Posted by Albert Gersh - September 17, 2013
- Iran denies willingness to make nuclear concession, nixes possibility of "fresh proposal"
- CNN: Western and Russian diplomats deadlocked on Syria resolution
- Iran reimposes Internet ban, claims "technical faults"
- Car bomb explodes at Turkey-Syria border crossing, underscoring spike in tensions
What we’re watching today:
- Iranian media is flatly denying the details of a Der Spiegel report published yesterday describing Iranian president Hassan Rouhani as ready to decommission the country's uranium enrichment facility at Fordo in exchange for the West easing economic sanctions. Fordo is an underground military bunker that Iran has converted for enrichment purposes, and not only did Iran's ISNA news agency indicate that it would not be closed, but - per the Tehran Times - "Iran would not come up with any fresh proposal to the 5+1 group" with which Tehran is negotiating. Analysts and diplomats had already expressed skepticism regarding the offer. Robert Einhorn, who until recently was the State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, cast doubt on Tehran's willingness to actually shutter the facility. Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, emphasized that Iran has 18,000 centrifuges at its Natanz facility capable of enriching Iran's stockpile of low- and medium-enriched uranium to weapons-grade quality. Yuval Steinitz - Israel's Minister of Intelligence, International Relations, and Strategic Affairs - explained to Israeli Army Radio that "most of the centrifuges are not there; without Fordo they might be able to produce 6, not 7, nuclear bombs."
- CNN describes "bickering" between Western and Russian diplomats struggling to hammer out the details of an agreement that would see the international community acting to seize Syria's vast arsenal of chemical weapons. Russia is demanding that the threat of force against the Bashar al-Assad regime be absolutely dropped. France and the United States are demanding that the threat of force be absolutely maintained. Negotiators have found it difficult to reconcile those two positions. The proposal had already been written in a way that allowed Damascus to keep its biological weapons, which like its chemical weapons are classified as weapons of mass destruction. The lack of progress being made in the multilateral talks are being taken, in some quarters, as an indication that a multilateral approach incorporating Russia and China is unlikely to productively resolve the Syrian conflict.
- Iranian officials today blamed "technical faults" for the creation of a brief window yesterday in which Iranian citizens were allowed to access banned social media sites, reimposing restrictions and pointedly warning that they would be "investigating to see which... companies" had lifted the filters. Direct access to social media sites was blocked in 2009 following mass protests that swept the country after being organized via the Internet, and a crackdown earlier this year ahead of the June presidential elections was attributed to regime fears of another wave of protests. Western journalists stationed in the country announced that they were able to access Twitter and Facebook without the use of proxies, sparking what the BBC described as hopes of "the start of a more tolerant attitude towards social media by the government." Thomas Erdbrink, Tehran bureau chief for The New York Times, for example celebrated on Twitter "that feeling when the Iranian authorities finally decide you are wise enough to use Twitter and FB" and asked if "Iran’s Berlin Wall of internet censorship [was] crumbling down." The reimposition of restrictions is likely to renew criticisms of Tehran's efforts to create a “halal Internet” on which it can control and filter content. Secure Google searches, some Western political sites, and social media outlets are all blocked in the country.
- A car bomb exploded today at a border crossing between Syria and Turkey, injuring a dozen people and heightening long-held fears that the Syrian conflict would spread to Turkey. The explosion came a day after a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Syrian military helicopter that Ankara reported had entered Turkish airspace and ignored repeated warnings to leave. Turkey has intermittently threatened military action against the Bashar al-Assad regime, after Syrian forces shot down a Turkish jet that reportedly violated Syrian airspace. The spike in tensions comes after years in which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Assad enjoyed warm personal and bilateral ties, with Erdogan at one point inviting the Syrian dictator to vacation in Turkey.
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