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This Iran Nuke Deal Might. Just. Work.

We are now five days out from a July 20 deadline for a final deal over Iran’s nuclear program…and for the first time, I think we can be cautiously optimistic about the outcome.

This weekend, John Kerry joined the talks ongoing in Vienna between Iran and the Permanent five members of the Security Council plus Germany over a final agreement that would limit Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons in exchange for an easing of international sanctions. The negotiations are technically and politically complex. But with less than a week from the deadline there are a few reasons to be hopeful for a positive outcome.

Iran’a foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave an extended interview to the New York Times in which he outlined Iran’s current negotiating position. It satisfies many of the American demands, with the exception that all of Iran’s centrifuges would remain intact. (The USA fears that without dismantling centrifuges, Iran still has a breakout capacity should they decide to walk out on the deal.) Still, the proposal Zarif describes would effectively halt any new development of its nuclear program—which essentially extends the interim deal struck last November.

But Mr. Zarif’s decision to go public with the proposal in a 45-minute conversation before meeting with Mr. Kerry for a second time in two days was clearly tactical. His willingness to move away from Iran’s insistence that it must be free, immediately, to expand its nuclear program may give Mr. Kerry room to recommend to President Obama that the negotiations continue, for weeks or months.

Mr. Zarif’s plan follows a declaration by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last week that Iran would not dismantle any of its infrastructure under Western pressure, but would not need a major expansion of its fuel-making facilities for at least five years. That gave Mr. Zarif, who is viewed with suspicion by Iran’s military and its clerical leadership, some wiggle room. His proposal for a freeze moves significantly in the direction that the United States and the five other nations have been urging, and brings into focus the outlines of a possible deal, though one that would be extraordinarily hard to reach by Sunday.

In a press availability earlier today in Vienna, John Kerry did not respond specifically to Zarif’s proposal. But he did cite “tangible progress.”

As I have said, and I repeat, there has been tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things.  However, there are also very real gaps on other key issues.  And what we are trying to do is find a way for Iran to have an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, while giving the world all the assurances required to know that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon.

I want to underscore:  These goals are not incompatible.  In fact, they are realistic.  But we have not yet found the right combination or arrived at the workable formula.  There are more issues to work through and more provisions to nail down to ensure that Iran’s program will always remain exclusively peaceful.  So we are going to continue to work and we’re going to continue to work with the belief that there is a way forward.

But – and this is a critical point – while there is a path forward, Iran needs to choose to take it.  And our goal now is to determine the precise contours of that path, and I believe we can.

If a deal is to be struck, it will probably be struck around 11:59 on Sunday night. There is also a decent chance that sides will mutually agree that they need more time, in which case we can expect a delay. But at this point it does not look like these talks will end in total failure. And that is a positive development.

For an inside look at these negotiations, check out this recent Global Dispatches Podcast episode with journalist Laura Rozen and Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association.

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France’s Gamble in the Sahel

Following an 18 month deployment in Mali, the French military Operation Serval is ending. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian explained during a national interview on Sunday July 13 that “Serval has accomplished its mission. Mali had to regain its integrity, and that’s been done.”  He added that since the beginning of the French military operation, territorial integrity has been restored, elections have been held at several levels of government, and, overall, the Operation achieved its aims. “It’s the responsibility of Malian authorities to continue to manage the democratic process,” Le Drian told journalists.

But while Serval is ending, a brand new French operation is beginning in the Sahel region. Well, in fact, not so much a brand new operation as a reshuffling of current forces and footprint in the region. With a projected 3,000 ground troops, and additional support from fighter jets, helicopters, unarmed drones and the cooperation of local military partners, France hopes to quell the terrorist threat in the Sahel. “There is a major jihadist threat from the Horn of Africa to Guinea-Bissau” – in particular in the northern areas of Mali, Chad and Niger – explained Le Drian, and “the French President wanted to see a reorganization of French forces to address what are perceived to be the current challenges in the region.” The new operation, Barkhane, will be launched within days, with counter-terrorism as its main goal, in partnership with five countries (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso.)

