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Diplomacy

Archive | Diplomacy

Arab League Summit in Kuwait: Seeking Solidarity?

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Arab League meeting in Cairo. Source: Bahrain Foreign Ministry

Kuwait is now hosting its first Arab League Summit. The slogan for this year’s Summit is “Solidarity For A Better Future.”

Arab League meeting in Cairo. Source: Bahrain Foreign Ministry

Question is: will the Kuwait Summit ensure solidarity for the region? It is a well known fact that the Arab World has seen its own share of regional alliances formed on the basis of ideological, sectarian and regional dynamics. With the recent cases of the Arab Spring, such dynamism has become all the more complicated and thus, regional solidarity is surely a challenging task to accomplish. Back in the 1950s-60s, the Arab World was divided into two factions: pro-Soviet Arab nationalists led by Egypt, and pro-West conservatives led by Saudi Arabia. The division between the two factions was so paramount that Malcolm Kerr termed it as The Arab Cold War.

Alignments changed in the year 1978 after the signing of the Camp David Accord, when Egypt decided to quit the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both Syria and Iraq tried their best to isolate Egypt after Camp David, but the situation refused to remain static. Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, Iraq’s attention shifted towards Iran, and the Arab World witnessed another set of factionism. This time, countries such as Syria, Libya and Algeria sided with Iran, whereas the Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan aided Iraq.

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Sanctions against Russia look Great on Paper but they’re a Dead-End

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U.S. reliance on Russian uranium makes sanctions difficult

Now that Crimea has voted to unite with Russia and Vladimir Putin has welcomed Crimea with open arms, the Western half of the world, especially the United States and the European Union, are talking at lengths about imposing sanctions on Russia in order to bring Vladimir Putin to his senses.

U.S. reliance on Russian uranium makes sanctions difficult

However, the task seems easier said than done. The United States is simply not in a position to impose long-term sanctions on Russia. Economic and political ties between the United States and Russia are surely not exemplary. Yet, one key American industry relies heavily on a particular import from Russia: fuel for nuclear power plants. American dependency on Russia for its nuclear fuel is not a new development. It dates back to the early 1990s, when the HEU-LEU scheme was launched after the demise of the Soviet Union. Under this scheme, highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Russian nuclear warheads is processed into low enriched uranium (LEU) for use as fuel for American nuclear power plants.

While there are plans of reducing the need for nuclear energy, the United States still receives 100 GW of its power from nuclear power plants (compare this with Russia’s nuclear energy production of 230 GW). As a result, during 2014, 48 million pounds of uranium will be needed to fuel America’s nuclear power plants. Going by data released by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the total uranium Oxide produced within the United States is roughly 4.8 million pounds. Barely 10% of the total demand.

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The Deal that Brought Ukraine to the Brink

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Russian President Vladimir Putin addressing the Russian public

There is something about the Olympic games that connects Russia with regional mischief.

Russian President Vladimir Putin addressing the Russian public

During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Russia violated Georgian territory with military force, igniting a nasty five-day war. In 2014, while Vladimir Putin attended the winter Olympics in Sochi political trouble boiled over in Ukraine. The European Union (EU) trade bill is the culprit, at least on the surface, that ignited the crisis. The issue is whether to accept the European Union’s trade agreement in order to facilitate economic growth and bi-lateral relationships with the West or to remain under Russian economic and political influence, which the West hopes Ukraine will avoid. So, the question is: should Ukraine accept the European Union (EU) trade deal once the political rupture has subsided?

Yes to the trade bill

The EU trade bill is a direct result of the 2008 Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) between the European Union and the Ukraine. The DCFTA deal is designed to facilitate existing trade and commerce between the two regions, including the expansion of intellectual property rights, energy sectors, ‘public procurement,’ and other services. According to a European Union report, a huge share of Ukraine exports go to the European Union including iron, steel, and heavy machinery.

