It's been over two months since the toughest Iran sanctions ever approved by Congress were signed into law, three months since the UN's latest resolution, and 15 months since Iran's post-election demonstrations began. Despite all of this, Iran's clerical government is not crumbling, nor has Iran shown any sign of giving in to the West on its nuclear program.
Recent weeks have seen a renewed discussion of military options for stopping Iran's nuclear program - kicked off by Jeffrey Goldberg's cover article in the Atlantic. But there is also a campaign underway to promote a different option on Iran: regime change, via Iranian dissidents in exile.
In the past month, Yemen has returned to the spotlight. The CIA now believes that the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is a larger security threat to the United States than al Qaeda Central in Pakistan. Since then, press accounts have stated that the United States government plans to carry out drone attacks in Yemen, and reported that U.S. Central Command plans to give $1.2 billion in aid to Yemen's military over a five-year period. But such policies, no matter how well-intentioned, are unlikely to solve the very real challenges posed by al Qaeda's presence in Yemen and may well make the situation worse.
It originally appeared that there was widespread consensus in the government on providing such military aid to Yemen. But a recent article in the New York Times highlights that there is a vigorous debate within the Obama administration about the efficacy of such aid. The Obama administration has been debating the legality of droning an American citizen (i.e. Anwar al-Awlaki). Before rushing into a major new program, it's worth recalling the reasons why past U.S.-backed efforts aimed at eliminating al Qaeda's presence in Yemen have failed.
It is no secret that Arab public opinion toward U.S. President Barack Obama has soured since his June 2009 speech in Cairo, Egypt. According to a slew of recent opinion polls, Arabs have been deeply disappointed with Obama's accommodations to Israel. Analysts have suggested that this discontent has caused Arabs to embrace Iran and its nuclear program, and are hostile to U.S.-led attempts to isolate and pressure the Islamic Republic. But on this front, the numbers tell a very different story.
Prof. Shibley Telhami, for example, contended that Arab opinion is "shifting toward a positive perception of Iran's nuclear program." Telhami, who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a prominent analyst of Middle Eastern public opinion, asserts that Arab publics even have sanguine views about the consequences for the region if Iran was to develop a nuclear weapon.
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This morning, at a small meeting with various Washington-based analysts and European diplomats, I was asked to speculate on the future of Iran policy. While it's of course impossible to predict, I don't expect to see military action by the U.S. or by Israel. Nor do I expect to see any serious progress towards a political bargain, either a narrow one about the Iranian nuclear program nor an expansive one about Iran's place in the Middle East. Nor do I expect Iran to test a nuclear weapon.
More likely than either is a relentless slide towards a replay of the Iraq saga of the 1990's: a steady ratcheting-up of sanctions, which increasingly impact the Iranian people but fail to compel change in the regime's political behavior; episodic and frequent diplomatic crises which consume the world's diplomatic attention and resources; the growing militarization and polarization of the Gulf; ongoing uncertainty about Iranian intentions and capabilities. Eventually, as with Iraq, the choices may well narrow sufficiently and the perception of impending threat mount so that a President -- maybe Obama, maybe Palin, maybe anyone else -- finds him or herself faced with "no choice" but to move towards war. "Keeping Tehran in a Box" is not a pretty scenario, nor one which I think anyone especially wants, but it seems the most likely path unless better "off-ramps" are developed to avert it. And such "off-ramps" are the most glaring absence in the current Iran policy debate.
After 19 months, President Barack Obama has finally convened Arab-Israeli peace talks and set a one-year timeline for securing a final peace deal. If he is serious about this goal, he will need to establish a regional environment conducive to peace -- a step that requires rebuilding American strength in the region.
Historically, the United States has made its most significant progress in Middle East peacemaking when it operated from a pre-eminent position in the region. That's what convinced Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to chuck the Soviets and turn to Washington to engineer his peace with Israel in the 1970s; it is also what convinced Arabs and Israelis to start the modern era of peacemaking at the Madrid peace conference, following the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait.
But this iteration of peace talks, which will resume on Sept. 14 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, begins with many in the Middle East questioning American strength, not deferring to it. This change has potentially negative implications for our ability to help Arabs and Israelis forge peace.
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Mark Perry's article, "Red Team" (ForeignPolicy.com, June 30) argues that an intelligence unit inside the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) known as the "Red Team" is thinking outside the box about the Middle East and recommending strategies for Hezbollah and Hamas that are "at odds with current U.S. policy."
