March 17/14


Bible Quotation for today/
John 8,21-27/: "Again he said to them, ‘I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.’ Then the Jews said, ‘Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, "Where I am going, you cannot come"?’ He said to them, ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.’They said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Why do I speak to you at all? I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.’They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For March 17/14

US, Russian, Chinese military satellites hunt MH370 over Central Asia. Is it readied for a terrorist attack/DEBKAfile/March 17/14
Syria’s messy transformation enters a fourth year/Dr. Theodore Karasik/Al Arabiya/March 17/14

Mahmoud Abbas and the 'Jewish State'/Robert Satloff/Foreign Policy/March 17/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For March 17/14
Lebanese Related News

Four Dead, Several Hurt in Suicide Car Blast in al-Nabi Othman

Death Toll in Sectarian Fighting in Tripoli Reaches 13

Rifi Slams Jubilation over Yabrud, Says to Seek Hizbullah Syria Exit in State Institutes
Syria Strikes Outskirts of Arsal amid Reports of Gunmen Entering Town

Syrian Army, Hizbullah Seize Full Control of Rebel Town Yabrud

Contacts Ongoing to Urge Phalange Party to Withhold Resignation

Raad Calls on Cabinet to 'Fight Terror, Hold Timely Presidential Vote'

Army Arrests Syrian Gunmen, Shoots at Pick-Up in Arsal

Arsal Residents Deplore Rocket Attacks on Bekaa Towns as al-Labweh Road Reopened

Al-Rahi Calls for Granting Cabinet Vote of Confidence

Malnutrition Grows among Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon

Report: Documents Reveal Fate of Four Lebanese Nationals Missing in Syria

Russian Embassy in Beirut Steps Up Security Measures amid Threats

Phalange Ministers to Resign before Vote of Confidence if 'Dangerous Confusion' Not Resolved

Kataeb threatens Cabinet walkout over policy statement

Miscellaneous Reports And News'

Syria army recaptures rebel bastion Yabroud

US official: Iran pursuing banned items for nuclear, missile work
82 senators outline 'acceptable' terms for Iran deal in letter to Obama

Brahimi Arrives in Iran for Talks on Syria Crisis

Far-Right Israeli Minister Makes Brief Visit to al-Aqsa Mosque

Israel Minister Says Kerry Pressuring on the Wrong Side

Yaalon Says Abbas 'No Partner' for Peace Deal

Syrian Refugee Children Die in Jordan Fire

Thousands March in Western Capitals to Support Syrians

Crimea votes to quit Ukraine under guns of Russian tanks

Russia Temporarily Lifts Siege of Ukraine's Crimea Bases, Putin to Respect 'Choice' of Peninsula People

Polls Open in Crimea Secession Referendum

China and the future alliance with Saudi Arabia


4 Dead, Several Hurt in Suicide Car Blast in al-Nabi Othman
Naharnet/A suicide car bomb attack killed four people and wounded several others late Sunday in the Bekaa town of al-Nabi Othman, state-run National News Agency reported.
“Hizbullah members knew he was about to carry out the attack, and tried to stop the vehicle. That was when the attacker detonated the vehicle," a Lebanese security source told Agence France Presse.“The martyrs Abdul Rahman al-Qadi who hails from al-Ain and Khalil Khalil who hails from al-Fakiha detected a suspicious Grand Cherokee, so they chased it and asked its driver to stop, which prompted him to blow it up,” NNA said.
The explosion killed al-Qadi, Khalil as well as al-Nabi Othman residents Wahida Nazha and Ali Hussein Nazha and left several people wounded, the agency added.
A group calling itself the Baalbek Ahrar al-Sunna Brigade claimed responsibility on Twitter for the bombing. "Prepare for the transfer of the battle of Yabrud into Lebanese territory," it said.
For its part, al-Nusra Front in Lebanon claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter, describing it as "a quick response to Iran party's bluster following its extortion of the town of Yabrud."
The attack comes hours after the Syrian army backed by Hizbullah fighters captured Yabrud, a former rebel bastion in Syria near the Lebanese border.
Hizbullah and Lebanese security forces have said many of the car bombs used in previous suicide car bombings originated in Yabrud. The Lebanese Red Cross said the attack took place near a gas station.
A witness told LBCI TV said “the suicide bomber blew up the bomb-laden car which came from Wadi Rafeq (in Arsal's outskirts) when he was detected by members of a local party.”
Meanwhile, al-Jadeed television said Hizbullah's top official in the town of al-Ain A. Q. was killed in the bombing. Hizbullah-dominated areas in eastern Lebanon and Beirut's southern suburbs have suffered a series of deadly attacks, many of them suicide car blasts, since the group acknowledged sending fighters into Syria.

Death Toll in Sectarian Fighting in Tripoli Reaches 13

Naharnet/A soldier was killed in a grenade attack on the army in the northern city of Tripoli, raising to 13 the death toll from the latest round of clashes between the rival districts of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen.
The army command said in a communique issued on Sunday that a “grenade attack on an army personnel carrier in al-Mallouleh area at 9:30 p.m. killed a soldier.”The statement stressed that the army is still responding to the sources of fire in the northern city. Battles subsided on Sunday at dawn after a rough night in the city despite intermittent sniper gunshots operating around Syria street, which separates the Alawite enclave of Jabal Mohsen from the Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh.President Michel Suleiman expressed regret on Sunday over the victims of the clashes in Tripoli. He stressed “on the importance of being aware amid this critical stage that Lebanon and the Lebanese should be dissociated from its negative repercussions.”Suleiman reiterated calls from “consensus and dialogue... to surpass this stage safely.”The state-run National News Agency reported that the clashes injured around 57 people. Bab al-Tabbaneh residents staged demonstrations on Saturday night to protest the ongoing situation in the city. The latest fighting broke out on Thursday after a Sunni man was killed by unknown gunmen on a motorbike in central Tripoli. But tensions between the districts have run high for decades, only increasing with the outbreak of the conflict in Syria in March 2011, where Alawite President Bashar Assad faces a Sunni-dominated uprising. The Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood backs the revolt, while residents in Jabal Mohsen support the Syrian regime. The Lebanese army has deployed in the city, arresting several people overnight and responding to sources of fire. The violence between two districts of the city caused local schools to close and cut traffic flow in the city to a trickle.

