Weekend Roundup January 24-27

1.    Talks with Iran on long-term accord begin in February, officials say

  • In exchange for steps that Tehran had taken to halt its most sensitive nuclear-related activity, the White House said the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union will "follow through on our commitment to begin to provide the modest relief agreed to with Iran."
  • "Waiting for official announcement, which should be soon," a Western official told Reuters about tentative plans to hold the talks as early as mid-February at UN headquarters in New York City. "One of the reasons it's moving to York is the UN infrastructure, similar to Geneva."
  • Iranian President Hassan Rohani said last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that Iran is determined to negotiate a comprehensive deal on its nuclear program with the six world powers so it can develop its battered economy, inviting Western companies to seize opportunities now.

2.    Egypt to hold early presidential election

  • Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour has announced that Egypt will hold a presidential election before parliamentary polls, changing a political "road map" laid down after the army overthrew Mohamed Morsi last summer.
  • The long-expected change could pave the way for the swift election of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the popular defense minister who many expect will run for the presidency. The "road map" had called for parliamentary elections first, but many of Egypt’s political parties said they would not be ready for a legislative vote this spring.
  • The president did not announce a date for the vote, a job that falls to the High Elections Commission. It must be held no less than 90 days after the constitution was adopted, which will require a ballot before mid-April.
  • Mansour also said he would increase the number of courts dealing with terrorism charges, to “bring perpetrators to justice swiftly.” Security in Egypt has deteriorated since Morsi’s removal, with bombings now a regular occurrence in Cairo and other major cities.

3. Protesters and police clash in Bahrain

  • Bahraini police firing teargas and birdshot clashed with stone-throwing protesters in a village west of the capital on Sunday after the funeral of a young man who died in custody, witnesses said.
  • The tiny Gulf Arab island monarchy, a U.S. ally, has experienced unrest since mass protests led by majority Shi'ite Muslims erupted in early 2011 demanding reforms and a bigger share of power in the Sunni-led government.
  • Sunday's violence following the death of 20-year-old Fadhel Abbas threatened to sour a new attempt to restart negotiations between Bahrain's government, led by the ruling al-Khalifa family, and opposition groups.

4. Suicide Bomber Targets Afghan Army Vehicle

  •   A suicide attack Sunday morning on a shuttle bus transporting soldiers through Kabul killed at least four people, including two civilians, the first deadly assault in the Afghan capital since 21 civilians were killed in an attack at a popular restaurant on Jan. 17.
  • The attack on Sunday did not bear the hallmarks of the complicated assaults that the insurgents often stage. No gunmen followed the bomber, as had been the case when the targets were focused on specific locations, as opposed to passing convoys or vehicles.
  • Still, the attack underscored the dangers to those working for the Afghan security forces, a group that has sustained an incredibly high death toll since fully taking over responsibility from coalition forces for securing the country last summer.

5.    Syria Talks Appear Deadlocked as Sides Disagree Over Goals

  • The first face-to-face peace talks by antagonists in the Syria conflict appeared to deadlock on Monday, with enormous differences over the basic purpose of negotiations as well as a government relief gesture for civilians that the opposition denounced as a ploy. But both sides expressed willingness to resume talking.
  • The negotiations in Geneva, overseen by Lakhdar Brahimi, the special Syria envoy from the United Nations, adjourned Monday evening, and Mr. Brahimi conceded to reporters at a news conference that the talks so far “haven’t produced much.” Still, he said, neither side was walking away and would reconvene on Tuesday.