Iran. Negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 countries hinted at a possible extension of the November 24 deadline for a nuclear deal, after three days of talks in Oman failed to provide a breakthrough in the negotiations. However, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes stressed publicly that the United States was “not focused in discussions with Iran on extending [the deadline], [in order] to keep the focus on closing gaps.” The negotiators will meet again in Vienna next Tuesday for the final week of talks. Meanwhile, Russia agreed on Tuesday to build two nuclear power reactors in Iran and a possible six more plants. The construction and fuel handling will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Israel-Palestine. King Abdullah of Jordan is hosting trilateral talks in Amman with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry over growing tensions in Jerusalem. Kerry was scheduled to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas separately today after meeting King Abdullah for dinner yesterday evening.
Israel announced plans yesterday to build 200 new units in the Ramot neighborhood of East Jerusalem. U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki criticized the announcement, saying that the United States was “deeply concerned by this decision, particularly given the tense situation in Jerusalem as well as the unequivocal and unanimous position of the United States and others in the international community opposing such construction in east Jerusalem.” Palestinian militants are suspected of killing an Israeli soldier and a woman in two separate stabbing attacks on Monday. West Bank residents yesterday accused “Israeli extremists” of burning down a local mosque.
Syria. The Free Syrian Army rejected a United Nations proposal for a truce in Aleppo yesterday. The proposal is part of a plan by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to implement localized ceasefires. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the proposal was “worth studying.” Meanwhile, vehicles carrying food and aid supplies entered neighborhoods of Damascus and Homs between Tuesday and Wednesday, following localized truces there between government forces and opposition fighters.
U.S. Foreign Policy
UN. The UN Committee on Torture questioned American officials in Geneva yesterday on the United States’ reasons for maintaining the internment camp at Guantanamo Bay, its treatment of prisoners during the “War on Terror,” and on reports of abuse in United States prisons. U.S. legal advisor Mary McLeod told the Committee that the United States had “crossed the line […] in the wake of the 9/11 attacks [and] regrettably did not live up to [their] own values.”
Iraq. President Barack Obama dispatched an additional 1,500 non-combatant troops to Iraq last Friday to help train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling ISIS. The White House also announced plans to request $1.6 billion from Congress to create an “Iraq Train and Equip Fund.” Rear Admiral John Kirby, spokesman for the Pentagon, said Congress’ approval of the funds would be a prerequisite for the deployment of troops. Congress may grant the approval within the next few weeks.
While We Were Looking Elsewhere
Egypt. Egypt’s most violent militant group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, pledged loyalty to ISIS on Monday. The two militant groups are expected to share financial resources, weapons, and recruits. The affiliation provides ISIS with a possible victory against al-Qaeda, which has traditionally maintained strong roots in Egypt. The decision is reportedly causing internal rifts between the leaders of the two factions of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis: While the Sinai leaders pledged allegiance to ISIS, the Nile Valley faction made clear last week on Twitter that their allegiance remains to al-Qaeda.
Jordan. Minister of Islamic Affairs Hayel Dawood announced new measures to restrict the spread of extremist Islamic preaching in the kingdom. In a series of meetings targeting five thousand imams around the country, Dawood set out the rules of the program, which aims to prosecute ISIS recruiters and to ensure that Jordanian Muslim clerics preach moderate Islam during the weekly Friday night sermon. Clerics were ordered to keep sermons short, avoid negative references to King Abdullah II and the royal family, avoid “slander” against the United States and Western allies, and avoid promoting sectarianism and support for jihad. Imams who collaborate with the government will receive a monthly salary of $600, travel assistance for the pilgrimage to Mecca, and the opportunity to attend religious workshops. Conversely, non-compliance will result in clerics being banned from preaching, and in severe cases being tried by the State Security Court under the newly stringent anti-terrorism law.
Yemen. The Houthi rebels seem to have endorsed Yemen’s new government today despite continuing reservations over some of the ministers. The government, led by President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, was sworn-in on Sunday and was welcomed by the United States though rejected by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party, the General People’s Congress. The United States imposed sanctions on Saleh and two Houthi military commanders, Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim and Abd al-Khaliq al-Huthi, for engaging in acts that “directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security, or stability of Yemen.” Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen stated that the United States would “hold accountable anyone who threatens the stability of Yemen and the efforts of the Yemeni people to accomplish a peaceful political transition.”
Gaza. The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced on Monday that a panel will conduct an investigation into attacks on UN buildings during the Gaza war last summer. The panel will also seek to determine how weapons were stored in UN compounds in Gaza. The UN’s decision comes despite Israel’s request for the investigation to be postponed until the conclusions of its own internal investigation emerge.
Lebanon. Hezbollah is reportedly recruiting young Christian, Druze, and Sunni Muslim men from the Bekaa valley in eastern Lebanon to join the Resistance Brigades, a militant group formed by Hezbollah in 2009. The recruitment in Lebanon mirrors the recruitment of Christian, Druze, and Alawites in Syria. The Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar stated that the members of the Resistance Brigades would not be fighting in Syria, but would be stationed in Lebanon to “monitor the Lebanese territory” and to “counter the threat of ISIS and its affiliates.”
Iraq-Saudi Arabia. Iraqi President Fuad Masum visited Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to meet with King Abdullah in order to improve long standing tense relations between the two countries. Iraqi Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari confirmed that the meeting between the two leaders was to discuss “cooperation in the field of fighting terrorism and economic, trade and security relations.” The meeting, according to Zebari, was aimed at “normalizing diplomatic and political relations between the two countries.”
Saudi Arabia. The deputy governor of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, Emir Jalwin bin Abdulaziz bin Musaid al-Saud, was transferred yesterday to the Najran region following last week’s attack against Shiite civilians in his province left seven people dead. The reasons for the governor’s transfer remain unconfirmed, but the move followed “Shiite calls for action against hate speech in the media.”