Iran

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David Gardner

All smiles: foreign ministers of the six world powers at the nuclear talks in Vienna. Getty

The failure to meet this week’s deadline for a definitive nuclear deal between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the US, UK, France, Russia and China, the permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) is ominous. True, the negotiations, already extended once after the interim agreement a year ago, have been given a new deadline of June next year. But musings of the glass half full, glass half empty variety under-represent just how difficult it will be now to close a deal, and how much is at stake if this chance to bring the Islamic Republic in from the cold slips away. Read more

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IAEA inspectors at Natanz nuclear power plant earlier this year

It all seems so simple: Iran’s aggressive expansion of its – officially – civilian nuclear programme has brought it within months of being able to enrich enough uranium to make an atomic bomb. The world has punished the Islamic republic with sanctions and now nobody is happy. So, as per an agreement last November called the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), the world’s big powers (the five members of the UN security council plus Germany, or P5+1) want to reduce Iran’s bomb making potential – the so-called breakout time – in return for sanctions relief.

Briefly put: the P5+1 want Iran’s breakout time to go from under 6 months to at least 12. Iran wants to export its oil and use the world’s banking system. And there the simplicity ends.

Beyond the stated goals is a fiendishly complex jigsaw of negotiating positions, all complicated by questions of transparency and trust. Below is an outline of some of the technical terms that may help to understand what is being discussed. Read more

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David Gardner

For a country that so recently harboured ambitions as a great regional power, Turkey is offering an unedifyingly feeble spectacle on its border with Syria, as the merciless fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) close in on the besieged Kurdish town of Kobani. This could be a defining moment for the Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the man who has dominated its politics like no other since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who forged the republic out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

Despite President Erdogan’s regional swagger, and Turkey’s possession of the second largest army in Nato, the country’s neo-Islamist leadership appear unwilling or unable to prevent a bloodbath at Kobani happening within sight of their tanks. This refusal to act could also sabotage an Erdogan legacy project of a peace settlement with Turkey’s large Kurdish minority, a probable casualty of Kobani as Kurds rise across the region in fury that Ankara is not just watching the town’s defenders being massacred by the jihadi fanatics of Isis but obstructing others trying to aid them. Read more

David Gardner

President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the White House on September 10 2014

Barack Obama’s outline of plans for a US-led offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, is light on the politics that will be decisive in their defeat. Read more

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David Gardner

A Yazidi family that fled Sinjar in Iraq takes shelter in the Kurdish city of Dohuk ( SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

Barack Obama’s decision to move back into the maelstrom of Iraq, from which he withdrew in 2011 after solemnly pledging to extricate US forces once and for all, would clearly not have been taken lightly.

Little under a year ago, after all, the president baulked at the last fence on Syria, declining to punish the Assad regime for nerve-gassing its own people – crossing a red line he had chosen to single out as inviolable. That was the wrong decision, and it is worth a moment to remember why. Read more