"If the Iranians do genuinely want sanction elimination soon, then the West has new-found leverage and the oil ministry's aggressive moves are an opportunity for the P5+1 to raise the bar at little risk. However, if the Iranians are attempting to split the sanctions alliance, a strategy likely found in the Iranian playbook, then the alliance needs to reassert its cohesion and commitment to a unified approach," writes Aaron Menenberg in EconoMonitor.
"Some of these rural MPs note grimly that the draft budget, whose final version will come into effect in March, proposes to allocate more to the Revolutionary Guard, the police and the intelligence ministry, despite Mr Rohani's campaign promises to tackle the 'suffocating security atmosphere' that has pervaded the country. Most ordinary Iranians, in big cities and remote villages alike, look to Mr Rohani's government to clinch a deal with the West over Iran's disputed nuclear programme which has led to the economic sanctions now biting so hard, especially against the poor," reports the Economist.
"The U.S. task remains imposing stringent limits on Iran's nuclear program through negotiations while restraining Tehran's regional ambitions through pressure. This latter goal will require mending the United States' battered alliances in the Middle East. Strategic dialogues and arms sales can go only so far. The United States cannot reclaim its allies' confidence without being an active player in the Syria saga," writes CFR's Ray Takeyh for the Washington Post.
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Antigovernment Protestors Occupy Thai Capital
Tens of thousands of protestors occupied parts of central Bangkok on Monday as they sought to shut down the Thai capital, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra prior to snap elections slated for February 2. Security forces maintained a low profile; clashes in previous protests had resulted in several deaths (Reuters).
CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick writes that Thailand is headed toward a coup.
Ariel Sharon, who died Saturday after a stroke and subsequent coma felled him during his premiership, will be buried at his Negev farm on Monday afternoon following a memorial service held at the Knesset (Haaretz). His eulogizers include President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and U.S. vice president Joe Biden.
Hussein Ibish appraises Sharon's legacy in Foreign Affairs.
Report: U.S. Military Advisers Deployed to Somalia
SOUTH SUDAN: Efforts to mediate a cease-fire continued over the weekend as U.S. special envoy Donald Booth met rebel leader Riek Machar. Booth said mediators would press for the release of rebel-affiliated detainees to facilitate peace talks in Ethiopia (BBC).
CFR's John Campbell discusses the death toll in the South Sudan crisis.
Emphasizing Developing World, Pope Names New Cardinals
In Western Mexico, Vigilantes Contest Cartel’s Territorial Control
A vigilante group took control of the Michoacán city of Nueva Italia on Sunday as part of a broader campaign by the self-styled "self-defense group" to wrest control of the area from the Knights Templar cartel. Federal troops did not intervene in the fighting, leading some to believe the vigilantes had authorities' tacit approval (LAT).