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
December 16th, 2014
06:58 PM ET

A portal to Iran

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

When I went to Tehran in 2011 to interview then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, relations with the U.S. were at a low, and distrust between the two nations was at a high. So it was unsurprising that Iran's leader played to type perfectly, spouting nasty rhetoric when he sat down with me.

What was surprising was the stance of the ordinary people – Iranians on the street, in cafes, at my hotel – who expressed an admiration for America and an interest in improving relations across the board.

But not everybody gets the chance to travel to Iran and meet the locals as I did. Well, we found the next best thing. Inside an art gallery in downtown Manhattan sits a large, golden box. It may look like a fancy shipping container, but enter and you'll discover it is actually a "portal" to Iran.

The artist Amar Bakshi, a former GPS producer, set up a web-connected camera in New York and partnered with an artist to do the same in Tehran, enabling face-to-face conversations between people who would not otherwise meet. Despite being 6,000 miles and a world apart, participants can easily slide into conversation with each other about their daily lives. Some even demonstrate their passions, like this dance.

I went into the portal and spoke with several Iranians about their lives and their country and how they see the U.S. Perhaps President Obama and Rouhani should meet this way – call it a diplomatic dance.

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Topics: Iran • Last Look
December 9th, 2014
08:01 PM ET

America's two systems of justice

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

Michael Brown – killed by a police gun in Ferguson, Missouri. Eric Garner – killed at the hands of the police in Staten Island, New York.

These two cases of the deaths of black men by white law enforcement officers have stirred up segments of America, resulting in riots and protests clear across the nation and raising questions about the practices and procedures of the American criminal justice system.

Those angry Americans who took to the streets aren't the only ones concerned. The United Nations weighed in recently in the form of a new report from that world body's torture watchdog group. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who oversaw the Committee, said essentially that it was too early to weigh-in on Ferguson specifically. But, the report does note its "deep concern at the frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals." FULL POST

September 25th, 2014
01:32 PM ET

Zakaria: To beat ISIS, it's the politics stupid

CNN's New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about U.S.-led military strikes against ISIS, the Obama administration's strategy, and why the politics are so complicated. This is an edited version of the transcript.

This morning, a new round of U.S.-led air strikes targeted about a dozen oil refineries to try and cut off the money that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria makes through the black market. But we don't know how successful these bombings will be, and we're not really going to know because the coalition isn't on the ground in a meaningful way. And even if they achieve every objective they want to, it's far from over. Explain the complexity of this situation in terms of how you make real change.

Well, you're exactly right. Think about the initial air campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, brilliantly successful in Iraq, brilliantly successful in Libya. And then what you have is the ground operation, and most importantly the political operation as it were – who is going to govern these areas? Who is going to take charge? And the problem we face in Iraq – we have an answer, and we have a strategy. The Iraqi army tries to move in, the Kurds move in, you're trying to create a more inclusive Iraqi government. Not there yet, but at least that is the strategy.

In Syria, it is a mess because once you start striking at ISIS, who is going to replace it? Well, the al-Assad government, the Syrian government, wants to be that person. We want the Free Syrian Army, the rebels, the moderate rebels as we call them, to take over. And, guess what? This is a 12-cornered contest. It's going to be very messy.

So, imagine the two-step race here. We have a one-step campaign to defeat ISIS. Then we need to, in our minds, help the Free Syrian army defeat the al-Assad government.

Meanwhile, just to complicate things further, the Iranian government, which has been backing the Syrian regime, is going to fight those free Syrian rebels. I had the opportunity to interview President Rouhani of Iran yesterday, and he said flatly, the Free Syrian Army are terrorists. From Iran's point of view, they really don't make that much distinction between ISIS and the Free Syrian Army. They're going to fight both. FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • ISIS • Islam • Middle East
August 31st, 2014
03:31 PM ET

Does Iraq need a second Sunni Awakening?

By Fareed Zakaria

What are the strengths of the Islamic State? I posed this question to two deeply knowledgeable observers – a European diplomat and a former U.S. official – and the picture they painted is worrying, although not hopeless…

…The Islamic State’s military strategy is brutal but also smart. The group’s annual reports – yes, it has issued annual reports since 2012 – detail its military methods and successes to try to impress its backers and funders. The videos posted online of executions are barbaric but strategic. They are designed to sow terror in the minds of opponents, who when facing Islamic State fighters on the battlefield, now reportedly flee rather than fight.

But the most dangerous aspect of the Islamic State, this diplomat believes, is its ideological appeal. It has recruited marginalized, disaffected Sunni youths in Syria and Iraq who believe they are being ruled by apostate regimes. How to handle this challenge?

The American, a former senior administration figure, counsels against pessimism. The Islamic State could be defeated, he said, but it would take a comprehensive and sustained strategy, much like the one that undergirded the surge in Iraq…

…The two observers agreed on one central danger. The temptation to gain immediate military victories over the Islamic State could mean that the United States would end up tacitly partnering Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. This would produce a short-term military gain against the Islamic State but it would be a long-term political disaster. “It would feed the idea that the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria are embattled, that a Crusader Christian-Shiite alliance is persecuting them and that all Sunnis must resist this alien invasion,” the European diplomat said. “The key is that Sunnis must be in the lead against IS. They must be in front of the battlefield.”

