Posted by Albert Gersh - May 20, 2014
- Reuters: "[N]o early sign of breakthrough" in long-standing Western demand that Iran come clean over past nuclear activity
Reuters reported Tuesday night that efforts by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog (IAEA) to force Iran to account for the so-called possible military dimensions (PMD) of its atomic program - efforts that U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, had repeatedly emphasized are aimed at forcing the Islamic republic to meet its obligation to "come clean" about its past military activities - have shown "no early sign of breakthrough." The wire understatedly clarified that recent talks revolving around suspected Iranian military involvement - which range from military entanglement in uranium mining to detonations related to the production of nuclear warheads - had ended without it being "immediately clear whether any headway was made." Iranian foot dragging on its obligations to "come clean" have recently emerged as a central sticking point in negotiations, with Reuters having specifically reported last week that functionally no progress had been made in compelling Tehran to account for tests involving Explosive Bridge Wire detonators, which the outlet noted was "seen as a litmus test of its readiness to begin cooperating with a long-stonewalled investigation into what the Vienna-based U.N. body calls the possible military dimensions (PMD) of the country’s nuclear program." The issue goes beyond the symbolic, and into the viability of any deal designed to put Iran's nuclear program beyond use for weaponization. David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini – respectively the president and a research analyst at ISIS - had been blunt that any agreement that did not include Iran accounting for "the past and possibly on-going military dimensions of its nuclear program would undermine the verifiability of the deal, and thus the credibility of a comprehensive deal, in addition to the credibility of the Obama administration."
Washington Institute Fellow Eric Trager on Tuesday published an extensive analysis of the calculations seemingly being made by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood as the country approaches the first anniversary of the July 2013 ouster of then-president Mohammed Morsi - whose Brotherhood-linked government had brought Egypt to brink of state disintegration - with Trager contrasting indicators that "the Brotherhood believes that it is winning" against objective evidence that "the Brotherhood isn't winning at all — in fact, it’s at its weakest point in nearly four decades, and its notoriously rigid organization is in total disarray." The significance of the organization's rigid, hierarchical structure had not always been appreciated by analysts. Trager had made a point long ago of emphasizing it as a potential weakness that potentially enabled the Egyptian military to decapitate and scatter the group, versus conventional wisdom that had held that the Brotherhood was too intimately interwoven into Egyptian life to be untangled by even a concentrated campaign. Subsequent empirical evidence has seemed to side with analysts who bucked the conventional wisdom and recognized the Brotherhood's vulnerability. Trager's Tuesday article cited top leaders from the group expressing confusion as to who is currently setting policy, and more pointedly what the current policy actually is. More concretely, he emphasized that "within urban centers, the Brotherhood’s five-to-eight-member cells... haven’t held their weekly meetings since Morsi was ousted, and Muslim Brothers say they can only meet each other one or two at a time," and that more broadly "the Brotherhood’s top leadership hasn’t met since late July. And although new leaders have been promoted to replace those who have been imprisoned, Muslim Brothers don’t actually know who is strategizing on their behalf."
Al Arabiya late Tuesday conveyed reports from Syrian opposition groups accusing the Bashar al-Assad regime of having launched a chemical weapons (CW) attack against rebel-heavy areas the day before, which the groups indicated had left more than 130 people in need of medical attention. Videos that have emerged from the attack on the central province of Hama showed among other things "a girl [who had] clasped her chest with both hands as she struggled to control her coughing" and "a young man  lying down with locals and medical rushing to treat him." Al Arabiya was careful to note that the authenticity of the videos could not be verified. The reports nonetheless come at a time when Western analysts have openly concluded - and Western diplomats have all but openly agreed - that the regime has made a strategic decision to deploy weapons proscribed by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in areas where it has had difficulty dislodging opposition groups. The White House has been criticized by conservative critics and others - and that criticism became more pitched at the end of last week - for failing to signal U.S. intentions should it be established that Assad has again deliberately deployed CWs, after Secretary of State John Kerry indicated that "raw intelligence" indicated that exactly that scenario was unfolding.
Hamas-linked media reported late Tuesday that progress had been made in locking in plans - established under a late April agreement between the group and its rival Palestinian faction - under which a consensus government would be formed to control municipal Palestinian institutions in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and in Fatah-controlled parts of the West Bank. The Al Qassam website specifically reported that the formation of a new cabinet would be delayed until the upcoming Egyptian elections - scheduled for next week - but would happen shortly thereafter. The developments come amid deepening analyst concerns on at least two fronts. Analysts have expressed concerns, on the one hand, that the deal is allowing Hamas to halt a year-long downward spiral by providing the terror organization with a foothold in the West Bank. There are also deepening worries that allowing Hamas to maintain its arsenal in the Gaza Strip - which appears to be explicitly permitted under the terms of the envisioned unity agreement - will allow the group to project control over a future Palestinian government from its stronghold (the so-called "Hezbollah model"). The concern, under these scenarios, is that the unity agreement appears to allow Hamas to pull multiple levers of control from multiple geographic territories over any future Palestinian government.
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