This Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:
Perhaps the most significant piece of news for international diplomacy this week came from Syria, where President Bashar Assad met with senior US diplomat William Burns. The meeting took place one day after US President Obama announced the nomination of William Ford to fill the job of Ambassador to Damascus, a post that has been vacant since 2005 after the killing of Lebanese leader Rafiq Hariri. The meeting was reportedly honest and productive. Burns, who was largely responsible for the opening of normalized relations with Libya, and Assad are said to have discussed a number of issues, both in areas where they disagree and where there is room for cooperation. As Obama foreign policy becomes clearer, particularly with a harder line against Iran, it is increasingly apparent that Syria would be Washington's golden egg. A Damascus wooed away from Tehran, party to peace talks with Israel, and supportive of counter-terrorism and anti-Islamist campaigns throughout the Middle East would be a boon to American foreign policy. It could also, provided enough economic results for Syrian citizens, be a welcome infusion of economic and political rewards to Syria as a whole and Assad's government in particular.
What to do about a Nuclear Iran?
At celebrations commemorating the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that Iran was a nuclear state. The IAEA would tend to agree. In its most recent report the UN watchdog agency says that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and has increased its enrichment acitivity. The US showdown with Tehran is imminent: US emissaries were dispatched across the Middle East last week -- to Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- and many expect a new round of financial sanctions with a clearly articulated threat of possible use of force to come out of Washington with unanimous support from Europe, Russia and allies in the Middle East (China will of course remain silent).
A Messy Assassination
The assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh last month in Dubai continues to spark international intrigue. Opinion in the Arab world, as well as some in the West and even Israel point to Israel's Mossad as responsible for the slaying. While Israel has not admitted to any responsibility, it has faced a new round of international scrutiny and diplomatic tensions are on the rise. On Tuesday, Dubai police released a list with pictures and passport numbers of 11 suspects accused of stalking and killing al-Mabhouh. The passports of purported European provenance (UK, Ireland, France and Germany) were all apparently forged. Foreign Ministry officials in both Ireland and the UK have summoned Israeli ambassadors over the case, putting Israeli-British and Israeli-Irish relations on thin ice. A backlash on London also resulted, for what some commentators view as the UK's tacit sanction of Mossad activity by allowing Israel to use British documents to carry out covert operations. (This line of criticism could call into question the integrity of European interlocutors in peace talks).
The joint Coalition and Afghan offensive in Marjah in Helmand Province reportedly is advancing well. Despite some setbacks including sophisticated sniper fire, extensive hiddent IED and mine fields, some reported troop defections and some civilian deaths, the sentiment on the ground is that things have gone well this week. Whether this represents a real change of the tide, troops and military strategists were boosted by the news that Pakistani and US forces had made some significant action against the Afghan Taliban within Pakistan. The biggest news being the capture of Taliban Commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The action in Helmand Province was also complemented by increased drone attacks along the Afghan-Paksitan border.
As authorities prepare for up to 19 million Iraqis to head to as many as 48,000 polling stations across Iraq on 7 March to vote in Parliamentary elections, controversy continues regarding the disqualification of over 500 candidates for alleged links to the Baath Party. Iraq's secular coalition, led by former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allaw, suspended its campaign in protest of the murky current political environment.
Analysis is Brief:
US President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton both met with the Dalai Lama in Washington and Beijing took many efforts to express its discontent for what it considers American meddling in internal Chinese affairs. US-Sino affairs are certainly on the fritz following a US arms deal with Taiwan and Google's threat to withdraw from China. Further this week the US says it has traced recent cyber attacks on Google and US companies to two Chinese universities with ties to the military.
Russia's first big post-Soviet reconquest
Russia says it will establish a permanent military base in the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia, situated along the Black Sea and one of the subjects of the Russian-Georgian war of 2008. This tightened grip by Moscow on former Soviet land, while predictable, met a good deal of criticism: Georgia, of course, was irate; NATO called the agreement "invalid". The Russian announcement may in response to the US' revised Missile Defense plans in Romania and Bulgaria. Notably, Russia and the US have yet to reach an agreement to succeed the now defunct START agreement.
In response to Niger President Tandja's dissolution of Parliament, soldiers stormed the Presidential Palace in Niamey and the President's whereabouts are unknown at present.
You Say Falklands, I Say Malvinas
Argentina and Britain traded barbs this week ahead of a UN meeting with the Rio Group, where Argentina says it intends to contest British oil exploration in the waters off the coast of the disputed Islands.
Happy Birthday, Dear Leader
This week, North Korean despot Kim Jong-Il turned 68 with stately and propagandist celebrations. At present, Kim is likely ill, the majority of the population is impoverished, the international community is irate over Pyongyang's nuclear program, and an unstable power struggle is expected upon Kim's death. The day led many commentators to cast more predictions about North Korea after Kim Jong-Il.
Yemen's cease-fire agreement with Houthi rebels is holding, though there have been some outbreaks in violence and Saudi officials remain very weary of Houthi activity along the border.
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