Iran Watch: Window of Opportunity

On Wednesday, President Obama warned that the window for resolving the dispute over Iran's nuclear program "diplomatically is shrinking." Luckily, Iran appears to be poking its head through that very window. Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili has welcomed a resumption of talks between his country and the so-called "P5+1 -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States. Here's Iran's Fars News Agency:

He further called for constructive, serious and prerequisite-free talks for steady cooperation, and asked the EU foreign policy chief to remain loyal to the contents of her letter in this regard.

The Iranian top negotiator also demanded the Group 5+1 to show a constructive approach towards talks based on preserving Iran's nuclear rights in accordance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and also asked for holding negotiations on a steady and progressive trend.

Iran and the G5+1 are still in discussion over the date and venue for the next round of their talks.


Iran meter: There are, of course, numerous reasons to dismiss today's development. Western powers suspect Iran is simply buying time with the talks and blame the collapse of negotiations in Istanbul in January 2011 on Iran refusing to substantively engage on the nuclear issue.

More to the point, Western powers want Iran to stop enriching uranium as a precondition to talks, while Iranian officials insist they will not negotiate on their right to enrich uranium. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton wants Iran to embrace confidence-building measures such as granting inspectors more access to its nuclear facilities, while Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency says agreeing to talk about the country's nuclear program "by itself is confidence-building."

The BBC's James Reynolds points out that the most recent talks in Geneva and Istanbul "were essentially parallel monologues," and that Iran's agreement in 2009 to export low-enriched uranium in exchange for reactor fuel was never implemented. Still, he notes that Western officials see Jalili's reference to the nuclear issue this time around as evidence that Iran may finally be serious about dialogue.

And in a grim showdown between Iran and the West that rarely produces good news, Obama making a last-ditch plea for diplomacy and Iran welcoming talks constitutes a pretty good day.

Anja Niedringhaus/AFP/Getty Images


Reading Assad's emails

The Guardian appears to have come across a major scoop: a cache of 3,000 emails written by Syrian regime insiders, including President Bashar al-Assad  and his wife Asma.  The e-mails were reportedly leaked to a Syrian opposition group by "a mole in the president's inner circle," and many of them were verified to the Guardian by a number of people whose emails appear in the cache. The emails also include information -- family photographs, Assad's identity card, and a family member's birth certificate -- that would be difficult to fake.

The emails paint a picture of a Syrian leadership that is more bumbling and oblivious than villainous: On the day after the Syrian military began shelling the city of Homs, for example, Bashar sent Asma a video of country crooner Blake Shelton's song God Gave Me You. A look at the president's iTunes purchases also shows that he purchased the iPad game Real Racing 2 in February and is a fan of American singer Chris Brown.

The Assads also apparently communicate in an informal English rather than Arabic. In one email, Asma, to express her detail that Assad said he would be home at 5 p.m., writes: "This is the best reform any country can have that u told me where will you be, we are going to adopt it instead of the rubbish laws of parties, elections, media..."

The e-mails also provide hints of Iranian involvement in the efforts to suppress the uprising that has threatened Assad's rule for the past year.  At one point, a media advisor provides Assad with a long memo ahead of a speech in December, saying that the points covered had been cased on consultations with "the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador." The same memo urges Assad to employ "powerful and violent" language to attack foreign influence on Syrian affairs.

But it's the pervasive sense that the Assads are out of touch that shines through in the e-mails, beyond anything else. Perhaps Vogue had it right all along: Asma is apparently an Internet shopaholic, buying enough luxury items to stock a Tom Wolfe novel: Necklaces of amethyst, diamond, and onyx; a Ming Luce vase; and roughly $15,000 worth of candlesticks, tables, and chandeliers -- all while the country was falling apart around her.

But while the Assads may be out of touch, it appears that at least some in their inner circle understands the gravity of the situation. In response to one e-mail from Asma about a pair of $4,000 Christian Louboutin heels, one friend replied: "I don't think they're going 2 b useful any time soon unfortunately."