stance at this “critical juncture,” he said. Envoys are trying to strike a first-step accord that would give negotiators a six-month window in which to win a broader agreement over Iran’s nuclear work. Israel and the U.S. have said they’re prepared to strike Iran, which controls the world’s No. […]

Iran’s Comments on Israel Deemed ‘Unacceptable’ as Talks Open

Iran’s leader launched an anti-Western broadside as global powers resumed negotiations on curbing Tehran’s nuclear program, injecting fresh uncertainty into a diplomatic process viewed as crucial to Middle East stability. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s verbal attacks on Israel, the U.S. and its allies during a speech in Tehran Wednesday—he referred to the Jewish state as a “dirty rabid dog”—also tested the unity of the six international powers holding talks with Iran in Geneva this week. The French government quickly challenged Mr. Khamenei, calling his speech “unacceptable,” while the Obama administration offered a much milder response. This divergence mirrored the differing tactics Paris and Washington displayed two weeks ago during negotiations in the Swiss lakeside city. Then, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius publicly broke from the U.S. and other international powers and called the terms of the agreement being pursued with Tehran a “fool’s game.” French officials said Wednesday […]

Young Palestinian Refugees Join Jihadists Fighting in Syria

21 Nov 2013   Instability, Syria

Inside Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, disaffected and unemployed youth are increasingly joining radical Islamist groups fighting in Syria, saying it gives their lives a sense of purpose. The growing hold of the jihadists is evident on the street at the camp’s entrance, lined with flags of al Qaeda-linked groups that operate in Lebanon or Syria. Homes on Tawareq Street are pockmarked by bullets and rocket-propelled grenades—scars of recent fighting between Islamist militants and the Lebanese army. The camp’s ties to jihadist groups fighting in Syria came into sharp relief on Tuesday. The head of the group that claimed responsibility for the bombing that killed 25 people outside Iran’s Embassy in Beirut lived in the camp for a time and the brigade operated openly there. The group linked the bombing to the conflict in Syria. The youth of Ain el-Hilweh, Lebanon’s most radicalized camp, have largely […]

Hezbollah calls for calm after Iranian embassy bombing

21 Nov 2013   Instability, Lebanon

A Hezbollah leader appealed for calm on Wednesday and an easing of sectarian tensions in Lebanon, a day after twin suicide bombings struck the Iranian embassy in Beirut. “The solution to this confrontation begins politically,” the Shi’ite Muslim group’s deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Qassem, said on Lebanese radio, calling for unity. “Then there are security and military steps by the (Lebanese) authorities … in addition to attempts to calm the arena and reduce the transmission of sectarian poisons.” He did not specify what security and military steps were needed. The remarks by Qassem, the most senior Hezbollah official to speak publicly about Tuesday’s bombings, suggested a restrained response from Hezbollah, which is funded by Iran and has sent fighters to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah’s military role in Syria has helped to inflame sectarian tension there and in Lebanon. Many Lebanese Sunnis back the […]

World powers, Iran make new attempt to clinch nuclear deal

GENEVA (Reuters) – World powers aim to clinch a preliminary deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in politically charged talks resuming in Geneva on Wednesday to end a long standoff and head off the risk of a wider Middle East war. The United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany came tantalizingly close to winning concessions from Iran on the scope of its nuclear work in return for some sanctions relief at negotiations in the Swiss city on November 7-9. Top policymakers from the sextet have since said that an interim accord on confidence-building steps to start defusing a decade of suspicion and hostility between the West and Iran could finally be within reach. But diplomats caution that differences remain and could still prevent an agreement during the talks Wednesday through Friday. “There is a good chance. There is a hope the Iranians realize it’s a good deal and […]

