April 03/15

Great Friday of the Crucifixion

Bible Quotation For Today/Great Friday of the Crucifixion
John 19/31-37: "Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced."

Bible Quotation For Today/Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet
Letter to the Hebrews 12/12-21: "Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal.You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears. You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.’Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’)

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 02-03/15
A better deal than we expected/Ron Ben-Yishai/Ynetnews/April 03/15
Hezbollah primed to damage Israel despite launch of David’s Sling/Nicholas Blanford/The Daily Star/April03/15
Deal or No, Iran Will Remain a Nuclear Threat/Dennis Ross/Washington Institute/April 02/15
Specialist: Lebanon’s confessional political system not working/Mazin Sidahmed/The Daily Star/April 03/15

Lebanese Related News published on April 02-03/15
Geagea Denounces Nasrallah's Fiery Speech: to Prioritize Lebanon’s Interest
Lebanon: President Election Session Postponed for 21st Time
Bassil: National Unity Much More Important than Arab Solid
Al-Rahi Calls for Justice for Prisoners on Holy Thursday
Sources: Rahi Praised Army during Meeting with Qahwaji
Bilal, Omar Miqati Charged with Belonging to IS
Seifeddine in ISIL's Grip as Syrians Mediate his Release
Nusra Hands over Body of Bazzal 4 Months after Execution

Mossad recruited wife of Lebanon guard'

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State to Meet Prominent Leaders during Short Visit
Militants Killed and Injured as Army Stops Infiltration Attempt
Report: Lebanese Bank at Forefront of Suspicious Money Laundering Operations
Syrian Citizen Shortly Abducted in Akkar
Report: Wife of Parliament Guard is Mossad Agent
12 Charged with Abducting Syrian Defectors, Handing Them to Regime
Arrest of Christian mayor in Sidon sparks outrage
Nusra Hands over Body of Bazzal 4 Months after Execution
Future, Hezbollah tackle security 
Specialist: Lebanon’s confessionalism not working 
Domestic violence law still not fully applied 
Arrest of Christian mayor in Sidon sparks outrage 
Hezbollah can damage Israel despite David’s Sling 
Final version of prescription forms gets approval 

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 02-03/15
In call, Obama tells Netanyahu of remaining concerns about Iran's sponsorship of terrorism
US hails 'historic' nuclear deal with Iran
Israel slams Iran nuclear framework as detached from ‘wretched’ reality
U.S., Iran trumpet preliminary nuclear deal
Saudi ambassador to U.S.: no ‘formal’ Saudi ground troops in Aden
Yemen’s Houthis seize central Aden district
Yemen Rebels Push Deep into Hadi's Former Refuge Aden
Iran's Zarif sees progress in nuclear talks
After missing deadline, Iran talks stumble
Boehner in Jerusalem: 'US-Israel bond is strong'
Khameni to Zarif: Don’t sign! Obama to Kerry: Make them sign! Gridlock
Houthi children vow 'Death to America, death to Israel'
Israel slams Palestinians 'hypocritical' ICC bid
ISIS captures Palestinian refugee camp in Syria
Masked Islamists Seize Kenya Student Hostages, Kill 15
Iraqi forces retake Tikrit from ISIS
Saudi-led coalition targets Houthi stronghold in Yemen

Jihad Watch Latest News
Middle East Quarterly: Raymond Ibrahim Reviews Beth Baron’s The Orphan Scandal: Christian Missionaries and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood
New York City: Two Muslim women inspired by Islamic State arrested for trying to build bomb
Iran runs the table at Lausanne, then brags about US nuke concessions
Friedman’s Fantasy
FBI confirms death of jihad terrorist with DNA from severed finger
Mali: “With the help of the hand of Allah,” Muslims kill Red Cross aid worker
Kenya college: Jihadis separate Muslims from Christians, murder Christians
Islamic law overrides Egyptian law in case of recent church attack, says Coptic priest
Islamic State seizes vast Damascus refugee camp

U.S., Iran trumpet preliminary nuclear deal
Associated Press/Apr. 03, 2015
LAUSANNE, Switzerland: After marathon negotiations, the United States, Iran and five other world powers announced an agreement Thursday outlining limits on Iran’s nuclear program to block it from developing atomic weapons and directing negotiators toward a final accord this summer. The United States and Iran each hailed the framework, reached by weary but upbeat diplomats after a week of intense diplomacy in Switzerland that capped 18 months of negotiations. Speaking from the White House, President Barack Obama called it a “good deal” that would address concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Crucially for the Iranians, it also would provide them broad relief over time from international sanctions that have crippled their economy. Still, critics in both nations as well as wary U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia were likely to oppose the “plan of action” because of concessions allowing Iran to maintain significant elements of a program that could be used to produce either energy or nuclear arms. “I am convinced that if this framework leads to a final comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies and our world safer,” Obama declared. “It is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives.”Obama said he would invite the leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries to Camp David in the spring for discussions on the deal. He said he had telephoned King Salman of Saudi Arabia, and would be making a similar call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The agreement will include Iran slashing by two-thirds, to 6,000 from 19,000, the number of centrifuges, which can make fuel for nuclear power but also the core of a nuclear bomb.
In Lausanne, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif read out a joint statement hailing what they called a “decisive step” after more than a decade of work. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the top diplomats of Britain, France and Germany took the stage behind them. Kerry defended America’s compromises. “Simply demanding that Iran capitulate makes a nice sound bite, but it is not a policy, it is not a realistic plan,” he said. Still, he said that “many technical details” must be ironed out. Negotiators will now start writing the text of a final accord. Mogherini cited several agreed-upon restrictions on Iran’s enrichment of uranium, a core concern because the material can be used in a nuclear warhead. She said a planned heavy water reactor in Iran wouldn’t produce weapons-grade plutonium and work at a deeply buried underground facility at Fordo wouldn’t involve uranium. Economic sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programs are to be rolled back after the U.N. nuclear agency confirms compliance. Zarif said the agreement would show “our program is exclusively peaceful, has always been and always will remain exclusively peaceful,” while not hindering the country’s pursuit of atomic energy for civilian purposes. “We will continue enriching,” Zarif said. “We will continue research and development.” He said the heavy water reactor would be “modernized.”“We have taken a major step but are still some way away from where we want to be,” Zarif said, calling Thursday’s preliminary step a “win-win outcome.” He voiced hope that a final agreement might pave the way for a broader easing of suspicion between the U.S. and Iran, which haven’t had diplomatic relations since the 1979 overthrow of the shah and subsequent U.S. Embassy hostage crisis in Tehran. In reaction to the announcement, crude-oil prices fell, as Brent North Sea crude for delivery in May, the global benchmark contract, slumped $2.15, settling at $54.95 a barrel in London trade. The final breakthrough came a day after a flurry of overnight sessions between Kerry and Zarif, and meetings involving the six powers.
Zarif said the all-night negotiation at such a senior level was “probably a record.” Iran has no intention of violating an agreement it has put so much effort into crafting, he said. France warned that the sanctions could be re-instituted if Tehran does not fully keep its side of the bargain. “Sanctions that are lifted can be re-imposed if the deal is not applied,” the office of President Francois Hollande said in a statement, adding that Paris would watch closely to ensure a “credible” and “verifiable” final agreement that prevents Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Israeli leaders were much less positive. Netanyahu said a final agreement “must significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear capabilities and stop its terrorism and aggression.”
The Obama administration also faces strong domestic pressure. Critics in Congress are threatening to impose new sanctions over what they believe is a bad deal taking shape. In the Rose Garden of the White House, Obama said the issues at stake are “bigger than politics.”
“These are matters of war and peace, and they should be evaluated based on the facts,” he said.

