PARIS — On July 1, France will assume the rotating presidency of the European Union, a role it will exercise for the next six months. It’s a moment that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been preparing for since last year, and anxiously awaiting since at least January, when his popularity among French voters suddenly plummeted. With the impact of his domestic reforms stymied by the increased cost of fuel and food commodities, and his image tarnished by personal excesses and professional lapses, Sarkozy was counting on using the parallel track of the EU presidency to reinject some dynamism into his […]

May’s Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar’s southwestern coast in the deadliest natural disaster in that country’s history. The storm left over 100,000 dead or missing, while millions more suffered injuries or other damage. Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta region remains affected by flooding and food shortages. The Myanmar government’s initial refusal to allow sufficient foreign aid workers into the country, like its harsh approach to last year’s democracy demonstrations in Myanmar, again underscored the problems this obnoxious military regime presents for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Its members continue to confront the issue of dealing with an unapologetic authoritarian government at […]

SLIM PICKINGS FOR FACT FINDERS — Now that both major U.S. political parties have their presidential candidates, a continuous procession of foreign government officials, politicians, and prominent journalists has come to Washington in pursuit of one objective: gaining information about what to expect from either presidency. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was an unknown quantity to foreign governments when he began his successful race for the Democratic nomination, and is still largely an unknown quantity today. In many areas, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is no better. Hence foreign governments’ quest for information on each candidate’s position on energy, the environment, immigration, […]

ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Kazakhstan, with its vast reserves of hydrocarbons, is on a path to become a petro-power on a global scale. That, at least, is the plan of the Kazakh government, oil companies with access to the rich oil fields of Kazakhstan, and those seeking alternatives to OPEC oil. However, as oil production in the landlocked country increases in the years ahead, Kazakhstan could find itself without viable export routes to bring its hydrocarbon wealth to market. In 2007, Kazakhstan produced approximately 1.45 million barrels of oil per day (bpd), of which it exported around 1.2 million bpd. Kazakhstan’s […]

ABECHE, Chad — Three weeks after Chadian rebels mounted their third major challenge this year to President Idriss Déby’s troubled regime, the fighting has dwindled to a few isolated gunfights on the barren eastern border with Sudan. Instead of the regime-toppling attack that the Sudan-based rebels promised in their press releases — something akin to their February offensive that reached downtown N’Djamena on the country’s western border — the spring attacks apparently never reached more than 50 miles inside Chad. In mid-June, rebels briefly occupied a number of towns, only to depart hours later regardless of whether the Chadian army […]

PARIS — “Nicolas Sarkozy: A Demanding Friend of Israel” Thus ran the headline on Tuesday’s edition of the French daily Le Figaro, a day after Nicolas Sarkozy became the first French president to address the Israeli Knesset since François Mitterrand in 1982. In his speech (French link), Sarkozy himself insisted that he was a friend of Israel — even a “dear and steadfast” friend — and the tone was indeed friendly. “France will always be at Israel’s side when its security and its existence are threatened,” he said, “. . . I have always felt this from the bottom of […]

MELBOURNE — Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will attend the opening ceremony of August’s Olympic Games in China, a move seen by some as a victory for economic common sense in bolstering relations with this country’s largest trading partner. But his decision is again highlighting the double standards Australia risks espousing on human rights and raising concerns over how his team has managed perceptions of his new government’s relationship with China. Rudd’s decision came just days ahead of Australia-based Rio Tinto announcing a massive rise in iron prices after signing a deal Monday with China’s Baosteel. Prices will almost double, […]

ABECHE, Chad — As the world marked U.N. World Refugee Day June 20, a new humanitarian emergency was quietly brewing next door to a far more widely known crisis. In southern Chad, just a few hundred miles from camps housing a quarter-million Darfuri refugees, some 60,000 displaced persons from Central African Republic, having fled a growing civil conflict in their own country, have been moved to a cluster of new U.N. camps. The Central Africans’ plight is widely overlooked as a result of the intense focus on the five-year-old civil war in Sudan’s Darfur region and the hundreds of thousands […]