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Forget Oil and Gas, the South China Sea Just Got More Complicated

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Vietnam’s civilian-led patrols, backed by marine police and a border force, will be deployed from 25 January within Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters

As former-best-friends-turned-sour during the Cold War, the Sino-Vietnamese relationship has managed to overcome a number of issues and has progressed to levels of cooperation unimaginable only 10 years ago.

Vietnam’s civilian-led patrols, backed by marine police and a border force, will be deployed from 25 January within Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters

But conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea continue to risk derailing any significant cooperation between the two countries. Where the dispute once focussed on the promise of untapped hydrocarbon resources in the region, the nature of it has now changed – it has become a struggle symbolic of something much more important than oil and gas.

The US Energy Information Administration concluded in 2013 that the contested areas of the South China Sea are unlikely to have any significant oil and gas deposits. But the fact remains that even if any were discovered, these would prove too expensive to extract. The cost of drilling a deep water well is around $30 to $60 million, or about five times more than drilling in shallow waters. And while the cost may not put all investors off, the risk of becoming mired in a political dispute will. The 2009 BP pullout from a joint Vietnamese exploration in disputed territory was testimony to these concerns. As BP became threatened by China, Vietnam also applied pressure to prevent its withdrawal. Faced with this catch-22, BP finally backed out due to “commercial and technical reasons.” In other words, the project was scrapped for being unprofitable.

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Putin’s Wider Goals in the Crimea

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Russian President Vladimir Putin. Source: Kremlin Press Office

Vladimir Putin’s ambitions are to reclaim some form of Russian supremacy and he is willing to risk everything to achieve this. This sets Putin apart from most global leaders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Source: Kremlin Press Office

While ultimately he made his initial point of occupying most of the Crimea it is unlikely his ambitions will lead him to take any further territory in the Ukraine. This goal is manifested in the Crimean Peninsula. Russia’s Black sea fleet has already delivered an ultimatum to Ukraine’s forces stationed in Crimea to surrender or face an all-out assault. Crimea is strategically important to Russia because it is its only warm water naval base. Despite being a semiautonomous region, Crimea’s chief is appointed by Kiev. Kiev, following the downfall of Yanukovych, is clearly not as loyal to Putin. Therefore, the Kremlin did not delay sending in troops to the Crimea to secure its interests in the region.

However, Putin’s decision to send unmarked Russian troops was not a surprise. The same ploy was used during Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008. The Russian parliament’s unanimous approval to place Russian troops in Ukrainian territory came as a surprise. This occurred shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama ended a conversation with his Russian counterpart. Why did Obama’s warnings not to circumvent international law and order fall on deaf ears?

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U.S. and Russia to Hold Key Talks over Ukraine Crisis

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Pictured: John Kerry, Russian troops and Sergey Lavrov

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are due to hold crucial talks to try to ease tensions over the Ukraine crisis.

Pictured: John Kerry, Russian troops and Sergey Lavrov

The US accuses Moscow of deploying troops in Ukraine’s Crimea region, describing it as an “act of aggression” - a claim denied by the Kremlin. Despite the sharp differences, both sides have hinted they would prefer to start a dialogue. Moscow remains in de facto control of Ukraine’s southern autonomous region. The tense standoff continued overnight in Crimea, but there were no reports of any violence.

Earlier this week tensions escalated further over Russia’s warnings that it could also move into eastern Ukraine to protect Russians and Russian-speakers there. The move has triggered wide condemnation across the globe. In other developments: NATO and Russia will hold talks in Brussels. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen earlier said Russia continued to “violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will travel to Kiev for talks with the new government and Russia said it successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday.

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China-U.S. Spar over Obama-Dalai Lama Visit

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President Barack Obama meets with the Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House, Feb. 21, 2014. Pete Souza/White House

Once again, China has expressed indignation over President Barack Obama’s meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, on February 21st at the White House.

