All things considered, Israeli officials seem relatively happy with the diplomatic support they've been getting from the Obama administration, and have taken to the phones to express their appreciation for U.S. help in batting back a Turkish-led bid to censure Israel via the U.N. Security Council.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, however, has taken a different tack. He apparently called U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon -- who has little to do with the content or politics of Security Council debates -- this morning to complain about yesterday's emergency session and what he sees as the U.N.'s unfair treatment of Israel. Trouble is, his ministry erroneously calls the presidential statement issued in the wee hours of the morning Tuesday a "resolution" in a readout posted on the ministry's website -- twice:
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman spoke today (Tuesday, 1 June 2010) with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon following the UN Security Council resolution of this morning. FM Liberman stated that the hypocrisy and double standards taking root in the international community regarding Israel are to be regretted. [...]
FM Liberman stated that in light of this, the Security Council resolution is unacceptable and contributes nothing to the promotion of peace and stability in the Middle East.
This isn't the biggest deal in the world, but considering that one of the main thrusts of Israeli and U.S. diplomacy over the past 24 hours was ensuring that there was no resolution, it's an embarrassing mistake. And it shows, I think, the extent to which the Netanyahu administration -- which does employ some very effective people, such as Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren -- has been hobbled by inept diplomats since its first days in office.
In another brilliant move, Lieberman's deputy, Danny Ayalon, was among the first Israeli officials to speak out about the flotilla deaths -- even though was the one who infuriated the Turks last year when he deliberately humiliated Ankara's envoy by sitting him in a smaller chair and dressing him down in Hebrew in front of the Israeli media.
Israel seems to have rallied a bit since yesterday morning, but only, it seems, but shoving the Foreign Ministry aside and letting the professionals do the work.
The Turkish- and Brazilian-brokered nuclear enrichment deal with Iran earlier this week was widely seen as a setback for the Obama administration's nonproliferation agenda, and indeed the White House didn't exactly shower the agreement with praise before continuing its push to slap new sanctions on Iran.
But according to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the whole thing was done with Obama's encouragement. The National reports:
Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, however, credited Mr Obama’s policy of engaging with Tehran for Ankara’s success in pursuing a diplomatic solution. “[Obama] paved the way for this process,” Mr Davutoglu said during a news conference in Istanbul. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had been “encouraged” to pursue dialogue with Tehran by Mr Obama during a recent, high-level nuclear conference in New York.
While I'm sure Erdogan and Obama discussed Iran, it seems unlikely that anything that explicit was said. At a briefing on Monday -- before Davutoglu's comments -- White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the president had "not talked directly" with the leaders of Turkey or Brazil as the deal was being put together.
Turkey and Brazil are reportedly infuriated by the new U.S.-backed agreement on sanctions and Davutoglu's suggestion that Obama was for the deal before he was against it isn't going to sit well in Washingtion.
Hat tip: RFE/RL Transmission
U.S.-Pakistani relations tend to be defined by a certain set of core issues, which include the ISI's double-dealing with the CIA, the 2005 Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement, and Pakistani nuclear security. While these issues are undoubtedly important, sometimes it's refreshing to see something new crop up, if only for variety's sake.
This is just what happened at Reagan National Airport on Sunday, Feb. 7, when a delegation of Pakistani legislators visiting Washington to meet with senior administration officials refused to submit to a full body X-ray scan. As a result, the legislators, who had already concluded their business in Washington and were attempting to fly to New Orleans, were prohibited from boarding the airplane. Insulted, the legislators promptly left on the next flight for Pakistan, leaving behind a public relations nightmare for the State Department, which had assisted the American Embassy in Islamabad with organizing the trip.
While the fallout from this episode is certain to be short-lived, the anecdote nevertheless serves as a nice illustration of the challenge the United States faces in trying to balance its national security interests with its need to improve relations with the Pakistani government.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Yesterday, the Greek government announced a spate of emergency austerity measures, designed to help the country close its yawning budget gap. Half are new taxes, and half are spending cuts, including:
Other measures include: an additional 1 percent tax on income over 100,000 euros, reducing government overtime hours by 30 percent, cutting public-sector benefits 10 percent, and taxing the commercial activities of churches. And it's still not quite enough -- Greece needs an additional bailout to help it pay off debt due this spring.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Image
For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.
The question I'd like to highlight this week is:
How many ambassadors to the United States are women?
a) 3 b) 15 c) 25
Answer after the jump ...
KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images
Russian Deputy Prime Minsiter Igor Sechin apparently blew his top after Kommersant published an article suggesting that Russian financial support for Cuba was being linked to recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia: The Miami Herald reports:
In an article Feb. 12 in the daily Kommersant, reporter Andrei Odinets said that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's tour of Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Mexico was intended to restart – in the aftermath of the Caucasus war – Moscow's "diplomatic offensive in Latin America, which last year began to choke."
