The European Union, most often preoccupied with its economic problems over the past few years, grappled with two strategic challenges last week. The first involved a tug-of-war with Russia over Ukraine. The second centered on Geneva, where the union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, chaired talks on Iran’s nuclear program. The EU appeared to fail the first test, as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych stepped back from approving an association agreement with the bloc under pressure from Moscow. By contrast, the Geneva negotiations culminated in seeming success, as Tehran agreed to temporarily curtail its uranium enrichment in exchange for mild sanctions […]

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The phase one agreement signed in Geneva over the weekend by the P5+1 powers and Iran, though temporary, conditional and fraught with uncertainty, is inarguably good news: It is the first time that Iran has explicitly agreed to freeze or limit parts of its nuclear program, and roll back other parts of it, since the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2005. If the deal holds, the next six months will be the first time in eight years that Iran’s nuclear program has been slowed for reasons other than technical difficulties and outside sabotage. It bears noting that the […]

Last week, Serbia signed a military cooperation agreement with Russia. In an email interview, Jim Seroka, professor at Auburn University and former visiting professor of national security studies at the U.S. Air War College who has written extensively on the Western Balkans, explained the state of Serbia’s armed forces. WPR: What is the current state of Serbia’s defense forces? Jim Seroka: The Serbian armed forces today have shrunk considerably in size and capabilities since 2000 and no longer represent a security threat to Serbia’s neighbors. In 2000, Serbia-Montenegro had more than 100,000 military personnel, 1,500 main battle tanks and 192 […]

On Nov. 17, Georgian and Israeli officials signed an agreement to lift visa requirements for Georgian citizens traveling to Israel, reciprocating Georgia’s visa-free policy for Israelis in place since mid-2005. Although subject to approval from their respective legislatures, the deal represents a major diplomatic accomplishment for Tbilisi and a stunning turnaround in bilateral relations. As recently as a year ago, Georgia-Israel ties were at their modern nadir under Georgia’s now-opposition United National Movement (UNM). Despite a once-close relationship, the two countries rapidly fell out due to Georgian accusations over an arms purchase gone bad, Georgia’s seemingly retributive jailing of Israeli […]

Francois Hollande may be one of the least popular presidents of all time at home in France, but in Israel, where he was greeted yesterday with the red carpet treatment, he is certainly one of the most popular French presidents ever to visit the country. The obvious reason is France’s hard-line stance in Geneva at the latest round of talks on the Iranian nuclear issue. But contrary to how it has been portrayed, Paris’ firmness on Iran’s nuclear program is not driven by a desire to curry favor in Israel—or in the Persian Gulf—and French-Israeli relations should not be reduced […]

A new political alliance was announced in Europe this week. Meeting in The Hague, the leaders of the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, and France’s National Front, Marine Le Pen, announced they would campaign together for the approaching European Parliament elections in 2014. Both parties oppose immigration, Islam and the European Union, and hope to rally a pan-European insurgency to their banner. The meeting was focused on May 2014, when voters across Europe will head to the ballot box to elect their representatives in the European Parliament. European elections are held every five years to determine the composition of […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent “reassurance tour” of America’s Middle East partners was not a resounding success. Kerry’s attempts to convince skeptical allies that the United States remains committed to their security and well-being, interrupted in part by the secretary’s decision to travel to Geneva to attend the second round of talks over Iran’s nuclear program, were confronted with concerns that the United States lacks both strategic focus and staying power. Writing in Gulf News, Linda S. Heard opined, “The U.S. is currently bleeding trust with many of its regional allies.” On Egypt, Syria, Israel-Palestine and Iran, U.S. […]

