Foreign Affairs Roundup

11/20/2009 04:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Past Two Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:

Increased Tension Over Iran's Program
SI Analysis: After an IAEA report suggests that Iran's recently discovered nuclear site near Qom is more suited to developing nuclear weapons than generating power and that the Qom site may not be the only hidden site in Iran, Tehran formerly rejects the western proposal to export the majority of its enriched uranium to Russia for conversion into nuclear fuel. Greater posturing from Iran followed when Iranian President Ahmadinejad pronounced capitalism dead and hearkened the advent of a new world order. Representatives from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany met on Friday and issued a joint statement urging Iran to accept the proposal and intimating that time was running out for Tehran. On the sidelines of the ASEAN conference in Singapore, both US President Obama and Russian President Medvedev had firm words that suggested the imposition of severe future economic sanctions if Iran does not cooperate. Clues to Russia's sincerity include Russia's delay in the launch of the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran and waffling on whether or not it would honor is commitment to sell the S-300 missile defense system to Iran.

Obama's Asian Charm Offensive
SI Analysis: US President Obama made an intensive 9-day tour of Asia, making stops in China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. While pundits were quick to note that Obama did not achieve watershed agreements -- on climate change and foreign exchange rates with China, on the future of a US Helicopter base in Okinawa, on North Korea's nuclear program -- they perhaps underestimate the complexity of the issues at hand and America's weaker negotiating hand. Also not to be dismissed is the positive impression Obama made on his visits. He was quick to acknowledge China as a global power and partner and, while he barely mentioned human rights, he did manage to restart human rights talks with China that have been suspended for over two years. In Japan, the newly elected and potentially Yankee-phobic government was charmed along with its people by Obama's deference to custom and moved by his foreign policy for the Pacific that identifies Japan as America's key partner. At the ASEAN meeting in Singapore, he reiterated America's strategic commitment in the Pacific and made symbolic overtures to Myanmar's military junta. Some analysts suggest that Obama's visit continues his policy of substance-less diplomacy, however others could strongly argue that he is continuing his policy of tempered engagement and proffering American partnership rather than American imposition. Also notably, Obama met with Russian President Medvedev on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting, where they discussed Iran's nuclear program and assured the world that a follow-up agreement to the 1991 START (Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty) set to expire 5 December is on track to be signed by year's end.

Yemen: Beginnings of an Iranian and Saudi Proxy War?
SI Analysis: Increased Saudi incursions, bombings into northern Yemen and naval patrols are reported following a border skirmish with Houthis rebels. As the conflict escalates, a greater number of refugees are flocking to the south. Iran has greatly criticized the Sana'a government for what it qualifies as the persecution of the Shia al-Houthis. And it has denounced Saudi involvement in the conflict; Iranian Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff for the Iranian joint armed forces, recently characterized the Saudi action tantamount to state sponsored Wahhabi terrorism. Saudi Arabia and Yemen accuse Iran of aiding the Houthis -- smuggling arms, training militants in Eritrea and dispatching members of Hezbollah for training. The Houthis say that Yemen is using former mujahideen and jihadists against them. The conflict is expected to escalate as Yemen will try to rout the Houthis, but also dissuade a growing secessionist movement in the south, stamp out criticism by the Islamist opposition and deter a new generation radical political jihadist from threatening state stability.

War Reports:

Afghanistan and Pakistan
SI Analysis: Hamid Karzai is sworn in as Afghanistan's president for a second term and takes the opportunity to announce grand anti-corruption measures. US Secretary of State Clinton was in attendance. Everyone awaits the announcement of the new US Strategy in Afghanistan, which many have failed to notice is already being put in place: Increased security in major population centers and shift the focus away from rural outposts; a focus on Afghan governance and promotion of anti-corruption efforts; encouragement of a Pakistani crackdown on jihadi militants and Taliban taking refuge in Pakistan in exchange for aid; economic development for both Pakistan and Afghanistan; as well as troop increases to come. As intractable as the situation may appear, there are many levers of action that the US is already applying and adapting to its strategy. Meanwhile, Pakistan claims to have made strategic gains in South Waziristan, where it launch an offensive against the Taliban one month ago. The Taliban response has been asymmetrical terrorist attacks across the country, notably in Quetta and against a Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) office in Peshawar.

SI Analysis: Iraqi lawmakers finally reach an agreement on an election law that addresses key contentious issues including fair political representation of different factions in Kirkuk, but the Iraqi Presidential Council has threatened to veto the law for its inadequate representation for refugees and minorities. Kurdish officials have threatened to veto the election as they contend the election law systemically shortchanges Kurdish political representation. Even if accommodations are met soon, the holding the 21 January election now seems evermore elusive. Also, in light of neighboring Turkey's concialiatory overtures to Kurdish rebels, the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq is considering its own amnesty measures for PKK rebels.

Under the Radar / Hodge-Podge:

20 Years After the Berlin Wall Falls, A New Era for Europe?
SI Analysis: Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and a week after much fanfare over the anniversary, the EU, bolstered by the full ratification of its Lisbon Treaty, announced its new leadership team: Herman Von Rompuy will be President and Catherine Ashton will be its Foreign Policy lead. The news is generally met with a resounding: "So What?!"

A Sour Mood Among Latin American Neighbors
SI Analysis: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recently told his country to "prepare for war" with Colombia. Though most analysts consider this statement his latest act in a long line of political posturing and attempts of distraction away from domestic politics, relations between Colombia and Venezuela are at their nadir. Venezuela has posted 15,000 troops along the border, cross-border trade has frozen (prompting unrest in the Venezuelan province of Tachira) and Colombia has moved forward with an agreement with the US over use of its bases to launch strikes against FARC guerrillas, much to Caracas' chagrin. Meanwhile, a recent spy scandal has reignited tensions over a border dispute between Peru and Chile.

Palestinian Statehood Attempt
SI Analysis: In response to a flailing and stalled peace process and the Israeli announcement that it plans to build 900 new homes in East Jerusalem, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and PM Sayed have requested that the UN Security Council recognize a Palestinian State based on the pre-1967 borders. The US, France and Britain are certain to veto the measure.

A Government for Lebanon and a Mandate for Hezbollah
SI Analysis: After nearly half a year of political wrangling, PM-elect Saad Hariri is able to form a coalition government for Lebanon. In light of its growing political integration, Hezbollah adopted a new manifesto altering its prior mission statement that focused on establishing an Islamic regime in Lebanon, ending the "colonialist entity" (aka the Israeli State) and bringing justice to Phalangists (Maronite Christians) to what is expected to be a more politically integrative and constructive mandate. The greatest outstanding issue remains whether the Hezbollah's militia will disarm or integrate the normal Lebanese security forces.

This roundup can be read on the Simple Intelligence Site and on the Huffington Post World Page.