ANNAPOLIS I: THE NOT-SO-SECRET SERVICE — The Annapolis Conference on the Middle East started with something as mundane as an early morning bus ride. At 8 a.m., foreign ministers and senior diplomats from 46 countries were bussed from the State Department to the U.S. Naval Academy for better security, and to avoid clogging rush hour traffic on the beltway with individual motorcades, it was said. In reality, however, the buses were meant to make sure that everyone showed up at the conference. Security was mainly shared between the local police and the oddly named Uniformed Secret Service, a Treasury Department […]

WASHINGTON — Some 40 foreign ministers and other senior officials are being bussed to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Tuesday for a day’s discussion on the conflict that has dominated events in the Middle East since 1948. Each speaker will initially have five minutes (President Bush will have a few more) to spell out his or her proposals for establishing peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Rome isn’t the only place that wasn’t built in a day. Neither will a peaceful Middle East, with Israel and Palestine existing side by side. But the United States, organizer of […]

This week, the United States is hosting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Annapolis, Md., in hopes of jumpstarting the stalled Middle East peace process. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made several trips to Israel and the Palestinian Territories in an effort to bring the two parties closer to negotiations. Rice has been working on the Middle East peace process from the early days of the Bush Administration. Bringing a just and comprehensive peace to the Middle East is a top priority for President Bush, especially in light of the negative aftermath of […]

At long last the invitations have gone out. The Annapolis meeting will take place after all, and it will happen this Tuesday. I suspect Miss Manners might have objected to sending invitations just a few days before the event, especially considering most of the guests will have to travel many thousands of miles to get to the bash. But then, Miss Manners never had to set the table for a gathering of Arab and Israeli adversaries. Of all the questions surrounding this much-maligned non-conference, the most critical is: Will it disappoint? Will it disappoint Palestinians so much that they turn […]

Some might say it was just oil and business deals worth billions that prompted President Bush earlier this year to do what it takes: get over his acute dislike for hosting formal state dinners and invite the Saudi King Abdullah as the guest of honor for a lavish White House gala. But oil and big business deals are only the most obvious reasons to court the Saudi king. Given the president’s many predicaments in the Middle East, the Saudis are a power well positioned to help a friend in need. However, if the invitation was intended to acknowledge the importance […]

The early-November visit to Azerbaijan of the newly elected President of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, highlighted the strategic importance of the Turkey-Azerbaijan relationship and the two countries’ common economic and security interests. As such, it attracted much attention in the Azerbaijani media, where analysts happily noted that Azerbaijan was the first country visited by the Turkish leader since he assumed his post in July. As Azerbaijaini political scientist Rustam Mammadov suggested in the wake of the trip, Gul’s visit even had implications for the complex political situation unfolding in the Middle East. Speaking to the News – Azerbaijan agency, Mammadov said […]

On Oct. 19, NATO troops on patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand province fired a warning shot to stop a civilian vehicle that had come too close to the soldiers’ convoy. The round ricocheted, killing a two-year-old girl outside her home, according to Agence France-Presse. It’s an old problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, where occupying troops find themselves targeted by suicide bombers in chaotic urban environments where it’s impossible to tell the good guys from the bad. Most soldiers have no peaceful way of communicating with civilian drivers other than with vague hand gestures — and few means short of a rifle […]

Palestinian men, women and children, poured into the streets of Gaza City on Monday, determined to make a statement on the third anniversary of the Yasser Arafat’s death. Precisely what statement they wished to make remains a matter of some debate. Was it love for the late Arafat, founder of Hamas rival Fatah, or a yearning for a return to the pre-Hamas days? Whatever the marchers meant to say, Hamas leaders read the crowd, estimated at about 200,000, as a threat to their iron-fisted grip on Gaza. Hamas gunmen opened fire with live bullets on the sea of demonstrators, killing […]

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EGYPTIAN POLICE PAY PRICE FOR ABUSE — Two Egyptian police officers were convicted Monday for their abuse of a Cairo bus driver, raising some hope among Egyptians that impunity for the country’s security forces could become a thing of the past. The two officers — Capt. Islam Nabih and Corp. Rada Fathi — each received sentences of three years. While their representatives indicated the officers would appeal the sentence, few expect the decision to be overturned given the damning evidence. The officers detained, beat and sodomized 22-year-old Emad Mohammad Ali in January 2006 before releasing him without charge. They recorded […]

By now, after years of skyrocketing fuel prices, the news that the price of a barrel of oil is hitting $100 doesn’t exactly cause panic. When you consider that a barrel of crude cost just $11 in 1998, and double that at the beginning of the decade, the truly astonishing development is that our lives have changed so little as a result of the higher prices. And yet, as some oil exporting countries swim in the riches of our gas money, the consequences of $100 oil are not always what you — and they — might expect. Soaring prices at […]

As the United States turns up the sanctions heat yet again on Iran’s nuclear pretensions, the specter of a Middle East bristling with atomic warheads, fueled by mutual suspicion and ancient hatred, has been created by the Shia-Sunni divide. Over the past year, in reaction to the bellicose rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, several Muslim states in the region have quietly declared their own nuclear aspirations. Though the region’s rapid, oil-driven, economic growth rate of 5.7 percent in 2006 — creating an unprecedented strain on the region’s power infrastructure — is a factor, Sunni Muslim fears of Shia Iran’s […]

In meetings with Secretary Rice in Turkey over the weekend and with President Bush Monday, Turkish leaders sought a promise of U.S. action against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), an agreement on joint action or, failing these, a green light from the United States for Turkish direct action in northern Iraq. Turkish officials have known since the onset of this crisis that a large-scale overt operation in northern Iraq would be unpalatable to the United States because of the delicate internal politics of Iraq and the U.S.-Kurdish alliance. That alliance has kept the north of the country relatively stable despite […]

During his Oct. 30 visit to Tehran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s opposition to imposing any additional sanctions against Iran without the specific approval of the U.N. Security Council, where Russia enjoys the right of veto. Lavrov’s trip occurred as the six countries involved in negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program — China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — are debating whether to impose a third round of sanctions against Tehran. The Iranian government has resisted demands to curb its uranium enrichment program, which could provide the basis for manufacturing nuclear weapons. […]