- Top former Obama advisors: White House, Congress must signal consequences to Iran if negotiations fail
- Palestinian president rejects Kerry request to reverse negotiations-wrecking diplomatic gambit, boasts that Israel diplomatic moves "scare no one"
- Diplomatic meeting put off as diplomats, analysts, journalists worry that Erdogan driving permanent wedge between Ankara and Brussels
- Lebanese leaders scramble to convince Hezbollah to stand down destabilizing Resistance Brigades militia
The Wall Street Journal on Friday morning conveyed comments by former Obama administration advisers Robert Einhorn and Dennis Ross calling on the Obama administration and Congress - per the outlet - "to increase the threat of using military force against Tehran if talks aimed at curbing its nuclear program fail – or the country’s Islamist government is caught cheating on the terms of an agreement." The Journal noted that while the two are "both strong proponents of President Barack Obama‘s diplomacy with Iran," existing and persistent gaps between the P5+1 global powers and Iran have reinforced diplomatic unease over whether negotiations can convince Tehran to verifiably put its atomic program beyond use for weaponization. Their remarks came during the launch of a new paper authored by Einhorn and released by the Brookings Institute - where Einhorn is a senior fellow - calling for [PDF] a range of Congressional actions, including a prior authorization for the President to use military force should Iran attempt to sneak across the nuclear finish line. Ross elaborated during the study's launch that "the Iranians must see the consequences, not just of cheating if there is an agreement, but the failure of diplomacy," and that "the more we demonstrate resolve, including by talking about consequences of violations... the more we signal to the Iranians that we mean what we say... that will be key if we are to produce an agreement in the first place." Top Iranian officials have repeatedly emphasized that Tehran will refuse to dismantle nuclear centrifuges, downgrade its plutonium-producing Arak reactor, or make concessions regarding ballistic missile development. Western analysts - including Einhorn in his new report as well as U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security head David Albright - have assessed that any robust agreement on Iran would have to include the dismantlement of tens of thousands of centrifuges, the modification of the Arak reactor, and at a minimum confidence-building measures on ballistic missiles.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday rejected a request from Secretary of State John Kerry to reverse his position - announced earlier this week at what the Associated Press described as a "hastily convened" press conference - to turn to the United Nations and join 15 international treaties as the "State of Palestine," telling the U.S.'s top diplomat that he was unafraid of diplomatic retaliation from Jerusalem because "Israel's threats scare no one." The expression of bravado comes two days after Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki bragged to reporters that he didn't "expect any consequences coming from the U.S. Congress... at all" in response to the Palestinians' diplomatic gambit, which among other things violated commitments made by Ramallah in the context of a nine-month U.S. peace push and, more broadly, under the Oslo Accords. Analysts and journalists have in recent days expressed increasingly public worries regarding Palestinian recklessness. Veteran Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff assessed on Wednesday that "what appears to be an attempt to pressure Israel and the US could easily inflame the Palestinian street," triggering a spiral of responses and reactions that "could push Abbas and the Palestinian leadership once again up a tree from which it would be hard to climb down." Issacharoff emphasized that heightening unrealistic expectations for territorial and diplomatic gains risked triggering an eruption of public anger "on the Palestinian street [that] could be directed at Ramallah and Abbas first, even before Israel." Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party supports renewed and ongoing negotiations, worried that a list of new Palestinian demands presented yesterday - widely and immediately seen as nonstarters - was evidence that Abbas was working against his interests. State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Friday that the United States remained committed to pursuing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, though the Washington Post had previously reported that Kerry was likely to "lower the volume and see how things unfold."
Hurriyet Daily News reported on Friday that a planned meeting between European Union (EU) and Turkish officials is set to be postponed because diplomatic interactions between the parties are currently more likely to worsen relations rather than improve them, amid EU unease over recent moves by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to ban social media, turn water cannons on protesters, threaten to make political rivals "pay" for their opposition, impose conditions regarding when the EU is permitted to criticize Ankara, and so on. The outlet quoted an EU diplomat predicting that 'the relationship would go from bad to worse' if a meeting of the Turkey-EU Association Committee was held next week as originally planned. The news comes just a day after veteran New York Times correspondent Alan Cowell assessed that Turkey under Erdogan had "turned its back on the EU," and that upcoming elections "may deepen its estrangement." Cowell quoted Andreas Scheuer, a prominent German politician, tersely suggesting that "it is becoming clear that Erdogan's Turkey does not belong to Europe." He also quoted Guardian columnist Simon Tisdall worrying that Erdogan's moves to retain power may serve to undermine political freedoms and deepen internal Turkish divisions. Meanwhile Sohrab Ahmari, an editorial page writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe, called on European conservatives to shun the AKP, citing among other things the Islamist party's "contempt for such core conservative principles as individual liberty and separation of powers."
Lebanon's Daily Star on Friday reported that religious and political figures from the Lebanese city of Sidon have been traveling to Hezbollah's offices in Beirut to try to convince Hezbollah leaders to reverse their recent decision to reactivate and boost the activities of the organization's Resistance Brigades inside Sidon. The Daily Star cited local political sources worrying that 'the move could disrupt the relative calm of the last few months.' The militia, created by Hezbollah in 2009, has been a source of tension inside Lebanon in general, and specifically in Sidon. Hezbollah let it be known through Lebanese media that - in response to local concerns over the thuggishness of Resistance Brigades members - it was disbanding the militias in Sidon. Those reports turned out to be false, and in December Hezbollah reportedly ordered a "general mobilization" of Resistance Brigades fighters in response to a possible "snowball" of Sunni-Shiite conflict. The gangs were deployed a few weeks ago against several Sunni towns in Lebanon, after Hezbollah seized the strategically critical Syrian border city of Yabroud. Hanin Ghaddar - the managing editor of the Lebanese-focused NOW outlet - described the sudden upsurge in violence as Hezbollah spiking the football, writing that the group "needed to prove that its conquest of Yabroud would bear fruit on the ground in Lebanon... [after] the Lebanese people, mainly the Shiite community, had stopped buying into theatrical propaganda."