"It is possible that Moscow will encourage Russian investment in Cuba's mineral riches if Havana announces its recognition of [South Ossetia and Abkhazia]," Odinets wrote. "Russia already has worked such a scheme in Venezuela," trading oil-exploration money for diplomatic support, he said..
In an angry letter to Kommersant on Monday, Sechin derided Odinets as a self-appointed expert in foreign policy and an inept journalist. Some of Odinets' information was "biased and untrue," Sechin said. The reporter's allegation that Cuba's diplomatic support could be purchased was "detrimental to the principles of [Russo-Cuban] cooperation and long-term friendship, historically based on the shared values and trust acquired during the long and difficult years of working together."
In the friendship between Moscow and Havana "there is no place for cold financial calculation or ambition," Sechin wrote.
Strangely, in the letter, Sechin doesn't seem to deny that there was quid-pro-quo in the other countries that have recognized the breakaway regions, just that such cynical maneuvering would be unthinkable given the long history of Cuban-Russian cooperation. Is he suggesting that there is room for cold financial calculation in the frienship between Moscow and Caracas or Moscow and Managua? I'm not even going to ask about Nauru.
I wrote last week about Pakistan's High Commissioner to Canada Akbar Zeb's reported rejection as ambassador to Saudi Arabia due to the unfortunate Arabic translation of his name as "biggest dick." Alas, the story turns out to be false: Mr. Zeb has responded, saying that the press reports are nothing more than "a practical joke someone played on the Internet." Zeb denies that he was ever considered for an ambassadorial position in Saudi Arabia; lending credence to his account, he has only been stationed in Ottawa for nine months of a planned three-year assignment, and Pakistan's ambassador to Saudi Arabia is only four months into his tenure.
Maimoona Amjad, the press counsellor for Pakistan's High Commission in Ottawa, also confirmed to FP that the story was untrue. There is "no question that he will accept a post anywhere but Canada," she said, referring to the rumor as "completely baseless" and "rubbish."
The story seems to have originated with this Arab Times article, and spread like wildfire throughout the English-language press from there. Let this be a lesson: Don't believe everything you read in print. Sometimes, the press gets hold of a story and, before checking all the facts, goes off half-cocked.
Late last year, my colleague Blake Hounshell and I sat down with Anwar Ibrahim here in Washington, where he was attending a conference on inter-religious understanding. The Malaysian opposition leader (who is #32 one of our Top Global Thinkers of 2009) is today in a very different setting: the beginning of his trial for charges of sodomy that he says are politically motivated. Here are a few excerpts from that interview, including his thoughts on democracy, religion, and being an opposition figure.
FP: One criticism in the United States of the Muslim world is, people will say: the Muslim world is not addressing its own problems; The Muslim world is more likely to blame America for what is going on then to do soul searching about the state of discourse in Islam today. What is your response to that?
Anwar Ibrahim: I just answer, be equally responsible. You can't just erase a period of imperialism and colonialism. You have to deal, you can't erase, for example, the fault lines, the bad policies, the failed policies, the war in Iraq for example, and ambivalence you support dictators inside the top democracy. ...This night [in Malaysia], [there are] emails [circulating within] the national media, the government television network. They will start a 5 to 7 minute campaign: Anwar is in the United States, he is a lackey of the Americans, he is pro-Jew. Period. And they go on with impunity, [as they have done] for the last 11 years. Because they want to deflect from the issue of repression, endemic corruption, destruction of the institutions of governance.
There is a difference. You [the United States] have Abu Ghraib and it is exposed -- and the media went to town. The atrocities in the Muslim world, in our prisons, [and I am] not talking about my personal experience, [are] all knitted up.
What we need is credible voice in the Muslim world, independent. Some liberal Muslims become so American in their views, so Western. I don't think you should do that. Americans need to appreciate the fact that I am a Muslim, there don't need to be apologies for that. But at the same time we must have the courage to address the inherent weaknesses within Muslim societies.
FP: When was it that you first decided this debate between religion was something you wanted to be a part of?
AI: In Malaysia, [this] is so critical. [It's] a multi racial country, a religious country. [There is a] Muslim majority of 55 percent, then Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians of various domination. I grew up being involved in the Muslim youth work, even when I was a student, engaging in this. The Vatican supported the East Asian Christian Conference at the time and we started having these discussions. My initial work in the youth work when I was leading the Malaysia youth counsel which is an umbrella of all the Hindu youth and the Buddhist youth and the Christian youth. I benefited immensely ... we started engaging them. ... Then of course there was tolerance when we hosted a conference; they were mindful of the Hindus were strictly vegetarian or if the Christian organized, they were aware we did not eat pork or drink.
