Iran and the Limits of Isolation

Whether or not the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran “backed” Iran’s nuclear program (the joint declaration adopted at the summit’s end simply “. . .reaffirmed the basic and inalienable right of all states, to develop research, production and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.”), the fact that the meeting took place in Tehran did send me back to this quote from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent interview with Brian Williams: Well, the world — the doors rather of the larger world are not closed to us. This is a great and mighty country, a great nation with a great […]

Predicting the course of events in the Middle East is like trying to look into the future of a chess game in which a hundred players make moves over a dozen boards. The number of possible outcomes became even greater after Wednesday’s announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he will resign following his party’s upcoming primaries. Olmert’s words managed to pack emotional drama even though they did not come as a surprise. The Israeli leader has suffered under the growing weight of corruption scandals, with the public’s patience with him having long run out. Israelis might have felt […]

In mid July, the international community renewed its efforts to curb the spread of small arms and light weapons (SALW). After failing to even adopt a report at their last meeting in 2006, this year’s delegates found a way through Iranian procedural objections to vote for modest next steps on a program of action to address the illicit trade of the deadly devices. Watchers of the small arms trade will now be looking to see if successful conclusion of the meeting adds momentum to a separate process examining the possibilities for a broader global arms trade treaty. In 2001, U.N. […]

The Political Logic of Timetables

Kevin Drum’s got a smart post on the likelihood of President Bush and Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki reaching a deal on a status of forces agreement that was recently believed to be dead in the water. Here’s the key quote from the WSJ article Kevin flags: Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national-security adviser, said the recent agreement between Washington and Baghdad on a withdrawal time horizon is pushing the talks along. “That mutual understanding has been very beneficial,” he said. “Neither of us can deal with open-ended uncertainty.” The Iraqis are still pushing for a 2010 date, in line with Barack Obama’s […]

WASHINGTON — Sky-high oil prices are keeping Iran’s government flush with revenue. But they are also contributing to Iran’s soaring inflation, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s worst economic woe. Pain at the pump for consumers of oil-importing countries usually translates into political gain for authoritarian leaders in oil-rich countries who use oil rents to buy political support. As Thomas Friedman famously put it, “the price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions.” “Iran is no exception,” said Farideh Farhi, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “But high oil prices […]

Earlier this month, the Philippine government hinted that its four-year ban on Filipinos working in Iraq might be lifted before the year is up. In a July 15 statement, Assistant Foreign Secretary for Middle East and African Affairs Jesus Yabes cited the improving conditions in Baghdad as a reason to end the prohibition. The ban was put in place in 2004 by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo following the abduction of a Filipino truck driver who was working in Iraq at the time. Yabes’ statement came just a month after a Filipino was killed and two others injured in a […]

Sacrificing Choice in Iraq

I’ve been trying to put the weekend’s string of horrible terrorist attacks out of India, Turkey and Iraq into some sort of context, and Daniel Larison’s insightful post on the question of time-based vs. conditions-based withdrawal from Iraq is a good place to start: Meanwhile, the horrific attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk offer a reminder why so-called “conditions-based” withdrawals are forever subject to revision and why timetables that can be revised by such contingencies are meaningless. Tying withdrawal to conditions in Iraq places U.S. policy at the mercy of the worst elements in Iraq, which gives these elements every incentive […]

“If China is winning, the United States must be losing.” That is precisely the principle that many Americans see at work not only in the world, but also in the Middle East. China’s surging manufacturing capacity has contributed to the steep decline in manufacturing jobs in the United States. U.S. businessmen worry about the consequences of Chinese firms taking over U.S. firms such as Unocal and 3Com and scuttle the deals. U.S. bankers agonize over China’s massive current accounts surpluses and its huge dollar holdings. Many perceive China to be a military threat too, expanding its reach in the Pacific […]

Turkey on the Brink

Yesterday’s explosions in Istanbul that killed 17 people and injured more than 150 others took place in the context of the extremely tense Supreme Court deliberations that could outlaw Turkey’s ruling moderate Islamic AKP party. (The Hurriyet article I flagged points out that the Court has other options at its disposal that range from dismissing the case, as the non-binding court reporter recommended, to simply imposing a fine or removing the party’s public financing.) At the risk of oversimplifying, the case grows out of the longstanding tug of war between Turkey’s increasingly popular religious parties and its “old guard” secular […]

