The international spotlight might be focused on the Obama administration’s efforts to change the tone of its dealings with Iran. But while global attention concentrates on the new U.S. approach, Iran’s regional relations with countries in the Middle East and beyond are undergoing a dramatic transformation, with repercussions that reach across the globe. A growing number of Arab countries have engaged in open diplomatic confrontation with Tehran. To compensate for the loss of friends in its own neighborhood, Iran has increasingly forged ties with leftist governments in Latin America, using its growing presence there to find novel ways to help […]

The World Health Organization on Monday raised its alert level for swine flu, edging the body closer to declaring a flu pandemic, while the death toll in Mexico, where the disease originated, neared 150. Half a dozen countries, including the United States, have identified swine flu cases, likely vectored by air travel. Governments across the planet are bracing for a full-blown pandemic that could claim thousands of lives. Among U.S. agencies, the Pentagon could arguably play a leading role in combating the disease. Recent emphasis on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief has prepared the military for a global public health […]

The Chinese Navy held a birthday party last week, and everybody came. Military observers from around the world attended the April 23 celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), held at the northern port city of Qingdao. The Chinese government put on a lavish display, showcasing 25 warships — ranging from nuclear submarines to a modern amphibious assault craft to an enormous hospital ship — along with 31 naval aircraft. Twenty-one ships from 14 foreign navies also joined the parade. The four-day commemoration included seminars on maritime security issues, a sampan race, and an at-sea […]

Few took issue with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s bold assertion on Wednesday that the Pakistan-based Taliban pose a “mortal threat” to the United States. The stakes, of course, are high. The Taliban provided safe haven to Osama bin Laden prior to the 9/11 attacks, and could very well be doing so now. Since fleeing Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion in 2001, they have mounted stubborn insurgencies on both sides of the border that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan’s tribal areas, and have now established footholds in formerly secure parts of Pakistan. The fact that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed power makes […]

IQUITOS, Peru — JUSTICE FLOWED SMOOTHLY FOR FUJIMORI: Here in northern Peru, the compact, luxury cruise ship Aqua glides through the brown waters of the Amazon River, escorted by pink dolphins and serenaded from the surrounding rain forest by birdsong and chattering monkeys. Because this is the high-water season, the typical shoreline lies up to 35 feet below the fast-flowing river surface. While other parts of the globe safeguard every drop of their precious water resources, the Amazon will have discharged millions of tons of fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean by June, as it does every year. Deep in […]

The most publicized image manipulation during President Barack Obama’s recent world travels involved Hugo Ch├ívez, who managed to get a front-page handshake with his North American counterpart and later launched an anti-American book to the top of the best-seller list by theatrically handing it to Obama before the cameras. But the most wounding moment came earlier, during the G-20 summit in London, when Obama — perhaps unintentionally — snubbed the President of Argentina. During the gathering of world leaders, Obama walked in the Argentine’s direction, offering a wide smile and an outstretched hand in preparation for a handshake. President Cristina […]

LIBREVILLE, Gabon — When the unarmed medical teams from the amphibious ship U.S.S. Nashville arrived for a scheduled visit at Centre-Arc-en-Ciel, a children’s shelter in this lush West Africa capital, the roughly 20 children there panicked. They fled into the shelter’s boys’ dormitory, one tiny boy even curling up into a ball on the bottom shelf of a locker. Seeing the uniforms, some of them camouflaged like army uniforms, the children thought the sailors were carrying guns, explained Gabriela Escudero, a humanitarian liaison from the U.S. embassy in Libreville. “They’ve had difficult lives,” Escudero said. With some coaxing, Escudero showed […]

Russia and NATO have been trying to “reset” their relations in parallel with the ongoing reconciliation between Washington and Moscow. Although progress along these lines has occurred, Russia-NATO differences over Georgia remain a major impediment. Belying Moscow’s hopes that the new American administration and other NATO members might reduce support for the current Georgian government in order to secure Russian assistance regarding Afghanistan, Iran, and other issues, the alliance appears unwilling to abandon Tbilisi despite Russian threats and inducements. NATO’s decision to conduct a major military exercise, “Cooperative Longbow/Lancer-09,” in Georgia from May 6 through June 1 has reignited the […]

