European scramble into Iran threatens to undermine White House credibility, heighten calls for Congressional oversight over final deal

  • European scramble into Iran threatens to undermine White House credibility, heighten calls for Congressional oversight over final deal
  • Kerry tells U.S. lawmakers that Obama administration Syria policy has failed, says time to arm rebels: reports
  • Turkish media: Final details being settled in Israel-Turkey reconciliation deal
  • Hamas reportedly pulls back anti-rocket force from Gaza border, heightens risk of escalation with Israel

    • European companies are scrambling to rush back into Iran's newly reopened markets despite Obama administration statements insisting that the Islamic republic "is not open for business," threatening to undermine confidence in the White House's management of the diplomatic battlefield as the West and Tehran head into comprehensive nuclear negotiations scheduled for mid-February. Benjamin Weinthal, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, last week described the dynamic as one in which Germany's "European rivals are scrambling to catch up" to the "over 100 German companies... currently doing business in Iran," with the new capital flooding into Iran worth as much as $20 billion. The Financial Times yesterday described "a delegation of more than 100 French companies" that visited Iran on Monday for a three-day visit that the outlet described as "the biggest demonstration of western business interest in Iran for more than a decade." English-language news distributor Al Bawaba today published an assessment focusing on Iran's energy markets and headlined "Europe muscling for investments with Tehran." The potential for a feeding frenzy specifically in the energy sector has been a persistent concern of observers. In mid-January, foreign policy and energy analyst Aaron Menenberg outlined fears that the relief provided by the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) could trigger a downward spiral in which "how [sanctions] are removed is almost irrelevant in the long-run... no company wants to be the first one in, but none want to be the last." The White House has staked its credibility on predictions that the core sanctions regime against Iran would hold amid the limited relief provided by the JPA, opposite skeptics who predicted the downward spiral that evidence indicates may be occurring. Evidence that the administration had miscalculated the JPA's effects or misled lawmakers about its likely outcome may heighten already emerging calls for close Congressional scrutiny of a comprehensive deal with Iran.

 

    • Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday told a group of 15 U.S. congressmen that the Obama administration's policy toward Syria had failed - and that Washington must rush to arm relatively moderate rebel elements as to offset both Al Qaeda-linked radicals and the Iran-backed Bashar al-Assad regime - according to Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin and Bloomberg's Jeffrey Goldberg both had early Monday morning articles about the leaked meeting, with the former characterizing the remarks as evidence that Kerry "has lost faith in his own administration’s Syria policy" and the latter framing the remarks as calling for "a new, more assertive, Syria policy" that may include "more dramatic arming of moderate Syrian rebel factions." The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt, who had also been briefed by Graham on the meeting, dryly opened his article on the incident by noting that "it is no secret that the Obama administration’s Syria policy, to the extent that one exists, is failing." The reports that Damascus has turned over less than 5% of its chemical weapons (CW) arsenal and that Assad was - per a Times of London article - stockpiling WMDs as "an insurance policy." They also came a day after White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough flat out declared on Face the Nation that the deal regarding CWs - which had seen the West forgo attacking the regime after it crossed an Obama administration red line against the use of such weapons - was "not falling apart." Recent days have seen a cascade of grim reports describing carnage inside besieged Syrian cities. A Saturday raid on Aleppo reportedly killed at least 85 people and another 26 people were reportedly killed in attacks on the city today. U.N. World Food Program chief executive Ertharin Cousin on Monday declared that the agency was having trouble accessing besieged areas inhabited by millions of civilians. The Syrian conflict's death toll as of the end of January, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, topped 136,000.

 

    • Turkish media outlet Hurriyet Daily News described early on Monday the final compensation figure that Israel will provide to Turkey as part of a reconciliation deal between the two countries, years after Ankara largely froze bilateral relations in the aftermath of a U.N. report that confirmed Jerusalem's legal interpretation of a 2010 commando raid on a Turkish vessel. The Mavi Marmara was attempting to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Passengers aboard the vessel - who were largely drawn from the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a group that Turkish law enforcement recently raided over terror ties - attacked Israeli forces who boarded the ship, and nine passengers were killed in the ensuing fighting. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and officials from his Justice and Development Party (AKP) pressed for an international investigation into the incident, but were disappointed when a U.N. commission confirmed that Israel's interdiction of the vessel was legal. Turkey had been steadily eroding its ties with the Jewish state - Erodgan famously stormed off a Davos stage in 2009 rather than continue to share it with Israeli President Shimon Peres - and Ankara responded to the report's publication by putting relations into a deep freeze. Erdogan was widely perceived, including by Turkish media, as trying to leverage anti-Israel diplomacy in order to regionally boost Turkey's position and his personal popularity, but the AKP's foreign policy subsequently all but collapsed in ensuing years after a series of failed geopolitical gambles. By 2013 President Barack Obama was able to maneuver Erdogan into accepting a reconciliation deal with Israel largely on Jerusalem's terms, though Turkish backsliding - driven in part by AKP efforts to placate hardline criticism over having folded on previous red lines - hampered negotiations on the agreement. Turkish reports published early this morning - which come amid renewed analysis describing Ankara's foreign policy as being in disarray - indicate that a final $20 million figure for compensation has been agreed to.

 

    • Hamas security sources this weekend told Agence France Presse on Sunday that the Iran-backed terror group was withdrawing roughly 600 fighters from the border between Israel and Gaza, where they had been recently been stationed and tasked with preventing smaller terrorist groups from launching rockets and missiles at Israeli civilians and soldiers. Regular security forces, according to the anonymous source, would remain in place. Escalating rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip had in November 2012 triggered an Israeli offensive that severely degraded Hamas's command and control infrastructure and its arsenal, and was followed by a near-total cessation in projective fire directed at Israel. A recent uptick in attacks from the Gaza Strip had generated blunt warnings that Israel would act to reestablish its deterrent should the escalation continue. Israeli outlet Walla tersely assessed, per a characterization of Walla's report in Ma'an, that 'Hamas' move gives other Palestinian factions a green light to fire rockets at Israeli targets across the border.' Hamas is battling to overcome what is inarguably the worst credibility crisis that it has faced since it violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, and analysts fear that it is trying to rebuild its stature by provoking a confrontation with Israel.


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