Top of the Agenda: No Breakthrough on Iran Nuclear Program
Six world powers ended two days of talks on Iran's nuclear program without a breakthrough, agreeing to meet in Istanbul next month and resume negotiations (Reuters) in Kazakhstan on April 5. France, Germany, the United States, China, Russia, and Britain offered to lift some sanctions if Iran scaled back nuclear activity (al-Jazeera)--a request Tehran rejected. Chief negotiator Saeed Jalili said the parties had been "more realistic" than in the past, and the EU's chief delegate said she hoped Iran was "looking positively" at the proposals brought up during negotiations. The talks were the first since the July 2012 round that also ended without a breakthrough.
"Diplomats at the talks believe that this - in itself - should count as an achievement. But talking does not necessarily lead to agreeing. From what we can tell, Iran has not agreed to two of the principal demands made by the P5 + 1 in previous rounds of talks: stop all uranium enrichment and shut down the underground enrichment facility near the city of Qom," writes James Reynolds for the BBC.
"The difficult dilemma facing the Obama administration, therefore, is not simply one concerning the rights or responsibilities of Iran under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It is how to address and navigate the crisis of political legitimacy haunting Khamenei and his radical base of power," writes Hussein Banai for the Los Angeles Times.
"The view that Iran does not want to negotiate is a misreading of the signals – often conflicting – from Tehran. Some maintain Tehran is dragging its feet on negotiations as a way to increase significantly its nuclear capability before entering direct talks from a position of power. This is wrong," writes Hossein Mousavian for the Financial Times.
China Letter Urges Political Reform
More than 100 Chinese intellectuals signed an open letter urging the country's government to ratify an international treaty on human rights (Telegraph). The letter was posted on several prominent Chinese websites and blogs, but was rapidly censored.
This CFR Backgrounder explains the Communist Party of China and traces its governing challenges, including reform.
NORTH KOREA: Ex-NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman (NYT) landed in Pyongyang Tuesday, beginning a trip with three Harlem Globetrotters and a documentary film crew to shoot footage for a TV show.
A suicide attacker detonated himself next to a bus transporting army personnel (AFP) in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Wednesday, wounding at least six. While no group claimed responsibility, the Taliban and other insurgents have carried out a series of bomb attacks in the capital.
INDIA: India's finance ministry gave an upbeat projection (HindustanTimes) on Wednesday, saying the economy--Asia's third-largest--would expand by 6.1 to 6.7 percent in the next financial year.
Egypt's Opposition to Boycott Vote
Egypt's main opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front, said it would boycott parliamentary elections in April (al-Jazeera), saying there must first be a law guaranteeing a fair vote. Elections were called last weekend by President Mohammed Morsi, and will be staggered over two months.
Six Killed in Mali Suicide Attack
A suicide car bombing killed six government allies at a checkpoint (AP) to the northern Malian city of Kidal on Tuesday as French forces continue to engage in heavy fighting in the area. The extremist group Movement for Oneness and Jihad, or MUJAO, is suspected to be responsible.
KENYA: International Criminal Court prosecutors said they would not object to delaying the trials (BBC) of four prominent Kenyans charged with fuelling violence during the disputed 2007 election.
Polls are showing Kenya's presidential election to be in a dead heat, CFR's John Campbell writes in this blog post.
Italy's Two Main Parties Jockey for New Government
Italy's two main parties have opened talks (FT) toward forming a new government after an election deadlock in which no party won parliamentary majority. The vote reflected most dramatically the surge of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement of comic Beppe Grillo.
VATICAN: Pope Benedict gave his farewell speech to a crowd of 150,000 in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday, saying he had resigned (Reuters) for the good of the Roman Catholic Church.
Hagel Confirmed as Defense Secretary
A deeply divided senate confirmed Chuck Hagel on Tuesday as the next U.S. defense secretary (LAT), despite objections to his views on Middle East security and the administration's handling of the Benghazi attack. The 58-41 vote marked the lowest level of support for a successful Cabinet nominee since 2007.
MEXICO: Mexican authorities arrested Elba Esther Gordillo (MiamiHerald), the powerful head of the national teachers' union, on charges of misusing more than $200 million of union money.