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The Cable

FP’s Situation Report: Iran nuke deal isn’t as simple as signatures; Putin reappears; Kerry encourages talks with Syria’s Assad; and much more from around the world.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat Finalizing an Iran nuclear deal will take more than signatures. Talks over the deal resumed Sunday with reports that both sides are close to an accord. But putting an agreement into action isn’t as simple as signing papers, and that puts the agreement at risk. FP’s Colum Lynch and ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

Finalizing an Iran nuclear deal will take more than signatures. Talks over the deal resumed Sunday with reports that both sides are close to an accord. But putting an agreement into action isn’t as simple as signing papers, and that puts the agreement at risk. FP’s Colum Lynch and Jamila Trindle: “A long list of governments and international agencies have helped to impose and shape the sanctions over the years, and they would all need to play a role in unraveling them.”

More on Iran below.

Putin reappears after 11 days. The Russian president hadn’t been seen in more than a week and speculation around the nature of his mysterious disappearance — from rumors of a sneaky coup to gossip around the birth of a girlfriend’s child — was rampant. Reuters: “Russian President Vladimir Putin met Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev on Monday, making his first public appearance since March 5.”

More on Russia below.  

Kerry says the United States needs to talk to Syria. As civil war rages on and the Islamic State wreaks havoc, Secretary of State John Kerry is suggesting that the Obama administration will eventually have to open a dialogue with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stem the violence there. But it’s not clear what form these talks would take. The Associated Press: “Kerry said the U.S. is pushing for Mr. Assad to seriously discuss a transition strategy to quell the Arab country’s four-year civil war.”

More on the Islamic State below.

PRESS PACK: Differences remain as talks to scale back Iran’s nuclear program resume.

The New York Times’ David E. Sanger and Michael R. Gordon: “The United States and Iran are closing in on a historic agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program, but are confronting serious last-minute obstacles, including when United Nations sanctions would be lifted and how inspections would be conducted.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman: “An announcement of a political agreement before an end-of-March deadline could spur expectations that Iran and the six-nation group is on track for a deal—an advance they hope would buy them fresh time to reach a final, detailed nuclear accord by June 30.”

Bloomberg’s Indira Lakshmanan: “Kerry’s message that a deal is far from certain may be aimed both at skeptics who accuse President Barack Obama of being so desperate for a deal that he will concede too much, and at Iran’s negotiators, to underscore that the U.S. is ready to walk away if the terms aren’t good.”

Reuters’s Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi: “Officials close to the talks said this was a major new concession on the part of the United States, which had long insisted that U.N. sanctions would remain in place for years to come after a nuclear deal was signed, while unilateral U.S. and European measures might be lifted more swiftly.”

The Associated Press’s Bradley Klapper and George Jahn: “The awesomeness of the diplomatic task meant negotiators would likely settle for an announcement that they’ve made enough progress to justify further talks.”

The Washington Post’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee on Kerry blasting Republicans on the letter to Iranian leaders: “Kerry’s comments came a day after White House chief of staff Denis McDonough wrote a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) warning Congress not to interfere in the negotiating process.”

The Center for Public Integrity’s Douglas Birch and R. Jeffrey Smith on Iran and South Africa: “Both countries defiantly constructed facilities to enrich uranium in the past, over foreign opposition, and want the rest of the world to agree they have a right to do it in the future. They have long been diplomatic friends and trading partners and have discussed helping one another’s nuclear research.”

Welcome to Monday’s edition of the Situation Report, where we think it’s hard to pick against Kentucky.

Contact me at david.francis@foreignpolicy.com and follow me @davidcfrancis, and spread the word about SitRep — your destination for global security news and Washington whatnot. Like what you see? Tell a friend. Tell your colleagues. Don’t like what you see? Tell me. Or holler with tips, reports, or anything else the world needs to know, and I’ll try to include it.

WHO’S WHERE WHEN TODAY

10:00 a.m. The U.N. Security Council holds meetings on Afghanistan and Liberia. 2:00 p.m. The Atlantic Council hosts an event on “A Nuclear Deal, Iran’s Regional Role, and U.S. Relations with the Gulf.”

Kerry is in Switzerland for negotiations with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

WHAT’S MOVING MARKETS

The New York Times’ Edward Wong and Chris Buckley: “Premier Li Keqiang of China said on Sunday that the government was failing to satisfy public demands to stanch pollution and would impose heavier punishments to cut the toxic smog that was the subject of a popular documentary belatedly banned by censors.”

FP’s David Francis on expert warnings about free money: The European Central Bank “scheme could backfire because it undermines one of the basic principles of a sound economy: Bonds are a safe place to keep your money because they typically provide a modest yet consistent return on investment.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Juliet Chung and Laurence Fletcher: “A bevy of multibillion-dollar funds have gained as much as 9% this year as their managers bet against the euro, riding the European Central Bank’s push to weaken the currency and bolster Europe’s economy.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Robert Wall and Doug Cameron: “China has overtaken Germany as the world’s third-largest arms exporter and cut its own dependence on imports by producing more-sophisticated weapons, according to a new report.”

