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: Syrian Accord, Iranian Discord, and an End to Egyptian Emergency

by Robert M. Danin
November 15, 2013

Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour meets with Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and defense minister Sergei Shoigu  Cairo, November 14, 2013 (Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour meets with Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and defense minister Sergei Shoigu Cairo, November 14, 2013 (Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Syria. The Syrian Opposition Coalition voted to attend the upcoming peace conference in Geneva, though the decision was conditional on the Syrian government allowing aid shipments to rebel held areas and the release of prisoners by government forces. According to Russian news sources, the Syrian government will send a delegation to Moscow on Monday to prepare for the upcoming international peace conference in Geneva. On Monday evening, the Syrian Opposition Coalition announced the selection of nine ministers that will be charged with administering territories currently in rebel hands. Meanwhile, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons met in The Hague today to discuss plans for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. The organization had hoped Albania would accept the stockpiles and facilitate their destruction, but in the face of domestic opposition, the Albanian government turned down the request.

Egypt. The government yesterday lifted the nation-wide state of emergency and the curfew that had been in place since August 14. Police immediately began replacing military units at checkpoints, although some military forces are slated to continue to protect embassies. Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and defense minister Sergei Shoigu visited Egypt yesterday and met with General al-Sisi to discuss a potential arms deal worth approximately $2 billion that would include helicopters and air defense equipment. On Monday, presidential adviser Mostafa Hegazy announced that a final draft of the constitution will be issued on December 3 and could be taken to a referendum in late December or early January with presidential elections possible before the summer.

Iran. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today that he was hopeful regarding next Wednesday’s resumed talks in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 countries. His comments follow yesterday’s International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) quarterly report stating that there has been no expansion of Iran’s nuclear program since Hassan Rouhani took office. The IAEA reached a deal with Iranian negotiators on Monday providing a framework that would provide the nuclear watchdog information on Iran’s nuclear research and “managed access” to sites including the Gachin uranium mine and the heavy water reactor at Arak. This weekend’s failed attempt to reach an interim deal between Iran and the P5+1 group has left both sides blaming the other: Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that Iran walked away from an agreement due to the concessions Iran would have to offer while Iranian foreign minister Zarif said on Monday that discord among the western powers and French recalcitrance had ended the talks.

U.S. Foreign Policy

U.S. Sanctions. Secretary of State John Kerry briefed the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday in an effort to forestall new Congressional sanctions legislation on Iran, arguing that it may damage the ongoing nuclear talks. Republican members expressed disappointment with the meeting. According to Representative Bob Corker, Kerry’s argument was “solely an emotional appeal” while Representative Mark Kirk called the classified briefing “anti-Israeli.” Kerry’s appearance before the committee was prompted by a recently passed House measure that would strengthen sanctions on Iran.

UNESCO. Last Friday, the United States lost its voting privileges at UNESCO after cutting funding to the organization two years ago after the organization admitted Palestine as a full member. Per the organization’s constitution, any member state that fails to pay its dues for two consecutive years loses its right to vote. The United States was the largest benefactor of the organization providing $70 million annually, roughly 22 percent of UNESCO’s operating budget.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Libya. Libyan prime minister Ali Zeidan issued an appeal on Sunday for the populace to rise up against armed militias or else risk a foreign intervention in Libya. Speaking at a news conference, Zeidan warned that, “The international community cannot tolerate a state in the middle of the Mediterranean that is a source of violence, terrorism and murder.” Libya has been plagued by a growing number of armed militias responsible for attacks on security forces and the recent temporary abduction of the prime minister.

Jordan. Jordan’s information minister expressed interest on Monday in his country possibly taking the available United Nations Security Council seat recently turned down by Saudi Arabia.  The seat is traditionally reserved for an Arab state and Jordan thus far is the most likely candidate, but the decision must be voted on by the General Assembly.

Lebanon. The Lebanese government announced on Monday that it will file a complaint with the UN Security Council over the Israeli installation of surveillance equipment along the southern border between the two countries. Following a meeting of the Parliamentary Telecommunications Committee, several members of parliament remarked that the official complaint would only be the first step in dealing with an issue that “concerns our security, economy and daily life.”

This Week in History:

This week marks the ninth anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat in Paris, France. As a student in Egypt, Arafat headed the Union of Palestinian students and was arrested in 1954 for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. In the late 1950s, Arafat established the Fatah political party and the associated armed wing. By the early 1960s, he was leading a low intensity guerilla war against Israel. Following the 1967 War, Arafat emerged as a major force in Palestinian politics, becoming the chairman of the PLO when Fatah took over the organization. In the weeks leading up to Oslo, Arafat exchanged letters with then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, recognizing the state of Israel and then signing the Oslo Accords soon after, for which he was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Soon after Arafat returned to Gaza and was subsequently elected president of the Palestinian Authority. His international standing fell with the outbreak of the second intifada after the failure of the Camp David peace summit in 2000. The War on Terror further sidelined him and the peace process, and concerns over ongoing terrorist attacks in Israel led the IDF to confine Arafat to his headquarters in Ramallah. In 2004, Arafat became ill and travelled to Paris for treatment; a month later he passed away under circumstances shrouded in controversy.

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