A look at Iran nuclear sites from mine to reactor

Nuclear talks resume Wednesday between Iran and world powers after the last round stalled over issues that include Iran’s planned heavy water reactor and the levels of uranium enrichment. Iran later agreed to provide U.N. nuclear inspectors with greater information and access, but it’s uncertain whether the concessions will be enough to push envoys in Geneva closer to a deal. Iran seeks a rollback in U.S.-led economic sanctions, while the West is pressing it to curb its uranium enrichment – the process to make nuclear fuel. In the past decade, Iran’s nuclear program has advanced on many fronts and more facilities are planned. —ARAK HEAVY WATER REACTOR: Such reactors can run on non-enriched uranium as fuel and uses a molecular variant of water as a coolant. Heavy water reactors also produce more plutonium byproducts than conventional reactors. Plutonium can be used in […]

Iran says sees good chance of success at Geneva nuclear talks

DUBAI/ROME (Reuters) – The protracted dispute over Iran’s nuclear program can now be resolved and world powers should seize a “historic opportunity” to clinch a deal, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in remarks released on Tuesday. Iran is to meet with the six powers on Wednesday in Geneva for a third round of negotiations in a month, nearly two weeks after the sides neared an initial accord that would curb Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for limited relief from sanctions. In Washington, President Barack Obama attempted to build support for a prospective Iran deal with skeptical members of the U.S. Senate, some of whom have been considering adding new sanctions on Tehran in a move that the White House argues would harm diplomatic efforts. In another sign of a thaw between the West and Iran, David Cameron telephoned Hassan Rouhani, marking the first time a British prime […]

Wave of attacks in Iraqi capital kills at least 24

20 Nov 2013   Instability, Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) — A wave of attacks, mostly by car bombs, hit mainly Shiite and commercial areas of Baghdad on Wednesday morning, killing at least 24 people and wounding 87, Iraqi officials said. The bombings were part of a surge in violence that has rocked Iraq over the past months as insurgents seek to thwart the Shiite-led government’s efforts to stabilize the country. Five of Wednesday’s attacks were carried out by parked car bombs while at least one was carried out by a remotely detonated bomb, police officials said. The deadliest attack was in the central Sadria neighborhood, where a parked car bomb went off at an outdoor market, killing five shoppers and wounding 15, they said. Other attacks took place in Hurriyah, Shaab, Tobchi, Karrada, Azamiyah and Amil neighborhoods. Medical officials confirmed the causality figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to […]

Beirut Bombs Strike at Iran as Assad’s Ally

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A double bombing struck the Iranian Embassy compound in Beirut on Tuesday, in the deadliest assault on Iran’s interests since it emerged as the most forceful backer of the Syrian government against an armed insurgency. The frontal attack struck a symbol of the country’s powerful influence in Lebanon and neighboring Syria. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an offshoot of Al Qaeda that operates in Lebanon, claimed responsibility for the bombings, which killed at least 23 people, including an Iranian diplomat. Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organization, pointed fingers at Israel and Saudi Arabia, and officials said it was unclear who had carried out the attack. Regardless, it was quickly seen as retaliation against Iran and Hezbollah, Iran’s ally, for supporting the Syrian government. The double bombing highlighted the risks and costs that Iran faces over Syria, which some analysts have called Iran’s Vietnam. Others say […]

Syrian troops capture key town near Lebanon border

Syrian government troops captured a key town near the Lebanese border from rebels on Tuesday, days after launching a broad offensive in the mountainous western region, state media, activists and the army said. The attack on Qara began Friday morning in what appeared to be an operation aimed at cutting off rebel supply lines to Lebanon. The Qara route is particularly important to rebels entrenched in suburbs around Damascus, and also lies on the main north-south highway linking the capital to government strongholds along the Mediterranean coast. State TV reported troops were “in full control,” while the army said in a statement it had captured the town Tuesday morning and that “large numbers of terrorists who took positions in the city were wiped out.” The Syrian government refers to all armed opposition fighters as terrorists. “This achievement aims to strengthen control of supply […]

