Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif outlined in an interview posted Wednesday by the state-run Iran newspaper how Tehran could rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal: "If Mr. Biden is willing to fulfill US commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord... and negotiations are possible within the framework of the P5 + 1." This contradicts Zarif's insistence in a September 21 conversation with Fareed Zakaria that a precondition for Tehran adhering to the JCPOA is the US compensating Iran for "billions upon billions of dollars of damage they have inflicted" since the Trump administration pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions in 2018. Zarif at that time also rejected any attempts to renegotiate the JCPOA's terms. US Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela Elliott Abrams told journalists last week the Trump administration will continue imposing sanctions through November and December and opined, "I don't think that going back to the JCPOA in 2021 is a simple prospect." Yet, Zarif maintained in the posted interview, "The situation will improve in the next few months. Biden can lift all sanctions with three executive orders."
Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh tweeted Tuesday the PA would restore relations with Israel severed on May 19 to protest Prime Minister Netanyahu's then stated intention to annex parts of the West Bank allocated to Israel by the Trump administration's "Deal of the Century" peace plan: "In light of the calls made by President #Abbas regarding Israel's commitment to the bilateral signed agreements, & based on the official written and oral letters we received, confirming Israel's commitment to them. Accordingly, the relationship with #Israel will return to how it was." Jerusalem suspended its annexation plans as part of Abraham Accords. An Israeli Ministry of Defense official confirmed Netanyahu's government sent a letter committing itself to previous agreements with the PA and that they would restart security and civil cooperation. Restoring ties will alleviate the PA's financial crisis because it received over 65 percent of its annual revenue from taxes collected by Israel on its behalf. Hamas denounced the PA's decision as a "stab in the back" that would undermine reconciliation efforts between the rival Palestinian groups.
Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conversed Tuesday for the first time since the 2020 presidential election. The call lasted 20 minutes and Netanyahu referred to Biden as the "president-elect," a title he previously refrained from using because President Trump disputes the election's results. Netanyahu's office stated: "The President-elect reiterated his deep commitment to the State of Israel and its security" and "the two agreed to meet soon in order to discuss the many issues on the agenda and reiterated the need to continue bolstering the steadfast alliance between the US and Israel." Biden's transition team released the following statement after the call: "The president-elect thanked the prime minister for his congratulations and reiterated his steadfast support for Israel's security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state. The president-elect noted that he expects to work closely with the prime minister to address the many challenges confronting our countries. The president-elect expressed his determination to ensure that the US-Israel relationship is strengthened and enjoys strong bipartisan support."
Iraq's military announced Tuesday four Katyusha rockets fired from eastern Baghdad's al-Amin neighborhood hit the heavily fortified Green Zone. Iraqi police and security sources said the US embassy was the intended target and that three rockets falling short of the Green Zone killed a child and wounded five others. On October 11, Kataib Hezbollah spokesman Mohammed Mohie declared on behalf of the hitherto unknown Iraqi Resistance Coordination Commission that pro-Iranian militias will cease attacking American targets in Iraq if Washington provides a timetable for withdrawing its troops from the country. Pro-Iranian militias mostly held their fire since the October announcement. The Pentagon Tuesday unveiled a plan to reduce the number of American troops in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500 before President Trump leaves office. Targeting America's embassy Tuesday could represent pro-Iranian militias' response to Washington leaving some troops in Iraq.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, its Nationalist Movement Party coalition partner, as well as the opposition Republican People's Party and Good Party approved legislation Tuesday deploying Turkish soldiers for one year to a Russian-Turkish monitoring center in Azerbaijan. Ankara and Moscow signed a memorandum of understanding on November 11 to establish a jointly run post overseeing compliance with the November 9 ceasefire agreement ending the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. The bill grants Erdogan's government some latitude in determining how many troops to send and authorizes dispatching civilian personnel for peacekeeping purposes. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists last Thursday the memorandum of understanding restricts Turkish monitors to the premises of the monitoring center, which will be located in a part of Azerbaijan far from Nagorno-Karabakh.
Fighting over the past week between President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi's internationally recognized, Saudi-backed government and the UAE-supported, separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) killed at least 47 fighters. Although Hadi's government and the STC are officially allies in the war against the Iranian-backed Houthis, they have been fighting each other intermittently since the STC seized Aden, the Hadi government's interim capital, in August 2019. The STC wants southern Yemen, which was an independent country until 1990, to regain independence. A June 22 Saudi-mediated ceasefire promptly broke down in August.
Separately, Saudi Arabia is allegedly offering to ease its air and sea blockade if the Houthis withdraw from a buffer zone along the kingdom's border. While Riyadh has conducted indirect talks with the Houthis since last year, the US presidential election may have increased Saudi Arabia's incentive to reach a deal with them. During the campaign, Joe Biden promised to "end US support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen and order a reassessment of our relationship with Saudi Arabia."
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum