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Weekly Foreign Affairs Round-Up

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The Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs :



What to Make of Iran's Post-Election Uproar

Facts: Incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quickly declared the victor by an incredible two-thirds majority in Iran's recent elections, beating "reformist" candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Massive protests broke out in Tehran and reportedly across the country to contest the election results. 7 protesters were shot by security forces, thus prompting more protesting and mourning in a highly ritualized fashion on the street (many protests were silent with deep religious undertones). Mousavi demands a recount and his supporter former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is rumored to have stepped down from the Expediency Council in protest of the results. Iran enforced strict censorship of the media and expelled the majority of foreign correspondents. Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei addressed the nation in a prayer service on Friday, declaring the elections fair as determined by the Guardian Council (who will still convene to review the elections tomorrow and consider a partial recount) and vehemently decrying the recent protests as an affront to Iran's democracy. There are reports of arrests and crackdowns on protesters by the Revolutionary Guard, and the feared baseej could begin to lay a heavier hand if protests continue.
SI Analysis:
It is very difficult -- if not impossible -- to know what is going on in Iran. The public is out amassing in record numbers and there is great discontent. However the discontent seems to be diffuse and amorphous -- its source differing from one group to another -- and support for Mousavi more symbolic than substantive. Iranians seem to believe that their system is broken, especially the economy, but they seem unsure as to what or who could fix it. Western media would have us believe that a pro-Western democracy movement is rapidly moving across the country, bolstered by Twitter, free radio and satellite TV. (The US State Department did make a formal request to Twitter to forgo planned maintenance that would have shut down the site temporarily this week in light of its role in facilitation grassroots communication within Iran). However, there is more credible evidence to suggest that there is an internal power struggle currently underway pitting the conservative Ayatollah against the more reform-minded Rafsanjani and Mousavi. "Reform" in this case is to be understood very loosely as a slightly more modernist version of an Islamic revolutionary worldview (and some even suggest they would attempt to realize the revolution that never fully came) -- in other words, reform the system to preserve it. Whether Ahmadinejad or Mousavi is in power, there would be little change to Iran's regional or nuclear agenda (though Mousavi may be a more palatable interlocutor and his election would have allowed Iran to alter course on some issues without losing face). Mousavi and Rafsanjani are certainly manipulating the crowds to advance their ends. If protest continues, new elections will have to be called or massive oppression will have to ensue in order to quell the crowds. And it is possible that if the protests continue to gain momentum and if the intensity of the state crackdown increases (there is a reverse proportionality in that the harder the government cracks down, the stronger the opposition becomes), that the uprising could indeed grow and the agendas of the leadership will not be the only ones at hand, thus laying the grounds for a real revolution.

Pakistan's Perpetual Perils
Facts: This week Pakistan's military stepped up its campaign against the Islamist insurgency within its borders. Strategy was expanded from primary activities in Swat Valley to additional counterinsurgency tactics in South Waziristan. After a series of aerial bombings by both Pakistani air force and coordinated US drones, the Pakistani army moved in on Friday for ground battles against Taliban forces. This comes as the Pakistani government announced that the campaign in Swat is nearing an end now that the Taliban was successfully routed there.
SI Analysis: Though Pakistan is winning some battles against the Taliban, it has by no means won the war. Former cricket star and opposition Pakistani politician Imran Khan argued in Washington this week that the army offensive harms Pakistan in the long term and that the offensive "threatens Pakistan itself". Indeed, the largest crisis now continues to be that of the estimated 3 million refugees who fled the Swat Valley and who are no on the verge of starvation. Many international organizations (the EU is providing $100 million) and even some celebrities (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie gave $1 million) have joined the effort to provide relief to the refugees. The World Food Program has warned that the Taliban will now target international aid organizations in an attempt to prevent their activity and win desperate civilians back to their side. There is a silver lining, however, given the massive push against the Taliban, Pakistan has devoted less attention to its traditional enemy, India. Indian PM Singh and Pakistani President Zardari's meeting in Yekaterinburg this week helped to "thaw" ties a little. Furthermore, recent troop reductions in Kashmir (and redeployed to rebellious areas near Bangladesh) might eventually bring some sort of reconciliation between Islamabad and New Delhi.

