- U.S.-based think tank outlines bare minimum for robust interim deal on Iran nuclear program
- No progress in negotiations over Syria peace talks, as reports emerge of secret undisclosed Syrian chemical weapons cache
- Israel expresses worries to Kerry over peace talks as Palestinian leaders reject Jewish state recognition, celebrate murderer release
- Iranian prisoners go on hunger strike over health conditions as Iran deepens execution wave
What we’re watching today:
- The New York Times late Wednesday published as assessment from an Obama administration official describing the West as close to a temporary deal with Iran regarding the country's nuclear program, amid increasingly assertive Congressional moves to circumscribe the White House's ability to ease sanctions in the absence of meaningful concessions from the Iranians.The administration is said to be close to accepting a deal that would trade what the Times described as "limited relief from economic sanctions" in exchange for undisclosed concessions from Iran on nuclear enrichment and its stockpile of enriched material. Congressional lawmakers had already criticized any deal that would permit Iran to continue enrichment activities or would leave parts of Tehran's enriched stockpile intact, and today Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) floated legislation that would prevent the loosening of sanctions in the absence of Iran meeting United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for a full halt in the country's enrichment activities. For their part analysts had already outlined how a deal that left enrichment intact would, given Iran's current enrichment technology, allow the Islamic republic to dash across the nuclear finish line at will. The resulting uncertainty, according to Washington Institute managing director Michael Singh, would risk a full-blown a regional nuclear arms race. Yesterday the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) published an assessment [PDF] describing the minimum details of any interim agreement that would meaningfully extend Iran's breakout time. The ISIS report described five prerequisites which Iran would have to undertake: (1) halting all centrifuge installation and production, and disabling all but 9,000 existing centrifuges (2) halting all production of 20% uranium and putting beyond use all 20% enriched uranium (3) disabling all centrifuges at the country's underground military enrichment bunker at Fordow (4) halting progress at its Arak complex, which includes a plutonium reactor and a heavy-water production facility (5) accepting new inspection and monitoring requirements, up to and including cameras at all centrifuge plant locations or daily inspections.
- Reports emerged overnight and throughout Tuesday of new challenges to Western efforts meant to dampen Syria's almost three year conflict and to dismantle the Bashar al-Assad regime's chemical weapons arsenal. CNN reported last night that U.S. officials were examining classified documents showing that Damascus had hidden some of its chemical weapons, potentially leaving the Assad regime with "a secret cache" that would slip through the international agreement - hammered out as the U.S. signaled it was preparing to attack Syria - to destroy the country's stockpile. Top U.S. policymakers have not yet openly commented on the substance of the allegation, which would have involved a rogue regime lying about its rogue activities. Meanwhile Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nation's top envoy to Syria, briefed reporters regarding ongoing talks between the United States and Russia designed to create the framework for the so-called Geneva II talks between Syria's warring camps. Brahimi emphasized that though the global powers "still striving" to hold a conference before the end of the year, Washington and Moscow had failed to reach an agreement on the participation of Assad's ally Iran. Tehran is widely seen as having provided crucial military and logistical support enabling the regime to survive. Meanwhile Gulf states, which have supported rebels seeking the Assad regime's overthrow, took aim at the run-up to Geneva II and emphasized that talks could not be "unconditional" and "shouldn't just go on indefinitely." The reports came amid new violence that included the bombing of a railway company in Damascus that killed eight and wounded roughly 50 people
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed worries to Secretary of State John Kerry over the willingness of Palestinian leaders to make peace with the Jewish state, days after Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated long-standing statements that he would never consent to recognizing the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Kerry's visit was preceded by a stumble in talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, with Palestinians negotiators threatening to walk out of talks due to Israeli construction of Jewish communities beyond its 1948 armistice lines and the Israelis accusing their counterparts of manufacturing pretexts to break off talks. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had for years gone on in the absence of a construction freeze by the Israelis. The Palestinian signal that they may walk away from the table comes after Israel conducted the second of four planned releases of Palestinian prisoners convicted of murdering Israelis. TIME noted that there were "joyful Palestinian celebrations welcoming the prisoners home as heroes," which the outlet said "added to the Israeli public’s anger." More precisely, among other things, Fatah leader Abbas Zaki told Israeli victims' families to "go to your cemeteries and recite over your dead whatever you recite" and described the released murderers as "fighters, knights, free men!"
- More than eighty Iranian prisoners have gone on a hunger strike to protest a lack of medical care, according to a statement released yesterday by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Defenders of Human Rights Center (DRRC), and League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI). The statement also described "torture during pre-trial detention and harsh sentences after extremely unfair trials" and stated that "the Iranian authorities are silently preparing the death of prisoners of conscience." It came on the same day as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that another 12 Iranian prisoners had been executed amid what the outlet described as "a surge in the use of the death penalty there." The United Nation's special rapporteur on human rights in Iran had reported weeks ago that there have been no fundamental improvements in Iran's human rights situation since the election of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. Instead a wave of executions had already caused Iranian dissidents to declare the "end of reform." Rouhani had appointed as his justice minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, a figure despised by human rights advocates and anti-regime dissidents for helping to oversee the 1988 executions of thousands of political prisoners. Rouhani, himself a revolutionary-era cleric, has a history of advocating the mass roundup and imprisonment of dissidents.
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