Car bomb attack kills 10 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai

20 Nov 2013   Egypt, Instability

Ten Egyptian soldiers were killed and 35 wounded in a car bomb attack near the North Sinai city of El-Arish on Wednesday, a security official said. The attack was one of the deadliest in the Sinai Peninsula, which is near Israel and the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip, since al Qaeda-inspired militants began stepping up assaults following the army’s ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July. The soldiers were traveling in a convoy on the road to the Rafah border crossing with Gaza. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. A Sinai-based militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, said it assassinated a high-ranking security officer in Cairo on Sunday, according to a statement posted on a militant Islamist website. That group has also said it was behind a failed suicide attack on Egypt’s interior minister in September. In a separate incident on Wednesday, three people were wounded […]

Iran president warns against “excessive demands” at nuclear talks

TEHRAN, Nov. 18 (Xinhua) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned on Monday against what he called “excessive demands” by some powers at nuclear talks, saying that it will be detrimental to the negotiations, Press TV reported. “At the recent Geneva talks, good progress was made, but everyone must realize that excessive demands could complicate the process towards a win-win agreement,” Rouhani said in a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. “From our point of view, there should not be a situation in which the will of parties to reach mutually acceptable agreement is affected,” Rouhani was quoted as saying. The Iranian president did not expand on the “excessive demands, ” but western media reported on Monday that French President Francois Hollande has put forward some major demands to Iran ahead of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 — the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France […]

Russia invites Syrian opposition to Moscow for talks: FM

19 Nov 2013   Instability, Russia, Syria

MOSCOW, Nov. 18 (Xinhua) — Russia has invited Syrian opposition groups to travel to Moscow for talks aimed at bridging their differences on the planned Geneva peace conference, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday. Leaders of the Istanbul-based Syrian National Coalition (SNC) ” did not refuse to come to Moscow, and they are studying our proposal,” Lavrov told a news briefing. He confirmed that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov held talks with the SNC leaders in Istanbul last week. Russia’s mediation is to help the Syrian opposition to form a single delegation to the talks, which the United States and Russia are trying to convene in Geneva by the end of the year, Lavrov said. The proposed meeting is to “consolidate positive trends,” which included negotiations which have begun between the SNC, one of Kurdish groups and the so-called “internal opposition,” about finding common approaches to the peace […]

Iraq executes 12 ‘terror’ convicts, says judicial official

19 Nov 2013   Instability, Iraq

BAGHDAD, Nov 18 — Iraqi authorities have executed 12 men convicted of crimes related to “terrorism”, a senior judicial official said today, amid widespread international condemnation against Baghdad’s use of the death penalty. “Yesterday (Sunday), we executed 12 convicts,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity. “All of them were Iraqi men accused of terrorism.” The latest executions bring the number of people who have been put to death in Iraq this year to at least 144, compared to 129 executions in all of 2012, according to an AFP tally based on reports from the justice ministry and officials. Among them were 42 convicts […]

Lebanon blasts near Iran’s embassy in Beirut

19 Nov 2013   Instability, Iran, Lebanon

 Seven people have been reported killed as explosions struck near the Iranian embassy in the Lebanese capital Beirut. Conflicting reports say the blasts could have come from rockets or a car bomb. Several buildings were damaged, eyewitnesses said. Iran is a major backer of the Lebanaese Shia militant group Hezbollah, which has sent fighters to Syria to back the government of Bashar al-Assad. The conflict in Syria has worsened sectarian tensions in Lebanon. The area around the Iranian embassy, in south Beirut, is considered a Hezbollah stronghold. On 15 August, 16 people were killed in a blast in south Beirut. Hezbollah fighters were instrumental in a strategic victory by Syrian government forces in Qusair, close to the border with Lebanon, in early June.

Strains With Israel Over Iran Snarl U.S. Goals in Mideast

WASHINGTON—The Obama administration’s overtures to Iran are straining the U.S. alliance with Israel in ways not seen in decades, compounding concerns about the White House’s ability to manage the Middle East’s proliferating security crises, said current and former American diplomats. In a sign of Israel’s growing disaffection with Washington, French President François Hollande was given a hero’s welcome when he arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday for a three-day visit that would showcase Paris’s hard line against Iran’s nuclear program ahead of international talks in Geneva this week. Mr. Netanyahu reiterated his criticism that the U.S.-backed compromise was a “very bad deal” while hailing Mr. Hollande for his opposition to the agreement at a joint news conference Sunday evening in Jerusalem. “Your support and your friendship is real. It’s sincere. You were one out of six,” he said, referring to the six world powers participating in talks with Iran. […]