In 1973, it would have been hard to imagine anyone would ever wax nostalgic about the Cold War. How times have changed. There is nothing like almost three years of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to help burnish the memory of former Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev. The Cold War was an expensive and deadly conflict, sapping trillions of dollars over four decades and resulting in tens of millions of lives lost. Energies that could have been devoted to human betterment were directed instead toward human destruction. The Cold War had its successes, from spurring scientific advancement to putting a man on […]

In late May and early June, Israeli forces carried out massive military exercises over the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The operation, reportedly codenamed “Glorious Spartan 08” unfurled a show of force worthy of Hollywood’s epic movie producers. The maneuvers, everyone quickly surmised, looked very much like the kind of military operation Iran would see over its own skies if Israel (or the United States, or NATO) decided that diplomacy has reached a dead end in its efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program. On the surface, the exercise offered Israeli forces the opportunity to practice. But it was much more than that. […]

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Sultanahmet courthouse, in the heart of medieval Istanbul, is a drab 1960s building, with the pedestrian look of a place where unexceptional bureaucratic business is conducted. The courtroom, with its peeling gray walls, looks like a dusty schoolroom. But the courthouse’s unremarkable appearance belies the importance of the decisions being weighed there. It was there, in May, that members of a leading Islamist creationist organization, the Science Research Foundation (SRF), were sentenced to three years in prison on charges of engaging in illegal threats and creating a criminal organization. The protracted trial, bookended by the 1998 banning […]

TOKYO — A flurry of activity over the past two weeks suggests the six-party talks aimed at ridding North Korea of its nuclear program might finally be back on track. Under an agreement reached last February, North Korea was supposed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for aid and a host of diplomatic benefits such as being dropped from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. As part of this agreement, North Korea was meant to offer a full declaration of its nuclear activities by the end of last year, but failed to do so. However, the U.S. […]

One of the major objectives of President Bush’s trip to Europe last week was to secure additional international support for the war in Afghanistan. Although European governments generally reaffirmed — and in several cases announced slight increases in — their military and economic commitments to the beleaguered Afghan government of Hamid Karzai, which remains entangled in a protracted insurgency with the Taliban, their declared level of support appears to fall short of that needed to allow the Afghan government to consolidate its control of the country. The members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) continue to reaffirm their commitment […]

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Still today, whenever there are elections in the small Balkan country of Macedonia, the alarm bells start going off in the EU. Nowadays, however, the principal conflict in Macedonia is not between ethnic Macedonians and the ethnic Albanians who constitute some 25 percent of the population of the country. The violence that broke out on election day earlier this month was the result of a worsening power struggle within the local Albanian community itself. Despite heavy security and the deployment of some 13,000 police, the parliamentary elections on June 1 were yet again marred by irregularities. Armed […]

On June 5, Turkey’s Constitutional Court struck down a proposed amendment that would have allowed Muslim students to wear headscarves in the country’s public universities. According to the court’s judgment, the entirety of which has not yet been released, such an amendment would have undermined one of the pillars of the Turkish state — the constitutionally unalterable provision that the country remain a strictly secular republic. On the face of it, the court’s ruling was a legal matter, a question of how far the state could go in limiting religious expression. And in most other circumstances a decision of this […]

As the sun rose over the eastern horizon, casting its light across Israel into the Mediterranean sea, the still-smoking guns fell silent in the Gaza Strip and the surrounding areas in southern Israel. After months of arduous diplomatic efforts by Egyptian officials, and years of rocket attacks, armed incursions and escalating threats, an agreement has been reached between the Islamist rulers of Gaza, Hamas, and the Israeli government. Officially, the “period of calm” is supposed to last six months. If the quiet lasts that long, most people in the region will be very surprised. There are many reasons to predict […]

After the battles of Basra and Mosul, Iraq’s territorial integrity now faces another severe challenge on the constitutional front. With the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq having initiated rounds of talks to save the north from a potential cross-border war, the struggle over the future status of the northern city of Kirkuk has entered its decisive phase. Failure could lead to the ultimate disintegration of Iraq. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) currently enjoys constitutionally recognized authority over the three northern provinces of Erbil, Dohuk, and Sulaymaniyah. Yet it also enjoys de facto control over significant parts of Diyala, Kirkuk, and […]

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