When I was I government the Muslim Christian dialogue was promoted, in fact I supported the program. There was a Muslim Christian center in Georgetown and we went to New Manila University. The majority of the Malaysians non-Muslims are not Christians but Confucianists, so we brought in Professor Tu Wei-ming one of the Chinese scholars of Confucianism from Harvard to come and tell us about Confucianism and we tell him about Islam. There is so much in common between Confucianism and Islam.
FP: How do you balance your life as a thinker and a politician?
AI: People do suggest that, but I quite disagree. Of course you simplify the arguments but the same arguments, the central thesis remains constant but the way you articulate it may differ. People say, Anwar you are opportunistic, how can you talk about Islam and the Quran here and then you talk about Shakespeare there and then quote Jefferson or Edmond Burke. I say it depends on the audience. [If] I go to a remote village, of course I talk about the Quran. In Kuala Lumpur ,and you quote T.S Eliot. If I quote the Quran all the time, to a group of lawyers, I am a mullah from somewhere.
[Some] think because I do court [Islamic votes] these days they think I am a Islamist. [But] you ask the question -- is it true, Anwar, that you are sound and consistent in your views and you are not actually a closet Islamist? I say, Why do you say that? [The] six years [I spent in] prison is not enough? And they say no, but you engage with the Islamists, and I said yes.
My colleagues here have been weighing in on Google's "bombshell" revelation that China has been spying on dissidents and human rights activists, trying to crack open their Gmail accounts, presumably with the aim of monitoring and disrupting their activities. A lot of commentary is so far focused on the immediate issue at hand -- China's crushing censorship and Google's controversial policy of accomodating it in the hopes of gaining market share (see Jordan Calinoff's excellent dispatch on how this policy has largely failed). Of course, we already knew China did this sort of thing, but having the details so dramatically thrust into the public sphere is shocking. This is going to be a huge, ongoing story, not only because Google and China are two of the biggest and most widely debated news topics in the world, but also because nearly everyone's going to sympathize with the people whose privacy and peace of mind has been violated.
There's a larger story developing though, of a very tense year in relations between China and the West. Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer made that prediction earlier this year, and it's probably happening even faster than he imagined. In addition to this Google story, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already jumped on, there's also a brewing U.S.-China fight over arms sales to Taiwan, China's recent missile test in retaliation, and a guerrilla trade war that now seems more likely to develop into a full-blown trade conflict.
By overplaying its hand with the activists, and messing with a huge global company with a massive ability to get its message out, China has foolishly just thrown away whatever goodwill it has built up over the years through its "charm offensive" -- at least in the West. Now, those arguing across a range of issues that China is a bad actor have been handed an enormous rhetorical club to beat Beijing over the head with. It's going to get ugly.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle paid a surprise visit to Yemen today to meet with President Ali Abdullah Saleh and ask for his help in locating German hostages who have been held in the country since June. Do you think the Yemenis might have been trying to send a message by having Westerwelle give his press conference in front of this mural? Could they not fit in a picture of Saleh slaying a dragon or playing lead guitar for Kiss?
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images
It's not clear what Hillary Clinton was aiming for exactly last Friday, when she warned Latin American countries "that if people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them." If she expected South American leaders to suddenly about-face, she got it really really wrong.
Clinton carefully avoided mentioning Brazil when she listed countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia accepting Iranian overtures. Given Brazilian President Lula's recent high-profile meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it's hard to believe they weren't being alluded to. The only response has been from Lula's special advisor for international affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia, who said "It was not a message for Brazil. If it was, it was the wrong message."
But actions speak louder than words, Clinton's assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, is in Brazil now, and has not been granted a meeting with Lula or his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Celso Amorim. He is pictured above meeting with Garcia instead.
The ham-handed "warning," combines with regional anger at the US accepting (with weak caveats) the results of the Honduran election -- Brazil and other Latin American leaders are still saying Zelaya must be reinstated -- and ill-will towards the American bases in Colombia.
In the context of Honduras, Clinton's pedantic explanation of democracy in her speech --
we do worry about leaders who get elected and get elected fairly and freely and legitimately, but then, upon being elected, begin to undermine the constitutional and democratic order, the private sector, the rights of people to be free from harassment, depression, to be able to participate fully in their societies"
-- is offensive, and does nothing to reverse the feeling that the U.S. only notices the region as its backyard. Not a great way to woo allies.
In that vein, Valenzuela is scheduled to be similarly rebuffed when he goes to Argentina tomorrow. While as a victim of Iranian sponsored terrorism the country won't be bonding with Ahmadinejad, the administration seems annoyed at Washington's stance in the region, and officials are whispering to the press that Obama has not lived up to the change he promised.
EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images
Fazal Haque Qureshi, the senior-most Kashmiri separatist leader and an executive member of the moderate separatist Hurriyat Conference, has been shot in the head today by guerrillas and is in "very critical" condition. The shooting comes just two days after India's home minister announced the possibility of taking the "risky step" of withdrawing a "significant" number of Indian troops from the region. On multiple occassions, violence has derailed diplomatic efforts. Just over a year ago, a coordinated series of shootings in Mumbai resulted in the murder of 166 civilians; a number of analysts argued that attack was an effort by extremists seeking to stop any improvement in relations between India and Pakistan.
Demilitarization of the contested region has been one of the most consistent demands of the separatists. But it's not something to bank on, said Teresita Schaffer, the director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in an interview with FP:
The Indian government is going to be wary of troop withdrawals unless they see movement on the Pakistani side, and unless they also see a return to the previous low levels of infiltration...if you're wondering whether there's a serious commitment to accommodate Kashmiri desires in Kahmir on the part of the government of India, I would qualify that very heavily. I think they would very much like to reach a state of affairs where Kashmiris were willing to participate in elections, and became somewhat more content with being ruled by India. They are not prepared to make major changes in policy in the attempt."
The implications of today's shooting for the ongoing Indian-Kashmiri talks depend on the separatists' reaction, Shaffer concluded. Here's hoping that the negotiations proceed apace - it's a conflict with stakes as high as they come.
Photo: PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images
Silvio Berlusconi saying something offensive is hardly big news. But as RFE/RL Luke Allnut notes, on a recent state visit to Belarus, he managed to do it without being sexist or racist:
"Thank you and thanks to your people who, I know, love you, as is demonstrated by the election results which everybody can see," Berlusconi told [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka.
Berlusconi is referring to the 2006 Presidential election, in which Lukashenko received 83 percent of the vote in a poll that was widely considered rigged by international observers and led to massive demonstrations by the opposition. Lukashenko joked at the time that he had actually received 93.5 percent of the vote but had lowered it a an acceptable "European figure."
Hilarious. I wonder if it bothers Berlusconi that all his best friends are dictators these days.
Q: “How do you see the current American-Sudanese relations?
A: “For more than ten years, i.e. during the term of the administration of President Clinton then the administration of George Bush, the relationship has been very tense. And there have been many differences and clashes. But of course and thanks to the efforts of General Gration and after president Barack Obama has declared his new Sudan policy, it has became clear that the relationship developed greatly. We are very optimistic. For many years now, the relationship has not improved that much and it is not the best relation. But things are on the right track."
Q: "But many American NGOs are criticizing Obama's policies towards Sudan?"
A: "In the United States as in other countries, there are some parties that want our relations with Washington to deteriorate and wish to give a negative image of Sudan around the world, not only in regard to the Darfur issue but also in other cases. They think that Sudan is an easy target. But we in Sudan will always welcome anyone who wants to work with us peacefully and away from any media commotion. And now under Obama who has decided to open up to everybody and deal with many countries among which is Sudan, I sincerely hope that his efforts will be successful."
Update: This post has been updated to reflect a correction. A wise commenter has pointed out that our Arabic transcript was incomplete. The ambassador, Akec Khoc (not John Akweg) is a member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) -- not the Khartoum government. We regret the error and thank our commentor for pointing this out!
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
With more than 2,000 killings this year in Ciudad Juarez, pictures of gunshot victims strewn about the streets and bulletproof-vested shopkeepers attending terrified customers, potential paramilitiary group formation, calls for UN peacekeeping troops and dire predictions of the violence spreading north the United States-Mexico border is increasingly looking like an all out war zone.
Perhaps it is because of this that I was surprised this morning to attend a conference calling for recognition that the transborder region is increasingly more a region than a border. Speakers at "Rethinking the U.S.-Mexico Border," came from both sides of the border, but it's more accurate to see their flawless bilingualism as an expression that they truly do view the area as a region that must work as one in order to harness the potential of what is already a $300 billion economy.
Among the recommendations presented by one group, the "Binational Task Force on the United States-Mexico Border," was the need to target demand for illicit drugs on both sides of the border (20 percent of drugs produced in Mexico are consumed there, most of the rest goes to the US), as well as the creation of parallel border agencies (such as the synergy between Canada and the US) facilitating coordination between the two countries. Importantly, they called for a reinstating of the American ban on assault weapons, and more work on preventing arms and cash smuggling south. They also advocate immigration reform in the US and more focus on development in Mexico to stem flows north. On the flip side, Mexico also needs to start taking illegal immigration seriously.
Given that NAFTA is now 15 years old, none of this should sound very surprising. But remembering that a lot of the talk about the border in recent years has involved walls (electrified or otherwise), vigilantes, and how to make everybody just stay put on their own side, this all sounded pretty good. As most of the speakers emphasized, it's not about philosophically agreeing with unilateral solutions or not, they simply don't seem to work.
Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images
The Obama administration, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in particular, seems to have developed a bit of a "mission accomplished" problem when it comes to diplomatic breakthroughs. Last week Clinton hailed Benjamin Netanyahu's "unprecedented" concessions on settlement construction, when it was fairly clear that Palestinians didn't see evidence of any concessions and touted a "historic agreement" to end the ongoing political standoff in Honduras, though it should have been obvious that neither side had any incentive to follow through on the terms of the deal.
The administration has had a number of diplomatic "breakthroughs" that didn't pan out lately. Hamid Karzai's agreement to hold a runoff election in Afghanistan was followed by Abdullah Abdulla's decision to pull out. Dmitry Medvedev's seeming openness to Iran sanctions was contradicted by his own foreign minister. And the Iranian negotiators who agreed to a deal on nuclear enrichment, apparently didn't check with the bosses back in Tehran.
This isn't to say that these efforts were a waste of time or that the setbacks were the fault of the U.S., but out of desire for a tangible foreign policy victory, the administration seems to be developing a tendency to oversell diplomatic tactical victories before it's clear if the other parties will follow through on their commitments.
I agree with Dan Drezner, that no one with reasonable expectations of what U.S. foreign policy can accomplish should be shocked by the fact that the Obama team hasn't achieved major breakthroughs on any of these challenges, but it would be nice if they didn't keep telling us we were witnessing history in the making.
Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
Only two countries supported the United States in a U.N. General Assembly vote condemning the embargo on Cuba yesterday: Israel (not exactly a surprise) and Palau. While these votes do little more than force commentators to write that "virtually the entire world opposes the embargo" rather than "literally the entire world opposes the embargo," it is interesting to see how Palau seems to be going out of its way to support the United States's most controversial policies.
Remember, Palau famously joined the "coalition of the willing," supporting the invasion of Iraq (despite not having a military) and agreed to take in Uighur detainees from Guantanamo Bay. (Granted, Palau was a U.S. protectorate until 1994 and still depends on the U.S. military for its defense.)
It would be nice to think that the U.S. might return the favor by taking significant action to prevent the global climate change that is literally wiping Palau off the map.
I don't quite understand the point of this:
U.S. President Barack Obama asked Spain to pass Cuba a message on the need for democratic reform when he met Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero earlier this month, according to a U.S. official....
"When (Obama) learned that Foreign Minister Moratinos was about to go to Havana, he suggested that Moratinos urge the Castro regime to take steps to reform and improve human rights," the U.S. official said on Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity....
The U.S. request to deliver a message to Cuba was first reported by Spain's El Pais newspaper, which said Obama talked of a potential turning point in the relationship with Havana, but said it was important for Cuba take some steps.
"Have (Moratinos) tell the Cuban authorities we understand that change can't happen overnight, but down the road, when we look back at this time, it should be clear that now is when those changes began," Obama told Zapatero, according to diplomatic sources quoted by El Pais.
I have a feeling that after half a century, the Castro brothers probably realize that the U.S. doesn't much like the way they run their country and don't need the Spanish foreign minister to tell them. And if Obama has something new to say to the Cuban regime, why can't he say it himself, if not through his own envoy than through a letter.
It sends a pretty strange message that the administration is unwilling to have any direct contact with the Cuban regime, even just to admonish them, but seems to have no problem with other countries doing it.
The border between Peru and Chile became increasingly fraught Wednesday -- with France stepping into the fray by (inadvertently?) publishing a map that seems to side with Peru.
Peru and Chile are awaiting a ruling from the International Court of Justice, to decide the maritime boundaries between the two. In the mean time, Peruvian media is crowing with delight at the French National Geographic Institute's slip-up, saying "If it is not a prediction, it is at least an encouraging fact."
But Chile's diplomats will not let the issue rest, government officials pressed the Gallic institute for answers, while at the same time assuring their people that this cannot influence The Hague's final decision.
The French chancery today put out a statement assuring their neutrality in the matter, saying the map in question has "no official value."
Tensions have been running high for a while, with Peru protesting Chilean military demonstrations as threatening and proposing a regional non-aggression pact in order to stop a Latin American arms race.
More seriously, Bolivia is staying out of this dispute, although it too has a strong interest in two countries' ocean borders. Chile and Bolivia are negotiating to give the latter country sea access for the first time in 140 years, having lost its ocean view in the 19th century War of the Pacific, in which Chile annexed portions of Peru and Bolivia.
Colonialism has some unfinished business. Like a messy divorce, former partners scratch and claw for who gets what and all too often the colonized lost. Their treasures were stolen; their cultural heritage and national heirlooms were boxed up and shipped to places such as France and the United Kingdom. Now, the fights over who gets custody of these artifacts are starting to sway in favor of the former colonies.
