- Sisi formally announces presidential run, commits to battling terrorism "not only [in] Egypt but the whole region"
- Before Kerry visit, Abbas rejects "even holding a discussion" over Israeli mutual recognition conditions
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Iran will exceed the amount of oil it is permitted to export under the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) for the fifth month in a row, a development set to deepen concerns that the West is losing control of the sanctions relief granted to the Islamic republic under the JPA and to fuel calls for measures designed to reassert such control. The JPA permits Iran to export limited amounts of oil without violating energy sanctions that had until recently sharply limited the country's energy exports. The limit is set for the entire duration of the interim agreement, however, and the Obama administration - per Reuters - "believes that exports will fall in coming months and on average will fall to the 1 million bpd level stipulated" by the JPA. Observers have expressed concerns that excess Iranian exports in the meantime will nonetheless undercut the leverage of Western negotiators, and perhaps even incentivize the Iranians to pocket what concessions they've gained and walk away from negotiations. It is not clear by when the White House anticipates oil exports to have fully averaged out, and it is similarly uncertain whether the administration would - by then - be willing take punitive measures after what will have been months of negotiations. The news comes amid renewed Congressional moves to secure a substantive role in determining the direction of negotiations with Iran, with bipartisan groups from both the House and the Senate recently sending letters to President Barack Obama outlining what Congress considers to be the minimum requirements for a comprehensive deal.
Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Wednesday declared that he will run in the country's next presidential election, formally launching what is widely expected to be an easy glide into the presidency for the politically Teflon figure but potentially complicating Cairo's future relationship with the Obama administration. A transcript of the resignation speech was provided by the Egyptian army, and saw Sisi opening by announcing his resignation before pivoting to issues related to security and stability. Observers have drawn particular attention to portions of the speech that dealt with terrorism, which Sisi described as being conducted by those who "seek the destruction of our life, safety and security," in which he committed to "fight every day for Egypt free of fear and terror... not only [in] Egypt but the whole region." The Egyptian army is in the midst of a wide-ranging campaign in the Sinai Peninsula targeting terrorist infrastructure that has taken root in the territory. Top Egyptian figures have blasted the White House for blocking the transfer of Apache helicopters that Egyptian officials consider crucial to staging anti-terror campaigns, and Sisi himself has described Egyptian frustration with what he characterized as Americans having "turned [their] backs on the Egyptians." Sisi subsequently traveled to Moscow to among other things pursue weapons deals. The incident was broadly read as bolstering the concerns of analysts who have criticized the administration for repeatedly snubbing the Egyptians and risking a rupture between in bilateral relations between Cairo and Washington.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas told the Arab League on Tuesday that he rejects "even holding a discussion" over Israel's long-standing requirement that any comprehensive peace deal must see the Palestinians acknowledging Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, according to a transcript of his speech conveyed in a longer analysis published today by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The stance has the potential to deeply complicate the peace process. The Obama administration in general, and the State Department in particular, has repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. framework designed to move the talks forward would include such "mutual recognition," which the Israelis have emphasized is necessary as a signal that the Palestinians are genuinely prepared to cease pursuing territorial claims against Jerusalem. Secretary of State John Kerry has been working for months to overcome Abbas's intransigence on the condition. Kerry met with Abbas on Wednesday in what Bloomberg described as "a bid to avert a breakdown in his peacemaking efforts as an April 29 deadline nears." A February meeting between the two had reportedly seen Abbas "explode with rage" at what he termed Kerry's "insane" proposals.
A Turkish court on Wednesday overturned a government ban on Twitter, the latest blow to a globally ridiculed and largely ineffective campaign launched last week by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to block access to the popular microblogging platform. The decision came in response to formal complaints by Turkish lawyers and journalists decrying the move as a violation of basic freedoms, and amid a determined pushback by media outlets. The restrictions had quickly generated international condemnation - the British ambassador to Turkey piled on yesterday, and the U.S. announced it was demanding formal multilateral discussions over the decision - and efforts by Erdogan and his allies to defend them had become increasingly strained. The Turkish leader on Tuesday declared that "Twitter is "a company [and] actually YouTube is behind it." Erdogan's accusation - which is difficult, in a technical sense, to defend as accurate - appears to be the result of lawyer Gonenc Gurkaynak, who is representing Twitter, having previously represented Google's YouTube platform from a government ban. The New York Times noted that that "it was not immediately clear whether the ruling would be appealed or overtaken by a new court order."