Israel steps up rhetoric ahead of Iran talks

President Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcome French President Francois Hollande at Ben Gurion Israel escalated its rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear programme at the weekend, with a senior official warning it was prepared to launch a unilateral military strike against Iran. Although Israel has talked many times about its willingness to take military action on its own, this warning comes ahead of diplomatic talks with Iran on Wednesday that US officials say are “close” to success. At the same time, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, took to the American airwaves again on Sunday to blast the Obama administration over the prospect of a deal with Iran and to lobby public opinion against any agreement. François Hollande, French […]

Sectarian fury could threaten Iraq’s push for record oil output

18 Nov 2013   Instability, Iraq

BASRA, Iraq, Nov. 17 (UPI) — The Iraqi government is seeking to restore calm in the southern province of Basra, the country’s main oil production center, after hundreds of foreign oilmen were hastily evacuated amid violent protests by Iraqi oil workers. The evacuation, after rioters wrecked a camp used by Houston-based Schlumberger Inc., the world’s largest oilfield services company, came amid a worsening surge of sectarian warfare across Iraq that threatens to undermine a drive by the government to boost oil production to record levels and challenge Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil power. Until recently, the bloodletting, largely the work of Sunni extremists of al-Qaida against Iraq’s Shiite majority, had not seriously threatened the Basra oil fields, which produce around two-thirds of Iraq’s output. But in the last few weeks the Shiites around Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, have become targets, and any major escalation could impact […]

Compromise May Be Near for Iran Nuclear Deal, U.S. Official Says

WASHINGTON — A senior Obama administration official said on Friday that a solution could be found for one of the major stumbling blocks to an agreement that would freeze Iran’s nuclear program, and that the accord might be achieved next week. “For the first time in nearly a decade,” the official said, “we are getting close to a first step that would stop the Iranian nuclear program from advancing and roll it back in key areas.” Talks between six world powers and Iran are scheduled to resume in Geneva next week. Western diplomats hope to complete an accord then that would halt Iran’s nuclear efforts for six months while negotiators pursue a more comprehensive agreement that would ensure that Tehran’s program is solely for civilian purposes. Iran insists that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, but many experts believe it is intended to provide the country with the capability […]

U.S. Moves to Clear Obstacles to Iran Nuclear Deal

WASHINGTON—Obama administration officials said they have taken a series of steps in recent days to overcome the sticking points that tripped up an international agreement over Iran’s nuclear program and are set for new talks in the coming week. Senior U.S. officials said that after the failure of world powers to reach an accord in negotiations with Tehran earlier this month, despite high levels of confidence then, most of the problems are being addressed. These officials cited deliberations that have taken place over key issues: Iran’s demand for the right to produce its own nuclear fuel domestically; the purity levels for Iranian enrichment and the control of its stockpiles; and the future of a heavy-water reactor that could be capable of producing weapons-usable plutonium within two years. “We’re very close to a deal,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy Friday. “We have a much clearer sense […]

‘Quite possible’ Iran, powers can reach nuclear deal next week: U.S. official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Major powers and Iran are getting closer to an initial agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, a senior U.S. official said on Friday, adding it is “quite possible” a deal could be reached when negotiators meet November 20-22 in Geneva. “For the first time in nearly a decade we are getting close to a first-step … that would stop the Iranian nuclear program from advancing and roll it back in key areas,” the official told reporters. “I don’t know if we will reach an agreement. I think it is quite possible that we can, but there are still tough issues to negotiate,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif were to meet on November 20 in Geneva. They will be joined later the same day by a wider group known […]

