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23 Jun 2009 - 21 Aug 2011
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The POMED Wire Archives
Month: March, 2009
Talks With Iran Have Already Begun
March 31st, 2009 by Eoghan
Low-key U.S. diplomatic contacts with Iran were initiated at the international conference on Afghanistan at The Hague today, according to Foreign Policy’s blog The Cable:
 “U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke held a ‘brief and cordial exchange’ with the head of the Iranian delegation attending an international conference here at The Hague, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a press conference.
Clinton said that she did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation herself. But she said that at her request, a letter was passed to the Iranian government here today asking for assistance finding or gaining the release of three Americans held or believed missing in Iran, including former FBI officer Robert Levinson and U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi.
… [Clinton] said the meeting was not ‘substantive.’”
Posted in Diplomacy, Iran | Comment »
U.S. Will Seek Seat on UN Human Rights Council
March 31st, 2009 by Eoghan
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, announced today that the U.S. will seek election to one of the 47 seats on the UN Human Rights Council. In announcing the decision, Secretary Clinton affirmed that “human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,” perhaps intending to signal her commitment to critics who have accused her of downplaying human rights concerns.
The Obama administration and many human rights organizations have argued that the council, which replaced the Human Rights Commission in 2006, has done too little to stop human rights violations. Indeed, the Bush administration decided that joining the Human Rights Council would legitimize a flawed institution. But as Ambassador Rice said, “we believe that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights.”
Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA)of the House Foreign Affairs Committee , praised the decision in a press release. Pointing to “the Council’s pathological focus on demonizing Israel … to the point that genuine human rights crises in Zimbabwe, Sudan and other countries have essentially escaped scrutiny,” Congressman Berman said that the U.S. can now play an “active role in challenging the Council and in speaking out about genuine human rights atrocities” and contribute to “a much-needed overhaul” of the council when it undertakes its first five-year review in 2011. Whether the presence of the U.S. will significantly change the outcomes of the council’s votes remains to be seen: the U.S. would apparently be occupying a seat otherwise held by New Zealand.
Posted in Human Rights, US foreign policy, United Nations | Comment »
House and Senate Propose Cuts to the President’s International Affairs Budget
March 31st, 2009 by Cecile
The House and Senate Budget Committees have both proposed significant cuts to the International Affairs Budget for Fiscal Year 2010, which only represent 1.4 percent of the entire FY10 budget. The House has proposed a 10 percent cut to the president’s proposed $53.8 billion, while the Senate version would represent a 7 percent reduction. The U.S. Global Leadership Campaign (USGLC) explains that these recommended cuts “would either keep total International Affairs spending flat or in the case of the House result in a $1.3 billion cut compared with FY09 spending, sending the wrong message at a time when America faces growing unmet foreign policy and national security challenges across the globe.”
USGLC is calling for support for the Kerry-Lugar Amendment, expected to be introduced in the next couple of days, which would restore the Senate’s $4 billion cut to the International Affairs Budget.
Michael B. Kraft explains that this is all coming at a time when “virtually the entire foreign affairs establishment…is calling for allocating more resources for ’smart power’ foreign assistance and civil affairs activities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other trouble spots.” He argues that a major obstacle to “smart power” is “dumb budgeting.” And while acknowledging the tough job the budget committees have in making their recommendations, he points out that it is this very detailed review that lends itself to across the board cuts as opposed to “a close examination of the needs for individual programs.”
Posted in Congress, Foreign Aid, Legislation, US foreign policy, US politics | Comment »
Is a Reactionary in Line to be Saudi Arabia’s King?
