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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 […]

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. […]

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 […]

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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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Of the 79 recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report that came out recently, the one that got the most attention — even before the report’s release — was the recommendation that the U.S. government talk with Iran and Syria. That recommendation has also met with broad approval in the Arab world, not so much out of affection for the two countries but out of a conviction that dialogue will yield better outcomes than an effort at isolation. Indeed, the Gulf governments’ response to more strident voices in Tehran over the last 18 months has not been a 1980s-style isolation […]

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The United States embassy in Baghdad is a bustling complex with a staff of over a thousand Americans, more than in any other country. Its Iraqi counterpart in Washington is a quiet, shuttered red brick house adjacent to Dupont Circle with maybe a dozen staffers headed by Ambassador Mahmoud Sumaidaie. who has held the post since May. Sumaidaie may be Iraq’s leading voice in the United States, but he speaks in a whisper, and very selectively, steering clear of the high volume public debate about the future of his country. For a diplomat whose country dominates the news, he has […]

Pierre Heumann of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche spoke with Al-Jazeera Editor-in-Chief Ahmed Sheikh in Doha. This revealing interview appears here in English for the first time. -o- Mr. Sheikh, as the Editor in Chief of Al-Jazeera, you are one of the most important opinion-makers in the Arab world. What do you call suicide bombers? For what is happening in Palestine, we never use the expression “suicide bombing.” What do you call it then? In English, I would describe it as “bombings.” And in Arabic? Literally translated, we would speak of “commando attacks.” In our culture, it is precisely not […]

WASHINGTON — President George Bush met with a leading Iraqi Shiite politician at the White House Monday amid speculation of an imminent change of direction in the U.S. approach towards charting Iraq’s national destiny. Bush said he told Sayyed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the influential leader of SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, “we’re not satisfied with the pace of progress in Iraq.” The administration has been gathering proposals from several sources on how to put the democratization of Iraq back on track and accelerate an orderly American withdrawal. One source, the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group is […]

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CAIRO, Egypt — During the latest protest against sexual harassment here last month, women were once again the victims of harassment. This time, however, the assaulters were none other than Egypt’s security policemen. At a Nov. 15 protest, female protesters were stalked, groped, shoved and pushed around. In one case, a woman in flowing black robes and a colorful bright scarf was held by the arm, dragged over a flight of stairs and shaken by her veil as bystanders and a fellow male protestor were hurled back. The humiliated young woman — in her early twenties — was not the […]