US hails 'historic' nuclear deal with Iran
By MICHAEL WILNER/04/02/2015 /J.Post
LAUSANNE, Switzerland – World powers will terminate all sanctions on Iran in exchange for its commitment to cap and roll back its nuclear program, officials announced on Thursday after two years of negotiations. Hailed as a breakthrough by the United States, by the European Union and by Iran itself, Israel quickly criticized key tenets of the deal. But all parties agreed the moment was historic, for better or worse. Under the deal, cast as an “understanding” framing the parameters of a larger, more technical agreement due by June 30, Iran will be allowed to continue the enrichment of uranium and will close no facilities. “This deal is not based on trust,” US President Barack Obama said from the Rose Garden of the White House, declaring the framework would “cut off every pathway” Iran has before it could build a nuclear weapon. Announcing the deal, Western officials said that enrichment would continue on a “scope and schedule mutually agreed” at only the Natanz facility. In total, Iran will reduce roughly two-thirds of its installed centrifuges to 6,104 machines, a cap set in place for a decade. The centrifuges allowed will be IR-1s, but research and development will continue into IR-4, IR-5 and IR-6​ models. Iran’s enrichment of uranium will be capped at 3.67 percent for at least 15 years. For the same period, Iran will be prohibited from building any new enrichment facilities. In a fact sheet, the Obama administration stated these conditions will extend Iran’s “breakout” time – the amount of time required for Tehran to enrich enough weapons-grade material – to a single year. That year-long cap will be enforced for a decade.
Fordow – a nuclear facility covertly built over the last decade and burrowed inside a mountain – will be converted into a “nuclear physics, technology, research center,” also for a period of 15 years. The plant was originally built for the enrichment of uranium, but “no fissile material” will be allowed at the site, European Union high representative Federica Mogherini said at a press event at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland.
And international inspectors will have access to Iran’s uranium ore mines and yellowcake-producing mills for 25 years, monitored through “continuous surveillance.”“Today, we have taken a decisive step,” Mogherini said. “We can now restart drafting the text and annexes on the comprehensive plan of action.” Tehran will allow the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, tasked with monitoring the deal, to operate “advanced technology” within Iran to collect data on its nuclear work. Mogherini did not specify on the nature of those technologies. The IAEA will also be allowed to investigate “past and present” concerns while on the ground, she added. The IAEA’s ability to compel Iran to answer questions on its past nuclear weapons work is vaguely outlined: “Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the possible military dimensions (PMD) of its program,” the US said in a press release.
But US Secretary of State John Kerry specified further that Iran has agreed to allow the IAEA access to “any site” suspected of conducting illicit covert activity, as well as “indefinite” access to the construction sites for its centrifuges. “The political understanding with details that we have reached is a solid foundation for the good deal we are seeking,” Kerry said in Lausanne, adding: “There will be no sunset” to the nuclear agreement. “No viable alternatives, not one, would be nearly as effective” in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Kerry added. He noted the Obama administration’s continuous briefing of Israel throughout two years of negotiations, and asserted that the agreement announced on Thursday would ensure the safety of the Jewish state.
Generally, world powers will be able to monitor most of Iran’s nuclear work for an average of a decade. And afterward, Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol of the IAEA. Iran originally suspended its participation in those annexes in 2006. Many details of the agreement are expected to remain private. But more details were released than expected, after the Obama administration pushed for a technical-specific document to present to the US Congress.
“We’re still some time away from reaching where we want to be,” Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif said. Negotiations toward a final, comprehensive joint plan of action will continue until June 30. “We have decided to take steps for a period of time who assured anyone who had concerns.”At Arak, a facility which houses a heavy-water reactor that could produce weapons-grade plutonium material, “spent fuel will be exported” and the reactor redesigned to ensure its safe use. No new heavy-water reactors will be built for 15 years, Kerry noted. “None of those measures includes closing any of our facilities,” Zarif said. “We will continue enriching... our heavy-water reactor will be modernized. And Fordow will continue.” “We have stopped a cycle that has not been in the interests of anybody,” Zarif added.
In exchange, all UN Security Council sanctions will be eliminated “for a mutually agreed period of time,” Mogherini said, “if it verifiably abides by its commitments,” Washington added.
In its prepared material, the Obama administration emphasized that UN sanctions relief would be tied to Iran’s participation on a host of matters, including “enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency.”
Iran has previously said that addressing the IAEA’s concerns with possible military dimensions to its nuclear work would require they prove a negative. The Islamic Republic has consistently denied any military nature to its nuclear program.
And “the architecture of US nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal,” according to the White House, “and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.” Kerry said that the “exact timing” of sanctions relief is still a matter of negotiation. From the documents immediately made available, the five permanent Security Council members at the table did not agree specifically on how they would handle any violations of a deal by Iran. Broadly speaking, the group agreed that a “dispute resolution process will be specified,” enabling any of the signatories of a final agreement to seek to resolve disagreements through the yet-specified mechanism.
“If an issue of significant non-performance cannot be resolved through that process,” the White House said, “then all previous UN sanctions could be reimposed.”Throughout negotiations, Russia, a veto-wielding power on the Security Council, was opposed to a US-designed “snap back” mechanism which would automatically reimpose sanctions should Iran violate a deal. That mechanism would not require additional votes by the council. Negotiations here in the Swiss Alps lasted eight days, after two years of negotiations between Tehran and Washington, and after 13 years of talks, on and off, between Iran and Europe.
“Today we have reached a critical milestone in that quest,” Kerry declared. For over a decade, world powers have sought to cap, restrict, monitor and partially roll back Iran’s nuclear work, in order to ensure that its program remains exclusively peaceful. They have passed eight resolutions in the UN against Iran since 2006, cut off Iran from oil and exchange markets and subjected Iran to a host of other restrictions, cutting its government off from the international community. Over the course of a year, the US president has presented Iran with the prospect of an alternative path should it agree to a broad, invasive nuclear deal.
“Today, the United States, together with our allies and partners, has reached a historic understanding with Iran, which if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said. “If this framework leads to a final comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies and our world safer,” he said. The president said he had spoken to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman earlier on Thursday, and that would speak with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the days to come.

In call, Obama tells Netanyahu of remaining concerns about Iran's sponsorship of terrorism

By REUTERS/04/03/2015/US President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to discuss the agreement reached with Iran to limit its nuclear program, the White House said.
Obama told Netanyahu that the deal represents significant progress toward a lasting solution that cuts off all of Iran's pathways to a nuclear weapon, the statement said. Obama also said the progress on the nuclear front did not diminish concerns about "Iran's sponsorship of terrorism and threats towards Israel," the White House said. Earlier, the US president said that "there is no daylight when it comes to our support for Israel's security," Obama stressed, adding that Washington has an unshakable commitment to Israel's defense. Obama already called Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud to discuss the deal. He invited Salman and the Gulf Cooperation Council to Camp David for a summit to continue conversations on Iran. On Thursday, world powers agreed to terminate all sanctions on Iran in exchange for its commitment to cap and roll back its nuclear program, officials announced on Thursday after two years of negotiations. Hailed as a breakthrough by the United States, by the European Union and by Iran itself, Israel quickly criticized key tenets of the deal. But all parties agreed the moment was historic, for better or worse. Under the deal, cast as an “understanding” framing the parameters of a larger, more technical agreement due by June 30, Iran will be allowed to continue the enrichment of uranium and will close no facilities. Michael Wilner contributed to this report.

Israeli International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz: Parameters of Iranian nuclear agreement ‘detached from reality’
By HERB KEINON/04/02/2015/J.Post
The smiles that accompanied the announcement Thursday of parameters for an Iranian nuclear agreement in Lausanne between the world powers and Iran are detached from reality, International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz said in Jerusalem's initial reaction to the developments. The reality, Steinitz said, is that Iran refused to make any concession on the nuclear issue and continues to threaten Israel and all other countries in the Middle East.
Even before the press conference in Lausanne where the announcement was made, the Prime Minister's Office posted the following message on twitter: “Any deal must significantly roll back Iran's nuclear capabilities and stop its terrorism and aggression.”
The tweet was posted above a map with arrows leading from Tehran to Yemen, Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq under the headline, “Iran's aggression during the nuclear negotiations.”
Government officials made clear that Israel will continue publicly fighting against the deal, emphasizing Iran's aggressive behavior throughout the Middle East even at a time when it does not yet have nuclear capabilities.
“At a time when the representatives of the world powers were shaking hands with the Iranians in Lausanne, Iran continues its campaign of occupation and terror in Yemen and throughout the Middle East,” he said.
Steinitz said that since Thursday's declaration was a long way from being a full agreement, “we will continue in our efforts to explain and convince the world in the hopes of preventing a bad deal, or at least introducing changes and improvements.”
Even before the parameters were presented, Steinitz joined senior Israeli officials who in recent days began speaking about the possibility of Israeli military action, after months in which the idea had not been spoken about publicly.
Asked on Israel Radio whether Jerusalem would consider a military operation even against US opposition, Steinitz said “if we have no choice, we have no choice.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted in recent days that Israel would not feel bound by any agreement eventually signed, but Steinitz's words were the most explicit in a while that Israel had definitely not taken the military option “off the table.”
“I don't want to talk about a military option, other than to say that it exists,” he said. “I just want to say one thing, when we had no choice and needed to attack and destroy the reactor in Iraq [in 1981], that was against the US position.”
“When talking about our national security,” Steinitz continued, “it is our responsibility and duty to to defend the state, and if the world has other ideas or illusions or agreements that do not ensure our security, we will need to weigh very carefully what to do.”
Steinitz said that Israel is working on the diplomat and intelligence levels, and that – if it is necessary – we leave the military option on the table.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Israel Hayom, Maj. Gen. Nimrod Sheffer – the head of the IDF Planning Directorate – said when asked whether he could imagine a situation where Israel would bomb Iran against US wishes, that “since it happened in the past, I have no reason to believe it won't happen again.”
“If ultimately an agreement is in fact signed, we will have to ask ourselves, 'Okay, what are we going to do with this?'” he said. “If someone builds a bomb and at the same time declares that Israel has no right to exist, we have to think about how to respond." He said that if Israel feels its existence depends on taking action, it will do so.

