Posted by Albert Gersh - December 23, 2013
- Senators double down on new sanctions legislation as questions mount over inconsistencies in White House posture
- Turkish corruption probe spills over into U.S.-Turkey relationship, as government-linked campaign targets U.S. ambassador
- Reports: Kerry to present Israeli-Palestinian framework agreement, after Palestinians rejected bridging proposals
- Massive bomb targets Egyptian police station amid sweeping anti-terror campaign
What we’re watching today:
- The Hill reported mid-Sunday that leading Senate Democrats are doubling down on a bipartisan push to impose sanctions on Iran should the Islamic republic either cheat on the terms of the Joint Plan of Action during an upcoming six-month negotiating period or, at the end of that period, refuse to verifiably put its nuclear program beyond use for weaponization. A bipartisan group of 26 senators last week unveiled the legislation, which provides the president the flexibility to put off the sanctions for a year as negotiations progress. Responding to explicit accusations that the sitting U.S. senators were trying to drag America into war, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) explained that "there are many of us, Democrats and Republicans in this Senate, who believe the best way to avoid war and get Iran to give up nuclear weapons is by ratcheting up sanctions, not by reducing them." Schumer went on to gesture toward a long-simmering controversy regarding tensions in the Obama administration's position on Iran sanctions: The White House insists that while past sanctions successfully coerced the Iranians into negotiating against their will, future sanctions will derail negotiations by draining good will. The Wall Street Journal this weekend also commented on the tension, noting that "Mr. Obama keeps saying that previous sanctions... are what brought Iran to the bargaining table... this [legislation] sharpens the incentive for Iran to dismantle its illegal nuclear facilities." The Journal noted that "the bill would do nothing to undermine the talks unless Iran isn't serious" and flatly evaluated that, by threatening to veto the legislation as a threat to negotiations, "the President is siding with Iran against a bipartisan majority in the US Congress."
- An escalating political struggle between two dominant Islamist camps inside Turkey - which in recent days has rocked the country and now threatens to destabilize the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) government - has spilled over into the U.S.-Turkey relationship and generated a sharp rebuke from Washington regarding "continued false and slanderous attacks" targeting U.S. officials. A corruption probe conducted largely by figures linked to the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers have broad sway inside Turkey's state and non-state institutions, has in recent days ensnared top figures in the AKP hierarchy on a range of charges. AKP figures, up to and including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have spoken darkly of a "dirty operation" and moved to purge Gulen-linked figures from police and security services. Another 25 police chiefs were dismissed this weekend. Erdogan has also declared that "some foreign envoys" were helping to coordinate the moves against the AKP. Ilhan Tanir, the Washington correspondent for Turkey's Vatan outlet, today blogged that the lines are thinly veiled references to U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone, and that Ricciardone has also been the target of attacks from multiple pro-AKP newspapers. Tanir conveyed State Department statements pushing back against the attacks, with a U.S. official condemning "the continued false and slanderous attacks by some elements of the Turkish media against our Ambassador, other senior U.S. officials, international media representatives, and private American citizens and groups." Critically, U..S officials are calling on Ankara to "disavow and condemn such attacks."
- Reports emerged on Sunday that Secretary of State John Kerry is set to present a framework agreement to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators designed to balance Palestinian demands for sovereignty with Israeli security requirements, amid revelations that direct peace talks were suspended after Palestinians rejected previous U.S. proposals for security arrangements along the Jordanian border. Jerusalem has emphasized for years that it must be permitted to maintain a security presence in the Jordan Valley to prevent destabilization and terrorist infiltration, a view reportedly endorsed by Jordan and codified in a recent bridging proposal presented by Kerry to Israeli and Palestinian diplomats. The Palestinians publicly rejected Kerry's proposal - describing it as marking the "total failure" of peace talks - and on Sunday chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat revealed that direct negotiations with Israel have been frozen. Erekat also told journalists that a framework agreement, rather than a final deal, is the best that can be hoped for by the end of the current nine-month period set for the talks.
- Suspected jihadists detonated a massive bomb early Tuesday morning local time outside a police headquarters in Egypt's increasingly restive Nile Delta region, collapsing the five-story building, killing at least 11 people, and deepening concerns that Islamist fighters are mobilizing to disrupt a January 14th constitutional referendum designed to transition the country to a democratically elected government. The car bombing of the Daqahliya security headquarters came a day after an Al Qaeda-linked group demanded that Egyptian security forces desert their posts lest they be targeted as infidels for supporting the current military-backed, relatively secular interim government. The army is locked in a pitched battle with jihadists. Islamist fighters have in recent months steadily escalated a terror campaign that coalesced after the army this summer deposed the country's Muslim Brotherhood-linked then-president Mohammed Morsi. Earlier today military spokesman Ahmed Mohammed Ali described Cairo's progress in uprooting the jihadist infrastructure in the northern Sinai Peninsula, outlining that 184 terrorists had been killed and over 800 arrested. The Obama administration controversially froze parts of Egypt's security assistance basket earlier this year in response to Cairo's moves against the Muslim Brotherhood. The White House at the time explicitly attempted to insulate Egypt's anti-terror operations from the freeze, but analysts expressed skepticism that such efforts were "actually feasible."
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