Syrian Army, Hizbullah Seize Full Control of Rebel Town Yabrud

Naharnet/The Syrian army and Hizbullah seized full control of the rebel bastion Yabrud on Sunday, dealing the opposition a heavy symbolic and strategic blow in the Qalamoun region adjoining the Lebanese border. An Agence France Presse reporter entered the town and said the Syrian army took total control of it after a fierce 48-hour-battle with rebels. "We took total control of the town at 10:00 am (0800 GMT)," an army officer confirmed to AFP as visibly exhausted soldiers rested on pavements lining the streets. "This was the most difficult battle we have fought because the rebels were in mountains surrounding the town, and in buildings in Yabrud," the officer said."First we had to occupy the hills, and then on Saturday we entered the town through the east, up to the sports center. Today we finished the work," he added.
Regime troops were backed by fighters from Hizbullah and pro-regime militiamen. While scores of soldiers and fighters wearing different kinds of uniforms could be seen in Yabrud, not one civilian could be spotted anywhere.Graffiti in the colors of the pro-revolt flag still adorned the heavily damaged town's walls, while a fighter jet could be heard overhead. Earlier, the army announced it had "returned security and stability to the town of Yabrud and its surroundings in northern Damascus province." "This new success... is an important step towards securing the border area with Lebanon, and cutting off the roads and tightening the noose around the remaining terrorist cells in Damascus province," the military added. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an NGO, said Hizbullah had led the operation and "taken control of large parts of Yabrud."
The Observatory and sources across the border in Lebanon reported multiple air raids including with explosive-packed barrel bombs on the area between Yabrud and Arsal inside Lebanon. The NGO said at least six people were killed in raids on the area, among them two children. Syrian state television said the army was targeting "groups of terrorists" fleeing Yabrud in the direction of Arsal. The fall of Yabrud comes after months of Syrian army operations in the strategic Qalamoun region, north of Damascus, where the town is situated. Late last year, the army captured a string of nearby towns before turning its sights to Yabrud.
The town was once home to some 30,000 people, including a Christian minority, and had been a rebel bastion since early in the Syrian uprising that began in March 2011. According to Abou Akram, a Syrian army soldier in Yabrud, the military now aims to take over Flita and Rankus, two rebel positions on the road to Lebanon. In addition to its symbolic importance, the town is a key strategic prize because of its proximity to the highway and the Lebanese border, across which rebels have smuggled fighters and weapons.
The capture of the town, and continuing army operations in the surrounding area, will sever important supply lines for the rebels as they face several army advances on different fronts.
"It underlines yet again that the real momentum in the strategic zones of this conflict is now with the government," said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brooking Doha Center.
The town's seizure could also place new pressure on Lebanon's Arsal, which is hosting at least 51,000 Syrian refugees, many from the Qalamoun region. Sunni Arsal is largely sympathetic to the Sunni-led uprising, and rebel fighters are believed to have bases in areas around the town, which are regularly targeted by Syrian war planes. Arsal municipality official Ahmad Fliti told AFP that the Syrian air force was staging continuous raids outside the town on Sunday. Yabrud's capture was celebrated in Damascus by hundreds of residents who took to the streets to celebrate. And in Lebanon, Hizbullah supporters fired celebratory gunshots in the air in Beirut and its southern suburbs. Hizbullah is believed to have played a key role in the town's capture, and Lister said he expected the group to continue cooperating with regime forces in the area.
"It is likely that joint Hizbullah-Syrian army forces in the area could end up fanning out with the secondary aim of acquiring near total control of the Lebanese border," he said.
Hizbullah's involvement in Syria has prompted retaliatory bomb and rocket attacks by extremist groups against areas in Lebanon sympathetic to the movement. The attacks have mostly killed civilians. The group and Lebanese security forces have said many of the car bombs used in those attacks originated in Yabrud. The town's fall comes a day into the fourth year of Syria's conflict, which has killed more than 146,000 people.