Operation Barkhane’s role will be to prevent “the highway of all forms of trafficking” between Southern Algeria and the northern parts of those countries from becoming a permanent location for jihadist groups to gain strength and organize. Le Drian explained that the French goal for this operation goes beyond ensuring the territorial integrity of African nations, and that there is a direct link between the security of France and what is perceived to be a growing hotbed of terrorism in the region.”The world is dangerous, especially at our own doors, and in particular at these doors just south of the Mediterranean,” Le Drian said.

Meanwhile, as the 1,700-strong Operation Serval winds down in Mali, a French officer was killed in a suicide attack on Monday. Two other soldiers were severely wounded in the bombing. This is the ninth French military death since the beginning of the Operation in January 2013. Jean-Yves Le Drian is expected in Mali mid-week to speak about the evolution of Operation Serval into its regional incarnation, Barkhane. French President Francois Hollande will be going to N’Djamena, Abidjan and Niamey in the coming days to formalize the launch of the new operation.

Given the recent suicide bombing that killed and wounded French soldiers in Gao, there is still a feeling that the Malian operation isn’t quite over yet, and, locally, some are feeling concerned about the rejigging of the French operation.  In the next few weeks we should know whether or not this redeployment of French troops in the rejoin has come too soon. 

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Global Humanitarian Funding Reaches Record Highs

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New Data on Global Humanitarian Funding…”Humanitarian funding reached a record $22 billion in 2013, yet almost a third of needs remained unmet, according to data recently released by the UK-based think tank Global Humanitarian Assistance Programme’s Development Initiatives…Government donors, who accounted for around three-quarters of total aid in 2013, gave an estimated $16.4 billion, up by one quarter in 2012. Private donors, including individuals, trusts, foundations and corporations, increased their contributions by 35 percent, to around $5.6 billion. (IRIN

It’s T minus 5 Days…until a deadline for a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Mark speaks with Nuclear policy wonk and Ploughshares Fund president Joseph Cirincione about the Iran nuke talks, Bush’s troubled nuclear record and why the jury is still out on Obama’s nuclear weapons legacy. (Global Dispatches Podcast


Doctors Without Borders says children in parts of South Sudan are suffering from shocking rates of malnutrition. (AP

Among the 100,000 civilians holed up in UN bases in South Sudan since fighting broke out in mid-December 2013 between supporters and opponents of President Salva Kiir are several hundred citizens from Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia. (IRIN

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan promised on Monday that more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist militants would soon return home, teenage Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai said after meeting him. (Reuters

Ghana partially removed fuel subsidies on Sunday, just three months after reintroducing them, to cut spending and restore macro stability. (Reuters

The European Union will resume giving direct development aid to the Guinea-Bissau government after it held presidential elections rated as “free and credible,” the EU said. (AFP

 Amnesty International has said refugees in Nairobi are appealing against a controversial ruling that would force thousands of Somalis from their homes to live in squalid overcrowded camps in Northern Kenya. (Dalsan Radio


The new crisis in Palestine is aggravating an already fragile health system heavily affected by chronic shortages and structural weaknesses. (MSF

The United Nations said on Monday it is withdrawing its staff from Libya temporarily because of deteriorating security after rival militias fought over Tripoli International Airport and a renegade general’s forces continued to battle Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi. (AP

Syrians found themselves without Internet access this weekend, according to a report by an Internet intelligence firm. (VOA

A senior UN official warns the growing Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon could explode into inter-sectarian violence. The official says competition between the Lebanese and Syrians for limited resources is increasing tensions between these communities to a dangerous level. (VOA


Thailand’s military government said on Monday it would send home 100,000 refugees who have been living in camps for two decades and more along the border with Myanmar, a move rights groups say would create chaos at a tense time for both nations. (Reuters

The continued use of outdated and inefficient approaches to TB are still fuelling its spread, say NGOs in Russia and international groups working to combat the disease. (IPS

Philippine President Benigno Aquino is defending an economic stimulus program amid calls for his impeachment as well as the resignation of his budget secretary. (VOA

Four years after a devastating landslide, displaced residents of northern Pakistan accuse the government of abandoning them. (IRIN

