Breaking News -- Middle East
|Egypt Denies Plans to Join US War Against ISIS
by Jason Ditz
PM Says Action Possible if ISIS Threatens Gulf Nations.
Egypt’s military junta was loudly and openly courted by the US as a coalition partner for the new ISIS war, but the pledges of support appear to have been wildly exaggerated.
The junta today insisted Egypt has no plans to take any direct action in the ISIS war, with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb saying the country is focused on internal stability, not overseas operations.
Mehleb did raise the possibility that Egypt would join the ISIS war if ISIS started posing a direct threat to the GCC nations, including Saudi Arabia and its allies, but there is no sign that ISIS is anywhere near doing that.
Egypt’s massive military is heavily funded by both its dominance of the Egyptian economy and billions in US aid, and historically has been eager to intervene across the Arab world. The junta, however, is having a lot of internal stability problems since seizing power in a violent coup last year, and is likely reluctant to send troops abroad to fight when they may be needed at home for more massacres of protests to ensure their continued rule.
Iran mulls compromise nuclear offer
VIENNA // Iran is considering a US proposal at nuclear talks that would allow it to keep more of its nuclear infrastructure intact while still reducing its ability to make an atom bomb.
At issue is Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, which can make both reactor fuel and the fissile core of nuclear arms. Tehran insists the programme is only for future energy needs.
Iran is refusing US demands that it cut the number of working enriching centrifuges from nearly 10,000 to only a few thousand. That dispute has been the main stumbling block to progress since the talks began this year.
Ahead of a November 24 deadline to seal a deal, diplomats said last month that the US had begun floating alternates to reducing centrifuges that would eliminate the disagreement but still accomplish the goal of increasing the time Iran would need to make a nuclear weapon.
Among them was an offer to tolerate more centrifuges if Tehran agreed to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which can fuel reactors but is also easily turned into weapons-grade material.
Back then, Iran was non-committal.
But the two diplomats said on Thursday it recently began discussions with Moscow on possibly shipping some of its low-enriched stockpile to Russia for future use as an energy source.
Russia supplies fuel for Iran’s existing nuclear reactor.
Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran opposed extending the talks beyond November 24, even though major stumbling blocks remain in the way of a deal.
“We only have 40 days left to the deadline and ... none of the negotiators find (an) extension of talks appropriate,” Mohammed Javad Zarif said in Vienna, a day after six hours of intense talks with US secretary of state John Kerry.
“We share this view ... and we think there is no need to even think about it,” Mr Zarif said.
The main bone of contention remains Iran’s enrichment capacity.
Other thorny areas include the pace of sanctions relief, the time frame that an accord would cover, and a stymied UN probe into past suspect “military dimensions” of Iran’s activities.
“Everyone has been working incredibly hard ... These are incredibly complex negotiations, the detail is extraordinary,” the senior US official said.
“Until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed, and you can get 98 per cent of the way, and the last two per cent may kill the entire deal.”
Mr Zarif told Al Monitor that the gaps were “narrowing, but we still have a long way to go”.
“It is reconcilable, provided everyone makes the tough decisions.”
* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
Fight against Islamic State at impasse, military commanders say
by The Tribune-Review
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Thursday offered a very mixed assessment of progress in the U.S.-led campaign to degrade and defeat the Islamic State, with no serious ground offensive against the militant group likely for at least a year and little sign that the effort to stanch its flow of money has succeeded.
In separate briefings offered hundreds of miles apart, representatives of the Central Command in Tampa and the Treasury Department in Washington described only incremental progress in the fight against the Islamic State.
Militarily, CENTCOM commanders said, U.S. air support has led to a stalemate in parts of Syria and Iraq — and that was the good news.
But the number of attack sorties U.S. aircraft can fly has been hampered by the lack of a ground force capable of taking advantage of the air power, officials in Tampa said.
“We are operating at the pace” that troops in Iraq can support, an official said anonymously.
Meanwhile, a key Treasury Department official in Washington offered details of Islamic State funding that suggested the organization likely has gained $120 million in oil revenue and perhaps $20 million from kidnapping ransoms in the four months since it seized control of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, and began its march across north and central Iraq and eastern Syria.
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