Dim Hopes for Progress in Pan-Regional Talks


Jerusalem, April 15 ‒ A small surge in diplomatic activity across the Middle East is giving some hope for progress on several fronts that have so far confounded efforts to generate democratic progress in the region.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to receive a Palestinian delegation later this week in an attempt to restart peace talks between the two sides. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is expected to present a list of Palestinian demands rather than agreeing to unconditional talks in line with international requests.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said previously that unless Israel accepts his conditions, he will bypass peace talks and attempt to get the U.N. to upgrade the Palestinians to nation status. However, a previous similar endeavor failed, and the Middle East Quartet comprised of the United Nations. The United States, the European Union and Russia called last week on both sides to resume peace talks without preconditions, something Israel immediately accepted.

At talks in Turkey on Saturday, six of the world’s leading powers met with Iran in a bid to get the Islamic Republic to comply with repeated United Nations demands to open its nuclear program to international inspection. Diplomats said despite Iran’s hardline stance, the talks were “positive, and good enough to merit a second round” of negotiations to be held in Baghdad on May 23.

Iran is under harsh economic sanctions for failing to allow inspections of its secret nuclear sites and halt its uranium enrichment program, suspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency of being used to produce nuclear weapons.

In Syria violence continued Sunday as a fragile U.N. sponsored ceasefire was repeatedly broken hours before the first international inspectors were due to arrive in Damascus. Over 9,000 civilians have been killed in 16 months since Syrian troops under the control of President Bashar Assad first opened fire on protesters demanding democratic reforms.

Under a peace plan brokered by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Syrian army and armed rebels were to stop shooting on April 10.

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