Roundup: Hale for Lebanon, Palestinian PM reconsiders resigning; US trained Syria rebels

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  • President Obama on Friday nominated Middle East peace envoy David Hale US Ambassador to Lebanon, as previously reported was in the works.
  • POTUS nominated Mike Hammer, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and former NSC spokesman, to be US ambassador to Chile. Hammer has served the last two years as the spokesman for the US delegation to the P5+1 talks with Iran.
  • Who might be in Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet?
  • The text (.pdf) of Hassan Rouhani’s 2005 speech, “Beyond the Challenges Facing Iran and the IAEA concerning the Nuclear Dashboard.”
  • Rouhani reportedly changed his family name from Feridoun to evade the Shah’s secret police (Rouhani means “cleric.”)
  • Little is known about Rouhani’s wife, but her name apparently has been discovered: Sahebe Arabi.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informs the Washington Post, in an interview, that Rouhani wrote a book.
  • Israel tries to game Rouhani: Ben Caspit.
  • Shlomi Eldar on Israel’s nuclear option for peace.
  • Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah reportedly reconsiders his resignation.
  • Palestinian leaders’ dilemma.
  • Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird reverses himself on “meaningless” Iran elections, offers congratulations.
  • US CIA and military operatives have been secretly training Syrian rebels how to use anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons since last November.

(Photo: Hassan Rouhani campaigns on his plane in northwest Iran on June 10, 2013. AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

EU-3 call for toughening sanctions on Iran amid diplomatic stalemate

The British, French and German foreign ministers called Friday for intensifying European Union sanctions on Iran, as western powers sought to show resolve in the face of Iran’s nuclear defiance and deter possible Israeli military action.

“It is necessary to increase pressure on Iran, to intensify sanctions, to add further to EU sanctions that are already enforced,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters ahead of an informal meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Cyprus Friday, Reuters reported.

“Sanctions are necessary and soon. I can’t see there is really a constructive will on the Iranian side for substantial talks,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Reuters.

The United States has also prepared a new file of sanctions that are aimed at squeezing Iranian financial reserves, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor.

The show of resolve came as nuclear negotiations between six world powers and Iran remain at an impasse. Three rounds of meetings this year, and European oil sanctions that went into effect in July,  have so far failed to persuade Iran to agree to international demands that it “stop, ship and shut” its higher level 20% uranium enrichment activities and close its fortified Fordow enrichment facility. Iran has said it would be willing to discuss ending its 20% enrichment but wants recognition of its right to lower level enrichment for energy purposes, and sanctions relief.

Political directors from the P5+1, conferring in a conference call last week, decided not to hold another P5+1/Iran meeting at this time, the diplomatic sources said.

Of the six nations that make up the group–the United States, UK, France, Germany, China and Russia–only Moscow’s envoy expressed support for another meeting, a western diplomatic source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “Even the Chinese opposed” a meeting now, as no success is expected.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told foreign ministers she’d urged Iran, in a phone call with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator early last month, “to look very carefully at the proposals that have been put forward by the E3+3, so that we can now move forward.”

“Some ministers discussed the possibility of further sanctions,” an EU diplomat told Al-Monitor Friday. “I guess we will come back to this issue as not all ministers spoke, so it’s hard to judge whether there’s consensus or not.”

The EU-3 foreign minister statements Friday were largely intended to rally internal European resolve. They are “a joint reminder…that pressure is needed at the highest level…and to keep all of them motivated despite the adverse economic effect,” a second European diplomat told Al-Monitor Friday on condition of anonymity. “In terms of new sanctions, the thinking is in progress …In the meantime, we need to make sure there is no loophole.”

Efforts by the UN atomic watchdog agency to get access to an Iranian military base are similarly at an impasse. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in August that Iran had been engaging in an extensive clean up at the Parchin base, which some agency inspectors suspect may have been previously used to test a nuclear explosive device. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes.

“Basically the IAEA track is stuck and very much linked to progress in P5+1 talks,” the diplomat said. “The “Iranians are blocking everything on the IAEA track.” Continue reading