Posted by Albert Gersh - September 23, 2013
- Rouhani U.N. speech fell short on reconciliation, moderation promises -- analysts and journalists
- U.S. lawmakers call for increased pressure on Iran, demand verifiable agreements
- Experts: "countdown for the end of Qatar’s influence"
- Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov: Syria talks "not going so smoothly"
What we’re watching today:
- Newly inaugurated Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke to the United Nations General Assembly this evening, triggering debates among analysts about the degree to which the revolutionary-era cleric is able or willing to moderate Iran's aggressive foreign policy structure. An op-ed written by Rouhani and published in the Washington Post had raised expectations that Rouhani would robustly seek constructive engagement with the West. The speech was broadly perceived as falling short of expectations. NBC News Associate Producer Ali Weinberg suggested that it "seemed like there was a lot more language of conciliation in Rouhani's op-ed than there was in [his] speech," a point echoed by Washington Examiner White House correspondent Susan Crabtree. Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, described the speech as "a bit more defiant" than he expected and ultimately concluded that "the tone of his tweets did not match the spirit of his speech." Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tried to read Rouhani's tone as an index to Iranian politics. Haass understood the speech - which he noted lacked either a positive signal to the U.S. or any specifics, and was marked by a "combative tone" - as evidence of strong opposition inside Iran to nuclear talks. Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had this weekend strongly warned engagement proponents to be wary, and U.S. lawmakers speculate that intervention by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei squashed a potential handshake between Rouhani and President Barack Obama.
- Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has become the latest lawmaker to express skepticism regarding the prospect of early sanctions relief for Iran, and has introduced bipartisan legislation with his counterpart Rep. Eliot Engel calling for more sanctions against the Islamic republic. CNN reports the Congressman as emphasizing that "tough sanctions are the only reason Iran is considering diplomatic talks," and quotes him demanding that Iran agree "to give up its nuclear program, give up its enrichment, [and] give up its weapons-making capability." Engel echoed the point, telling the Daily Beast that sanctions relief would require that Iran take "tangible" steps toward dismantling its nuclear program, including halting its installation of uranium-enriching centrifuges and its development of its plutonium-related heavy water activity. On the Senate side, Sens. Robert Menendez and Lindsey Graham warned that Iranian negotiators have used past diplomatic talks "as a subterfuge for progress on its clandestine nuclear program," similarly called on Iran to terminate its nuclear weapons program, and urged President Barack Obama to demand verifiable action from Tehran. Menendez also released a statement after Rouhani's speech asserting that "words must be followed by action." Last month 76 senators signed a letter demanding that the President take a harder line against Iran's nuclear program.
- France24 describes how a series of regional upheavals have eroded Qatar’s political clout, triggering what Antoine Basbous, head of the Paris-based Observatory of Arab Countries, described as "the countdown for the end of Qatar’s influence." Doha had in recent years aligned itself with Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood in what has become a regional rivalry between three camps: the Qatari/Turkish/Brotherhood bloc, an Iranian-led bloc that includes Syria and Hezbollah, and a bloc made up of Israel and key U.S. Arab allies. The three camps have openly opposed each other in Syria's multi-dimensional war, and align differently from theater to theater. Experts describe how the collapse of Brotherhood power in Egypt and the decline in Turkey's diplomatic influence - coupled with the cost of opposing what Arab countries perceive as their regional interests - have taken an increasing toll on Qatar's diplomacy. Doha now finds itself boxed out in theaters where it was once influential. In Syria, a combination of resignations and replacements has left Saudi Arabia, according to one Syrian opposition figure, with "the upper hand in the Syrian dossier." Meanwhile in Egypt, Cairo last week returned to Qatar $2 billion - and with it, the influence that it would have bought - that Doha had deposited in Egypt's central bank.
- Talks between Washington and Moscow to finalize a deal that would see Syria turn over its chemical weapons stockpile are - per Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov - "not going so smoothly." The negotiations, he added by way of clarification, are "not quite going in the direction they should." Among the issues at stake are whether the option of using force against the Bashar al-Assad regime would be kept open in any resolution demanding that Damascus relinquish its vast arsenal of chemical weapons. Russia has demanded that the threat of force be absolutely dropped, and has rejected as a formal matter the use of a so-called Chapter 7 resolution that would permit such force. U.N. chemical weapons experts will return to Syria on Wednesday to complete investigations into chemical weapons attacks, including a March attack on the outskirts of Aleppo, in the country.
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