Perry's thesis is that there is an important divide in the U.S. government over how to deal with these militant groups, as evidenced by the apparent rift between "senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters" and everyone else. For Perry, a prominent advocate of negotiating with radical Islamist groups, this institutional discrepancy over Middle East policy proves that his ideas have achieved credibility at high levels within the U.S. policymaking community.
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Over the past year, the Obama
Administration has missed successive opportunities to bring real international
pressure on the Iranian government to address the severe human rights crisis
gripping the country. Instead, it has focused its political muscle on the
singular objective of convincing Iran's leadership to stop nuclear
enrichment. The result has been an almost cruel disregard for the plight of the
Iranian people and their urgent need for international attention to their human
Since joining the UN Human Rights Council in June 2009, the United States has worked to address crises in places as diverse as Haiti, Honduras, Burma, Sudan, Guinea, Kyrgysztan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yet, since the Green uprising started last summer, not a single resolution has been presented by the United States or European states on the brutal repression taking place in Iran.
While packaged as a triumph, the rollout of a new round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is in fact more of a relief, given the circuitous path required to arrive at the talks. Convinced of the need for a U.S. role that was at once more activist and yet more dispassionate, President Barack Obama's administration committed a series of early diplomatic miscues that strained U.S. relations with both Israelis and Palestinians, and likely delayed the onset of direct negotiations. The legacy of those early errors -- the Sept. 26 expiration (or perhaps extension) of Israel's settlement moratorium -- continues to hang as a dark cloud over the fledgling peace process.
In light of the experience of the last 18 months, therefore, it is prudent to use the commencement of "direct talks" not only to revisit the negotiating issues themselves, but also to reassess the U.S. role in the negotiations.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Sept. 1 marks the change of the U.S. military mission in Iraq from combat to stability operations, successfully fulfilling the vision laid out by President Barack Obama at Camp LeJeuene in February 2009. Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended, and Operation New Dawn has begun. For the United States, this change of mission represents an important milestone in the transition from a primarily military-led effort in Iraq to a civilian-led one. This change of mission also marks a milestone in the full transition of responsibility for security to our Iraqi partners, continuing a process which began on Jan. 1, 2009, when the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement (SA) came into effect.
Under President Obama's direction, more than 90,000 U.S. forces have already responsibly departed Iraq. Over the next 16 months, the remaining 50,000-strong transitional force will focus on three primary missions: training, equipping, advising, and supporting the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF); partnered counter-terrorism operations; and protecting and enabling U.S. and international civilian partners in their continued capacity-building efforts. Our forces will also continue their responsible drawdown in compliance with the SA by Dec. 31, 2011. The growing capabilities of the ISF, coupled with the deepening commitment among Iraqis to resolving their outstanding grievances through the political process, have allowed the drawdown to continue without undermining security.
Although our military presence and mission have changed, no one should interpret our troop drawdown as U.S. disengagement from Iraq. On the contrary, the United States remains, and will continue to remain, fully engaged in its whole-of-government approach to encouraging the development of a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq. The nature of our engagement is shifting, as it must, but our commitment to Iraq is undiminished. Instead of representing disengagement, the change of military mission should instead be viewed for what it is: the next natural step toward building a long-term strategic partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect between the United States and a fully sovereign Iraq -- a core objective we share with the Iraqi government and people.
In his Iraq speech tonight, President Obama has an opportunity to explain to Americans how the United States and Iraq got to the point where the combat mission had to end by a date certain and explain how his administration can apply these lessons to the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan.
Conventional wisdom among America's foreign policy establishment is that setting deadlines for troop withdrawals from war zones are detrimental for U.S. national security. But this foreign policy establishment is just as wrong about why America is leaving Iraq by a date certain as they were about why we had to go to war in Iraq in the first place.
The narrative constructed by those who advocated that the U.S. increase, or surge, of more troops into Iraq in 2007 goes something like this: President Bush's troop increase demonstrated that our commitment was open-ended and allowed the military to implement a real counterinsurgency strategy that paved the way to "victory." But a closer examination of the facts demonstrates that the opposite is true -- in Iraq, violence declined because more Iraqis perceived that U.S. troops were leaving and took appropriate action.