Source/Agence France PresseNaharnet


Rifi Slams Jubilation over Yabrud, Says to Seek Hizbullah Syria Exit in State Institutes
Naharnet Newsdesk 16 March 2014/Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi on Sunday announced that his priority in the new cabinet will be seeking the withdrawal of Hizbullah from Syria, describing the fall of the Syrian rebel bastion of Yabrud as an “illusionary” victory and slamming the celebrations of Hizbullah's supporters in several Lebanese areas. “In the wake of the successive events in Syria, the last of which was what happened in the town of Yabrud and the cross-border exodus into Arsal, we reiterate our warning against this rejected involvement in Syrian affairs, which exposes Lebanon to a definite danger,” Rifi said in a communique.
“Accordingly, the top priority of our work in state institutions will be demanding the withdrawal of Hizbullah from Syria, as well as everyone who was involved in the fighting there, in addition to dismantling autonomous security and deploying the army and security forces on the border, especially in the Arsal region and its surroundings and on the northern border with Syria,” Rifi added. Addressing the jubilation in some Lebanese areas that are sympathetic to Hizbullah over Yabrud's fall, Rifi condemned what he described as “show-off celebrations.” “Days will prove that these victories are ephemeral and illusionary,” Rifi said, noting that the jubilation acts have become “a detestable tradition of dancing over the blood of the innocent Syrian people and over the ruins of its devastated cities.”Celebrations “lack wisdom and will lead to aggravating the sentiments of division and hatred,” Rifi warned. The Syrian army and Hizbullah seized full control of the rebel bastion Yabrud earlier on Sunday, dealing the opposition a heavy symbolic and strategic blow in the Qalamoun region adjoining the Lebanese border.
In addition to its symbolic importance, the town is a key strategic prize because of its proximity to the highway and the Lebanese border, across which rebels have smuggled fighters and weapons.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group relying on a network of contacts inside Syria, said Hizbullah had led the operation.  The town's seizure could also place new pressure on Lebanon's Arsal, which is hosting at least 51,000 Syrian refugees, many from the Qalamoun region. Sunni Arsal is largely sympathetic to the Sunni-led uprising, and rebel fighters are believed to have bases in areas around the town, which are regularly targeted by Syrian war planes. Yabrud's capture was celebrated in Damascus by hundreds of residents who took to the streets to celebrate. And in Lebanon, Hizbullah supporters fired celebratory gunshots in the air in Beirut and its southern suburbs. They also distributed sweets and roamed streets in jubilant convoys. Hizbullah's involvement in Syria has prompted retaliatory bomb and rocket attacks by extremist groups against areas in Lebanon sympathetic to the movement. The attacks have mostly killed civilians. The group and Lebanese security forces have said many of the car bombs used in those attacks originated in Yabrud.

Syria Strikes Outskirts of Arsal amid Reports of Gunmen Entering Town

Naharnet/Syrian warplanes carried out several airstrikes on the outskirts of the eastern border town of Arsal as media reports said that gunmen from the rebel bastion of Yabrud fled to the area after the Syrian army seized full control of the town. The Syrian airstrike targeted the outskirts of Arsal's mountainous regions. "Syrian warplanes waged several strikes on Arsal's outskirts, targeting gunmen fleeing from the frontiers of al-Aqaba and Rantous towards Arsal, leaving several of them dead or wounded," Lebanon's National News Agency reported. Earlier, LBCI TV said Syrian aircraft carried out two raids on the al-Maslaha area in Arsal's peripheries.
Opposition sources said civilians and activists in the town of Yabrud had fled overnight into neighboring Lebanon. And Syrian state television said the army was targeting "groups of terrorists" fleeing Yabrud between the village of Fleita in Syria and the town of Arsal. Arsal municipal chief Ali al-Hujairi denied that gunmen from the Yabrud area entered the border town. LBCI reported that more than 1,000 gunmen headed to the outskirts of the Bekaa town of Arsal as the Lebanese army took extra measures to prevent armed men from entering the area. The Lebanese army also closed the Arsal-Labweh road. Syrian troops had seized on Sunday full control of the rebel bastion Yabrud in the strategic Qalamun region near the Lebanese border. The town's seizure is also likely to place new pressure on Arsal, which is hosting tens of thousands of refugees that have fled the Qalamoun region. Sunni Arsal is largely sympathetic to the Sunni-led uprising, and rebel fighters are believed to have bases in areas around the town. Al-Hujairi accused the Syrian regime of sending explosives-laden vehicles to Lebanon, pointing out that it aims at inciting sedition in Lebanon. Hizbullah and Lebanese security forces have alleged that many of the car bombs used in those attacks originated in Yabrud and were driven across the Lebanese border.
The municipal chief of Labweh, Ramez Nasser Amhaz, said in comments to LBCI that the Lebanese state is the sole guarantee for the town, pointing out that it is capable of arresting gunmen and criminals.
The Syrian air force has regularly carried out air strikes with war planes and helicopters targeting rebel positions around Arsal. Source/Agence France Presse

Raad Calls on Cabinet to 'Fight Terror, Hold Timely Presidential Vote'
Naharnet /Head of Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance bloc MP Mohammed Raad on Sunday called on the new cabinet to “exert efforts to achieve what it has considered as priorities: fighting terrorism and holding the presidential vote within its constitutional timeframe.”He also urged the cabinet, which adopted a consensus policy statement Friday after a month of political wrangling, to “shoulder the responsibility of alleviating the dire living conditions of the Lebanese.”“We support the cabinet whose policy statement has been finally 'liberated' and which included its commitment to the right of the resistance to confront occupation and its attacks," Raad said. The top lawmaker also stressed "the need to endorse a comprehensive national plan to confront the takfiri terrorism as we continue dialogue over the national defense strategy that must be implemented to confront the Zionist (Israeli) hostility."

Contacts Ongoing to Urge Phalange Party to Withhold Resignation
Naharnet/Contact are ongoing to convince the Phalange Party to withhold its threat to resign from Premier Tammam Salam's government over the new Cabinet's policy statement as it is impeding the agreement between the political arch-foes. +According to An Nahar newspaper published on Sunday, the cabinet will receive a total of 110 lawmakers out of 128 ill grant Salam's government the vote of confidence despite the Lebanese Forces parliamentary bloc's decision to withhold it and the forced absence of Head of al-Mustaqbal Movement MP Saad Hariri and his bloc's lawmaker MP Oqab Saqr from the parliamentary session.
Al-Mustaqbal newspaper predicted that the cabinet would receive 113 votes of confidence despite the Phalange party's threat. The Phalange party warned following a grueling late meeting on Saturday that its ministers in Prime Minister Salam's government will resign before a parliamentary vote of confidence if the policy statement wasn't amended. Sources told An Nahar newspaper that contacts are ongoing with the Phalange Party to urge it not to topple the shaky political agreement and to continue its participation in Salam's cabinet. The sources pointed out that Western ambassadors also intervened to convince the Phalange Party to voice its agreement on the new policy statement. The cabinet's policy statement was adopted by the cabinet late Friday after almost one month of discussions and a deadlock on the resistance clause. The three Phalange ministers - Ramzi Greij, Sejaan Qazzi and Alain Hakim – and Minister Ashraf Rifi, who represents al-Mustaqbal movement in the cabinet have voiced reservations over the contentious issue of the resistance and the role of the state in confronting Israel. "By the virtue of the state's responsibility to preserve Lebanon's sovereignty and territorial integrity, the government stresses the state's duty and efforts to liberate the Shebaa Farms, the Kfarshouba Hills and the occupied part of Ghajar (village) through all legitimate means, while stressing the right of Lebanese citizens to resist Israeli occupation, repel its aggressions and regain the occupied land,” the policy statement read. Speaker Nabih Berri had called parliament to convene on March 19 and 20 to discuss the statement and later subject cabinet to a vote of confidence.

