- Kerry to brief Senate on Iran talks amid widespread criticism of Iran diplomacy
- Four Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria as analysts worry group expanding to "entire Middle East"
- Hamas blames rival Palestinian Fatah faction for Gaza Strip fuel shortages, power outages
- Egypt to let curfew expire, permit Muslim Brotherhood-linked group to participate politically
What we’re watching today:
- Efforts by the international community to secure an interim agreement with Iran regarding Tehran's nuclear program floundered this weekend after Iran reportedly refused to yield on demands that global powers recognize its "right" to enrich uranium, a claim consistently rejected by analysts, U.S. lawmakers, and journalists. The collapse of the talks triggered worries that Iran was not ready to realistically address international concerns regarding its program, as well as calls for further financial pressure to change the regime's calculus. Reports late in the day indicated that the Senate will wait for a Wednesday briefing by Secretary of State John Kerry before advancing sanctions legislation. The State Department's approach to the talks has come under withering criticism in the last 48 hours, with analysts and lawmakers insisting that U.S. diplomats gave away too much too easily. Calculations conducted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) estimated that the offer being given to Iran would have restored roughly $20 billion to Tehran. Iran would have been allowed to continue enriching uranium and building centrifuges - which could have been activated at the end of the interim period, swamping whatever concessions Iran made in the meantime - and bolstering its plutonium complex at Arak. The Daily Beast had revealed earlier in the week that the Obama administration had been quietly easing financial pressure since the election of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. The result, according to Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, was that the administration ended up getting badly outmaneuvered. Critics particularly focused on overeager signals sent by Washington. The Telegraph had already described a White House meeting that "ended with officials admitting that a 'bad deal is better than no deal.'" Michael Doran, a senior fellow at Brookings, over the weekend blasted Kerry for "rush[ing] to Geneva when a deal wasn't ready" and making the U.S. "consistently look too eager." The Iranians may have been able to leverage U.S. eagerness. The Jerusalem Post reported on Saturday that the U.S. actually got pushed off the plan with which it came into the talks.
- Four Hezbollah members were recently killed in Syria "while carrying out their sacred Jihadist duty," according to claims posted Saturday to a website aligned with the Iran-backed terror group. The declarations come amid reports that Hezbollah is taking the lead in organizing what is expected to be a massive campaign on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime to secure Qalamoun, a strategic corridor between Damascus and Lebanon. Hezbollah fighters have in recent months been critical in allowing the regime to steadily erode nearly two years of rebel gains, and more specifically in enabling the regime to wrest control of what had been the rebel stronghold of Qusayr. USA Today late last week published analysis outlining how Hezbollah is "expanding networks and deployment of fighters from Lebanon to the entire Middle East as part of its deepening alliance with Iran," and how that expansion is being done for sectarian reasons and justified in sectarian terms. The BBC over the weekend quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif warning that sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites "probably the most serious threat to world security."
- The Associated Press reported over the weekend that widespread power outages throughout the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip were the result of "political infighting" between rival Palestinian groups, which had in turn led to a fuel shortage, which had in turn negatively impacted the territory's only power plant. A Hamas spokesman specifically blamed the Palestinian Fatah faction that controls the West Bank for imposing new taxes on fuel it provides, echoing claims that Hamas made weeks ago at the beginning of the crisis. Analysts at the time had rolled their eyes at the accusations, calling them "insane" and noting that the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority "pays for [the fuel] with donor funds, Hamas bills Gazans for it, and then pockets the cash." Instead Hamas is being accused of repeating a tactic the group used in 2008 and deliberately attempting to manufacture a humanitarian crisis by blacking out the Gaza Strip. There have been intermittent media attempts to frame whatever fuel shortage might exist as the fault of Israeli policies, though those have proven difficult to sustain inasmuch as Israel continues to supply electricity to the Gaza Strip.
- Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim announced today that Cairo will allow a three-month curfew to expire as scheduled this Thursday, the latest in a series of gestures from the country's army-backed interim government that observers hope mark a trend toward expanding civil liberties. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy revealed last Friday that the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, would be allowed to take part in upcoming parliamentary elections. The curfew had been one of several security measures imposed as security officials tried to contain the spike in violence that followed the army's moves against Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-linked former president Mohammed Morsi. The government had meanwhile in parallel sought to decapitate the Brotherhood's leadership hierarchy and uproot the group from Egyptian institutions.
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