May 3rd, 2012
10:04 AM ET

Roundup: Diplomatic plot thickens in Chen affair

Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Senior U.S. officials acknowledged on Thursday that Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident and central actor in an escalating U.S.-China diplomatic crisis (NYT), has changed his mind, and would now like to leave China. Mr. Chen dramatically escaped house arrest in Western China roughly two weeks ago, and sought refuge at the U. S. Embassy in Beijing for six days. He was subsequently released on his own accord to a local hospital for medical treatment. Chen's desire to leave China is a stark reversal from reports that he, who is now wary of his government hosts, had embraced a plan to remain in his native country. The Chen affair comes at an inopportune time for the United States, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner kick off two days of high-level strategic and economic meetings. FULL POST

Topics: Daily Roundup
February 13th, 2012
11:00 AM ET

Al Qaeda's diplomatic corps?

Editor's Note: Daniel R. DePetris is a Senior Associate Editor of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Daniel R. DePetris.

By Daniel R. DePetris - Special to CNN

On January 15, the residents of Radda - a small rural town 100 miles south of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a - were virtually in a state of siege.  The small shops and markets that kept the town’s life afloat were shut down, converted into makeshift military barricades by fighters associated with al Qaeda’s regional-based affiliate, who easily overtook the village from Yemen’s security forces.  The mosque - the center of activity in many small villages - became an al Qaeda headquarters, with the group’s black flag erected over the building in a demonstration of firm control.

The Yemeni Government, already fragmented and struggling to progress from the long era of Ali Abdullah Saleh, was powerless to stop the incursion.  The Yemeni military promised to assemble reinforcements to re-capture the town and push the al Qaeda militants out of the area, but the mobilization was far too slow for the people whose lives were darkly interrupted.  FULL POST

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Topics: Terrorism • Yemen
September 10th, 2011
08:05 PM ET

Israel's 'Diplomatic Tsunami' has arrived

By Tony Karon, TIME

As a raucous mob of protestors on Friday stormed past passive Egyptian policemen, breaching the wall around Israel's Cairo embassy and sacking the unsecured parts of the building, Israel turned for help to the Obama Administration. Looking to the U.S. to shield it from international opprobrium has become a familiar pattern for Israel in recent years, but the result was telling: President Obama got on the phone with the Egyptians and ensured a restoration of order that allowed the safe and orderly evacuation of the Israeli embassy.

But nobody expects the ambassador, who flew home late Friday on an emergency flight, to return to Cairo any time soon. The best Washington was able to was to ameliorate the damage - just as it had tried (but failed) to do amid mounting tensions between Israel and Turkey that led Ankara to expel Israel's ambassador last week. And, of course, the U.S. has also failed to bully or bribe the Palestinians into stopping their bid for recognition of statehood at the U.N. later this month in what would be an international vote of no-confidence in the U.S.-led peace process. FULL POST

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Topics: Egypt • Foreign Policy • Israel • Turkey • United Nations • United States
Diplomats meet to find Libya solution
Diplomats from around the world gather for a family photo during the fourth meeting of the Libya contact group in Istanbul on July 15, 2011. Top officials from major Western and regional powers meet to discuss strategies to strengthen the Libyan opposition and force embattled strongman Moammar Gadhafi out. (Getty Image)
July 15th, 2011
09:06 AM ET

Diplomats meet to find Libya solution

Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Diplomats comprising the so-called Libya Contact Group (al-Jazeera), including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, today to discuss a roadmap for the ongoing NATO-led military operation in Libya. U.S. officials said the meeting would seek to strengthen ties with the rebel National Transitional Council, the organized opposition seeking to overthrow leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Prior to the meeting, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said a political solution (Reuters) was needed to resolve the Libya situation, as reports emerged that Gadhafi may be ready to give up power if he can strike a suitable deal. FULL POST

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Topics: Daily Roundup • Libya
Why Qatar could be key to a Gaza ceasefire
July 24th, 2014
11:40 AM ET

Why Qatar could be key to a Gaza ceasefire

By Sultan Barakat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sultan Barakat is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Egypt has long been viewed as a key player in the Middle East peace process – a major Arab country willing to engage with Israel while endeavoring, however begrudgingly, to advance the interests of the Palestinian people. But as the Israeli military campaign on the Gaza strip continues, it is becoming increasingly clear that Egypt’s new government might not be in a position to broker a ceasefire this time around. Indeed, Western powers might find themselves having to look for help from a different partner: Qatar.

Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt has proven more adept at securing the backing of politicians and diplomats in Tel Aviv, Washington and New York for a peace initiative than it has at reaching out to Palestinians. This is especially the case as far as the leaders of Hamas in Gaza are concerned, many of whom only learned of the ceasefire proposal through media reports.

And while Hamas rejected the agreement “in its current form,” Cairo has shown seemingly little interest in genuinely appreciating Hamas’ take on the causes of the conflict or modifying the terms of the proposed ceasefire to address the longer term issues. In fact, Egypt under el-Sisi has attacked the Islamist group as part of its relentless crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, with former Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy removed from power and put on trial, hundreds of his supporters killed, and thousands more imprisoned. Over the past year, Hamas has been vilified in both official statements and public opinion, with its members banned from Egyptian soil, the Rafah border crossing between the two countries effectively shut, and hundreds of smuggling tunnels destroyed – blocking the supply of food, fuel, construction material and medicine along with weapons.  FULL POST

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Topics: Egypt • Israel • Middle East • Palestinian Authority
Putin 'getting more isolated internationally'
July 21st, 2014
06:02 PM ET

Putin 'getting more isolated internationally'

CNN speaks with Fareed about the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 and how the West should respond to Russia’s alleged role in assisting pro-Russian militants in Ukraine.

Is Russian President Vladimir Putin getting increasingly isolated, do you think, at this point?

He is getting isolated internationally, though you will notice that many European countries have still been very, very reluctant to confront him directly and to publicly demand that Russia do things. The Malaysian government has not done it. Russia is a big country, it has a United Nations veto, and most importantly, he still has a great deal of support at home.

Remember, the version of events that Russians are hearing is a kind of alternate reality in which they charge that the Ukrainian government is responsible, even though the Ukrainian government doesn't actually control the territory from which the rockets were launched. They claim that the Ukrainian government might have been trying to shoot down President Putin's plane and missed. So, there's a whole fabricated alternate reality, and Putin remains popular in Russia.

So, while he's getting more isolated internationally, it isn't clear that the domestic pressure, which is what he worries about, has risen at all. FULL POST

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
Why it's right to keep talking to Iran
July 19th, 2014
01:57 PM ET

Why it's right to keep talking to Iran

By Brig. Gen. John H. Johns and Angela Canterbury, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Brig. Gen. John H. Johns (USA, ret.) serves on the Council for a Livable World Advisory Board and is a former deputy assistant defense secretary. Angela Canterbury is the executive director of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Council for a Livable World and Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. The views expressed are their own.

World powers announced late Friday the need for an extension of negotiations as diplomats work to achieve a comprehensive deal on Iran's nuclear program. This is an opportunity we can’t forgo. Diplomacy must be given the chance to succeed, lest we live with the probable consequences of failure: an Iranian nuclear weapon or another disastrous war.

In fact, diplomacy has already yielded results – Iran has met all of its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action, which took effect in January. Since that time, real progress has been made in scaling back Iran’s nuclear program, and intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities have taken place under a more effective verification regime. These inspections have given the United States and its allies unprecedented insights into Iran’s nuclear facilities. Further, Iran has significantly dialed back its nuclear activity. Its stockpile of dangerous enriched uranium has decreased from 195 kilograms at the outset of the deal to just 4 kilograms in June – a 97 percent drop.