President Barack Obama meets with the Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House, Feb. 21, 2014. Pete Souza/White House

China had forewarned the US to not to entertain the Dalai Lama, and in response to the meeting it declared the presidential courtesy to the spiritual leader as an attempt by the US to interfere into Chinese internal affairs with a view to support the demand for the independence of Tibet. Although Mr. Obama reiterated that the US did not support the issue of Tibetan independence and the White House appeared to attempt to assuage China’s anger by playing down this meeting simply as a formal courtesy which occured in the Map room and not in the official Oval Office. China reacted very seriously and summoned a senior American diplomat, Daniel Kritenbrink, to express its strong disaproval over this meeting.

The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Mr. Zhang Yesui went on to say, while protesting to the diplomat, that this meeting has “seriously undermined” the US-China bilateral relations and also “seriously violated the US commitment of not supporting Tibetan independence” because this issue is “the domestic affair of China” and the US “bears no right to interfere.”

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Is it Time to End Narendra Modi’s Travel Ban to the United States?

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Narendra Modi is vying to be India's next prime minister. Source: Al Jazeera

It has been almost a decade since the United States revoked Narendra Modi’s visa and imposed a ban on his traveling to the United States.

Narendra Modi is vying to be India’s next prime minister. Source: Al Jazeera

The United States’ ban on Modi is based on its domestic law on the issues of “severe violations of religious freedom,” and the US State Department has repeatedly clarified that, “individuals have to apply for visa and their applications are reviewed in accordance with US law and policy.” Modi has wisely avoided discussing this topic for years, but his nomination as a prime ministerial candidate and US Ambassador Nancy Powell’s recent visit to Modi’s office has brought the issue to the media within India. Modi’s travel ban may not be an important issue in the United States, but Modi’s political opponents in India, who celebrate his inability to personally meet his fellow Guajaratis and other Indians living in the United States, use this to goad Modi’s supporters.

The US State Department again reasserted that nothing has changed for Modi, “there has been no change to our visa policy” and “he is welcome to apply for a visa and await a review like any other applicants.” For Modi’s supporters in India, these statements are interpreted as insulting. It is important for Modi’s opponents and supporters to understand that these statements do not necessarily reflect on Modi. All governments require an individual to apply for a visa in order to visit that country. In some cases there are instances of visa free travel agreements but these agreements mainly exist in Western Europe and in some parts of the Americas. But the United States will need to revisit his travel ban should he actually become India’s next prime minister.

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The (Very) Early Beginnings of an Iranian-Israeli Detente?

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Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu and Hassan Rouhani

“If the Palestinians are happy with the solution [Israel-Palestinian negotiations] then nobody outside Palestine [including Iran] could prevent that from taking place.” – Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu and Hassan Rouhani

Just the other week news broke that Iranian President Rouhani had decided to give the Dr. Sapir Hospital and Charity Center, Tehran’s Jewish Hospital, $400,000 on behalf of the government. This followed Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s remarks on Monday that “if the Palestinians are happy with the solution [an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal] then nobody outside Palestine could prevent that from taking place,” which despite some domestic backtracking was seen as a signal of Iran’s willingness to one day recognize Israel under the right conditions.

This remarkable shift in tone coming from Iran has been noted in Israel as well. According to a recent report from Al-Monitor, the recent changes in Tehran have been “inspiring great hope” in Israel’s defense establishment. So much so, it appears, that Israel defense minister Moshe Ya’alon was willing to sit in the front row of a German TV interview with Zarif – a rare sight indeed. All this follows Israeli President Shimon Peres’s recent tweet that “as far as Israel is concerned we are ready to make peace with the Iranian people, historically they have never been our enemies.”

