- Focus Shifts to Iran's willingness to make concessions, as Obama and Rouhani speak by phone
- Russia, Syria boast of victory as UNSC prepare to pass chemical weapons resolution
- European, global leaders call for E.U. to reverse itself on Israeli settlement restrictions
- Daily Beast: "global slaughter of Christians" must be addressed
What we’re watching today:
- President Barack Obama announced today that he had spoken by phone to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, becoming the first U.S. president to speak to his Iranian counterpart since Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy in Iran and seized fifty two American hostages. The New York Times notes that Rouhani, himself a revolutionary-era cleric who subsequently spent decades as a consummate regime insider, had just days ago "declined to attend a lunch at the United Nations where American officials hoped the two presidents might shake hands." The Times also suggested that the "telephone call on Friday reinforced optimism at the White House" that Rouhani might be able and willing to change Iran's foreign policy and its posture on nuclear weapons, after Secretary of State John Kerry had already suggested that Iran and the U.S. could close a deal even sooner than the three to six month timetable floated by Rouhani. International arms control officials quoted by Bloomberg this morning expressed strong skepticism regarding the possibility that a deal could be cut in the short term. Evaluating Rouhani's Tuesday speech to the United Nations, Reuters yesterday emphasized that Rouhani had "offered no new concessions" on Iran's nuclear program. David Kenner, the Middle East editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, echoed the point in the context of Syria, noting that a speech given by Rouhani today ended without "offering the slightest prospect of a policy change." The White House briefing on today's phone call was kept on background, and so it is unclear whether Rouhani suggested a willingness to make any concessions.
- The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) seemed set Friday night to adopt a resolution aimed at dismantling Syria's vast arsenal of chemical weapons, after the United States, Britain, and France were maneuvered into dropping their original demand that the measure include some means of automatic enforcement if Syria fails to comply. The result is that any future action against Damascus would require the UNSC to pass another resolution, which would in turn be subject to a Russian or Chinese veto. Moscow's insistence on limiting the scope of any mandate for current action against Syria had been a persistent sticking point in negotiations, and Reuters notes that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov declared victory today and boasted on Voice of Russia radio that "no concessions have been made." Syrian lawmaker Issam Khalil echoed the contention, telling the Associated Press that the U.S. failed to "impose its will" in pursuing a so-called Chapter 7 mandate that would have provided the U.N. the authority to enforce the resolution. Analysts have expressed concerns that Syria's 1,000 metric tons of chemical agents and precursors cannot be located, seized, moved, and dismantled under the current lawless conditions that reign in parts of war-torn Syria. President Barack Obama today hailed a draft of the resolution as a "potentially huge victory for the international community."
- The Jerusalem Post reports that a group of European and global leaders - drawn from political, military, intellectual, and activist circles - are calling on European Union foreign ministers to reevaluate recently passed guidelines cutting off cooperation between European institutions and Israeli establishments beyond Israel's 1948 armistice lines. The letter, which was sent out last Monday, is signed by among others Jose Maria Aznar, former Prime Minister of Spain, Lord David Trimble, former First Minister of Northern Ireland and a Nobel Peace Price laurette, and Alejandro Toledo, the former President of Peru. The letter blasts the current E.U. policy as "discriminatory" and criticizes it for "prejudging the question of Israel’s borders, and in doing so... undermining the delicate negotiations that are currently transpiring." The latter critique echoes evaluations made when the measures were first passed, to the effect that the E.U. policy undermined the current U.S.-backed peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinians. The measures have also triggered strain between Israel and Europe, and European programs in Israel have suffered as a result.
- At least 78 people were killed in a bombing outside of a Pakistani church Sunday, calling renewed attention to what the Daily Beast today labeled a "global slaughter of Christians." Anti-Christian violence across the Middle East and Africa has intensified in recent months, most prominently in Egypt where Islamist supporters of the country's deposed former President Mohammed Morsi have engaged in the country's worst organized anti-Copt violence in 700 years. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R.301 by a vote of 402-22. The bill provides "for the establishment of the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia," which Christians United for Israel Executive Director David Brog described as "an important first step" to addressing religiously-driven persecution in those regions. The legislation now moves to the Senate, where it is expected to face pushback from officials who argue that the legislation would limit the U.S.'s diplomatic flexibility.
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