Russia Temporarily Lifts Siege of Ukraine's Crimea Bases, Putin to Respect 'Choice' of Peninsula People
Naharnet/Ukraine's defense minister said Sunday that Russia had agreed to temporarily lift its blockade of Ukraine's military bases in Crimea in order to ease tensions surrounding the peninsula's secession referendum, as Moscow said it would respect the “choice” of the flashpoint region's residents."Agreements have already been reached between our commanders... on there being no attempts to blockade our military installations until March 21," Interfax quoted Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh as saying."We have reached this truce, and I think it will remain in place until March 21." Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday told German Chancellor Angela Merkel his country would respect the choice of the people of Crimea and expressed concern over tensions in Ukraine's Russian-speaking regions of south and southeast.
"It has been stressed that Russia will respect the choice of Crimea's residents," the Kremlin said in a statement following phone talks between Putin and Merkel.
"The Russian president once again expressed concern over tensions in Ukraine's south and southeast being inflamed by radical groups with the connivance of Kiev's authorities," the Kremlin said in a statement following the talks.
Putin also "stressed that Russia will respect the choice of Crimea's residents" in Sunday's historic referendum on breaking away from Ukraine to join Russia, the statement said.
The Russian leader reiterated Moscow's position that the referendum was in line with international law, it said. Three people died in recent clashes in the Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv.
Russia has said it was considering "many requests" to protect Ukrainians, raising fears that Russia could move its troops beyond Crimea. Putin and Merkel also discussed the possibility of sending a "large-scale mission" from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the situation in Ukraine, the Kremlin said. Separately, Putin's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to press the Kiev authorities to take steps to protect Ukraine's Russian speakers. "John Kerry assured (Lavrov) that Washington is already conducting all the necessary work and expects that it will soon bring positive results," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. The two men also agreed to continue to look for ways to defuse the crisis in Ukraine through "the launch as soon as possible of a constitutional reform with the support of the international community."
Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin Sunday that she backed a bigger role in Ukraine for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), her spokesman said.
In the latest in a series of often heated telephone talks between the two leaders since Russia seized Ukraine's Crimean peninsula earlier this month, Merkel's office indicated that she and Putin had found a point of agreement.
"The chancellor suggested quickly expanding the OSCE's presence in Ukraine and sending a greater number of observers to the crisis zones, in particular eastern Ukraine," her spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement summarizing the conversation. "The Russian president had a positive assessment of this initiative and agreed to assign Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov accordingly."
Merkel said she hoped for a decision approving such measures by the Vienna-based OSCE on Monday. Seibert said Merkel and Putin had spoken "about the tense security situation in Ukraine despite their differing takes on the referendum in Crimea and the issue of territorial integrity and sovereignty." "The chancellor condemned yesterday's incident in the area of Kherson on the Ukrainian mainland in which Russian troops occupied a natural gas pumping station," Seibert said. The Ukrainian foreign ministry said 80 Russian military personnel had seized a village on the Arabat Spit called Strilkove with the support of four military helicopters and three armored personnel carriers. The peninsula's pro-Kremlin administration later said Strilkove had been "taken under the control of self-defense forces of Crimea". They were to protect the pumping station that had allegedly come under attack from a group of Ukrainian nationalists. Seibert said Merkel had underlined the "urgency and necessity" of direct talks between the Russian and Ukrainian governments "to resolve the outstanding problems."Also on Sunday, Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called for foreign observers from the OSCE to be sent "urgently" to the east and south of the country. In a statement, the Kiev government said it had "asked that the OSCE urgently send a monitoring mission to Ukraine." "Their mandate should include the east and south of Ukraine, including Crimea," Yatsenyuk added in the statement, as the Black Sea peninsula voted in a referendum widely expected to favor its split from Ukraine and attachment to Russia. "I hope this decision can be voted at an extraordinary session of the OSCE," Yatsenyuk added.
More than 50 observers from the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) already attempted to enter Crimea two weeks ago in a bid to defuse tensions in the autonomous region, but were barred entry on repeated occasion at border checkpoints.SourceAgence France Presse


