- USA Today: White House preparing to accept nuclear deal that would fail to "end Iran's ability to develop a nuclear weapon"
- Journalists evaluate new TIP poll showing Americans overwhelmingly blame Palestinians for breakdown in talks, accept Israeli position on Palestinian unity government
- Reports: Massive Iran oil and gas fair included companies with U.S. contracts, deepening fears of sanctions downward spiral
- Turkey government blasted for heavy-handed response to protesters and mourners as country reels from mass death mining disaster
USA Today late on Wednesday sketched out the emerging details of an anticipated deal between Iran and the P5+1 global powers, with the outlet bluntly assessing that the agreement will fall far short of securing an "end [to] Iran's ability to develop a nuclear weapon." The piece quoted Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, predicting that the agreement will leave the Iranians with "some kind of (uranium) enrichment capacity," and thus the ability to enrich nuclear material for a nuclear bomb. It also noted that top U.S. lawmakers from both parties - and from both chambers - have been unequivocal that leaving Tehran with such capabilities would be unacceptable. The dynamic may become problematic for the Obama administration, which will likely need congressional legislation to unwind sanctions against the Islamic republic. There have been leaks suggesting that the White House could unilaterally suspend financial restrictions, but even Iranian lobbies have conceded that those scenarios are unlikely to prove diplomatically robust. Meanwhile Washington Institute Managing Director Michael Singh on Wednesday published a piece worrying that Western negotiators have implicitly shifted to a position where "a 'good deal' these days is often framed more in terms of Rouhani’s capacity to deliver than our own requirements." Singh outlined a range of Iranian foreign policy positions - on Syria, on China, on Russia, on Afghanistan, and so on - that Tehran is likely to pursue more vigorously in the aftermath of an erosion in Western sanctions. The effect is likely to be "a sharp blow to America’s position," making "a weak agreement... [into] a strategic setback in the guise of a tactical success."
The Daily Beast on Wednesday published details of a new poll by The Israel Project - which the organization formally published later that morning - finding that "over twice as many Americans agree with Israel's claim that they are not primarily to blame for the failure of the Middle East peace process than those who agree with the Palestinian claim that moving toward a unity government with Hamas is a step toward peace," a result that the outlet noted came as "the debate over who is primarily to blame for the breakdown of talks has become heated." The results came from among other things a series of questions in which 1,595 likely voters were asked to respond to a range of “narrative” questions to evaluate how the public debate over the Palestinian unity agreement was progressing. For each question, they were asked to evaluate the Israeli position and the Palestinian position. The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin drew a series of conclusions from the numbers, the first being that "the problem is not merely the PA leadership but a Palestinian population marinating in a stew of anti-Semitic vitriol and reverence for terrorists. When that changes, perhaps peace will be attainable." JNS picked out different data points from the poll, noting that two-thirds of Americans agree that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that includes members of Hamas. It also noted that "51 percent of respondents said the U.S. should be a supporter or strong supporter of Israel, while only nine percent said America should be a supporter or strong supporter of the Palestinians." The nine percent figure is identical to the percent of Americans who believed that aliens were hiding behind the 1997 Hale-Bopp comet.
The Washington Free Beacon on Wednesday exposed that a recent oil and gas fair held by Iran was attended by at least five companies that have U.S. government contracts, a revelation that Matan Shamir - research director at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) - described for the outlet as "a telling indication of the weakening of the international sanctions regime" in the aftermath of financial relief provided by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA). The Obama administration had last year blocked Congressional moves aimed at bolstering pressure and strengthening the hand of Western negotiators by insisting that so-called core sanctions were holding, and that U.S. diplomats had sufficient leverage to extract meaningful concessions from Iran. Skeptics had described the potential for a gold rush in Iran generally, and energy analyst Aaron Menenberg had last January outlined specific fears that a scramble for access to the Iranian energy market would trigger a downward spiral in which "no company wants to be the first one in, but none want to be the last." The Times of Oman had reported on the fair last week, noting that representatives from 600 companies had traveled to Iran "seeking to position themselves for a return to large-scale operations." The event opened a few days before Iran's oil minister declared that the Islamic republic would continue its efforts to bust through U.S. limits on energy exports, after already doing so for the last six months straight.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Wednesday faced mounting foreign criticism - and a wave of domestic unrest - for their handling of a mining disaster in the Turkish city of Soma, in which at least 274 people were killed just two weeks after Turkey's AKP-dominated parliament blocked an opposition motion to investigate accidents in Soma's mines. A picture of two government ministers pointedly ignoring an opposition speaker's speech about unsafe working conditions has become something of a symbol for government indifference on the issue. Anti-government protests have grown steadily since a power transformer blew up Tuesday, sparking a fire that killed hundreds by what is suspected to be carbon monoxide poisoning. A speech by Erdogan - in which he reached back to mining disasters in 1838 Britain and 1907 America to insist that mining disaster "are usual things" - did not dampen public anger. By Wednesday demonstrations had broken out across Turkey, to which security forces responded with tear gas and water cannons. Hurriyet Daily News assessed that "the heavy-handed response of the security forces against the initial protests in Soma might be a factor for the mourner-turned-protesters." It also posted a photo of top Erdogan advisor Yusuf Yerkel violently kicking a protestor who had been forced to the ground by two security officers, an act that Yerkel excused by noting that the man had among other things "insulted" Erdogan. Turkey expert Michael Koplow blasted the AKP for "mak[ing] a bad situation worse" by distributing and then echoing talking points of the kind Erdogan read, chronicling mining accidents in other countries to suggest that "since there have been mining disasters throughout history... the Turkish government should be absolved of all blame for anything related to Soma." Koplow declared that for Erdogan "[t]he playbook is always the same – deny that the facts are the facts, blame someone else, and cite incorrect information or things that are laughably out of context in order to defend grossly objectionable behavior."
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