Some recent developments on the P5+1 talks…

U.S. sees Iran nuclear talks difficult, success uncertain

The United States and long-time arch-foe Iran agree on at least one thing ahead of Tuesday’s negotiations on a long-term nuclear deal – reaching an agreement will be very difficult, if not impossible.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the man who has the final say on all matters of state in the Islamic Republic, declared again on Monday that talks between Tehran and six world powers ‘will not lead anywhere.’

Hours later a senior U.S. administration official also played down expectations, telling reporters in the Austrian capital that it will be a ‘complicated, difficult and lengthy process’ and ‘probably as likely that we won’t get an agreement as it is that we will.’

From the Supreme Leader himself…

Iran’s Khamenei says nuclear talks will ‘lead nowhere’

Iran’s top decision-maker Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Monday nuclear talks with world powers would ‘lead nowhere’ but that he did not oppose them.

Iran is due to resume talks on Tuesday in Vienna with the P5+1 group—Britain, France, the United States, Russia and China plus Germany—aimed at reaching a comprehensive accord on its controversial nuclear program.

After a decade of failure and rising tensions, U.S. President Barack Obama has put the chances of an agreement at ’50-50,’ while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has predicted ‘difficult’ discussions.

‘I repeat it again that I am not optimistic about the negotiations and they will lead nowhere, but I am not against them,’ Khamenei said in remarks published on his website Khamenei.ir.

Now, here’s a real game-changer…

Iran says Russia could build nuclear reactor in exchange for oil

Russia could build a second reactor at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant in exchange for Iranian oil, the Iranian ambassador to Moscow said in remarks published on Monday.

Russia could also supply Iran with trucks, railroad tracks, mini-refineries or other goods to pay for the oil, ambassador Mehdi Sanaei told the daily Kommersant, under a deal Reuters revealed was being negotiated last month.

Reuters reported Iran and Russia were negotiating to swap up to 500,000 barrels of oil per day for goods in the deal that would undermine Western efforts to maintain economic pressure on Tehran while global powers seek to curb its nuclear programme.

In an interview published a day before the six powers including Russia resume talks with Tehran on a nuclear deal, Sanaei confirmed Russia and Iran were discussing supplies of ‘a few hundred thousand barrels per day.’

‘Iran could use some of the proceeds (to pay for) the construction by Russia companies of a second unit at the nuclear power plant in Bushehr,’ he said. Russia built the first reactor at Bushehr, Iran’s sole nuclear power plant.

Sanaei said it was possible the oil deal, and a broad memorandum on economic cooperation, could be signed before August. Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev is to visit Iran in April for talks on trade.

Asked what Russia could supply in exchange for the oil, Sanaei said the sides were discussing a number of possibilities including the construction of small oil refineries, Russian investment in gas fields and supplies of electricity. {…}

A top U.S. official said this month she believed the oil-for-goods swap would not go ahead in the near future after the United States warned both sides it would make reaching a nuclear agreement ‘more difficult if not impossible.’

Moving along to McInsane…

I was actually pleasantly surprised at Candy’s questions…!

Now, Col. Lang penned a great post today…

We need to abandon ‘regime change’ in Syria

…The United States has NO levers of influence or power that it can successfully employ against Russia, China or Iran. Russia is still a major power. It is heavily armed with nuclear weapons and has a lot of petroleum with which to fund its policy. China is a major rival of the United States and possessed of the second largest economy in the world. Iran has been bled white economically by sanctions but does not yield.

All that being the case, what on earth has the Obama Administration thought it would accomplish by demanding Syrian surrender to the rebels? That was the basis of he Geneva talks. What were we thinking? Did we imagine that this would be a school board or PTA meeting? What were we thinking?

Zbig was finally allowed to say a few words. He stressed the need to settle the issues between Russia and the US on some viable basis and started to suggest what sounded like an appeal to modify the ‘regime change’ theme so pervasive among the R2P/neocon crowd (including Obama). Todd then cut him off.

US policy should change. US policy should become a process of reconciling the existing government with what is left of the Syrian National Council and the Free Syria Army. This should include amnesty for ‘ralliers’ to the government, a cease fire against the nationalist secularist rebels, and a complete opening up of the country to international relief efforts wherever the jihadis do not rule and control. Once that is accomplished the re-united Syrian patriot forces should collaborate in exterministing the jihadis. The jihadis came to Syria to die for their faith. They should be assisted in that ambition.

Saudi Arabia? Israel? Ignore them.

Naturally, John Kerry accuses Bashar al-Assad of stonewalling in Syria peace talks

However, despite our best efforts, there are glimmers of hope arising in Syria…

Syria army, rebels agree new Damascus area truce: report

Syria’s army and rebels agreed a truce in the capital’s southern suburb of Babbila Monday, the latest in a series of local ceasefires in Damascus flashpoints, an AFP reporter said.

The truces come more than a year into fierce daily battles in and around several areas of the city that have led to rebels and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces deciding to compromise, with neither side able to claim victory.

In addition to Babbila, deals have been struck for local ceasefires in Qudsaya, Moadamiyet al-Sham, Barzeh, Beit Sahem, Yalda and Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp.

The accords are negotiated by public personalities from disputed areas, including businessmen and former ministers.

They involve a ceasefire, a siege being lifted and food allowed to enter rebel-held areas, with opposition fighters handing over heavy weapons and the regime raising its red, white, black and green flag there.

A new agreement is reported to be in the offing for Harasta, a rebel bastion northeast of Damascus, and talks over Daraya southwest of the capital are also taking place.

An AFP journalist visiting Babbila accompanied by official regime escorts on Monday saw dozens of cheering residents chant: ‘One, one, one! The Syrian people are one!’

In wrapping up, it seems the cocktail circuit crew has a new ‘leader’…