US official: Iran pursuing banned items for nuclear, missile work
Reuters/Ynetnews 03.16.14,7340,L-4499682,00.html
State Dept. official says Tehran is still 'very actively' pursuing clandestine nuclear procurement efforts by setting up front companies and falsifying documents. DUBAI - Iran has pursued a longstanding effort to buy banned components for its nuclear and missile programs in recent months, a US official said on Sunday, a period when it struck an interim deal with major powers to limit its disputed atomic activity.
Vann Van Diepen, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation, said Iran was still "very actively" creating front companies and engaging in other activity to conceal procurements.
The reported supplies do not contravene last year's breakthrough agreement between Tehran and six world powers to curb its most sensitive atomic activity in exchange for some limited easing of sanctions damaging its economy. But such trade would breach a 2006 UN embargo banning the provision by any nation to Iran of materials related to its nuclear and missile development work. Western experts say such low-profile procurement efforts by Iran date back many years, perhaps decades in the case of its nuclear activity.
Asked if he had seen a change in Iranian procurement behaviour in the past six to 12 months, a period that has seen a cautious thaw in US-Iranian relations after decades of hostility, Van Diepen replied: "The short answer is no.
"They still continue very actively trying to procure items for their nuclear program and missile program and other program," he told Reuters in an interview.
"We continue to see them very actively setting up and operating through front companies, falsifying documentation, engaging in multiple levels of trans-shipment ... to put more apparent distance between where the item originally came from and where it is ultimately going."
Asked for reaction to the allegation, a senior Iranian official replied: "No comment".
Van Diepen did not say what sort of components Iran had sought to obtain or which part of a government known for having competing hardline and moderate factions was responsible. In the past, Western officials said Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards and the Defense Ministry - both hotbeds of opposition to any rapprochement with the West - were believed to control clandestine nuclear procurement efforts.
Iran denies Western allegations that it has long sought covertly to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons, saying its uranium enrichment program is solely a peaceful endeavour to yield electricity as well as isotopes for medical treatments.
Diplomats have said that Iran is meeting its commitments under the November deal, under which Iran suspended its higher-grade enrichment and stopped increasing its capacity to produce low-refined uranium, among other steps. Uranium forms the core of a nuclear bomb if enriched to a high fissile purity.
The six-month agreement, which took effect on January 20 this year, was designed to buy time for talks on a final settlement defining the overall scope of Iran's nuclear work to end fears that it could be diverted to military ends.
Those talks got under way in Vienna last month and a second round at the political director level will be held on March 18-19, also in the Austrian capital. The aim is to reach an agreement by late July, although that deadline can be extended by another half year if both sides agree.
Iran has one of the biggest missile programs in the Middle East, regarding such weapons as an important deterrent and retaliatory force against US and other adversaries - primarily Gulf Arabs - in the region in the event of war.
Its efforts to develop, test and field ballistic missiles, and build a space launch capability, have helped drive billions of dollars of US ballistic missile defense expenditure, and contributed to Israel's threats of possible pre-emptive military action against Iranian nuclear installations.
Since Iran is not a self-sufficient manufacturer of missiles, the expansion of its inventory depends on the import of goods and materiel sourced abroad.
Van Diepen said that while there was no direct link between the level of Iranian illicit procurement and the negotiations on a settlement to the nuclear dispute, "obviously if the negotiations succeed then there should therefore be a corresponding decrease in Iranian proliferation activity."

82 senators outline 'acceptable' terms for Iran deal in letter to Obama

WASHINGTON -- A significant majority of US Senate members have now signed a letter to US President Barack Obama outlining terms of a final agreement on Iran's nuclear program that they would find acceptable.
82 senators say they hope diplomatic efforts succeed in Vienna with Iran over the next four months – but also call for the “rapid and dramatic” expansion of sanctions if negotiations fail.
The letter began circulating less than two weeks ago, and has attracted 76 signatories since its release. Senate aides tell The Jerusalem Post the letter will be sent to the White House early this week.
A source with a pro-Israel organization characterized the letter's message as "a very significant statement of Senate policy in that it specifies the core principles in final agreement."
World powers are attempting to reach a comprehensive solution to the longstanding nuclear crisis with Iran, now over a decade old, through peaceful means. The United States has recently bolstered its staff for the negotiations, which the president and Secretary of State John Kerry consider the "best chance" at resolving the crisis.
Support for the letter has been a top priority of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee since its annual policy conference earlier this month.
“We believe that Iran has no inherent right to enrichment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” the letter reads. “We believe any agreement must dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons program and prevent it from ever having a uranium or plutonium path to a nuclear bomb.”The letter also calls for the closure of Fordow, Arak and Parchin – key facilities in Iran’s nuclear program – in its list of demands.
The Obama administration has entered negotiations with a similar list, though senior officials are not demanding the full dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
On a conference call with reporters on Friday, one senior administration official said the White House is willing to tolerate a small, highly regulated Iranian nuclear program that is guaranteed peaceful through strict verification and oversight measures. The language of the letter does not explicitly rule out these terms: it calls on Iran’s nuclear “weapons” program to be fully dismantled, not necessarily all of its nuclear work.
“Should an acceptable final agreement be reached, your administration will need to work together with Congress to enact implementing legislation to provide longer term sanctions relief beyond existing waiver authorities – either through suspension, repeal or amendment of statutory sanctions,” the letter reads.