Samsung said Monday it had temporarily suspended business with one of its suppliers in China after finding “evidence” of possible illegal child labour at the plant. (AP

UN refugee envoy Angelina Jolie has accepted an invitation to visit the small island of Nauru where Australia sends asylum-seekers for processing and resettlement, the government said. (AP

The Americas

The World Cup is over, but Brazil remains in the spotlight with this week’s BRICS summit. High on an agenda that stresses social inclusion and sustainable development are final discussions on the creation of two financial institutions that could reshape the global economic landscape. (Guardian

‘Ladies in White’ dissidents say they were detained in the Cuban capital while marking 20 years since 37 people drowned trying to flee the island. (BBC

Religious organizations, aid groups and volunteers are helping the government deal with what has become a humanitarian crisis caused by youth migration into the US. (VOA


Ethiopia’s Nile dam project signals its intention to become an African power (Guardian

Does Building Non-Racialism Mean Being Colour-Blind? (Daily Maverick

 Use ‘safe zones’ to end immigrant crisis (CNN

Japan Remains Committed to ‘Advancing Vibrant Diplomacy’ (IPS

Are Nigerian Electricity Tariffs Really Lowest? (Africa Check

New development goals need ambition  and the UK must set the agenda (Guardian

Why ‘Political Economy Analysis’ has Lost the Plot, and We Need to Get Back to Power and Politics (World Bank


The Political Economy of Bad Data: Evidence from African Survey & Administrative Statistics (CGD

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SG; Syria; Libya

SG: Today the SG travels to Haiti to launch the “Total Sanitation Campaign” and inaugurate the “Sports for Hope” Centre. The SG will then travel to the DR to meet with Government officials and visit the country’s “Quisqueya sin Miseria” anti-poverty program.

Syria: The SG welcomed Resolution 2165 which permits the delivery of aid through four border crossings to the three million Syrians lacking access to food and basic healthcare.

Libya: The SG expressed concern over the increase in violence following an incident at Libya’s airport yesterday. He called on all parties to engage in dialogue to agree on a peaceful way forward. UNSMIL continues to reduce its staff in the region until security conditions improve.

Middle East: Referencing the worsening situation in the Gaza Strip, the SG urged both Israeli and Palestinian sides to end the violence and work towards peace and security. The Commissioner-General for UNRWA travelled to Gaza today and reported that 174 people have been killed, 1,100 have been wounded, and 17,000 refugees remain displaced in UNRWA’s premises.

Afghanistan: UNAMA welcomed the agreement of the two Presidential candidates in Afghanistan to break the electoral impasse. The agreement includes an audit of the election run-off and the formation of a government of national unity following the final election results.

South Sudan: UNMISS reported artillery explosions and small-arms fire yesterday in South Sudan. The Mission is protecting 97,000 displaced civilians across the country and continues to urge all parties to abide by agreements to cease hostile actions and end the violence.

Somalia: CERF allocated $1.4 million  toward an emergency campaign to combat measles in Somalia. The funding will vaccinate half a million children under five years of age.

New Climate Change Envoy: The SG appointed Mary Robinson of Ireland as the Special Envoy on Climate Change. Robinson will play a major role in mobilizing Heads of State and Governments ahead of the SG’s 2014 Climate Summit in September.

Malala Day: Today marks “Malala Day” in honor of 17-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai’s heroic stand against the Taliban to ensure education for all, especially girls.

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The Security Council’s Syria Cross-Border Aid Gamble

The Security Council just voted unanimously on a resolution that would authorize the cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria.  This is undoubtedly a necessary goal: there are 9.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria. Right now, only about 4 million people are being reached with food aid and medicine. There are a number of reasons for this huge gap, but chief among them is hat aid flows through Damascus. The government indirectly controls which needy populations get this aid–and which are excluded.

The Security Council’s proposal to remedy this is to authorize the delivery of humanitarian aid across border points that are not controlled by the Syrian government. This is a good idea in theory–after all, aid would reach about 1 million more of the people who need it the most. But in doing so, the Security Council is also taking a huge risk.

