This Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:
Desperate or Deliberate Moves from North Korea?
Behind the bells and whistles of US President Barack Obama's State of the Union where the US President claimed that sanctions are working against North Korea, the international pariah state continued to make concrete belligerent moves in its foreign policy this week. The week began on Sunday with Pyongyang accusing Seoul of declaring war by announcing that it would make a preemptive attack if it suspected the South of planning a nuclear attack. Following this, the North has carried out a series of "military exercises" along a disputed naval border with the South, lobbing missiles and artillery towards the contentious line. Although Pyongyang calls these drills "routine", Seoul and its allies are watching tensely. Meanwhile, North Korea arrested another American in addition to Robert Park, a missionary who was arrested Christmas Day. This second American had allegedly trespassed into the isolated state evidently investigating human rights issues. This arrest is sure to raise tensions between Washington and the US again, just as they had been during the imprisonment of two American journalists earlier this year. Such tension was already evident as Washington rebuffed an offer from Pyongyang to reopen talks on locating American remains from the Korean War. The US responded to the proposal by saying that the North should first come clear and clean on its nuclear ambitions.
The State of the Union - What Else?
It was a given that something would be left out of US President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. Although the President focused much of his speech precisely on what it was intended to do (present the state of the union) many analysts and pundits have remarked that it was volume-low on foreign policy (only 11 out of 69 minutes). Why did he sideline foreign policy? Whether it should have included more foreign policy items is beside the point here. The items he brought up were competition in alternative energy markets, sanctions on Iran and North Korea, commitment to the Doha trade talks, and an urge to get trading partners to play by the rules for imports and exports. He also emphasized that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winnable and controllable. Remarkably missing from the speech was any mention of Israel-Palestine, or instability in Pakistan and Yemen. Both of these nations are key fronts in America's war against terrorism, and have been a focal point in foreign policy. This is telling, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton skipped out on the State of the Union address to meet in London with world leaders to discuss the deteriorating situation in Yemen and Islamist extremists' growing presence there.
65 nations gathered at a Donors Conference in London to pledge support to the struggling nation and Afghan President Karzai sought to reassure international leaders that Afghanistan is on the right track. This was a tough task for Karzai, who's election was greatly contested and who has yet been able to name a complete Cabinet. During this conference, Karzai clearly stated his intention to foster reconciliation as a key component of his domestic policy, including making peace through tribal councils with Taliban leaders. This is in contrast to the American and NATO strategy to reintegrate low level factions of the Taliban. Taliban leaders have scoffed at this initiative. Meanwhile, a convoy bringing key NATO supplies to Afghanistan was attacked in the key port city of Karachi (a rare and troublesome occurrence).
Three coordinated car bombs rocked Baghdad, and killed over 30 people on Monday. One target, the Hamra hotel, is a noted haunt for foreign journalists. Analysts believe this is an effort of insurgents seeking to undermine the upcoming Parliamentary elections on 7 March. Far more likely to disrupt the elections has been the Justice and Accountability Commission's insistence that its disqualification of hundreds of candidates, many of them Sunni, is legal and non-partisan. Some people have suggested, though officials have denied it, that Iranian influence has played a part in the Commission's decisions. Meanwhile, US and Iraqi security forces both confirmed that wanted insurgent Abu Khalaf was killed in the restive area of Mosul.
Analysis in Brief:
On Monday, analysts groaned that Hamas and Fatah were no closer to reconciling their nearly 3-year territorial split amid the expiration of the term of the Palestinian parliament. Then on Thursday, Hamas suggested it was interested in resuming talks via Egyptian moderators in Cairo. Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that it was willing to begin low-level talks with the Palestinian Authority. If this small goodwill translates into something larger then we could be in another round of Mideast negotiations.
Belarus buys in and Moscow Enhances Its Sphere of Influence
Following all the hype last week with pro-Russian v. pro-Russian runoff in Ukraine's elections, another former Soviet republic, Belarus, made news this week. Minsk and Moscow reached a deal after a month of back-and-forth proposals concerning oil deliveries. The agreement states that Belarus' tariffs for oil will only increase by 11 percent. It allows Europe to make a sigh of relief... until next year. Clearly, a solution for energy security for Europe is far off so long as nations like Belarus and Ukraine base large portions of national revenue on transit fees for natural resources.
Shaky Status-Quo in Southern Lebanon
Following a Lebanese Parliamentary resolution allowing Hezbollah to keep its arms as long as Israel poses a threat to Lebanese sovereignty and growing worry that Hezbollah is rearming, Israeli leaders have said that the entire Lebanese state, not just Hezbollah, will be the target of Israeli aggression should the border situation escalate. And more recently, Lebanese leaders have claimed to have obtained French guarantees to support Lebanese infrastructure in case of an Israeli attack. Despite this saber rattling on both sides, heads of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) remain optimistic that conflict will not break out again, though they say both sides could do more to promote peace.
First Peacetime Sri Lankan Elections
Incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa is re-elected President with 58% of the vote against 40% for opposition leader General Sarath Fonseka. Fonseka says he is contesting the results and security forces surrounded his hotel, but this drama will subside with time. Both Fonseka. as former head of the Army, and Rajapaksa are credited with ending the 26 year civil war the Tamil Tigers. The political allies then suffered a split over who should receive credit for the victory. The winner is now tasked with actually rehabilitating and maintaining a peaceful country, a harder task than merely winning the election.
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