Reports of stalled Iran talks solidify as U.S. lawmakers press for robust agreement


Obama administration officials have reportedly told Congressional Democrats that they expect to fail in trying to conclude a nuclear agreement with Iran by a self-imposed November 24 deadline - the exact language was that they have a "reasonable expectation that [they'll] be requesting an extension" - setting the stage for a pitched battle between the White House and the Hill over the administration's approach to negotiations with the Islamic Republic. The day had been marked by confusion regarding the status of the talks, with reports first emerging that Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minster Mohammed Javad Zarif would depart Vienna for consultations, only to have subsequent reports clarify that Zarif at least was staying because the negotiations had "not reached a stage that necessitates Zarif to go to Tehran." Meanwhile frustration has been building among lawmakers for weeks over the White House's diplomacy strategy in the ongoing P5+1 negotiations, amid reports that the administration is preparing to accept a deal that will allow Iran to continue operating thousands of centrifuges. The scenario would fall far short of assurances that lawmakers say they were given by administration officials last winter, when the White House managed to halt congressional moves toward increasing pressure on Iran. Reps. Ed Royce (R-Ca.) and Eliot Engel (D-NY), respectively the chairman and the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, jointly issued a statement on Thursday urging Western negotiators to reject any deal that failed to "foreclose any pathway for Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability." Another letter, signed by the incoming cohort of Republican Senators-elect, demanded that any deal for Iran to "allow for the comprehensive inspection of suspected nuclear development sites and comply with the United Nations’ previously enacted limitations on their nuclear program." The latter statement came just a day after the United Nations's nuclear watchdog (IAEA) announced that the Iranians were continuing to prevent the agency from accessing sites where Iran is widely suspected of having conducted work relevant to the detonation nuclear warheads.


Reports emerged Friday morning that at least 30 Hamas members had been arrested in the West Bank in recent weeks for planning a series of terror attacks against Israeli targets. Senior Palestinian officials told veteran Arab affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff that the expansive West Bank network was both funded and directed by Hamas officials operating out of Turkey, including Saleh al-Arouri, who had been put in sole control of Hamas's West Bank terror infrastructure. Per Issacharoff, the Palestinian officials “accused Turkey as well as Qatar— the current home of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal — of enabling Hamas to operate freely within their territories.” Turkey observers, including Foundation for Defense of Democracies Vice President for Research Jonathan Schanzer, expressed something short of surprise at the idea that Turkey was harboring terrorists who were overseeing plots against Israeli targets. The West Bank plot is not the first this year to be linked to Arouri – Israeli security officials had also connected him to the June abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas terrorists - part of a violent escalation in the West Bank that ran in parallel to the rocket and tunnel escalation out of the Gaza Strip. The arrests come just months after an announcement by officials from Israel's Shin Bet security agency that they had uprooted a Hamas plot - involving terror cells spread across more than 40 Palestinian communities, and also masterminded by Arouri - to trigger a wave of violence that would destabilize the region, derail Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, and pull off a military coup that would see the U.S.-backed Fatah faction supplanted in the West Bank by Hamas. Hours after the report was published, two young Jewish men were injured in  what the Jerusalem Post described as "a brawl [that] broke out between a group of Jewish worshipers – en route to a yeshiva – and Arab youths." The two men were taken to a local hospital for treatment.


Israeli programmers Shai Mishali and Pavel Kaminsky won the $100,000 grand prize – and the title “Ultimate Hackers for Good” — at PayPal’s Battle Hack world hackathon held November 16-17 in California. “Geeks” from 14 cities including Singapore, Istanbul, Berlin, Miami and Toronto competed in the final round after winning regional hackathons including one in Tel Aviv, where Paypal has offices. They had to use PayPal and Braintree development platforms to devise a new product or service that offers something positive to the world. Mishali and Kaminsky’s AirHop would enable mobile phone communication in areas with no cellular reception, or on devices with no SIM cards. Their technology relies on nearby devices that do have reception, and could be useful in cases of natural disasters or other emergencies. “This idea is like Airbnb for communications,” said Braintree CEO Bill Ready. “There is a development here that a lot of people will want to use. I hope that the winning team will use the money to advance their development.” The cash prize, however comes with no strings attached. Mishali (CTO at Vidback) and Kaminsky (owner of PK Tech and Cross Fit Panda) originally met at a different hackathon in Israel. For the Tel Aviv PayPal round, they developed an app called Socializer. The app would provide a financial incentive for people to leave their mobile devices off while socializing. Users who do pick up their phone for more than five seconds while the app is activated would be charged a nominal amount through PayPal to be transferred to a charity of their choosing. (via Israel21c)

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