“If Iran cheats,” Obama added, “the world will know it.”
Lebanon: President Election Session Postponed for 21st Time
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri postponed on Thursday for the 21st time the session to elect a new head of state over lack of quorum as civil society groups rallied near parliament to protest the ongoing vacuum. The session was adjourned to April 22. President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May without the election of a successor as the ongoing disputes between the rival March 8 and 14 camps have thwarted the polls. Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun's Change and Reform and Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance blocs have been boycotting the elections, demanding that political powers agree on a compromise presidential candidate. Several civil society groups held a rally on Thursday outside the parliament in Beirut's Riad al-Solh to protest the procrastination of lawmakers regarding the presidential vacuum. Only few MPs have been attending the sessions.

Arrest of Christian mayor in Sidon sparks outrage
Mohammed Zaatari| The Daily Star/Apr. 03, 2015
SIDON, Lebanon: The brief arrest of the mayor of a predominantly Christian east Sidon village sparked outrage, with some calling it a religiously motivated act aimed at displacing members of the sect again.
Nicola Andraos, the mayor of Salhieh, was arrested Wednesday by Internal Security Forces members after he prevented a citizen from paving a road leading to land he owns in the village, despite a judicial decision permitting the work.
The move prompted a strong reaction from the local community, forcing Christian municipality heads of the Sidon and Jezzine districts to mobilize. The officials expressed solidarity with Andraos during an urgent meeting held Thursday at the Salhieh municipality headquarters. “The conferees denounced the way the judicial police dealt with Salhieh’s mayor, handcuffing him,” Michel Hashem, the mayor of Bramieh, said. Hashem, who spoke after the meeting on behalf of the attendees, said that the incident was unprecedented and questioned the motive behind his arrest. The gathered officials agreed that the mayor was acting within the boundaries of the law. “The conferees hope that Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and the South’s governor will take measures with security and judicial authorities to ensure the appropriate treatment of all mayors and mukhtars,” Hashem said. Andraos told The Daily Star that he was apprehended by security forces after he prevented a construction crew from implementing a judicial verdict to open a road for a private property in Salhieh.
The mayor was then arrested and taken to a police station in the predominantly Shiite town of Haret Saida. He was handcuffed upon his own request. “A decision was issued for my arrest,” Andraos explained. “I refused to be arrested without being handcuffed because of its symbolic significance.” The mayor revealed that he was kept in custody for five hours before being permitted to leave the police station. “The only person allowed to issue a complaint against a mayor is the interior minister,” Andraous said. The minister, he added, can give permission to question the mayor and prosecute him if needed. The mayor conceded to arrest in order to “prevent clashes between the ISF and the residents [of Salhieh],” he added. Most villages to the east of Sidon are Christian and Sidon is a pre-dominantly Muslim city. The arrest caused a backlash due to previous sensitivities that date back to Lebanon’s Civil War. In spring 1985, Salhieh residents along with tens of other Christian villages were forced into displacement shortly after the Israeli army withdrew from Sidon when clashes erupted between Christian militia, the Lebanese Forces, and leftist and Muslim groups. After the LF defeat, most Christians were forced to leave and could only return after the end of the war. Andaros’ arrest stirred up still raw memories from the period of Christian displacement. “In an unprecedented move, Andraos was arrested by ISF members who were following up on the paving of an internal road that did not fit the conditions [for works] set by the municipality,” an LF office statement read. The statement also reiterated its call for Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk to take action and probe into the incident and into the road project itself. “Citizens consider the implementation of this road as a disguised displacement project that affects them as well as their livelihoods and lands,” the statement added.

Geagea Denounces Nasrallah's Fiery Speech: to Prioritize Lebanon’s Interest

Naharnet/Lebanese Force leader Samir Geagea slammed on Thursday Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah over his latest speech, describing his party's dialogue with the Free Patriotic Movement as Fruitful. “Lebanon has no interest in verbally assaulting Saudi Arabia or the Arab coalition,” Geagea said at a press conference held in Maarab. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia “doesn't need anyone to defend it,” wondering “how it harmed Lebanon?” The LF leader called on politicians to prioritize Lebanon's interests in order to safeguard it from the developments in the region. Geagea drew a comparison between the Shiite Huthi rebels who occupied the Yemeni capital Sanaa and the popular revolt in Syria, stressing that the rebels initiated the attacks. The Hizbullah chief unleashed a tirade against Saudi Arabia after the offensive over its intervention in Yemen, calling it "surprising and painful," and suggesting Riyadh would suffer a "humiliating defeat" if it didn't resolve the conflict through negotiations. A Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen last week, saying it was targeting the Shiite Huthi rebels and their allies. The March 14 alliance backed the Saudi campaign. Geagea accused Hizbullah of breaching the law by intervening in field battles in the neighboring country Syria. He reiterated calls on lawmakers to elect a new head of state, describing it as “essential.”The presidential candidate lashed out at parliamentary blocs that are boycotting the elections. MPs failed on several occasions, the latest on Thursday, to elect a new head of state over lack of quorum. President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May without the election of a successor. Hizbullah and Aoun's Change and Reform bloc have been boycotting electoral sessions due to a disagreement with the March 14 camp over a compromise presidential candidate. Concerning the dialogue between the LF and the FPM, Geagea stressed that “it's tackling all disputes,” citing progress. “We have failed to reach common grounds with the FPM over the presidential election,” Geagea said, denying comments over him accepting the nomination of Aoun to the Baabda Palace. He said that the LF intends to “continue dialogue even if some obstacles remain unresolved.” The talks between the FPM and the LF is expected to be crowned with a meeting between the old-time rivals.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State to Meet Prominent Leaders during Short Visit
Naharnet /The U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is expected to carry out a two-day visit to Lebanon to discuss the latest developments and the bilateral ties.Local newspapers said that Blinken, who will arrive on Sunday, will hold talks with Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan, Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji and Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. Blinken will reportedly tackle with the prominent leaders the U.S. aid to the Lebanese army to fortify its capabilities in its battle against terrorism. The Lebanese army has been engaged in fierce battles with jihadists who remain entrenched on the outskirts of the country's northeastern border. The armed forces are also cracking down on outlaws across the country with the aims of quelling violence and reducing the repercussions of the war in Syria on Lebanon. Several detained suspects are allegedly affiliated to Islamist groups. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Anne Richard, is currently in Beirut after attending the third International Pledging Conference for Syria held in Kuwait on Tuesday. Richard is expected to announce new humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon. Lebanon is hosting around 1.5 million refugees.

Al-Rahi Calls for Justice for Prisoners on Holy Thursday
Naharnet /Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi washed the feet of 12 prisoners on Holy Thursday, hoping for speedy trials of inmates and for successful rehabilitation programs to help them reintegrate in society. In his sermon, al-Rahi called for faster ways to provide justice to prisoners, to speed up their trials and resolve the problem of overcrowding at Roumieh prison. “The prisoner, even if he made a mistake once or twice in his life, should be treated with respect because he is a human being,” the patriarch said from Roumieh, Lebanon's largest prison, which has roughly 4,000 inmates. Al-Rahi urged the authorities to help the inmates prepare them for their life outside the prison and for the society to accept them. “The state should also resolve the reason for crime in Lebanon, meaning poverty,” the patriarch said.
Top security and military officials, priests, nuns and civil society representatives attended the rite in the courtyard of one of the blocks of the 200,000 square meter prison. The feet washing ritual commemorates Jesus' gesture of humility towards his apostles the night before he was crucified. Maundy Thursday is part of the Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday. It is observed a day before Good Friday.

