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Lebanon. Tamam Salam, a Lebanese member of Parliament and former minister of culture, has emerged as the consensus candidate to become Lebanon’s next prime minister. Lebanese president Michael Sleiman began two days of consultation today to nominate the successor to Najib Mikati, who resigned on March 22. Salam has already been endorsed by the Western-leaning March 14 coalition and Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze bloc. He is expected to be backed by Hezbollah’s March 8 bloc soon. If President Sleiman taps Salam to become prime minister, his main task will be to hold the country together amidst escalating sectarian tensions as it moves towards elections slated for June.
Iran. Nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries (the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, China, and Germany) resumed today. While Ali Baqeri, deputy head of the Iranian delegation, claimed that Iran had put forward a new “comprehensive” proposal, Western officials reported that the Iranian offer was merely a “reworking” of a proposal it had offered last summer in Moscow. The talks are slated to continue tomorrow.
Syria. Turkish television aired a rare interview with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad this evening. Assad warned that if his regime falls, it will create a domino effect that will create “a period of instability for long years and maybe decades.” Assad also attacked Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as having not said “a single word of truth since the beginning of the crisis in Syria” and the Arab League’s legitimacy. Meanwhile, Syrian rebels claim to have taken an army base today that defends the main southern border crossing with Jordan.
Israel-Palestine. Thousands of Palestinians joined West Bank demonstrations and funeral processions on Thursday just prior to the arrival of Secretary of State John Kerry. The death of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, who was serving a life sentence, sparked accusations that Israel had withheld proper care from the terminally ill prisoner. Tensions then escalated Wednesday when Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian youths who were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at a fortified watchtower. Some mourners at the funerals called for a third intifada.
U.S. Foreign Policy
UAE, Jordan, Qatar, and Turkey. White House press secretary Jay Carney announced today that President Obama will host the leaders from the UAE, Jordan, Qatar, and Turkey at the White House over the course of the next month.
Israel, Palestine, and Turkey. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to make his third trip to the Middle East in the span of two weeks in an attempt to restart the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry will first visit Turkey on Saturday to discuss Syria and regional security, before going to Jerusalem and Ramallah on Sunday to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Sunday that Kerry’s diplomacy “will be based on what he hears from the parties.”
While We Were Looking Elsewhere
Egypt. President Mohammed Morsi’s office and the U.S. Embassy in Cairo exchanged criticisms on Twitter Wednesday after the Egyptian government arrested popular satirist Bassem Youssef on Saturday. The U.S. Embassy’s Twitter page shared a link to a “Daily Show” video in which Jon Stewart mocked Morsi for investigating Youssef rather than tackling violence against women or improving Egypt’s ailing economy. Morsi’s office responded with a tweet calling it “inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda.” American ambassador Anne Patterson temporarily shut down the U.S. Embassy’s Twitter page; the controversial tweet was deleted when the page came back online Wednesday evening.
Gaza. Hamas urged the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) today to resume its operations in Gaza after the agency suspended its food distribution yesterday. UNRWA has said it will not resume work unless Hamas provides assurances for the safety of its staff after protesters stormed its headquarters in Gaza City over aid cutbacks. Meanwhile, rockets from Gaza struck southern Israel this week, triggering an Israeli airstrike against Gaza on Wednesday, the first since November’s ceasefire. Also, after reported lobbying by Egypt and Qatar, Hamas’ Shoura Council on Tuesday reelected as its leader Khaled Meshaal, who played an integral role in the Egypt-brokered talks between Israel and Hamas that led to the ceasefire.
Tunis. Moncef Trabelsi, the imprisoned brother-in-law of ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abdine Ben Ali, died in custody last night after attempts to operate on a brain tumor. Trabelsi was imprisoned on January 14, 2011, after trying to leave the country. He was tried and convicted of embezzlement.