-- 1. Iran Nuclear Deal Deadline Approaches
For more than a century, Vienna has been the capital of cloak-and-dagger intrigue, the center of Cold War spy games sitting on the edge of the Iron Curtain.
A generation later, it’s back center-stage as the United States and the other world powers race to do a deal with Iran before Monday’s deadline. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The lead US negotiator, Wendy Sherman, has said “there’s no question that, if everything goes away, escalation will be the name of the game on all sides, and none of that is good.”
The talks have been focused on measures that would constrain Iran’s ability to quickly produce a nuclear bomb but allow it the ability to maintain what Tehran insists is a peaceful nuclear power program. The U.S. wants to turn back the clock, to ensure it could take Iran at least a year to build a bomb if it reneges on the deal – so fewer centrifuges for enriching uranium, eliminating its existing stockpiles of nuclear material and limiting Iran’s future ability to produce plutonium.
There are also big, unresolved questions about how long the deal might last and the timetable for lifting sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. This weekend, the clock is ticking.
2. Pope Francis Visits Turkey
Next week, Pope Francis visits Turkey.
Only 53,000 of its 76 million people are Christian – but one man is desperate to meet the Pontiff.
In 1981, Mehmet Ali Agca made headlines around the world when he shot Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. The pope survived and Agca was forgiven by John Paul II during a prison visit in 1983 before he was extradited to Turkey. He was released in 2010 and now wants to meet John Paul’s successor.
But that is the least of the Vatican’s security concerns. While Francis is due to visit Ankara and Istanbul, the pope has also expressed interest in meeting some of the 100,000 Christians fleeing ISIS on the Syrian border. Last month, ISIS put a mockup of St. Peter’s Square on the cover of its online magazine “Dabiq” with a black jihadi flag flying over Vatican City.
His sixth foreign trip could be the most challenging of his pontificate.
3. Tunisia Elects New President
Four years ago next month, a 26-year-old street seller set off a chain of events that have convulsed the Middle East ever since.
On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire. The sparks ignited a revolution that toppled Tunisia’s dictator, Ben Ali, before spreading across much of the rest of the Arab world. Tunisia, alone among the Arab Spring countries, has managed to keep its democratic transition on track.
Despite a sometimes tortuous and difficult journey, this weekend the country will elect a new president. More than two dozen candidates are running for office.
Conspicuous by his absence is the veteran opposition leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda Party. Ghannouchi was exiled for 22 years under Ben Ali, returning home to a hero’s welcome. But he’s refused to run or endorse a candidate "to avoid deepening polarization or dividing the country."
Instead, the front runner to lead the new Tunisia is its oldest politician. Beji Caid Essebsi, 88, replaced Ghannouchi as interim prime minister and last month his secular, Nidaa Tounes party won the parliamentary election.
It’s unlikely anyone will reach the 50 percent needed to win outright, so the election looks set to go to a runoff on December 28.
4. Oscar Pistorius Turns 28
Oscar Pistorius will spend his 28th birthday behind bars at Pretoria's Kgosi Mampuru prison today.
Because of his disability, Pistorius is being held in the hospital ward of the prison.
The "Blade Runner" is allowed five one-hour-long visits per month and can receive cards for special occasions. But it’s not likely to be a very happy birthday.
Pistorius is serving his sentence alongside some of South Africa’s most notorious criminals, including Etienne Kabila who is accused of plotting to overthrow his brother, DRC President Joseph Kabila, and apartheid death squad leader Eugene de Kock, known as “Prime Evil.”
He’ll be hoping it will be his first, and last, birthday in jail. Pistorius could be eligible for parole after 10 months of his five-year term. But prosecutors have announced they are to appeal both his conviction – Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide and not of murder, which the state strongly opposes – as well as what they claim is his “shockingly light” sentence.
A court will hear the appeal on December 10.
5. John Lennon Guitar Hits Auction Block
Beatles fans, forget love - all you need is a million bucks.
On Sunday, a guitar owned by John Lennon goes under the hammer in London – metaphorically, not literally. The Gretsch 6120 model was played by Lennon when the band recorded "Paperback Writer" at London's famous Abbey Road studios in 1966.
It’s being sold at auction by Lennon’s cousin who was given the guitar a year later. "Paperback Writer" went to number one on three continents – on the Billboard Hot 100, in Europe and in Australia and New Zealand. The song – the Beatle’s 11th single – includes the lyrics, “if you really like it you can have the rights. It could make a million for you overnight.”
For its owner, Dave Birch, it might just do that. The guitar comes with photographs of Lennon playing it with the rest of the band – and it’s expected to go for as much as $1 million.