Syrian government forces have taken control of a strategic highway through the mountainous Qalamoun region connecting Homs to Damascus that is necessary for the removal of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. The army began an offensive in the area in November, and has regained control over several towns that had been held mostly by Islamist rebel factions. On Sunday, Syrian forces made advances after two weeks of fighting in Nabak, one of the last rebel-held areas in the region. According to Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, "The road is open but not safe." Additionally, on Sunday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) warned that the transportation of Syria's chemical stockpile out of the country could be delayed due to technical difficulties. However, Ahmet Uzumcu, OPCW director, said, "a few days delay wouldn't be much" and maintained he was "confident that we will be able to meet the deadline of June 2014 to destroy all chemical weapons in Syria."
- Iran and six world powers will hold an expert-level meeting Monday in Vienna to discuss the implementation of the nuclear agreement a day after U.N. inspectors visited Iran's Arak heavy water plant.
- Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority will sign a "historic" water sharing agreement Monday including a plan to pump water from the Red Sea to the shrinking Dead Sea.
- A Kuwaiti court Monday acquitted 70 opposition activists, including nine former MPs, of charges related to the storming of the parliament in 2011.
- Egyptian authorities say they have recovered an ancient statue of Tutankhamun's sister, looted from a museum during mass riots in August by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
'Collective Frustration, But No Collective Action, in Qatar' (Justin Gengler, MERIP)
"Qatar has remained the sole redoubt amid the wave of popular protest washing over the Arab world, even other Gulf states, since the beginning of 2011. Home to the richest people in the world, the country has annual oil and gas revenues that alone amount to more than $165,000 per citizen, much of which is duly distributed via a vast complex of salaries, allowances, land allotments and other economic benefits. That Qataris should feel no strong desire to alter this comfortable status quo, whatever the attendant annoyances, would seem to require little by way of explanation.
Beyond its resource wealth, Qatar also has other features that militate against political activism. Its citizenry is tiny -- barely 250,000 people, fewer than the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu -- and it is not riven by the sectarian, ethnic and regional cleavages of the other Gulf states. Unlike Bahrain and Kuwait, Qatar has no tradition of popular political consultation or participation. And, although the state has been an active promoter of revolutionary Islamic ideologies abroad, it does not confront them at home.
Yet such advantages for the state do not amount to immunity from criticism. Nor does an unrivaled capacity to enrich make boundless the soporific effects of material contentment. Qataris are wealthy by regional and even international standards, yes, but all politics is local, and blatant inequality differentiates citizens themselves -- and, from the Qatari point of view, locals and expatriates. This sense of disparity not only increases economic expectations but also lowers overall satisfaction, dampening the pacifying effect of plenty on political orientations."
'Iran and the nuclear agreement: Trust but verify' (Daniel Kurtzer, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, and Thomas Pickering, Al-Monitor)
"For both Iran and the international community, the failure to implement this interim agreement scrupulously will have exceedingly serious consequences. If Iran fails to do exactly what it has committed to do, opponents will say it is a sign that Iran is using the interim agreement to simply buy time to achieve nuclear weapons capability. If Iran fails to come clean about all of its facilities, as required by the IAEA, it will be taken as proof that these negotiations have been a sham.
At the same time, if the West does not lift the specified sanctions or, worse, should the US Congress or another country actually impose greater sanctions during this six-month period, it will be a clear sign that the West is not interested in a negotiated deal and that the United States has not distanced itself from a policy of regime change.
The most important thing both sides should do now is convince the world that this deal is credible -- not perfect for either side, but good enough to meet both sides' minimal requirements. Otherwise, the voices of the skeptics and opponents of the deal will rise above those wanting it to work. Skeptics and opponents abound -- in both Tehran as well as in many other capitals, including Washington."
--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber
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