A few months ago, I appeared on a popular Egyptian television talk show -- al-Qahira al-Youm -- that addressed front-page stories in the press. One of the questions I was asked surprised me. The Egyptian press had apparently translated a Washington Post article about President Barack Obama's private spiritual life and his regular consultation with Christian ministers. Seemingly alarmed, the host asked me to provide comment. Immediately, I saw where the question was headed. During the George W. Bush's presidency, there was considerable focus, at home and abroad, on Bush's Christian faith and the role of evangelicals in U.S. foreign policy. This played squarely into the hands of those Muslims who preferred to frame foreign-policy issues as a struggle between Islam and the "crusaders," and Obama seemed to provide a fresh start. But could Obama be instead a closet evangelical Christian?
It was not hard to deal with the question on Egyptian TV, pointing out that all presidents benefit from being recognized as men of faith and that being a Christian in the United States does not automatically provide predictions of your Middle East policy -- as is well-demonstrated by perhaps the most religious U.S. president of the 20th century, Jimmy Carter. But the very fact that this issue had to be addressed in the Arab media was itself an indication of the times, of the decline in Arab public opinion of a president who a year ago opened many hearts and minds even before he delivered a memorable and historic speech in Cairo.
In what is possibly a first for the mainstream U.S. media, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently noted some of the parallels between Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands and Morocco's attempted annexation of Western Sahara:
It's fair to acknowledge that there are double standards in the Middle East, with particular scrutiny on Israeli abuses. After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco's robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.
And just as one would expect, Morocco's ambassador to the United States, Aziz Mekouar, issued a prompt retort denying that Western Sahara was ever stolen. But the ambassador's logic was a bit fuzzy. "Far from stealing Western Sahara," Mekouar argued, "Morocco has offered the region autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty." Which is like saying that theft is not theft if you are willing to sell the stolen object back to the victims for a good price.
Eleven years ago, current king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, inherited one of the world's oldest thrones together with one of Africa's most intractable conflicts, the Western Sahara dispute. For his father, King Hassan II, the seizure of Western Sahara from Spain became a blessing and a curse. It was arguably Hassan's greatest achievement and yet Western Sahara soon became the greatest challenge to the consolidation of the post-colonial Moroccan state. Over a decade into his rule, Mohammed VI has yet to find a way to make good on his father's conquest and legacy in the contested Western Sahara.
The media has recently been rife with speculation about the possibility of a U.S. or Israeli preventive strike on Iran's nuclear infrastructure -- from former CIA Director Michael Hayden's observation last month that the drift toward military action against Iran appears "inexorable" to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen's recent statement that the U.S. military has drawn up plans to attack the Islamic Republic.
But, given recent developments in Iran, it is at least as likely that an increasingly belligerent Tehran will be the one that makes the move that sparks a conflict with the United States -- whether by an act of terrorism, by facilitating insurgent attacks in Iraq or Afghanistan, or by a military provocation in the Gulf or elsewhere -- unless Washington, acting with both caution and firmness, moves to avert such an eventuality.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
The view from the US embassy in Beirut overlooking the Mediterranean and Sanin Mountains will probably be the only tranquil picture that Washington's new Ambassador Maura Connelly will encounter as she readies for her new mission.
The latest border clash between the Lebanese army and the IDF, and the leaks of a possible involvement by Hezbollah in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, are driving tensions high in the country. As such, the current situation begs a vigorous US diplomatic push on several fronts in order to avert further escalation and a possibility of war that might spill beyond Lebanon's borders.
President Obama has sent a letter to Iraq's top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urging him to prevail upon Iraq's squabbling politicians to finally form a new government, an individual briefed by relatives of the reclusive religious leader said Thursday.
The individual, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the information came from members of Sistani's family in the Iranian holy city of Qom, where Sistani maintains a large complex of seminaries, libraries, clinics, and other humanitarian organizations.
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Tuesday's flare-up on the Israel-Lebanon border continues to be analyzed from every angle. Thus far at least, the deaths of three Lebanese (two soldiers and a journalist) and one Israeli soldier have not spiraled into a broader escalation. The much-dreaded and talked about summer war is still a matter of speculation, albeit now heightened (all of this exactly on the fourth anniversary of the 2006 war).
The exact sequence of events is still unclear. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had informed the relevant UN officials of a planned tree clearance deployment in the border area. UNIFIL updated the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) as per protocol while apparently asking the IDF to postpone its activity. The Israelis undertook their somewhat python-esque mission (Israel has none-too-subtle surveillance cameras throughout its border area with Lebanon. The Lebanese don't like it, the trees get in the way, but until this week they were the only innocent victims). An Israeli soldier can be seen almost dangling from a crane to fell the tree - he is clearly over the border fence though the UN has clarified that this particular territory, while on the Lebanese side of the fence, is still on the Israeli side of the UN-demarcated blue line border. The Lebanese seem to be disputing this.