Some 2,000 Afghan artifacts went on display at The National Museum in Kabul on October 6, some as old as the bronze-age. These items were stolen and smuggled into Britain while the two countries fought a brutal war. The museum was founded in the 1920s, after Afghanistan gained autonomy from the British Empire.
The New York Times reports Afghanistan was a treasure trove for ancient wares, given its geographical placement as a crossroads between China, India, the middle-east and Persia. In the early 1990s, after the Soviet invasion and civil war, the museum's director estimated 70 percent of the artifacts were stolen. Then in the name of Islam, the Taliban destroyed ancient statues of Buddha. The 2,000 pieces from the United Kingdom join nearly 13,000 returned from all over Western Europe and the United States after the Taliban fell in 2001.
Returned treasures don't always come so easily. The French government will return five ancient fresco fragments to Egypt after Cairo threatened to end cooperation with the Louvre. Egyptian authorities say the French bought the frescos in 1990, even though they knew they were stolen in the 1980s.
In a move of cultural sanctions, a British museum isn't returning an artifact to Iran due to the "post-election situation." Iran threatened to cut off cultural cooperation if it isn't returned. The item in question, 6th century BC cylinder is engraved with what is called the first bill of rights. The Persian King Cyrus ordered it to be made. The British say they plan to return the cylinder, but they are just waiting for the "appropriate moment." The Iranians said their delay is just a ploy keep the cylinder and they will end their relationship with the museum if it isn't returned within two months.
Michel Porro/Getty Images
It wasn't exactly a Joe Wilson moment, but some Protestant lawmakers don't seem to have appreciated Hillary Clinton's speech to parliament in Northern Ireland today:
Mrs Clinton addressed the Northern Ireland Assembly, telling a hushed, packed chamber that Republican dissidents were looking to seize any opportunity to destabilise the coalition government.
"Now they are watching this assembly for signs of uncertainty or internal disagreement," warned Mrs Clinton. "They want to derail your confidence. And though they are small in number, their thuggish tactics and destructive ambitions threaten the security of every family in Northern Ireland. Moving ahead together with the process will leave them stranded on the wrong side of history."
Almost all of the 108 members of the assembly applauded, but a few Democratic Unionist backbenchers folded their arms instead, and two senior figures, William McCrea and Gregory Campbell, left the chamber during the ovation.
Democratic Unionist officials said the walkout reflected Protestant irritation at being told what to do by 'outsiders', a point they said they had made earlier in private to Mrs Clinton.
Mrs Clinton conceded this sensitivity in her speech, ad libbing: "We know what it means to be supportive. And we also know what it means to meddle." She said that the US sought to do the former, not the latter.
These speeches are a little awkward to give since they are, by definition, meddling in another country's affairs. (See also: Joe Biden's speech in Bosnia in May.) Given the role the United Sates has played as a mediator, it's hardly a disinterested party in Northern Irish (or Bosnian) politics. But I still wonder if these public admonishments are the best way to tell a country's leaders to get their act together.
The provisional office of deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa October 9, 2009. Negotiators with deposed Zeyala insisted Thursday that an October 15 deadline was in place to reach an agreement to resolve the months-old political impasse. The Central American country has been paralyzed since a June 28 coup by now de facto leader Roberto Micheletti, who has said he was prepared to leave office, but only if Zelaya ended his demands of being reinstated.
Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images
In a talk given this afternoon at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, retired Gen. John Abizaid outlined his view of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. He argued that it is foolish to approach issues on a country-by-country basis, complaining that "we look at Iraq through a soda straw. We look at Afghanistan through a soda straw." Instead, says Abizaid, the United States must develop a regional strategy that accounts for the roles of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
For the same reason, he suggested, the debate over whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan has been over-simplified; the discussion should be broadened to include the relative demands of Iraq, Afghanistan and the region at large.
Abizaid also emphasized the ideological nature of the conflict, and the need for soft power to address the root causes of radicalism. He noted that Baitullah Mehsud, the top Taliban leader, is referred to as "the commander of the faithful."
"While we may chuckle at that title," Abizaid said, "the people fighting for him do not." When asked whether there should be a shift to a counter-terrorism approach in Afghanistan that relies more upon targeted strikes than nation-building, Abizaid responded that such a plan is impractical. Stabilization in Afghanistan and Iraq is a precondition for effective counter terrorist operations, he argued, because it provides the infrastructure needed to develop the "superb, superb intelligence" needed.
The theme of the talk was that instability anywhere in the region is a serious threat to surrounding countries. With our "ground forces spread thin" and "our 24-7 forces totally engaged," the United States must more fully incorporate diplomatic, political and economic plans to get a handle on the region. A number of questions were directed to the resources required for such a broad regional approach, and towards the end of the talk, the retired general was asked if the situation would be better in Afghanistan had the United States not invaded Iraq.
