The Wall Street Journal revealed on Friday that the United States is considering reopening a bilateral diplomatic channel with Iran - through which negotiations would be conducted by what the outlet described as a "secret" team - which the outlet noted would be a replay of clandestine negotiations held last year "without the knowledge of the U.S.'s closest Middle East allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia." The news was sourced to both American and European officials "involved in the diplomacy" surrounding Iran's atomic program. The news may deepen the quite open concerns of American allies in the Middle East regarding Washington's intentions, just a week after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel had been dispatched to reassure Riyadh and Jerusalem that U.S. diplomats would not accept a deal that left the Iranians with the ability to construct nuclear weapons. Circumventing the current model of multilateral negotiations between the P5+1 global powers and Iran would among other things freeze out France and Britain, and observers are likely to note that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is widely assumed to have blocked an interim deal last November due to what Paris considered unacceptably pro-Iranian terms regarding the country's plutonium-producing Arak reactor. Meanwhile the Iranians continue to flatly refuse to discuss rolling back the country's ballistic missile program, with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi this week reiterating the country's repeatedly emphasized stance. Obama administration officials had been explicit in telling lawmakers and the public that Iran would be forced to address its international obligations to halt ballistic missile development in the context of comprehensive negotiations, but have in recent days been telling reporters that they no longer have a "checklist" that Iran will be forced to meet, but rather a "package of the combination of elements.'
TIME Magazine's chief foreign affairs correspondent Michael Crowley on Friday assessed that the policy debate in Washington over how to approach the Syrian war may soon shift back to "talk of military action," as Obama administration officials "brac[ed] for confirmation - in weeks or even days - that chemical warfare is underway again" inside the war-torn country. The dynamic is being driven by a stream of evidence - beginning weeks ago with French reports of "indications" and extending through just-published videos - that the Bashar al-Assad regime has been engaged in a systematic campaign to deploy chlorine-based chemical weapons (CWs) against rebel-heavy areas throughout Syria. Crowley contextualized the emerging data points against what he described as "one of the most dramatic moments of Barack Obama’s presidency," when last September the president "delivered a prime-time national address to explain why he intended to order a military strike on Syria to punish the use of nerve gas against civilians in violation of the red line he had famously drawn for Assad." Impending strikes had been called off under the auspices of a Russian deal that obligated Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and turn over its vast stockpile of CWs for destruction. The regime has declared in recent weeks that it is unable to meet the latter obligation because of heavy fighting around what is thought to be roughly the remaining 5 percent of proscribed materials, while the use of chlorine in a battlefield context would violate its CWC obligations. Crowley suggested that "Assad's brazen return to warfare by poison gas puts Obama in a miserable spot," and that any confirmation of such use would "again test [Obama's] credibility, and renew talk of U.S. military action in Syria."
A wide-ranging interview of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Bloomberg View columnist Jeffrey Goldberg - in which the Israeli leader emphasized Jerusalem's determination to either bilaterally or unilaterally untangle the Jewish state from Palestinians living in the West Bank - triggered a wave of social media discussion Friday morning, with journalists and analysts focusing on among other things the sources and implications of potential unilateral moves. Sohrab Ahmari, an editorial page writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe, described the interview as a "must read." Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times, picked out Netanyahu's declaration that there is a growing consensus inside Israel for such moves, while the Daily Beast's national security reporter Eli Lake tweeted the prime minister's remark that Israelis would refuse to "mortgage [their] future to the maturation of Palestinian politics." The phrase was a gesture by Netanyahu toward the Israeli stance that Palestinian intransigence - which Jerusalem insists is a function of a policy that has been conditioned by incitement to reject compromise with the Jewish state - had led to the failure of a recent U.S.-backed peace push. Two-thirds of Americans agree with that position, holding that a unity agreement between the rival Palestinian Fatah and Hamas factions had made negotiations impossible, opposite the Palestinian position that a consensus cabinet agreed to by Hamas would facilitate a comprehensive agreement. Some have blamed Israeli settlement construction for the impasse, a suggestion Netanyahu dismissed by among other things revealing to Goldberg that the Israelis had "made it very clear to the U.S. and to the Palestinians exactly how much [they] would build, including in Jerusalem... [and they] built exactly what we said we would build in every one of the tranches."
Language attached to the $600 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) report may deepen American-Israeli cooperation in developing and producing missile defense technology - with the provision aiming to ensure "coproduction of parts and components [for the Iron Dome system]... in a manner that will maximize US industry participation in interceptor and battery deliveries for Israel's defense needs" - according to an extensive write-up on the relevant sections published on Thursday by Al Monitor's Congress Pulse. The outlet assessed that "the report language is but the latest move in a long-standing effort by Congress and US arms makers to ensure the United States gets access to the Iron Dome market and its Israel-made technology," and noted previous legislation setting the stage for U.S. firm Raytheon to partner with Israel's Rafael in producing the Tamir missiles used by Iron Dome batteries. It also cited a May 2012 report by Gabriel Scheinmann, then a visiting fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, calling on U.S. lawmakers to take steps that would "transform Iron Dome into a jointly owned and managed US-Israeli defense system." Joint production would be the latest addition to a broad array of dual military projects between the two allies. Analysts have emphasized that military-to-military ties allow the U.S. to leverage "unique Israeli capabilities in key 'niche' areas of military technology," with drone development often being cited as a key area alongside missile defense and cyber-cooperation. For its part Iron Dome has also been discussed in the context of defending U.S. allies such as South Korea and Singapore, while India earlier this month moved toward acquiring a range of Israeli anti-missile defenses.
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