- State Dept. report: “Little meaningful improvement in human rights in Iran” under Iran President Hassan Rouhani
- Reuters: U.N. nuclear watchdog shelved plans for report detailing Iran nuclear weapons progress
- State Dept. expresses outrage as Assad regime retaliates against families of opposition delegates
- Reports: After Palestinian President rejects U.S. peace proposals, Obama intends to up pressure on Israeli PM
- Descriptions of Iranian abuses in the State Department's annual human rights review - unveiled at a Thursday press conference alongside particularly grim evaluations from Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor - risk consolidating deepening concerns that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is either unable or unwilling to substantively improve democratic freedoms and civil rights in the Islamic Republic. Zeya described 2013 as having seen "some of the most egregious atrocities in recent memory,” and both the substance of the report and coverage of its findings revolved around outrages in Iran and Iranian client state Syria. McClatchy wrote up its coverage of the report under the straightforward headline "Iran still among world’s worst human rights abusers," picking out documentation of "Iran's record of floggings and court-ordered amputations, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, crackdown on press freedoms and 624 executions." Zeya had told reporters that the U.S. has "seen little meaningful improvement in human rights in Iran under the new government" amid continuing "torture, political imprisonment, [and] harassment of religious and ethnic minorities." USA Today conveyed Zeya's comments as assessing that 'abuses have continued and even worsened under the new presidency of Hassan Rouhani.' The statements echo similar ones made by Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, who last fall reported that Rouhani's election had not introduced any fundamental changes in Iran's approach to human rights.
- Reuters reported on Thursday that had U.N.'s nuclear watchdog last year planned and then suspended efforts to compile a report revealing "more of [Iran's] suspected atomic bomb research," with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seemingly calculating that the evidence would complicate Western efforts to strike an agreement with Tehran over its nuclear program. The revelation, which came two days after the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) released documentation showing that Iran has resumed work at a military base where it is believed to have conducted experiments linked to the development of nuclear warheads, seems set to fuel suspicions that there are pockets of diplomats seeking to downplay the extent of Iran’s clandestine atomic work in the interests of striking a deal that can be publicly sold as having substantively addressed Tehran’s weaponization drive. Meanwhile Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated on Thursday that Iran will refuse to dismantle any of its atomic facilities or centrifuges. A previous report by ISIS had calculated that any deal which meaningfully set back Tehran's nuclear program would have to require the Islamic Republic to dismantle at least 15,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges and close some of its enrichment facilities, alongside other steps relating to plutonium production and weapons research. Zarif told reporters in New Delhi on Thursday that negotiations between the P5+1 global powers and Iran are "going well."
- Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime retaliated against family members of Syrian opposition leaders who came to Geneva for recent peace talks, detaining them after having designated the delegates themselves as terrorists, according to a State Department statement issued on Wednesday by spokeswoman Jen Psaki. The accusation, which was accompanied by a call on the regime to "immediately and unconditionally release all those unfairly arrested," is likely to deepen outrage toward the regime but also risks embarrassing the Obama administration on its diplomatic approach to the nearly four year old conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry had over the course of weeks last January been at the forefront of pressuring Syrian opposition leaders to attend the so-called Geneva II talks, despite something of a consensus in the foreign policy community that the negotiations were largely hopeless. Justifications given at the time, which revolved around calculations that there was little to be lost by bringing the two sides together, may now emerge as having been overly optimistic. The State Department on Wednesday also blasted Russia for continuing to aid Damascus, with Kerry declaring that "everybody knows" that what the regime is doing "is outrageous, unconscionable, unacceptable, disgraceful, craven, it's horrendous."
- Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly "exploded with rage" at Secretary of State John Kerry over what he termed "insane" proposals from Washington designed to facilitate a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, according to descriptions of a meeting between the two published in the leading Palestinian daily Al Quds and conveyed by The Times of Israel. Abbas is said to have been particularly incensed by terms relating to Jerusalem and to Israeli security needs along the border with Jordan, areas in which U.S. bridging proposal have been repeatedly rejected by top Palestinian figures, including by Abbas himself. Palestinian leaders on Thursday also rejected U.S. moves to extend peace talks beyond a previously-set April deadline, a proposal aimed at providing the parties with more time to hammer out a final peace deal. Meanwhile the New York Times reported that President Barack Obama intends "to plunge back into" Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, most immediately by exerting pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an upcoming Oval Office meeting.
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