Report: Lebanese Bank at Forefront of Suspicious Money Laundering Operations
Naharnet /The branches of the Lebanese banks abroad, in particular Bank Audi SAL–Audi Saradar Group, are reportedly being used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to fund the organization, despite confirmation by Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh that the group has no transactions in Lebanon. A banking source told al-Akhbar newspaper published on Thursday that the talks of U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing Daniel Glaser, who recently visited Lebanon,focused on the branches of the Lebanese banks in Turkey and Iraq and their financial operations there. He reportedly expressed grave concern that ISIL has been using some Lebanese banks abroad in money laundering operations. The source pointed out that the U.S. has obtained information that Turkish and Iraqi banks are involved in such illicit activities, which prompted Glaser to warn that ISIL would try to use the ties between the Lebanese banks abroad with those in Turkey and Iraq to fund its operations across the globe. Glaser expressed fear that ISIL would sneak into the Lebanese banking sector through the preexisting branches abroad. The U.S. administration warned that some banks could agree on aiding the flow of illicit money to compensate the losses they're confronting. Sources told al-Akhbar newspaper the U.S. officials are particularly urging Audi bank to inspect all banking operations carried out in Turkey, especially the urgent transactions. The officials said that terror groups could use Audi bank branches in Turkey to enter the Lebanese banking system to benefit from its banking secrecy rules. “Lebanese banks, Audi bank in particular, could have been compelled to evade anti-money laundering measures,” the U.S. administration said. However, the existing of a large number of Lebanese banks branches in Iraq, 10, facilitated the flow of ISIL cash into Lebanon. Glaser reportedly said: “ISIL exists in Lebanon as Iraqi banks deal with the group,” fearing that ISIL is “using the Lebanese banks to fund its logistic operations and its members in Lebanon.”However, Salameh stressed in comments published in An Nahar the strong ties with the U.S. treasury department. “ISIL has no money in Lebanon due to the strict measures imposed by the Central Bank,” the official reiterated. He noted that “there is an international decision to preserve stability in Lebanon.”In March, Glaser visited Lebanon to encourage Lebanese authorities and financial institutions to continue their work to combat the threat of illicit financing and prevent attempts to evade U.S. and international financial sanctions from Iran and Syria, in particular.

Nusra Hands over Body of Bazzal 4 Months after Execution
NaharnetظAl-Nusra Front militants on Thursday handed over the body of Lebanese policeman Ali al-Bazzal, who was executed late last year, to Muslim scholars, the state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said the body will be delivered to his family after DNA tests confirm his identity. Al-Nusra Front said in December that it had shot dead the policeman to avenge the arrest of Islamic militants' wives and children. “Executing one of the prisoners of war in our custody, Ali al-BAzzal is the (minimal) response to filthy Lebanese army actions,” it said in a statement on twitter. Al-Bazzal was among Lebanese soldiers and policemen abducted by jihadists from al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group in August when they overran the northeastern border town of Arsal. Three other servicemen have also been executed. Meanwhile, General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim said Thursday that the negotiations with al-Nusra Front have made more progress than the talks with the IS to secure the release of the hostages.

Militants Killed and Injured as Army Stops Infiltration Attempt
Naharnet/The Lebanese army was able to obstruct overnight a militant group from infiltrating Lebanon through the Wadi Hmayed area in the northeastern town of Arsal. “The army clashed with armed militants in Wadi Hmayed and obstructed their attempts to infiltrate the town where they clashed with some of the residents pushing them to flee to the town's outskirts,” an army communique said on Thursday. “The army was able to kill and wound several of the militants including Khaled Ahmed al-Wawa who was arrested and transported to hospital for treatment,” the statement added. Later during the day, the National News Agency said the army was able to kill 3 militants including an IS official known as al-Ansari while he was trying to infiltrate Wadi Hmayed. Furthermore, in the northern city of Tripoli a man tossed a 350g improvised grenade in the vegetable market of Bab al-Tebbeneh neighborhood, injuring two persons. The army cordoned-off the area and arrested a man on suspicion of his involvement in the incident. The army and other security agencies have been clamping down on outlaws across Lebanon, implementing a security plan to maintain security calmness. The plan was mainly activated in Tripoli, the northern areas of the Bekaa and in Beirut. The unprecedented operation of the armed forces aims at quelling violence and reducing the repercussions of the war in Syria on Lebanon. Several detained suspects are allegedly affiliated to Islamist groups, whose fighters remain entrenched on the outskirts of Arsal after they overran the village and engaged in battles with the army.

Bassil: National Unity Much More Important than Arab Solidarity
Naharnet/Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil revealed on Thursday that Lebanon's delegation succeeded during the recent United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in dropping an article in its statement that links Hizbullah to terrorism.
He added during a press conference: “Lebanon's national unity is much more important than Arab solidarity.”“We may not have supported a position at the recent Arab League summit that targets a Lebanese faction, but that does not mean that we advocate that faction's stances,” he explained. Addressing the Arab summit's decision to form a joint Arab force, Bassil remarked that such an idea had been proposed at the Arab League before the crisis in Yemen erupted. “Lebanon has always backed such a force,” he told reporters. “We stressed during the Arab foreign ministers meeting that Lebanon will support any position that enjoys consensus,” the minister declared. “We had coordinated our stance with Prime Minister Tammam Salam, which backs the legitimacy of any Arab country and calls for Lebanon to remain neutral from crises,” Bassil added. “We cannot tailor Lebanon's foreign policy to cater to the interests of certain sides,” he remarked. The Arab League summit over the weekend agreed to continue on supporting the Saudi-led military operation against Yemen until the Huthi rebels are defeated and legitimacy is restored in the country. Saudi Arabia had last week launched airstrikes against Yemen's rebel movement. Salam's position at the Arab summit had created a debate among political powers, with Hizbullah claiming that his stances do not reflect the views of all Lebanese. The premier had said at the summit that Lebanon supported any decision to preserve the territorial integrity of Yemen, reiterating the country's commitment to the dissociation policy and calling for distancing Lebanon from the region's conflicts. The cabinet on Wednesday discussed his stand and later renewed its trust in the prime minister. Addressing the case of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Bassil said: “Ultimately, we have this crisis to deal with and we should focus our energy on resolving it. We do not have high hopes from foreign powers, but it is our duty to pursue opportunities.” “Reducing the number of Syrian refugees is more effective than foreign aid,” he stated. This can be achieved through removing the refugee status off those who do not deserve it, Bassil explained. Lebanon is hosting around 1.5 million refugees who have fled the fighting in their war-torn country. Salam asked donors on Tuesday for humanitarian assistance to help the Lebanese authorities implement a plan to overcome the Syrian refugee crisis. “The crisis should be managed through a more than $1 billion plan set up by the Lebanese government,” he said at an international conference for donors held in Kuwait.

Seifeddine in ISIL's Grip as Syrians Mediate his Release

Naharnet/A Lebanese man, who was snatched earlier this week in the northeastern border town of Arsal, was reportedly handed over to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Media reports said on Thursday that Syrian opposition figures are mediating the release of Hussein Seifeddine. The head of Arsal Municipal chief Ali al-Hujeiri said in comments to Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) that the abduction ordeal of Seifeddine will end during the day He pointed out that calm was restored in the town of Arsal after a Syrian delegation intervened to resolve the case. Head of Arsal Municipality to VDL (100.5): Calm was restored in the town after a Syrian delegation intervened. The abduction ordeal of Seifeddine will end during the day. On Wednesday, gunmen from the Ezzeddine family deployed on the streets of Arsal in the wake of a series of kidnappings in the area over the past few days. Several Syrian youths were abducted in retaliation to the kidnapping of Seiffedine on Monday from Arsal's square. He was reportedly taken to the town's outskirts. Seifeddine was kidnapped from a shop owned by members of the Ezzeddine family. On Tuesday, gunmen from Seifeddine family kidnapped two men from the square of the northern Bekaa town of al-Labweh only to release them few hours later as a goodwill gesture. Arsal and al-Labweh had witnessed several abductions and counter-abductions linked to the Syrian conflict in recent years, with the crisis in the neighboring country inflaming sectarian tensions across the border. Arsal largely supports the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad while neighboring al-Labweh is predominantly pro-Hizbullah. Hizbullah has sent elite fighters across the border to assist Assad's embattled regime against rebels and jihadists seeking to topple it. The border town of Arsal hosts thousands of refugees who fled the conflict in Syria.

Bilal, Omar Miqati Charged with Belonging to IS

Naharnet /The military prosecutor charged on Thursday Bilal and Omar Miqati with belonging to the extremist Islamic State group for the purpose of carrying out terrorist attacks. Judge Saqr Saqr issued the charges against the two cousins who were arrested by the Lebanese army on March 24 near a checkpoint in the eastern town of Hrabta. The judge also charged them with murder, attempted murder of soldiers and the participation in the fighting against the Lebanese army in the northeastern border town of Arsal and the northern city of Tripoli. The charges further include kidnapping and the possession of arms and explosives. If convicted, the suspects could face the death penalty.