March 31st, 2009 by Eoghan
At the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Simon Henderson discusses the latest intrigue in the House of Saud. King Abdullah announced Friday that the controversial Prince Nayef, who is supported by the kingdom’s religious conservatives, has been appointed second deputy prime minister, a spot usually reserved for the third in line to the throne – the “crown prince in waiting.” Nayef has publicly accused Israel’s Mossad of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks and has said Saudi Arabia has no need for elections or female parliamentarians.  But on Friday, Prince Talal, a close ally of Abdullah, released a statement implying that Nayef should not be considered a successor to the monarchy. The general uncertainty about the Saudi line of succession, the advanced age of all the likely successors, and the tensions between rival factions among the ruling family suggest elevated “chances for  instability in one of the linchpins of the Middle East.”
Posted in Saudi Arabia | Comment »
Amnesty Calls for Action on Human Rights Abuses Ahead of Algerian “Elections”
March 31st, 2009 by Cecile
Yesterday, Amnesty International released a new report, “A Legacy of Impunity: A Threat to Algeria’s Future” expressing concern over the lack of investigation into the 200,000 deaths, mostly by the hands of security forces, which occurred during the 1990s.  On its website, Amnesty UK explains “[s]ince 1999 the current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika has instigated and promoted widespread ‘amnesty’ measures, effectively preventing victims and their families from obtaining truth, justice, and reparation. Most crimes that took place during the conflict have never been investigated and the perpetrators never brought to justice.”
And speaking of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, it looks like he is one step closer to governing for life, “following the best traditions of the Arab world.” Mahmoud Belhimer explains that in reality “the result of these elections were announced on November12, 2008, when a review of the constitution was approved by the two chambers of parliament amending Article 74 of the 1996 Constitution that restricted presidents to serving two mandates.” This allowed Bouteflika to pursue a third term, which he is sure to win as there are no true challengers to his candidacy.
Posted in Algeria, Elections, Human Rights | Comment »
Lebanon’s Election and What Comes After
March 31st, 2009 by Cecile
In an interview with Middle East Bulletin, Ziad Majed provides an analysis of Lebanon’s upcoming parliamentary elections. He outlines the differences between the March 8 and March 14 alliances and explains that “this will be the first election, probably in modern Lebanese history, that is between two blocs.” Some of the major issues being debated include state sovereignty, Hezbollah’s maintenance of weapons, and regional alliances with states such as Syria and Iran.
Demographics throughout most districts provide a reasonable indicator of who the winners will be in different regions. However, Majed argues that there are four or five battleground districts (which are majority Christian) that will probably determine the outcome of the election. His prediction? March 14 will most likely have the majority, but only by about 6 or 7 seats.
Meanwhile, Elias Harfoush of Dar Al Hayat argues that the real issue at hand is what comes after the election. Predicting that the elections will probably run smoothly, it will be the formation of a unity government and determining the appropriate role of the president that will prove difficult, and possibly dangerous.
Posted in Elections, Lebanon | Comment »
What Does Victory in Afghanistan Now Mean?
March 31st, 2009 by Eoghan
On the Washington Post’s PostPartisan page, Robert Kagan praises the administration’s new Afghanistan strategy for committing the U.S. to  “strengthening Afghan civil society and governing structures” rather than taking a minimalist approach focused on counterterrorism. The Los Angeles Times editorial staff likes the new strategy for the opposite reason: “the policy seeks to narrow our goals.” The objective now is “to defeat Al Qaeda and other violent groups … not to turn Afghanistan into the country we’d like it to be.” The Christian Science Monitor goes further, arguing that  Obama not only “doesn’t call for democracy in Afghanistan,” but also ”no longer seeks a US victory over Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Rather, he now defines the US interest as merely preventing the Taliban from returning to power.” The Monitor warns that the president is “taking a big risk by trying to push more responsibility for Afghanistan onto” our European allies, the UN, Afghanistan’s neighbors, and the Afghan government itself.
M. Ashraf Haidari, political counselor to Afghanistan’s Washington embassy, writes in the Middle East Times that the Afghan people are very favorably disposed to democracy. He also points to several Afghan officials who have been fired for incompetence and corruption, and argues that greater resources for institutions like the courts and the police would further reduce corruption. Douglas Feith and Justin Polin call in the New York Times for the U.S. to undercut support for extremists among the Pashtuns of the Afghan/Pakistani border region through strategic radio broadcasts.