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Analysis of Turkey and Iran’s Growing Alliance

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani. Source:  Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

“The terrorist groups that are operating under the cover of Islam are in no way related to Islam. We will widen our cooperation shoulder-to-shoulder with Iran in combating terrorist groups.” – Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. Source: Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan’s visit to Iran last month symbolized a pivot toward Tehran and a shift in Ankara’s Middle East foreign policy. Declaring a desire to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Iran in combating terrorism, and driven by Turkey’s evolving policy toward Syria, Erdoğan’s trip highlighted Ankara and Tehran’s tendency to pursue mutual interests when their paths cross. This is significant in terms of its implications for the Syrian conflict and for the region’s landscape, as both countries have the ability to influence the course of future events throughout the Middle East.

History of Turkish-Iranian Ties

Turkish-Persian history was characterized by centuries of rivalry, which remains the case today as both powers seek to shape the Middle East consistent with their respective visions. The Turkish Republic oriented itself toward the West (and away from the Middle East) throughout the 20th century; Iran was therefore not a central focus of Turkey’s Cold War foreign policy. However, the Iranian revolution of 1979 did create tension, as Turkey’s ruling secular elite viewed Iran’s post-revolutionary regime as a menace. This perception was in part fueled by Ankara’s belief that Tehran sponsored terrorist groups in Turkey with the intention of exporting the Islamic revolution to neighboring countries. In turn, Iran’s post-1979 political order viewed Turkey as a threat to Iran’s post-revolutionary objectives, given its membership in NATO and secular ideology.

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John Kerry’s Beijing Visit unlikely to Change Dynamics

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Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China on February 14, 2014

John Kerry recently concluded a friendly visit to Beijing, with both sides chatting about matters of mutual concern in a way that implied these two great powers have areas of shared concern and interest. Some observers might fear that peace might break out. Don’t worry it won’t.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China on February 14, 2014

My personal opinion is that a dwindling group of PRC doves in the Obama administration are being rolled by military and think tank hawks who sense the weakness of the individuals with suspected panda hugger inclinations, such as Joe Biden and John Kerry, and also smell blood in the water with President Obama’s emerging lame duck status and the likely return of a down-the-line China hawk civilian slate with the expected election of Hillary Clinton as President in 2016.

The result has been a spate of articles calling the White House, especially Joe Biden, soft on China and pointing the finger at John Kerry for being excessively preoccupied with the Middle East and thereby allowing the precious Pivot to Asia to languish.

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Obama Administration Pushes Back Against Japan Lobby

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Secretary of State John Kerry sits down with Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida for their bilateral meeting in Tokyo, Japan, on April 14, 2013

In a rather unnoticed development, Shinzo Abe’s administration in Japan has been determinedly nibbling away at the Obama administration’s freedom of action in Asia, seeking to foreclose positions and options that fall outside the contain/confront China spectrum so desirable to Japan.

Secretary of State John Kerry sits down with Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida for their bilateral meeting in Tokyo, Japan, on April 14, 2013

The United States may never fall into the “tail wagging the dog” relationship with Japan, at least in its own mind; but the cost of Asian security initiatives that are at cross purposes with Japanese desires will increase until, perhaps, they don’t seem worth it. And my feeling is, Abe’s getting more than a little help from the US defense/security establishment thanks to Abe’s effort to push the US-Japan security alliance closer to the center of the relationship. China hawks in Japan and the United States may also be drawing energy from President Obama’s evolving lame duck status, and the prospect that Hillary Clinton as president will be all in on a China-bashing strategy.

When a country has a security relationship with the US it not only engages with the US government from a position of strength as an ally; it can look to the full range of enthusiasts, activists, sympathetic theorists, and even paid apologists to lobby on its behalf, their advocacy energized by the money sluicing through the security/defense industrial complex.

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Does Abe Consider Obama a Lame Duck?

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Pictured: President Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe

And is Joe Biden the Designated Whipping Boy?

Pictured: President Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe

There has always been an implicit contradiction between Shinzo Abe’s declared desire to “bring Japan back” and the US wish to lead “Free Asia.” The divergence of aims has been obscured by the eagerness of the US defense establishment to encourage Japan’s increasing heft as a “security” “defense” “active pacifist”; well, let’s just say “military” power, in order to add to the credibility of US hegemony in the Western Pacific, and Japan’s awareness that US military backing - if properly exploited by invoking the US-Japan Security Treaty - can give Japan a significant leg up in its confrontation with the People’s Republic of China.