Nusra Hands over Body of Bazzal 4 Months after Execution
Naharnet/Al-Nusra Front militants on Thursday handed over the body of Lebanese policeman Ali al-Bazzal, who was executed late last year, to Muslim scholars, the state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said the body will be delivered to his family after DNA tests confirm his identity. Al-Nusra Front said in December that it had shot dead the policeman to avenge the arrest of Islamic militants' wives and children. “Executing one of the prisoners of war in our custody, Ali al-BAzzal is the (minimal) response to filthy Lebanese army actions,” it said in a statement on twitter. Al-Bazzal was among Lebanese soldiers and policemen abducted by jihadists from al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group in August when they overran the northeastern border town of Arsal. Three other servicemen have also been executed. Meanwhile, General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim said Thursday that the negotiations with al-Nusra Front have made more progress than the talks with the IS to secure the release of the hostages.

Yemen Rebels Push Deep into Hadi's Former Refuge Aden
Naharnet/Rebels battled their way into the heart of Yemen's main southern city Aden where fighting raged Thursday in the former stronghold of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who has fled overseas. The advance comes despite a week of Saudi-led air strikes aimed at preventing the fall of Hadi, who has taken refuge in Riyadh. The Iran-backed Huthi rebels and allied army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh were advancing on the presidential palace after seizing the key district of Khor Maksar, home to several foreign consulates and U.N. offices, residents said. At least 19 people were killed on Wednesday in clashes pitting the rebels against armed residents and local militia, officials said. Hadi fled to the southern city from the rebel-held capital in February.
But he went into hiding last week as the rebels advanced on his last remaining bastion and later resurfaced in the Saudi capital. His aides have said he has no immediate plan to return to Aden. Agence France Presse

Masked Islamists Seize Kenya Student Hostages, Kill 15
Naharnet/Masked gunmen from Somalia's Shebab Islamist group stormed a Kenyan university Thursday as students were sleeping, hurling grenades and shooting dead at least 15 people before taking Christians hostage.
Scores of others were wounded in the assault, still ongoing some 12 hours after the first grenades were used to blast open the gates of the university in the northeastern town of Garissa, near the lawless border with war-torn Somalia. The Al-Qaida-linked Shebab claimed the pre-dawn attack, the same insurgents who carried out the Westgate shopping mall massacre in Nairobi September 2013, when four gunmen slaughtered at least 67 people in a four-day bloodbath. "We were woken up by sounds of gunfire... no one knew exactly what was going on, ladies were screaming and people were running for their lives," student Ungama John said. Other students said they saw up to four masked gunmen. Shebab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told AFP the gunmen had taken non-Muslims hostage, but gave no numbers. "When our men arrived, they released the Muslims. We are holding others hostage," Rage said, describing those seized as Christians. "Our people are still there, they are fighting and their mission is to kill those who are against the Shebab," he said. "Kenya is at war with Somalia," Rage said, referring to the thousands of Kenyan troops in Somalia as part of an African Union military mission.
Gunfire could still be heard sporadically 12 hours after the attack began, as Kenya's interior ministry said the "attackers have been cornered in one hostel".
Soldiers with tanks were deployed around the campus.
Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said 15 people had been killed, and that "one suspected terrorist" had been arrested attempting to flee.
Kenya's official National Disaster Operation Centre said a further 65 had been injured, many suffering from gunshot wounds.
The Kenya Red Cross, which is leading the medical response to the attack, said there were "an unknown number of student hostages" and that "50 students have been safely freed". The town of Garissa is around 150 kilometers (90 miles) west of Somalia and has in the past been targeted by militants from the Shebab. Police chief Joseph Boinet said "the gunmen shot indiscriminately" after storming the compound. The sprawling campus, on the outskirts of the garrison town, has both teaching areas as well as residential blocks.
The university has several hundred students from different parts of Kenya. The number of teachers and students trapped inside the campus was unclear as gunfire and explosions were heard coming from the site.
"Police... engaged the gunmen in a fierce shootout, however the attackers retreated and gained entry into one of the hostels," Boinet said, adding that reinforcements had arrived and were "flushing out the gunmen." Witness Ahmed Nur said he saw the bodies of two university guards, shot by the attackers. Kenya Red Cross, quoting local health officials, said that 30 people had been taken to hospital, "the majority" with gunshot wounds. Kenya has been hit by a wave of grenade and gun attacks, often blamed on sympathisers of the Shebab and sometimes aimed at police targets, since the army crossed into southern Somalia in 2011 to attack Islamist bases.
A series of foreign travel warnings in response to the threat have crippled Kenya's economically important tourism industry. On Wednesday, just hours before the attack in Garissa began, President Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenya "is as safe as any country in the world".
On Thursday, he offered condolences to those killed, but said security forces had made the "appropriate deployment to the affected area". British High Commissioner Christian Turner condemned the "cowardly" attack, while US Ambassador Robert Godec called the killings "heinous".Kenya's government has been under fire since the Westgate attack. In June and July last year Shebab gunmen killed close to 100 people in a series of attacks on the town of Mpeketoni and nearby villages.
In November, Shebab claimed responsibility for holding up a bus outside Mandera town, separating passengers according to religion and murdering 28 non-Muslims. Ten days later 36 non-Muslim quarry workers were also massacred in the area. Agence France Presse

Houthi children vow 'Death to America, death to Israel'
A new video posted by the Middle East Media Research Institute shows a group of Houthi children in Yemen calling for the destruction of America and Israel. In a report which aired last week on the Houthi-owned Al-Masirah TV network, Houthi children called "Death to America! Curses upon the Jews!" "We long for martyrdom," one boy told the reporter. "Don't you know that killing is what we are accustomed to, and that martyrdom is a blessing bestowed upon us by Allah?" Houthi forces pulled back from positions in central Aden after air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition at dawn on Thursday, residents of the southern Yemeni port city said. They said a unit of Houthi and allied fighters, who had advanced in tanks and armored vehicles through Aden's Khor Maksar district 24 hours earlier, pulled back, although they remained in parts of the neighborhood. The Houthis' recent gains in Aden, the last major foothold of supporters of Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, have happened despite a week of air strikes by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of mainly Sunni Arab allies.
Hadi's foreign minister Reyad Yassin Abdulla appealed on Wednesday for more effective international action to halt the Shi'ite, Iran-allied fighters before they take over the city entirely. In the Arabian Sea port city of Mukalla, 500 km (300 miles) east of Aden, soldiers loyal to Hadi clashed on Thursday with militants suspected of being al-Qaida fighters, residents said. The Houthis, allied to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, took over the Yemeni capital Sanaa six months ago and control much of the country, which also faces a southern secessionist movement, tribal unrest, and a powerful regional wing of al-Qaida based in the center and east of the country. Residents also reported air strikes overnight on the coastal town of Shaqra, which is under Houthi control and lies on the coast between Aden and Mukalla.

Khameni to Zarif: Don’t sign! Obama to Kerry: Make them sign! Gridlock
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis April 2, 2015
It is hard to make out exactly what the seven exhausted foreign ministers of the world powers and Iran were actually talking about in Lausanne this week – especially in the last two days, when the negotiations overran their March 31 deadline for a framework nuclear accord.
The highly-colored reports from the Swiss hotel up until Thursday, April 2, bespoke a mighty battle between the American negotiators led by Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and the Iranian group, headed by Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, over four key points still at issue between them: the pace of sanctions relief, research and development projects, international inspections - including snap visits to any nuclear facilities they demanded, and, finally, the quantity of low-enriched uranium Iran may retain after the bulk of its stockpile is shipped overseas.
The drama was heightened by the sight of the American delegation marching into a tent set up in the hotel yard “to defeat eavesdropping” for a video conference with President Barack Obama in the White House. Kerry wanted to know whether to carry on the never-ending negotiations, which were looking more and more farcical as the hours ticked by without closure, or quit. This would be tantamount to the failure of the entire structure of nuclear diplomacy. Obama directed the delegation to carry on talking with the Iranians and disregard the missed deadline as though nothing had changed. The Secretary of State earlier appeared in an upper hotel window gazing out in the distance. Was he seeing a solution of the impasse visible to no one else? The French Foreign Minister, Lauren Fabius, fed up with the game playing out between the Americans and the Iranians, left more than once for home. He returned Thursday saying: “We are a few meters from the finishing line, but it’s always the last meters that are the most difficult. We will try and cross them. It’s not done yet.”
Zarif told reporters: “Our friends need to decide whether they want to be with Iran based on respect or whether they want to continue based on pressure. They have tested the other one; it is high time to test this one.”
Those words carried two messages: One that the Iranians were serious when they reiterated in the past weeks that a framework accord for ending the current phase of negotiations was unacceptable, and insisted on the talks carrying straight through to a comprehensive deal by June 30. The Iranian foreign minister’s second message was a negation of “pressure” – i.e., sanctions, in obedience to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s directive to the delegation to reject the incremental easing of international sanctions and press Tehran’s demand for immediate relief. That directive was laid down by the ayatollah on February 18, when he determined that “an agreement would be arrived at not in two stages but in one stage to be completed by the end of June 2015 and the agreement would include the removal of all sanctions on Iran.” The writing was on the wall for all the parties to see. The current deadline crisis could have been avoided by understanding that there was no way the Iranian delegation would ever disobey the supreme leader’s dictates.
Tehran is not averse to negotiating ad infinitum - so long as the talks go their way.  So the real gridlock centered on finding a procedure that fitted the US delegation’s instructions to get some sort of a deal signed, and the Iranian group’s directive to sign nothing that could be seen as an accord. So who will give ground first?

