Middle East

  • Reviving Peace Talks in Yemen: What Comes Next

    With the high and ever-growing civilian death toll of Yemen’s civil war, the acute need for peace contrasts sharply with the sparse hopes of a peace process. After months of delays, the government and rebel forces announced on November 19 their intentions to temporarily freeze military operations and convene for negotiations in Sweden. The success of these talks will depend on whether the parties can effectively apply the lessons of past peace talks to structure a new peace process for Yemen.

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  • How Rouhani Can Use the Industry Sector to Help Iran’s Economy

    With four new ministers in President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet to help salvage the Iranian economy, it’s too soon to see the genuine impact just yet. But what is evident is that the new economic measures, if any, should focus on improving the ease of doing business in the wake of reimposed US sanctions.

    Having that been said, the industry sector appears to bear the highest potential for raising economic output compared to other sectors following a downward trajectory.

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  • One Group's Work to Stabilize Syria

    Few major implementors currently exist in Syria developing and executing projects to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure ranging from roads, buildings, healthcare system, agriculture and irrigation systems, to the electrical grid. Though a number of reasons limit the existence of project implementors, the primary reason is the ongoing conflict and lack of stability. A lack of infrastructure is also a major barrier for entry for many implementors whose aid deliveries depend on secure roads and bridges. Despite all this, there is a major player on the ground that has implemented projects across non-government controlled parts of Syria throughout the conflict amid all the uncertainty and chaos and that is the Syria Recovery Trust Fund (SRTF).

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  • New Wave of Sanctions Spurs Iranian Political Repositioning

    While ordinary Iranians struggle to find imported medicine and buy basic foods due to re-imposed sanctions, the political debate inside the Islamic Republic is anything but static.

    As announced, the new wave of US secondary sanctions came into force on November 5. This came after unsuccessful efforts by Europe to dissuade President Donald Trump from unilaterally quitting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and despite efforts to persuade European countries to retain their trade with Iran through a so-called blocking statute and a Special Purpose Vehicle.

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  • Why Iran Won’t Succumb to Trump’s Sanctions

    The Trump administration has put into place a punishing new wave of sanctions against Iran that targets critical components of the Iranian economy from banks to energy, shipping and insurance.

    From the start of his administration, President Donald Trump has insisted that he can coerce Iran into reaching a “better deal” than the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that would also address Tehran’s military intervention and support of proxies in the Arab world as well as its ballistic missile program. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has gone further, issuing a dozen demands that resemble an ultimatum calling for capitulation rather than preconditions for negotiations. This much is clear: The Trump administration has decided to wage economic war on Iran to try to bring it to heel.

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  • Turkish Policy in Syria: Divining Intent and Options for the United States

    Turkey was once the main sponsor of the Syrian opposition’s effort to topple Bashar al Assad. However, beginning in late 2016, Turkish policy has shifted following the Russian defeat of Turkish backed proxies in Aleppo. This change in policy sparked a reassessment of Turkish strategy away from the overthrow of the regime and towards close cooperation with Russia and competition with the United States. Beginning in the summer of 2016, Ankara settled on the pursuit of four closely interrelated goals in Syria: blocking westward expansion of the American backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF); frustrating American military operations east of the Euphrates River; working through Russia to ensure that Syria remains a unitary state after the conflict ends; resettling displaced people in Turkish controlled territory in northern Syria.

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  • Escalation Between Turkish and Kurdish Leadership Alters Kurdish Relations with Assad

    Over the summer the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration (AA) focused on strengthening its hand in talks with the Syrian government, in an attempt to win concessions on self-rule before a potential withdrawal of US support. Among other escalatory actions, the AA inserted itself into service provision initiatives previously left to the state, and arrested dozens of candidates for local elections organized by Damascus. 

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  • How Iran Will Cope With US Sanctions

    The Trump Administration’s second wave of sanctions against Iran went into effect earlier this month, directed against Iran’s vital oil and petrochemical sector, its Central Bank, and other financial institutions. However, Washington’s diplomatic isolation as a result of its unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and its desire to mitigate oil prices softened some of the intended negative impact on Iran, which is already employing a variety of coping mechanisms.

    The Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative detailed these mechanisms in a new issue brief, How Iran Will Cope with US Sanctions, co-authored by Holly Dagres, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center, and Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative. The report highlights a number of ways Iran has used in the past to circumvent previous sanctions and is using again. Among them are relying on neighboring countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey, putting oil on tankers that mask their national identity, creating front companies and using barter trade. Iran is also looking forward to the European Union (EU) creating a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate commerce with the EU and other nations.

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  • Treasury Right to Sanction Saudis in Response to Khashoggi Killing

    The November 15 announcement by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the designation of seventeen Saudis for their role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi should be commended. While the Trump administration has been delayed in responding to the murder, with the president slowly forming a “very strong opinion,” the sanctions demonstrate that the administration has not stood idly by.

    Given the need for continued cooperation with the Saudi government on counterterrorism, oil production, and a host of other sensitive issues, the Global Magnitsky (or GloMag in sanctions parlance) sanctions authority was a strategic tool to use as part of a response to the Khashoggi murder.

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  • United States Sanctions Seventeen Saudi Officials Over Khashoggi Murder

    The US Treasury Department on November 15 slapped sanctions on seventeen Saudi officials in response to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

    The sanctioned Saudis include Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s trusted adviser, Saud al-Qahtani; senior aide Maher Mutreb; and Saudi counsel general in Istanbul, Mohammed al-Ootaibi.

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