Posted in Afghanistan, Taliban, al-Qaeda | Comment »
Thoughts on Israel’s New Coalition Government
March 31st, 2009 by Cecile
As Benjamin Netanyahu looks to be shoring up his new government, The Economist claims “its not as far-right as it might have been.” They’re, of course, referring to the new Likud-Labor government. However, James Zogby at the Jordan Times warns us not to be fooled. He argues that this new coalition is “simply a desperate move by Ehud Barak who sought more to save his job as defence minister than to influence the course of what is, at the end of the day, an overwhelmingly right-wing government.” Citing Netanyahu’s “legacy of expanded settlements…and broken trust and bitterness all around,” Zogby writes, “now he’s back, still playing the same tune.”
Posted in Elections, Israel, Mideast Peace Plan | Comment »
Diverse Advice on Talking with Iran
March 31st, 2009 by Eoghan
President Obama is getting advice from a wide range of voices on whether and how to conduct diplomacy with the Iranian government. In the Washington Times, Jeffery Kuhner says that talking with Tehran won’t persuade the “revolutionary totalitarian” state to abandon its nuclear program. The only way to solve the issue, says Kuhner, short of military action, is to place punitive sanctions on Iran’s gasoline imports, which would strangle its economy and possibly lead to the collapse of the regime. Ahmad Sadriwriting in the Middle East Times, believes talks between the U.S. and Iran should begin before the June Iranian elections. But Sadri suggests that the administration send a congressional delegation to Iran’s parliament (the Majlis) rather than negotiate directly with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, an advisor to Ahmadinejad, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, says that talks with the U.S. are welcome, but the U.S. must also “dress the deep and old wounds inflicted on the Iranian nation” and “break with the wrongheaded approach of previous administrations and promote peaceful policies toward Iran”. Iran’s American interlocutors may benefit from a list by Chris Seiple in the Christian Science Monitor of ten terms that have very different meanings in the West and the Islamic world, such as “secular,” “jihadi,” and “freedom.”
UPDATE: Reuel Marc Gerecht at the Weekly Standard says that Khamenei is not the pragmatist that Europe and America believe him to be, but a committed revolutionary for whom “there is no goal more divine than seeing America and her allies driven from the Middle East.” The only thing Iran’s leaders understand is fear, says Gerecht; diplomatic efforts to end Iran’s nuclear program will fail, leaving the U.S. and its allies looking weak. But Abbas Milani, a research fellow at the Hoover Institute, writes in the Washington Quarterly that now is a propitious time to negotiate with Tehran: the election of Barack Obama has undermined the regime’s anti-American rhetoric and the global decline in oil prices has increased Iran’s vulnerability to international pressure while dividing its rulers.
Posted in Diplomacy, Iran, US foreign policy | Comment »
And Speaking of Turkey…
March 30th, 2009 by Cecile
As President Obama prepares to cross the Atlantic tomorrow for a whirlwind European trip that includes appearances at the G20 and NATO summits, Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times​argues that Turkey will be Obama’s most important stop. “This is the one bit of the trip that it is very hard to script in advance - and the stakes are very high,” he explains. “Will Obama use his speech to the Turkish parliament to make the long-promised big statement on the relationship between the West and the Islamic world? What role might Turkey play over Iran or the Middle East peace process? How will the president address the issue of Armenia?” Rachman muses “it is all very tricky and intriguing stuff.”
Posted in Diplomacy, Turkey, US foreign policy | Comment »
POMED’s Weekly Wire - March 30
March 30th, 2009 by Cecile
POMED’s Weekly Wire for March 30 is now available.
This week’s edition includes Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan, confirmation hearings for ambassadors to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the recent death of an imprisoned Iranian blogger.