Deal or No, Iran Will Remain a Nuclear Threat
Dennis Ross/Washington Institute
April 02/15
Rather than questioning the motivations of skeptics, the Obama administration should demonstrate that it has compelling answers to their concerns about a nuclear deal's potential vulnerabilities, including on breakout time, verification, and response to violations.
Even if much remains to be thrashed out, the tentative framework understanding that the P5+1 is trying to conclude with Iran would represent progress toward constraining the Iranian nuclear program. The claim of the Obama administration that any eventual agreement will block all pathways toward an Iranian nuclear weapon, however, is surely an overstatement. At best, a deal will create impediments for the life of the agreement but offer little afterward. At that point, the administration and its successors would need to make clear that should Iran seek to break out to the production of weapons-grade enriched uranium -- or the preparation of nuclear weapons -- it would trigger the use of force by us. But in that case, we would be acting to deter the Iranians from translating their sizable nuclear infrastructure into a nuclear weapon, not to dismantle the program.
It is noteworthy that the agreement the administration still hopes to finalize with the Iranians by June 30 does not reflect the objective we had hoped to achieve for much of President Barack Obama's first term. At that point, when I was in the administration, our aim was to transform the character of the Iranian nuclear program so that the peaceful intent of its capabilities would be demonstrated unmistakably to the international community. Necessarily, that meant that Iran could not have a large nuclear infrastructure. If permitted enrichment, it would have to be highly circumscribed and limited to small numbers for the purposes of research or production of medical isotopes. If Iran wanted additional nuclear reactors to generate electricity, it would receive its fuel from international fuel banks, and its spent fuel would be sent out of the country -- much like is done with the Bushehr reactor today. Similarly, there would be little or no stockpile of enriched uranium in the country that the Iranians might surreptitiously seek to purify to weapons grade. And, the questions about the "possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program" -- a euphemism for Iran's efforts to create a nuclear weapon -- would have been satisfactorily answered.
At some point, the Obama administration changed its objective from one of transforming the Iranian nuclear program to one of ensuring that Iran could not have a breakout time of less than one year. The former was guided by our determination to press Iran to change its intent about pursuing or at least preserving the option of having a nuclear weapon. The latter clearly reflects a very different judgment: that we were not able to alter the Iranian intentions, so instead we needed to focus on constraining their capabilities.
By definition, when we speak about a one-year breakout time, we are accepting that Iran will have the means and infrastructure to produce nuclear weapons and we are trying to develop impediments to its doing so -- even as we also create indicators that alert us to any such Iranian effort.
Clearly, during the course of negotiations, faced with Tehran's unwillingness to dismantle any of its nuclear facilities, the administration came to the conclusion that we could not diplomatically roll back the Iranian nuclear infrastructure in any significant way. But we could diplomatically succeed in containing the Iranian nuclear program, putting limits on it and preventing its growth for the next 15 years. Moreover, during that time we could also create enough transparency to know whether the Iranians were moving toward a bomb -- and whether the Iranian awareness of that would deter them from pursuing such a capability. Apparently, for the president, the secretary of state and our lead negotiators, other alternatives could not promise as good an outcome. Indeed, increased sanctions might pressure the Iranians but could not stop the acceleration of their nuclear program if diplomacy broke down. That might leave the use of force, with all its unintended consequences, as the only option, and that has little appeal for the administration, particularly if we can limit the Iranians through other means.
But if the measure of the negotiations is now about breakout time, then the administration needs to show convincingly that the verification regime will be far-reaching and capable of detecting whatever the Iranians are doing and whenever they do it. In fact, a one-year breakout time depends not just on the number and type of centrifuges, their output and the stockpile of enriched uranium -- all of which can be calculated -- but also on the administration's ability to discover the moment at which the Iranians begin to sneak out, creep out or break out from the limitations placed on them.
Moreover, for those who say that one year is not enough time because even discovery of a violation does not ensure a response, the administration will need to explain why this agreement will not function like other arms control agreements, where questions related to noncompliance have historically bogged down in endless discussions. How will we respond if we detect a violation, particularly a serious one? Will the mechanism for response provide for a quick determination? What if the Russians and others don't agree or insist that an extended discussion with the Iranians is required? How can we be sure that small violations don't change the base line and shrink the breakout time? Under what circumstances might we act unilaterally?
Assuming an agreement is finalized by June 30, the administration may well be right that this was the best one possible -- and that it is better than the other alternatives. That, of course, does not make it a good agreement. Even a bad agreement might be better than the available alternatives, but if the administration wants to prove that the eventual agreement is acceptable, it will need to show that it has produced the bare minimum of the outcome that we once hoped for: that there will be a breakout time of at least one year; that the Iranians cannot deny inspectors access to any site, including those on military or Revolutionary Guard facilities; and that it has anticipated a full range of different Iranian violations and won't wait for others to respond to them. In reality, if we are to deter Iranian violations, they must know in advance what the consequences are and that they will be high.
Skepticism about an agreement based on constraining Iranian capabilities, and not on demonstrating a shift in Iranian intentions, is understandable. Rather than questioning the motivations of the skeptics, the administration would be wise to demonstrate that it has compelling answers to their concerns about the possible vulnerabilities of the deal. It might just convince some of the skeptics that the agreement is acceptable.
**Dennis Ross is the counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute.

