These Past Two Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:
New Prospects for Peace in the Middle East?
SI Analysis: US Special Envoy George Mitchell held talks with Israeli PM Netanyahu in the most recent effort to halt the current stalemate to peace negotiations. Recent reports suggest that there is deal brewing, brokered by the US, that in exchange for a partial settlement freeze, Western powers would do more to pressure Iran over its nuclear program and Arab states would begin the process of normalization of relations with Israel. Most government officials from all sides have denied there is such a deal and it is unlikely that Arab States would acquiesce to such terms (despite a positive meeting between US President Obama and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak). Also linking the Iranian nuclear issue to Middle East peace would be controversial and highly risky. In response to these reports, Palestinian PM Fayyad published a unilateral plan for Palestine statehood and said nothing short of a total settlement freeze would suffice to restart peace talks. However, there is reason to believe that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu will speak on the sidelines of next month's UN General Assembly. Meanwhile, Israeli relations with Lebanon remain tense. The incumbent leadership vows to include Hezbollah in its coalition government, perhaps in response to Israeli posturing. Israel recently made allegations that Hezbollah has as many as 80,000 missiles in its arsenal along Israel's northern border. The likelihood of conflict remains low however in light of Hezbollah's increased political participation in Interior Lebanese politics. Meanwhile, a recent report suggests that Middle East arms spending on the rise >and it could reach $100 billion over the next five years. This is certainly in response to Iran's growing influence in the region and willingness from Russia, China and Western governments to boost arms sales to the region.
New Prospects for Peace with Iran?
SI Analysis: Just ahead of what was expected to be a scathing report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a September deadline from US President Obama for progress on the Iranian nuclear program, Iran has granted greater access to nuclear inspectors of its facility in Natanz and its new beavy-water facility in Arak. This development gives further credence to the report that Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, may have suggested that Iran is ready for "talks without preconditions." There is much speculation about whether Iranian overtures are genuine or whether they are just posturing for time, in light of the looming September deadline. Others suggest though that Iran is responding to the credible and growing threat of a preemptive Israeli attack as well as increased internal pressure on a faltering Iranian leadership.
New Prospects for Peace with North Korea?
SI Analysis:Following its release of two US journalists, a deal brokered by former US President Bill Clinton, as well its sending of a delegation to attend former South Korean President and Sunshine policy architect Kim Dae-jung's funeral, North Korea has now invited the US and South Korea, separately, to participate in nuclear negotiations. Reportedly US Special Envoy Stephen Bosworth has accepted the overtures and Seoul has already scheduled talks. The Red Cross too is holding meetings with Pyongyang and expect more people to join on this engagement offensive. While the US will try to continue six party talks, and showcase relations with South Korea, Japan, Russia and China ahead of a meeting with Pyongyang, it appears that US may be conceding to direct talks with North Korea, a stark change in policy.
Growing Conflict in Yemen?
SI Analysis: Fighting between government forces and a Shiite rebel group called al Houthi in the Yemeni Province of Saada is provoking a humanitarian crisis and fueling fears of sparking a potentially regional crisis. Fighting with the Houthis in the north and fighting with radical political foreign Sunni jihadists in the South (militants whom many believe are the next generation al Qaeda) prompts many to fear that conflict between standing governments and radical political Shia and Sunni groups will be encouraged in the region. In addition, the potential for direct sectarian conflict that could inflame the region has many analysts deeply concerned.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
SI Analysis: August 20th elections in Afghanistan have yet to yield a winner, though both incumbent Hamid Karzai and opposition challenger Abdullah Abdullah both have claimed victory. Elections had mixed results in terms of turnout depending on the region, were marred by massive violence, over 400 attacks on election day, widespread accusations of fraud and a notable dearth of female participation. Still, Afghans and the world at large are awaiting the results eagerly to see if the fledgling democratic process can spur more hope in the development and state-building processes and the military campaign to ensure greater security.
Meanwhile, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) announced its new leader in Pakistan, following confirmation that Baitullah Mehsud was indeed killed at the beginning of the month: his hot-headed brother-in-arms Hakimullah Mehsud. Reports of rivalries and jostling for the top post continue to circulate and many speculate that it will take more than a simple title to command the kind of authority and effectively wage an effective insurgency as Baitullah had.
SI Analysis: Following the most lethal attack in Baghdad in 18 months -- the two suicide attacks that killed over 100 people and targeted the Foreign and Finance Ministries -- Baghdad's Shia governor accuses Sunni MPs, Saudi Arabia, former Baathists and al Qaeda operatives for the attack. Both US and Iraqi officials were quick to allay fears that following the US withdrawal from Iraqi cities, insecurity and sectarian violence may be on the rise. The security and intelligence short-comings of the Iraqi forces came into quick focus; some blamed the US for a withdrawal seen as too rapid. Meanwhile, a division in the main Shia coalition makes current Iraqi PM Nuri al Maliki's prospects for re-election less likely. Former PM Ibrahim al Jaafari said that a new Shia Alliance called the Iraqi National Alliance will include the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), supporters of Moqtadr al Sadr as well as Sunni factions from Anbar Province, but will not include al Maliki's Dawa Party.
This briefing can be seen in the Huffington Post and on the Simple Intelligence site.