Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

Danin analyzes critical developments and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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This Week: Syria, Iran, and Israeli-Palestinian Diplomacy; Violence in Egypt

by Robert M. Danin
September 19, 2013

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks next to U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi (C) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after a meeting discussing the ongoing problems in Syria at the United Nations offices in Geneva September 13, 2013 (Downing/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks next to U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi (C) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after a meeting discussing the ongoing problems in Syria at the United Nations offices in Geneva September 13, 2013 (Downing/Courtesy Reuters).

Syria. Diplomats in New York appeared stymied in their efforts to craft a new United Nations Security resolution calling for the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. The Security Council began discussing a resolution on Tuesday to support last weekend’s U.S.-Russia deal that called for Syria to account for its chemical weapons within one week and for the destruction of its entire arsenal by mid-2014; members are divided over whether or not to include the threat of sanctions or force. Last Saturday, Secretary of State Kerry said, “We agreed that Syria must submit within a week – not in 30 days, but in one week — a comprehensive listing.” Yesterday, however, State Department spokeswoman Marie Hard said that, “We’ve never said it was a hard and fast deadline.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin reiterated his suggestion today that the chemical weapons use in Syria had been carried out by the opposition, saying, “We have every reason to believe it was a cunning provocation.” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Russia will present evidence to the UN Security Council of chemical weapons use by the Syrian opposition, while one of his deputies called the recently released report from the UN chemical weapons experts “distorted.” Syrian president Bashar al-Assad appeared today in an interview with Fox News and said that Syria could make the chemical weapons sites accessible to international experts “tomorrow,” but that he has heard the process of destroying the weapons will take approximately one year.

Egypt. Egyptian security forces engaged in a deadly firefight today with armed supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi in Kerdasa, just outside Cairo. Police general Nabil Farrag was shot to death, with his forces arresting at least fifty suspected militants. Egyptian state television announced today that the curfew imposed on August 14 will begin an hour later (midnight) and be lifted and hour earlier (5 am) starting on Saturday. Meanwhile, one of Morsi’s lawyers said yesterday that the ousted president spoke with his family by telephone last week for the first time since he was detained by the Egyptian military in July.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Iran. White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday that President Barack Obama’s confidential letter to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani declared the United States’ readiness to resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran in a way “allows Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purpose.” Obama confirmed the exchange of letters with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. In the same interview, Obama said that Iran should not think that the United States will not strike because it has not struck in Syria, and that the nuclear issue is more significant to the United States than the chemical weapons issue. Both Obama and Rouhani are set to address the UN General Assembly next week in New York, but are not scheduled to meet.

Israel. U.S. officials confirmed that President Obama is slated to host Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House on September 30. The story was first released by Israeli officials. Netanyahu will meet the president before the Israeli leader addresses the United Nations General Assembly. It will be the first meeting between the two leaders since President Obama visited Israel in March.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Yemen. Yemen’s National Dialogue conference, a six-month reconciliation process that was due to give recommendations on a new constitution and voting system today, was instead extended for another two weeks. The delay occurred when two representatives from former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party walked out of a meeting, objecting to a proposal to divide the country into a northern and southern province as an attempt to “harm the unity of the homeland.” While delegates have agreed in principle to a federal state, the number of provinces has become a divisive issue; northerners are pushing for several provinces, but southerners only want two provinces.

Palestine. A mew Palestinian Authority government headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah was sworn in today in Ramallah by President Abbas. Hamdallah led a caretaker government after he had submitted his own resignation just two weeks into the job last June. Abbas tapped him to head a new government in August, and Hamdallah managed to form a government after five weeks of struggling to do so. After much jockeying over possible appointments, the new government appointed is an exact replica of the previous one.

Palestine-Israel. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat alleged today before a group of diplomats and journalists that Israel seeks to control the Jordan Valley out of economic greed. Erekat dismissed previous statements by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel should have at least a forty-year presence in the Jordan Valley to ensure Israel’s security after a peace agreement is signed. Meanwhile, Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior aide to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, told Voice of Palestine radio that the peace talks with Israel “are futile and won’t lead to any results.

Bahrain. Sheik Ali Salman, secretary general of main opposition group Al Wefaq, met today with Hakon Smedsvig, the first secretary for political affairs at the Norwegian embassy in Manama. The meeting was in contravention of a recent ban on all contact with foreign diplomats. Five opposition groups, including Al Wefaq, announced the suspension of their participation in reconciliation talks on Wednesday. The announcement came a day after the arrest of Khalil Marzooq, a member of Al Wefaq and a former member of parliament. Marzooq faces charges of “inciting acts of terror.”

Tunisia. UGTT, Tunisia’s largest labor union, proposed a roadmap for ending the country’s political deadlock on Tuesday. The proposal, published on the union’s website, calls for a national dialogue, the current government to step-down in one month, and a caretaker government to steer the country towards new elections. The National Assembly held its first complete session on Tuesday after a month-long suspension, but fifty-nine opposition members refused to return.

 

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