- Iran brushes aside Obama sanctions talk, as evidence builds that int’l financial pressure collapsing
- Obama administration "deeply concerned" as Syria seen stalling on chemical weapons agreement
- Turkey political warfare continues, as new purge sees more than 800 Turkish police officers fired or reassigned
- Top Palestinian official rejects Kerry peace process proposals
- Iran's foreign ministry on Thursday brushed aside President Barack Obama’s claim, made on Wednesday during the president's State of the Union address, that American sanctions had coerced Iran into negotiating over its atomic program. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham declared instead that "the delusion of sanctions having an effect on Iran's motivation for nuclear negotiations is based on a false narration of history," per quotes conveyed by Iranian media. There is nonetheless something approaching a consensus that sanctions were responsible for changing Iran's calculus at least to the point where Iranian leaders felt compelled to agree to the so-called Joint Plan of Action (JPA) in November. The point may have be moot given dynamics set into motion by the JPA. Though the agreement failed to freeze Iran's nuclear program - the Islamic republic is permitted to enrich unlimited amounts of uranium to 5% purity, to bolster its plutonium production facility at Arak, and to advance its ballistic missile program - evidence continues to pile up that it badly eroded the international sanctions regime. Iranian leaders have recently begun issuing boasts that the entire framework is "melting while [Iran's] centrifuges are... still working."
- The Obama administration on Thursday explicitly accused the Bashar al-Assad regime of deliberately stalling on its obligations to turn over its chemical weapons arsenal, putting the White House at risk of both domestic political fallout - the president touted the chemical weapons agreement in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, and today's admission is already being treated by journalists as evidence that the section was misguided - and potentially reinforcing global perceptions of American fecklessness. The Washington Post quoted Robert P. Mikulak, the U.S. representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, assessing that "the effort to remove chemical agents and key precursor chemicals from Syria has seriously languished and stalled," and dismissing Syrian requests for more equipment as pretexts for delays. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had separately declared this week that Damascus has turned over less than 5% of its chemical arsenal. The Obama administration has significant prestige at stake in the Syrian bargain. Washington had last fall suddenly called off airstrikes which seemed set to occur after Damascus violated President Barack Obama's red line against the use of chemical weapons. Syria's Russian allies seized on what appeared to be a gaffe by Secretary of State John Kerry to maneuver the administration into suspending the strikes in exchange for a deal under which Damascus would forfeit its chemical arsenal. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki assured reporters on Thursday that Washington was "deeply concerned" about the Syrian foot-dragging.
- Roughly 800 Turkish police officers were fired or reassigned on Thursday - 500 just from Ankara, and another 274 from Turkey's third most populous city Izmir - marking the latest in a series of anti-judiciary purges being conducted by Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The AKP has for months been locked in an open political war with police officers and prosecutors linked to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, after Gulenists in December launched a series of graft probes that ensnared AKP elites. The AKP responded with a series of sweeps that systematically removed thousands of judiciary figures from their positions. The latest move comes just a few days after Erdogan lashed out at foreign media and business groups for having "always stolen the national will in [Turkey and]... pocked the resources and energy." Erdogan specifically identified the BBC and the Wall Street Journal as suspicious, rhetorically asking "who are the bosses of these newspapers" and "who own these newspapers?" The conspiracism and political bloodletting may be eroding Ankara's regional and global standing. Turkish outlet Zaman yesterday assessed that Erdogan's handling of anti-government protests last summer and the ongoing graft scandals have eroded Turkey's soft power in the Arab world. The outlet quoted an Arab diplomat rejecting "Erodgan's conspiracy arguments" and declaring that "Turkey missed the chance of becoming a regional power."
- Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo declared on Thursday that U.S. proposals for a final status arrangement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were unacceptable due to their "general and vague" formulas about Jerusalem and their partial concessions to Israel regarding its security needs in the West Bank. The plan being proposed by Secretary of State John Kerry would reportedly have Israel cede parts of east Jerusalem to Palestinians for a capital and would further fall short of meeting Israeli demands for a long-term physical presence in the Jordan Valley along the border with Jordan. Palestinian negotiators also publicly rejected Kerry's bridging proposals almost exactly a month ago, that time emphasizing dissatisfaction with security arrangements. The most recent statements appear to convey Palestinian rejection of both the security arrangements and of Kerry’s proposal for the final disposition of Jerusalem. Rabbo also gestured toward Palestinian dissatisfaction with being asked to give up on the so-called "right of return," a call to allow millions of Palestinians to flow across Israel's borders from refugee camps scattered across neighboring countries. The demand, which would see the Jewish state physically overwhelmed, has long been treated as a diplomatic non-starter by successive Israeli governments.
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