Posted by Albert Gersh - December 18, 2013
- France throws doubt on whether Iran committed to genuine nuclear concessions
- Turkey PM lashes out against critics as corruption scandal shakes government
- Experts: Iran government will hijack banking sector sanctions relief
- Former Egyptian president to stand trial on terrorism-related charges
What we’re watching today:
- The Wall Street Journal this evening published comments made by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in which the Paris official expressed skepticism that Iran is willing to verifiably dismantle its nuclear program, quoting Fabius emphasizing that "it is unclear if the Iranians will accept to definitively abandon any capacity of getting a weapon or only agree to interrupt the nuclear program." Talks aimed at disabling the Iranian nuclear program - which half a dozen United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions have demanded be suspended - are due to take place during a six-month interim period following the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) worked out in Geneva. The State Department conceded under reporter questioning weeks ago that the JPA's six-month clock has not begun ticking since Iran has not agreed on how the deal should be implemented. Talks to clarify implementation were suspended by Tehran in recent days. Lawmakers and analysts have expressed increasingly pointed concerns that Iran may be preparing to extract as many concessions as it can from the JPA and then walk away from talks on the basis of some pretext, thereby pocketing the West's JPA concessions without slowing Iran's nuclear program.
- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today lashed out against a corruption probe that he described as a "dirty operation" designed to smear him and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration, a day after more than 50 people - drawn from the families of politicians and businessmen close to Erdogan - were detained by police forces. The detentions were met with steps that The New York Times described as "perceived as a striking back," with dozens of senior officers - including and especially many involved with battling corruption - being expelled from their posts. Turkey expert Dr. Michael Koplow commented that "it's incredible that Erdogan doesn't see that sacking all of these police officials is going to make things so much, much worse." Meanwhile the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a report today documenting that, for the second year in a row, Turkey has jailed more journalists than any other country. CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon declared in a statement issued with the report that "jailing journalists for their work is the hallmark of an intolerant, repressive society." Coupled with the corruption crisis, the criticism is likely to deepen concerns that the AKP's decade-long control over Turkey's top political institutions has deepened corruption and eroded human rights.
- Criticism continues to mount regarding the scope and likely effects of financial relief granted to Iran as part of the recently announced Geneva interim agreement, with concerns being raised not just about the value of unfrozen assets but more broadly about how the so-called Joint Plan of Action (JPA) is likely to impact the international sanctions regime. Emanuele Ottolenghi and Saeed Ghasseminejad - respectively a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a Ph.D. candidate in finance at City University of New York - yesterday published an assessment outlining how the JPA's banking provisions are likely "to undermine the existing sanctions' architecture." International restrictions had substantially circumscribed Iran's access to financial markets, both cutting off resources that Tehran was using to advance its nuclear program and preventing the Islamic republic from shoring up its economy. The JPA unfreezes a banking channel that Iran is supposed to use to facilitate the purchase of humanitarian assistance, and Western diplomats have expressed confidence that the relaxation will only benefit undesignated entities. The assurances have been met with skepticism by financial analysts, and Ottolenghi and Ghasseminejad emphasize that "Iranian banking institutions are hardly private, independent or able to withstand regime manipulation." They worry that Iranian entities including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps will be able to siphon significant funds from the transactions. Meanwhile Turkish outlet Zaman today revealed that Iranian-Azeri businessman Reza Zerrab has been swept up in an anti-corruption probe, and that he "is accused of being involved in irregular money transactions, mostly from Iran, that total some 87 billion euros."
- Egyptian officials announced today that the country's Muslim Brotherhood-linked former president Mohammed Morsi will stand trial on terrorism-related charges, declaring that he and 35 other Brotherhood figures will face charges for among other things conspiring with Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to sow instability within and beyond Egypt's borders. More specifically, prosecutors accuse the defendants of "collaborating with foreign organisations to commit terrorist acts in Egypt, revealing defence secrets to a foreign country, funding terrorists and military training to achieve the purposes of the international organisation of the Brotherhood." The Associated Press evaluated the new charges as representing "a new level" in ongoing tussles between the Brotherhood and the army-backed interim government that replaced Morsi after he was deposed by the Egyptian military, and quoted the prosecution announcing that the trial would target "the biggest case of conspiracy in Egypt." The coming weeks will also see Egyptians vote in a referendum on a new constitution, designed to replace the a previous document that Islamists had controversially drafted and rushed into passage during Morsi's tenure.
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