"All's I know is that we did what we did, and we are where we are," he answered.
By all accounts, former Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried is a very talented diplomat, but as Obama's "Gitmo czar," he's been given one thankless task. Despite some successes -- Hungary this week joined the ranks of Bermuda and Palau in agreeing to take in detainees -- he tells the BBC that progress has been infuriatingly slow:
He says his job is miserable because he is "cleaning up a problem".
He also revealed he was reprimanded by the UK over his decision to send four detainees to Bermuda.[...]
Working out what to do with the remaining detainees is "a huge problem and a complicated one," says Mr Fried.
So far, the number being held there has been reduced by just 16 - and one of those committed suicide. There are now 226 left.
At this rate, Fried's job should be done around 2018. No wonder he's pushing for the U.S. to take some of the detainees in.
Hat tip: UN Dispatch
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Speaking today at the Center for American Progress in Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson discussed yesterday's Special Forces operation in Somalia on alleged terrorist Saleh Ali Nabhan. "[T]he individual who was reportedly killed in Somalia yesterday was in fact one of the two top leaders of al Qaeda in East Africa. He was in fact the individual who was directly responsible for organizing the destruction of the Paradise hotel [in Kenya in 2002] and the attempted shoot-down of the Isreali aircraft [also in Kenya]."
"We think that his departure form the ranks of the al Qaeda leadership in East Africa will substantially reduce the capacity of that organization to plan and carry out future attacks," Carson said.
The discussion comes on the heels of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's August trip to Africa, a subject that Carson brought up in greater detail. He re-emphasized that among the countries visited on that trip, Nigeria remains "the most important" for its size, population, oil supplies, and ongoing challenges (read: conflict, corruption, poverty). Similar concern was expressed about the dire humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Clinton's visit took her to meet with victims of rape and abominable living conditions.
Most interesting of all were some of the meetings that Secretary Carson alluded to, both past and present including:
Photo: PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and his her office released two reports on violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008, citing "possible war crimes and crimes against humanity" by the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel group formerly led by Laurent Nkunda and backed by the government of Rwanda.
Talk about your diplomatic understatement. The crimes involved dozens of killings and rapes. But for those following the DRC this statement has to seem kind of weak. There have been all sorts of atrocities in Eastern Congo for years, and the only questions really are which militia was guilty in which case. Possible? The U.N. head of mission in the DRC called the attacks war crimes immediately after they happened.
Reuters reporters shrewdly dig into the problematic fact that while Nkunda was later arrested by Rwandan forces, it was his lieutenant, Jean Bosco Ntaganda (shown above), nicknamed "The Terminator" who was commanding the CNDP forces at the time of the November killings. Guess where he is?
Ntaganda, who is being sought by the International Criminal Court on separate war crimes charges, wasintegrated into Congo's army in January along with other members of the Tutsi-dominated CNDP..."We know he is there. We are aware of it. He was integrated. He wasgiven a role. And according to our partners, he does not play a role inthe operations that MONUC is supporting," said Kevin Kennedy, MONUC's head of communications.
"But it isn't our job to investigate the role of Bosco Ntaganda in the (army)," he told journalists in Kinshasa.
One other question for other Congo watchers out there. Doesn't a lot of focus seem to be just on the CNDP, when the Hutu FDLR militia has been committing terrible massacres for years? In fact, wasn't a key reason--along with grabbing minerals--for Rwandan support of Nkunda that he was protecting Congolese Tutsis from the marauding FDLR, many of whom were genocidaires? Maybe I've just missed it or Nkunda made such a good media character. Is the FDLR getting as much U.N. heat?
Update: This post originally mistook the gender and misspelled the name of U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem, or Navi, Pillay.
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A week after I reported on a new Africom program meant to target terror in the Sahel region of West Africa, the State Department's press office has replied to our 10 detailed queries.
Replying to an e-mail regarding a different article, the press office resent a statement, sent separately last week by Undersecretary of State for Public Affairs Judith McHale to FP, on the U.S.-Africom relationship. (An excerpt was printed in our article here and is pasted below.)
The Department of State and Africom enjoy a strong relationship. Our shared goal is to help African nations create a more stable environment on the continent and to enable political and economic growth that benefits the people of Africa. Our relationship with Africom is similar to the relationships the Department has with other regional commands."
Meanwhile, the Department of Defense responded to both sets of queries in full by the deadline I passed along. Just sayin'.
Funny story from Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's early days in the foreign service:
Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat and self-avowed Sinophile, told students at the Australian National University about an error he made as a junior envoy in Beijing.
"Apparently, what I'd said as I sought to elevate his expression into a more classical form, was that China and Australia are currently experiencing fantastic mutual orgasm," he said, delivering a speech late Thursday.
