Corridors of Power: the Political Year in Europe, Hezbollah Rockets and More

A BIG POLITICAL YEAR IN EUROPE — Politically, 2007 promises to be an action packed year in Europe, and here’s a sampling: In May, the French presidential elections will bring to a close the Chirac era and perhaps see the installation of France’s first woman president, the Socialist candidate Segolene Royal. In Britain, another political career reaches its twilight when Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair makes way for his successor-in-waiting Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, either in September or earlier. Fresh trouble looms in Kosovo after the U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari in January presents his recommendations on what […]

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Old-fashioned political graffiti still shouts calls for social change on the walls of Latin American cities like Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Young idealists still preach the virtues of revolution, and an occasional taxi driver can startle you with an excited display of admiration for Colombia’s Marxist rebel leader Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda. Observing this scattered evidence of wishes to overthrow the system, one could easily be fooled into thinking democracy in Latin America is on shaky ground. A closer look, however, points to strong evidence that democracy is throwing deep roots in Latin soil. A few decades […]

World leaders reacted with outrage to a Libyan court’s decision Dec. 19 to again sentence to death six medical workers charged with deliberately infecting of over 400 children with HIV. The continuing saga threatens to derail Moammar Qaddafi’s delicately crafted attempts to re-engage with the international community. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice said the United States was “very disappointed with the outcome” and would like to see the medical workers released and “allowed to go home at the earliest possible date.” Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called the decision “exceedingly cruel.” “I am shocked by this kind of decision. It’s […]

Iraqi Shiite politicians and religious leaders are meeting in Najaf this weekend in the hope of overcoming factional differences and reaching agreement on at least a temporary halt in violence by their militias. The key figure in the negotiations is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the influential Shiite spiritual leader who lives in Najaf and who was recently reported to be furious with the record levels of attacks by Shiite Muslim militia and Sunni insurgents. Sistani, who hardly ever makes public pronouncements, was recently reported as calling for a joint effort by Shiites, Sunni, and Kurds to halt Iraq’s sectarian strife. […]

MOSCOW — The Russian government has resumed its attacks on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), criticizing it for focusing too much on democracy and human rights to the neglect of security and economic issues. The United States, meanwhile, is resisting functional changes to the organization while calling for increased attention to the area of the former Soviet Union. The OSCE is perhaps Europe’s most comprehensive security institution in terms of both membership and areas of responsibility. It has 55 member states — including Canada, the United States, Russia and most European and Central Asian countries — […]

NAIROBI, Kenya — Three years after the African Union began planning to establish a robust African Standby Force for peacekeeping missions, progress continues despite funding challenges and the reality check of a difficult AU peacekeeping mission in Sudan. The AU peacekeeping mission deployed in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region has failed to prevent violence against civilians, and that conflict has now spread into neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic. The dilemma facing Gen. Luke Afrazi, the Nigerian commander of African peacekeepers in Darfur, highlights the resource demands placed on peacekeeping missions. Afrazi has watched from the sidelines as Sudanese militias, […]

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Brazil defies definition. Its contrasts and contradictions are everywhere — from the Europeans of the south to the African heritage of Bahia, the megalopolis of Sao Paulo to the untouched remoteness of the Amazon, the joyous samba amid the chronic gun violence of the shanty settlements. It has world-class companies like energy giant Petrobras, but in many ways is a highly uncompetitive economy. But the most overwhelming contrast is between the fabulously wealthy and the desperately poor. By every international measurement, Brazil is one of the most unequal societies on earth, a condition that has […]

Kenyans heaved a collective sigh of relief this month following President Mwai Kibaki’s rejection of a huge pay raise given to him by the country’s sleaze-ridden parliament. Kibaki, the country’s third president, caved in to public pressure Dec. 13 and declined a hefty salary increase that would have netted him more than $44,000 a month. But Kenyans remain suspicious of their corrupt politicians, always scheming to rob the public purse. The country has reportedly lost over $1 billion — nearly a fifth of its state budget — to corruption since Kibaki took office in 2002. Elected on an anti-corruption ticket […]

On Dec. 18, President George Bush signed into law the United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act (H.R. 5682). On Dec. 13, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang had resolved months of ambiguity by indicating Beijing’s acceptance of the proposed U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. In response to a question about the proposed legislation, Qin Gang said: “We consider the cooperation between countries to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes will be beneficial to maintain the principles and effectiveness of international nuclear nonproliferation.” U.S. President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Singh announced in July 2005 they would pursue a bilateral […]