We’ve come a long way toward our goal of preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb. But we need a long-lasting agreement. And to achieve that, we must keep Iran at the table. It’s reasonable that negotiators need more time to settle on the details of what will undoubtedly be an extremely complicated settlement. And Iran’s compliance thus far suggests that its leadership is committed to this process, and that extending the talks offers real hope for success.

Of course, hawkish detractors in Congress can be expected to continue to try to derail the ongoing negotiations by pushing for more unilateral sanctions. But we cannot sanction Iran into abandoning its nuclear ambitions. If that were so, Iran already would have capitulated. After all, sanctions have been an effective tool for getting Iran to the negotiating table. Now we are at the table, and we need to stay there to complete the agreement.

We also cannot allow the negotiations to be hamstrung by unreasonable demands, such as those being made in a letter by Senators Bob Menendez and Lindsay Graham. If we undermine the diplomatic efforts, Iran can be expected to return to its former nuclear activities.

But even more importantly, we will lose the inspections that allow us to monitor those activities. Nothing could be more dangerous. Without inspections, with no idea of how Iran’s nuclear program is proceeding, we will be operating without information essential to our national security.

Not surprisingly, those who pushed us into war in Iraq are calling for military engagement with Iran. After more than a decade of war and so many lives lost – all without truly advancing our national security – this call to abandon diplomacy and a rush to war again are truly implausible. We’ve been down that path before. If there’s one thing we have learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that military conflicts have unexpected consequences. In the case of Iran, U.S. military action could very likely force Iran’s nuclear program underground and unite Iran’s leaders and people in a dash for the bomb.

The nuclear talks represent a critical opportunity to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, protect U.S. security, and prevent another war. We must give these talks adequate time to succeed.

Ultimately, what would you choose? Another war, a nuclear-armed Iran, or another four months of talks for the chance for peace and security?

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Topics: Iran
How should Israel respond to Hamas?
July 15th, 2014
09:11 AM ET

How should Israel respond to Hamas?

Fareed hears from Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens and Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass about the latest flare-up in violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

Bret Stephens, The Wall Street Journal has an editorial that says the only solution here is to completely destroy Hamas, and The Journal advocates a land campaign, Israel to go back into Gaza with troops, which would inevitably mean there would be some kind of temporary occupation of Gaza.

Stephens: Well, not a full occupation of the Gaza Strip. But what I do think is right is that Israel has to occupy the territory that separates Gaza from Egypt, because what we've found now is that Hamas is firing much more sophisticated rockets into Israel, with ranges that are extending beyond Tel Aviv, up to Jerusalem, and Haifa. And that's unacceptable for any state to deal with that, whether these missiles are accurate and hitting their targets or not. And the problem you have had is that this is now the third time Israel has gone to war since it withdrew all of its settlements and all of it settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

You have this pattern of recurring violence. I don't think, in the long run, that's a smart and acceptable strategy, to allow Hamas to remain in Gaza with a power base. Obviously, you can't eradicate it entirely, but you can eradicate it as an effective fighting force and as a political entity. And, by the way, one of the beneficiaries of that kind of action would be Fatah, would be Mahmoud Abbas, because what I think Hamas is trying to do, I think the strategy here is to gain the upper hand in intra-Palestinian politics by attempting to start a third intifada.

Is it a smart strategy to start a land campaign? It would cause a lot of international consternation, to say the least. FULL POST

Why the U.S. should keep talking with Iran
July 10th, 2014
08:01 AM ET

Why the U.S. should keep talking with Iran

By Zachary Keck, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Zachary Keck is managing editor of The Diplomat and a monthly columnist at The National Interest. You can follow him @ZacharyKeck. The views expressed are his own.

As the July 20 deadline for a deal over Iran's nuclear program approaches, it seems increasingly unlikely that Tehran and the P5+1 will reach a comprehensive agreement. Indeed, Iran has already signaled its willingness to extend the talks for another six months as outlined in the interim agreement, and President Barack Obama should therefore begin to prepare Congress for this reality as soon as possible. The U.S. has too much to lose by rejecting this offer. And fortunately for the administration, the case for extending the talks is an easy one to make.

