- WSJ reveals Iran negotiation offer that falls well short of clear U.S. demands
- Amid broad criticism of Egypt aid cut-off, White House scrambles to deny report it is zeroing out assistance
- Turkey PM and FM meet for three hours with top Hamas figures, including West Bank terror chief
- Iran FM claims fabricated quotes from hardliners put him in the hospital
What we’re watching today:
- The Wall Street Journal reports that Iran is preparing a package of proposals that it will offer the West at upcoming talks that falls short of demands explicitly laid out by the White House and the State Department in recent weeks. The Iranian offer will reportedly offer, among other concessions, to remove 20% enriched uranium from the country's borders while continuing to enrich to 3.5% purity. Regarding ongoing enrichment, National Security Adviser Susan Rice had been explicit that the administration would not accept any deal under which Iran would be allowed to "enrich its own uranium." Moreover, Iran's demand that it continue to possess 3.5% enriched uranium would leave the regime with the option of dashing across the nuclear finish line before the West could intervene; because of advanced enrichment technology that Iran has installed in recent years, Iranian scientists can enrich to weapons-grade levels starting from 3.5% in the same time it once would have taken to enrich from 20%. Instead, U.S. lawmakers have consistently insisted that Iran must fulfill its obligations to the international community to fully dismantle its nuclear program - requirements codified in half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions - before sanctions are diluted. Meeting those obligations would require Iran to export all enriched material out the country, cease uranium enrichment and plutonium-related activity, and boost transparency around suspected weaponization work. Top State Department figures, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. will opt for no deal rather than a bad deal with Iran.
- The White House last night scrambled to deny reports aired on CNN asserting that the administration was moving toward zeroing out military aid toward Egypt. As they did last month when the same policy suggestion was floated, analysts questioned the logic behind such a decision. An August New York Times article had already outlined critical ways in which the U.S. leverages U.S.-Egyptian ties, including by gaining "near-automatic approval for military overflights" and being allowed "to cut to the front of the line through the Suez Canal in times of crisis." Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Steven Cook noted last night that cutting aid would not "make Egypt more democratic and less violent," while Robert Satloff - the executive director of the Washington Institute - described a cut-off as a "terrible mistake" that would confirm perceptions that the U.S. was pro-Muslim Brotherhood. Satloff's worry echoed increasing fears in the region that the U.S. is distancing itself from a solidifying Israeli/Arab bloc made up of the U.S.'s Mediterranean and Gulf allies, which aligned opposite to two other emerging Middle East camps: a Shiite one led by Iran and a Sunni extremist one that includes the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy recently worried that relations between Cairo and Washington had grown "troubled." Saudi Arabia this week reaffirmed its support for Cairo's army-backed interim government.
- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met yesterday with top officials drawn from what Hamas describes as its political and military operations, with a Hamas statement confirming the attendance of among others Khaled Mashaal and Ankara-based Saleh al-Arouri. The Doha-based Mashaal and Ankara-based Arouri are respectively the terror group's political bureau head and the founder of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, its armed wing, in the West Bank. The three-hour session included other top Turkish figures, including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. U.S.-based analysts and counterterror specialists read the meeting against a percipitous decline in Mashaal's standing within Hamas, and more specifically against rumors that he might be seeking to relocate to Ankara. Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, suggested that giving Mashaal shelter would be "particularly risky" for Turkey, given that it is already under scrutiny for allowing Arouri to operate on Turkish soil even as the Hamas figure is suspected of orchestrating a Hamas terror resurgence in the West Bank. The freedom that Turkey permits Arouri may, according to Schanzer, qualify Ankara as a state sponsor of terrorism.
- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif briefly checked himself into a hospital yesterday, citing physical pain caused by what he insists were fabricated statements - attributed to him by a hardline Iranian newspaper - in which Zarif was quoted walking back diplomatic overtures to the U.S. made by himself and by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. Specifically, Zarif was quoted by the Kayhan daily describing two moves - a phone call between Rouhani and President Barack Obama as well as a meeting between Zarif and Secretary of State John Kerry - as "missteps." Untangling what exactly happened is difficult. Rouhani's phone call was criticized by Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as "not appropriate," and Zarif may have been forced into a humiliating apology, which he subsequently denied. It would not be the first time since Rouhani's election that Iranian officials have engaged in a two-step regarding Western engagement, reaping the global publicity benefits of seeming moderate while acting and talking differently inside Iran. Western media outlets have in recent weeks optimistically conveyed: a post from a Twitter account linked to Rouhani wishing Jews a happy New Year, the temporary lifting of Internet restrictions on Iranian citizens, and an offer by Iran to close its underground enrichment military bunker at Fordow. Each of those was quickly walked back. Rouhani's office denied he was linked to the tweet, Internet restrictions were quickly reimposed, and the offer regarding Fordow was officially quashed. Zarif's outreach and denial may belong on this list. Alternatively, the quotes attributed to Zarif may indeed have been completely fabricated by the hardline Iranian newspaper. In that case, it's difficult to see how Zarif is going to stand up to the hardline Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) when antics by newspapers give him the vapors. The head of the IRGC said Monday that Rouhani should have refused to take the September phone call from Obama.
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