West and Iran approach interim nuclear deal in Geneva

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers from Britain, France, and Germany are traveling to Geneva on Friday for talks aimed at achieving a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Their impromptu visits have raised expectations that the P5+1 powers and Iran are close to brokering an interim, phased nuclear deal ...

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers from Britain, France, and Germany are traveling to Geneva on Friday for talks aimed at achieving a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Their impromptu visits have raised expectations that the P5+1 powers and Iran are close to brokering an interim, phased nuclear deal that would freeze Iran's nuclear program and remove Western-backed sanctions. On Friday morning, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton convened a meeting with delegates from the P5+1 countries and Iran to discuss positions prior to drafting an agreement. The deal would likely take place in stages, where the first phase would freeze any advances in Iran's nuclear program and offer Iran limited sanctions relief in return. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed confidence that both sides could issue a joint statement Friday announcing an "end goal" to be reached "hopefully in less than a year" with confidence-building measures that would address immediate concerns. However, both Iran and the United States would face potential sources of opposition at home. Hardline elements within the Iranian regime may scorn an agreement with the West, while some members of the U.S. Congress have called for the expansion of sanctions against Iran, even during negotiations. Additionally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced grave concern regarding the proposed agreement: "This is a very bad deal and Israel utterly rejects it. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and defend the security of its people." But U.S. President Barack Obama pushed back against criticism Thursday, saying that the U.S. would offer "very modest relief" from sanctions, which could be reversed if Iran fails to comply with the terms of the agreement.

Syria

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers from Britain, France, and Germany are traveling to Geneva on Friday for talks aimed at achieving a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Their impromptu visits have raised expectations that the P5+1 powers and Iran are close to brokering an interim, phased nuclear deal that would freeze Iran’s nuclear program and remove Western-backed sanctions. On Friday morning, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton convened a meeting with delegates from the P5+1 countries and Iran to discuss positions prior to drafting an agreement. The deal would likely take place in stages, where the first phase would freeze any advances in Iran’s nuclear program and offer Iran limited sanctions relief in return. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed confidence that both sides could issue a joint statement Friday announcing an "end goal" to be reached "hopefully in less than a year" with confidence-building measures that would address immediate concerns. However, both Iran and the United States would face potential sources of opposition at home. Hardline elements within the Iranian regime may scorn an agreement with the West, while some members of the U.S. Congress have called for the expansion of sanctions against Iran, even during negotiations. Additionally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced grave concern regarding the proposed agreement: "This is a very bad deal and Israel utterly rejects it. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and defend the security of its people." But U.S. President Barack Obama pushed back against criticism Thursday, saying that the U.S. would offer "very modest relief" from sanctions, which could be reversed if Iran fails to comply with the terms of the agreement.

Syria

Syrian government forces launched a major military offensive near Aleppo on Friday, recapturing parts of a military stronghold — "Base 80" — seized by rebels in February. The fighting resulted in significant casualties on both sides and exposed some Aleppo neighborhoods to heavy bombardment, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Meanwhile, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition is reportedly considering an invitation for informal talks with Syrian government representatives in Moscow. Though the details are unconfirmed, the meeting would likely discuss the delivery of humanitarian aid and establishment of humanitarian corridors in Syria.

Headlines

  • A series of attacks across Iraq, including a suicide bombing against an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad, killed at least 30 people Thursday.
  • Palestinian officials claim that Israel is responsible for the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
  • Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy announced that Egypt will hold parliamentary elections between February and March, followed by a presidential election in early summer.
  • Jordan is considering pursuing the nonpermanent seat at the UN Security Council rejected by Saudi Arabia as Arab states privately discuss who might replace the Saudis.

Arguments and Analysis

How to stop the fighting, sometimes’ (The Economist)

"When Hussein el-Husseini moved into a modest flat with a sea view in Beirut in 1983, the surrounding streets were littered with the detritus of an eight-year-old civil war. When Mr Husseini became Speaker of the Lebanese parliament the following year, the war still had six years to run. By the time it ended it had claimed 150,000 lives.

Yet the solution, says Mr Husseini, was clear more or less from the beginning. The country’s various religious groups, each with its own militias, had to share power. Lebanon could not be conquered by one side, nor divided among all. Its people are too mixed; Mr Husseini’s prominent Shia Muslim family includes Christians and Sunnis, and that is par for the course. ‘But the militias were against it,’ he says.

Attempts by Mr Husseini and others, notably the tycoon Rafik Hariri, to reach the obvious but fugitive solution took him to the outside powers sponsoring the militias: America, France, Iran, Israel, Syria and Saudi Arabia. He was repeatedly rebuffed until, in 1989, finally despairing of the war, the outsiders agreed to stop paying their proxies. Mr Husseini quickly convened representatives from the various communities and militias in Taif, a resort in Saudi Arabia. After a lot of haggling, they signed an accord that led to peace a year later.

Ending civil wars is hard. Hatreds within countries often run far deeper than between them. The fighting rarely sticks to battlefields, as it can do between states. Civilians are rarely spared. And there are no borders to fall back behind. A war between two states can end much where it began without the adversaries feeling in mortal danger. With nowhere safe to go home to, both sides in a civil war often feel they must carry on fighting if they are to escape slaughter. As those fighting in Syria know, defeat often looks like death, rather than retreat."

Yasser Arafat: from beyond the grave’ (The Guardian)

"The Swiss forensic report, which found that results taken from Yasser Arafat’s body ‘moderately support‘ the proposition that he was poisoned with polonium-210, will surprise few. Speculation about his sudden illness was rife before the Palestinian leader died in a Paris hospital in 2004. Traces of the same poison have already been found on his underwear and a toothbrush handed over by his widow. The evidence is not conclusive, and Mr Arafat did not lose his hair or suffer from bone marrow symptoms, both of which are normally triggered by acute radiation syndrome. Neither do we know the results of French or Russian tests.

All of this happened nine years ago and, as the Palestinian Authorit
y and Israel are already engaged in talks, there is an argument for saying that both sides should look forwards rather than backwards. If polonium poisoning is definitively identified as the cause of his death, it is unlikely that anyone will be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt where the poison came from or who administered it. The finger of suspicion points strongly at the military forces that were holding Mr Arafat prisoner in his own compound and controlling everything that went in and out — including food and water. Last year, senior aides to Ariel Sharon, the prime minister at the time, insisted Israel had nothing to do with it. But for Mr Arafat to have been personally targeted, the poison itself would have had to have been administered from someone inside the besieged compound. If the truth of what happened to Mr Arafat is destined to stay entombed in the murk, why not concentrate on the here and now?"

— Joshua Haber & Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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