Middle East

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Debate continued this week in Washington, D.C. over President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.  

During a meeting with all 27 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Tuesday, Turkey said it wanted to give the members a heads up that at some point it may need their help fighting against the self-declared Islamic State.

Turkey called a rare Article 4 meeting of the NATO allies after it began an air campaign against ISIS targets in Syria.

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Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney joins a classified bipartisan briefing today on the Iran nuclear deal. 

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All eyes are on Congress as lawmakers debate the Iran nuclear agreement. This hour, we speak with Connecticut's 2nd district Rep. Joe Courtney. He called the tentative deal a "hopeful development" when it was first announced.

Just after hosting Cuba's foreign minister at the State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry sat down with NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep to discuss the restoration of diplomatic relations with that country, as well as the status of a nuclear deal with Iran.

Kerry defended the Obama administration's stance on both countries, and said if diplomatic relations with Cuba or a nuclear deal with Iran were scuttled — either by a future president or Congress — it would hurt the U.S.

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President Barack Obama has more to say about the Iran nuclear deal.

Obama held a news conference on Wednesday to continue selling the agreement that he contends will cut off all the pathways Iran currently has to develop a nuclear weapon.

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President Obama's agreement with Iran now heads to Congress. As part of the deal, Iran will curtail its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions. But the idea of lifting sanctions has rankled many, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the deal a "historic mistake." 

Is it a good deal?

President Obama and his detractors are headed for a ferocious debate on this question following the nuclear agreement announced Tuesday in Vienna between Iran and six world powers.

The United States and five world powers have reached a historic agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.

As we've reported, the deal puts restrictions on Iran's nuclear program and also sets up an inspections regime that aims to make sure Iran is meeting its obligations. In exchange, the U.S. and its European partners have agreed to drop tough sanctions, allowing Iran to sell more oil and rejoin international financial systems.

(This post was last updated at 8:44 a.m. ET.)

Just hours before a self-imposed deadline, Iran and six world powers said they would not extend a deadline but they would keep working toward a deal over Iran's nuclear program for the next few days.

Reporting from Vienna, where the talks are taking place, NPR's Peter Kenyon says both sides — Iran and the so-called P5+1, which consists of the U.K., China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — are saying they will not be pressured into accepting a bad deal. Peter filed this report for our Newscast unit:

Updated at 5:26 p.m. ET

President Obama has warned that the campaign against the so-called Islamic State "will not be quick" as he cited gains made in Iraq and Syria by the coalition fighting the militant group.

"This will not be quick," Obama said at the Pentagon. "This is a long-term campaign."

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A U.N. envoy to Syria this week has condemned what he calls the “unacceptable" use of barrel bombs by the Assad regime. On Monday, an important cultural heritage site was the target of one of those bombs.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

The U.S. needs more than just a military response to the violence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. That’s the message from Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who’s issued a call for new principles in U.S. foreign policy. 

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Senator Chris Murphy is pushing for congressional action to ban the deployment of U.S. ground troops to Iraq and Syria. Murphy spoke about his amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

The roar of a car bomb has been the prelude to Karim Wasfi's performances of late.

After hearing testimony from four families, U.S. lawmakers passed a resolution calling on Iran to release three jailed Americans and provide information about a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007.

As the June 30 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran approaches, the families say it's time for the U.S. to push hard on this issue.

Among those who spoke Tuesday before a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee was Daniel Levinson, son of former FBI agent Robert Levinson.

Chion Wolf

The former Democratic senator and gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont returns to the show. Ned Lamont recently visited a key and controversial country in world affairs: Iran. We debrief with him about his trip, Middle Eastern affairs, and the world business climate.

Also, on the eve of the end of the legislative session, how does he think the new state budget will affect Connecticut's businesses?

Confusion and emotion broke out at Friday's FIFA Congress — and it wasn't over embattled leader Sepp Blatter. The leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian soccer organizations shook hands.

The much-discussed "handshake for peace" happened after the Palestinian Football Association withdrew its proposal that FIFA suspend Israel from international competition.

Josh Hough / Creative Commons

Since the ISIS takeover of Palmyra in Syria, hundreds are feared killed by the so-called Islamic State. Amateur videos posted online yesterday also appear to show buildings of the ancient city damaged in the fighting.  Palmyra is considered to be one of the most important cultural centers in the world.

Fighters with the self-declared Islamic State have seized the last border crossing in Syria, where they control half of the country, according to a British-based monitoring group.

Syrian government forces withdrew from al-Tanf, known as al-Waleed in Iraq, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The border crossing lies at the extreme northwest of Iraq's border with Syria.

Following the self-declared Islamic State's capture of Palmyra, concern today is turning to the security of the ancient Syrian city's archaeological sites and fears that the Islamist extremists might try to destroy them, as they have done elsewhere.

Updated at 11:50 p.m. ET

The self-declared Islamic State claims its fighters have seized Ramadi in Iraq's western Anbar province, even as Iraqi officials disagreed on whether the city was lost and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Shiite militias not to abandon their positions.

In a statement, the extremist group said it seized tanks and killed "dozens of apostates," referring to Iraqi security forces, according to Reuters. A spokesman for the governor of Anbar province also said the city had fallen to ISIS.

A soon-to-be released documentary film called "Uncommon Ground" will be screened this weekend in Connecticut. It explores the struggle over the future of the last remaining abandoned Palestinian village on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Saudi Arabia is proposing a temporary truce in neighboring Yemen to help get humanitarian aid into the country, but the offer is contingent on whether Houthi rebels also agree to lay down their arms.

Saudi Arabia's newly-installed foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, announced the proposal at a news conference Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in Riyadh for talks about war in Yemen.

Updated at 5:20 p.m. ET

President Obama offered his "grief and condolences" to the families of the American and Italian aid workers killed in a U.S. counterterrorism operation in January. Both men were held hostage by al-Qaida.

"I take full responsibility for a U.S. government counterterrorism operation that killed two innocent hostages held by al-Qaida," Obama said.

Less than two years after he was removed from power by the military, an Egyptian court has sentenced former President Mohammed Morsi to 20 years in prison for the arrest and torture of protesters during his tenure.

The charges stem from the months of protests between late 2012 and July 2013, when Morsi was kicked out of office.

Twelve other defendants were also found guilty and received the same sentence as Morsi; they include former Muslim Brotherhood legislator Mohamed al-Beltagi and Essam al-Aryan, the group's former spokesman.

Iran is charging a Washington Post reporter with four crimes, including espionage, the newspaper said today. This is the first time the precise charges against Jason Rezaian, the Post's bureau chief in Tehran, have been made public since he was detained by the Iranian authorities nine months ago.

U.S. Department of State

Skepticism remains in the United States and Iran about the framework agreement reached last week regarding the latter's nuclear program. Many in Congress are wary of Iran, including some of Connecticut's lawmakers.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says his country will only sign an agreement restricting his country's nuclear program if economic sanctions are lifted. The remarks on state TV came as Iran's supreme leader said he's neither for nor against the deal.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said that any arrangements must respect Iran's interests and dignity. He questioned the need for talks if they don't trigger the removal of sanctions, and he reiterated his distrust of the United States.

From Istanbul, NPR's Peter Kenyon reports:

President Obama says it would be a "fundamental misjudgment" to condition a nuclear deal with Iran on the country's recognition of Israel.

Obama made the comments Monday during an interview with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep.

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