Crimea votes to quit Ukraine under guns of Russian tanks
DEBKAfile Special Report March 15, 2014/Ahead of the controversial Crimean referendum taking place Sunday, March 16, the Ukraine interim government claimed Saturday that its forces had repelled a Russian military operation to invade Strikove in the Kherson province adjoining the peninsula. This province is strategically valuable because it is the source of Crimea’s water and electric power, which Kiev could cut off. But only in theory, because then Moscow would equally cut off gas to Kiev.
The Kiev claim of a military engagement with the Russians is roughly as credible as its account of 80,000 Russian troops massed on the borders of Crimea and poised to invade additional parts of eastern Ukraine Monday, the day after the referendum. The interim parliament was accordingly summoned into emergency session Monday at 10:00 a.m. Kiev time.
debkafile’s military sources report this figure is highly inflated. There are no signs of an imminent Russian invasion; nor a call-up of reserves to fill out the Russian units permanently stationed in areas close to the Ukrainian border. The Russian army’s only unusual posture in the days leading up to the referendum was to stage military exercises and keep the small units taking part constantly on the move - so as to create the impression of a large army in motion. They also ran convoys of 10-15 armored trucks back and forth, which look massive when filmed.
These movements were intended as psychological pressure to deter Kiev and the West from any plans they might entertain to disrupt the referendum or interfere with its outcome.
Moscow’s only blatant military act in the run-up to the vote occurred Friday, March 14, when a Russian cyber unit intercepted a US MQ-5B Hunter drone 12,000 feet over the Crimean peninsula by using radio-electronic technology to break its link with its US operators. The drone was downed almost intact.
This was a hands-off warning from President Vladimir Putin to Washington on the Crimean referendum. It underlined the message Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov carried to US Secretary of State John Kerry when they met in London Friday, which was: “We must respect the will of the Crimean people in the forthcoming referendum” – meaning its will to join Russia.
Kerry repeated Obama’s message that the US deemed the referendum illegal and would not accept its outcome.
After talking for six hours, the two ministers were unable to bridge the gap. They could only agree to pick up their dialogue from Monday, when the vote was out of the way, when Putin’s intentions for Ukraine’s future became know and after the European Union’s ruling institutions had met to punish Russia by fairly limited sanctions.
After that, the two big powers might take another stab at reaching a compromise for Ukraine.
Meanwhile, neither was giving any quarter. Saturday night, the US tabled a resolution at the UN Security Council declaring the referendum invalid and urging countries not to recognize the results. Russia predictably cast its veto and China abstained. US Ambassador UN Samantha Power said the vote highlighted Russia’s isolation.
By Sunday, the Crimeans were set for their referendum with no discernible obstacle to deter them.
Our military sources saw no evidence of unusual military preparedness among Ukraine’s European neighbors to the west, in US bases on the continent, or in the Ukrainian army. No one in the West is sure up until now what proportion of its commanders will obey the interim government at crunch time and carry out its orders.
Partly, because of this uncertainty, President Barack Obama turned the Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyui down during his visit to the White House Wednesday, March 12, when he requested US weapons and financial aid for his armed forces. He also asked for access to US intelligence coverage of Russian military movements.
All that the US president was ready to offer was iron rations for Ukrainian troops. If nothing else, at least they won’t go hungry.
But one or more of the forces currently in suspended animation may snap into unforeseen action during the referendum or after it's over..


Mahmoud Abbas and the 'Jewish State'
Robert Satloff/Foreign Policy
March 14, 2014
In refusing to recognize Israel as the "Jewish state," the Palestinian leader is denying a fact that even Arafat was willing to admit.
On my desk sits a replica of a tourist guide printed in 1924 by the Supreme Muslim Council of Jerusalem, the highest Muslim communal body in Palestine. Thousands of travelers to the Holy Land in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s learned from this guide that Solomon's Temple, the holiest site in Judaism, was located on the site now occupied by the Haram al-Sharif, or "Noble Enclosure," which includes the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque.
The fact that the head of the Supreme Muslim Council was Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Britain-appointed mufti of Jerusalem and father of Palestinian nationalism who later infamously collaborated with the Nazis, lent special credence to this statement of Muslim recognition of historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
Flash forward to July 2000, when President Bill Clinton hosted a fateful peace summit at Camp David. In one critical encounter, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat -- who effectively inherited the mantle of leadership from him -- rejected what his mentor had affirmed decades earlier. As Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross later recalled, Arafat told Clinton that Solomon's Temple was never in Jerusalem. If any Jewish temple existed, Arafat suggested, it was in the West Bank town of Nablus. The summit collapsed in acrimony. Within weeks, Palestinians launched the Second Intifada, which cost thousands of lives and dealt prospects for peace a terrible blow.
As President Barack Obama prepares to host Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Monday, amid a violent flare-up of tensions between Israel and Islamic extremists in Gaza, history may be poised to repeat itself. Once again, a Palestinian leader is taking an even more rejectionist position than his predecessor.
Today's issue is the question of the "Jewish state." This is shorthand for Israel's demand that Palestinians specifically accept that the goal of current diplomacy is the mutual recognition of two independent, sovereign states -- Palestine, the nation-state of the Palestinian people, and Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people. Abbas affirmed last week that he would flatly refuse such a formula: "No way," he said. The fact that he is, as Obama has said, the most moderate Palestinian leader Israel has ever dealt with only lends gravity to the fact that he has adopted such a hardline view.
On the surface, it is difficult to understand what all the ruckus is about. Israel, of course, was built by Jews as a haven for Jews. The 1947 U.N. resolution that gave international imprimatur to the partition of British-mandated Palestine mentioned the phrase "Jewish state" dozens of times. Surveys over the last decade by respected Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki show that 40 to 52 percent of Palestinians would accept recognition of Israel as the "Jewish state" -- levels of support, it is important to note, achieved without Abbas's public endorsement.
Even Arafat, the uber-nationalist, understood this. The same Arafat who rejected the idea of a historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem and orchestrated numerous terrorist attacks in his bitter fight against Israel accepted the contemporary reality that Israel -- whether he liked it or not -- was the "Jewish state." And he said so publicly, on at least three occasions.
On Nov. 18, 1988, in the early days of the first Palestinian uprising, Arafat convened the Palestine National Council, the proto-parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), to issue a declaration of independence. That document, a Palestinian hybrid of the American and Israeli declarations of independence, proclaimed the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the United Nations resolution "which partitioned Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state."
This description was not simply a throwaway line, but rather the considered position of the Palestinian leadership at the time. On Dec. 8, 1988, the New York Times reported on a press conference Arafat held with several American peace activists. At the event, Arafat said: "We accept two states, the Palestine state and the Jewish state of Israel."
Sixteen years later, in an interview published on June 17, 2004, Arafat reaffirmed his position. Asked by Israel's liberal daily newspaper Haaretz if he understood that "Israel has to keep being a Jewish state," the PLO leader replied, "Definitely." He later said to the interviewer that it was "clear and obvious" that the Palestine refugee problem needs to be resolved in a way that does not change the Jewish character of Israel through an influx of millions of returning Palestinians.
Reasonably enough, Palestinians are asking today why Israel insists on them recognizing its status as the "Jewish state," when past Israeli leaders did not make this demand in peace talks with Egypt or Jordan. The reason is because conflicts with those countries were, by the time of peace talks, essentially territorial disputes, resolved through the equitable drawing of boundaries and the creation of mutually satisfactory security arrangements.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deeper -- it is existential. While many Palestinians suspect that Israel will forever deny them independence, deep in the minds of many Israelis is the idea that Palestinians have a long-term plan to destroy Israel. Formal recognition of Israel as the rightful national home of the Jewish people, which would exist side by side with the rightful national home of the Palestinian people, would go far toward calming such fears. The fact that Abbas still refuses to offer this recognition only deepens those fears.
Perhaps Abbas's refusal is tactical -- an attempt to extract concessions from Israel in exchange for saying the same words Arafat uttered years ago. Or perhaps his refusal is as real and portentous as Arafat's refusal to accept a Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
To his credit, Obama has understood the centrality of the "Jewish state" issue. Despite the pressure he has exerted on Israel to stop building in Jerusalem, release jailed terrorists, or make painful concessions in peace talks, the president has never wavered from his characterization of "the Jewish state of Israel."
That position will be put to the test in Obama's meeting with Abbas on Monday. The president will face a choice: He can recite how even the iconic Arafat recognized Israel as the Jewish state, remind Abbas of the years lost and lives wasted since the last time a Palestinian leader took a harder line than his predecessor, and -- taking a page from his recent public warnings to Israel -- threaten Abbas with a dire future of isolation and irrelevance if he doesn't grab this opportunity for peace. Or alternatively, he could punt -- letting Abbas keep both the accolades of a moderate and the positions of a rejectionist.
For a president confronted elsewhere by metaphors of the past -- Vladimir Putin as Adolf Hitler, the return of the Cold War -- how Obama deals with the "Jewish state" issue in his meeting with Abbas will determine whether, in the Israeli-Palestinian context, history is moving forward or once again moving backward.
*Robert Satloff is executive director of The Washington Institute.