The full Weekly Wire can be viewed here.
Posted in Weekly Wire | Comment »
Narrow Victory for AKP in Turkey’s Municipal Elections
March 30th, 2009 by Cecile
Nick Danforth at POMED’s country page on Turkey reports:
At the end of Turkey’s March 29th local elections, the AKP had 40 percent of the vote, the Republican People’s Party 28, the Nationalist Action Party 14 and the Democratic Society Party 5. The AKP, while still achieving a clear plurality, received less support than it did in the parliamentary election of July 2007, and failed to make inroads against the Kurdish nationalist DTP in Turkey’s southeast. Additionally, 6 people died and 93 were reported wounded in fights which occurred at polling places around the country.
And Sebnem Arsu and Sabrina Tavernise at the New York Times​explain that Erdogan’s party winning by a smaller margin than in 2007 demonstrates dissatisfaction with the economy and allegations of widespread corruption among AKP members.
Posted in Elections, Turkey | Comment »
Obama, Israel and Palestine
March 30th, 2009 by Jed
The latest edition of Bitter Lemons International focuses on the Obama Administration’s actions thus far in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Chris Toensing, editor of the Middle East Report, provides analysis on engaging Hamas and posits that Senator John Kerry plays a special role in the Obama administration as “a sort of shadow secretary of state who will go, physically and verbally, where Hillary Clinton will not.” At a recent Brooking’s speech, Kerry proclaimed settlements as obstacles to peace and went so far as to declare that “ our honest moments we would all acknowledge that this policy [against the settlements] has usually existed on paper alone.”    Toensing believes “there is indeed no peace in Israel-Palestine without them [Hamas]” and if the Obama administration understood this, they would drop the “insistence that Hamas give up its negotiating cards before the negotiations begin”.
While Abdel Monem Said Aly, director of the Al Ahram Center for Political & Strategic Studies in Cairo, writes that Obama has hit the ground running with a renewed focus on the conflict, Aluf Benn, editor at-large of Haaretz, believes the issue is not one of the President’s foreign policy priorities claiming he’s only paid it lip service. While Benn admits the Obama team has made a number of important diplomatic gestures, on policy, he asserts, they’ve been in lockstep with their predecessors, symbolized by their respect of Quartet conditions. The true test will come when the new Israeli government assumes leadership and moves to expand settlements, a move which Netanyahu has openly supported.
Posted in Israel, Mideast Peace Plan, Palestine | Comment »
Assessing Obama’s Policy Toward the Muslim World
March 30th, 2009 by Cecile
At the Huffington Post John Esposito​questions if President Obama’s strategy toward the Middle East really represents a significant shift in American foreign policy, suggesting “thus far, Obama’s track record is mixed.” Some fresh moves such as the appointment of George Mitchell and closing of Guantanamo were followed by the not-so-new smear tactics against Chas Freeman. Esposito argues that Obama’s silence on this issue along with his silence on the Gaza war “have much broader implications for Obama’s credibility in forging his new way forward in relations with the Muslim world.” While the closing of Guantanamo is an important step in overcoming America’s credibility gap in the Middle East, the true test will be Obama’s efforts toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Esposito adovocates that in forging a policy aimed at a true shift in direction, Obama must be willing to “meet, listen and work with all major players in Palestine, not just Fatah and Israel but also Hamas, a leadership chosen by the Palestinians in free and fair democratic elections in 2006.”
Posted in Hamas, Israel, Palestine, US foreign policy | Comment »
In Iraq, Elections do Not a Democracy Make
March 30th, 2009 by Cecile
At the Christian Science Monitor Joost Hiltermann warns of the “disconcerting focus on Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary elections as decisive proof of the country’s successful recovery and the main precondition for a withdrawal,” arguing that this is “ill-conceived and dangerous.” He explains “[i]f the Obama administration wishes to leave Iraq and not be forced to either maintain a significant military presence or, worse, return if the country disintegrates, it will need to craft an exit strategy that hinges not on parliamentary elections but on helping Iraqis fashion a series of political bargains that will provide all key actors with a stake in the new order.” These bargains should include an agreement over the divisions of power, a settlement over Kirkuk, and agreement over how to manage and share oil revenue.
