SEOUL, South Korea — Time is running out for North Korea to make good on a pledge to denuclearize. In October, Pyongyang agreed to disable its main nuclear reactor and provide a complete declaration of all components of its atomic weapons program by Dec. 31. Now it appears unlikely that the Kim regime will meet the deadline. The timetable was set during the last official round of the six-party talks among North and South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China. In return for abandoning its nuclear arsenal, Pyongyang was promised energy and economic assistance as well as removal […]

TOKYO, Japan — While legislatures around the world wind down their sessions ahead of the New Year, the government in Japan announced earlier this month it was extending its parliamentary session in an effort to resolve a debate that has for the last couple of months brought the legislative process here largely to a halt. On Dec.15, the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced that the Diet session would be extended for another month, the first time in 14 years that a session has been extended into the new year. The decision was made to allow time to […]

On Dec. 10, the mediators responsible for managing the U.N.-supervised negotiations over Kosovo’s final status reported to the U.N. Security Council that they had failed to overcome the differences separating the Serbian government and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority. “Neither party was willing to cede its position on the fundamental question of sovereignty over Kosovo,” the mediators reported. Kosovo’s political leaders then announced they would declare independence in early 2008 even without the approval of the United Nations or the Serbian government, which is prepared to offer its nominal province substantial autonomy but not independence. At the end of the Dec. […]

GOODBYE, PINKIE — At least one Washington friend of Benazir Bhutto — and she had many — says he had urged her to tone down her rhetoric against Islamic fundamentalists because she did not have adequate protection against their retaliation. The former Pakistani prime minister, known to her family as “Pinkie,” was already in enough danger from extremists without publicly provoking them, the friend told her. He told Corridors Thursday that he had been in communication with her very recently. “I advised her the time to open an offensive against the fundamentalists was after she had both the authority and […]

The death of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto Thursday from wounds suffered in an attack on her party’s political rally has sent shock waves through Pakistan and the world, plunging the country into chaos and raising serious questions about the stability and future of the nuclear-armed state on the front line of the war on terror. Bhutto’s life was characterized by tragic deaths in her family, a historic rise to the pinnacle of Pakistani politics and corruption scandals that drove her into repeated exile as Pakistan’s well-oiled rumor mills ran wild. Bhutto was loved and reviled in almost equal […]

Making predictions is a famously perilous pursuit. It doesn’t take a great deal of courage, however, to forecast which story will be the biggest of the coming year, the one that will dominate the news in 2008: the election of a new president of the United States. When the shopping stops after Christmas 2008 and Americans pause for a long weekend and the countdown to 2009, we will engage in the traditional collective look back at the year that was. It will be easy to spot the story that held our attention while watching television news, talking with friends, and […]

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BRAZIL REVIEWS PRISON SYSTEM — Brazilian authorities are investigating the country’s prison system in the wake of the weeks-long rape and abuse of a 15-year old girl by male cellmates. Brazilian legislators have announced an investigation into the case and have pledged to build new prisons, upgrade existing facilities and adding space for 5,500 female prisoners. The young girl, identified in the Brazilian press only as “L,” was placed in a holding cell with 20 men aged 20-34 after being arrested on robbery charges. “L” spent a month in the cell, where she was raped, forced to trade sex for […]

Round two of the trial of Salim Hamdan is now underway in earnest. Most will recall that round one ended when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the military commission established by an order issued by President Bush violated constitutional separation of powers limitations (with a plurality of the court also concluding the commission violated the humane treatment mandate of the law of war). Congress responded rapidly to that ruling by passing the Military Commission Act of 2006, providing the president with a statutory basis for resurrecting the commissions. Pursuant to that statute, Salim Hamdan was recharged […]

The first EU-African summit in seven years has come and gone in Lisbon, Portugal. The meeting — held on Dec. 8-9 — brought together the leaders of all the member states of the European Union and African Union, except for a few, such as U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who stayed away to protest Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s attendance. Western newspapers devoted minimal attention to the meeting, and, in the eyes of their reporters, the meeting was hijacked by strife over Zimbabwe and trade. Though the summit produced endless speeches, statements, and action plans, but no concrete action, it was […]

