Weekly Foreign Affairs Roundup

This Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:

North Korea Back at the Table, maybe
SI Analysis: North Korea says that it will return to six party talks to discuss its rogue nuclear weapons program, but beforehand they insist on holding direct talks with the US. It is widely believed that Chinese pressure brought leader Kim Jong-Il back into the fold. This week South Korea released a report that DPRK has over 100 sites related to its nuclear program; the report also outlined what significant advantages the North has been able to extract from the international community in aid and money throughout its dealings over its nuclear program.

Peace Laureate Obama
SI Analysis: The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to US President Barack Obama. The surprise announcement recognized Obama's policy of engagement, cooperation and diplomacy as well as his willingness to engage with US adversaries. The committee also lauded Obama's ambitious vision for a world free of nuclear weapons, a healthy environment and Middle East peace.

War Reports:

SI Analysis on Afghanistan and Pakistan:
A spate of high profile bombings marked the news this week: In Pakistan, the bombing of the UNFP in Islamabad and a market place in Peshawar, prompted many to speculate that the Pakistani Army will be even more resolved in their fight in the Tribal Areas against the Taliban. Meanwhile, the new Taliban leader in Pakistan, Hakimullah Mehsud, made an impressive PR showing, by releasing a video dispelling rumors he had been killed. The attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul reignited fears that the Pakistani Intelligence Service might still be aiding the Afghan Taliban, despite its fight against the Pakistani Taliban. Whether or not there was Pakistani involvement in this case, there are unacknowledged conflicts of interest between Pakistan and Afghanistan and their relations with their respective Taliban insurgencies. This conflict needs to be addressed, as much if not more than the possible troop increases and nation-building programs in Obama's forthcoming new Afghanistan strategy.

SI Analysis on Iraq:

Iraqi lawmakers delayed a debate and vote on a crucial oil law until after Parliamentary elections in January. This is a serious problem because lawmakers have still yet to find a compelling way to divide and share Iraqi oil treasure between its central and regional governments and justly between its different ethnic and religious constituencies. In fact, the oil laws that currently govern are Saddam-era ones. Until consensus on an oil law is reached, there will be latent tensions and potential for sectarian strife and possible violence. Meanwhile, however, PM al-Maliki and many other Iraqi political leaders made efforts to form broad coalitions across religious and ethnic groups ahead of elections. Some say this shows signs of political maturity and stability; others say it is a ruse to retain political control.

Analysis in Brief:

Bringing Syria Back into the Fold
SI Analysis:
The recent Western overtures to Syria may be bearing fruit. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad traveled to Washington last weekend, the first kind of high level visit in 5 years. Meanwhile, Saudi King Abdullah made a visit to Damascus, an important sign in a thaw in Saudi-Syrian relations since the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. The prospect of making lasting and constructive ties with Damascus could have far reaching benefits, notably: the curbing of illicit transit of weapons and funds to groups like Hezbollah and Hamas (and the mitigation of the threat of Iranian asymmetrical retaliation in the case of conflict); the promotion of a stable and autonomous Lebanese government; the prospect of peace talks with Israel over the Golan Heights and ensuring Iraqi security by curbing the transit of foreign fighters through Syria's border.

A Breakthrough in Burma, maybe SI Analysis: Still under house arrest, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with leaders of the military junta to discuss how she can help lift the international sanctions against Myanmar. This was the first such meeting in two years and in response to a letter Suu Kyi wrote at the end of September. This change in the junta's position to meet with Suu Kyi and allow her to meet with American, European and Australian envoys is a result of international pressure, especially from China and Russia, to release Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and hold open and free elections. Palestinian Reconciliation Delayed and Israeli-Palestinian tensions rise. SI Analysis: The Palestinian Authority's response to the UN Report on the 2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza, known as the Goldstone report, is affecting Fatah's domestic image and could be the source for a breakdown in Palestinian reconcilition and President Mahmoud Abbas' legitimacy to broker peace with Israel. Reasons for the PA's refusal to endorse the report are unclear but it has elicited massive Palestinian dissent and anger. Meanwhile, violence between Palestinians and Israelis broke out in Jerusalem and Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of Israel's Islamic Movement, was briefly arrested. Speculation of the Week: A Nuclear Iran Due to A Russian Capability SI Analysis: Rumors abound that Netanyanhu's trip to Russia at the beginning of September revealed that Russian scientists were aiding Iran in developing its nuclear weapons capability. If this were indeed the case, it could be the reason for the change in Russian sentiment towards the Iranian nuclear program. It is one thing to do nothing to stop the slow progression of a nuclear program that may or may not be gaining ground, it is quite another to be complicit in speeding its development. This briefing can be seen in the Huffington Post and on the Simple Intelligence site.