Posted in Elections, Iraq, US foreign policy | Comment »
U.S.-Iranian Cooperation on Afghanistan
March 30th, 2009 by Jed
Iranian involvement in Afghanistan may be a critical aspect of a comprehensive Afghan solution. At the same time, it provides a strategic opportunity for the United States and Iran to come together towards a common goal. In an updated Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder, Greg Bruno explains Iran’s historic and contemporary relationship with Afghanistan, U.S.-Iranian mutual interests and the potential for cooperation moving forward. President Obama has listed Iran as a key player in an Afghan “contact group” and the Iranians have said they will attend the March 31 summit on Afghanistan.
Iran’s domestic interests in Afghanistan include its trade, upwards of four percent of total exports, and the fact that more Afghan opiates flow through Iran than any other state. Some say, however, that a stronger Taliban would benefit Iran as a strong Afghanistan may provide the U.S. an additional front to exert pressure on Iran. Whether U.S-Iranian cooperation on Afghanistan can act as a bridge to further negotiations remains to be seen. Both sides will need to move past the tensions which have come to characterize their relationship. According to some experts, cooperation on discussion will be easy, but implementation is another issue altogether.
Posted in Afghanistan, Iran, US foreign policy | Comment »
Drama Ensues at Arab Summit
March 30th, 2009 by Cecile
Marc Lynch provides a useful guide to this week’s Arab Summit taking place in Doha. He points out “[t]his isn’t just another Arab summit. It’s the first real gathering of the Obama era, and it’s a rare chance to put to rest the old habits and establish new ones.”
Unfortunately, if the start of the summit is any indication, it appears old habits die hard. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak will not be in attendance​, as he is still angry over Qatari-based Al Jazeera’s critical campaign against Egypt’s position during the Gaza war. Additionally, “Egypt appears annoyed by Qatar’s attempts to project an image of being a key regional player of the same weight as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”
It was also reported that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi stormed out of the summit this morning after criticizing Saudi’s King Abdullah and proclaiming “I am…the dean of Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of Muslims.”Meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon and Omar al-Bashir came face-to-face for the first time since the ICC ordered Bashir’s arrest.
For an in-depth analysis of the issues being addressed at this year’s summit, check out David Schenker​’s backgrounder at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Posted in Arab League, Egypt, Qatar | Comment »
This Week’s Events
March 30th, 2009 by Jed
Monday, March 30
No Events.
Tuesday, March 31
12:00-1:00 Wilson: Islam(s) in Post-Soviet Eurasia: One or Many?
12:15-1:45 NAF: My Hope for Peace
Wednesday, April 1
9:30-11:00 Brookings: The Future of Turkish Democracy
12:00-1:00 CEIP: A New Approach to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
3:00-4:00 SFRC: Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan
6:00-7:00 GWU: Israel’s Future in the Middle East
Thursday, April 2
8:00-7:00 CCAS: Symposium-Palestine and the Palestinians - Day 1
9:00-10:30 MEI: Kill Khalid: The Failed Mossad Assassination Attempt of Khalid Mishal
10:00-11:00 HCFA: U.S. Strategy for Afghanistan
12:00-2:00 Hudson: Elections, Democracy and the Future of Afghanistan
7:00-9:30 GMU: Screening and Discussion of “Torturing and Democracy”
Friday, April 3
8:00-4:45 CCAS: Symposium - Palestine and the Palestinians
11:00-12:00 CAP: A New Way Forward in Afghanistan
For POMED’s full events calendar click here.
Posted in This Week's Events | Comment »
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