Here is where the respective versions of events go their separate ways. Seeing their side of the fence transgressed and having shouted for Israel to pull back, the LAF either fired warning shots or immediately responded with lethal fire at an IDF position. The IDF either responded with lethal fire of its own on LAF positions or escalated by taking this action. Initial investigations suggest that the Lebanese side escalated. A brief exchange between the LAF and IDF ensued, both sides took casualties, and UNIFIL together with Washington, Paris, and other capitols urgently intervened to prevent further escalation.
A game plan to draw the United
States into a third war in the Middle
East may be quietly unfolding before our eyes.
Late last week, Republicans in the House or Representatives unveiled
H.Res.1553, a resolution providing explicit support for an Israeli bombing
campaign against Iran. The measure, introduced by Texas Republican Louie Gohmert and forty-six of his
colleagues, endorses Israel's
use of "all means necessary" against Iran "including the use of military
"We have got to act," Gohmert has said in regard to the measure. "We've got to get this done. We need to show our support for Israel. We need to quit playing games with this critical ally in such a difficult area."
While it is anathema to broach the subject of engaging militant groups like Hizballah and Hamas in official Washington circles (to say nothing of Israel), that is exactly what a team of senior intelligence officers at U.S. Central Command--CENTCOM--has been doing. In a "Red Team" report issued on May 7 and entitled "Managing Hizballah and Hamas," senior CENTCOM intelligence officers question the current U.S. policy of isolating and marginalizing the two movements. Instead, the Red Team recommends a mix of strategies that would integrate the two organizations into their respective political mainstreams. While a Red Team exercise is deliberately designed to provide senior commanders with briefings and assumptions that challenge accepted strategies, the report is at once provocative, controversial--and at odds with current U.S. policy.
Among its other findings, the five-page report calls for the integration of Hizballah into the Lebanese Armed Forces, and Hamas into the Palestinian security forces led by Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Red Team's conclusion, expressed in the final sentence of the executive summary, is perhaps its most controversial finding: "The U.S. role of assistance to an integrated Lebanese defense force that includes Hizballah; and the continued training of Palestinian security forces in a Palestinian entity that includes Hamas in its government, would be more effective than providing assistance to entities--the government of Lebanon and Fatah--that represent only a part of the Lebanese and Palestinian populace respectively" (emphasis in the original). The report goes on to note that while Hizballah and Hamas "embrace staunch anti-Israel rejectionist policies," the two groups are "pragmatic and opportunistic."
What will be the image that frames the news reporting of June 29's White House meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? Surely not another bow toward the desert monarch, as caught on video at the London G-20 meeting in April 2009. Or what hypercritics saw as a further deferential bob in Riyadh last June, when the president leaned forward so the shorter king could confer on him the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit, a chunky necklace that Obama took off within seconds.
Of course, what the White House staff most wants to avoid is any image as awkward as the shot of President George W. Bush and then Crown Prince Abdullah walking arm in arm at the start of a meeting at Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch in April 2002. The shot was memorialized by Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9/11 and, with Moore himself superimposed in place of Abdullah, became the poster for the movie, plastered on thousands of theater walls across the United States.
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On Monday, the latest version of Congress's sanctions bill was unveiled just in time to be passed and sent to the president's desk by July 4. The new sanctions bill comes on the heels of the one-year anniversary of the Iranian election that sparked a massive protest movement and brutal government reprisals. But while lawmakers have attempted to reconcile the pain that these new sanctions will impose on ordinary Iranians with Congress's claims of support for the people of Iran, this bill remains a blunt instrument that perpetuates the sanctions-only framework that has dominated the United States' Iran policy for decades.
The sanctions bill is officially titled the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (H.R. 2194), but it is better known by its shorthand moniker--"crippling sanctions." This was the term popularized by Senator Hillary Clinton when she was campaigning for president, but which fell out of vogue in Secretary Clinton's State Department following the violence and suffering that occurred in Iran over the last year.
In a highly-anticipated decision yesterday, the Supreme Court in a 6-3 vote affirmed the constitutionality of provisions in federal law criminalizing the provision of "material support" to foreign designated terrorist organizations (FTO), even in circumstances where that support is non-lethal and consists solely of speech--at least if that speech is coordinated with the designated FTO. This will have significant ramifications for US policy in the Middle East, where many of the groups designated as FTOs operate.