Iran’s High Stakes Gambit

The AP via Iran Focus is reporting that Iranian Vice-President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh “signalled” that Tehran would no longer cooperate with the IAEA following his meeting with IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei: Investigating such allegations “is outside the domain of the agency,” he said after meeting with ElBaradei. Any further queries on the issue “will be dealt with in another way,” he said, without going into detail. At the same time, according to Alalam News, Aghazadeh expressed optimism regarding the possibility of reaching a negotiated settlement to the issue: “Both sides have received the messages of the other side and are […]

Turkey’s Constitutional Showdown

Alex Taurel and Shadi Hamid have a CSM op-ed discussing what’s at stake in the upcoming Turkish Supreme Court judgment on the ruling AKP party’s legal status. I agree that a ruling outlawing the extremely popular and effective reformist party would send a horrible message to moderate Islamic parties trying to integrate the democratic process throughout the region. Taurel and Hamid don’t mention it, but it would also come at a very inopportune time, as Turkey is becoming an increasingly active and helpful regional actor. So I hope and imagine that we’re trying to influence the outcome in some way […]

The American Politics of Iraqi Elections

Yesterday Marc Lynch over at Abu Aardvark advised us to “keep an eye on those kurds” (sic), who walked out on the Iraqi parliament’s vote on the provincial elections law to protest the provisions dealing with the status of Kirkuk, and the use of a secret ballot to pass them. Today comes news that the Iraqi presidential council, headed by President Jalal Talabani (himself a Kurd) but joined by Shiite Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, vetoed the law, sending it back to parliament for reworking (via today’s WPR Media Roundup). That effectively rules out any elections before next year, dealing a setback […]

Sen. Barack Obama’s whirlwind tour of the Middle East and Europe, as everyone knows, has its primary intended audience in the United States. The trip amounts to a high-mileage campaign swing aimed at impressing voters at home. In Israel, however, a local audience without the right to vote in America is paying close attention. And the conclusion that Israelis and their leaders reach about this would-be U.S. commander-in-chief could shape their decision about what to do in the coming months regarding Iran. To put it bluntly, Obama’s behavior in Israel and during the rest of his trip could determine whether […]

Should We Really Be Rushing Iran?

If you’d like an alternative take on the latest round of Iran nuclear talks, try Flynt Leverett’s and Hillary Mann Leverett’s corrective in the National Interest. They condemn the rush to impose what they call an artificial deadline on Iran to accept our pre-conditions, even if those are more generously defined. Instead, they put the negotiations in the context of consistent Iranian efforts to use issue-specific cooperation as a way to engage a “comprehensive diplomatic agenda,” efforts consistently disappointed by this and previous American administrations. The Leverett’s suggest that recent shifts in American posture have created a receptive climate in […]

U.S.-Syrian Backchannels

In the latest indication that the Bush administration has abandoned its “see none, hear none” approach to the Axis of Evil, a delegation of Syrian diplomats will meet with a State Department official in Washington later this week. A State Department spokesman specified that the group, in town for a Brookings Institution event, would be visiting in their “private capacity,” which means that the meeting is not an “official” one. But since the group initially included the Syrian’s lead negotiator in their mediated peace talks with Israel (he’s reportedly since been kept back in Damascus), that’s just diplospeak for, “Whatever […]

More Iranian Response Capacity

In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Iran hand Gary Sick discusses one potential Iranian response to an Israeli airstrike that Sam Roggeveen forgot to mention yesterday: . . .Clearly, one quick strike like the bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981 cannot do it. Iran has spread these [sites] around over a wide range of territory and buried many of them deep underground. . . And it’s hard to believe that Israel could carry out multiple bombing raids, even if they decided to try to do it without U.S. assistance. Then what do you […]

Iran’s “None Paper” Leaked

Some more detail from Elaine Sciolino of the NY Times on a “None Paper” (sic) that Iran distributed at Saturday’s talks in Geneva. (A .pdf version of the document is available here.) The paper’s amateurish style is apparently in stark contrast with Iran’s previous negotiating team (made up of career diplomats), and according to Sciolino’s sources, even the Russian deputy foreign minister couldn’t suppress a laugh upon reading it. The lack of seriousness in Iran’s position, which did not specifically address the P5+1’s initial “freeze for freeze” proposal, is obviously the talking point upon which the EU3 and the U.S. […]

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