PIRIƁPOLIS, Uruguay — Workers in this Uruguayan town have been busily crafting the finishing touches on beachfront shops and restaurants. The Southern Hemisphere’s summer is arriving to this time-travelers’ destination, a place oddly reminiscent of a mid-century resort in the South of France. With summer’s arrival, hordes of tourists from neighboring countries should start rolling in at any moment. As laborers toiled here, somewhere else in the continent a modern brand of Latin American professionals wrapped their work on a more ambitious project. South America’s new crop of leftist leaders met in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to chart a course of regional […]

DAMACUS, Syria — The Iraq Study Group report said what Damascus wanted to hear about the urgency for a change of U.S. policy in Iraq and the need to engage both Damascus and Tehran in Iraqi affairs to minimize, if not end, the rising sectarian violence. Speaking to Al-Jazeera television recently, Buthaina Shaaban, Syria’s minister of expatriate affairs, said that the report was a “very important step because it means ending this era of American meddling in the region and the U.S. occupation of Iraq.” Damascus has long objected to the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, and it has […]

Corridors of Power: Blair’s Long Goodbye, Army Art and More

TONY’S LONG GOODYE — Until recently the received wisdom in Whitehall was that British Prime Minister Tony Blair would announce his resignation in early May, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown stepping into his shoes in June. But political developments have forced the pace of his departure, says a knowledgeable insider in London, and he will very probably quit 10 Downing Street in early March.<<ad>>Some time around May, the Labor government faces a very difficult election in Scotland where its strength is being challenged by the Scottish Nationalist Party; and the last thing Brown — a Scotsman — wants […]

Is a Spurned Turkey Looking Toward Moscow?

MOSCOW — Under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party, Turkey has been drifting eastward in recent years — but not toward the Islamic world. Instead, disputes with European countries over Cyprus and other barriers to Turkey’s entry into the European Union, as well as continuing differences between Ankara and Washington over U.S. policy in Iraq, have helped launch a de facto Ankara-Moscow axis in Eurasia. The last decade has seen a weakening of the factors that have traditionally tied Turkey to the West. Turkish leaders no longer believe they need NATO’s support in an unlikely military confrontation with […]

German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, listened to the statement of his Syrian counterpart with a slight grimace on his face. “Syria has not isolated itself from the world,” Walid Muallem explained at the Damascus airport, “but rather certain states have isolated themselves from Syria.” This response to Steinmeier’s demand that Syria should play a “constructive roll” in the region makes clear that diplomatic involvement with Syria does not in itself represent a way out of the, in Steinmeier’s words, “difficult transitional phase” in the Middle East. The press conference with Muallem in the VIP section of the Damascus […]

WASHINGTON — Developments in Baghdad are not waiting for President Bush to end his elaborate round of consultations on what to do next in Iraq. The White House now says it will reveal its revised Iraq strategy in the new year. But on Saturday, the Iraqis are scheduled to hold an all-party reconciliation conference in an attempt to unravel the skein of crisis and violence that has brought the country to a state of virtual civil war. Sources in Iraq said the much-postponed conference, now brought forward from its tentative date in early January, is not likely to be put […]

TEHRAN, Iran — On the way down from Tehran’s main ski hill a few days ago I hitched a ride with two 22-year old university students and asked them whether they were planning to vote in the coming elections. “What elections?” they asked. Then, after they had phoned a friend to confirm that a nationwide vote is indeed to take place on Dec. 15, they said the same thing I have heard from almost every Iranian I have spoken to over the past month, from millionaires and pop stars to pastoralists and kebab sellers: Of course we won’t vote, we’re […]

Five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor accused of intentionally infecting over 400 children with HIV as part of a CIA and Israeli intelligence plot are scheduled to have their fate decided by order of the Libyan high court on Dec. 19. On May 6, 2004, the six defendants were sentenced to death by firing squad in a trial observers say flaunted disrespect for human rights in every respect. Nine Libyan health workers also charged in the case were acquitted the same day. Libya’s Supreme Court threw out the verdict in early 2005 following Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi’s efforts to […]

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