- Western policymakers: "No apparent narrowing of differences" in Iran negotiations, Iranian offer "allows them to keep their whole program"
- Lebanese Shiite cleric urges government to disarm domestic militia groups, as Hezbollah continues fighting in Syria
- Second Hamas tunnel uncovered, deepening fears of terror escalation
- EU officials slam Turkey for "excessive use of force" and "overall absence of dialogue" with opposition
What we’re watching today:
- Talks which concluded today between Iran and the P5+1 in Geneva are being described with optimism in some quarters and pessimism in others, as analysts and policymakers struggled to figure out what exactly the Iranians offered and if the offer would be sufficient to put nuclear weapons beyond the reach of the Iranian regime. Reuters noted that while talks were "serious and candid," senior officials who spoke to the outlet warned that "no breakthroughs had been achieved and many disagreements remained" and that "there had been no apparent narrowing of differences between Tehran and the six nations." The descriptions seem to confirm assessments made a day earlier by Gary Samore, the U.S.'s "WMD Czar" during President Barack Obama's first term, on a conference call hosted by The Israel Project. Samore told the journalists and diplomats on the call that what Iran was publicly offering was "really no different than what we’ve heard from the previous government... from Ahmadinejad’s government" and that "it may be necessary for the U.S. and its allies to proceed with additional sanctions before he recognizes the need to make any really significant concessions." U.S. policymakers who spoke to the Washington Post today echoed Samore's suggestion that further pressure might be called for, with one former official worrying that "what the Iranians appear to have offered allows them to keep their whole program and all their enriched uranium." The Guardian described the Iranian plan as having multiple stages, with confidence-building deals involving "unspecified limits" on Iranian enrichment during early months, followed by acts in the second stage which would "further consolidate" the trust that had been built, ultimately creating a "new equilibrium" for the third stage that would involve intrusive inspections by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi subsequently clarified that limits on enrichment would not actually not be part of the first stage. Members of Congress, top analysts, and the editorial board of the Washington Post have all in recent days noted that such a deal - which would leave Iran with enriched material and the capacity to enrich more - would be unacceptable and would leave the regime with the ability to follow North Korea's example and dash across the nuclear finish line. Citing American weakness, General Hassan Firouzabadi, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, bluntly advised President Obama to take the deal Iran is offering. The next round of negotiations in Geneva is scheduled for November 7-8.
- A top Shiite cleric in Lebanon on Tuesday called for groups within the country to completely disarm, piling on mounting pressure facing Hezbollah to dismantle the militarized state-within-a-state that it has maintained inside Lebanon for decades. Higher Shiite Council deputy head Sheikh Abdel Amir Qabalan demanded that the government "strip all the people of arms," a call that in the context of Lebanese politics functionally means disarming Hezbollah. The Iran-backed Shiite terror group has for decades justified its military and political domination of Lebanon by insisting that it had to maintain its arsenal in order to defend Lebanese territory from Israel. That brand has been shattered, however, by the organization's critical fighting in Syria on behalf of the Iran-allied Bashar al-Assad regime. Blowback from that involvement - including jihadist attacks on Hezbollah strongholds and cross-border attacks on Lebanese territory - has also contributed to criticism of the group. Hezbollah has nonetheless refused to untangle itself from the conflict. Hezbollah-backed Syrian forces today reportedly seized the town of Bweida, after nearly a week of fighting, while the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) claimed today that it killed 50 foreign fighters in Syria, among them members of Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite groups.
- The IDF has announced the discovery and destruction of a second tunnel dug underneath Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, following one disclosed earlier this week that had been built to open up near a kindergarten which authorities believe Palestinian terrorists intended to target. The new tunnel stretched dozens of yards into Israel, and Hamas terrorists may have intended to pack it with explosives in the process of launching a spectacular attack. Veteran Israeli war correspondent Ron Ben Yishai suggested that the tunnel indicates ongoing efforts by Hamas to conduct terrorism against Israelis, an evaluation that aligns with the worries of analysts who worry that the Iran-backed terror group may be trying to halt a slide in its stature by conducting a spectacular terror attack.
An annual European Union report dedicated to assessing Turkey's progress in ascending to the bloc has slammed Ankara for an array of human rights and civil rights violations, though the European Commission which released the report Wednesday did back a long delayed plan to open a new policy area for talks. The Commission described "serious concerns" over "the excessive use of force by police and the overall absence of dialogue" that marked mass anti-government protests in May and June. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has violently cracked down on demonstrators, suppressed coverage of the events, restricted even social media coverage, lashed out at critics as conspiracists, instigated
counter-protests at the risk of violence, conducted mass arrest sweeps, and in general embraced what critics blasted as a majoritarianism that bordered on authoritarianism. The international community had already months ago reached the point where German Chancellor Angela Merkel was openly suggesting that Ankara’s domestic repression would damage Turkey’s efforts to join the E.U.
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