Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday ruled out concessions on what he described as Iran's "nuclear achievements," the latest in a line of repeated and explicit statements from top Iranian officials ruling out moves that Western analysts and the Obama administration consider minimal conditions necessary to verifiably put the Islamic republic's atomic program beyond use for weaponization.
A post to Khamenei's Twitter account stated that
"nuclear achievements are not going to stop [and] no one has the right to trade them and no one will do so," a stance echoed by remarks published on the Supreme Leader's official website declaring that
"talks should continue" but that "everyone should know that Iran's activities in nuclear research and development, as well as its nuclear achievements, will never be stopped." Top U.S. nuclear experts, including
prominent supporters of the Obama administration's diplomacy to Iran, have calculated
that any robust deal with Iran must at a minimum include significant rollbacks of Iran's existing nuclear infrastructure. Khamenei is vested with ultimate authority over Iran's foreign policy and its diplomatic posture regarding nuclear negotiations, and observers have worried
since the signing of the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) that expressions of intransigence by the Supreme Leader were aimed at providing pretexts for pocketing Western concessions and eventually abandoning comprehensive talks. Meanwhile talks between the P5+1 global powers and Iran, directed toward inking a final agreement by July 20, have resumed talks in Vienna. Assessments regarding the probable success of the negotiations varied by outlet and headline. Reuters emphasized a U.S. statement
expressing doubts as to whether "gaps" between the parties could be bridged, Agence France-Presse (AFP) headlined its story
with "Iran says 'narrowing some differences' in nuclear talks," and Iran's Fars news outlet was most optimistic
with "FM: Iran, World Powers to Start Drafting Final Deal Soon."Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday instructed high-level government officials to limit cooperation with Palestinian counterparts to security concerns and peace negotiations, a move that an Israeli government official told Reuters was in response to "the Palestinians' grave violation of their commitments in the framework of the peace talks."
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas had last week hurriedly convened
a press conference to announce that Ramallah would seek to ascend to 15 international treaties as the "State of Palestine." The decision specifically violated black-letter commitments made by the Palestinian president in the context of a nine-month U.S.-backed peace push, and more broadly ran afoul of a central guarantee,
provided under the Oslo Accords, to abstain from unilateral gambits that would upgrade the diplomatic status of disputed territories. Both violations ignited fears that the Palestinians made the strategic decision to exploit a fundamental asymmetry in the peace process - under which Israel is expected to make tangible, irreversible concessions in exchange for symbolic, reversible promises - and, having pocketed Israeli concessions on territory and prisoners, were now abandoning their previous pledges. Top PA officials subsequently bragged that they didn't expect
to face "any consequences" from the United States, and Abbas himself ridiculed the possibility
of Israeli retaliation. Israeli outlets
and international wires
on Wednesday noted that Abbas, now reportedly fearing that Israel will take further measures in response to the Palestinian abandonment of literally decades of understandings, will ask the Arab League for potential financial support.
The United Nation's High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Tuesday flatly declared that war crimes and atrocities committed by Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime "far outweigh" what have been sometimes been treated as parallel actions by opposition elements, emphasizing that while both sides have engaged in abuses that should be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC), the "killings, cruelty, persons in detention, disappearances [by the government] far outweigh" human rights violations by rebel groups. Pillay's testimony had been heavily anticipated - the German Mission to the United Nations tweeted that it hoped she would use her briefing to "clearly denounce Assad's starvation tactics" - though Reuters contextualized her statements against the backdrop of persistent Russian opposition to any move by the United Nations Security Council to refer Syria to the ICC. Syria's ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Ja'afari, responded to Pillay by blasting her as a "lunatic" and by insisting that she was "manipulating, bluffing the truth and she is biased." Al Arabiya reported on Wednesday that forces loyal to Assad had seized the rebel-held town of Rankus - part of a broader campaign to secure the Qalamun region along the Lebanon-Syria border - and conveyed statements from Syrian state media boasting that the Syrian army had now "restored security and stability after eliminating a large number of terrorists."
Al Arabiya on Wednesday conveyed statements from Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah suggesting that the bulk of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was close to healing a rift with GCC member Qatar, which had been deepening in recent months and even years as Qatar allied itself with actors that the Gulf countries consider to be regional antagonists. The Kuwaitis hinted that their ongoing mediation efforts were close to securing a breakthrough in disputes between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain on one side, and Qatar on the other. Riyadh and its allies had long ago coalesced, along with Israel, into a de facto bloc of traditional U.S. allies, aligned opposite both a radical Sunni bloc anchored by Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Shiite camp of Iran and its allies. Qatar had broadly acted to support radical Sunni elements, and - despite substantial criticism from its Arab neighbors - had prominently assisted the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The geopolitical gambles failed to pay off, and Qatar's foreign influence crashed as Turkey suffered its own decline and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown by the country's Saudi-backed army. Egypt functionally broke off diplomatic ties with Qatar, and in March, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain followed suit by recalling their ambassadors. The Arab states insist that Doha has violated a GCC pact not to support "anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals - via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media," a gesture to Qatar's general support for the pro-Brotherhood coverage broadcast by the Qatari-based Al Jazeera station. Bringing Qatar back into the GCC fold would be treated as a boost to the Arab bloc, and as a blow to Turkish foreign policy and to the Brotherhood's regional prospects. The moves may have domestic implications, as the Obama administration has faced pointed criticism for inadequately supporting traditional U.S. allies against geopolitical and internal adversaries.