Violence in Libya leaves 27 dead

16 Nov 2013   Instability, Libya

Libyan militiamen opened fire on a crowd in southern Tripoli Militiamen opened fire on largely peaceful protesters in the Libyan capital on Friday, killing 27 people and leaving 235 injured in the latest outbreak of violence by armed groups claiming to have fought against Muammer Gaddafi’s deposed regime. Footage aired on television showed panicked men dragging others drenched in blood and running through streets as heavy gunfire raged. Gunfire could be heard throughout the city into the late evening, according to a witness. Several hospitals reported being overwhelmed with injured and called out for blood donations. State television reported that army units and military police have been ordered to take positions between the protesters and the militia, a unit from Misurata that […]

Libya Protest Turns Deadly as Militias Open Fire

16 Nov 2013   Instability, Libya

CAIRO — Dozens of people were killed in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on Friday after militiamen opened fire on unarmed protesters, setting off some of the worst violence in the capital since the revolt against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi almost three years ago. The bloodshed at the protest on Friday afternoon quickly devolved into clashes involving armed citizens and rival militias, witnesses said. At hospitals, bodies arrived mangled by heavy-weapons fire. Air force jets flew sorties over the city, as pickup trucks carrying reinforcements of fighters raced to the clashes. The protest that led to the violence was part of a rising tide of citizen anger against Libya’s multitude of militias, made up of thousands of men who fought Colonel Qaddafi’s forces and never laid down their arms. The militias have fed Libya’s chronic insecurity, fighting among themselves while exerting control over vital installations and even resources like oil. Fighters […]

Obama Calls for Patience in Iran Talks

WASHINGTON — President Obama made a vigorous appeal to Congress on Thursday to give breathing space to his efforts to forge a nuclear deal with Iran, and the prospects for an interim agreement may have improved with the release of a report by international inspectors who said that for the first time in years, they saw evidence that the Iranians have put the brakes on their nuclear expansion. The inspectors, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that very few new advanced centrifuges had been installed since President Hassan Rouhani of Iran took office in June, promising a new start with the West, and that little significant progress has been made on the construction of a new nuclear reactor, which became a point of contention in negotiations in Geneva last week. The slowdown, according to diplomats familiar with the Iranian work, was clearly political, not driven by technical problems. […]

Iran FM hopeful on next round of nuclear talks

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s foreign minister says he is hopeful ahead of next week’s negotiations with world powers and reiterated Tehran’s demand for recognition of what it calls its “nuclear rights.” Talks between world powers and Iran are set to resume on Wednesday in Geneva after failing to strike an accord last weekend. Both Iran and the United States have blamed each other for the failure to reach agreement to limit Tehran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for an easing of Western sanctions. Mohammad Javad Zarif says in comments carried by the semi-official Fars news agency on Friday that there is no chance for the upcoming round of talks to succeed if the West ignores Iran’s demand for formal recognition of its right to enrich uranium. Iran denies it’s pursuing a nuclear weapon. © 2013 The Associated Press . All rights reserved. This material may not be […]

New Chinese Panel Said to Oversee Domestic Security and Foreign Policy

BEIJING — China’s new national security committee is mainly based on the Washington model. It will put at the disposal of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, a highly empowered group of security experts who can work the levers of the country’s vast security apparatus — and presumably respond more nimbly than the country’s multilayered party, police and military bureaucracies have been known to do. But the Chinese body, which was announced at the conclusion of a party meeting this week, will apparently differ from the American National Security Council in one crucial aspect: The Chinese version will have dual duties with responsibility over domestic security as well as foreign policy, Chinese experts say. That means the new body will deal with cybersecurity as well as the unrest in China’s Tibet and Xinjiang regions, where resistance against the Han majority population is continuing, according to Shi Yinhong, a professor of […]

Insight: Russia fears return of fighters waging jihad in Syria

NOVOSASITLI, Russia (Reuters) – A scrawny 15-year-old this summer became the first from his deeply religious Muslim village in Russia’s southern Dagestan province to die fighting alongside rebels in Syria. Some regard him as a martyr for joining the rebels in the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who is supported by Russia. Moscow now fears that hundreds of Russian-born militants it says are fighting in Syria will return experienced in warfare to join an insurgency in Dagestan and its other North Caucasus provinces by militants fighting for an Islamic state. Violence in the region claims lives almost daily. Fifteen men from Novosasitli alone have died in shootouts with Russian forces in the last four years, locals say. Analysts say fighters could also try to strike during the 2014 Winter Olympics in February in nearby Sochi. President Vladimir Putin, who has staked his reputation on the Games, has said […]