Vladimir Putin this week received an additional boost of support from an unlikely source: Time magazine’s editorial board. After the Russian president beat out former Vice President Al Gore and “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling for the title of the magazine’s “person of the year,” a firestorm erupted in Russia over the meaning and possible ramifications of the title. “He’s not a good guy, but he’s done extraordinary things,” Time Managing Editor Richard Stengel said on NBC’s “Today” show. “At significant cost to the principles and ideas that free nations prize, [Putin] has performed an extraordinary feat of leadership in […]

It’s been called a perfect storm, the convergence of bad weather, tight supplies and increasing demand that is responsible for driving up food prices across the globe by an average 21 percent in the past year. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization contends that developing countries may end up paying even more. Price volatility and shocks have long been defining characteristics of the world agriculture market. But this year, consumers have seen simultaneous price increases across the board in nearly every commodity. Throughout most of the developed world, higher grocery bills luckily remain only a nuisance, although fears of […]

BANGKOK, Thailand — In the final days before an election that is supposed to herald the return of “democracy” to Thailand, protesters gate-crashed the national assembly in Bangkok. The protestors were angered by the unelected military-appointed national assembly’s last-minute passage of a slew of new laws before being dissolved — including a dubious and feared Internal Security Bill which would give the military highly questionable powers. The law, certain to be passed, enshrines the authority of the Internal Security Operations Command, a shadowy parallel military grouping with extensive powers under the prime minister. “It is unexcusable for the assembly to […]

EXPANDING FREE BORDERS — Last week the number of signatories of the EU’s Schengen Agreement jumped from 13 to 22, with the addition of nine more member states. This means that EU citizens are able to move freely, without checks, within an area expanded to 3.6 million square kilometers across Europe from France to the Baltic States (Britain is only a partial member of Schengen). In an age of world terrorism, it may seem like a risky development, but European officials maintain they have actually improved internal security within the European Union with the establishment of the Schengen Information System […]

On Dec. 13-14, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, attended a conference on the potential union of Belarus and Russia in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. While such conventions have been held periodically since Russia and Belarus formed a loose political union in early 1996, this year’s gathering has attracted special attention. On Dec. 6, Russia’s independent Ekho Moskvy radio station announced that the two presidents would meet in Minsk to sign a constitutional act formalizing the union between their countries. The Union would reportedly involve a common legislature, currency, and military. It is expected that referendums […]

Last week, Moscow violated the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty by failing to provide NATO countries with information about Russian military forces in Europe. Russian diplomats said they had only “suspended” their participation in the treaty regime and were prepared to resume exchanging data as soon as NATO governments met certain Russian demands regarding the agreement. Although the long-term implications of Russia’s CFE moratorium remain unclear, they are clearly worrisome. In the worst case, Moscow could disengage from other arms control agreements that have underpinned European security since the Cold War. The original CFE Treaty is a complex instrument […]

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MOGADISHU, Somalia — Twice a day, Ahmed Omar Hashi, a senior producer at Shabelle Radio here, receives a telephone call from an unidentified stranger who, in a muffled voice, threatens to kill him. Sometimes the stranger tells him he has been watching him, and knows where he at that very moment. Such threats are a common occurrence for members of the media in Mogadishu, where security has badly degenerated since the ousting of the Islamic Courts regime in December 2006. Somalia is now the second deadliest country for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The threats, arrests, and […]

The latest American intelligence estimate on Iran has provoked an emotional response in Europe reminiscent of the euphoria inspired by Chamberlain’s words on Sept. 30, 1938, as he appeared before the throng in front of 10 Downing Street and announced that he had achieved “peace in our time.” Even if many commentators warn not to reduce the pressure on Tehran, the dominant sentiment is a feeling of relief: a sentiment to which the German weekly Die Zeit, for example, gave expression with the headline “Phew! There’ll Be No World War Then!” The focus of the coverage in the media is […]

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