Rouhani interview stops short in probing root causes of Middle East instability

  • Rouhani interview stops short in probing root causes of Middle East instability
  • New estimates, political maneuvers call into question viability of Syria chemical weapons deal
  • Al Qaeda blamed for Yemen attacks that kill 40
  • Turkish court sentences world-famous pianist, government critic to jail for blasphemy


What we’re watching today:


    • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is blaming Israel for - per Iran's Fars news agency - being the "main cause of regional insecurity" across the Middle East. The recently inaugurated revolutionary-era cleric made the comments in an interview aired Thursday with NBC's Ann Curry, blasting the Jewish state for bringing "instability to the region with its war-mongering policies." Rouhani sits atop a country that has been repeatedly blasted by the U.S.'s Gulf allies for fomenting "sedition" throughout the region and for "interference" in their internal affairs, including by working to overthrow Bahrain's government, pressing territorial claims against the UAE, endangering Kuwait via unsafe nuclear practices, conducting extensive espionage in Saudi Arabia, and bringing the entire Middle East to the brink of a spiraling nuclear arms race. Egypt has similarly blasted Tehran for interfering in the African country's internal affairs. In Iraq, Iranian-backed Shiite militias are on one side of what increasingly risks becoming another full-blown sectarian civil war. Iran has provided logistical aid to terrorists in Yemen, and has been linked to Al Qaeda elements inside that country. Iran also sponsors the Palestinian terror group Hamas and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, both of which have within the last decade triggered hot wars by attacking and kidnapping Israelis. As for Lebanon domestically, Hezbollah has been described by analysts as the single greatest force working to destabilize the country's security, institutions, and political system. And of course, Iranian support has been the key element in ensuring the survival of Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime, with Tehran channeling troops and supplies from across the Middle East and enabling Assad's forces to continue waging a war that has cost over 100,000 lives and seen the gassing of thousands of Syrian civilians. That conflict has spilled over into Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq, and has critically undermined the stability of the Jordanian monarchy. Curry ran out of time before she could follow up with Rouhani about the contrast between the scope of Iran's regional activities and his assertion that Israel is the root cause of Middle East insecurity.


    • Intelligence officials and world leaders are expressing renewed doubts about the potential for Syria's chemical arsenal to be safely secured and destroyed, amid newly published figures describing Syria's stockpile and political maneuvering by actors involved in the crisis. The Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international community's chemical weapons watchdog, today again postponed meeting to discuss the recently inked Kerry-Lavrov plan to destroy the arsenal. The announcement came after Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed doubts over whether all of Syria's chemical weapons assets would be seized, a statement widely read as a bait-and-switch maneuver under which the Bashar al-Assad would be allowed to keep some of his stockpile. Western diplomats have at times demanded that any deal preserve the option to use force against Damascus, a requirement that Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad on Wednesday predicted would fail to pass in the United Nations. A declassified French intelligence report indicated that Syria has over 1,000 tons of chemical agents, and Assad this week estimated that removing them would take at least a year and cost one billion dollars. He suggested that the U.S. should foot the bill.


    • Simultaneous attacks on Yemeni army targets killed at least 40 people early Friday, underscoring the challenges that Sana'a faces as it attempts to weaken Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Security and military officials in Yemen told The New York Times they believe AQAP was behind the series of attacks in the country’s south, which included two car bombs and saw a gunmen opening fire on a group of soldiers. The Washington Post reported last month that Al Qaeda was shifting its footprint inside Yemen, moving from the southern province of Abyan - which had been targeted by a 2012 army offensive - to the eastern province of Hadramaut. The province is Yemen's largest and borders Saudi Arabia. The dynamic is likely to renew calls for U.S. support to critical Gulf allies threatened by jihadist activities.


    • A world-renowned Turkish pianist has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for blasphemy, following a retrial over a series of social media posts he made criticizing Islam. Fazil Say – a noted critic of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – was previously tried and convicted in April on charges of denigrating the religion. Weeks after his first trial, millions of Turkish citizens participated in mass anti-government protests. Ankara violently put down the unrest, killing dozens and injuring thousands, and generating sharp criticism from both the U.S. and the European Union. Say's conviction will deepen skepticism regarding the possibility, long advocated in some corners of the foreign policy community, that Erdogan seeks to blend Islamism with recognizably modern civil liberties. The human rights watchdog Freedom House recently criticized the Erdogan government for "jail[ing] hundreds of journalists, academics, opposition party officials, and military officers in a series of prosecutions aimed at alleged conspiracies against the state and Kurdish organizations."

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