ISLAMIC STATE: Three British teenagers are nabbed en route to the Islamic State as the scope of devastation in Syria becomes clear.

The Times of London: “Two 17-year-old Muslim schoolboys from the Pakistani community in Brent, northwest London, and a 19-year-old man were intercepted in Istanbul at the weekend and swiftly returned to England.”

The New York Times’ Ben Hubbard: “Government helicopters rained barrel bombs on villages across Syria last week, killing civilians and demolishing homes. Hundreds of combatants died in battles that failed to move the front lines. And activists spread videos of hungry, war-weary Syrians through social media.”

BOKO HARAM: The terror group razes villages after recent setbacks.

AFP: “Boko Haram Islamists have set fire to homes in Nigeria’s northeast town of Bama that are under their control, forcing residents to flee as troops advance to recapture it.”

RUSSIA: Putin puts troops on high alert.

The Wall Street Journal’s Gregory L. White: “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered nearly 40,000 troops in northern and western Russia to be put on full alert early on Monday as part of snap-readiness exercises.”

UKRAINE: In taped remarks Putin says he was ready to send nukes to Crimea last year.

The BBC: “In comments in a documentary aired on state TV on Sunday, Mr. Putin said the life of ex-Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych had been in danger.”

SECRET SERVICE: Problems within the agency have been going on for decades.

FP’s David Francis: “A 2002 story in U.S. News & World Report documented ‘alcohol abuse and misuse of government property to criminal offenses and allegations of extramarital relationships by Secret Service personnel with White House employees.’”

AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN: Washington revises plans to get troops out of Afghanistan as a new Taliban stronghold emerges. The Taliban attacks Christian churches in Pakistan.

The Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati: “Herat, Afghanistan’s western trade center, has a proud history of resistance: In 1979, an anticommunist uprising here helped inspire the guerrilla war against the Soviets. Sunday’s event ostensibly marked its anniversary.”

The Associated Press’s Lolita C. Baldor: “While no final decision on numbers has been made, the officials said the administration is poised to slow withdrawal plans and probably will allow many of the 9,800 American troops to remain well into next year.”

The Washington Post’s Tim Craig: “The Pakistani Taliban took credit for the attacks, reviving concerns that the Islamist militant group will increasingly target religious minorities in a bid to further divide Pakistanis and distract them from ongoing military operations against extremists.”

ISRAEL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s job is in danger.

FP’s Elias Groll: “Netanyahu claimed that foreign money is being funneled to his opponents in a bid to unseat the Likud leader.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Casey and Joshua Mitnick: “In a rare show of vulnerability for a leader who normally projects confidence, Mr. Netanyahu also said Sunday that he could have done a better job listening to Israelis’ complaints about the high cost of living—a leading concern of voters during this year’s campaign.”

The New York Times’ Diaa Hadid on Israeli Arabs as an election force.

Defense News’s Noa Amouyal reports critics are going after Bibi on security issues.

YEMEN: Rebels try to build diplomatic bridges.

Reuters: “Yemen’s Houthi militia leader said on Sunday the group was engaged in indirect talks with neighbor Saudi Arabia.”

NORTH KOREA: North Korea’s economic upswing is often overlooked.

The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield: “While an overwhelming majority of North Koreans live in poverty, the country’s output has been steadily increasing, and an estimate by South Korea’s Hyundai Research Institute forecasts that the North’s economy will grow this year by a whopping 7 percent.”

BRAZIL: The corruption scandal involving Brazil’s state owned oil company Petrobras is getting dangerous for the government.

The AP’s Stan Lehmann and Brad Brooks: “Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians marched peacefully Sunday in over 50 cities around the country to demand President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and to criticize government corruption.”

CUBA: Lots of firsts for Cuba these days: a high-ranking European visitor, free Wi-Fi, and new direct flights from the United States.

The BBC: “European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has announced she will visit Cuba later this month.”

The Atlantic’s Matt Schiavenza: “When the famed artist Kcho provided wi-fi at his cultural center some weeks ago, he established the first such venue in the country’s history.”

Bloomberg’s Katherine Chiglinsky: “Starting next week, tour operator Cuba Travel Services will begin offering what it says is the first regularly scheduled direct charter service from New York to Havana since President Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations with the island nation in December.”

CLINTON EMAILS: A new investigation is in the works.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl, Liz Kreutz, and Shushannah Walshe: “House Speaker John Boehner is expected to announce this week a new investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state, including her admission that more than 31,000 emails were destroyed because she determined them to be personal, top House Republicans told ABC News today.”

CIA: Director John Brennan says everything is fine in Langley.

FP’s Kate Brannen: “His remarks show an effort by the spy agency to finally turn the page on a string of bad news stories it’s had trouble leaving behind.”

REVOLVING DOOR

The University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics names its spring quarter 2015 fellows, including former transportation secretary Ray LaHood, former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer, and former senator Mark Udall.

AND FINALLY, the Mirror’s Steve White reports some Islamic State fighters resort to dressing as women to escape battle.

 

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