Weekly Foreign Affairs Roundup

The Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:

Pakistan: Yet Another Path to Failure
Pakistan's government arrests hundreds of "dissidents" including lawyers, activists and political opponents amid rising protests. A 5-day march is planned by lawyers and their supporters calling for the reinstatement of 60 judges deposed by former President and Army Chief Pervez Musharraf. Meanwhile, tenuous ceasefires essentially hold in Swat and Bajaur.

SI Analysis: President Zardari and PM Gilani are seeking to maintain whatever control they have left of their country by this show of force. But it would seem that they have learned nothing from the downfall of their predecessor Pervez Musharraf, who, after the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) stand-off with religious extremists took to task the country's persnickety judiciary, prompting both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to return from exile. This "show of force" is more likely an admission of great, perhaps irrevocable, weakness.

Iraqi Restlessness
Two sophisticated suicide bombings rocked Baghdad this week killing over 60 people. Meanwhile at least 12,000 troops will leave Iraq by September's end and the US top official in Iraq General Ray Odierno says the US could pull more troops if security improves.
SI Analysis
: The increase in attacks and violence in Iraq prompts some to worry about a new spike of sectarian insurgent activity in the country, particularly between rival Sunni factions who temporarily united for the Anbar Awakening. US and Iraqi officials argue the opposite, saying that the attacks represent frustration on the part of insurgents faced with increased Iraqi stability and security.

A Chance for Palestinian Unity? Facts: Acting Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad resigns just before Palestinian unity talks in Cairo, expressing hopes that his depature will pave the way for a unity government. In Cairo:
  • Hamas announces that it will not sign any deal with Fatah until Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agrees to release Hamas political prisoners.
  • Hamas demands the right to pick the Palestinian Prime Minister and the majority of cabinet members in a unity government
  • Meanwhile, the US announces that the expected Palestinian unity government will not receive the $900 million pledged for Palestinian use if it does not recognize Israel. In addition, the US puts its foot down and demands Israel lift controversial restrictions on goods entering the Gaza Strip such as chickpeas and toilet paper. SI Analysis. Hamas is coming from a strong position as recent polls show that support for the group is stronger than ever among Palestinians. There is a strong potential for a Palestinian unity government in light of 1.) increased pressure from Egypt and the US, 2.) the prospect of a more Hawkish and right-wing Israeli government to contend with in the near future, and 3.) popular pressure to rebuild the Gaza Strip. However, a comprehensive political agreement and reconciliation are unlikely at this stage since Hamas is still unrecognized by the majority of the international diplomatic community.

    Iran in the News
    News: Iran hosts the Economic Cooperation Organization summit in Tehran, bringing together 10 regional nations including Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The summit urges aid for Gaza and Afghanistan, and Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan vow in increase trilateral ties. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gives a typically firebrand speech, accusing the West of creating the financial crisis while warning that capitalism is dead. Mr. Ahmadinejad does not offer an alternative economic system. And, he also openly rejects Turkey's offer to mediate possible talks between the US and Iran, calling it "unnecessary".
    SI Analysis: Ahmadinejad continues to court and indulge international news pundits with his headline saavy and substance paucity. Though engaging with Central Asian neighbours is wise and judicious, there seems to be little concrete policy to put behind the Economic Cooperation Organization. Analysts continue to speculate on Iran's financial downturn due to low oil prices and ponder if the economy could spell doom for Ahmadinejad in June elections, in which case, the end of capitalism will at least be preceded by the end of Ahmadinejad.