Watch the video for the full take or read the WaPo column

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Topics: Fareed's Take
August 29th, 2014
12:43 AM ET

A second Sunni Awakening?

By Fareed Zakaria

What are the strengths of the Islamic State? I posed this question to two deeply knowledgeable observers – a European diplomat and an American former official – and the picture they painted is worrying, although not hopeless. Defeating the group would require a large and sustained strategic effort from the Obama administration, but it could be done without significant numbers of U.S. ground troops.

The European diplomat, stationed in the Middle East, travels in and out of Syria and has access to regime and opposition forces. (Both sources agreed to speak only if their identities were not revealed.) He agrees with the consensus that the Islamic State has gained considerable economic and military strength in recent months. He estimates that it is making $1 million a day each in Syria and Iraq by selling oil and gas, although U.S. experts believe this number is too high in Iraq.

The Islamic State’s military strategy is brutal but also smart.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: Fareed's Take
Time is right for U.S. to boost India ties
August 8th, 2014
11:07 AM ET

Time is right for U.S. to boost India ties

By Robert M. Hathaway, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert M. Hathaway is director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Asia Program, in Washington, DC. The views expressed are his own.

After a rough patch in bilateral relations, India and the United States have reengaged in a big way.  The U.S. secretaries of state and commerce, John Kerry and Penny Pritzker, were in India last week, while U.S. defense secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in New Delhi on Friday. In September, India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, visits Washington.

Yet for all the diplomatic flurry, the two countries have yet to embrace a common agenda that would lay the groundwork for what President Barack Obama has called “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”

Responsibility for this failure lies with both sides. Until Modi’s sweeping electoral triumph a few months ago, New Delhi had been paralyzed with indecisiveness for several years. In Washington, the Obama administration has never convincingly explained where and how India fits into America’s broader geopolitical vision. Doing so should therefore be Hagel’s top priority during his upcoming trip to India.

One of the hallmarks of Obama’s foreign policy has been the rebalance or “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific.  To create the basis for a long-term Indo-American partnership, but also for reasons having nothing to do with bilateral U.S.-India ties, the administration needs to flesh out how the world’s second most populous country fits into the rebalance. After all, it is difficult to imagine a coherent U.S. approach to Asia that does not give Asia’s largest democracy a central role.

Is India even on Washington’s Asia-Pacific map? FULL POST

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Topics: Foreign Policy • India • United States
Time for Israel to face up to only path to peace
August 5th, 2014
04:25 PM ET

Time for Israel to face up to only path to peace

By Sultan Barakat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sultan Barakat is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, and Chairman of the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit, University of York. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Israel’s repeated wars on the Gaza strip have taken a heavy toll on Palestinian civilian infrastructure, and this latest offensive is no different. Israeli shelling first damaged, then destroyed Gaza’s only power plant, while waves of attacks have shredded power lines and ruptured sewage systems. Indeed, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates as much as two-thirds of the enclave’s population of 1.8 million now lacks or has very limited access to potable water or sanitation services.

But such disregard for basic civilian infrastructure will ultimately prove counterproductive – if Israel genuinely wants a lasting solution to the conflict, it must be made to appreciate that the reconstruction and development of Gaza, not its utter destruction, is crucial.

While the death toll in the strip has continued to climb – even if the current cease-fire holds, it has hit more than 1,800, mostly civilians – the most basic requirements for any kind of dignity and quality of life are being destroyed, and more than 425,000 have been left homeless by the actual or threatened demolition of their homes. Yet the destruction of Gazan infrastructure began long before the first airstrikes and rocket launches of the present conflict. The tiny enclave, measuring about 140 square miles, has been under effective siege since 2007, turning it into what is in many respects the world’s largest open-air prison – even construction materials such as the cement, steel and pipes that are needed to expand the enclave’s water treatment system are banned under the embargo. FULL POST

What Libya says about intervention
August 5th, 2014
12:18 PM ET

What Libya says about intervention

By Matthew Waxman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Matthew Waxman is the Liviu Librescu Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law. The views expressed are his own.

Last month, American diplomats and Marines were evacuated from Tripoli. The 2011 international coalition intervention in Libya was supposed to be a step forward for the Responsibility to Protect doctrine – the notion that if a state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities, it becomes the international community's responsibility to do so. Tragically, the current collapse of governance and bloody infighting among factional militias there will instead result in a step backwards for this important principle.

Back in March 2011, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which imposed a no-fly zone and authorized member states to "take all necessary measures" to protect civilians under vicious attack from Moammar al-Gadhafi’s government. The resolution passed with 10 votes in favor and five abstentions, including by permanent members Russia and China. In authorizing force, the U.N. Security Council cited the Libyan government’s betrayal of its responsibility to protect its population. Many advocates of intervention saw this as especially significant because Russia and China, as well as many ex-colonial states of the global South, had generally resisted such infringements on the sanctity of state sovereignty.

During and immediately after the ensuing military intervention that ultimately helped dislodge the odious Gadhafi regime, commentators made two exaggerated claims – in opposite directions. To some proponents of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, this was a defining moment of advancement, although such a claim overstated the precedential value of Security Council consensus on a uniquely isolated government that even the Arab League had shunned. FULL POST

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Topics: Libya
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