US, Russian, Chinese military satellites hunt MH370 over Central Asia. Is it readied for a terrorist attack?
DEBKAfile Special Report March 16, 2014/The US, Russia and China Sunday, March 16 contributed their military satellites to the search for the Malaysian Boeing 777, missing without a trace for nine days with 239 people aboard. US drones have also been diverted from the Afghanistan war to the hunt, which is focusing increasingly on the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
The backgrounds of the pilot and co-pilot and the rest of the crew are under rigorous investigation for leads. Scrutiny of the passengers, 153 of whom are Chinese, is slow since not all the foreign governments have come up with answers to questions about their nationals.
The multinational investigation is looking closely at a number of conjectures:
1. The contents of the plane’s cargo: Did it contain some illicit freight that would have given one or more hijackers a motive to seize control of the plane, force it to land at a remote spot and vanish with their prize?
That scenario would leave the fate of the passengers and crew up in the air. They may still be alive and marooned in some wild corner of the world.
2. Many parts of the Silk Road nations of Kirgizstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are broad desert wastelands. They all have abandoned derelict military and air bases left over from the defunct Soviet empire. Military satellites and drones manned by experts have the best chance of pinpointing MH370 in this sort of country.
It is now believed that the last contact with MH370 was beamed from the ground, meaning that the plane had not spent hours aloft but somewhere on land, which is why the Malaysian transport minister disclosed Sunday that the search now covered “areas of land in 11 countries.”
3. The cockpit is being painstakingly searched for clues. One theory is that the hijackers lurked in the plane before the passengers boarded after they were smuggled in through the cargo hold. They may have belonged to the East Turkestan Liberation Organization-ETLO, the Uyghur separatist movement of the northwest Chinese province of Xinjiang.
This conjecture opens up more complex potentials, such as the possible refueling of the airliner for use by the hijackers as an instrument of deadly massacre, echoing the 9/11 atrocities perpetrated by al Qaeda against New York and Washington.
Speculation on those lines has brought the US, Russia and China into the heart of the search and the investigation.
4. Another possibility under consideration is a sudden cyber attack on the plane. These methods are advanced enough these days to control, navigate and bring a large aircraft 75 meters long with a 61-meter wing span like the Boeing 777 down to earth almost intact at a preset location.
Iran, apparently with Chinese expert assistance, managed to bring down the RQ-170 Sentinel, America’s most secret UAV, by this method. The Israeli army downed an Iranian drone launched from Lebanon by an Iranian Revolutionary Guards cyber team in October, 2012.
Loth to expose its advanced cyber capabilities, Israel held to the story that the Iranian drone was shot down by its fighter jets.
If the Malaysian airliner was indeed commandeered by this means, the attackers may not have intended to go all the way and were forced to think fast and decide how to end the episode without leaving incriminating leads behind them. Dumping the plane in a remote place would answer this need.
5. US intelligence and security investigators were focusing Sunday on the two pilots, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who has logged 18,000 flying hrs. on similar aircraft, and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, for answers to the key conundrums of the mystery.
Both their homes in Kuala Lumpur have been searched. The flight simulator found in the captain’s home is being carefully checked for telltale flight routes.
Any possibly links in the backgrounds of the pilots to potential hijackers or terrorists would help solve the mystery of the vanished Malaysian airliner and provide a lead to its fate.


