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Middle East Update: Two Stories Joshua Landis Is Watching This Week

President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office with Secretary of State John Kerry to thank him for his work with the negotiations on the nuclear agreement with Iran, July 13, 2015.
Pete Souza
The White House
President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office with Secretary of State John Kerry to thank him for his work with the negotiations on the nuclear agreement with Iran, July 13, 2015.

After years of negotiation designed to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and keep the balance of power from shifting in the Middle East, Congress will vote on a nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic next month.

Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, told KGOU’s World Views he expects the measure to go through. President Obama is putting his credibility and the weight of the White House behind it, and it’s unlikely there will be a veto-proof two-thirds majority to kill the deal.

Despite criticism from conservatives from the U.S. and hard-liners in Iran, Landis says the deal will make a difference and enhance the relationship between the two countries.

“Iran is going to get almost $100 billion that the United States has impounded since the Iranian revolution,” Landis said. “And that worries, of course, Israel and Saudi Arabia - other enemies of Iran - because they say a richer Iran is worse for us.”

Landis says those countries would rather have perpetual sanctions on Iran to keep them as poor as possible. But Iran has some of the world’s largest oil and natural gas reserves, and everyone wants a piece.

“India, China, oil-hungry nations around the world are trying to get into them,” Landis said. “So this sanctions regime, the United States has been the architect of, has been collapsing. And it can't hold it off forever.”

Turkey Tips al-Qaeda On Syria Operation

Last month, dozens of Syrian soldiers trained and equipped in Turkey were sent across the border to take territory held by self-proclaimed Islamic State militants.

“The leadership was partially killed, and others are still being held,” Landis said. “So it was a complete fiasco.”

There are reports Turkish intelligence gave word to al-Qaeda when the leadership was coming across the border so they could be snatched, according to McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero:

Rebels familiar with the events said they believe the arrival plans were leaked because Turkish officials were worried that while the group’s intended target was the Islamic State, the U.S.-trained Syrians would form a vanguard for attacking Islamist fighters that Turkey is close to, including Nusra and another major Islamist force, Ahrar al Sham. . . . Other Turkish officials acknowledged the likely accuracy of the claims, though none was willing to discuss the topic for attribution. One official from southern Turkey said the arrival plans for the graduates of the so-called train-and-equip program were leaked to Nusra in hopes the rapid disintegration of the program would push the Americans into expanding the training and arming of rebel groups focused on toppling the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“This sounds much like what happened with Pakistan and the Taliban in our attempts to round up the Taliban – the Pakistani intelligence playing a two-sided game,” Landis said.

But what does Turkey have to gain by selling out in favor of al-Qaeda? Landis, who writes the blog Syria Comment, says the Turks want a deal on the Kurdish situation – the U.S. has been helping Kurds fight ISIS, which has allowed them to capture a long stretch of territory along the Turkish-Syrian border and could lead to the establishment of a Kurdish state.

“What Turkey could be saying to America is, 'We'll play ball with you on your efforts to send in and train and equip troops to take out ISIS, but you have to play ball with us with the Kurds.',” Landis said. “It's a tough, nasty game out there.”

KGOU and World Views rely on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners to further its mission of public service with internationally focused reporting for Oklahoma and beyond. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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