While the relevant statute defines "material support" to include a long list of items that are clearly connected to the violent activities of terrorists, it also includes more ambiguous terms such as "any...service,...training, expert advice or assistance." The principle plaintiffs in this case, The Humanitarian Law Project (HLP), wished to provide training to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the use of "humanitarian and international law to peacefully resolve disputes"; "engage in political advocacy on behalf of the Kurds who live in Turkey"; and "teach PKK members how to petition various representative bodies such as the United Nations for relief." The PKK, however, has been designated a "foreign terrorist organization" pursuant to the federal statute that criminalizes the provision of "material support" to such groups. Accordingly, the HLP brought this suit to obtain a judgment that provision of support of the kind which they intended--non-lethal tools to further political advocacy and peace-building--could not be legitimately criminalized under the US constitution.
A massive, burgundy-colored banner hung in the arched main drag of Damascus's Souq al-Hamidieh on June 7, lauding the Turkish NGO that was a key participant in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla that just one week earlier had been lethally attacked by Israeli commandos in international waters. The banner also thanked Turkey's government and people for their support of the 1.5 million people of besieged Gaza.
This spot is the premier messaging real estate for the big trading houses of Damascus and their allies in the Syrian government. The Syrian government's warm relationship with Turkey is not, of course, new. It is one that President Bashar al-Asad and Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem have worked on for many years now. From 2003 to 2008, when the Bush White House was working hard to encircle and isolate Syria, with a definite view to overthrowing the Asad regime, Damascus's strengthening tie to NATO member Turkey provided what regime insiders have described as "almost literally, a lifeline for us."
A year after President Obama's historic speech last June 4 in Cairo, the reality of his Middle East policy is in sharp contrast to the promising rhetoric and high expectations he raised. Obama's address, coupled with a concerted outreach strategy, made a deep impression among Arabs and Muslims. Many hoped that the young African-American president would seriously confront the challenges facing the region and establish a new relationship with the world of Islam.
Although it is not too late for Obama to close the gap between rhetoric and action, sadly for now, he has not taken bold steps to achieve a breakthrough in America's relations with the Muslim arena. His foreign policy is more status quo and damage control than transformational. Like their American counterparts, Muslims desperately long for real change that they believe in.
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One year ago today, President Barack Obama delivered an historic speech at Cairo University calling for a "new beginning" between America and the Muslim communities of the world. How has this ambitious effort fared over the last year? Has Obama fulfilled his promises? How have the Muslim communities of the world responded? Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics, the author of several authoritative books about al-Qaeda and Islamism, argues that Muslims are deeply frustrated by what they consider the failure to match words with deeds--but that Muslims themselves need to do more if progress is to be made. Peter Mandaville of George Mason University asks whether the whole premise of "Muslim engagement" may be entrenching the very problem it is meant to address. And Middle East Channel editor Marc Lynch and Kristin Lord, who recently co-authored a widely-discussed report on the administration's engagement strategy for the Center for a New American Security entitled ‘America's Extended Hand', point out that the administration has kept more of the promises made in Cairo than is generally recognized, but warn that the efforts may not survive Muslim fury over the American response thus far to Israel's attack on the Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza.
The anniversary of Obama's "New Beginning" speech in Cairo provides an opportunity to step back and assess the administration's overall progress in reaching out to the Muslim world. While the jury is still out--and looking shakier week by week--when it comes to major foreign policy issues, it is clear that the White House is charting a very distinctive course in the broader endeavor of building relationships with Muslims. There has been much discussion of specific successes and failures in the follow-up to the Cairo speech, and a veritable growth industry of Muslim engagement initiatives has appeared within the Beltway since last summer. But there may be a deeper conceptual problem: to the extent that it succeeds, "Muslim engagement" may begin to reinforce the very sense of exceptionalism it was intended to refute.
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One year ago today, President Obama delivered a much anticipated speech in Cairo, Egypt in which he pledged "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect." That new beginning seemed a long time ago this week, as Muslims expressed outrage over America's seeming support for Israel's naval commando attack on an aid convoy headed towards Gaza. It is no accident that the anniversary of Obama's speech has gone virtually unremarked in the Arab media this week, except for a few comments about unmet promises and some juxtaposition of that glorious moment with America's anemic response to Gaza.
The President's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, told a press conference that he did not believe that the American position would have a great impact on Obama's relations with the Muslim communities of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the Obama administration does not change its cautious approach quickly and forcefully address the blockade of Gaza which is the real heart of this week's scandal, it will confirm the crystallizing narrative of a President which either can not deliver on its promises or did not mean what he said. This would be a sad epitaph for the President's carefully nurtured outreach to the Muslim world.
