Two Things To Know About The Middle East This Week

Nov 8, 2013

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin Indyk, and Deputy Special Envoy Frank Lowenstein about Middle East peace negotiations before departing Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, en route to Geneva, Switzerland, on November 8, 2013.
Credit U.S. Department of State / Flickr Creative Commons

Four world powers are dispatching their top diplomats to Geneva on Friday to add their weight to negotiations aimed at putting initial limits on Iran's ability to make atomic weapons.

The meeting comes shortly after the 34th anniversary of the start of the Iran hostage crisis, and the end of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic.

Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says the election of Hassan Rouhani earlier this year marks a crossroads as the moderate leader tries to promote understanding with the United States.

“And that’s largely because sanctions are really hurting the Iranians,” Landis says. “The currency has collapsed. People are feeling poor, so Iran is doing this dance and saying it can, it will, put its nuclear refinement on hold.”

Landis says no one believes Iran’s claims they aren’t moving toward armament, and that the United States has promised Israel it would not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

“We would bomb them before that happens,” Landis says. “Obama does not want to get into another war in the Middle East, and certainly not with a very big and important country like Iran.”


Kerry arrived for his visit in the Middle East earlier this week amid indications of strains in relations between Saudi Arabia and Washington over the Obama administration's policy toward war-torn Syria. Landis is the author of the widely-read blog Syria Comment.

“We said we were going to bomb Assad,” Landis says. “They were furious when we turned around and made a deal to get rid of chemical weapons in Syria without bombing them. We're trying to push the rebels and the Assad regime to discuss a cease fire. And that infuriates many people in the Middle East. Sunni powers in particular, because it seems like a win for Iran.”

Eager to soothe the frustration, Kerry was effusive in his praise of the Saudis earlier, noting a slow, but steady domestic transformation with new emphases on education and health. He did not specifically refer to recent protests against restrictions on women being able to drive but noted that people who live in the country can see that "there are things that are changing."

“Kerry was there to smooth them over as much as he could,” Landis says. “We’re worried that Saudi Arabia, if they go [into Syria] and start arming people, will help grow al-Qaeda. We don’t want Saudi Arabia sending them a lot of arms and money.”


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