- State Dept on bringing Hamas into Palestinian Authority: Israel can't be "expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist"
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on Wednesday blasted the announcement, made earlier in the day by top Palestinian figures including Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, that the rival Fatah and Hamas factions had settled on an agreement that would among other things lead to the establishment of a new government including members of both groups. Questions from journalists at State's afternoon press conference revolved around how the U.S. viewed the move - Psaki's broadly reported response was that Washington was "disappointed" - and what its likely effects would be on a U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace push. Regarding the latter dynamic, Psaki repeatedly noted that Israel could not be "expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist." A unified Palestinian government that fulfills the terms of past Palestinian agreements is widely considered to be a vital prerequisite to successful peace talks. A government that abrogates those past agreements - specifically by refusing to renounce violence and recognize of Israel - would in contrast be seen as confirming the worst scenarios of peace process skeptics. The land-for-peace formula has always required the Israelis to give up tangible, functionally irreversible concessions in exchange for Palestinian promises on issues such as the renunciation of violence and recognition. Abandoning those commitments would be seen as a confirmation that Palestinian negotiators were negotiating to extract maximum concessions, until they could pocket them and walk away from the table. Statements made in recent weeks by Palestinian leaders, as well as some made in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday's announcement, hint that the government being envisioned will not be one that considers itself bound by past agreements. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat declared two weeks ago that Hamas "is not a terrorist organization," and remarks published late Wednesday by a top Hamas official explicitly declared that the Iran-backed group would not be altering its commitment to the eradication of the Jewish State. Commenting on public statements by Abbas that a unity government with Hamas would not be in tension with Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Rebecca Shabad, a political and foreign affairs reporter for The Hill, tersely tweeted "fat chance."
Saudi Arabian price Turki al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief and still a top figure in the country's royal family, reportedly told a Bahraini security conference on Wednesday that Gulf states should cooperate on obtaining "nuclear know-how" in order to balance gains made by Iran, the latest in what has become a steady stream of signals from Riyadh that a failure by the West to put Tehran's atomic program beyond use for weaponization risks a cascade of nuclear proliferation across the region. Defense News reported last week that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had formally invited Jordan and Morocco to join a conventional military alliance, and that there was an ongoing push to include Egypt as well. The announcement had come alongside other moves seemingly aimed at consolidating Arab countries diplomatically and militarily opposite Iran, including a seemingly successful effort to overcome rifts between three Gulf nations and Qatar. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported today that Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Attiyah told a Kuwaiti press conference that recent disputes between Doha and the rest of the GCC were "over." Faisal's statements will now likely refocus attention on the potential nuclear dimensions of Sunni-Shiite tensions. That said, the sentiments are not new. Observers know from Wikileaks cables that Saudi Arabia had already urged U.S. officials to launch attacks against Iranian nuclear infrastructure years ago, and in July 2010 the UAE’s ambassador to Washington publicly made the case that the benefits of bombing Iran's nuclear installations outweighed the probable costs.
Members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Wednesday called for an investigation into allegations that Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime had recently deployed chemical weapons against civilians and opposition elements, after members of the body received a closed-door briefing from a coordinator charged with removing portions of Assad's vast stockpile of nonconventional weapons. American and French officials had confirmed in recent days that they had "indications" that Syrian forces targeted rebel groups with chlorine gas, and video evidence seemed to document that chlorine canisters had been dropped from helicopters. The scenario was widely read as calling into question the wisdom of an international deal - hammered out last September as an alternative to what seemed to be impending Western strikes against Assad's military infrastructure - under which Syria would join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and turn over portions of its chemical weapons arsenal to be destroyed. The White House was criticized for thereby becoming de facto invested in the regime's ability to facilitate the handover, but administration officials countered that the costs were worth putting chemical weapons beyond the reach of Syrian forces. Reuters on Wednesday assessed that the chlorine attacks threaten to "expose a major loophole" in the deal, inasmuch as "chlorine gas... was never included on the list" of chemical agents that Damascus was expected to surrender. The battlefield deployment of chlorine gas is also banned under the CWC, and analysts suspect that the Syrian regime is conducting a coordinated chlorine bomb campaign. If confirmed, the allegations might give rise to the suspicion that Assad cannot be trusted to uphold signed international obligations.
>Reuters reported on Wednesday that the U.S. will be delivering ten Apache helicopters to Egypt, conveying a statement from the Pentagon explaining that the decision had already been passed along to Cairo by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and that the Pentagon believes that "these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten U.S., Egyptian, and Israeli security." The move to deliver the weapons came in the aftermath of a formal confirmation by the State Department that Egypt has been upholding key geopolitical obligations, including its commitments under its peace treaty with Israel. Reuters also conveyed a statement from Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) praising the helicopter transfer and advocating for "Egyptians to have the tools necessary to stabilize the economy and keep the country secure, including equipment that assists with counter-terrorism operations in the Sinai." Egypt's army has been waging a protracted battle in the Sinai Peninsula to uproot the jihadist infrastructure that has taken root in the territory, and has leaned heavily on air power - including specifically on Apaches - in those campaigns. The Obama administration froze a range of assistance to Cairo - including specifically the anticipated Apaches - after the Egyptian army, responding to mass anti-government rallies demanding the resignation of the country's Muslim Brotherhood-linked then-President Mohammed Morsi, moved last July to oust Morsi and install a caretaker cabinet. The freeze was roundly criticized by domestic analysts, U.S. lawmakers, and Washington's Arab and Israeli allies. The Associated Press reported that the decision to deliver the Apaches came alongside a more extensive release of aid, 'specifically those parts dealing with security in the Sinai Peninsula and counterterrorism efforts.' Other aid, including a batch of F-16's, remains frozen.