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Iran. Negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 countries, meeting for the first time since June, agreed yesterday in Kazakhstan to hold further meetings on Iran’s nuclear program in March and April. The upcoming meetings will focus on a P5+1 proposal floated in Almaty that reportedly offers some sanctions relief in exchange for Iran “significantly” restricting its accumulation of medium-enriched uranium, suspending (but not shutting down) its enrichment efforts at the Fordo plant, and allowing more regular and thorough monitoring access from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The March meeting will be held at the technical experts level, with the April meeting convened by high-level negotiators.
Syria. Syria’s political opposition postponed a planned March 2 meeting to elect a prime minister for a transitional government in rebel-controlled areas. The postponement came just hours after the Friends of Syria group, meeting in Rome today, announced new non-lethal assistance for the rebels, stopping short of offering weapons. Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres told the UN Security Council yesterday that the number of Syrians who have fled the country may surpass the one million mark by April. Ten thousand Syrian refugees reportedly arrived in Jordan in a seventy-two hour span earlier this week. Syrian army ballistic missile strikes on Aleppo this week appeared to herald a new and more brutal phase in the country’s fighting. Human Rights Watch called the missile strikes into residential neighborhoods, which killed over 140 people, “a new low” in the war.
West Bank. Gaza militants fired a rocket into southern Israel on Tuesday in the first such attack since a November truce ended serious cross-border fighting. A sub-group of the Fatah-affiliated militant group, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, claimed responsibility and called it a “first response” to the death of Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian who died on Saturday while in Israeli custody in the West Bank. Israeli security services claimed Jaradat died from cardiac arrest due to health problems predating his arrest last week. However, the Palestinian Authority claimed that he was tortured prior to being killed. More than ten thousand people turned out Monday for Jaradat’s funeral procession from Hebron to the village of Sa’ir. Violent clashes also erupted between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers Monday afternoon at Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem when protesters reportedly threw rocks and gasoline bombs at Israeli soldiers who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, and some live ammunition. Two Palestinian teenagers were seriously injured.
U.S. Foreign Policy
Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry announced today that the United States will for the first time provide nonlethal battlefield aid consisting of food and medicine to the Syrian rebels. Secretary Kerry also announced an additional sixty million dollars in U.S. financial aid to help the Syrian Opposition Coalition provide basic services. The New York Times reported today that the United States is now helping to train rebels at a base in the region. Earlier in the week Kerry, speaking in London on his first foreign trip as Secretary of State, hinted at a qualitative shift in U.S. assistance to the rebels, saying the U.S. would not let the opposition “dangling in the wind.”
Iran. U.S. congressional lawmakers introduced new legislation yesterday to considerably increase sanctions against Iran. The move came as negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 countries reportedly discussed a proposal to loosen the international sanctions regime (see above). The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act was introduced by top-ranking Republican and Democrat members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and has been described as a step towards a complete U.S. trade embargo on Iran.
While We Were Looking Elsewhere
Tunisia. President Moncef Marzouki testified this morning before a judge conducting an investigation into the murder of Chokri Belaid, a leading Tunisian opposition figure. Belaid’s killing on February 6 sparked Tunisia’s largest street demonstrations since the overthrow of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali over two years ago. Tunisian interior minister and prime minister designate Ali Larayedh announced on Tuesday that four suspects have been arrested and that the killer has been identified but is still on the run. Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party Ennahda agreed this week to appoint political independents to head the key interior, foreign, and defense ministries in a concession to the opposition.
Egypt. Egypt’s largest opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front (NSF), rejected the State Department’s call yesterday to participate in the parliamentary elections slated to begin April 22. The NSF declared that the State Department’s request was an attempt to give legitimacy to Egypt president Mohammed Morsi’s government. The NSF, an umbrella group of liberal and leftist parties, had announced their election boycott on Tuesday.
Iraq-Kuwait. An Iraqi airliner conducted the first flight between Iraq and Kuwait since Saddam Hussein’s invasion of the neighboring country in 1990. Iraq’s foreign and transportation ministers travelled on the symbolic flight, hailed it as a sign of improvement in relations between the two countries.
Turkey. Turkish newspaper Sabah reported today that eleven members of Al Qaeda were arrested in Istanbul. The terrorists were equipped with twenty-two kilograms of explosives and guns and were reportedly targeting the U.S. embassy, synagogues, and churches around Turkey.
This Week in History
This week marks both the fifty-second anniversary of Kuwaiti independence and the twenty-second anniversary of the country’s liberation from Iraqi occupation. On February 25, 1950, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah ascended to power, an event that Kuwait chooses to mark by designating February 25 as National Day, despite the fact that the country actually won its independence from the British on June 19, 1961. On February 26, 1991, the U.S.-led coalition of thirty-four countries drove out remaining Iraqi forces that had occupied Kuwait the previous August.