Iran's Zarif sees progress in nuclear talks
Ynetnews/Reuters, AP/04.02.15 / Israel News
Iranian Foreign Minister says that while 'significant progress' was made at marathon all-night talks, final result for agreement yet to be determined.
Eyes bleary from lack of sleep, senior diplomats from the six countries negotiating with Iran huddled Thursday in strategy sessions meant to advance the pace of agonizingly slow nuclear talks. Iran's foreign minister said the sides were close to a preliminary agreement, but not yet there. The talks resumed several hours after a flurry of marathon overnight sessions between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as well as other meetings among the six powers negotiating to curb Iranian nuclear programs that could be used to make weapons. Iran denies any interest in such arms and wants a deal that will quickly lift economic sanctions stifling its economy.
Zarif said Iran and the six world powers have made "significant progress" at the marathon all-night nuclear talk sessions, but noted that an agreement still remains to be written, adding there is not yet a "final result."Asked if that would be possible during the day, Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said "the sunrise is just ahead."
With even a vague outline of an Iran nuclear deal eluding their grasp, negotiators went into double overtime Wednesday night and Thursday morning in a marathon attempt to find common ground for a more important task – forging a final deal by the end of June.
Iran and six world powers had cited progress in abandoning their March 31 deadline for the basic understanding that would prepare the ground for a new phase of negotiations on a substantive deal. But as differences persisted into late Wednesday, the State Department announced that Secretary of State John Kerry was postponing his departure and would remain until at least Thursday morning.
At around 6 am local time Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf tweeted that the talks had broken after an all-night session and would resume in a few hours. The talks – the latest in more than a decade of diplomatic efforts to curb Iran's nuclear prowess – hit the weeklong mark on Thursday, with diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany scrambling to reach a framework accord with Iran.
"We continue to make progress but have not reached a political understanding," Harf said in announcing Kerry's decision. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said negotiators were still facing a "tough struggle."
A French diplomat said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was heading for Lausanne less than a day after he departed. Asked why, the diplomat referred a reporter to the minister's comments earlier in the day when he said he would come back if there were chances for a deal. At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused his country's negotiating partners, particularly the US, of having "defective" political will in the talks. "I've always said that an agreement and pressure do not go together, they are mutually exclusive," he told reporters. "So our friends need to decide whether they want to be with Iran based on respect or whether they want to continue based on pressure."
The negotiators' intention is to produce a joint statement outlining general political commitments to resolve concerns about the Iranians' nuclear program in exchange for relief of economic sanctions against Iran. In addition, they are trying to fashion other documents that would lay out in more detail the steps they must take by June 30 to meet those goals.
But Iran has pushed back, demanding a general statement with few specifics. That is politically unpalatable for the Obama administration, which must convince a hostile Congress that it has made progress in the talks so lawmakers do not enact new sanctions that could destroy the negotiations.
By blowing through self-imposed deadlines, Obama risks further antagonizing lawmakers in both parties who are poised to take their own action to upend a deal if they determine the president has been too conciliatory.
The initial response to the extensions from Republicans suggested they had already come to that conclusion. "It is clear, the negotiations are not going well," said Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham in a statement. "At every step, the Iranians appear intent on retaining the capacity to achieve a nuclear weapon."
Iran's Zarif insisted the result of this round of talks "will not be more than a statement." But a senior Western official said Iran's negotiating partners would not accept a document that contained no details. The official was not authorized to speak to the negotiations by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi named differences on sanctions relief as one dispute – but also suggested some softening of Tehran's long-term insistence that all sanctions be lifted immediately once a final deal takes effect.
He told Iranian TV that economic, financial, oil and bank sanctions imposed by the US, the European Union and others should be done away with as "the first step of the deal." Alluding to separate UN sanctions, he said a separate "framework" was needed for them.
Araghchi has spoken of such an arrangement before. But both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have since demanded full and total sanctions lifting, and the floating of the approach now suggested an Iranian shift. Araghchi also rejected US demands of strict controls on Iran's uranium enrichment-related research and development, saying such activities "should continue."
The US and its negotiating partners want to crimp Iranian efforts to improve the performance of centrifuges that enrich uranium because advancing the technology could let Iran produce material that could be used to arm a nuclear weapon much more quickly than at present.
The additional documents the US wants would allow the sides to make the case that the next round of talks will not simply be a continuation of negotiations that have already been twice extended since an interim agreement between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany was concluded in 2013. President Barack Obama and other leaders, including Iran's, have said they are not interested in a third extension.
Meanwhile, the White House says new sanctions could not only scuttle further diplomatic efforts to contain Iran's nuclear work but possibly lead Israel to act on threats to use military force to accomplish that goal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has campaigned tirelessly for months against the emerging agreement, said it would "ensure a bad deal that would endanger Israel, the Middle East and the peace of the world."

Specialist: Lebanon’s confessional political system not working
Mazin Sidahmed| The Daily Star/Apr. 03, 2015 |
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s current confessional system is not sustainable and a transformed political system should be considered, Heiner Bielefeldt, the United Nations’ freedom of religion specialist, said Thursday. He said that the current quota system – in which positions in state institutions are reserved for people of certain confessions – may be a source of anxiety. “I’m not saying giving up the infrastructure of religious diversity. It needs to be built in to the system, [but] maybe in a different way – maybe less focusing on quotas,” Bielefeldt told The Daily Star.  “It would mean transforming the current system of political confessionalism, quite in accordance with the Taif Agreement and also with the Constitution. I think it’s not sustainable in the long run.”He stressed that Lebanon should consider moving away from quotas and instead enshrine principles of freedom of religion into law to ensure that each of Lebanon’s wide variety of sects is protected.
Bielefeldt’s comments came during a news conference in which he presented the preliminary findings of his country visit to Lebanon at the Radisson Hotel. A more detailed and in-depth report will follow, he said. As the U.N.’s special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, he came to Lebanon on invitation from the government. During his speech at the news conference, he said that the advantages of the confessional system are that it maintains a certain stability and predictability that fosters trust. However, it can lead to many problems, especially for people that follow unrecognized religions. “We met people from non-registered, non-recognized religions who are still registered as Orthodox,” Bielefeldt said during his address. “It can lead to a situation where some people – people not really fitting into the system – are somehow caught between self-betrayal and self-marginalization.”  Under Lebanon’s current political system, a specific number of seats and different government posts are reserved for each sect. According to an unwritten agreement reached between the country’s main political factions when Lebanon won its independence in 1943, the president can only be a Maronite, the speaker a Shiite and the prime minister a Sunni. Besides these three main sects, Lebanon has 15 other recognized religious groups. Some minority sects are barely represented in senior posts of public institutions. The report of preliminary findings also included a section dedicated to encouraging the recognition of civil marriage, amid its ongoing debate.
“I personally think that the availability of a civil marriage option for everyone in Lebanon would not necessarily weaken the legacy of religious diversity,” Bielefeldt wrote in the report. “At the end of the day, religion is a matter of conviction, which can best flourish in an atmosphere of freedom.”Bielefeldt also mentioned that he “sensed much openness” from religious leaders for reform on the issue of civil marriage. When pressed on this point by a journalist at the news conference he explained that, “Some people express [their desire for change] very clearly. They wish [for] it. I’ve met no one who really could give clear arguments for keeping the current system unchanged.”
“Among religious dignitaries, some high-ranking clerics, [I heard] a clear awareness that changes are not only inevitable but they may actually be beneficial also from the perspective of their various religions,” Bielefeldt continued.
Bielefeldt explained that the governing of all marriage-related issues in religious courts had presented problems for clerical leaders. For instance, some Catholics have been known to convert to Islam in order to perform divorce procedures as it is prohibited in many Catholic courts. According to the report, in exceptional cases some Sunnis have converted to Shiite Islam in order to benefit from inheritance laws. Currently in Lebanon the issue of civil marriage is still under intense debate. There is no law banning or permitting civil marriage in Lebanon, but it is difficult to have it recognized by the state. Aside from its issues, Bielefeldt expressed that there was much evidence of coexistence that the region may learn from.  “This living together: you cannot preach it – you have to see it. The most important messages are the messages that life tells,” he said. “Lebanon, I would say, is pretty unique in the Middle East, and that’s important and I was happy to be able to see that.”