This week saw Iran formally submit its fuel-swap proposal, brokered by Turkey and Brazil last week, to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Yet it is important to recall the curt response of U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton to the initiative to resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff and the far-reaching repercussions it is likely to have in the region. Indeed, just one week before the Turkish-Brazilian initiative, U.S. officials reiterated that the fuel-swap proposal for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) -- a confidence-building initiative that was designed to open the way to Iranian negotiations with the West on a range of issues -- was still on the table and that its terms could not be altered. The 20 percent enriched uranium that would be returned to Iran was earmarked to fuel a fully safeguarded reactor which produces isotopes for the treatment primarily of cancer. Previously, Iran purchased the necessary fuel on the open market.
George Mitchell, the Obama administration's special envoy for Middle East peace, plans to set a deadline for an Israel-Palestinian agreement, applying lessons learned from his successful mediation in a previous conflict.
Mitchell, delivering the keynote address Monday night to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Institute of Peace, said that "no two conflicts are the same." But he noted that he had "established a deadline" that led to the Good Friday agreement of April 10, 1998, that ended the bloody, decades-long conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
Asked after the speech whether he intended to set a similar deadline for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Mitchell said that he would do so after indirect talks between the two sides progress to direct negotiations.
"We will [have a deadline] once we do" make that transition, he said. He did not say how much time he would give the parties to agree.
In his speech, Mitchell, who last week concluded two rounds of indirect talks in the Middle East, said he will move "as soon as possible" to direct negotiations.
In his public remarks, the former Senate majority leader acknowledged widespread skepticism both in the region and in Washington that he can broker a deal between the center-right government of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas.
So far, the skeptics would seem to have the better of the argument, with little discernible narrowing of the gaps between the two sides since Mitchell was first appointed to his role -- on the second day of President Obama's term.
But Mitchell said there had been significant progress since the Obama administration took office. He noted that the Netanyahu government has endorsed the concept of an independent Palestinian state and agreed to freeze new housing construction on the West Bank for 10 months. The Palestinians, the envoy said, are working to stop attacks on Israel and have made "substantial improvements in law and order and economic development" in the West Bank. The Arab League has also endorsed the indirect negotiations, known as "proximity talks," he added.
Mitchell said that the proximity talks "are serious and wide-ranging, with both sides trying to move forward under difficult circumstances." All sides, he said, "know more or less what a solution looks like." He repeated what, since the latter part of the George W. Bush administration, has become a mantra for framing the dispute: an end to the occupation that began in 1967, a "viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent" Palestinian state, and "secure, recognized and defensible borders" for Israel.
Mitchell omitted mention of the toughest issues impeding Israeli-Palestinian peace: the fate of Jerusalem and of Palestinian refugees. But he insisted that the situation "is not hopeless" and promised that he will "persevere" in his efforts to end the conflict.
"The tragedies of the past need not determine the opportunities of the future," he said. "There is no such thing as a conflict that can't be ended" if leaders demonstrate courage and political will.
The audience of several hundred at the Four Seasons Hotel responded to Mitchell's remarks with a standing ovation.
Barbara Slavin, a former diplomatic correspondent for USA Today and assistant managing editor of the Washington Times, is the author of Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation.
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Since my return from Iraq, I have been trying to help thousands of Iraqis who fled the assassin's bullet. They have been tortured, raped, abducted, and killed because they worked for America. Estimates vary, but between 50,000 to 70,000 Iraqis have been employed by the United States over the past seven years. It is likely that thousands have already been killed as "traitors" or "agents" of America. And while I once thought that the dark years of Iraq's 2006-2008 civil war were the bleakest for these Iraqis, I am increasingly concerned that the worst days are yet ahead.
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The Brazilian-Turkish diplomatic breakthrough with
Iran has taken Washington by surprise.
Clearly, the geopolitical center of gravity has shifted -- five years of EU-led
negotiations led nowhere while the new emerging powers Brazil and Turkey
only needed a few months to produce a breakthrough. Now, the West needs to pull
off some political acrobatics to avoid being on the diplomatic
Before Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's trip to Iran this weekend, few among the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council were optimistic about his chances of success. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was charitable when he put Lula's odds at 30 percent. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly called her Brazilian counterpart to discourage Brazil from undertaking the diplomatic mission. And few in Washington seemed to have been prepared for a diplomatic breakthrough.
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