SCO and BRIC
Facts: This week, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev played host to both the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit and the first-ever BRIC summit. The SCO has been in formation for years and serves as a collective security body that counters NATO. It is comprised of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Observer nations include India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia. Sri Lanka, Belarus and Afghanistan are marginally involved. This summit was a powerful one for the SCO, mainly because it proved to be a forum in which Medvedev encouraged Indian Prime Minister Manhoman Singh and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to meet for the first time since the aftermath of the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The meeting between the two leaders suggested a potential thaw in relations. Russia also pledged with Pakistani and Afghan leadership to coordinate anti-terror policies, and reiterated its intention to be involved in Afghanistan - not on a military level, but on a state building/investment angle. It was the BRIC summit that brought more attention, however. Analysts are largely viewing the event as a counter to US hegemony. The summit produced a few declarations including: • A resolution on membership and participation in global institutions. BRIC's statement is as follows: "We are committed to advance the reform of international financial institutions so as to reflect changes in the world economy. The emerging and developing economies must have a greater voice" • Pledges to work together on issues pertaining to energy, food security, education and science. It remains to be seen if these nations can actually accomplish this. India and China in particular could benefit from energy and food partnerships • A declaration calling for a "more diversified international monetary system". This is basically a call for non dollar-based international reserve currency, and has been on Russia's agenda for quite some time. Incidentally, the dollar lost ground as BRIC made its declaration.
SI Analysis: Although Russia was the most vocal player at these summits, China remains the real winner. Beijing pledged $10 billion in loans to Central Asian nations and reasserted itself as the dominant rising economy in the Eastern Hemisphere. It also forged or reasserted economic ties with Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan among others, while proving to be a quiet and dominant regional partner for all nations present. Although China used the forum to assert its strength, it remains to be seen whether the BRIC in particular will amount to a real political or economic bloc with actual power. Some analysts have called the summit a "farce", citing issues as varied as Russia's horrendous economic state and disputes between China and India over controversial tariffs. Meanwhile, the US seemed largely unmoved by the summits, with the only substantial response coming from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who called for India and the US to "upgrade" their relationship.

Netanyahu's Stance
Facts: Last weekend, Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu laid out his vision for a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel but demurred from calling for a halt to settlement activity and said that Palestinians must recognize Israel as a state of the Jewish people. Palestinians and the Arab world at large immediately and predictably guffawed. US President Obama said that Netanyahu's statement was a step in the right direction. US Secretary of State Clinton met with Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman in Washington, where the disagreement over Israeli settlement policy continued to be discussed.
SI Analysis:
There is continual movement on this issue and this is good. Though Netanyahu's speech was considered provocative and disingenuous by some, he actually gave as much as he was able to give in the present Israeli political climate. There is momentum for a peace process: US President Obama's Cairo speech, US Special Envoy George Mitchell's trip to the region, Middle East Peace Envoy Tony Blair's statements and the gearing up of Quartet negotiations, even former US President Carter's visit to Syria and Gaza. The Obama strategy here is to maintain momentum and dialogue and press both sides for progress.

Hodge-Podge/Under-the-Radar

Missile Defense
SI Analysis:
This week US Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn told the Senate Armed Service Committee that the Obama administration is undecided on what to do with the Bush-era eastern European missile defense shield plan in Poland and the Czech Republic. This comes after a week of mixed messages from the Pentagon and the Russian Foreign Ministry expressing disagreements over missile defense. First, last week, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates had announced that the US would like to partner with Russia on the installations in Poland and the Czech Republic given Russia's evidently new found alarm over the Iranian nuclear program. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded the following day with a statement rejecting any cooperation on missile defense if the US places a shield in eastern Europe. Lavrov went further to reject any ideas of a partnership on Russian soil. So, we are back where we began: there is uncertainty over the future of the Bush-era missile defense plans in eastern Europe, Russia continues to walk a consistent line on the limits of any potential partnerships, and Iran's nuclear program continues to develop. Obama and Russian President Medvedev are to meet in July to renegotiate the START 1 Treaty and discuss missile defense. One would hope that the two leaders come to a conclusive decision then about the issue.

North Korea
SI Analysis: Pyongyang continued to make noise this week amid its uncertain leadership succession confusion. The big news during the past several days was the continued planning by North Korea for another long range missile, this time allegedly aimed in the direction of Hawaii. Though any missile is expected to be too short-range to reach any of the main islands of Hawaii, the Pentagon deployed its missile defense systems in preparation. The Pentagon also announced that in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1874 passed last week against North Korea for its nuclear test, the US Navy is tracking suspicious North Korean ships. The US will only board another nation's ship with that nation's consent. Finally, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited US President Obama in the US this week. The two leaders reasserted their nations' strategic alliance after a decade or so of confused relations between Seoul and Washington.

Sudan
SI Analysis: On again, off again peace talks between Khartoum and the Justice and Equality Movement, the principal rebel group in Darfur, faltered again. While violence between tribes in the Sudan seems on the rise, the US' special envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, said that "coordinated genocide" was no longer an issue, signaling a softening US stance towards Khartoum. A UN convoy had a run-in with a militia from the Jakani-Nuer tribe as well.

Greece
SI Analysis: Strange occurences in Greece continue to breed instability from last December's riots. Domestic terror groups of the far-left ilk, including the Sect of Revolutionaries and the Revolutionary People's Struggle, have been suspected in a series of late-night bombings and then the shooting this week of an anti-terror policeman, who was guarding a witness in an ongoing terror trial.

Somalia's ongoing chaos
SI Analysis: With war, chaos, crime, piracy and local infighting on the rise, Somalia is the perfect case of how a failed state can fail some more. Two war casualties made headlines this week: The Mogadishu police chief was killed in fighting. Then the security minister was killed in a suicide bombing. Al-Shabbab claimed responsibility for the attacks; the insurgent extremist Islamist militia is attempting to wrest power from the moderate Islamists led by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (who has only been in power since January).

Yemeni Chaos
SI Analysis:
Nine foreign aid workers were kidnapped in Yemen. Many believe that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is responsible. Yemen looks less and less stable -- with a separatist movement gaining power in the south of the country and a rogue rebel group, the Houthis, causing instability in the North -- thus making it a prime safe haven for Islamist radicals.

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