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Foreign Affairs Roundup

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This Week's Top Story in Foreign Affairs:

Iran Ramps it Up
This week, on the eve of the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian government announced that it had begun nuclear enrichment at a higher level of 20% purity, getting ever closer to weapon's grade capability. This move went in strict opposition to international demands from the International Atomic Energy Association and the P5+1 (The UN Security Council plus Germany). As could be expected, the move was met with disdain from all Western power and Russia, while China announced that it was aiming to resume international negotiations and Washington immediately started discussing future sanctions. Containment via sanctions is turning into a ineffective and potentially futile route especially if China refuses to go along.

While the White House dismissed Iran's enrichment claims, it also took a jibe at Tehran's clampdown on the opposition ahead of the anniversary of the Revolution, claiming that the Islamic Republic had "unplugged" Google in the country. (In the void, Twitter has again rushed in and has illuminated some of the picture on the ground: anti-government protests silenced by even larger pro-Ahmadinejad rallies bolstered by the Revolutionary Guard).

So, as a missile is raised in Tehran's Azahi square, what can we expect to happen next? This all depends whether Tehran is acting from a place of desperation or strategic manouvering. And analysts are very divided on what the Iranian's leadership is actually thinking. For certain, the timing of this week's announcements stem from the Ahmadinejad government's determination to nip protests in the bud. But is it an act of deperation or merely the successful use repressive force? Tehran may also be trying to strengthen the Iranian hand ahead of engaging in another round of negotiations. Or it may be pursuing an irrational belligerence as it seems to have lost the support of the Russians and is hoping that China will intervene on its behalf (Beijing is likely to remain neutral).

The risk of conflict is high: Iran seems ever closer to developing a nuclear weapon; it has demonstrated that its fire power is tangible; its actions seem consistent with an agenda intent on developping a nuclear weapon; and it seems to rely on its credible threat of launching assymetrical attack of retaliation (read: bombing the Strait of Hormuz and activating its international terror network) in the case of the use of force or too stringent sanctions. And then the wild card of Israel and its use of deterrent force remains.

War Reports: Afghan Offensive US and NATO forces launch a major attack in southern town of Marjah in Helmand Province. Ahead of the offensive, US and NATO forces tried to woo tribal elders on the virtues of the offensive and encourage civilians to flee the area. Even before the launch, the International Red Cross reported an increase in casualties in Helmand Province. Meanwhile, NATO is seeking to recruit greater involvement of international partners, including China, Russia, India and the republics of central Asia, in their efforts in Afghanistan. Elsewhere, Pakistan expresses interest in participating more formally in Afghan talks. And while President Hamid Karzait seeks to gain support for his Taliban reconciliation talks, the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the rebel leader of Hizb-i-Islami, in Helmand Province says that he could disarm if foreign forces leave within 18 months and that an interim government is formed while a new Afghan Constitution. Iraqi Elections The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission released the names of 6,172 approved candidates to stand in the 7 March Parliamentary election and printed ballots in preparation for the election. Many Shia contested this action as they are still appealing the Appeals Court decision to reverse a ban on over 500 people, many Sunni, by the Justice and Accountability Commission. Pre-election tension is rife. There are allegations that members of the military and police were distributing campaign propaganda. Analysts are watching closely the campaigning and the eventual results in and around Mosul and across Nineveh Province, which many hope will ease Sunni-Kurd tensions but many feel results might stoke antipathy and result in violence. Analysis in Brief: Election Aftermath and Foreshadowing Goodluck Jonathan's Good Luck Nigeria's National Assembly voted to discharge President Umaru Yar'Adua of his duties and invest Goodluck Jonathan as temporary leader until next year's elections. However, since the President did not relinquish his authority despite a protracted absence due to his ailing health, the vote has no legal authority. Analysts hope that Nigeria's ruling elite will accept the political compromise to the current power vacuum and that governance will slowly be resume, though many acknowledge there is a risk for further conflict. r. Action in Somalia Backed by 5,400 African Union peacekeepers and the Ahlu Sunnah Wal-jammah militia, the Transitional Federal Government launches an offensive against Islamist insurgency group al-Shabbab in Mogadishu. Intense fighting is reported and governement officials claim to have killed Amar Ibrahim, al-Shabbab's leader. Sudanese Peace Perhaps Peace and stability seemed possible in Sudan, which would bring much needed relief to the people of Darfur. The leaders of Chad and the Sudan seemed closer to reaching a peace agreement this week, pledging (as they have before) to pursue measures to end the protracted and deathly conflict. Furthermore, Southern Sudan's willingness to continue to share oil revenue with the Khartoum government for an indeterminent period of time, even if it chooses succession in a referendum next January, bodes well for the countries stability.

UN Envoy in North Korea
UN envoy Lynn Pascoe travels to Pyongyang to discuss North Korea's return to six-party talks (which it quit last April) concerning its rogue nuclear program. Meanwhile, a North Korean envoy goes to Beijing to discuss the same issue. All parties declare that they are satisfied with the talks, but there is no indication talks will resume.

South Africa - 20 Years Later
20 years ago this week Nelson Mandela was released from the Victor Verster Prison in South Africa. His release was a turning point in the end to apartheid and the welcoming of South Africa on to the world stage eventually as a rising power. 20 years later, South Africa celebrates its status as the richest nation in Africa and will host the World Cup. However, it is not without its problems which include a massive AIDS epidemic, scandals and condemnation of the current President Zuma, and unstable neighbors, particularly Zimbabwe. As President Zuma's State of the Nation speech this week discussed, there is still much work to do and many are very doubtful that Zuma and the current ANC leadership are up to thet ask.

What's going on in The Philippines?
Last weekend, the Philippine army arrested 43 "rebels", suspected members of the long-standing communist insurgency group, the New People's Army (NPA). Some inquiry by international aid groups, spurred by demands by the families of the arrested people revealed a different picture: that 43 health workers at a training session in rural Philippines had been arrested. The Filipino Supreme Court ordered the military and police to present the 43 individuals to a Court of Appeals as part of an inquiry into the matter. No matter what the case, and who these 43 people are, Manila's credibility has been damaged (as if it wasn't already), and other more dangerous rebel groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or Abu Sayyaf could take advantage.

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