    Speculation of the Week:

    China-US Naval Stand-off
    China-US relations took a hit earlier this week with a naval standoff in the South China Sea. The event has yet to be resolved as both sides are claiming they were operating according to international maritime law. In addition, China has accused the US of spying. Meanwhile, Chinese and American officials are meeting to discuss a variety of issues, most importantly North Korea's nuclear program. Tibet is another issue hanging over the talks that both sides are seeking to avoid.
    SI Speculation: Tensions in the South China Sea show how a re-emergent China is "testing the waters" between its traditionally defensive military stance and a more offensive posture. This is only one of many possible theaters for this new face of China to surface; aggressive actions could take place also in the East China Sea, the Spratly Islands, the Malacca Straits in addition to land borders with India, Nepal, Kyrgystan and Kazahkstan. Also, China tends to pick its moments well. As the US and Russia have been mutually posturing for global repositioning, China has remained mainly silent in the rhetoric game. However, just as the US seems more reliant on China to negotiate with a more and more desperate nuclear North Korea, and to assist in saving the world from financial ruin, Beijing has brought international politics to another level. Cynics will say this is all orchestrated to detract from its crackdown in Tibet this month.

    Under the Radar:

    Announcement of the week: from North Korea. Pyongyang announces on Thursday that it will launch its controversial "satellite" into space sometime between April 4 and April 8. While North Korea maintains that the launch is to boost its nonexistant space program, most non-North Korean sources warn that the launch will be to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. Japan, South Korea, the US and the UN have warned Pyongyang against the launch and China and Russia urge all sides to remain calm.

    Non-event of the week: Biden in Brussels. US Vice-President Joe Biden flew to Brussels to attempt to gather more support and coordination from NATO member nations for the war in Afghanistan. While arguing for a greater troop level commitment, Biden also pushes for talks with the "moderate" Taliban, as proposed by US President Obama. Biden describes 70% of Taliban fighters as mercenaries who could change, but critics are quick to argue: "What moderate Taliban?" Biden receives a quiet response that could be described as lukewarm at best.

    Doom prediction of the week: The World Bank. The World Bank has been making headlines all week. It started Sunday when the international monetary organization warned that the global economy will shrink in 2009 - the first time since WWII. On Monday, the World Bank's Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala announced that G-20 needs to divert portions of its stimulus packages to the world's poorest countries in order to avoid a humanitarian disaster of immense proportions. Finally, on Thursday, World Bank President Robert Zoellick makes a stronger prediction about the global economy, stating that it will contract by as much as 2.0% in 2009, compared to the International Monetary Fund prediction of 0.5% growth for the year.

    Debut of the week: South America Steps Out. Hopes in Washington that the new Obama administration would mend ties with South American nations were muted this week. Bolivia expelled US Ambassador Francisco Martinez on conspiracy allegations. In 2008, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg was expelled for allegedly inciting anti-government protests. 12 member states of the Union of South American Nations met for the inaugural meeting of the South American Defense Council, led by Brazil and aimed at "consolidating South America as a zone of peace". The council calls for and end to the American embargo on Cuba.

    Boo-boo of the week: Big US Intelligence Resignations. You likely know that Obama's Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Chas Freeman withdraws before starting his job after repeated and intense criticism from the pro-Israel lobby in Washington for his apparently anti-Israeli views. The resignation is generally viewed as a manifestation of the lobby's strength in the US. What you might not have noticed is the resignation of Rod Beckstrom, the head of the Department of Homeland Security's National Cyber Security Center. Beckstrom's letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano explained his opposition to the growth of the National Security Agency and its expanding monopoly over computer security as "threats to our democratic processes." These two resignations make for a continued rocky start to the Obama administration coupled with difficulty in forming a coherent foreign policy.

    Double insult of the week: Nations on the fringe of the Arab world have harsh treatment for both Israel and Iran this week. Over the weekend, Mauritania kicks out the Israeli diplomatic mission after severing ties with Jerusalem and Morocco cuts diplomatic relations with Iran. Mauritania's problems with Israel were largely viewed as resulting from pressure from it's anti-Israel allies and Israel's new right-wing government, while Morocco's spat with Iran resulted from "intolerable interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom" involving a Sunni-Shi'a controversy.

    Up and Coming Conciliatory Diplomacy: Saudi King Abdullah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah will meet for a summit in Riyadh next Wednesday to boost Arab unity. This includes mending ties between Syria and Saudi Arabia, improving relations with Syria and Egypt, and attempting to draw Damascus away from the Iranian sphere of influence.

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