Iran foreign minister blames West for nuclear talks breakdown

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hit back at U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry late on Tuesday and blamed divisions between Western powers for the failure of talks over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program in Geneva last week. Responding to remarks by Kerry in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Zarif said that blaming Iran only served to undermine confidence in the negotiations which are set for another round on November 20. The United States, the European Union and Iran worked intensively together for months on a proposal to help end the 10-year stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program, diplomats said, but talks in Geneva between Tehran and six world powers to agree the deal ended on Saturday without agreement. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris could not accept a “fool’s game” – in other words, a weak deal with Iran. Diplomats from other Western nations at first […]

Iran’s Full Return to Oil Market Remains Perilous, Barclays Says

The breakdown of negotiations between the U.S. and world powers highlights how difficult it will be for Iran to make a full return as an oil exporter in the near future, according to Barclays Plc. The six-nation negotiating group in Geneva didn’t agree during Nov. 9 talks with Iran on alterations to its nuclear program that would allow financial sanctions to be eased. Even had the talks been more successful, the U.S. Congress has little appetite to lift measures banning imports of Iranian crude and is considered proposals to tighten sanctions further, Miswin Mahesh, a London-based commodities analyst at Barclays, said today in an e-mailed report. “Given the constellation of forces that could stymie a grand bargain, we contend that the path to Iran’s full return to the oil market remains quite perilous,” Mahesh said. The failure of the talks prompted December Brent crude futures to climb 1.2 percent […]

Iran Talks Face Resistance in U.S. Congress

WASHINGTON — After having come tantalizingly close over the weekend to an agreement to freeze Iran’s nuclear program , the Obama administration is gingerly weighing a threat to the talks potentially more troublesome than the opaque leadership in Tehran: Congress. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet behind closed doors on Wednesday afternoon with members of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee to try to head off a new round of stiff sanctions on Iran that administration officials fear could derail the talks in Geneva. In addition, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; Mr. Kerry; Wendy R. Sherman, the administration’s chief negotiator; and David S. Cohen, under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, are scheduled to brief Senate Democratic leaders that day in a full-court press to win backing of the diplomatic initiative. But the administration is running headlong into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu […]

Iran is negotiating with the wrong US officials

To understand the dynamics involved in U.S. policy on Iran, it is important to mark the difference between direct and indirect economic sanctions. Direct sanctions bar specific individuals and companies from conducting international trade, using the global banking system or traveling abroad and in some cases result in asset freezes. Most direct sanctions are established and enforced by executive order, and the president has some leeway in easing these sanctions. However, they are not the sanctions that are allegedly crippling Iran’s economy. Indirect sanctions, on the other hand, are based in U.S. law and cannot easily be offered up as bargaining chips in the current negotiations. These sanctions are sometimes called business-choice sanctions or extraterritorial sanctions. They are meant to affect Iran’s overall economy rather than punish or stop illicit proliferation activities, which is the focus of direct sanctions. Indirect sanctions work by offering firms a choice […]

Iran Says It Has Agreed to ‘Road Map’ With U.N. Agency on Nuclear Inspections

PARIS — The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Monday that Iran had agreed to resolve all outstanding issues with the agency and would allow international inspectors “managed access” to two important nuclear facilities that have not been regularly viewed. But the promise of wider scrutiny did not extend to one of the most contentious locations: the Parchin military site southwest of Tehran. Inspectors from the agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, have been trying for months to see selected areas of that site, where they suspect that Iran at one time tested triggering devices for nuclear weapons. “This is an important step forward to start with, but much more needs to be done,” Yukiya Amano, the director general of the agency, told reporters in Tehran. The agreement came on the heels of talks between Iran and six world powers over Iran’s nuclear program. Those talks ended without an […]