The time has come, once again, to castigate the United Nations. In response to North Korea’s test-missile firing, the Security Council remained deadlocked in its anachronistically Cold War ways and couldn’t muster a full resolution. Instead, it passed a presidential statement, which the U.S. has since had to argue is even legally binding. North Korea has since expelled U.N. weapon inspectors and said it will again pursue weapons-grade plutonium. This comes on the heels of a general failure of the Human Rights Council, a missing-in-action secretary general and the U.S. boycotting the U.N.-hosted World Conference on Racism in Geneva this […]

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistan’s Swat Valley area used to be known for its lush trees, towering mountains and flowing water gushing through the valley from the glaciers above. Swat was for lovers — young honeymoon couples beginning a new life, families enamored of nature’s display of bounty. An area where you could buy handmade crafts direct from artisans’ humble studios, sipping tea in the shade as apprentices wrapped up your purchases. Yet as 2008 passed into 2009 the trickle of stories coming out of the area concerning public floggings, school bombings, beheaded police officers and political assassinations turned into a […]

Only a few days remain before the opening of the United Nations anti-racism conference in Geneva, and maneuvering surrounding the controversial event is reaching a fever pitch. The stated goal of next week’s Durban Review Conference, as it is officially named, is to “evaluate progress” in the global fight against racism since the U.N.’s 2001 anti-discrimination conclave held in Durban, South Africa. That original Durban meeting turned into an embarrassing fiasco for the U.N., prompting Western nations to brace for a difficult and possibly unsuccessful effort to keep the “Durban II” gathering in Geneva from becoming another propaganda tirade in […]

The tiny desert town of Abeche, in eastern Chad, offers a curious sight: Sandwiched between the mud huts that most people call home and the compounds belonging to international aid workers is a humble Chinese restaurant catering to Chad’s growing population of Chinese engineers and managers. Significantly, no equivalent American-style restaurant is to be found. The same holds true across the resource-rich, institution-poor developing world, in countries as remote as East Timor and as dangerous as Somalia. While much of the military establishment in Washington continues to plan for a possible conventional war with China, Beijing is studiously avoiding a […]

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) capped a week of tough negotiations yesterday over a response to North Korea’s April 5 launch of a multi-staged rocket. In a strongly worded statement, this month’s UNSC president, Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller, termed the launch a “contravention” of UNSC Resolution 1718, which forbids the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) from engaging in missile-related activities. The government of the DPRK claimed the launch was meant to place a communications satellite into orbit. However, no one outside North Korea has spotted the alleged satellite. Since the technologies used for space rockets and long-range ballistic […]

As if terrorists, drug cartels and rogue nuclear states weren’t enough to worry about, the United States is now under cyberattack. Spies from China, Russia and elsewhere have broken into the country’s electrical grid, gathering intelligence and perhaps even planning for an unprecedented blitz: buckling the country’s energy infrastructure. Worried, aghast and surprised? Of course. But in another sense, the report falls in line with the rapidly transforming nature of international threats: What yesterday seemed inconceivable is today commonplace. Some scoffed when former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talked about the difference between “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns.” But from […]

MADRID, Spain — FRIENDS AT LAST: Every Wednesday, a large crowd gathers at noon on the edge of the parade ground of the Royal Palace in Madrid to watch the ceremonial changing of the guard. Started a year or so ago, the ceremony involves all the traditional elements of military choreography — colorful uniforms, a band, cavalry, and even two horse-drawn field artillery pieces. Unlike at Buckingham Palace, where a similar drill has been carried out every day for centuries, the guard does not have the symbolic duty of protecting the Spanish monarch: Spain’s king and queen live some distance […]

Anyone who hoped President Barack Obama would return to Washington with a suitcase full of gifts from his mostly European tour will find the souvenirs largely disappointing. While Obama managed to bring back some important achievements, most of them came in the form of warm feelings. Those are hard to gift-wrap. Following his maiden overseas voyage as U.S. president, Obama arrived home to find the same urgent crises he had left behind, compounded by new foreign policy challenges that had arisen during his absence. Making matters worse, the trip itself, while undeniable fruitful, produced few tangible results. When viewed through […]

Last November, in the restive tribal region on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, an American Predator drone circled several thousand feet above the village of Ali Khel. Firing one of its Hellfire missiles, the drone destroyed a compound that was reportedly occupied by two senior al-Qaida officials: Abu Zubair Al Masri, an explosives expert from Egypt, and Rashid Rauf, a Pakistani linked to a 2006 plot to bomb London Heathrow airport. Both Al Masri and Rauf died in the blast, according to intelligence officials quoted by press reports. The attack was just one of scores of air strikes conducted by robotic […]

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