Prior to the end of 2012, the Sahel, the region comprising Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, did not receive much attention in Europe outside Paris. However, since the French-led intervention in early 2013 to combat the violent Islamist takeover in northern Mali, the Sahel has become a regular subject for discussion among European foreign and security policymakers. Suddenly, as Bamako was faced with a coup, it hit home to Europeans how close the region is and how closely intertwined with European interests it has become. As we near the end of 2013, the strategic importance of this region, and […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s trip this week to Vietnam and South Korea, which follows last week’s unprecedented foreign and defense ministerial meeting in Japan, testifies to Moscow’s continuing efforts to raise its profile in Asia. Last year, Russia hosted its first Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference; the previous year, it joined the East Asian Summit. Half of Russia’s arms exports flow to Asian countries, which also buy Russia’s oil and gas as well as its civil nuclear technologies. Like their Western counterparts, Russian analysts consider that demographic, economic and other trends will make the Asia-Pacific the world’s most important region […]

On Nov. 4, French President Francois Hollande received his Tunisian counterpart, Moncef Marzouki, at the Elysee Palace to discuss bilateral ties as Tunisia continues in its halting democratic transition. The visit coincided with yet another stalemate in recently renewed political talks within Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA), the body formed in 2011 to draft the country’s new constitution. The 2011 Tunisian uprising that resulted in the ouster of former dictator Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali marked a new chapter for French-Tunisian relations, born out of colonial ties and maintained today through economic partnership. Amicable relations with Ben Ali flourished particularly under […]

Under new President Hasan Rouhani, Iran has moved swiftly to repair communication channels with the U.S. and speed up negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. So far, much attention has been paid to how Washington will react to Rouhani’s diplomatic outreach. But success in these negotiations will also necessitate an improved Iranian relationship with the European Union. While there is skepticism about how flexible the Islamic Republic can be and whether Presidents Hasan Rouhani and Barack Obama can deliver on whatever deal might come out of the negotiation process, an equally important question is what the EU can offer to get […]

After weekend election violence in Kosovo forced polling places to close early and left ballot boxes destroyed, leaders of Serbia and Kosovo are meeting in Brussels today to discuss next steps. At the same time, officials have announced that the elections will be repeated in Mitrovica, the northern Serb-dominated municipality in majority-Albanian Kosovo where the attacks took place. Prime Minister Ivica Dacic of Serbia and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of Kosovo are meeting to determine how to move forward on a pact that aims to integrate ethnic Serbs with the rest Kosovo. Under the terms of a European Union-mediated agreement […]

Late-October elections in the Czech Republic yielded no parliamentary majority for any party. In an email interview, Robert Kron, a senior analyst at the Center for European Policy Analysis, explained why the vote was inconclusive and the prospects for coalition negotiations. WPR: What political factors explain the inconclusive parliamentary vote and the Social Democrats’ poor performance? Robert Kron: The resounding failure of the traditionally most prominent political parties—the Social Democrats (CSSD) and the Civic Democrats (ODS)—and the striking success of Andrej Babis’ Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) movement, which will enter parliament for the first time, can be explained by […]

On Oct. 27, voters in Georgia picked Giorgi Margvelashvili to replace outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili, affirming the prominence of the Georgian Dream party, which ousted Saakashvili’s United National Movement in parliamentary elections last year. In an email interview, Cory Welt, associate director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the George Washington University and an adjunct fellow at the Center for American Progress, discussed the ramifications of the vote for Georgia’s democracy WPR: What does the successful presidential vote, in addition to last year’s parliamentary transfer of power, indicate about the strength of Georgian democracy? Cory Welt: […]

The abrupt about-face on Syria, the global humiliation resulting from the U.S. government shutdown, the continuing fallout from revelations about National Security Agency activities, strong statements emanating from Riyadh that Saudi Arabia is re-evaluating its relationship with the United States—all of these have fed into a narrative that the United States is losing the ability to set the global agenda. The perception that President Barack Obama has been weakened led Forbes magazine to drop him to the No. 2 spot on the list of the world’s most powerful people, with Russia’s Vladimir Putin leapfrogging him to take the top position […]

The deaths by drowning of more than 350 people on Oct. 3 as they tried to reach Europe from Libya unleashed a wave of sympathy and horror on both sides of the Mediterranean for the victims and for Lampedusa, the small island stepping-stone to Italy from North Africa. Six days later, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso traveled to Lampedusa to reassure the people of the island, and the European Union, that something would be done to prevent further tragedies and to assist those who bear the burden of migrant arrivals. Also present was […]