The delivery of humanitarian aid to a crisis zone like Syria requires some degree of cooperation from the government of the country receiving the aid. Despite the conflict Syria is still a sovereign country, and as such it treats its borders like most countries do, requiring visas, imposes customs duties, etc. In order to reach the 4 million civilians that are currently receiving international aid, agencies must work with Syrian authorities, as uncomfortable as that may be.  If the Assad regime objects to the cross border delivery of aid to areas it does not control, it may very well retaliate against these agencies by booting them from Damascus, which would disrupt aid flows to people currently receiving it.

But it gets worse. The Syrian government has said that it would consider the non-consensual delivery of humanitarian assistance as tantamount to an attack on Syria. In a letter to the Security Council last month, Syria’s Ambassador to the UN stated: “importing aid in coordination with terrorist organizations and without consultation with the Syrian State would amount to an attack on the Syrian State.”  This raises the very real possibility that the Syrian air force would bomb humanitarian convoys as soon as they cross the border.

The Security Council is betting that Russian support for the resolution would mitigate the risk that Syrian military would attack aid convoys. (The resolution contains a provision for the monitoring of the aid convoys, insisted by Russia, to ensure that no weapons are smuggled to rebel groups.) If Russia supports this resolution, then presumably Moscow would encourage Damascus to abide by its strictures–or at the very least, not retaliate against humanitarian agencies.

It’s logical to assume that Damascus would not cross it’s main protector at the Security Council by violating a resolution that Russia supports. And it’s welcome to finally see some unity at the Security Council. But this is still very much a gamble.

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Episode 25: Joseph Cirincione

Joseph Cirincione is on the line this week. The nuclear policy wonk and President of the Ploughshares Fund discusses Iran, Bush’s troubled non-proliferation record and why the jury is still out on President Obama’s nuclear legacy. He tells me about his first memories of living under the threat of nuclear war and how his life and career has tracked the ups and downs of American nuclear policy.

It’s timely conversation, kicked off with a brief discussion of the Iran nuclear talks, and also a timeless conversation about the history of America and the bomb. Enjoy!  

And remember to subscribe on iTunes. You won’t miss a show. Plus,  subscribing raises the visibility of the podcast in iTunes, helping other globally curious people discover the show! 




Previous episodes

A Migrant’s Story: Why are So Many Children Fleeing to the USA?

Episode 23: Live from the UN 2014 (Volume 2)

Inside the Iran Nuke Talks

Episode 23: Jillian York, Digital Free Speech defender

Turkey’s Strategic Interests in Iraq

Episode 22: Live from the UN, 2014 (Vol 1); A special edition, featuring the President of the General Assembly,  the UN Ambassadors from Vietnam and Jamaica, the head of the UN Association, and more!

The UN’s View of the Iraq Crisis

Episode 21: Thomas Pickering, former Ambassador to the UN, Israel, Jordan, Russia, India and more.

Dying for the World Cup

Episode 20: Jessica Tuchman Matthews, foreign policy trendsetter

Egypt After the Counter Revolution 

Episode 19: Louise Arbour, human rights pioneer.

What Obama Left Out of His Big Foreign Policy Speech

Episode 18: Zalmay Khalizad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN.

Why Libya is Suddenly on the Verge of a Civil War 

Episode 17: Gov Bill Richardson, he frees hostages.

The Foreign Policy Implications of India’s Elections

Episode 16: Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children

What Boko Haram Wants

Episode: 15 Laura Turner Seydel, philanthropist

Episode 14: Douglas Ollivant, Iraq expert

Episode 13: Gary Bass, historian

Episode 12: Mark Montgomery, demographer

Episode 11: Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watcher

Episode 10: Live from the UN, Volume 2.

Episode 9: Mia Farrow, humanitarian activist and Goodwill Ambassador

Episode 8: Suzanne Nossel, Big Thinker

Episode 7: Live from the UN, Volume 1. 

Episode 6: PJ Crowley, former State Department Spokesperson

Episode 5: Octavia Nasr, reporter

Episode 4: Arsalan Iftikhar, “The Muslim Guy”

Episode 3: Dodge Billingsley, filmmaker.

Episode 2: Laura Seay,  @TexasinAfrica

Episode 1: Heather Hurlburt, national security wonk

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