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)

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Iran diplomat offers tentatively positive take on Almaty talks


Almaty, Kazakhstan__An Iranian diplomat, in an interview with Al-Monitor, offered a cautiously positive take on the nuclear talks that got underway in Kazakhstan Tuesday, though he said Iran still considers that a new international proposal asks more of Iran than it offers.

“We think in Almaty the whole frame is positive, because we are going to discuss the principles [and] specifics,” the Iranian official, who did not wish to be named, told Al-Monitor shortly after nuclear talks got underway here Tuesday. “We believe that until now, there has not really been a negotiation.”

“I can’t say what will be the outcome,” the official continued. “But we think the outcome should be some technical meetings.” That would seem to correspond with what Western diplomats said Monday, that they were hoping to have a follow up meeting, or a series of follow up meetings, with the Iranians at the technical experts level, ideally beginning before Iran’s Nowruz New Year’s holiday in March.

Both Iran and the P5+1 agree that a comprehensive deal “is not possible right now, so both sides are trying to solve one part of it,” the Iranian diplomat said. “Both sides agree on which part to solve right now,” as a first step, focused on Iran’s 20% enrichment activities, he said.

From Iran’s perspective, he continued, however, “the problem is, what the P5+1 wants to give us is not [balanced with] their requests.”

The updated P5+1 proposal formally presented to Iran Tuesday includes some sanctions relief on the gold trade, petrochemical industry, and some small scale banking sanctions, according to a source close to the talks who received a copy of it late Monday from a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Al-Monitor first reported earlier Tuesday.

“We have come here with a revised offer and we have come to engage with Iran in a meaningful way, our purpose being to make sure that we’ve had a good and detailed conversation, with the ambition that we see progress by the end of the meeting,” European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said ahead of the first round of talks Tuesday.

The revised international offer is “balanced” and “responsive” to what the six powers heard from the Iranians in three rounds of talks last year, Michael Mann, spokesman for Ashton, told journalists at a press briefing in Almaty Tuesday.

Talks got underway Tuesday at 1:30pm and broke off at about 4:30pm. Western officials later confirmed that there had been further consultations among the parties, including Iranian bilateral meetings with the Germans, British, Chinese and Russians, a diplomat said.

Talks will resume for a second day Wednesday, starting with a bilateral meeting between Ashton and Jalili, followed by a plenary session at 11am.

“We had a useful meeting today, discussions took place this evening, we are meeting again tomorrow,” a western official said late Tuesday.

The U.S. delegation to the talks is led by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and includes National Security Staff Senior Director for the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar, State Department arms control envoy Robert Einhorn, another State Department arms control advisor Jim Timbie, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Mike Hammer, and a veteran Farsi-speaking US diplomat who specializes in Iranian affairs Alan Eyre.

Iran’s delegation includes the Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Dr. Saeed Jalili, his deputy Ali Bagheri, legal/nonproliferation advisor Hamid-Reza Asgari,, the head of the Iranian foreign ministry IPIS think tank Mostafa Dolatyar, Iran deputy foreign minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi, and former Iranian ambassador to the UK Rasoul Movahedian-Atar.

(Photo: Participants sit at a table during talks on Iran's nuclear programme in Almaty February 26, 2013. REUTERS/Stanislav Filippov/Pool.)

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