China and the future alliance with Saudi Arabia
Sunday, 16 March 2014
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
Difficult years lie ahead, perhaps five or even 10 years. This future requires a new regional and international approach. The U.S. may no longer have the prominent role it garnered after becoming the major player following World War II and Europe will become more concerned regarding its southern neighbors in northern Africa. Other countries, such as those in the Arab Gulf, may have to create small blocs to defend themselves. They may also have to establish additional alliances based on big interests. Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz’s visit to China is of additional interest. Saudi Arabia is special to China as it is a prominent partner. On a daily basis, China buys more than one million barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia. Also, Saudi Arabia remains the spiritual country of reference for the Chinese Muslim minority. I was present on this visit to China. Before now, I witnessed Saudi political openness towards China when King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz decided that China would be the first country he visited after assuming governance. King Abdulaziz thus ended a long era of ruptured relations between the two states. Oil and large scale investments are the foundation of a long-term relationship between China and Saudi Arabia
The problem is that the Chinese don’t like politics much. So, the important question is: how can one seeking to protect his interests depend on this sleeping dragon? Countries that will confront new challenges over the next few years will have to protect their interests. Prominent countries such as those in Europe and China know that relations with stable countries are better than relations with erratic countries or with countries such as Iran. There are several signs which indicate China’s desire to expand the scope of its strategic interests and not just the scope of its purchases. Oil and large scale investments are the foundation of a long-term relationship between China and Saudi Arabia.
Expanding relations with China
The Saudi delegation, which ends its visit on Sunday, wants to expand relations with China. This may balance out Saudi Arabia’s oil exports at a time when the U.S. says it is no longer capable of buying oil from the Gulf as it has enough shale oil. China itself is in a state of transition similar to countries like Saudi Arabia – it is undergoing a gradual transition, one that may appear slow. Although it has been 20 years since my first visit to China, the country continues to be mysterious and interesting. Almost everything has changed in Beijing. When I first visited, Beijing’s wide streets were packed with bicycles. There were tens of thousands of them and very few cars. A dark cloud from the coal used in heating systems covered the city. However China, its people and its ideology have changed. Despite this, the regime, which staged a counter-revolution, hasn’t and it is trying to make a gradual transition whilst avoiding chaos. This is how China managed to become one of the richest and strongest economies in the world. It is now at a point where it wants access to new markets and wants to cement new alliances.
This does not necessarily mean that China will replace America, but it will be an important player on the world stage. Also, its philosophy and practices are different to Russia’s, which exposed its ugly face wherever it intervened. **This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 16, 2014.

Syria’s messy transformation enters a fourth year
Sunday, 16 March 2014
Dr. Theodore Karasik/Al Arabiya
A slew of articles, analyses and commentary appeared on the third anniversary of the Arab Spring striking Syria. The facts and figures speak for themselves: Syria is a transformed state, bordering on failure. A good metaphor for Syria is the Syrian foreign minister who was rushed to hospital last week for heart surgery; the patient, like the country, is quite ill at this time.
Syria’s transformation from a Baathist-Alawite state into a series of ungovernable regions with a functioning central government is illustrative of a clear shift. The Syrian state no longer exists: the multiple terrorist and insurgent groups on the ground, the areas they hold, and their waning and waxing aspirations between themselves and towards President Assad’s government are never static.
With certainty, what we can really say about Syria after three years of conflict is that there is no going back. Evolution towards a new reality in the area “formally known as Syria” is occurring at speed.
Instability, refugee flows and economic disparity plague Syria to this day, as its morphs into a new arena of warfare. Assad and his people know this, as do his supporters, and they will continue to fight on, both politically and militarily.
A mess with many to blame
Diplomatic measures to deal with the Syrian situation after three years are a mess, with many states to blame. They need not be mentioned but we know who they are. These states, the Syrian opposition and the slew of international and regional organizations involved are all talking past each other.
The Geneva process is muddled. Indeed, the biblical Tower of Babel is now a political reality in the core of the Near East as a “confusion of tongues” reigns supreme.
Diplomatic measures to deal with the Syrian situation after three years are a mess, with many states to blame
Three years into the Syrian morass, the next steps are muddy. There is talk of new aggressiveness by Russia on the Syrian issue because of the Kremlin’s policies and actions against Ukraine and Crimea. There is also a shift in Saudi foreign policy to enact a new formula to support anti-Assad and anti-al-Qaeda actors on the ground. Riyadh is also wooing China to become more involved at the expense of Russia. Iran continues to support Assad and wants inclusion in any current and future diplomatic processes while wooing Oman and Qatar out of GCC unity. U.S. President Barak Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia and perhaps other states in the region to discuss Syria and other security issues with offers that Arab officials are not really sure of—it is likely that even those around the most powerful chief executive in the world will need to put forward a clear policy that is forward thinking and out of the box. The outcome may not be as productive as hoped a few weeks ago.
The ‘Syrian Effect’
The “Syrian Effect” on neighboring countries is spreading violence, revenge, and challenging the ability to govern, opening up old wounds and creating fresh lacerations against the innocent. The Geneva peace process seems to be turned inside out and upside down by events of the past few weeks, including Russia’s actions and Qatar’s isolation within the GCC. Arab officials are saying that the Saudi kingdom is ready to deploy thousands of trained assets on the ground in Syria to capture tracks of Syrian land in a bid to negotiate with Assad a type of cease-fire. We are already witnessing similar agreements between the government and resistance groups in and around Damascus. Thus, a major reset in diplomatic circles based on the above phenomena, is necessary.
Three years into the Syrian conflict, the rump Alawite state is planning for presidential elections this summer. Recently, the Syrian Parliament approved a new election law allowing multiple candidates to run in elections but the rules stipulate that those running for office must be residents – that excludes most opposition leaders. U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi stated that holding an election would jeopardize the Geneva process. Clearly, Assad and Company are planning to construct a new state so, like the Frank Sinatra song, the Syrian President can claim “I Did It My Way.”
Overall, there are key questions on what Syria will look like by the fourth anniversary in one year’s time. Will there be a new Syrian state based on a confessional system? Will Syria still be fractured as it is now? On that anniversary, how many more lives will be shattered and lost? Will the Syrian disaster be pushed to the back pages of newspapers and media headlines because of other global threats and emergencies? On this third anniversary, there are more questions than answers regarding this seriously ill country.