- Experts, intelligence analysts: Iran negotiations, which leave enrichment intact, "pushing Saudi Arabia toward its own nuke program"
- State Dept. pressed on snubs toward Egypt amid boost in Cairo-Moscow relations
- Hezbollah vetoes Lebanon cabinet formation at "eleventh hour," leaving political progress in limbo
- Arms agency: Syria has shipped out just 11% of its chemical arsenal
- The Daily Beast's Eli Lake and Josh Rogin reported on Friday that the Obama administration's diplomacy toward Iran was risking a cascade of new nuclear proliferators across the Middle East, with both Western and Israeli intelligence agencies telling the outlet that Saudi Arabia is developing uranium enrichment infrastructure that has long been 'considered by arms control experts as a tell-tale sign of a clandestine weapons program.' Riyadh is said to be concerned that the U.S. has acknowledged that Iran will be allowed to continue enriching uranium under the terms of a comprehensive deal, a capability that the Saudis insist will allow the Tehran to break out at will. Saudi officials have consistently maintained that they will match any Iranian nuclear capability with their own, and the Daily Beast tersely described the situation as one in which the administration's Iran stance was "pushing Saudi Arabia toward its own nuke program." Last October Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former ambassador to Washington, suggested that "Gulf Cooperation Council members should carefully weigh all options, including acquiring a nuclear deterrent," if Iran acquires nuclear weapons. Last November the BBC reported that the Saudis were looking to bolster their nuclear deterrent, potentially by purchasing nuclear weapons off the shelf from Pakistan. Last December TIME published a similar report, describing "an almost palpable sense of frustration, betrayal and impotence" in Saudi Arabia. President Barack Obama himself, during a period when the administration was still insisting that its goal was to force Iran to fully suspend its nuclear program, acknowledged that Iranian nuclear weapons acquisition "could trigger an arms race in the region... [and] would undermine our non-proliferation goals." The Daily Beast report comes a day after Greg Jones, speaking on a conference call hosted by The Israel Project, assessed that permitting Iran to continue enriching uranium under a comprehensive agreement - after Tehran had "violated its IAEA safeguards [and] defied multiple UN Security Council resolutions to stop centrifuge enrichment" - risked a global domino effect. A transcript of the call with Jones is here and the audio is available for streaming here.
- The State Department on Thursday put itself on the defensive over the Obama administration's policy toward Egypt's army-backed government - which has ranged from a controversial aid freeze last October to a pointed diplomatic snub as recently as two weeks ago - with State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf being pressed for the second day in a row to account for what very much seems to be an Egyptian pivot away from the U.S. and toward Russia. A trip to Russia by Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was broadly seen as evidence that Cairo was making good on previous suggestions that it might turn to Moscow for arms should Washington continue to chill bilateral ties. For their part the Russians treated the visit as an opportunity to launch a charm offensive geared at expanding its influence over Egypt and the region. The events came a day after Harf told reporters that the U.S. would "continue talking to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as part of our broad outreach to the different parties and groups there," in the face of a designation by Egypt declaring the group to be a terrorist organization. Pressed to respond to a joint Russian-Egyptian communique "condemning meddling in... domestic affairs by foreign nations," which was "seen on the ground as a poke at the United States" over its outreach to the Brotherhood, Harf declared that U.S. officials "don't think it's, quite frankly, up to the United States or to Mr. Putin to decide who should govern Egypt... [i]t's up to the Egyptian people to decide." It is unclear to what degree Putin, or for that matter the Egyptian people, agree with the State Department's stance.
- NOW Lebanon reported Friday morning that Hezbollah waited until the "eleventh hour" and then blocked the formation of a new cabinet in Lebanon, forcing an indefinite delay in what would have been a first step toward politically - and perhaps more pressingly, economically - stabilizing the country. The Iran-backed terror group had earlier in February signaled that it would refuse to support a new cabinet despite signals that elements of the anti-Hezbollah March 14th movement were prepared to offer new concessions. Hezbollah's persistent role in undermining Lebanese political and economic institutions had almost a year ago led Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, to ridicule the notion that it is a stabilizing force in Lebanon as a "nifty conceit." The United States on Thursday revealed that it had completed delivery of 136 military Humvees to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Lee Smith has emphasized "has been extensively penetrated by Hezbollah and used against the country's Sunni community."
- CNN earlier this week conveyed reports from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons assessing that the Bashar al-Assad regime has shipped out just 11% of its chemical weapons (CW) arsenal, which per the outlet fell "far short of the February 5 deadline to have all such arms removed from the country." The U.S. appeared primed to strike regime facilities last September, after the Syrian army reportedly crossed a red line set by President Barack Obama and deployed chemical munitions against opposition elements, when Secretary of State John Kerry declared in London that Assad could avert a strike by ceding his CW arsenal "in the next week." The remark was treated as a throwaway line - the State Department stressed that it was rhetorical, deputy national security advisor Tony Blinken described it as a hypothetical, a U.S. official told CNN it as a "a major goof," and even Kerry himself initially downplayed it - but Syria's Russian allies seized on it to maneuver the U.S. into an agreement that foreclosed militarily degrading Syria's assets. Critics quickly noted that the deal functionally invested the U.S. in helping Assad resecure Syrian territory so as to safely transfer CWs into international custody. Earlier this month Kerry publicly acknowledged that the deal had improved Assad's position, and reportedly went further in private remarks by stating that the administration's Syria policy had failed.
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