The Abe administration has performed exactly as desired by American military strategists, both in its willingness, nay eagerness to build up its military and endorse the concept of “collective self defense,” and on the highly contentious issue of shoving the Futenma airbase relocation down the throats of the resisting Okinawan people by a combination of financial blandishments and crude political pressure. However, there are signs that the are tensions in the US-Japan romance, largely because the Obama administration is serious about exploiting the potential of its “honest broker” role to carve out a role for itself as the even-handed interlocutor between Japan and China - a role that the PRC is encouraging in order to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Washington - and is therefore not giving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the full-throated support that he believes he needs and deserves.

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Can Pakistan Afford to Break with the United States?

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Pakistani villagers carry bags of food provided by USAID to be delivered to flood victims in Swat Valley, Pakistan in 2010

Roughly three months ago, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, unveiled the decision of his government to review Pakistan’s relations with the United States.

Pakistani villagers carry bags of food provided by USAID to be delivered to flood victims in Swat Valley, Pakistan in 2010

He was upset with Washington for scuttling the peace process with the Taliban following a drone strike in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Close aides to the minister took his statement with a grain of salt because a review of relations with the U.S. requires homework and determination, both of which are lacking at the moment. Since its creation in the late 1940’s Pakistan has relied on Washington for military and economic aid, which has led to Pakistan’s dependency on external help. According to the Congressional Research Service, Pakistan received $25.9 billion USD from 2002 to 2012. Out of this, $7.226 billion went to defense and $18.686 billion went to economic development programs.

By the end of this year, Pakistan expects to receive $686 billion from Washington. And according to Center for Global Development, Washington has provided $67 billion to Pakistan from 1951 to 2011, a portion of which was misused or misappropriated by corrupt Pakistanis. Furthermore, Pakistan’s military, especially the air force, is heavily dependent upon the U.S. for aid, training and hardware. Its advanced weaponry is largely American made. If Pakistan severs or significantly alters its relations with the United States, the fact that aid could end or be curtailed will play into Pakistan’s decision whether to move forward.

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Twitter Diplomacy at Davos

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Pictured: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Photos: Jolanda Flubacher and RÈmy Steinegger

“We extend our hand for peace, including to the Iranian people, but today was a great occasion that was missed.” – Israeli President Shimon Peres

Pictured: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photos: Jolanda Flubacher and RÈmy Steinegger

It’s not on par with Nixon going to China, but in Davos, Switzerland, the site of the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of politicos and economic and social leaders, Iran and Israel have taken the first “baby steps” in creating a thaw in their relations.  While the moment in “Twitter diplomacy” is unlikely going to translate into direct trade or even a handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but considering how relations have been between Iran and Israel for the past several decades, it would be safe to characterize an exchange, even via Twitter, as historic.  Up until the election of Hassan Rouhani, the only exchanges between Israel and Iran were to hurl insults at one another and accuse each other of undermining the security of the other.

With Iran agreeing to the Geneva agreement and suspending uranium enrichment above 5 percent, halting the installation of centrifuges and stopping construction on a heavy-water reactor, the momentum is building for normalized or even a working relationship with the West. While Iran has argued for the past decade that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, the West has accused the Islamic Republic of operating a nuclear program for the development of nuclear-weapons capabilities. “Ingrained skepticism about the good faith of the Islamic regime remains one of the main sources that could endanger the process,” Francois Nicoullaud, France’s former ambassador to Iran, told Bloomberg. “The quality of Iran’s implementation of the Geneva agreement will reduce such obstacles.” The dilemma for the West is whether to throw away any opportunities at semi-normalized relations or build upon any opportunities that present themselves.

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