The initial with Iran to scale down the country's nuclear program remains the top story. The reaction in US editorial comments range from exasperation over Obama's capitulation to the Tehran regime, to excitement over the prospects of diminishing tensions in the Middle East. But America's allies in Israel and Saudi Arabia feel they've been left out in the cold by Washington, again. The Guardian and BBC explain why.
- The Guardian: Where does the Iranian nuclear deal leave Binyamin Netanyahu? (Harriet Sherwood, November 28)
"Netanyahu has made it his life's mission to protect the Jewish state from potential annihilation by Iran's Islamic regime. He has cast the threat from Tehran in terms of the rise of nazism in the 1930s, and warned against a similar failure to stop it in its tracks by whatever means necessary."
A potentially historic deal between the US and Iran was the main news of the week. Iran has committed to scaling down its uranium enrichment in return for a partial easing down of international economic sanctions. The Israelis and the Saudis are enraged over what they see is the West's capitulation to Iran's bullying, but most media analysis points out that Washington and Tehran remain far from a grand bargain that would solve all outstanding issues.
- BBC: Analysis: Iran deal limited but important (Jonathan Marcus, November 24)
"Both the Americans and the Iranians appear to have come away from this interim deal smiling. Both can say that they have received concessions but their practical effect will be limited. The real success here is that the ground has been prepared for further substantive talks."
US Secretary of State John Kerry has made his probably most overt attempt so far to mend ties with Egypt's military-run regime. Kerry accused the Muslim Brotherhood of the ousted president Mohammed Morsi of "stealing the revolution" following Morsi's election in June 2012.
Speaking of what the 2011 uprising was about, Kerry said: "They were motivated by what they saw through this interconnected world, and they wanted a piece of the opportunity and a chance to get an education and have a job and have a future, and not have a corrupt government that deprived them of all of that and more." He added: "And then it got stolen by the one single most organised entity in the state, which was the Brotherhood."
Kerry's statements might go well with the majority of Egyptian population which is broadly supportive of the current government. But democracy seems a long time away. Egypt has no parliament, no constitution, and real power lies in the hands of the army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
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Russia's influence in the Middle East has reached levels unprecedented since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, says Frank Gardner for the BBC. As Washington struggles to find a working policy on the upheavals that hit the region over the past two years, Moscow has stepped up arms sales to Arab governments, presenting itself as the more reliable and loyal partner.
- BBC: Return of the bear (Frank Gardner, November 14)
"Thursday's visit to Egypt by a high-level Russian delegation, with the prospect of a $2bn arms deal, is only the latest sign of a trend that has been gathering pace since the Arab Spring unrest kicked off in early 2011...Twenty-two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian clout in the Middle East is the highest it has been in a generation."
The next round of talks between Iran and world powers on the country's nuclear program is scheduled for November 20. Tensions have eased between Washington and Tehran under Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani, but while the chances of a compromise on Iran's uranium enrichment program moved slightly above zero, a grand deal in the Middle East still seems a very unlikely scenario. Significant opposition to a US-Iran agreement exists not only in US Congress and Israel, but also among Washington's Arab allies in the Persian Gulf.
See here for some background reading on the nuclear issue:
- Middle East Countries With Nuclear Weapons
- Talks on Iran's Nuclear Program: What Iran Wants from the US
- Can Israel Destroy Iran's Nuclear Program?
Geneva talks between Iran and world powers ended without an agreement on the country's nuclear program, but BBC explains why optimism remains ahead of the next round of talks scheduled for November 20. The setback in the talks will come as relief to Israeli leaders who are anxious that the West is ceding too much ground too fast to the Iranian regime, says the Washington Post. Read also the latest analysis on Syria, and on possible protests today in Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
- BBC: Iran nuclear talks: This time they are different (Kim Ghattas, November 10)
"After three days of marathon negotiations - the dramatic and sudden arrival of US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday, followed by other foreign ministers, and a diplomatic merry-go-round at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva - there was still no deal. A good beginning or an honourable failure?"
US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo on Sunday, officially to urge Egypt's military-appointed authorities to restore democracy, days before ousted president Mohammed Morsi is to be put on trial. But the lack of US leverage over events in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere in the region has been nothing short of astonishing, and according to the Washington Post, the US allies in the Persian Gulf are taking note.
- Washington Post: Persian Gulf officials, tired of waiting for U.S., move to boost aid to rebels (Karen DeYoung & Bob Woodward, November 2)
"Persian Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, are moving to strengthen their military support for Syrian rebels and develop policy options independent from the United States in the wake of what they see as a failure of U.S. leadership following President Obama's decision not to launch airstrikes against Syria, according to senior gulf officials."
The White House has placed a low ceiling on its ambitions in the Middle East, reports the New York Times. The president will focus on negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria - everything else will take a back seat. Meanwhile, the Saudis are growing furious over Obama's cautious approach to Egypt and Syria, says The Economist.
- The New York Times: Rice offers a more modest strategy for Mideast (Mark Landler, October 26)
"Each Saturday morning in July and August, Susan E. Rice, President Obama's new national security adviser, gathered half a dozen aides in her corner office in the White House to plot America's future in the Middle East. The policy review, a kind of midcourse correction, has set the United States on a new heading in the world's most turbulent region."
Egypt's military chief and the de-facto ruler of the country, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, has inspired a cult of personality some say is beginning to resemble that of Gamal Abdel Nasser more than five decades ago. The Guardian has a report on why growing numbers of Egyptians are considering backing el-Sisi for presidency at the next elections - should he chose to run.
- The Guardian: Egypt's army chief rides wave of popularity towards presidency (Patrick Kingsley & Marwa Awad, October 20)
"Many Egyptians laud Sisi for rescuing the country from ex-president Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist whose opponents felt was trying to rob Egypt of its moderate character. After nearly three years of post-revolutionary chaos, they also see Sisi as the restorer of stability - despite a rise in state-sponsored killing since Morsi's ousting."
Violence has been on the rise in Libya since the beginning of the year, but the country's failing transition to democracy hit a new low with a brief arrest last week of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan by gunmen from one of the militias active in the capital Tripoli. How is it possible that the head of government gets seized by an armed group linked to the Interior Ministry and no one is held accountable?
Former anti-Qaddafi rebels are still the de-facto rulers in much of Libya after the government's failure to disarm the militias and assert the authority of regular army and police. None of the armed groups are currently strong enough to seize power, but with the state security apparatus too weak to control the territory, the end to endemic violence and political stability is unlikely to come soon.
For more background on Libya go to: