This Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:
Offensive Against Iran Continues -- The multifaceted campaign against Iran's nuclear program continued this week. U.S. Secretary of State Clinton made continued appeals for international solidarity against Iran, stating that regional stability will be greatly undermined within the year if Iran continues enriching uranium unbridled. China, Turkey and Brazil remain reticent to impose a new round of sanctions in the UN security Council. Meanwhile, Congress released a list of 41 foreign companies who have helped Iran develop its oil and gas sector over the past five years, but it did not qualify whether they violated the Iran Sanctions Act. This action is part and parcel of an effort to induce international companies to withdraw from Iran, outside of the campaign to bring new sanctions. Recent actions have received commitments from a number of international companies to curb their business with Iran, including Total, Eni, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Royal Dutch Shell, Vitol, Lukoil, Reliance, and Petronas.
Elsewhere, the U.S. continued the new strategic tack of promoting universal nuclear disarmament. At a NATO meeting, Foreign Ministers discussed the conditions under which NATO would reduce or remove its tactical nuclear weapon arsenal in Europe -- clearly reduction commitments from Russia and agreement of Eastern European members would be key and, therefore, not imminent. Tempering momentum however, a confidential memo written by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was leaked to the press where his concerns that the U.S. lacks effective options and a reliable long term policy to effectively bring Iran into the international fold were revealed. The memo underscored the complexity of coercing an autonomous state to comply with international demands and the zeitgeist meditated on the effectiveness of sanctions, a credible threat of force, the implications of the use of force and possible deterrents including the creation of a regional nuclear deterrent. Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia this week announced its intention to pursue a civilian nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies are aggressively pursuing UN sanctions and other means to temper Iran's nuclear ambition and expect the issue to increase in intensity as the Spring continues.
Rockets over The Middle East
This week was full of strategic maneuvers in the Middle East. In a week when two stray Katyusha rockets flew over southern Israel (one rocket hit a warehouse in Aqaba, Jordan, and both are suspected to have been launched from Sinai), Israel faced a deeper worry over airborne weapons from its North. Hezbollah, the Shia semi-state living within Lebanese borders, was reported to have received Scud missiles from Syria and/or Iran. This news led to the U.S. summoning its Syrian ambassador, and also led to a hail storm of press and commentary over when the next Israel-Lebanese war/invasion would take place. By the end of the week, some of the controversy abated, as U.S. intelligence and defense officials admitted that there is no evidence that Scuds were placed in Lebanon. All of this, is, of course, a dance prelude to the larger issue: a seemingly inevitable military confrontation involving Iran, widely viewed as the master holding the puppet's (Hezbollah's) strings. This latest episode is indicative of the amount of caution and apprehension surrounding any type of Middle Eastern posturing. Meanwhile, the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell traveled to Israel to meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barak to talk about how to restart the peace process.
While Iraq's political elite struggle to form a new government, the fledgling Iraqi security forces scored a significant victory this week. Greatly undermining the leadership of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, joint Iraqi-American forces killed Abu Ayyub al-Masri, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and long wanted insurgents Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Ahmed al-Obeidi. Whether this action will stem the recent spate of violence is yet to be determined -- there were deadly suicide blasts in Anbar Province later in the week -- but it was a significant military accomplishment for the Iraqi security forces nonetheless.
Afghanistan/Pakistan Coalition forces breathed a sigh of relief as the new government in Kyrgyzstan approved U.S. access to a strategic air base in the country. Meanwhile, NATO announced that it would begin transferring control of some areas of Afghanistan to the Afghan government this year. Following the withdrawal from the deadly Korengal Valley, more focus was paid to other remote outposts that coalition forces may abandon in favor of strategic presence elsewhere. A deadly attack in Peshawar killed scores of people. Analysts believe the attack was in response to the recent action in North West Frontier Province.
News in Brief:
The political crisis in Thailand worsened when a series of bombs exploded on Thursday night injuring at least 70 people. As the conflict endures, finding a diplomatic solution between the army, government supporters and "red short" protesters becomes more difficult for the government.
Ukraine and Russia's Rapprochement Russia's Black Sea Fleet will remain in the Ukrainian port of Sebastopol for the next 25 years. Ukraine and Russia made the key deal, that will bring cheaper Russian gas to Ukraine, following Kiev's formal scrapping of plans to join NATO last month.
While the U.S. praised the African Union for its work in promoting democracy across the continent, it claimed that Sudan's first democratic elections in years were plagued by "serious irregularities". What is clear to many observers is the government in Khartoum was unwilling to cede any power (which bodes poorly for a referendum on southern independence) and that it was equally unwilling to play by international rules. The elections mark another tragic missed opportunity for the Sudanese people and suggest that more conflict is on the horizon in this chaotic nation.
North and South Korea's Worsening Ties
Just when you think the odd North couldn't get odder, it goes ahead and performs a completely contrary action: it allegedly sinks a South Korean military vessel without provocation. The U.S. is helping to investigate the incident. Meanwhile, South Korea arrests two Northerners on accusations that they are part of an assassination plot. 6 Party Talks and even more so the Sunshine Policy seem very distant memories and North Korea may well be resorting to its tried and true tactics of sabotage that served it so well since the mid-20th century.
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