The ink was not dry on the agreement that the United States and its five partners signed with Iran over the weekend before criticism exploded. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “a historic mistake,” while his economic minister, Naftali Bennett, said, “If five years from now a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal.” Former U.S. diplomat John Bolton called it “abject surrender.” And all of this is just the opening round: During the coming weeks there will be an outpouring of attacks on the agreement. The freshly signed deal is […]

Over the weekend the U.S.-led international negotiating team and Iran concluded an interim agreement in Geneva intended to verifiably limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for a partial relaxation of international economic pressure. The agreed upon “Joint Plan of Action” covers the next six months while the sides attempt to negotiate a comprehensive final agreement that would resolve the question of Iran’s nuclear status. While President Barack Obama said in a statement following the finalization of the agreement that the Iranian people have a chance at “rejoining the international community,” the nuclear issue is hardly the only obstacle to a […]

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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 […]

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 […]

For many in Washington, last month’s two-week shutdown of the federal government is already ancient history, replaced by a focus on the travails of the Obamacare website and feverish speculation about Hillary Clinton’s prospects as a presidential candidate in 2016. But the aftershocks of the shutdown continue to reverberate around the world. In particular, there is concern that President Barack Obama will have difficulty getting Congress, particularly a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, to vote in favor of giving his administration the flexibility it will need to conduct delicate negotiations, both with foes as well as with friends. The continuing negotiations […]

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Voters in the West African nation of Mali will go to the polls this weekend for legislative elections that may offer insight into the country’s uncertain political trajectory. Mali descended into chaos last year, when a coup d’etat in the country’s south paved the way for Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida to take over the northern two-thirds of the country. In late-July, Malians turned out in record numbers for a presidential election that the international community—particularly, France and the U.S.—had been calling for as a condition for unlocking nearly $4 billion in pledged assistance. That election came just six months […]

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 […]

Today the U.S.-Israeli relationship, long a bedrock alliance for both nations, is rancorous and tense. Americans on the political right attribute this to the weakness or even incompetence of President Barack Obama, particularly concerning Iran. Portraying the problem as one of personalities or political inclinations may keep pundits employed, but it misses the bigger and more important picture. The United States is, in fact, “pursuing a policy agenda in the Middle East that is increasingly divergent from Israeli interests,” but this reflects more than just a predilection of the Obama administration. The divergence between the two old allies reflects deep […]

By Sept. 10, 2001, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, was increasingly slouching toward irrelevance. Although USAID Administrator Brian Atwood had instituted important reforms during his tenure at the helm during the 1990s, the agency had been badly bloodied by a contentious political battle with the Republican-controlled Congress over whether it should be folded into the State Department. Remarkably, Atwood held both the State Department and Sen. Jesse Helms at bay when Congress tried to abolish USAID and place its remains in Foggy Bottom. But Atwood and the agency paid a steep price for their resistance, and angry […]

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently visited Istanbul to mark the opening of the Marmaray, a mammoth tunneling project connecting Europe with Asia beneath the waters of the Bosphorus. Constructed at a cost of more than $4 billion, the project is an iconic example of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s grand vision for Turkey. More ambitious still is Erdogan’s plan to build an extensive nuclear power program, virtually overnight, in a country that currently has no nuclear power plants. The prime minister hopes to have two nuclear power plants, with four reactors each, online in time for the Turkish Republic’s […]

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 […]

Did the liberal international order get a little less liberal last week? Western diplomats and human rights activists faced an accumulation of challenges across the United Nations system. On Tuesday, the General Assembly elected a clutch of repressive regimes—including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam—to the Human Rights Council. On Friday, African countries forced a showdown in the Security Council over the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) pursuit of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto for stirring up election-related violence in 2007, accusing the U.N. of disrespect for Africa. To pessimistic observers, these developments are symptomatic of a […]

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. […]

A few days after sitting across from an Iranian delegation in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is facing another daunting interlocutor as he buys time for the administration’s diplomatic approach: the U.S. Congress. Kerry made the case for a pause in additional sanctions at an off-the-record Senate Banking Committee briefing on Wednesday. Although the exact details have not been publicly disclosed of last week’s negotiations between Iran and the U.S.—in coordination with the other members of the Security Council and Germany—the proposed agreement reportedly contains some form of sanctions relief for Iran and other inducements in return for […]

The debate over whether America is the world’s indispensable nation will continue, but when it comes to the Middle East nobody is waiting for the answer. Washington’s gradual but steady retreat from its once-unabashed exercise of influence in the region has sparked a rush by second-tier powers to fill the vacuum that has resulted. As the U.S. holds back, other nations are raising their profile, hoping to gain from Washington’s reluctance to play a larger role. The more passive the U.S. becomes, the more assertive others grow. To be sure, the U.S. remains far and away the most influential outside […]

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 […]

In the aftermath of the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program over the weekend, too much emphasis is being placed on the “failure to reach a deal” and not enough on the fact that leaving Geneva without a signed agreement represents not a breakdown, but simply a strategic and in all likelihood short pause. Furthermore, there has been very little precision as to what the deal currently being hammered out in Geneva represents. It would help if the word “interim,” “preliminary” or “confidence-building” were systematically placed in front of the word “deal,” as that’s what is under discussion for the time […]

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