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Proxy War: U.S. on Both Sides of Tensions Between Iran, Saudi Arabia

Talk about the United States being in a difficult place
Image: Saudi Arabia leads strikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen
epaselect epa04679313 An armed member of Houthi militia (R) keeps watch as people gather beside vehicles which were allegedly destroyed by a Saudi air strike, in Sana'a, Yemen 26 March 2015. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states launched air strikes against Houthi rebels which have taken over large parts of Yemen, attacking the Sana'a military Airport and Jiraf area, a Houthi stronghold. The strikes were 'in support of the people of Yemen and their legitimate government,' Saudi Arabia's Washington ambassador Adel al-Jubeir said. The military operation by a 'coalition of over 10 countries' was in response to an appeal from embattled Yemeni President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, al-Jubeir said. EPA/YAHYA ARHABYAHYA ARHAB / EPA

First Read is the NBC Political Unit’s morning briefing on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.

The U.S. finds itself on both sides of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia

Talk about the United States being in a difficult place. One hour, the U.S. is conducting airstrikes to combat Sunni extremists -- ISIS -- in Iraq. “U.S. warplanes are now conducting airstrikes in support of Iraqi efforts to take the city of Tikrit from the terror group ISIS, the U.S. military said Wednesday,” per NBC News. The next hour, it’s helping aid Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign against Shiite extremists -- the Houthi rebels -- in Yemen. “Secretary of State John Kerry commended the work of the coalition and underlined U.S. support for the effort — including intelligence sharing, targeting assistance, and advisory and logistical assistance — in talks with his counterparts in the region on Thursday,” according to a separate NBC report. The backdrop, of course, is the clear proxy war in the Middle East between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. But as the New York Times writes, one of the reasons why the United States has taken a more active role in the bombing campaign in Iraq is because it’s worried that Iran now has too much influence in the country. “If the Americans did not engage, they feared becoming marginalized by Tehran in a country where they had spilled much blood in the last decade, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.”

That proxy war complicates any nuclear deal with Iran

This proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia also makes a complicated nuclear deal with Iran even more complicated. And as with most deals, the last-minute negotiations are always the hardest. “Over the past few weeks, Iran has increasingly resisted any kind of formal ‘framework’ agreement at this stage in the negotiations, preferring a more general statement of ‘understanding’ followed by a final accord in June, according to Western diplomats involved in the talks,” the New York Times says. “Should that position hold — one of the many unknowns of the coming days — the United States and its five negotiating partners may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of describing the accord as they understand it while the Iranians go home to offer their own version. That poses a weighty political challenge to the Obama administration.” As the LA Times notes, the Iran talks restarted today, and March 31 is the firm deadline to reach a deal.

Scott Walker: I’ll tear up any nuclear agreement with Iran on my first day as president

Speaking of the nuclear the United States and other countries (Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia) are trying to strike with Iran, Scott Walker said he’d reject the agreement on his first day in the White House. The Hill: “In an interview on Hugh Hewitt's radio show, the host asked Walker whether he would ‘disown’ any agreement between the U.S. and Iran that allows for uranium enrichment if he wins the presidency in 2016. ‘Absolutely,’ Walker said. ‘On day one.’” It is worth pointing out how all the GOP presidential promises -- repeal Obamacare, enact the GOP budgets, confrontation with Iran -- could make the first 100 days in a Scott Walker/Jeb Bush/Marco Rubio/etc administration a problem. Talk about having almost NO honeymoon after wading into those thorny (and likely politically taxing) issues. Then again, that’s something Walker has plenty of experience with -- see his 2011 union fight. But as we all know, what happens in Washington (especially when you control the White House) gets more attention than you ever got in your state capital.

On Joe Biden and 2016: Why he isn’t part of the conversation

Be sure not to miss the piece by MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald on Vice President Joe Biden and the fact that he’s unlikely to run in 2016. “Interviews with more than a dozen people close to the vice president paint a picture of a politician torn between a decades-long aspiration for the presidency, a deep commitment his family and a recognition of a political reality tilted against him. For reasons both bigger and smaller than Hillary Clinton, Biden will not achieve the dream to which he’s now come so close. But he refuses to rule himself out completely and will keep a presidential pilot light burning as long as possible. If nothing else, the fiercely loyal Biden will use these next two years to defend the legacy of the Obama administration and his role in it.” The key reason why Biden isn’t in the 2016 conversation: “[W]hat Biden has not yet done is take the substantive steps necessary behind the scenes to prepare for presidential run.”

Boehner’s good week

As we’ve seen over the past four years, John Boehner hasn’t always had an easy time as House speaker -- just see that failed DHS-funding vote from a few weeks ago. But he’s closing in on arguably his most productive week as speaker with 1) the Medicare doc-fix compromise with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and 2) the budget House Republicans passed last night. (Yes, the House passing budgets has normally been an easy affair, but this time having to navigate between his party’s fiscal hawks and defense hawks wasn’t easy). Now both of these matters aren’t final until the Senate weighs in, but this has been a good week for Boehner.

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