"Ever since then, our Chinese friends have remembered my visits to Beijing, (saying) 'Ah, you were the one...'," added Rudd.
"Perhaps that explains some of the challenges in our current relationship with the Chinese."
Chinese-Australian relations have been somewhat less than orgasmic lately.
In 2007, the London Review of Books published a piece entitled "Inconvenient Truths" about the conviction and subsequent appeals of Libyan intelligence agent Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103. The article, written by Hugh Miles, explained that even at the time of the conviction there were many questions, and that al-Megrahi's appeal (which he withdrew in order to be released on medical grounds last week) had a chance of succeeding.
Lawyers, politicians, diplomats and relatives of Lockerbie victims now believe that the former Libyan intelligence officer is innocent. Robert Black QC, an emeritus professor of Scottish law at Edinburgh University, was one of the architects of the original trial in Holland. He has closely followed developments since the disaster happened and in 2000 devised the non-jury trial system for the al-Megrahi case.
Evenbefore the trial he was so sure the evidence against al-Megrahi would not stand up in court that he is on record as saying that a convictio nwould be impossible. When I asked how he feels about this remark now, Black replied: ‘I am still absolutely convinced that I am right. No reasonable tribunal, on the evidence heard at the original trial, should or could have convicted him and it is an absolute disgrace and outrage what the Scottish court did.’
In this context the outrage over al-Megrahi's release by Scotland last week--because he has terminal cancer --might need to be reevaluated. The same goes for resultant anger over Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's visit to the U.N. and New York in September. Following up on the London Review of Books' blog this week, Glen Newey makes the astute, if impolitic point that the release, and drop of al-Megrahi's appeal, was likely best for the political fortunes of everyone involved:
It served nobody’s interests to have the Lockerbie bombing conviction debated in open court. Hence the great good fortune of al-Megrahi’s terminal prostate cancer, which sped his release from Greenock. With a ‘compassionate’ wave of the biro, the SNP administration has rid itselfof a high-profile prisoner with an unsafe conviction and enhanced, orcreated, its international profile. The UK government can keep in withthe Libyans and protect its commercial contracts, on the plea ofrespecting devolved powers. Meanwhile, in a rerun of the Cold War great game, we need to oil our way into the Colonel’s tent ahead of the Bear: recently Russia has been angling for a naval base in Benghazi. So even the Obama administration has reason to mute its complaints. It’s almost enough to make one believe in divine providence.
None of this, of course, is any consolation to the families of the bombing victims, but it gives a very plausible explanation for what might be going on behind the scenes.
To be clear, it is unlikely officials could fake the cancer diagnosis and Al-Megrahi does not look very well in the photos of his departure from Scotland. But well, who knows? Maybe he'll make a miraculous recovery at home in Libya.
DANNY LAWSON/AFP/Getty Images
On Sunday, the NYT's Peter Baker noted that only 304 of 543 appointed positions have been filled by the Obama administration after nearly a year. Though some of the hold-up has been from petty pork-barrel politics in the Senate, much more has resulted from the White House's incredibly tough preemptive vetting of its own appointees.
This vetting, which has already stopped Paul Farmer from heading USAID, has been defended by the White House, which argues it is ahead of the historical precedent. Why isn't that reassuring?
Even less reassuring is David Herbert's report in the National Journal that the State Department struggling to get security clearances for its interns in time for the periods they were supposed to be working.
One would-be intern, a graduate student at Tufts, came to Washington in May for a summer gig working on development issues. But he never got his security clearance and never started his internship. He's driving home to New York today after spending a frustrating summer spent calling his congressmen for help and wondering what happened.
"With the clearance process, as an applicant, you don't know anything," he said.
Not only are some going home without ever starting, the State Department actually takes this into account when choosing its number of interns. Don't we need to attract more talent into civil service, not scare it off with bureaucracy?
Even worse, the prospective interns most likely to run into delays are those who have spent time living or studying overseas, according to Daniel Hirsch, co-founder of Concerned Foreign Service Officers:
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which handles clearances, farms out most investigations to contractors, who are more efficient at processing applications than the bureau's agents, he said. But when an applicant has lived or traveled extensively overseas (as Buniewicz and others interviewed have), Diplomatic Security (DS) takes over. "Most DS agents consider [personnel security background investigations] to be beneath them, and security clearance investigations are a very low priority item for most overseas DS agents, so they probably sit on the back burner for a while," Hirsch said.
So it is harder to get an early jump on a career at the State Department if you already have international experience. No wonder Paul Farmer gave up on the bureaucratic route.
As a side note, why do interns require such significant security checks? The old joke about interns running everything notwithstanding, are they really handling that much classified material? Any State interns out there, let us know.
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