IRAN: The EU voted today to suspend sanctions against Iran for six months. Europe is the largest importer of Iranian crude, and the suspension includes petrochemical products. The White House wants to follow suit in easing sanctions, as Iran announced today it has begun to suspend high levels of uranium enrichment as an interim agreement goes into effect. Hawks continue to warn the deal shields much of Iran’s weapons programs while lowered sanctions allow it economic breathing room of lowered sanctions.
SYRIA: With Syrian peace talks set to open in Geneva on Wednesday, the UN threw a monkey wrench into the plans by issuing a last-minute invitation to Iran. Both the United States and Syrian opposition leaders quickly protested, as Iran Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main backer. But talks already were in jeopardy: The Assad government has refused to accept a transitional government as a precondition for negotiations. Here’s a good discussion and debate on a plan for Syria’s future (and it’s notable that Ryan Crocker, one of the most experienced voices from within the diplomatic corps, has been ignored by both the administration and McCain Republicans).
AFGHANISTAN: The Friday bomb blast at a popular expat restaurant in Kabul that killed 21 included among the dead a 27-year-old Chicago native working to improve the lives of women in Afghanistan. The dead also included the head of the International Monetary Fund in Afghanistan and four UN employees.
IRAQ: Al-Qaeda is tightening its grip on Fallujah, and a Christian nurse working at Fallujah Hospital reported to me over the weekend that “conditions are beyond even your imagination.” She and other medical personnel are living at the hospital with “massive blasts and ceaseless firings” continuing day and night. “We are … really working under pressure,” she said, adding, “Please do remember us in your prayers.”
NATIONAL SECURITY: Amid mixed signals in President Barack Obama’s speech on cell phone surveillance Friday, a closer look at the worldviews of the leakers who brought much of the surveillance program to light says they are possessed with “paranoid libertarianism.” Where “liberals, let alone right-wingers, have portrayed the leakers as truth-telling comrades intent on protecting the state and the Constitution from authoritarian malefactors, that’s hardly their goal. In fact, the leakers despise the modern liberal state, and they want to wound it.”
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: Eight countries on the UN Human Rights Council restrict religious freedom, imprisoning believers for their faith. It’s worth noting that Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, explicitly protect freedom of thought, conscience, religion, opinion, and expression. The UN General Assembly has the power to suspend the rights of UNHRC members that commit human rights violations under the declaration.