This Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:
Iran in the Hotseat
Diplomatic jousting between Washington and Tehran over Iran's rogue nuclear program took many turns this week. First, Brazil and Turkey negotiated with Tehran a watered down version of a previously reached but eventually abandoned agreement for Iran to export a portion of its enriched uranium (this time to Turkey rather than Russia). Then, the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the US, the UK, France as well as RUSSIA and CHINA -- presented a new series of sanctions for consideration to the remaining members of the Security Council. Russia and China are trying to encourage a diplomatic resolution by urging Iran to move forward with its newest agreeement while still pursuing the new sanctions. Washington contends, and it follows that the other permanent members agree, that the proposed Brazil-Turkey-Iran agreement is just another stall tactic from Iran and does not adequately address Iran's stockpiles of nuclear fuel, nor does it address its plutonium production and its shirking of compliance obligations. Though many analysts welcomed the leadership of rising powers Brazil and Turkey in an effort to lead a diplomatic-driven denouement to the current stand-off -- and allowing Iran to back down by reaching agreement with fellow "non-aligned states" rather than conceeding to the great nuclear powers -- the lack of international solidarity is troubling but not fatal for both approaches. Presenting a new sanctions at this point will give Iran cause to scrap its proposed uranium exports. In any case though Turkey says that Iran has one month to make good on its agreement with Ankara, otherwise it will be on its own. More importantly though, it undermines the efforts of key regional ally Turkey and emerging power Brazil, thus creating a rift between the strong nuclear countries and small, non-nuclear states (and risks once again making Iran the champion of universal rights to nuclear energy rather than drawing attention to its violations of the NPT). That the Permanent Five chose to move forward on sanctions suggest that there is international consensus among the major powers that Iran is pushing its non-compliance enveloppe too far and that its day of accountability will be soon at hand.
Doing very little to resolve Iraq's political standoff, Iraq's electoral commission endorsed the original election results after a partial recount, thereby confirming Iyad Allawi's narrow victory over incumbent Nuri al-Maliki. Maliki has been in talks with the third leading Shia party to form a coalition, but with a recent de-baathification agreement and the commissions findings, his claim on power and leadership would be seen as illegitimate especially from the minority Sunnis and Kurds who helped elect Allawi and are eager to see a secular and independent government (read not influenced by Washington or Tehran) emerge.
Taliban Suicide bombings rocked Afghanistan -- in Bagram, Kandahar and Kabul -- this week ahead of the planned surge in Kandahar. Sadly four commanders killed made them the highest ranking casualities in the eight years of conflicy. Meanwhile the fighting in Helmand Province around Marja remains intense.
Analysis in Brief:
Calm for Now
After a heavy-handed crackdown and a violent popular response by red shirt protestors, the Thai government regained control of Bangkok after nine weeks of protests. With dozens of deaths and hundreds on injured, protestors finally dispersed. The conflict spawned from deep, systemic tension between the urban middle class and the rural poor. Further civil rest has only been deferred.
South Korea formally accused North Korea of sinking its Cheonan warship in March. However, Seoul and the international community have little room for a meaningful response. A forceful response would provoke a violent retaliation from the North and most diplomatic channels are closed. Sanctions are likely but unlikely to issue a compelling result as North Korea has threatened to consider any sanctions as an "act of war".
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