To begin with, the U.S. has nothing to lose by agreeing to an extension. Despite the unconvincing arguments of its critics, the interim accord heavily favored the U.S. and its allies. Under the agreement, Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear program, as well as rollback its most dangerous elements. Equally important, Tehran agreed to intrusive inspections to demonstrate its compliance with the agreement.

In return, Iran received roughly $7 billion in sanctions relief spread across the six month period. At the same time, the P5+1 refused to lift the sanctions regime, which costs Iran an estimated $5 billion per month. Iran therefore continues to lose billions of dollars every month the negotiations drag on. All this means that even if extending the talks doesn't result in a comprehensive agreement, it will still freeze Iran's nuclear program and continue to squeeze it economically.

FULL POST

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Topics: Iran
We've seen this Iraq movie before
July 2nd, 2014
11:48 PM ET

We've seen this Iraq movie before

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the latest developments in Iraq, and what role the United States might play. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Has the conflict basically come down to just holding Baghdad? Is it all won or lost in that city?

Well, that's a hugely important issue – whether you lose the capital or not. But Baghdad is now essentially a Shia city. It used to be mixed, but Sunnis have been driven out. Of course, there are still many, many Sunnis, but it's mostly a Shia city and has become part of the Shia-dominated government's stronghold.

So, the reason that the Iraqi government lost lots of territory is that locals were, if not sympathetic to the insurgents and sympathetic to ISIS, then they were pretty anti-government. That's not true in Baghdad, and the army will fight it – a Shiite core that will fight there. But it only reinforces what is the central element here, which has now turned into a sectarian civil war.

FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq
Will Pakistan finally tackle the Taliban?
June 13th, 2014
03:44 PM ET

Will Pakistan finally tackle the Taliban?

By Daniel Markey, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Daniel Markey is a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of No Exit from Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

On Wednesday and Thursday, U.S. drones fired missiles in Pakistan’s tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan for the first known strikes since late December. In the wake of this week’s two terrorist attacks on Karachi’s airport, the drone strikes mean one of two things. Either Pakistan’s leaders have finally decided to launch a long-awaited military offensive in North Waziristan, the home base of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), or U.S. officials have grown so frustrated with Pakistan’s dithering that they decided to take the fight into their own hands.

Let’s hope that Pakistan has finally decided for war. The next six months offer what is likely the best – and quite possibly the last – chance for Washington and Islamabad to work together against a terrorist group that threatens the peace in Pakistan, has extended its operations into Afghanistan, and would undoubtedly attack the United States if ever given the chance.

Any further delay would be costly. As President Barack Obama announced last month, all but 9,800 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by year’s end. That drawdown in military power will also mean reduced CIA operations along the Pakistani border, including the sort of surveillance and drone strikes that would give any Pakistan military operation a greater lethal punch.

FULL POST

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Topics: Pakistan • Terrorism
June 12th, 2014
05:06 PM ET

Time to rethink 'concession' mentality on Cuba

By Ric Herrero, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ric Herrero is the executive director of #CubaNow, a Miami-based democracy advocacy group. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Late last month, 44 former high-level U.S. officials and thought leaders, including prominent members of the Cuban-American community, signed a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to revise our Cuba policy to allow Americans to better engage with the island’s growing civil society, particularly its fledgling entrepreneurial sector.

The logic behind the letter is simple: by empowering the Cuban people with more access to U.S. contacts and resources, they can create greater freedoms for themselves.

Unfortunately, that concept appears to be too difficult to understand for those who depend on keeping things just the way they are. Almost immediately, the predictable responses began to flow from a tag team of shrill hardliners in Washington DC and Havana, all trying to protect the status quo.

In Washington, the pro-embargo lobby – or what is left of them – began to mischaracterize the letter as a “concession” to the regime, and cherry picked quotes by some dissidents and exile leaders to make it seem as if there is widespread opposition to increasing support for Cuban civil society.

FULL POST

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Topics: Cuba
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