Hezbollah primed to damage Israel despite launch of David’s Sling
Nicholas Blanford/The Daily Star/Apr. 03, 2015
BEIRUT: Israel’s announcement that the David’s Sling anti-missile system has passed a series of advanced tests means that as of next year the Jewish state’s three-tier missile defense network could finally become operational.
However, neither David’s Sling, nor its two missile-intercepting partners, Iron Dome and Arrow, offer Israel a panacea from the threat posed by Hezbollah’s ever-expanding and varied arsenal of missiles and rockets.
Whether the imminent operational readiness of David’s Sling emboldens the next Israeli government to adopt a more aggressive posture against Hezbollah remains to be seen. But the advantages to Israel of its anti-missile systems do not overcome the challenges posed by Hezbollah’s military capabilities, which remain a factor of deterrence that has helped prevent a fresh conflict between the two foes since 2006.
David’s Sling, a joint production by the U.S. arms firm Raytheon and Israel’s state-owned Rafael, is designed to shoot down at distances of between 40 to 300 kilometers medium-sized ballistic missiles and rockets similar to those believed to be in Hezbollah’s arsenal.
They include the Syrian-engineered M600 and the Fateh-110 variants produced by Iran. David’s Sling fits in between the Iron Dome system, which is intended to knock out short-range rockets such as 122mm Grads, and the Arrow, which intercepts long-range ballistic missiles.The announcement by the Israeli Defense Ministry that David’s Sling has passed its tests and should be operational by 2016 comes in the wake of a flurry of pronouncements about what the Jewish state could face in the next war with Hezbollah.
An assessment by the Israeli army released this week predicts that Israel could be hit by as many as 1,500 rockets a day in the next war, leaving hundreds dead and requiring mass evacuations. In the July-August 2006 war, Hezbollah struck Israel with 4,228 rockets, according to the Israeli police, a daily average of 128.
Neither Iron Dome nor David’s Sling would be able to intercept up to 1,500 rockets a day; the rate would overwhelm both systems let alone cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Each David’s Sling “Stunner” interceptor missile is estimated to cost around $1 million and the Iron Dome’s “Tamir” interceptor missile is priced at around $50,000. Therefore, the batteries will only hit rockets that are calculated to strike specific targets. Rockets that are estimated to explode in open unpopulated areas will be ignored.
In a time of war, priority will be given to defending strategic sites such as air bases, sea- and airports, military command centers, industrial areas, government offices and infrastructure facilities. Residential areas are a lesser priority which means that the local population will either have to spend the war in bomb shelters or evacuate to places beyond the reach of Hezbollah’s missiles.
In the 1990s, when Israeli troops occupied south Lebanon, Israeli citizens would have to place themselves south of a line drawn only some 12 kilometers from the border to be safe from Hezbollah’s 122mm Grad rockets. Today, evacuees would have to head to Eilat at Israel’s southern tip to stand a chance of being beyond the range of the larger systems believed to be in Hezbollah’s possession.
However, the overwhelming majority of Israelis live north of a line between Ashkelon and Jerusalem, 150 kilometers from the border with Lebanon, meaning that almost Israel’s entire population lies in the shadow of Hezbollah’s rockets.
This leads to the flaw in the Israeli missile defense strategy. The impact of Hezbollah’s rockets lies not in the number of people killed or the damage caused but in the disruption to the everyday life of Israeli citizens.
In the 1990s, Hezbollah’s periodic Grad rocket attacks on northern and western Galilee rarely killed anyone and inflicted little damage. But the bombardments successfully paralyzed life for the residents of the area who were required on army orders to head to the bomb shelters. The same dynamic holds true today, except that instead of a thin sliver of northern Israel under threat, it is most of the country, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Hezbollah’s ability to disrupt normal life in Israel with its rockets is its main means of leveraging a favorable outcome in a conflict. The longer Israeli citizens are required to stay in bomb shelters or in areas far from their homes, the greater the pressure on the Israeli government to reach a cease-fire deal.
In the next war, Israel will essentially shut down – shops, businesses and schools will close and the country will find itself isolated from the rest of the world because of a freeze in civilian air and maritime traffic. In this context, the success rate of Iron Dome and David’s Sling in knocking out Hezbollah’s rockets is largely irrelevant. It is true that Hezbollah is believed to possess guided missiles that can deliver a 500 kilogram payload of high explosive into a specific building which raises the party’s ability to inflict casualties and damage compared to the past.
The higher the interception rate by the anti-missile systems, the fewer the casualties and less the level of destruction. But it will make no difference to the main strategic benefit for Hezbollah which is its ability to disrupt normal life in Israel. Even if 80 percent or more of Hezbollah’s missiles are successfully destroyed in the air, the population of Israel will still be sitting out the war in bomb shelters. Hezbollah may also field weapons systems that could evade David’s Sling, such as anti-ship cruise missiles used in a land attack role.
The Israeli navy reportedly operates on the assumption that Hezbollah has acquired the Russian P-800 Yakhont anti-ship cruise missile, 72 of which were delivered by Moscow to Syria in 2011. It is one of the most advanced systems of its kind in the world and can carry a 200-kilogram warhead for a distance of 300 kilometers at twice the speed of sound and just a few meters above the surface of the sea.
While that capability places Israeli shipping, gas and oil rigs at threat, the Yakhont can also attack land targets. Theoretically, it could be programed to target, say, the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv or a petrochemical refinery in Haifa.
Its designers say that David’s Sling can hit cruise missiles and aircraft in addition to medium-range ballistic missiles. But it is unclear whether it would be able to defeat a low-flying Yakhont because “the capabilities on these missile defense systems are closely guarded secrets for obvious reasons,” said Jeremy Binnie, the Middle East editor of the U.K.-based Jane’s Defence Weekly. “That said, a low-flying supersonic cruise missile would be a very challenging target for any air defense system,” he added.

Israel slams Iran nuclear framework as detached from ‘wretched’ reality
Reuters, Jerusalem/Thursday, 2 April 2015/Israel on Thursday dismissed celebration of a nuclear framework deal between major powers and Iran, calling it detached from reality, and vowed to continue lobbying to prevent a “bad” final agreement.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said in a statement after the announcements in Switzerland: “The smiles in Lausanne are detached from wretched reality in which Iran refuses to make any concessions on the nuclear issue and contiues to threaten Israel and all other countries in the Middle East.“We will continue with our efforts to explain and persuade the world in hopes of preventing a bad (final) agreement.”

A better deal than we expected
Ron Ben-Yishai/Ynetnews /Published: 04.03.15 / Israel Opinion
Analysis: Despite glaring shortcomings of 'framework' deal with Iran – which allow Tehran ability to resume its nuclear pursuit with haste – Obama now offering Netanyahu an olive branch; the Israeli leader should embrace it and help seal loopholes in final agreement.The 'framework' agreement reached in Lausanne between world powers and Iran appears to be a good deal. But we must be wary of appearances – too many key issues still remain unresolved.
The pace in which the sanctions on Iran would be lifted is one example, while the future of the enriched uranium stock that Tehran already possesses is another example in a series of serious questions.
However, the agreement presented on Thursday night by President Barack Obama, by Secretary of State John Kerry, and by Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, was surprisingly detailed.
No one expected – and no one believed – that the sides would reach such thorough understandings until they were presented in public. But despite satisfaction expressed by the Americans and other world powers, the true test remains the final, comprehensive agreement the parties must reach before the June 30 deadline.
Most importantly, though, is the matter of whether the implementation of the agreement will soften over the years. Another obstacle to the success of the deal is Tehran's penchant for finding creative ways to bypass restrictions, as it had in the past.
If the inspection of the agreement's key points is carried out as presented to the public on Thursday evening, Iran will face an enormous challenge if it were to attempt cheating the agreement.
But, if the framework presented becomes the final agreement, including its technical addendum, even Israel could learn to live with it. As President Obama said, the current deal prevents Iran from developing enough fissile material for an explosive device or a nuclear bomb – for at least 10 years. If Tehran chooses to violate the deal, it will take them more than a year to gather enough enriched material for a single nuclear device.
We could not have achieved a better outcome even if Israel, the United States, and other countries had carried out military strikes on the nuclear sites in Iran. Even if the attack had been successful, the delay caused to the Iranian nuclear weapon program would have been shorter than 10 years.
Thus, it appears, it was a good deal.
Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the loopholes in the agreement. It remains unclear what happens after 10 years. And can the Americans, the United Nations, and the Europeans reinstate the sanctions regime if Iran breaks the agreement?
Lest we forget, the underground facility in Fordow is also a potential problem. According to the agreement, Iran will not enrich uranium in the secretive site, buried under 80 meters of rock.
Supposedly, the facility will be converted to a research and development center for nuclear physics – a hazy term, especially after Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif clarified that the thousands of centrifuges already installed in Fordow will not be dismantled.
That means the centrifuges will be ready and available should the Iranians decide to renew uranium enrichment at full capacity – a worrying proposition due to the 2,000 newer modules, capable of enriching at three times the rate of the old centrifuges.
The Fordow facility, unlike many of the other sites, is difficult to strike. All the Iranians need to do is tell the UN inspectors that they cannot inspect the facility and then hasten their pursuit of a nuclear weapon while enriching uranium at a faster pace than ever before.
Tehran could take advantage of a situation in which the attention of the international community is diverted – as North Korea did in its pursuit of the Bomb.
The fate of the agreement also hinges on Iran's most advanced centrifuges, capable of enriching uranium at 20 times the rate of the original model. There may be a 10-year restriction on their usage for uranium enrichment, but what happens next? For the duration of the agreement, Iran will be allowed to research and develop – and likely even manufacture – advanced centrifuges. The matter is a grave defect in the deal, a loophole which must be closed in the final agreement.
It must further be noted that the agreement does not touch upon Tehran's development of ballistic missiles and long-range cruise missiles, which may carry a nuclear bomb. Israel cannot remain secure as long as that industry remains unsupervised.
Nevertheless, the inspection regime which world powers managed to force on Iran over its uranium enrichment is impressive and rigorous, and will last for nearly a generation. We can find more faults and more benefits, but even those in the corridors of power in Jerusalem will have to admit that this was a better deal than was expected.
No agreement, however good, can help against the daily deceit the Iranians displayed throughout the talks and continue displaying even today. The alternative – an assault – would not have been more effective.
There is no doubt that Obama will have a hard time selling this agreement, not only to Congress and to Israel – but also to America's other allies in the Middle East. Obama tried to preempt the coming disagreement by promising to call Prime Minister Netanyahu on Thursday night, sending his national security team to assure the Israeli leader, and dangling even more military aid for the Jewish State. Put simply, Obama is offering an olive branch to Netanyahu in an attempt to cooperate on the design of the final agreement over the next three months.
The Israeli government should warmly embrace the offer without batting an eye.